Like monkeys and Mowgli’s, the kids climbed the trees, expertly hugging the trunks with their arms and legs because that’s what they’re built to do. They scooped up tiny fishes using a bottle and net, caught insects and dragonflies and frolicked under the sun while the mothers and fathers sat in the shade chatting and eating. Last Sunday, a few Chinese homeschooling parents from Tianjin gathered at the Water Park organized by the lone foreigner in the group –me. I was proud because it took one foreigner to get them together. I was happy because I’ve been aiming to meet homeschooling parents in Tianjin for quite some time and all my online research finally paid off.
Mr. and Mrs. Wu brought four out of their five children whom people generally stared at disbelief because it’s not often in China that you find families with more than one or two kids. Their youngest, still a baby was being cared for by the grandparents in their hometown. Mr. and Mrs. Wang have a boy and a girl who graciously distributed the homemade sushi into paper bowls. Hope’s daughter and son, pre-teens, were older than the other kids so they rode on their hoverboard while others ran around. Donna’s daughter, Chong Chong was so excited by the picnic that she forgot to eat breakfast and spent the whole morning cutting melon and preparing potato salad by herself. Jason, Joshua, Jimmy and I arrived late because we were the only ones coming from Dagang. Everyone else was from the city.
It was a good turn-out and the little kids had the most fun playing but the parents had a good time too exchanging stories among kindred spirits. Hope’s 10 and 12 year old children go to school only to take final examinations but they study at home and do not attend regular class. Donna wondered how this could be done and Hope explained that she personally wrote a letter to the headmaster explaining why her children have to stay at home to study. Fortunately, the headmaster agreed and allows them to join the final exam every year. Not all headmasters and schools can accept this arrangement so most parents face a lot of difficulty when they decide to homeschool. Hope plans that her children will study abroad someday so they don’t need to worry about the gaokao (Chinese university entrance exam).
For Mrs. Wu, the most important thing is not the academics but how to build up discipline and set boundaries. Parents believe that when they homeschool, they are able to pay more attention to shaping their children’s character. The children spend less time studying and more time doing housework.
Through homeschooling, the children have more time to do things which they are interested in such as sports and other hobbies. The parents can give individualized education according to their personality by discovering what they want to learn and what they are good at.
Donna’s daughter, Chong Chong attends regular school and is now in Grade 3. Donna asked her if she wanted to study at home but Chong Chong prefers to go to school. In the future, if Chong Chong decides to stop school, Donna is prepared to do homeschooling. Maybe when Chong Chong reaches a higher grade where the homework and school pressure becomes too much, then she’ll choose homeschooling, but Donna will leave the choice to her daughter.
In China, most parents worry about how their child will enter primary school, middle school, high school and university. They are very much focused on getting high grades. In homeschooling, there are no documents, reports and grades so most parents do not even dare consider this method.
After this summer holiday, Mrs. Wang plans for her daughter to attend primary school for one whole week. After that, she will attend classes only for half a day and spend the afternoon at home. Hope also did this in the beginning with her two children but now they have switched to whole day homeschooling.
The mothers in the picnic talked about balancing the dream and reality. Parents need to earn money to support the family while they nurture their dream of homeschooling. Both need time so like anything in life, it’s a challenging balancing act.
Note: Thank you very much to Mrs. Wu and Donna for translating the Chinese discussion into English for me. I wouldn’t be able to write this article without their help because I get totally lost when several people speak in Chinese.