A taste of culture enhances the flavour of learning

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 July, 2012, 12:00am


My son has earned good academic results, but I want to broaden his horizons and encourage him to develop interests outside the classroom. What's a good way to achieve this?

An unfortunate side effect of our exam-focused world is that children spend most of their time studying and not enough opening their eyes to the world around them. Through exposure to art, music and drama, we develop a deeper appreciation of our surroundings, which also add depth to academic work.

One of the benefits of a cultural education is that it requires minimal investment. The Hong Kong Museum of Art offers an annual family pass for just HK$200, which gives four family members access to this and a host of other local museums for a year. The trick with developing an interest in museums is not to try to do everything at once and not to make the excursion into an overtly educational event. One way of navigating the art museum is to use the 'weekly highlight' section of the museum's website which shines the spotlight on a different piece of the museum's collection.

Print out information before a visit or use the site to gauge your child's reaction before venturing forth. Together, you can choose your path around the museum and decide which areas you want to focus on. Sharing control is a way parents can give children ownership of their own development and make it likelier that they'll be interested in participating. Incorporating a cultural activity into a day out can make it more special for a child and helps avoid the perception that culture is boring. We are fortunate in Hong Kong to have a stream of visiting exhibitions. Those hoping to catch the last day of the Picasso exhibition today are out of luck; it's sold out. However, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department website (lcsd.gov.hk ) gives notice of cultural events, and anyone with an iPad or iPhone can download a free app called 'What's On in Hong Kong', which updates daily and incorporates esoteric events such as the decorated art benches in Quarry Bay Park. Why not turn it into a picnic?

In the beginning, it may be easier to use one of your child's interests as a link to his cultural development. International museums have been quick to pick up on current trends in children's literature.

The Metropolitan Museum (metmuseum.org) has a series of excellent podcasts for children, including an outstanding interview between best-selling children's author Rick Riordan and the deputy curator of the department of Greek and Roman art. Thanks to modern technology, you can then jump to the British Museum (britishmuseum.org) to explore their Greek and Roman collections.

Hong Kong has an incredible range of musical experiences. A quick browse around the lobby of the Cultural Centre or community civic centres will yield a forest of leaflets offering everything from baroque string quartets to Cantonese opera. It is heartening to see young children being taken to concerts, but there are codes of behaviour and it is worth sharing them with your son to avoid any problems. A worrying trend I have seen is parents taking their children to concerts and then giving them each a computer game or iPhone. Not only is the light from the screen distracting to others, but more importantly, these games defeat the objective of taking them to a concert in the first place.

You don't have to leave your house to enjoy music but whether you stay at home or go out, a little background research will add depth to your experience. You can talk about how music is a conversation between instruments and try to match the sounds of instruments to people you know. Some pieces paint vivid musical pictures (try Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave) or were written to celebrate a particular event (the powerful Music for the Royal Fireworks by Handel) or even as a musical joke (Haydn's 'Surprise Symphony'). At home, easy pieces to begin with include Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals (try to guess the animal!) and the musical conversations of Tchaikovsky's Peter and the Wolf. If you are seeing an opera, knowing the story in advance will avoid those 'what's happening now?' questions.

Cantonese opera is a completely different experience when you understand some of the symbolism of the movements and costumes. Unlike Western opera, the audience isn't expected to sit in silence, and I always enjoy the vibrancy of events both on stage and in the stalls.

The Hong Kong Arts Festival (hk.artsfestival.org), which takes place each year in February and March, is a veritable cornucopia of cultural experiences. One of the strengths of the festival is that it brings in the big guns of the arts world (the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is coming next year), but also shines the spotlight on culture from less well-known parts of the globe. There are often workshops held by visiting performers (the drumming workshop held by Les Tambours de Brazzaville was an eye-opener; I had no idea there were so many putative drummers in Hong Kong) which you and your child can attend.

There are so many experiences for you to choose from. By sharing the decision making and focusing on the enrichment each encounter offers rather than what you can learn from it, you can develop a love of the arts that will be both a strength and a comfort to your son long after his schoolwork has been left behind. Good luck.

Jessica Ogilvy-Stuart is the director of the Brandon Learning Centre and prepares students to study abroad