Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (May 10, 2014)
“I want to be a zookeeper!”
In class one day, I was talking to my 6-year-old students and asked them what they’d like to be when they grow up. One said she’d like to be a fashion designer, another a football player and another a novelist – all professions that I’ve heard children say they’d like to be when they grow up. Then one boy, shot his hand up and said ‘I want to be a zookeeper when I grow up because I love animals”. I was taken aback because I had never met anyone, no less a child, who says he wants to be a zookeeper.
Now if he had said ‘banker’, ‘lawyer’ or ‘accountant’, I would have exclaimed it to the parent, knowing that those are popular and encouraged professions in Hong Kong. But he said ‘zookeeper’ and zookeepers aren’t highly regarded by most in Hong Kong. So as I dismissed the class, I walked on over to the parents and the mother of the aspiring zookeeper was there. We talked about how class went and then I shared the interesting comment her son made, that he wants to be a zookeeper when he grows up.
I had expected her to brush it off as a ‘child’s fantasy’ or for her to say how silly he is to have such an aspiration. After all, being a zookeeper means not making a lot of money (which by Asian standards equals failure). I expected this mother to disapprove of her child’s dream. But I was pleasantly surprised. She beamed and said “I’m so happy he’s thought about what he wants to be when he grows up”. She went on to talk about how she would help him explore more about animals and the responsibilities of being a zookeeper.
I was so inspired by this mother. And I was so pleased to have met someone like-minded in their views of how to empower and inspire children. Telling children they can have the dreams they have actually empowers them with confidence. It’s indirectly telling a child that she can do anything she puts her mind to. It’s telling her that her desires are valued and that you believe she is able to achieve those desires. So, I’ve learnt a couple thing about teaching kids how to ‘dare to dream’: