Last October 22, the Philippine Homeschool Conference was held at SMX Aura and it was encouraging to see just how alive and kicking, thriving and healthy this movement is in this country. For parents who are making their first steps to homeschool their kids, it must have been a reassuring sight. It was kid-friendly too. You can drop off your kids in an area where they can choose to paint, practice calligraphy, take on physical challenges, play pretend and be among an active bevy of homeschooled kids. Moms and dads looking for resources had several rows of booths to wade through in between the keynote speeches and breakout sessions.
Coming all the way from the United States, Andrew Pudewa, homeschooling dad of seven children, spoke about motivation and how to help students learn well. To save the sanity of his wife, they experimented putting some of their kids into school for some time but they realized the problem that schools tend to treat kids as if they are the same. Andrew believes that if children have the freedom to pursue their interests, they learn more and the learning stays longer. They need to go deeply into something rather than what schools try to do trying to cover all the bases.
Andrew spoke about three types of relevancy: intrinsic, inspired and contrived. Intrinsic relevancy means there is a natural and innate interest in something. Inspired relevancy means there is somebody you happen to hang out with who is interested and passionate about something and you catch that interest yourself even though it’s not something that you are naturally drawn to. Students are driven to learn even without intrinsic interest because of an inspiring teacher, mentor or friend. Contrived relevancy involves taking something that is not interesting or relevant and making it into a game. Some teachers are skilled at creating games where with just a tiny attitudinal shift, the kids are moved to study because they want to win the game.
In the best “economic system” set up to motivate a student to study, Andrew recommends that there must be both a potential gain and a potential loss. For example, if the student finds and fixes the problems in all the sentences, then he can win “x” but if he only finds half, he gets only “y” and if finds only less than half, then he owes you something. The x or y prize may be monetary or anything that he has been hankering for and the potential loss can be a deduction from his past winnings.
Children like to do what they can do because they can do it. As a parent, you want to give them the opportunity to do what they like to do. However, children also want to do what they THINK they can do. Children will hate and refuse to do what they think they can’t do. Most children will prefer punishment to failure. If you spend sixty to eighty percent of the time allowing them to get better at what they like to do and twenty to forty percent of the time doing what they think they can do and minimize the time on things they don’t want to do, then you have a formula for happily motivated child.
As the founder of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, Andrew also spoke passionately about the four language arts: reading, writing, speaking and listening. He repeatedly encouraged reading out loud to children in HUGE quantities since it is the fundamental way literacy, communication skills are created and is a predictor of good writing skills. However, there is a caveat to that: good readers don’t automatically become good writers if they read too fast and are not exposed to good books. Good books are those written for the beauty of language, not merely cheap entertainment meant to be devoured in one gulp. Read aloud books above the child’s decoding level to build their syntax and vocabulary and pull up their comprehension. To counteract the negativity of the modern environment overflowing with distractions, Andrew says that children need to read two hours a day. Audio books can help redeem time and so many are available free online such as from LibriVox.
Andrew warns that parents must not be anxious if the child is not reading. I wanted to raise my hand and tell him I am one such guilty parent. One of Andrew’s sons had trouble reading so Andrew exposed him to an extreme amount of audio books and he turned into a talented writer eventually.
Memorization and recitation build language patterns. When he was studying Japanese, Andrew hit a plateau and decided he would memorize Jack and the Beanstalk in Japanese. Children can memorize poems, famous speeches, join drama, speech and debate clubs and competitions. You can set up a network of parents and join forces to create more opportunities for these type of activities. Influential British educator, Charlotte Manson emphasized the importance for children to narrate what they do, see, read or experience. Telling these back to you promotes fluency and attention to detail which are precursors to composition.
Listening is different from hearing since listening means to focus your attention and is an intentional activity. People hear things all the time without listening.
Although it is frowned upon by the current education establishment, Andrew still values copywork since it builds stamina and is the equivalent of running laps. Copying by writing is like slow motion reading. It’s a bridge to composition. He set up an economic system for his kids where they get money every time they finish copying a piece of literature but the kids give him ten cents every time they complain.
A mother of three and coming from Davao, Alex Hao spoke about the “Hows of Interest-Led Homeschooling.” The unorthodox method she uses may be labeled unschooling since she does not rely on any curriculum. People keep asking her if her children are learning anything and she believes they are but not the stuff other kids are learning in school.
People ask, “What if they don’t become interested in anything worthy?” Alex retorts, “What is worthy? What defines worthiness? We don’t know what the world needs or will need.” People ask, “Practical ba yan? Ano magiging trabaho niya?” Alex observes how there is a society-approved definition of terms like “practical” and if you don’t happen to prioritize the same things, then your child may end up “lacking” or “kawawa.” Who sets these standards?
For Alex, the child is their curriculum. Offer what’s available and fan the flames of their dreams. Given the proper guidance and facilitation, children eventually develop the initiative to study. Watch out for those sparks of curiosity and ride the spark.
In an online article, Alex mentioned that “Just like school is not for everybody, homeschooling is not for everybody. There should be no coercion, fear, or shaming when sifting through one’s choices about educating or parenting one’s children. Parents are the children’s main educators and family is the smallest and most fundamental unit of our society. How a parent chooses to educate and orient his or her child is vital to the society as a whole and meaningful to the child. So to recommend one approach over all others is naive and narrow minded. We don’t look alike or sound the same, but we are people and part of the larger sea of humanity whether you were educated at home informally or in an institution with records and awards. We don’t all fit in the same mold, and that is the beauty, strength, and potential pitfall of it all.”
From the conference, my husband, Jason most liked an idea brought up by one of the speakers: that of partnering with other parents. If one parent likes teaching English and another Science, they could link up and have an exchange. Each parent teaches the subject they love to both sets of children. So it’s not only the children’s interests that are followed in homeschooling, the parents’ own personal passions and inclinations can also be pursued.