Missing You Much So I’m Rambling

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Okay, who’s bright idea was this, anyway?  Mine.  It seemed like a bright idea then but now I am somewhat regretful.  It’s been almost a month since Jimmy and I have parted ways in New York.  Jason and Jimmy flew back to China while Joshua and I returned to Manila.  Although I know we’ll be reunited at the end of July, it seems like eternity and I feel the pain of all mothers without their child by their side.  I know I am much, much luckier, muchly much luckier, ducky, that the time of separation is relatively short at two months.  Others have years in between of not being together, of not being able to embrace each other with only Skype to ease the longing and pain of distance.

At times like these, I need to reflect on the purpose.  Since Jason has family duties to fulfill in China and I had similar duties to perform in the Philippines, we decided to divide and conquer.  Before, it had always been my two kids and me going to Manila but now, we thought it would be good for each grandson to spend time with their grandparents in both countries since they have sorely been missed after embarking our major coast to coast drive.

I also wanted to focus on Joshua’s education, since another decision Jason and I made as parents is to finally enroll them in regular school.   Alleluia!   This has been my sentiment and hope for the past year even if I had been researching these alternative mumbo jumbo.  It was my smokescreen.  It was a desperate ploy to make sense of what we were doing if it was done within the context of a scholarly research, an experiment with academic bent.  However, the search was also a legitimate project that has evolved into something greater than I imagined, leading us to places we would not explore otherwise. It was a blessing.  It was my way of turning adversity to advantage.

What was the adversity?  I was not fully convinced about homeschooling for our family. I was more on the lookout for progressive schools.  Although I admire and envy many of my friends who homeschool (e.g. Bunny, Jen, Laksmi, Nimai), I know I dislike teaching kindergarten or grade school age kids.  At that age, I’d prefer to send them to a traditional or progressive school and the option of homeschooling would only be considered in the later years before or around high school.  I prefer formal schooling until they are able to read and write well enough in English and Mandarin.  Though, I am open to switching back to homeschooling if the kids themselves request it themselves.

Having tried homeschooling for a year, the results fell far short of my expectations and I need to cram review time.  I’m arranging tutorials for Joshua to get him prepared for the upcoming school year.   So that’s the other purpose of the separation — for me to be able to focus on Joshua’s academics.  I just did not realize it would be this tough without Jimmy.  We were separated when he was three months old when he had to go to China to get his passport with his Dad but we had recently been in this tight-knit, family bonding, 24-7 togetherness trip.  Without him, it feels like jumping off a plane without a parachute.  Jimmy is so sweet, so malambing.  He is the yin to Joshua’s yang.  Near polar opposites in personalities, the two boys are too dear to me for words, gushing moms know.

Another purpose for this imposed separation is the Art Camp Donna and I planned for July — the Hero’s Journey where Chinese students are flying to the Philippines to practice their English in theater, art and music workshops in Casa San Miguel, Zambales.  Jimmy is too young to join, Donna and I decided but now I wish we could reverse the decision. Jimmy has matured a lot after the US trip.

I guess I want Jimmy to know that this separation is hard for Mommy.  It’s only two months, for heaven’s sake!  It reminds me of my friend who’s having separation anxiety because her eleven year old boy is off to a three-week summer camp.  Separation indeed feels different when the child is at age 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 . . . . You get the drift.  We parents have to eventually learn the art of letting our children go.  Imagine the parents who can’t let go of their kids who are already 35, 40, 45, 50!  Yes, there are parents like those, probably more in Asia.

Imagine the difficulty parents face when they can’t accept the fact that their 25 or 45 year old child has a life of his own, who can’t trust their child to make decisions for herself because they think it’s a mistake, they’re going to run aground, bash their heads into a wall, crash and burn, fall and scrape their knees like they were four year olds.

I don’t want to be a parent like that.  My friends and I talk about it.  If we come to a point in our lives when our children are grown and we still want to exercise control over their lives, we should slap and remind each other of that time when we promised not to be that kind of parent.

My husband, Jason remembers fondly and I do appreciate how he recalls the speech that Bo Sanchez gave during the Philippine Homeschool Conference that we attended last year.  A famous inspirational speaker, Bo said that parents ought to know when to switch hats.  The first hat is the Controlling Hat when the child is small and needs a lot of firm guidance.  The next hat is the Coaching Hat when the child has developed more independence and it’s better for the parent to act as a coach or mentor.  The last hat is the Consultant’s Hat when the parent is on call if the grown-up child asks for advice.

There are parents who don’t mean to be dictators but exercise a form of veiled dictatorship.  Pry underneath the layers of euphemisms and good intentions and it’s undeniable.  It persists and the child is not able to break out of his or her cocoon.  The wings are clipped.  Their every move is scrutinized and fall short of what their parents want for them.  What they want does not matter because they have been created for serving the purpose of their parents.  Yes, children ought to serve their parents, but they more importantly, serve the purpose that they were meant and put in this universe to serve.  Who knows what is the purpose for which each person is called?  “Anak, eto na lang gawin mo. Huwag na yan,”  the parent says.  The parent assumes to know the child better than anyone else.  “He shouldn’t go down that career path,” or “He can’t take a job far away because I need him here.

Where do you draw the line between pushy meddling and friendly urging, between unsolicited advice and necessary intervention, between healthy concern and unhealthy attachment?  What message do you send to an adult child — I don’t trust you to make that decision for yourself and then that child in turn won’t be able to trust her own child because she did not receive that trust from her parents.

Oooops.  I just wanted to say I miss Jimmy very much and I’m rattling on and on.  Jimmy is still far from adulthood.  It may be my way of consoling myself.  This too shall pass.  I need a diversion.

We all try to be the best parents we want to be.  We fall short as parents.  We fall short as children.  Our children fall short of our expectations.   How can the cycle be broken? Through this, one thing is certain and that is love.  Love forgives our shortfalls.  Love understands our fears.  Love makes us whole again.  Love saves us from ourselves.

Haven for Homeschoolers

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Since homeschooling is a fairly developed field in the Philippines, there are a number of co-ops, providers, activity and field trip organizers, enrichment programs, sports, academic and non-academic options for homeschooling families to choose from particularly in the Metro Manila area.  There is also the Gopala Learning Haven in Silang, Cavite which offers a unique proposition: a lush, green sanctuary for homeschoolers where free-range kids can play to their hearts content, hike through a forest, go down a steep ravine hanging on a rope to reach the stream, jump on the trampoline, bike around, read books, do arts and crafts, learn from people of all ages, swing from a vine, climb trees, enjoy the outdoors as well as indoor spaces too.

Initiated by Laksmi Maluya, in it’s previous life, it was a play center located within a building in the town of Silang.  When Laksmi found Navadwip farm, it was the ideal opportunity to spread the wings of her homeschooling dreams.  What this learning haven could be is limitless exactly like the children it seeks to help nurture.   Parents are also very much welcome to contribute their talents, skills and interests to this growing community.

If this concept seems new and quite radical to some, there are models elsewhere in the world like the Macomber Center in Framingham, Massachusetts that have been existence for years, serving local homeschoolers, and in their own words, this is what they are about:

Our members pursue interests in their own way and at their own pace, and are free to explore the world in a way that they find meaningful.

We have no formal curriculum or guidelines for achievement. Instead, we trust that children will thrive (and learn!) when given time and freedom to play and explore within a community of other young people, with support from knowledgable, helpful adults. We are not a school. All of our members are registered as homeschoolers in their respective towns, and our member families represent a wide range of out-of-school approaches to education.

It’s comforting to know that we also have this kind of option in our own homeland.

 

 

Three Bonuses Plus

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Originally, I didn’t plan on visiting any school in Minnesota for my independent research work on alternative education.  However, because Julia introduced me to Kirsten and Summer and in turn, Kirsten introduced me to Katie and Owana, I was able to see three amazing places of learning in the non-traditional mold.

Classical Conversations (CC) supplies audio, book and other materials for homeschoolers and builds communities among its users such as the one thriving in St. Cloud.  Every Tuesday, the children gather for lessons in the morning for those in the lower grades and for the higher grades, they have additional afternoon classes.  The teachers are trained in the CC method and the parents are welcome to sit in so they know how to apply the techniques at home.

In the lower years, CC entails a lot of memorization but it’s done in a fun way with songs, actions and games that it simply bowled me over how much kids pick up. Joshua, Jimmy and I joined the class of kids age 6 to 8 and they were singing about the Laws of Thermodynamics, conjugating Latin verbs, identifying countries in Africa and spouting world historical facts naturally.  The mini-class ended with a show and tell presentation by each student and with a final review game.  Just sitting in for an hour and a half made me dizzy as if I had attended the whole spectrum of grade school and high school crammed with knowledge.

The kids don’t have to understand everything they memorize but the course immerses them in the vocabulary that they would be studying more in-depth in the future.   In the afternoon, we attended a mom and son duo dissecting a cow’s eyeball and the thirteen- year old boy eagerly fished out his folder and showed us his drawings of the eye, heart, respiratory and skeletal system.

The morning started with a big group discussion about the bible and two young people talked about the instruments they played.  After that, the kids broke up into smaller classes of around ten.  Before lunch, they went back to the big group and tested the strength of bridges each group made of straw and tape the previous week.  They placed one stone at a time as everyone counted loudly in excitement as some bridges fell right away while others held up well.  After all the bridges were tried, they discussed what made the winning bridge better than the others.

 

My friend Julia introduced me to Kirsten and Summer.  Kirsten has three sons attending the Chinese Immersion Program at the Madison Elementary School and they spoke Chinese fluently since they had been studying it from Kindergarten to Second Grade without any English classes to dilute the experience.  They only started learning English formally in Third Grade to bolster their Chinese but their English doesn’t fall behind because it’s what they speak at home and outside school.

Summer teaches First Grade at the Chinese Immersion Program and it was amazing how her classroom transports you immediately to China.   The seven-year old kids can speak, read and write Chinese almost as if they were native speakers.  Some of them could write not only Chinese characters but entire sentences.  Summer took full command of the class and maximized the use of the electronic board.  It was so awe-inspiring that I wish Joshua and Jimmy could attend her class.

It’s strange and ironic that I’m both inspired by the CC homeschooling and a public school’s language immersion program.  Is there a way to combine the best of not only both worlds but all worlds?   Imagine I still have a number of schools to visit in the remaining thirty seven days of this journey.

Kirsten invited us to Awana which takes place every Wednesday night.  We entered Discovery Church in St. Cloud and were swept away by everybody’s hospitality and warmth.  Joshua joined Soren and Bjorn at the Sparks group while Jimmy joined the pre-school age Cubbies.  After listening to the pastor speak, the Spark kids went up on stage singing praise songs following gestures on the video.  Joshua was right in the middle and even if he didn’t know the songs, he sang along as if he did.  The best part of the night was the Store where the kids could purchase toys using the “money” they earned throughout the weeks of attending Awana.  They could earn this through memorizing bible verses and other tasks.

Awana is a global, nonprofit ministry with fully integrated evangelism and long-­term discipleship programs for ages 2 to 18 that actively involves parents and church leaders. Each week, more than 3.7 million children and youth, 470,000 volunteers and 260 field staff take part in Awana in over 47,000 churches around the world. Offered through local churches, Awana reaches kids where they’re at and walks alongside them in their faith journey.

Julia took us to celebrate Easter at her Church where Jimmy joined other kids while the adults attended service.  After the celebration, we went to pick up Jimmy and he repeatedly kept saying “Jesus is alive!” showing us the cup he made from where Jesus on a popsicle stick symbolically pops out from the dead. The facilitator in that class must have been an excellent one to have produced such an avid reaction.

 

Squashing Down the Stairs

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Four boys ages 4, 5, 7 and 8.  How wild can it get?  Sliding down the stairs on blanket and pillow sleds squishing and squashing each other in a heap of giggles and laughter.   Head-butting with boxes in the basement.  Hiding, biking, swinging, running, screaming, fighting, making up and when it’s time for Chinese hotpot, they fish for treasures in the soup.  It’s another stay with a worldschooling family – again thanks to the Worldschoolers on Facebook and to Lesley who formed a group of her friends who could possibly host us in Calgary where she’s from.  Miranda took us in and the boys hit it off with their love of Legos and their energy, energy, energy.  Jason bonded with baby Nicolas while I had long conversations with Miranda about parenting, homeschooling, family and global issues.

What are the chances that the families we stay with back to back both do not use toilet paper?  They do provide paper for their guests but for themselves, they use something called family cloth.  The chances may be good if the people happen to be part of the Attachment Parenting Village of Calgary where some moms take eco-action seriously. Miranda makes her own soap, shampoo, compost, the most delicious kimchi among other things.   It’s a sharp and welcome contrast to the prevalent consumerism and disposable culture practiced commonly in developed nations.

Dexter and Theo have been homeschooled before but are trying formal school for a year and after, Miranda can’t wait to switch back to homeschooling.  Dexter and Theo are both early readers and 8-year old Dex is on his second time reading Lord of the Rings on his own.  Talking to Miranda, all my fears and doubts about homeschooling dissipate but linger after.  She asks me where my insecurities about homeschooling come from and it’s quite a long story.  I think I need to talk to her more but we stay for a day and a half only.

Miranda takes us to the newly opened Fish Creek bike park where the kids rode up and down the humps and bumps amongst older riders flying larger leaps.  Jimmy and I take the smooth route round a small lake, a bridge across a river, past people fishing and into a dead end that forces us to trace our way back and overshoot by a bit.  We arrive as the others finish the stunt track.

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Miranda and Charlie’s wedding photo and art works by Theodore and Dexter:

 

 

 

 

Our Own Forest School

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Lisha wanted to start her own forest school with other moms but then realized she and her family were already living in a forest and didn’t need to.  We were blessed and fortunate that Lesley whom I met through the Worldschoolers on Facebook introduced me to Lisha who welcomed us to their home in Alberta, Canada.  After the longest stretch of not staying with anyone and continuously driving at least three hours every day from Reno to Calgary, it was a great relief not to move and an even greater bonus to enjoy the peace and stillness of the pine forest.

Kids’ happiness is merely to be with other kids so Joshua and Jimmy played the whole day long with Zoe and Nate bouncing on the trampoline and painting tree trunks with mud.  Joshua chopped wood while two families were warmed by a big fire in a wintry morning.  In the afternoon, Lisha led us through the forest and into a thawing river where the kids played fetch ice with Nash, the sheep-herding dog.

That’s not a store-bought antler chandelier but one handmade by Lisha who likes creating things with her hands.  She has worked as a paramedic for sixteen years and has reached a point where she can pause for extended periods and relish being a homeschooling mom, making things like kimchi, waffles, indoor and outdoor furniture and other things from scratch.  The treehouse is an ongoing project from recycled materials.

While Lisha speaks gently to Zoe and Nate, I make mental notes about what I should remember the next time I struggle with my own kids. When I told her how I admired how she is as a mom, she said she looks up to the mom in the PBS show, Daniel Tiger.

She and her husband, Collin are avid dirt bike riders, skiers, snowboarders, campers, travelers and adventurers.  She has solo-backpacked in countries around the world even before she got married.  Dreams of a borderless world may be delayed but doing her part for the environment isn’t.  She minimizes waste and uses the least amount of plastic that she could in their household.

Lisha fishes out healthy, home-baked snacks from a zippered cloth bag during our trek in the forest.  She shows Jimmy the Dragonbeard that grows on the trees and Jimmy carries a horn-shaped branch covered with the pirate-sounding moss all the way to the river where they would have to wait till summer to swim in.

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What is a Forest School?

Forest School is an inspirational process, that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.

Forest School is a specialised learning approach that sits within and compliments the wider context of outdoor and woodland education.

Beckett Bounding

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When blonde-haired, wide-eyed, seven-year old Beckett came bounding with excitement to welcome us at the gate of Sky Valley Resort, we knew we were in for an awesome time at Desert Hot Springs.  The tiredness from the three hour ride vanished as Beckett’s mom, Lesley even prepared Mexican lasagna for us and drove us to our mobile home in a golf cart.  After our delayed arrival at night, Joshua and Jimmy’s exhaustion turned into pure, bubbling glee taking their cue from their exuberant new playmate, Beckett.

This amazing experience is once again courtesy of the Worldschoolers Facebook group. What are the chances that my son’s new playmate would be named after one of my most admired playwright?   Waiting for Godot was the first play performed when I entered freshman year and it blew my mind.

Together with her parents, Lesley spends half of the year in the California desert during the winter months in Canada.  They go back home when the weather warms up so they get paradise both ways.  The pools in the resort are fed from the hot springs.  Ducks and black swans swim in the ponds.  The houses are small but the whole desert if your backyard. Life is simple and sweet.

Beckett is homeschooled so mom Lesley tries to arrange activities that allow him to interact with as many children as possible.  In Calgary, they had a homeschooling co-op while in California, there’s the friendly community of RV and mobile home dwellers.

When Lesley said that we would be staying at an RV park, we were ready and eager to camp out in a tent in between RVs.  Then she said that there are no spots for tents and booked a mobile home unit for us.  I thought it was our chance to experience life in a trailer but I soon found out that a mobile home is not an RV.

Presenting: Spiderman and Elastic Man!

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My husband, Jason is the new ambassador of China to the United States.  In our trip, he is singlehandedly showing off Chinese cuisine and the Chinese art of tea.  His hot pot is a certified hit on the road!

 

Go Gopala! Go, Go Gopala!

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Laksmi and I were brainstorming what to call the farm for homeschoolers and we debated about:

Gopala Self-Directed Learning Center

Gopala Interest-Led Learning Center

Hmmm.  Neither sounded quite right until Laksmi hit upon the perfect moniker:

Gopala Learning Haven

The word self-directed seems too forward for Philippine society.  In America, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education spearheaded by Dr. Peter Gray sounds right and appropriate but in the Philippine setting, it might not be as appreciated.  The word, interest-led, although nicer and gentler can be misconstrued as something to do with business or self-interest which has a negative connotation.

The Learning Haven, however fits just fine.  When you go to the farm in Silang, Cavite, it truly is a haven — so lush and green plus the existing structures are the right size and distance from each other that nature still overpowers the man-made.  There is more open space than closed and the enclosed spaces are well-designed, needing only a bit of renovation.  You can imagine how this would be a sanctuary for homeschooling families regardless of where they are from, who their homeschool provider is, what they believe in, what methods they use in homeschooling.  Everyone is welcome.  Every family and every child is unique.  The Gopala Learning Haven is only too happy to celebrate and live this truth.

On our last visit there on February 12, I met Mommy Sheryl from Dasmarinas, Cavite who showed me a music video their family made. Her children plays the keyboard, guitar and drums while Mom sings and their band is proudly called Granny’s Gems.  A friend edited the video and the final product is quite inspiring.  Once a week, Mommy Sheryl holds a small homeschooling co-op in her house with children from six other families.  Her passion for teaching and music is quite contagious.  I hope our family can join her group someday.

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Watch Granny’s Gems on Youtube: Fight SongFlash Light

The kids collected leaves, stems and stones from their walk around the farm and made Valentine hearts.

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Speaking of inspiring videos, my friend Clarie told me to check out the TED Talk of blind Master Chef winner, Christine Ha.  It’s unrelated to this post but wanted to find a way to share the info.