Christmas at Our Second Home


These past three months at Abot Tala were capped off by a sumptuous Christmas spread, baking pandesal and cookies using the new oven, the block presentation of photos, artworks, videos wacky fun and waxing nostalgic, videoke and games, people in pajamas — all making this feel like one cozy house party.

This is a second home already aside from being the place where teens can learn what they’re interested in: fencing, improvisation, cooking, filmmaking, 3D printing, coding, sign language while still taking up the usual subjects in school, albeit taught not in the usual way.  Second homes like first homes and any home for that matter are all about the people, relationships and our shared, flawed, precious, perfect, imperfect humanity.  Homes and communities are works in progress with room for continuous growth and improvement but enough, blessed and grateful the way we are right now.

I love the personalized mugs created by Owie for each of the mentors and trustees.  We had mugs in the house but I desired a mug for my scattered pens that kept hiding under piles of papers and moving places on their own (I swear it was here but where did it go?).  I thought of buying how silly was that since there were plenty of cups in the house.  It just didn’t feel right to use the same vessel for coffee and tea for writing tools.  Now, Owie unknowingly solved my problem plus gave me a compelling visual to keep imagining and re-imagining the future, and a powerful reminder that no matter how lost you get, you will always be found.

Moments from the past few months include, among the everyday activities in the center, two field trips — one impromptu and another semi-spontaneous brought about by the feeling that “Hey, we should do this more often.”

Meanwhile at the Teens’


In the past few months, the teens at Abot Tala celebrated the Chilean and Brazilian way with food galore, the Pinoy way via a karaoke party, Star Wars via fencing, shot a short film in a farm location, let their imagination run away to the max via Dungeons and Dragons, studied sign language, shared what they learned with their families through the block presentation, spent time jamming, chatting and chillaxing.  Nobody can take away the laughter, stories and memories except perhaps, if we let them.



The Day’s Take-Away


Last year, we all wore purple for Laksmi.  This year, Laksmi was still in purple but she also wore the teen-designed Abot Tala t-shirt along four other costumes, changing several times like Superman swooshing in and out of a telephone booth.

Somebody asked what’s the best take-away from the Philippine Homeschool Convention 2019 and there are just so many to mention.  One is the realization that despite so many different styles of homeschooling, we are all united in our desire to improve ourselves, to encourage, support and learn from one another.  It’s always inspiring to hear veteran homeschoolers and unschoolers share their stories and these are just some of my notes from the plenary and break-out sessions:

Dawn Fung, a leader-organizer of the homeschooling community in Singapore learned that she had to sacrifice her vision of trophy children.  Donna Simpao said that her kids appreciated the focus on being a good person first and only after could they become a good student.  Marla Taviano and her unschooling family moved from America to Cambodia where they built libraries and an adventure-filled life.  Kay Ang emphasized experiences over material things and encouraged parents to take their kids to work.  Aileen Santos advises parents to take on a coaching mindset while her 20-year old daughter, Fudge recounted how she developed self-discipline and initiative as a homeschooler and how she learned not to please everyone.  Dawn Fung had a sizable audience break up into groups, brainstorm about their dream homeschool co-op, after which each group leader pitched the ideas back to the crowd.

A great shout-out of thanks to the organizers of the convention and much appreciation for the team of teens and mentors headed by Owie who made the Abot Tala booth a reality.



Juniors Welcome


Abot Tala was originally intended for young people ages 12 to 18, but after opening this April 2019, we realized it was too good not to share the experience to kids from 6 to 11 years old.  Thus, Abot Tala Junior was formed with its separate space and a complete team of mentor-teachers eager to redefine school for the 21st-century learner.  As an interest-led learning center, Abot Tala Junior seeks to celebrate and honor each child’s innate curiosity, what they are naturally drawn to and their unique way of seeing the world.

The program focuses on:

  • The child as a whole person – nourishing their body, heart, mind
  • Providing a caring, supportive, and nurturing environment where kids are respected and seen as interesting individuals
  • Designing a space where each kid achieves and feels good at their own level (no competition, just enjoyment on their own personal progress)
  • Training them to develop basic tools of education: questioning, self-expression, exploration, discovery, stories.
  • Forming the 21st century skills: creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration
  • Integrated learning – English, Math, Science, History, Social studies, Entrepreneurship, Care for Environment and other topics integrated into activities that are interactive and engaging
  • Interest-led and personalized – following the child’s interests and where that could lead them



1. Inquiry-based learning

Children will be provided with opportunities to ask questions, investigate, and figure out the answers to their inquiries. This will help them know their interests.

2. Project-based learning

Children are going to delve into exploring real-world problem, thinking of solutions, and creating one relevant project.

3. Personal and group goal setting

Teachers collaborate with the kids, especially when it comes to planning of the activities and setting of expectations. This will help build a sense of community where everyone looks after one another, solves problems, and learn together.

4. A buffet of topics and activities 

They will be presented with a menu of stimulating topics and activities to see what will generate interest and spark curiosity.

5. Teachers as facilitators and models

The teachers will learn beside the kids, collaborate with them, and guide them in pursuing their interests. They are also responsible for developing in themselves the same things that they want the children to learn.


There are two sets of age groups: those who are 6, 7, 8 years old and those ages 9, 10, 11.  There are two full-time teacher-facilitators and from time to time, guest teachers will come to give special pop-up classes.  There is a limit of 5 to 6 kids per age group.

Just like Abot Tala for Teens, Abot Tala Junior is not a school.  The children who join this program are either homeschooling already or intend to homeschool.  Abot Tala Junior is an alternative to mainstream school.  If the children want to transition to regular school, they need to take the PEP Test at DepEd or get a homeschool provider or support.

Abot Tala Junior runs Monday to Thursday from 9am to 3pm.  Families can choose to join once, twice, thrice or four times a week.  We accept children at any point of the year.

Following are quotes that inspire us:

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” -Leo F. Buscaglia

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” -Mr. Rogers

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” -Carl Jung

“Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” -Plato

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” Kahlil Gibran

That last quote keeps me dreaming of an open green space nearby where children could freely run and play on the grass, under the trees and sky.  Oh, if we could find a place like Gopala Learning Haven in Silang, Cavite but here in Manila!   Looking forward to the Juniors’ field trip there one of these days.







Junior is Here!


We thought it would take another year before we could open Abot Tala for younger kids.  It took us more than a year (14 months) to give birth to Abot Tala for teens so we surmised we needed time for the junior’s gestation period.  However, circumstances conspired to bring us to where we are now: ready to open the doors of Abot Tala for children 6 to 11 years old!

We ran a two-week experiment last June to see if the kids and teens could co-exist in one place and we concluded that if we had a much bigger space, it could be done.  But since the space for teens was limited as it was, a separate area for kids was necessary.  We also had to quickly assemble a team like Avengers and it was no easy feat.  Things eluded us.  There were moments when we thought this dream was impossible to pull off this year and we could just wait till next year or when the universe grants us the consenting environment.   Surprisingly, it did and tomorrow, August 12, we expand the age group and the physical space.

Abot Tala for teens promotes self-directed learning while Abot Tala for the kids is interest-led.  Activities cater to all multiple intelligences and learning styles.  The teacher follows the interests of the children while giving ample importance to basic academic skills.

Just like Abot Tala for Teens, Abot Tala Junior is not a school.  The children who join us are either homeschooling already or intend to homeschool.  Abot Tala Junior is an alternative to mainstream school.  If the children want to transition to regular school or go to university in the future, they can opt to take the PEP Test at DepEd and/or get a homeschool provider.

Families can choose whether their kids attend Abot Tala Junior once, twice, thrice or four times a week.  There are no grades, report cards or certificates.  Every two or three months, there will be a presentation of the children’s works.  To learn more about this program, visit

abot tala junior logo

poster - teens & juniors 7

poster - teens & juniors 8




Your Launchpad is Waiting


Two months in our Taguig space and our second block presentation yielded a harvest of sorts:  a classical guitar performance, a court case dramatization, a recent painting, making crepes and empanada for parents and visitors, and a documentary on Abot Tala that has gotten a lot of hits on FB since it’s been posted.  The indie video was picked up, appropriately enough, by a site called EDIT – Education in Transformation.

‘Education in Transformation’ (EDIT) is a team of filmmakers whose mission it is to share stories from the Self-Directed Education movement.

We believe this paradigm shift in Education is a high leverage point for stepping into our potential as a human community.

Our role is to amplify a diverse set of voices from students, parents, and educators from around the world as they explore ways of learning that honour the uniqueness and autonomy of both the individual and the collective.

Our mission is to inspire more people to participate in this transformation by making visible that this change is possible and it is happening right now.

Some weeks before the presentation, Abot Tala teens made ice cream from scratch, took a pop-up class on rocking your resume and prepping for a job interview, took apart various donated appliances that the juniors can use to produce art in the future and said their farewells to a pair who were going back to regular school.


Here are the classes this August-September in Abot Tala.  If you know somebody who is looking for an option outside of mainstream school or for a community of homeschoolers, unschoolers and mentors, please point them towards Tres Palmas, Taguig.


Their launchpad is waiting.



Notes from a Conference We Didn’t Attend Except in Spirit


We wish we could have been there but it was impossible unless we could be beamed up from the Philippines to the U.S.   The conference was scheduled around the same time we were moving into our own space in Taguig.  Thank goodness for audio recordings that make its way to us almost instantly through email.

Since August of last year, Abot Tala has been a part of the Liberated Learners, a network of centers modeled after the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens.  Every year, the founders and staff meet, share experiences and lessons from running the same type of space where teens can direct their own education.  Adults are not there to tell them what to do or study, but to facilitate the process.

Last night, two of our members spoke with Catina as they were trying to put together their “story” to be used in our outreach efforts. One of them used a beautiful metaphor of a flower. She said that often she has felt as if she were like a flower trying to grow with a big rock on top. She has had to grow crooked and deformed to accommodate this rock. She feels Embark has simply, moved the rock allowing her to grow in the way she was always meant to.

So, my quest: Move the rock. Don’t be the rock.

                                             Andrea Cubelo-McKay, Founder                                                                                       Embark Center for Self-Directed Education

Being in Abot Tala almost every day these past weeks, struggling with the challenges, sometimes, I feel like the rock that has to be moved away.  Listening to the recordings and reading Ken Danford’s book are great reminders about why Abot Tala exists.  But the best reminders are the kids themselves.  When you talk to them and get to know them and know you are in the presence of precious souls.

Daniela Gonzalez, one of the guest mentors at Abot Tala took down these notes from the audio recordings:

  • Relationship, building trust, being part of the community is the most important element in supporting teens in what they want to do.
  • Mentoring is the service that parents value most.
  • Freedom comes with great responsibility.  Teens aren’t ready to take on that responsibility and need help with it through mentoring
  • Mentoring allows to have quick feedback from members regarding their social relationships and learning at the center (e.g. if someone is making them sad, if they don’t like one of their one-on-one learning sessions, etc.)
  • Being a mentor sometimes means repeating the same thing multiple times over many sessions before a teen considers it.
  • Teens feel valued when asked about the things they do that interests them (e.g. “why did you like that movie?” “what do you like about that game?” etc.)
  • Through mentoring we can help teens to have more agency in their lives.
  • Mentoring indirectly builds trust with the parents and the whole family.
  • For teens who say they will do X number of things and then don’t follow through, it’s a good idea to talk after a month or so during mentoring and say “Hey, so we have this action item here and it’s been four/five weeks and you’ve been saying you were going to do it but perhaps there’s something holding you back? Perhaps there’s something getting in the way.  Let’s analyze . . . “
  • Some kids need spontaneity and flexibility, others need structure. The “superpower” of the model is that it allows for both.

These are points which I highlighted:

  • Everyone is working on themselves to be better.
  • You are capable of more than what people have decided you’re capable of.
  • Let’s build this together because we don’t want this to go away.