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The Echo Chamber: Can We Play the Student Game, Mommy?

This is my daughter’s question to me every Wednesday afternoon when she has half a day off from her kindergarten at the French International School. It’s a mystery to me why they only mandate half-days for the little ones mid-week, but I’m lucky enough to have a freelance schedule that I can control. I’ve made it work. Now, Wednesday afternoons are when we play “the student game.”

In this game, I pull out various work sheets or alphabet games from my stash usually reserved for my actual collection of private students. You see, one of my freelance jobs is being a home tutor and many of my students aren’t much older than my five-year-old daughter. Testing out learning materials on my child whose native English is already better than my students’ English is, well, great for me. A nice bonus! And, since my daughter’s education is mostly happening in French, this weekly ritual is helping me take some responsibility for giving my kid a basis in English too.

But, let’s not misunderstand my role here. I firmly don’t want to home school my children. I love my kids very much but I also love my time away from them. Honestly, even though there are rewarding moments in these Wednesday afternoon sessions, I find them sometimes trying.

You see, my son is still at home full-time. He’s only 3 and starts kindergarten in the fall. So, if the materials I pull out aren’t “fun” enough, both my kids complain. And their different levels of knowledge and abilities also create conflicts. If she can complete a task but her brother can’t, then my son gets frustrated. Or, if her brother’s activity is more “fun” because “he gets to do more coloring” (for example), she immediately voices her dissent. It is a constant negotiation.

But she is learning. Slowly. She knows all her letters and can tell me what sounds they make. Though she has limited patience with reading activities, she expresses bubbling joy when she deciphers a word.

All in all, I take this position: I’m her mother, not her teacher. She has teachers at school and will have many more as the years pass by. For now, I offer fun weekly sessions in the way of “student games,” but I don’t push.

In my opinion, the same way that all able-bodied babies eventually learn to walk, all kids placed into a school system will eventually learn to read, just at different rates. We can monitor their progress to make sure they’re on track, but we, as parents, shouldn’t be stressed about making it happen sooner than later. Once they learn, this skill isn’t going to magically be unlearned. I am not even a little bit worried about her. One day, I predict I will have trouble tearing her away from her book to join us at the dinner table. I look forward to that problem.

Until then, I let my kids lead. If she wants to play the “ABC Games”, we play those. The “Numbers Games”? No problem. If she wants to read a book together and then talk about it, we do that. And everything she wants to do, her little brother wants to do too, so it’s perfect. My goal is to keep both my kids excited about learning for as long as possible—hopefully their whole lives. It must be fun, not work. Ever.

Because, after all, it’s called “the student game.”  They’re our Wednesday afternoons of learning fun in whatever way they play out.

About the Writer

Ember Swift is a Canadian who has been living in Beijing since 2008. She has a daughter, Echo (5), and a son Paz (3). She spends a lot of time on stages making original music, writing blogs and columns, doing voice over work, and advocating for vegetarianism, LBGTQ rights, and multilingualism. (

Photos: congerdesign via Pixabay, courtesy of Ember Swift

This article originally appeared on p 47 of beijingkids August 2017 issue.