I remember heading to boarding school when I was 16 being excited and nervous at the same time. Aside from going on some short-term camps in the past, I had never lived away from my parents and certainly hadn’t lived alone in a new country. I packed my bags and headed off to the UK.
Of course, there was homesickness so I’m eternally grateful that I had my sister go to boarding school with me. There was a lot to get used to: living with someone else in the room, eating canteen food three meals a day, learning what ‘lacrosse’ was, and learning that ‘chips’ meant French fries and ‘crisps’ were chips.
But more embarrassingly to admit, I think boarding school offered me the first time when I had to make my own bed everyday, and when I joined Upper Sixth, it was the first time I had to cook dinners for myself. After burning, undercooking and messing up an array of meals, I finally learnt how to cook. I had grown up, like most Hong Kong children, with a helper and I had never needed to make my own bed nor make my own meals. Thankfully, boarding school helped me prepare for my years in college and living alone. However, I wish I had learned earlier.
Studies have shown that nearly 70% of children in Hong Kong between the ages of 4 and 12 don’t know how to bathe or dress themselves. That number is astounding. We’re often so focused on preparing our children’s minds to get them ready for schools and colleges but just as importantly, when they get to those places, they need to know how to take care of themselves. They will need to know how to wash their own laundry, cook their own food and make their own beds. And there’s no better time to teach children when they’re still living at home. It may seem redundant to let them do it when there’s a helper at home but in the same way that you learn how to drive on easier familiar roads before going on the highway, let children take care of themselves at home before they have to when they live alone.
So that could mean making their own bed every day by age 4, learning to dress and tie shoelaces by age 5 and washing dishes by age 6, helping cook a meal by 7. I wish I had done those things at those ages!
We can prepare our children for boarding schools academically and in the way they are able to take care of themselves but I believe the most important way to prepare children for boarding school is in their character. In giving children their independence, we need to trust that they know how to differentiate between right and wrong, know how to choose the right friends, to say ‘no’ to temptations and to be responsible for themselves and their choices.
So I didn’t learn how to cook meals from my parents but I did learn how to choose friends and make decisions from them. Let’s prepare our children for their future – for their laundry and meals, but more so, their decisions and character.
Founder and Principal
JEMS Learning House