We brought Ryan to see his paediatrician yesterday morning for his Hepatitis A booster. This concludes all of Ryan's vaccinations up till the age of 6 years old. He took the jab in his arm, and he was all smiles. Darling boy.

We had a short chat with Dr Ngiam as usual before the jab and here's a run down of what we discussed.

We talked about Ryan's growth - he is 11.1 kg and 87 cm tall. We were wondering if he was too small but Dr Ngiam said he's fine for his age. He said that, from now on, Ryan should put on 2 kg every year.

We mentioned that Ryan is still taking a lot of milk. Dr Ngiam advised us to reduce this and increase his solids and make sure that he is eating three meals a day. At Ryan's age, milk (whether breastmilk or formula), should be regarded as only a supplement or a beverage, like say coffee or tea. He explained that, as there is only so much that the child's tummy can hold, we have to maximise the nutrition in that small space. While there is nutrition in milk, it is still mostly water. He said that, in terms of nutritional value, one bowl of porridge is equivalent to five bottles of milk (whether breastmilk or formula) and Ryan certainly can't hold five bottles of milk in his tummy. He told us not to let Ryan fill up, or even half-fill, his tummy with milk because then Ryan will lose out on the chance to take in nutrition-packed solids.

I did say that we are gradually cutting down on the milk (more on that in a separate post) but Dr Ngiam said that we should do it fairly quickly and not drag it out. He also said we should definitely cut out the night feeds as this may lead to tooth decay as traces of milk stay in the mouth the whole night. Dr Ngiam suggested preparing solids that are more on the crunchy side, which Ryan can hold and bite into, like nuggets, pan-fried fish, wedges, and of course rice and noodles. No more mushy food - he described it as "pig's food" - hahaha!

Actually we have never prepared mushy food for Ryan and we have never bought jars of pureed or blended baby food. Initially, when we ate out, especially in Chinese restaurants, we did cut up the veggies and the meat for him in bite-sized portions but he refused to eat them like that, so we stopped bothering. After all, he is capable of eating and swallowing, he just wants to know what it is that he is eating so destroying it into little pieces isn't going to help him identify it. I have seen parents who cut the veggies and the meat smaller and smaller every time the child refuses to eat and I always wonder why they do that - does the child not know how to chew/swallow, does cutting the food up make it taste better? (Actually, Richard and I are horrified whenever we see a parent fish out a pair of scissors to cut food at the dining table - I have never seen a pair of scissors make an appearance at the dining table anywhere else in the world - why can't they use the eating utensils? What in the world are they teaching their children? But that's another story.)

Ok, next we discussed sending Ryan to pre-school. Let me digress a little here. I've heard some parents say that, if it's a half-day programme, it's pre-school and not childcare, and if it's full-day, then it's childcare and not pre-school - this is absolute nonsense. Pre-school is actually a form of childcare - other forms include a nanny, a parent/grandparent, an au pair, day care, etc. It's all childcare. As long as it's not school, it's childcare. Plus, PRE-school is not school - it's PRE-school, ie. the stage before school.

Anyway, you might remember that when we saw Dr Ngiam in December last year, he advised us to keep Ryan at home until he is at least 4 years old. So yes, today he maintained his view that, at this age, Ryan should be cared for at home, in a loving family environment. If this is not possible, then childcare will have to do, but between childcare and a loving family environment, the better choice for Ryan's age will always be the loving family environment.

I asked Dr Ngiam whether going to pre-school and being with other children would help speed Ryan along in his speech development. Dr Ngiam said no. He said that, at this age, it is not because of pre-school or any enrichment that the child speaks sooner - if the child's speech development is going to be slow, it will be slow and if it's going to be fast, it will be fast, regardless of whether the child goes to pre-school/enrichment or not. This reminded me of my thoughts on Bilingual Playclub at Julia Gabriel - I noted that Ryan has developed over the one year he was there but I was not convinced that the development was because of Bilingual Playclub; it's just natural.

I should clarify that we think that Ryan's speech development is fine and we are not worried about it. It's just nice to get the "ok" from a professional.

Dr Ngiam again reminded me that we should not be concerned about socialisation at this stage and, in any case, there are lots of things to learn in a home environment, including socialising with people. If Ryan is lucky enough to be able to be in a loving home environment, then we should not deprive him of that precious time and opportunity. That made a lot of sense to me. It also reminded me of what I'd read and researched - that, historically, the very purpose of early childcare was to get children AWAY from the influence of their feckless parents. Not to be presumptuous but I think Richard and I are quite safe for Ryan to be around.

I suppose Dr Ngiam's point is that, at this age, there is so much in the child's world that is new and exciting and whatever is not there is not necessary at this point in time. There is no need for the child to receive extra "stimulation", which is what many parents worry about, and there are more important things in a home environment which your child should be exposed to. So, unless there is nobody to take care of your child, there is no need to send him/her to pre-school.

Unfortunately, in academics-crazy Singapore, parents of toddlers are already concerned about making sure their little ones are not left behind and that their little brains are constantly "stimulated". I could go on and on preaching about how important it is for the child to spend these important first years spending time as part of a family and learning the rhythm of a household - watching the postman come around at noon everyday and the garbage truck at 3 in the afternoon, seeing the laundry being hung on the line, smelling lunch on the stove, hearing his parents talk lovingly to each other, building his sense of security and his sense of identity and self - all this generally falls on deaf ears in Singapore. They send their two year olds to pre-school for half a day then the child sleeps away the other half at home, missing out on the good stuff. The parents don't care about the stuff that happens in real life, they want their two year olds to "go to school" to learn stuff which they think their children can't learn at home. What this stuff is, I don't know. Whenever a parent tells me about what his/her two-year old did "in school", the thought that always springs to my mind is, "Ryan learnt that or can learn that at home".

It is also easy to forget that it is important for our children to have lots of "down time", just to be quiet and calm. We have the mindset that it is not acceptable for a two year old to lounge about at home. By insisting that they are always "stimulated", we're creating these hyper-people who have short attention spans, who don't know how to be calm, who are always restless and who don't have time to reflect. It's great that they can play, but to play all day is another thing altogether. In the long-term, it means one thing - stress.

So we will stick to Dr Ngiam's advice to wait till Ryan is at least four years old before considering enrolling him in pre-school. The more we think about it, the more we talk it through logically, the more it makes sense and we are happy with our present arrangement. It is perfect for our circumstances and for Ryan's needs, plus it fits in with how we want to raise our children.

[All photos taken at Casa Verde on 19 June 2011.]


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