Explosion of Options

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In my mind, I pictured a school I’d want my kids to attend and it’s more a Sudbury-Summerhill type where kids are free to roam outdoors and choose activities and classes according to their interests.   When I entered the gates of Navadwip Farm in Silang, Cavite and saw the expanse of grass and trees, it felt like home.  When Laksmi Maluya, the organizer of the farm activity and founder of Gopala Play Center showed me a run-down, nipa-roofed building on stilts that she wanted to convert into a center for homeschoolers, I was smitten.

Joshua rode his bike up and down the gentle slopes.  One of the older kids pulled a blue cart while others pushed so that the smaller kids could have a ride of their life.  Laksmi prepared a day of games, salad making, hiking, scavenger hunting, knot tying and others but the children ruled the roost.  They mostly ran around and in expert fashion spontaneously did what they do best: play.

My mind was racing with images of the school I wanted for Joshua and Jimmy, the schools I’ve been researching for over a year that existed elsewhere in the world except the Philippines.  Now, it was here within arms reach, realizable and feasible.  Laksmi operated an indoor play center in town but when the opportunity to move to the four-hectare Navadwip farm came, it was a no-brainer to transfer.  She just needs to have the existing structures renovated while there’s a place in the property that can already be used temporarily.

Laksmi was a homeschooled child herself who attended no gradeschool, no high school but was able to enter college merely by taking the test.  They were six kids in all who were homeschooled by a group of vegetarian parents and now, Laksmi herself is homeschooling her three daughters.

In the afternoon, all the parents gathered around Laksmi as she shared her own homeschooling journey as a child and as a parent.   As I listened to her speak with passion and heart, I realized this dream school of mine is not merely about the place.  More importantly, it’s about the people who share the same vision.

 

Whenever I arrive in Manila for a holiday from our China home base, I always hunt for whatever is available for homeschoolers.  I wish there was as much of an explosion of options for homeschoolers in China as there are in the Philippines but I learned that you have to make opportunities yourself where there are seemingly few.  Exploring the abundance of choices here in Manila gives me ideas of what I can do in China and vice versa so shuttling between two countries can feed on each other in a positive way.

The number of resources and support for homeschoolers in the Philippines is so many, it makes me wish I could go back.  But because we live in a third-tier city in China, life there makes more economical sense than Manila where the cost of living is much higher. However, the environment in China doesn’t lend itself well to homeschooling because in the town where we are, most if not all Chinese students attend school.  There’s a small community of foreigners who homeschool but we still have to see if some kind of co-op can be formed.  A Chinese friend of mine who is planning to homeschool is interested in pooling resources as I can handle the English and she’s in-charge of the Chinese.  We plan to look for other families who might want to join us.

In the Philippines, because the number of homeschoolers are in the thousands, co-ops, resources, enrichment programs, classes and Facebook groups have mushroomed serving and connecting eager families, building communities of life-long learners.

When Joshua was 4 years old, he joined some sessions of the Futbol Funatics.  This is a football program for kids, not necessarily homeschooled.  Joshua is such a natural at the sport and derives so much joy from it that I wish his inconsistent but much missed foray into football is not limited to whenever  we go home to Manila during the Chinese holidays.  I hope we can find a football group for him in Xishuangbanna.

Another homeschooling activity that we tried was organized by the Flying School Bus on science and engineering.  I wish we had more time so we could try Homeschool @ Valle Verde, too.

Links:

Summerhill School, UK

Sudbury Valley School, USA

The Sudbury Model

The Alliance for Self-Directed Learning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Site is Up!

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The crowdfunding site is up and running!   After going through a series of hoops and hurdles as all worthwhile endeavors involve, I was giddy with excitement finally seeing it online.  I received a lot of help and encouragement from the people at CauseVox, the platform for people and organizations with an advocacy, a dream, a burning passion that keeps them up at night and energized in the day.

My friend in China, Donna and I wish to bring Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson to Manila for a seminar-workshop sharing their experiences about democratic and self-directed education on July 29, 2017.

Read about Yaacov here:

Democratic Education Around the World

Excerpts from Yaacov’s Speech

Read about Simon here:

Interview with Simon Robinson

And if you’re interested in attending the seminar-workshop on July 29 in Manila:

What the Seminar-Workshop is About

Or supporting the cause of spreading the word about self-directed education:

The Future of Self-Directed Education in the Philippines

And if this is not enough and you simply want to know more about self-directed education:

Alliance for Self-Directed Education

Video on Self-Directed Education

Hope to see you in July!

Answered Question

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I’ve been wanting to share this for two days but I still can’t get over watching and reading things about the hard-to-believe, it-could-only-happen-in-the-twilight-zone inauguration but the unthinkable happened and there is no turning back.

Anyway, some days ago, I posted a question online and got a substantial and very insightful answer from Dr. Randy Kulman, founder of LearningWorks for Kids. They have made it their mission to maximize the potential that video games and technology offer in improving children’s thinking skills.

Here’s my question followed by Dr. Kulman’s advice:

I’m homeschooling my two sons (ages 7 and 4) and started by using workbooks and abandoned it quickly because it was too frustrating for all of us.  We’ve been using online programs instead but it seems to be good only at the start and then it gets boring.  We started with Time4Learning and then quit after a few months.  We’re now using Splash Math and IXL which seem better.  Teach Your Monster to Read is great but is wearing out its novelty.  Getepic is so far the greatest online resource that is never tiring for us and is such a joy to use. However, I’m the one reading to them all the time.  I’d like to find a game that will challenge and motivate my kids to learn to read in a fun way — sort of like Teach Your Monster to Read but more creative and less redundant.  When it comes to reading sentences in that game, I have to come in and help my boys.   I would truly appreciate any advice.

Your question is compelling because you’re not only asking how to build your sons’ reading skills, you’re looking for a way to make the process enjoyable for them. Helping your children learn to read is one of the most important tasks you will undertake as their teacher. Helping them love to read is one of the greatest gifts you can give them as a parent. If your kids can learn to enjoy reading, they are far more likely to become critical thinkers and self-led learners.

We are in agreement that a program that is too advanced for them, which requires you to come and basically do their work, isn’t effective. However, as you already know, your involvement — moral support, guidance, leading reflections — is paramount to their success.

Out of the many tools we’ve reviewed at LW4K, my favorite are interactive electronic books. While some of these books may be a bit advanced for your four-year-old, your seven-year-old is likely to be able to enjoy them and learn from them as he practices his reading. The Crack the Books series, which includes the interactive Earth Science textbooks Seashores to Sea Floors and Pines to Vines, is a wonderful set of tools to engage a child in reading and get them interested in the world around them. Designed primarily for elementary school students, Crack the Books apps offer different levels of reading difficulty, allowing children in grades 1 through 8 to enjoy the texts without changing the nature of the core curriculum. There are many other publishers of interactive e-books that might also be helpful for you, such as Ocean House Media and Capstone Publishing.

Another great tool for kids who are learning to read on their own is Amazon.com’s Whispersync.  Whispersync is a service that allows a Kindle user to listen to an audio version of the book while reading along as the words are highlighted in the text. While I do not recommend Whispersync for beginning readers, it can be very helpful for children who already have basic reading skills. Not only can it help them gain reading fluency, it can build their vocabulary by introducing them to new words and helping them with pronunciation. By making reading a less frustrating experience, Whispersync can help kids learn to love books.

I have my parents to thank for instilling a love of reading and learning in me. I can think of very few pleasures greater than sitting down with a great book. I encourage you to continue to look for engaging tools and technologies that will help your kids love to read. Let us know what you find and what works.

I asked our editor, Leah Watkins, for her suggestions. Here’s what she said:

Of course you know that kids will focus and stick with reading if it’s fun. You might try LeapFrog’s LeapReader, which has stories starring characters from Disney, Pixar, and Nickelodeon. The Sprout, PBS Kids, and Scholastic websites are also excellent resources, offering games and listen-and-read activities that feature books and TV shows like The Magic School Bus, Arthur, Dot and Caillou.

But if you had success with Teach Your Monster to Read, I really think you should check out StoryBots, a multi-platform edutainment system with a focus on phonics and reading. Created for kids 3-8 years old, its apps, books, videos, and games have gotten so popular in recent months that it’s now a Netflix Original animated series.

Drunk with the Joy of Everything

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“Shui, shui, shui, shui, shui, shui!” (sounds like ‘sway’ but with a ‘sh’shway)  The men shout six times and down their bai jiu (Chinese alcohol).

“Water, water, water, water, water, water!” what it sounds like to my limited Mandarin ears but in the Dai minority dialect, it means, “Drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, drink!”

The revelers also greet each other, “Yang yang hao!”  To me it sounds like good goat or good itch but correctly deciphered it means, “Everything good!”

“You’re about to lose your job!”

“Everything good!”

“Your marriage is in shambles!”

“Everything good!”

“I don’t know what the heck I’m doing!”

“Everything good!”

“I don’t know what the future holds!”

“Everything good!”

It’s good to get drunk now and then and be swept away to another frame of mind by 50% homemade village alcohol tinted bamboo green.

My friend in the Philippines was telling me a story of a very rich man’s mansion that they visited which had it’s own man-made or man-added-sand beach, hectares and hectares of manicured grass. The house had more than twenty rooms but the guests weren’t offered much to eat.  I told my friend what a contrast to the simple mountain villages we visited where guests were treated with a feast.  Everything eaten in China is equivalent to a feast elsewhere but that is how Chinese people eat — with more dishes than usual for other nationalities.  It was no different in Xiao Lu’s village where we had a pre-Spring Festival celebration.  Each household killed a pig and prepared a variety of dishes with fresh pork and vegetables from their garden.

Tomorrow, we fly back to Manila.  I will surely miss Jinghong especially my favorite room, my favorite office, the one with the sweeping view of the mountains and enough space for my clutter.  Plus, in our xiao qu, it’s relatively easy for Jimmy to find a playmate in the sandpit.

 

 

 

Wonder Woe

 

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Pat Farenga said that unschooling is an approach that allows “children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear.”  Parents have varying degrees of “letting go” and “holding on” to certain aspects of the wide education spectrum.  Couples themselves have different comfort levels, expectations and requirements that may be in conflict with one another so they have to work at untangling knots.

There are many things that frustrate me about our homeschooling and when I read books and articles, most of the stories are happy, over-the-hump type of experiences that are hard to relate to.  The kids have found what they’re interested naturally and their parents have hit their homeschooling stride.  I’m not there yet and far from feeling comfortable in this skin.  I scour online for a consultant and found Amy Milstein’s Unschooling NYC website.  We arrange a Skype meeting where Amy assures me that everyone goes through hoops and hurdles, doubts and frustrations but these things are not as talked about or highlighted as the uplifting anecdotes.

After going through a checklist of issues that hung around my neck like a millstone for weeks and months, I realized almost all except one were non-issues.  My load was lightened considerably but days after our conversation, the doubts slowly creep back in, so I’m summarizing them in a table as a reminder.

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Nowadays, when I’m deeply dissatisfied with our homeschooling sessions or something displeases me, I threaten the kids hoping my husband would listen as I half-scream, “I’m putting you in school” or “That’s why I want you guys to go school.  We can’t go on this way!”

 
I’m also not comfortable homeschooling in a country where there are not too many homeschoolers.  If we were in the Philippines or America, for example, it would be easy to network, arrange playdates, even form a homeschooling co-op.  I would also gladly continue homeschooling if I could get some tutors, if there were other kids we can share study and play time with and if there were more resources all around.   However, there is this ideal situation in mind not reflected in reality and we have to work with what’s there.  How can limitations be transcended?I wish we lived in a country where there was a Sudbury School or a progressive school and we can send our kids there.  I wish my husband and I agreed more on what to do about their education but it seems we are not united.  He is adamant we continue homeschooling but I would rather they try out some formal schooling (China, Philippines or elsewhere) and then decide which method we all want as a family.  I’m not comfortable imposing our choice of homeschooling because our kids, except for kindergarten, have not tried school.

I wish Philippines was an option because schooling there is not as rigid as the Chinese system plus there are a lot of homeschoolers.  But there is too much baggage there for us that may be detrimental to our family in the long run.

The frustration is eating away at me from the inside.  I wish a viable third way presents itself.

Our friends from Chengdu happen to be visiting us now in Jinghong -– a couple with their 5 year old daughter.  They are contemplating moving to Xishuangbanna since the pollution has caught up with Chengdu.  They too love the outdoors and dream of immigrating to New Zealand someday.

This morning, their daughter, Xiaomi, joined Joshua and Jimmy during our regular English lessons and the boys stepped up their performance eager to show-off.  Since I started this homeschooling journey, I’ve been pleased with the tweaks I’ve made in our program.  I’ve cut away unsuccessful bits, replacing them with better portions but am generally unhappy because there are things I’d like to do but am unable because my husband disagrees.  On the other hand, my husband must be saying to himself, “Why can’t this woman ever stop worrying?”  And inside my head, I’d say, “Why can’t he just let me be in-charge of the education aspect?”  Our lack of communication is compensated by the arrival of our friends.

My friend, Jenny and I talked about a plan that’s like a homeschool co-op.  I can teach our combined kids on Mondays and Wednesdays while she can handle Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I’d be responsible for English and she would be for Chinese.  On Friday, we can get a tutor to get fresh and more professional input.   Ideally, we’d love to find other parents who want to homeschool their kids and then we could rotate and be in-charge of one day a week each.  But where do we find those families in Jinghong?   Most of the foreigners who are homeschooling already have their set routines and they do everything in English.  The Chinese kids’ level of English would be too low to join English homeschoolers so the ideal would be a co-op among Chinese families.  But, again, how do we find those families?  Perhaps, they are thinking of immigrating also.  Perhaps, I haven’t exhausted all means, have barely scratched the surface and then suddenly it’s time for us to fly back to Manila in two days.

When we go back to Xishuangbanna after our big American road trip, perhaps a more palatable option will emerge.

 

 

 

Riverside Favorite

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In Jinghong, there is a part of the Mekong River that we always love to go to but that’s being renovated now.  There’s a convenient swimming pool and water park that’s now demolished so it’s good that we went there as much as we could before the wrecking ball came.  There’s a part where people flew remote-controlled airplanes that’s now boarded up.  So we ventured into another part of the river and were pleasantly surprised that it’s even more idyllic than our former favorite.  Big stones to sit on and ponder, grass to lie on and slumber and the perfect bike path that becomes a boardwalk on another side where bikes are not allowed but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying a perfect afternoon.

 

 

Which Pitch Do You Like Better?

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Dear family and friends, I’m embarking on a crowdfunding campaign to support the seminar-workshop on self-directed education we are holding on July 29, 2017 with Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson.  I wrote two versions of the pitch — one that gives a brief backstory and another that goes straight to the point.  Which one do you think is better?

One friend prefers the first one because it could build connection between the readers and writer while the second one’s no-frills, direct pitch might be good for a cover page.

Here is the long version:

The Future of Self-Directed Education in the Philippines

Having lived in China for more than eight years, I saw the problems of the educational system from horror stories told by my university students.  After seeing the worrying effects on students’ lives and attitudes, I feared the prospect of my own children languishing in the system.  I was determined not to let the fire in my children’s eyes go out.  However, it’s not only the Chinese system where this lamentable phenomenon is happening.  In many countries, the stifling effects of schooling are felt, some recognized but not arrested fast enough to save minds from the cookie-cutter, factory assembly lines of irrelevant curriculum.

My anxiety about traditional education transformed into an eager curiosity to investigate alternative forms of education such as Waldorf, democratic schools, homeschooling, unschooling and Finland’s much-hailed system.  In July 2016, I attended the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) where I met Yaacov Hecht who sparked a crazy dream in me and my Chinese friends that China and the Philippines would someday host the APDEC and have their own democratic school.

As the first step of many, we have invited Yaacov Hecht from Israel and Simon Robinson from the U.K. to talk about self-directed and democratic education in Manila on July 29, 2017.  Yaacov will be a speaker at the APDEC in August in Tokyo while Simon teaches at the Okinawa Sudbury School, thus Manila is conveniently nearby.

Yaacov founded the first democratic school in Israel and helped establish a network of democratic schools at a national and international level.  Simon is interested in developing a school culture that celebrates free play and creativity, which are some of the highest expressions of the human spirit.  In their seminar-workshop in Manila, they will share their experiences as well as explore the possibilities of self-directed learning and democratic education in the Philippines.  Through this, we hope to find other champions and supporters and build momentum for this movement in the country.

Here is the short version:

The Future of Self-Directed Education in the Philippines

We’d like to hold a talk about self-directed and democratic education in Manila on July 29, 2017 with Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson as speakers.  Yaacov founded the first democratic school in Israel and helped establish a network of democratic schools at a national and international level.  A teacher at the Okinawa Sudbury School in Japan, Simon is interested in developing a school culture that celebrates free play and creativity, which are some of the highest expressions of the human spirit.  In their seminar-workshop in Manila, they will share their experiences as well as explore the possibilities of self-directed learning and democratic education in the Philippines.  Through this, we hope to find other champions and supporters and build momentum for this movement in the country.

After researching and considering various platforms like Indiegogo (can’t use if you’re not from the US and certain countries), Go Get Funding, Cause, Go Fund Me and Razoo, I’m leaning towards Causevox.   Exciting times!