What are the Chances?

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Yaacov, Cecelia and Iku used giant leaves to call attention to their cause: fundraising for APDEC (Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference held in Taiwan last July).  Because the organizers wanted more participants to be able to afford the conference, they lowered the fees but didn’t have enough to cover the costs during the week of the event itself.  However, in a gathering of people who champion democratic education, there’s bound to be leaders like Yaacov, Cecelia and Iku who would rally everyone to pitch in and help the organizers.  Aside from putting up a donation box, an auction was held where anyone can contribute anything they could.  The highest bidder gets to take home items such as a drum from Kenya, Japanese green tea biscuits (claimed and proven to be the most delicious), pictures drawn by children, musical instruments made of popsicle sticks, an autographed book and other bric-a-brac.

I didn’t have any thing to offer so I thought of auctioning a blog entry — a writer for hire.  So that’s this article here that you’re reading now and the winning bidder is Taiwanese homeschooling mom, Irene Su.  Now the odd coincidence is: I won the bid for a drawing Irene’s son made of heroes.  Plus, we both have two sons who are the same age.  What are the chances, right?

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Irene’s decision to homeschool didn’t come easy and homeschoolers face that dilemma of choosing a non-mainstream method which people generally tend to be skeptical and wary of. In Irene’s case, it was her architect-husband who encouraged her.  Their eldest son, Timothy also led them towards that path by clearly expressing what he wanted.  Timothy tried going to school for a month and didn’t like it, saying the teacher was often angry at the naughty boys.  Timothy also begged to study Japanese but it’s something not taught in Taiwanese school.  Irene got a tutor for him and now seven years old, Timothy reads and writes Chinese, Japanese and English and can remember more dates and names in history than Irene could.  Timothy also regularly reads stories to his four-year old brother Lewis and helps bathe him.

One of the criticisms levied at homeschooling is the issue of socialization but parents are quick to defend that there are opportunities to play with other kids.  In Irene’s situation, she has partnered with her good friend, Leri who is also a homeschooling mom.  Leri is a missionary and English teacher from South Africa who has two children, Taelyn and Jared.  Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Irene and Leri homeschool the kids together.

Their basic schedule goes like this: morning worship songs, Bible story followed by two subjects and lunch.  They sometimes teach all four kids together or split them into older and younger groups.  The two moms take turns teaching history and the kids are lucky to be able to learn English from Leri and Chinese from Irene.   Leri also teaches drama and organizes an Adventurers Club similar to the Boys Scouts while Irene integrates scientific concepts into the arts and crafts, which sometimes prove to be explosive fun.

Irene maximizes learning opportunities outside of the classroom while Leri loves finding innovative ways to help kids connect with the topic through the use of stories and movement.  It’s the different teaching methods of the two mothers that broaden the children’s way of thinking and that’s why team-teaching for the dynamic duo is a source of joy.  What are the chances that two homeschooling moms can partner with each other and complement each other’s styles beautifully?

Irene loves to travel with her children, even braving the Philippines during a typhoon.  After visiting a squatters’ area and seeing the extent of extreme poverty there, Timothy said he wanted to be a doctor and didn’t want to waste any more food after that trip.  In Japan, they did a homestay with a couple with one child.  Homes in Japan are usually tiny so they were surprised that their hosts lived in a big house.  Irene’s family has been to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Macau and live with the locals whenever they can. Through these trips, Irene prefers that her children learn from real-life experiences like purchasing tickets, planning trips, buying food, solving problems along the way, writing letters to people in other countries and keeping a diary about the trip.

Timothy and Lewis’ friends are from all over the world and of different ages.  If they were in school, they would mostly be interacting with kids their age, but in homeschool, they hang out with kids, teenagers and senior citizens. Timothy especially likes talking about history with older people and could be seen in APDEC talking with the adults or playing zombie with the one of the speakers, Henry Readhead of Summerhill School fame.  Lewis likes climbing, swimming, playing golf, jumping up and down and according to Irene, is never shy.
For Irene, the bureaucratic red tape to apply to homeschool is quite tedious along with the need to do more than the usual amount of house-cleaning.  In the future, Irene will give her children the freedom to choose their high school, whether they want to continue homeschooling or attend an overseas boarding school.  For college, they can choose where they’d like to study or even consider Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC).  Even during high school, the option to take university courses is already available.

Irene and her whole family were impressed by APDEC and how people not only talked about but lived their belief that children are important.  She was happy to meet people who shared the same view that learning should take place outside the classroom setting like a library, museum, on a trip and generally anywhere else your feet and minds can take you, which in Irene’s case, is everywhere.

Check out MOOCs:

Who’s Benefiting from MOOCs and Why

MOOCs are Multiplying at a Rapid Pace

MOOCs: Top 10 Sites for Free Education with Elite Universities

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