When Aileen Lee met her future husband Spencer Fowler (family in the featured photo), their feet didn’t touch the ground – because they were on an airplane crossing the Pacific! Lee was a flight attendant at the time, while Fowler was an educator working in Germany. Their journey together since has taken in Frankfurt, Ho Chi Minh City, Santiago, and now they live and work in Beijing, where Fowler is Head of School and Lee Director of College Counseling at the Affiliated High School of Peking University. Along the way, their three children were each born in different countries: Jaylon is 7 years old, Layla 5 and Drayton 3.
What kind of show would you take your children to watch: musical, drama, or concerts?
It is such a blessing to be able to expose our children to a variety of opportunities, be it Disney on Ice, Cirque de Soleil, symphonies, or other shows. I love to take my kids to see anything we think may be of interest to them. Usually, shows that offers bright lights, music, and animals work best! And of course, anything that fits into our family’s hectic schedule.
How do you teach your children about appropriate behavior in the theater or concert hall?
Seeing a show is a very exciting experience for the entire family. We hype them up days before the event, reminding them what a thrilling experience it will be. The shows are usually entertaining and captivating enough to have them behave appropriately. If my kids were misbehaving, I would probably threaten them and tell them that we will be asked to leave. My youngest is still a little young to explain respecting efforts of performers, but his older siblings are able to model good behavior and are overall good spectators.
At what age did you start to take your children to shows?
I would probably have taken my oldest earlier if he didn’t have two younger siblings. I think right now with a 3, 5 and 7 year old is a perfect time. Different types of shows allow children to explore and inquire about different topics. There are always age-appropriate shows, and it also depends on my children’s interests. I wouldn’t make them sit through shows that I didn’t think they would like.
You have taken your children to see many performances or exhibitions over the past year. What impressed you most? and what’s your favorite?
Our favorite would be Kooza by Cirque du Soleil. The live music, the costumes, the lights, the performers, and the audience engagement seemed to just encompass everything. My youngest loved the bands, my daughter was in awe of the outfits, and my eldest was thrilled to see the acrobats. The show had something for everyone. I was impressed by the diverse talent Cirque du Soleil was able to showcase in one show.
Do your children study acting or dance, or take part in any performances?
Unfortunately not. I’ve asked them if they were interested, but they are currently committed to other activities, like ice hockey. My youngest son did attend music classes for toddlers once a week before starting preschool, but the schedule is hard to work around. We currently let our kids decide on their activities, and we hope that music or dance will be their next choice.
Do you take your children to art galleries? If so, how do you prepare them or talk about art?
We’ve been to art galleries, and one of the major benefits of living in Beijing includes the different art they get exposed to all around the city. Even the sculptures and statues around the malls get replaced/renewed so often. My husband and I usually start conversations with the kids about colors and shapes and what we see. We try to have art supplies at home, as our daughter has shown a keen interest in painting, drawing and paper cutting.
Do your children listen to pop music? If so what’s their favorite?
They love the top 40. We listen to Metro Radio 94.5FM on the radio everyday going to school, and we hear the kids picking up language and vocabulary through the lyrics. It’s scary sometimes to see what phrases they may pick up through learning the songs, but it makes the morning commute quite enjoyable.
Do your children listen to classical music? If so what’s their favorite?
I use to play classical music when the kids were infants: usually Mozart or Beethoven, Yoyo Ma and Lang Lang, but not so much anymore. I personally love attending symphony orchestra concerts, and we have attended “Meet the Orchestra” at the Canadian International School of Beijing and the kids loved it.
Does your child listen to traditional Chinese music?
I think they do hear some traditional Chinese children’s songs, perhaps through school or our ayi. I don’t know the songs, but am open to them learning any music. I’ve asked my daughter if she would be interested in learning traditional Chinese instruments like the guqin or the guzheng. It would be great if we can take advantage of learning traditional Chinese instruments while living here.
Yan Li is a journalist and mother to eight-year-old Annie, who attends Zhongguancun No. 2 Primary School. She says that she tries to give Annie access to cultural opportunities which she and her husband didn’t have when they were children. Every year they make five or six trips, abroad and within China, “not only to see different countries’ exotic customs but also to understand the traditional culture and national heritage of all parts of China,” as Yan puts it. “I don’t expect my child to be an artist. But I do hope she can develop greater sensibility and know how to appreciate things better. After all, the arts cannot be taught but must be nurtured.”
What kind of show would you take your child to watch: musical, drama, or concerts?
I think watching plays is just like eating, where you should also consume various kinds of nutrition. Except for vocal concerts, I will take her to enjoy other shows freely, because I deem vocal concerts to be not so suitable for children. We have watched drama, ballet, opera, musicals and other shows. I was impressed by her first time watching the opera. At that time, she was 5 years old, and her height was a little bit under 1.2 meters. She needed to use shoe lifts to watch the opera. I had been ready for her coming out after ten minutes; I didn’t expect that she would keep her eyes on the opera for the three-hour performance. At the two intervals, I asked her if she wanted to leave, and she shook her head firmly. From then on, I began to feel more comfortable taking her to try a variety of dances and musicals. My daughter always asks me what play we are going to watch on weekends. Theater-going has already turned into a part of her lifestyle.
How do you teach your child about appropriate behavior in the theater or concert hall?
I would tell her what we couldn’t do in the theater before we came in, such as not talking loudly, eating or kicking a seat. When she couldn’t help but talk, I would use my finger to remind her, and she got used to it after one or two times.
At what age did you start to take your child to shows?
Since she was 4 years old. In fact, that was not early, because many of my friends’ children were taken to the theater from around 2 years old.
You have taken your child to see many performances or exhibitions over the past year. What impressed you most? And what’s your favorite?
Plays and exhibitions can’t be compared with each other, so let’s say one for each genre. In the last year, the most impressive drama must be China Children’s Art Theater’s Pippi Longstocking. This drama suits the nature of the child, with an interesting plot and funny performances, resulting in constant laughter from the audience.
The most impressive cultural exhibition was From Monet to Soulages with Miss Zhou, who used very concise and vivid language to introduce the evolution of Western art over the last 200 years to the children. It is also because of this exhibition that my daughter loves visiting galleries.
Does your child study acting or dance, or take part in any performances?
My child is in the school dance troupe – the Beijing Municipal Jinfan Dance Troupe, which places very high requirements on its members, and has important special performances.
Do you take your child to art galleries? If so, how do you prepare them or talk about art?
We go to art galleries, and we also do preparation work in advance. We used to do the work by ourselves, but later when we went with the teacher Miss Zhou to see exhibitions, we stopped the work because her explanations were better.
Does your child listen to pop music? If so what’s their favorite?
No, she doesn’t. She may have listened to “Little Apple” when in school, but that would be the only one.
Does your child listen to classical music? If so, what’s their favorite?
She often enjoys classical music, because she likes dancing. She likes Tchaikovsky best. Mozart also holds her interest, mainly because Mozart’s musical style is more suitable for children, as it is relaxing and pleasing.
Does your child listen to traditional Chinese music?
Sometimes she encounters some traditional Chinese music in her grandma’s home, like “The red flowers bloom”, a Shaanxi folk song which to her is pleasant to hear, so she learned to sing it.
Photos: Uni You; courtesy of Yan Li
This article appeared on p46-47 of beijingkids February 2018 issue.