Kids in camo
By Pichi Chuang
The Albert kindergarten and day care center in the central Taiwan city of Taichung is as joyful and vibrant as any other, with its colorful plastic slides and trampolines, but what makes it different is the children. From five to nine years old wearing camouflage uniforms they practice crawling and handstands on foam cushions in the front yard, copying the training of army special forces frogmen.
Principal Fong Yun said “I think most Taiwanese children lack confidence compared with kids from other countries.” Inspired by U.S. physical therapist Glenn Doman’s theories, 15 years ago she created a series of exercises that combine military drills and gymnastics, believing that they would help children develop physical and mental strength.
“All our children have had a hard time practicing the exercises. When they encounter obstacles in the course of their life, such as college entrance exams, job hunting, or even marriage, the experience they gain here by practicing very hard and finding a way to do it perfectly is very helpful,” said Fong, adding that the exercises help develop digestive systems and the brain’s language center as well as courage and strength.
The center offers hour-long training sessions every morning, and some kids even ask for more practice in the afternoons. The training is well-known around Taichung, and some parents are willing to drive over 30 minutes each day to take their children there. One father came to register his son, but the principal told him he would have to join an ever lengthening waiting list because the classes are so popular.
On a recent visit during summer vacation classes, several children were going through their routines, obviously enjoying themselves, performing one-handed side somersaults in the hallway during the 10 minute break between other classes.
The children proudly displayed their “awards”, such as calluses on their palms and feet, pieces of skin coming off on their bottoms and thighs. “It’s not hard work at all. It’s so much fun!, ” several said, laughing away the concerns that people would usually have over a form of physical training that is difficult even for real soldiers.