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Parents look to "˜creativity centers' for their children's extra-curricular lifeskills

Kids take part in an interactive activity at the FasTracKids Center in Hanoi. The early childhood enrichment program and others like it are gaining popularity among well-to-do parents. (PHOTO COURTESY OF FASTRACKIDS VIETNAM)

The hosts' kids were four and six, and very cute.

They put on an impromptu music performance for their guests and with no prompting went to bed and slept by themselves.

Duong Thi Quynh Hoa, in France pursuing her Master's degree, was impressed.

Why, she wondered, are most Vietnamese children shy about performing or even speaking in front of other adults and why do they take a long time before they do things independently?

Her queries eventually resulted in Hoa opening the Eveil Center in Hanoi almost three years ago, offering afterschool programs that focus on "developing your child's creativity."

"Some parents feel that their generation did not have the resources to learn how to communicate effectively. Some have told me that even now they do not feel comfortable speaking in front of an audience at their company's meeting," said Hoa, founder and director of the Eveil Center.

"That's why they want to make sure their children have those skills."

Since its inception, the center has attracted about 3,000 kids and there are about 200 children enrolled in several courses including public speaking, French, English, designing, dance and even magic.

Eveil, which means creativity in French, and other "˜creativity' centers for children are becoming a popular choice among well-heeled parents in Hanoi, offering an alternative to the traditional afterschool pursuits of music, martial arts and other sports.

The parents hope these centers will spur their children's creativity and help them gain self-confidence at an early age.

Tran Thi Thu Huong, who has been sending two of her three children to Eveil for regular classes since the center's opening, said in normal schools students are simply taught how to follow their teachers' orders or memorize things.

"My daughter has a bit of talent in writing songs and poems. She can't really express that in her daily regular classes. Here, she can do that by putting together musical performances or shows."

Huong recalls that in one class, her seven-year-old was given a choice to pick two picture cards out of three. She got one picture of a crow and the other of an apple.

"She managed to tell a story that included these two things. It was quite logical and the rest of the class also contributed their ideas."

FasTracKids Center, located on Yet Kieu Street in Hanoi, has the slogan that says "preparing children for school and life."

According to its director, Hoang My Anh, studies have shown that between age 3 and 8, half of the child's brain capacity has already been developed.

"If we continue stimulating their creativity and arousing their curiosity by interactive lessons, or simply by having them ask questions and guiding them through answers, they will grow and think creatively," she said.

FasTracKids' early childhood enrichment education program grew out of the US. Since 1998, the program has been offered in 40 countries under franchise agreements. The one in Vietnam was bought by Indochina Pro Company and officially opened in May 2009.

It uses a model called "educational zigzagging," which refers to the learning of a concept by reinforcement of the subject matter through the use of many different exposures and applications, according to its official website.

The program offers 12 subjects, including astronomy, biology, communicative, economics and goals and life lessons.

My Anh said the program has been extremely popular in China, where families tend to focus a lot on their only child's development. The one in Vietnam now has about 300 students.

"I think what we try to teach them is to find that everything around them can be interesting, even normal objects," she said.

Tran Thi Huong Giang, who has been teaching at FasTracKids for two years, said the key is never telling the kids that their answers are wrong. It is just good that they learn something and have fun, she added.

Giang said many Vietnamese parents in the city now are so busy with their work that in many cases, the child spends more time with the housekeeper.

"They [the parents] hope that the child can also learn good behavior here so that they won't grow up to be selfish and self-centered," she said.

At FasTracKids, the costs are US$125 for two months of classes per subject taught two hours a week. At Eveil, the charges are VND2.4 million (US$125) for 24 language periods and VND1.8 million (US$95) for 24 periods in other subjects.

But parents think the classes are worth the money.

At a natural science class at FasTracKids, six-year-old Phuong Nhi, who has been coming to the center since June 2009, demonstrates how to create magnetism by scraping her pen on her clothes.

"She used to say nothing. Now, that is no longer the case," Giang said.

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