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.