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“I’ve seen three-year-olds using microscopes and reading books without pictures,” exclaims Bai Wei anxiously. “My five-year-old son is still counting on his fingers.” Even before his child has started elementary school, Bai already feels he is falling behind.
A timetable for childhood development has been circulating recently in major Chinese cities. According to the guide, a three-year-old should have begun learning the piano or dancing. For children aged four, painting and chess lessons are appropriate. At five, parents can add a second musical instrument to the piano, and at seven, kids can start sports training. It also recommends enrolling first and second graders in extracurricular classes in Chinese, English and math to prepare for various school entrance exams. The advice may be debatable, but many Chinese parents today are following the timetable strictly.
“Fun and Games”
This January, seven-year-old Duo Mi continued practicing ice skating past 8 p.m. in Tower 3 of the China World Trade Center in Beijing as her team prepared for a figure skating competition in March. Alongside group competitions, Duo Mi will also perform a solo skate with a newly choreographed dance.
Duo Mi is well-rounded, to say the least. Along with figure skating, she plays the piano and the zheng (a 21-stringed ancient Chinese musical instrument), dances, participates in the math Olympics, attends English class and studies sketching. She now studies at a boarding school, where she sleeps from Monday to Thursday. Juggling all these activities requires practice during lunch breaks and after class. Her busiest days start from Friday. After classes are over at 2:20 p.m., she travels home and is then back in an English class by 6:20 p.m. Her sketching tutor drops in from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. After that lesson, she finishes her homework and practices the piano in the afternoon. From 10 to 11:30 p.m., Duo Mi practices skating, and doesn’t get home until after midnight. She gets up at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning to make it to the ice rink for more training at 10 a.m. From 3:20 to 5:20 p.m., she attends the math Olympics class. Her weekend activities are usually over by 9 p.m. on Sunday night, after which she goes straight to bed. Mondays start at 5:30 a.m. because of the long drive back to school. During her busy weekend schedule, Duo Mi only has time to rest for a few minutes while traveling from one class to the next.