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Boys Will Be Boys

The blue dragonfly glided gracefully above the water surface. Hovering just at the edge of the water, its translucent wings shimmered brilliantly in the glorious sunlight. All was peaceful and calm. For that brief moment at least. Then without prior warning the tranquility of the moment was broken, and a shot resounded in the air; only to be followed by a thud in the water. As for the dragonfly, it was nowhere to be found; the little insect had been stunned by the shooting of the pellet gun. This was an opportunity not missed by a young boy, who promptly whisked the dragonfly away in a net.

All this happened about a month ago. Our family was enjoying a much-needed holiday in Japan, and was visiting Murayama Koen, a lovely park in Kyoto. A group of young boys caught our attention. They were around elementary school age, and were apparently playing in the park after school. They bowled us over with their enthusiasm and technique of catching dragonflies. When we first observed the boys firing their pellet guns, we assumed they were using the weapons to shoot at the insects directly. Instead, the boys were aiming at the water surface, and were using the impact and sound of the shot to stun the dragonfly. The creature would then be an easy catch with the net. With the little Japanese that I understood, I realised that the boys were actually having a competition to see who caught the most dragonflies. And the most humane part of the experience was that they released all of the insects before they went home.

As an educator in Singapore I was so excited to see how much the boys were learning from their dragonfly hunt. They firstly had to understand the physics of firing the pellet gun, calculating the angle of incidence at which to hit the water surface. Then there was the physical dexterity needed to use the net and snatch the insect from the air. This required a certain level of skill and agility. Lastly, there was the biology aspect of admiring the dragonfly and examining its bodily parts - the boys were excitedly comparing who had managed to catch the most insects, and which of them were the most beautiful. This does not even take into account the social aspect of friendship and camaraderie that the entire activity encompassed. From my perspective the experience far outweighs an MMORPG (Massively Multi Player Online Role-Playing Game) or other online game which boys in Singapore are more inclined towards. 

Let boys be boys. 

I remember my childhood days when I would be happy playing a game of marbles with my friends in primary school. We would then be competing to see who had the skill and dexterity to use their marble to hit another, with the victor earning the rich prize of the loser's marble. Or there would be the games of make-believe, during which we would assume the roles of characters from popular shows such as Star Wars or Transformers. There would always be one team "fighting" against another team, somewhat mimicking the epic struggle of good over evil. While I was never skilled in running or chasing others, my role was then to strategise and devise ways to "defeat" the other team, either by devising a systematic plan against them or to collaborate to achieve our goals. I'm certain all this strategic thinking must have contributed to my love of war strategies and the study of international relations today!

What games will my children play when they get a little older? Surveying the toy stores, my wife and I always comment on how "scary" the toys seem to be. From an over-priced spinning top known popularly as Beyblade to a Ben 10 watch complete with its flashing lights and shrill sounds. And this does not even include the games that can be found on smart phones and on the Internet. Perhaps these games seem "scary" as they appear to be night and day from the ones I used to play when I was younger. But from another perspective, perhaps society has changed so much that the innocent games of yesteryear have evolved to much darker forms as seen in the world today.

Much research has gone into how technology can be a major contributing factor towards helping children learn. This encompasses the introduction of educational computer games into the school system, with more and more countries choosing to embark on such a path. The trend is definitely not without its benefits, with many children of primary school age and older reporting vast leaps in how they learn and in the things that they learn. In my opinion, technology can contribute significantly to a child's learning. However, I feel that such a development should take place later (such as around the age of 7 or 8) rather than earlier (like around the age of 3 or 4). My former colleague once lamented that his 2-year-old grand-nephew had learnt how to move the fingers in order to scroll through the screen display of his iPad. And I'm certain he is not alone.

My older son Z just turned 3 this week. Among the many presents he received from his friends and relatives, two particular items have gotten him very excited. One is a Play Doh colour-mixing set with his favourite Sesame Street character Elmo teaching him about how to mix colours. The other present is a collection of three Sesame Street soft toys - Elmo, Cookie Monster and Big Bird. Z had only recently developed a fondness for Elmo - after our recent trip to Universal Studios in Japan. He has therefore been thrilled that his favourite Elmo can actually talk to him when the mixes the Play Doh colours. In addition, we have also been using the soft toys to teach Z the importance of make-believe in his play. 

I am thankful that at least for now, that my children are choosing to engage in more physical pursuits rather than virtual ones. Who knows what the future will hold for them; especially since we live in a world where it is considered more "cool" among youths to play with the latest online game than to engage in a game of tennis or basketball. I can only hope that they will continue to love nature just like their Daddy and Mummy, and to continue seeing the world with the bright-eyed wonder expressed by that group of young boys in Japan.


  1. No dragonflies left to catch

  2. I believe that kids should spend much time outdoors. Thus, sometimes I allow them not to dedicate so much time to homework, and go to the fresh air. In such cases, I use homework help online services.


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