“Children, how many alphabets are there in ‘Happy Parents’ Day’?”Vijaya, a teacher in charge of the five-year-olds had barely finished speaking when her young charges started counting with their little fingers, murmuring thoughtfully to themselves.
“Fifteen!” they chimed back altogether in response to Vijaya’s question. Satisfied with their answer, she then asked the children to select coloured cards and alphabets of their liking for the purpose of hand crafting theme cards that would decorate classroom for the special day. In the 30 minutes that it took for the cards to be selected and finally displayed on the glass windows, the children had learnt several things: counting, spelling, colour selection and arts and craft skills. Additionally, they also learnt how to work as a team.
Open for barely two months, the Tzu Chi Great Love Preschool had organized its very first filial piety activity on 27 June 2014. Forty-one children aged from three to five years old were guided on how to “play host” to their parents; they made biscuits, paper flowers and cards for them, planned the fun-filled activities for that day, decorated and cleaned the classrooms, and even presented tea to their parents with the help of their teachers.
Serving Tea with Confidence-- Little Hands Get Help
The little children were all in a state of happy anticipation as it was the first time that they were to “play host.”The teachers on the other hand, were careful to guide them every step of the way.
Measuring out portions of flour, sugar and butter into small bowls for every child, the teacher demonstrated too, how these ingredients could be combined and kneaded into dough. As they watched her demonstration intently with eyes wide open, the teacher reminded her charges that they were to be circumspect with hygiene. “Children, these are to be made into biscuits for your dad and mom, so you must keep your hands clean and do not touch other things (while you are working with the dough) or else you might introduce germs into it!”
Even the noisiest child in class usually was deeply engrossed in the endeavor at hand as they rolled the dough into balls, flattened and decorated it with chocolate chips before putting it into the oven for baking. The children had great fun; not only did they make biscuits, they had to craft cards and flowers for their parents.
However, the teachers spent the most effort on the tea presentation ceremony. The teacher in charge of the five-year-olds taught the children how to recognize the various types of tea such as Chinese tea, green tea, flower tea etc., while the teacher in charge of the three-year-olds spent two weeks teaching the children how to present tea properly. From getting the children to practice holding an empty tea cup with both hands, to carrying an empty cup placed on a coaster, till they could master the art of carrying a half-filled cup of tea as they walked a short distance, teacher Liu Lian Qiu increased the difficulty level gradually over the two weeks.
“ We even conducted a simulation of the tea ceremony, and finally decided not to have the child kneel down to present the tea as children of this age group do not have fully developed hand-and-eye coordination abilities. (When) they kneel down and their centre of gravity tips forward, the tea might spill.”Liu says that what is most important is developing confidence in the child step by step and this process cannot be rushed.
Then, seeing the progress of her young charges, Liu decided that they could muster another challenge. The children successfully learnt how to hold the teapot handle in one hand while steadying the cover with the other hand as they poured out the tea. Every child in the class carried out this task successfully!
Little Hosts Warm the Hearts of Parents
The children prepared the group games by themselves; teacher taught them how to design the items for the event, but allowed them a free hand in planning and preparing for the day’s activities. This amazed many parents who were impressed that their children, who normally could not keep still, could hand out entry tickets, explain game rules, preside as judges and award prizes to winners in a most organized manner.
When one or two parents teasingly tried their luck, asking to be allowed some leeway in clearing a game hurdle, the little judge was adamant that the rules should be adhered to “just as teacher had said.”Amidst much laughter, the adults played along with them.
A young mother, Zhou Wan Si, had specially taken leave that day in order to attend the event. She admitted that the moment she stepped into the doorway of the preschool, she was so touched that tears filled her eyes. Using her smartphone, she took pictures so that she could later share them with her husband who was at work and unable to join her that day. Hugging her twin boys after the tea ceremony, she expressed being pleasantly surprised by the tea ceremony as one fed her a biscuit and the other presented her with a card. She was very appreciative that they had even invited her to partake of the tea when they served her.
Zhou had transferred her children to the Tzu Chi Preschool after finding out that a branch was to be set up locally. She shares how her children’s temperaments have improved, and how they have become more robust physically whereas they used to be underweight before. “My younger son used to like to hit others, but he has now changed for the better and even knows how to speak to me in a pleasant manner.”As she smiled, one noticed the almost imperceptible traces of tears in her eyes.
Filial Piety and Gratitude are Best Taught by Example
“Hold the cup with both hands!” “Fill the cup till just half full…”Fortunately the teachers were on hand to guide and remind the three-year-olds. The children had their attention focused on their parents and were not too concerned with the cups in their hands.
Under the smiling gaze of their parents and the subject of many a smartphone in active recording mode, the children made their way albeit somewhat unsteadily, towards their parents to offer up a cup of “gratitude tea.” Some would spontaneously give their parents a hug after the tea was presented, while others would quickly walk away only to be reminded by the teacher that they had to invite mom to partake of the tea. “Mom, please drink the tea.” Shyly, the little children would do as they were told. “I’m very touched! My child can actually pour tea for me,” Mother Hazlinda said.
The class of four-year-olds as well as that of the five-year-olds were capable of more, and they followed the cues of the teacher to kneel down and present tea to their parents. Yu Zhen Xing, a father, said, “This cup of tea tastes especially nice.” He said that his daughter now frequently takes the initiative to help with the housework, and added that especially when it comes to instilling the value of filial piety in such young children, the learning environment at Tzu Chi is exceptional.
“Actually at this tender age, it is difficult for the children to understand the concept of filial piety, so we tell them that when they see that their parents are tired, they can offer them a cup of tea.”said teacher Liu Lian Qiu.
Liu explains how, by giving the children the opportunity to create something with their own hands and thus experience the happiness that results, they will learn to contribute for the benefit of others in future. She hopes that they will realize that even offering a cup of tea is a joyful effort, and a way in which they can do something for their parents and express gratitude for the care that they have received.
That day, just as the parents will doubtless remember forever the warmth of that first cup of tea served by their children, their children also would have had the lesson on filial piety and gratitude firmly etched in their impressionable memories.