MindChamps - The Review
"If you look beyond all the marketing glitz, MindChamps does have something valuable to offer to parents."
MindChamps is probably the best known secret in Singapore right now, amongst parents with children in primary and secondary schools, thanks to its robust marketing engine and army of agents espousing its services.
I first heard of MindChamps late in 2007 from my wife. Our son was in Primary 2, and we were starting to be concerned by signs that he was becoming unmotivated and has started to pick up poor habits of not handing in homework, lying, and requiring a lot of pushing from us parents before he did anything. We were at our wits ends and were looking for external help to try to correct the situation before it got worse.
We signed up for one of their free parenting "workshops" hoping to learn more about the programme. I was disappointed. It turned out to be nothing more than 3 hours of pre-sales talk about stuff already found in their brochures and common literature, nothing deeper. I supposed that's why it was free. There was too much focus on the placing their founder and their external consultant on pedestals - in fact, the premises was like a shrine to these geniuses who started the programme, and no effort was spared to impress upon us what they look like and what they have done.
The highlight of the event was when they selected a group of kids from the audience for an hour of "free training" after which they are able to demonstrate their new-found ability in performing memory tasks that they did poorly earlier on during the seminar.
While it seemed impressive, I realized that the techniques they used were really commonly used memory and visualization "tips and tricks" that you can probably learn from books in any store. That was probably why they were so careful in not stating what the techniques were throughout the 3 hour presentation.
So I was quite negative with their "whole-brain training" after the presentation. If I wanted whole-brain training and make my son into a genius I would have signed him up for Shichida instead. But that was not my objective. What I wanted was what MindChamps also mentioned as their focus on building self-esteem and confidence. Obviously they won't be able to demonstrate that during the session. Underneath all the marketing glitz, there is an undertone of word-of-mouth approval from satisfied parents - so they must be doing something right somewhere. With that in mind, I plonked down the money - a hefty sum I must say, and signed my son up for their Springboard 2 Success programme. It was a leap of faith.
My son started the programme in February, and was given a bunch of new goodies at the start of the class - T-shirt, cap, nice bag, markers, and exercise books. I was uncomfortable to the seemingly excessive merchandizing of the educational process - I seriously hoped they are able to deliver what I had signed up for my kid. After the 1st 3-hour session, I asked my son what they did and he was only able to tell me some cryptic reference to "word-train" and showed me some colorful diagrams he did in class to help him visualize and remember stuff. He was also required to write down in his "journal" about the class as his homework - an activity that he disliked immensely. So I wasn't able to get much out from him.
I was scheduled for 2 3-hr Parent guidance workshops during the weekdays from 7pm-10pm which are only open as part of the fee to parents who signed up their children for the courses. This is to essentially explain to parents what they have paid for - after the fact. By this time, I wasn't expecting much, but I went anyway, as my wife could not make it. I am glad I did, because it changed my perspective of the whole thing.
The lecturer who gave the talk was Cheryl Peterson, Head of Training. She was an excellent lecturer - not because of her extensive training and expertise in child education, but because she was, first and fore-most, a mother.
It may have been 6 hours in 2 sessions, but I was fully captivated and awake despite having spent hours in the office prior to the workshops. I was listening to someone who was finally able to put into words all the frustration of a modern parent trying to mind his/her children. Through the sessions, I realized that the problems that I have faced were really quite normal - they happen to every parent with school-going children. How children are naturally messy, careless, and forgetful. How parents are naturally worried, kiasu, pushy and exasperated. Her talk was littered with examples that resonate with the problems that I have with my son, and discussed in a manner that is only possible if she had gone through the process herself. And although she did explain to some detail what was taught in the childrens' classes, those were not important to me anymore, because I have learnt much more about what it means to be a supportive parent in those 6 hours than I have in the 9 years of my son's life.
It is not about what MindChamps can do to help our children become over-achievers. It is about what we as parents can do to help our children become self-motivated adults. All the lessons on mind tricks to train children to remember their schoolwork better are secondary to the bigger goal of allowing them to be more confident of themselves - being able to remember things better is only a tool to allow oneself to become more confident.
I've found myself wanting to become a better parent since the workshops, and catching myself whenever I reverted to my old "self" when dealing with my son's misdeeds. Things have started to turn around since, and I find my son more happy and ready to open up and talk about issues. Yes, there are lapses now and then on both our parts (father and son), but we are human afterall, and as long as we recognize our faults during those lapses, I believe we are moving in the right direction.
Although my son appear to enjoy his weekly lessons, it is still too early for me to conclude if MindChamps has had any real results on him. However, it is clear to me that Ms Peterson has at least helped me understand my children much better. For that, I am deeply grateful to her, and if the rest of the MindChamps trainers are half as good as their department head, I'm sure my son will be in good care.