Jen Oh, Jen Oh!

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Every Wednesday, Jen leads a group of women in bible study.   I’m very blessed to be part of their study group even if I get to join only during holidays in Manila. Within a group of ten, Jen and three other mothers homeschool their kids.  Here are Jen’s thoughts on homeschooling:

Why did you decide to homeschool your children?  

One of the main reasons that led us to homeschool was a general dissatisfaction with how children are dealt with in conventional school. It has become increasingly competitive, schedules are toxic, and children are required to learn massive amount of information without real meaningful learning.

Packing our children’s minds with information and then testing how well they retain that information has become more important than building their character, helping them to think critically and make sense of the things they discover in the context of real life.

What made you decide to educate your children this way?

The one thing that convinced me to homeschool was the Biblical call to all parents in Deuteronomy 11:18-19, “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul… You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.

God has called all parents to intentionally teach our children about Him and to love Him. Of course, this can be done whether or not you homeschool, but homeschooling provides a very conducive environment.

Tell me more about that turning point that led to your decision.

Initially, I wasn’t keen to homeschool. It was my husband who was into it. I had already made a shortlist of possible pre-schools to enroll our daughter in. But each time I asked my husband about which school he thought would be best, he would always reply, “Let’s just homeschool.”

I asked him a total of 3 times. In the end, I thought to give homeschooling a try for a year. Since we were starting with kindergarten, maybe if I mess up (as a teacher), it wouldn’t be too bad, since she’s still young. So, we took the plunge.

Did you encounter any doubts and discouragement from family and friends around you when you made this decision?  

Yes, there were some misgivings, especially in the aspect of socialization and meeting academic standards. But there weren’t rabid antagonists. The people that matter most to us were generally supportive.

How did you manage it then?   

I would engage people in a discussion about the benefits of homeschooling if they were genuinely curious or concerned. But if I get the feeling that they’re quite closed-minded and argumentative, I usually just keep my mouth shut, smile and change the topic. I believe that through time, they will see the beauty of homeschooling, particularly through how our daughter blossoms (academically, socially, spiritually), how she relates with us and other people.

In the end, I think most homeschoolers will agree that we homeschool not so much because we want to meet the standards set by an organization, by the government, or by so-called experts (e.g. they have to learn to do so and so by this age). We homeschool for what we believe is a far greater purpose than meeting academic or skill standards.

Do you still face discouragement now?   

Of course. Self-doubt comes with the territory.

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What do people say or do that’s discouraging and how do you handle it now?

As I mentioned, the typical objections to homeschooling are usually about socialization and if your child will meet academic standards. When it comes to socialization, I ask people to qualify what socialization is.

This has been talked about in hundreds of homeschooling books and articles – that socialization in homeschool is more realistic, in that the child gets to socialize and build relationships with different kinds of people: whether kids from her Sunday school class, or great grand-aunts and grandmas, or even people in grocery, restaurant, hair salon, bank, and more importantly, her family!

This is as opposed to sitting in a classroom for up to 7 hours a day, with the same peers and teachers for the entire year. So when I say something like this, I hope to make other people think about what real socialization entails. But for most of us who’ve grown up in a conventional school, it’s difficult to wrap our minds around it.  It took me a while to appreciate it, too.

What do you like about the choice that you made?  

It saves time! Yes! Especially here in the Philippines. We do not have to:

  • wake my daughter up before sunrise to prepare her for school
  • get stuck in traffic for hours every day
  • tutor or send her to tutors to go over the things she’s supposed to have already learned in school
  • go through things that she doesn’t need to learn or is not ready to learn.

We develop the love of learning. Homeschooling allows us to do this because learning is organic, not forced. We can learn about a topic as deeply as we can. We can have long discussions about a film and reflect on its implications. As opposed to conventional school, when most of the time, we can’t wait for dismissal or summer break!

When we do get interested in a topic in conventional school, we are limited in time and resources to learn about it more deeply. This, I feel, stunts a child’s curiosity. Conventional school doesn’t allow us to take a child’s interest and run with it. Conventional school tells us the bell has rung and it’s time to change the subject.

What does it allow you to do?

  • Travel without concern for “missing school.” Travel becomes part of school!
  • Spend tons of quality time together and being present during “teachable moments.”

What’s your typical day like?

We are very relaxed homeschoolers. The curriculum we use does have a schedule all laid out, but I don’t follow it strictly.

Late mornings are spent doing “academic” work – such as learning about history, the Bible, science, and so forth. Then producing output related to the topics, like making lapbooks or crafts, answering worksheets, or writing a reflection. We usually take up 2 subjects each morning and as much as possible, I try to integrate them with each other to make learning more meaningful and cohesive.

Afternoons are for pursuits or classes outside our home – like art, ballet and math; visiting grandparents, doing errands, and free time.

What are the things you enjoy the most doing with your children?

Reading to them, watching movies, and traveling when we get the chance!

What have you observed are the different learning styles of Olivia and Stella?  

I can’t say for now. I find that Stella can learn any way, she’s very adaptable. Whereas her younger sister, I’m not so sure as we haven’t formally started our homeschooling yet, as she’s only 3.

I’m not very keen on labeling the kids as “kinesthetic” or “visual,” although I’m aware that we generally gravitate towards a particular style. I want us to be open and flexible to learn in different ways.

How do you adjust your teaching style to their style of learning?

I think I am blessed in that Stella so far, has been a very interested learner – whether we sit and discuss a topic, do crafts or experiments, watch videos, and so on. One of my strengths is crafting and I’m glad she is very much into that as well.

Do you still encounter doubts sometimes about this method that you have chosen? How do you handle it when those feelings come?

Definitely. I think this happens to all parents, whether or not you homeschool. When it happens in the homeschooling context, I breathe, pray and always go back to the main reasons why we homeschool – something like our mission statement.

These main reasons are different for each family but they are of utmost importance. These serve as the foundation of your journey, something you look back to whenever you feel any doubts.

What do you do when you notice that your child is bored or doesn’t know what to do?

I suggest activities. More often than not, she ends up finding or doing something to entertain herself – whether it’s playing with her sister, drawing or painting, fixing her desk or curling up to read a book. I believe it is good to get bored. Boredom is one of the greatest springboards of creativity. It teaches the child independence, to think for themselves, and how to make use of their time productively and creatively.

How do you divide your time between work and time with your children?

I am a full-time mom so this is a great advantage. Before I had a part-time job, so that required some time management and the Jedi-ability to fight off distractions.

What’s the most challenging thing about homeschooling?

Self-doubt. Always questioning if you are doing enough or if your child is learning enough.

Do you allow your children to watch TV or use gadgets?  Why or why not?

Seldom. We want our children to be creative spirits, to be able to entertain themselves, to create something out of “nothing.” And these they do on a daily basis – for instance, they have a box filled with different kinds of long sashes, ribbons, and ropes. They have fashioned these as clothes-lines and pretended they were doing laundry by hanging bits of fabric on them; they’ve tied chairs together to create a choo-choo train, and so on.

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What do you plan to do when your child or children approach university age?

Hopefully, she would have a good idea of what she wants to do. We will not pressure her to go into university as soon as she finishes high school. We are open to apprenticeship or doing a gap year. My husband and I both agree that a university degree may not be necessary, depending on where our daughter’s interests lie. For example, if she grows proficient in baking and wants to pursue a future in that, we are open to sending her to short courses and perhaps help her set up her own business. We have so many resources now, we can learn anything we want and be proficient in it, without having to go get a University degree.

But of course, if she wants to be a doctor, then by all means, a University medical degree is a must.

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