The Day’s Take-Away

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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.

 

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The Free Forest School is Here!

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The Free Forest School is here in Manila!  Not everyday but at least on weekends, families who want their kids to hang out in nature have a community that values this time with the trees and the earth.  In other countries, they hold these excursions in actual forests but the Manila chapter had to make do with what’s available nearby — the U.P. Diliman sunken garden with a dried up but still pretty lagoon.  On weekends, you celebrate communing with nature with others practicing a theater performance, choir singing, martial arts, taichi, having a picnic, but there’s space for everyone in this beautiful park with roads around it closed to vehicular traffic so there are also bikers enjoying the rare perk.  Ah, if it could be like this even on weekdays.  If we could allocate space in each part of the city where ROI is not the prevailing priority but the feeding of the human soul.

The Free Forest School is an international network of communities promoting more play time in nature.

Research shows nature play benefits children’s health, supporting social-emotional, physical, and cognitive development and wellness. Yet time spent outdoors in unstructured play is at an all-time low and many children face significant barriers to playing in nature.

We believe all children deserve to play and explore in nature. We pursue equitable access to nature play for all children by mobilizing grassroots leaders and partnering with school districts, cities and community organizations.

Most of their activities may be limited to the weekends but it’s still a much a needed break from regular urban life.  I hope someday there could be a real Forest School that’s open every day like the Forest Kindergartens in other countries but not just limited to pre-school.  Wishful thinking again but still extremely grateful to the organizers who initiated the Free Forest School in the Philippines.

Many homeschooling families are probably searching for this kind of alternative and any family is welcome to join.  Check out their the Forest School Metro Manila group.  There’s also a group over at Zambales and they hike the Pamulaklakin trail.

The effect of growing up near green spaces

The importance of nature play in child development

Why on earth do we trap school children inside four walls to learn?

 

Gopala Grows

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Homeschooling families from as far as Angeles, Pampanga went all the way to Silang, Cavite for Gopala Learning Haven’s first Homeschool Festival.  We got there just in time for each child’s release of butterflies from triangular, folded pieces of papers.   It’s been a year since our love affair with Gopala started and it’s a joy to see the new additions to this idyllic place that I wish was located closer to us so that we can go there every day.

Laksmi found an amazing bargain that turned out to be Jimmy’s dream playroom.  A kids activity center closed down in one SM mall and the owner was selling all the mini houses as a package deal.  Laksmi got the whole lot for a song and the owner said that something curiously held him back from selling to other people who inquired.  When he heard what Laksmi’s learning haven was all about, he readily parted with the play houses.  He admired what Laksmi was doing, providing space for kids to run free in nature.

The room below the eating area was transformed from a rundown storage place into a workshop for arts and crafts.  The books that were in the playroom before found a new home appropriately in a more quiet area.   As always, Joshua had a ball biking through the gently sloping green.  Dads were content to lounge in the hammocks among the trees while mothers discussed homeschooling issues.

The highlight for everyone was the steep trek to the river but do not let the gorgeous photos deceive you.  Pollution comes from the neighboring golf course and there are plastic trash strewn among the tree roots, begging for a clean-up.  Gopala regularly conducts this but a clean-up a few times a year is not enough.  People whose garbage end up where they shouldn’t be must be held more accountable.

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We wanted to press forward and go on walking past the area where we landed from the sloping side of the land but we weren’t allowed to do so since the group was too big and some may not be prepared for a distance they say takes about two or three hours to traverse.  We’re already excited about the longer trek next time.

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Routine Plus Plus

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So we have fallen into a routine – waking the kids up before seven so that we could be out of the door by 7:20 so we get to school before eight.   I head home to do chores, write, correspond, rest, work on projects and then it’s time to pick Jimmy up at 5:00 in the afternoon.  Joshua leaves his school at 4:10 and goes to this place across the street where he plays board games with kids from different grade levels after doing his homework.  Jimmy stops for a few minutes at their kindergarten playground before we pick up Joshua at 5:15 and then we have dinner and go skateboarding and scootering in the park across our home.  They are home to have a bath by 8 and off to bed at 9 but it’s baffling how time is never enough and they end up sleeping later than our target.

There are variations around these basic dance steps that break the routine such as a visit to a friend’s house or like yesterday’s powwow meeting with Donna, Rita and Susan to discuss the library and garden-playground ideas — four moms who want to organize alternatives for their children to counterbalance the rigid structure of the Chinese education system and give them more opportunities to play with other children of various ages.

Joshua insists that the time to play with other kids in school is too short but he has a three-hour break in between the morning and afternoon classes and one hour after school to play with other students from different grade levels in the house where they have lunch.  I got them board games as my “sneaky Sudbury strategy,” so that Joshua could maximize the free, fun time with other kids.  Still it’s not enough.  Even P.E., he says, is too short and sometimes he doesn’t get to run as many times as he wants because they have to take turns.

When I asked Joshua which he would like to do after school or in the weekends – taekwando, taichi, calligraphy, guitar, drums — Joshua paused and said definitively, football.  It was not even in my mind as a choice because I hardly see other children playing football around so I took it as a serious mission to find a regular football activity for him.   I asked the guard at Joshua’s school who said that grade 1 and 2 kids are too small to play football.  Only older kids play football.  I couldn’t argue with him if that’s how they are in China but in the Philippines, football classes are offered to kids as small as 4 years old.  Anyway, I pursued the trail and kept asking various people until Joshua’s playmate’s mother introduced me to a football coach.  The good news about the football club is that they have a group for small kids and big kids so both Joshua and Jimmy can join.  Jason has to get the proper football shoes and they’re good to go.

Jimmy’s kindergarten teacher requested me to get him an abacus because they are learning to use it but I bought the wrong one so the teacher gave Jimmy her son’s old abacus.  I love the initiative and sincere concern.  When we got home to do the abacus homework, I was shocked because they were adding and subtracting two digit-numbers.  I don’t know how to use an abacus so it fell again on my sister-in-law to teach them.

Actually, Jiang Ping, my sister-in-law has been the perfect tutor for Joshua and Jimmy.  I can’t help them because it’s all in Chinese but my sister-in-law has a very effective style with the two of them.  She walks Jimmy through the abacus which he gets right away.  She guides Jimmy to practice writing his letters in preparation for learning pinyin.  She trains Joshua to open the app on the cellphone that lets parents and children view what the homework is for the day and to practice what he needs to memorize for school.  I admire Jiang Ping’s patience mixed with firm discipline.

My husband still prefers homeschooling to traditional school.  I personally prefer a progressive school and would only consider homeschooling when Joshua and Jimmy know how to read and write in both English and Chinese.  I would also only agree to homeschooling if I can get tutors for them and if learning can be done within a community of other homeschoolers.

Yesterday, I visited my friend at the International School in TEDA and I marveled at their corridors bursting with creative artworks done by the students.  For a moment, I envied the Chinese parents who walked in with their small child, touring the school, exploring the possibility of sending their child there.  “Wow, they must be so rich,” I thought,  “I wonder what business it is that they do.”  Then I thought, at the end of the day, it’s not how much money you spend on the education of your child.  At the end of the day, it’s the values they imbibe and their character that matters.  Academics don’t count as much as character.

Plus, there are always ways to compensate for deficiencies of an education system.  For instance, International Schools and private schools in the Philippines have libraries.  Public Chinese schools don’t.  But there is a membership children’s library where we live and I registered Joshua and Jimmy so they can choose what to read.  If there is not enough time for physical activities in school there is always the football club in the weekends and on the weekdays, there’s the park across our home where Joshua and Jimmy happily skateboard and scooter and where it’s easy to find instant playmates.

Every night, there’s a group of adults who walk briskly around the park accompanied by marching music.  Jimmy walks two or three speedy steps for each of the adult’s one big step and he manages to keep up with them, his legs whirring like a machine in a blur.  I could barely keep up.

 

为什么我选择让我的孩子去中文学校当我是另类教育的倡导者时

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我可能是你所期望看到的把孩子送到中国大陆的正规学校的最后一个人。 以其刚性和高度加压的环境而闻名,这与我想要的孩子们的理想教育完全相反。 我很乐意把他们送到一个进步的民主甚至一个华尔道夫学校,但我们住的地方都不存在这些选择。 我喜欢家庭教学,但条件是,当有一个家庭教育学校,非学历或世界各地的学生的社区,他们可以与他们定期互动和活动。 我喜欢家庭教学,只要我可以聘请导师教导学术部分,并有一些非学术科目选择。 在马尼拉,家庭教育学生可以与其他家庭教育同学一起学习戏剧,嘻哈舞,烹饪,演讲,足球等课程。

我坚信,教育应该在社区内发生。 不仅仅是父母应该是主要的老师,也不应该只是学校老师。 儿童应尽可能多地接触到积极的人 – 导师,教练,鼓舞人心的领导者。

我们住在一个只有中国公立学校这种唯一选择的城镇。 我在这里的一所大学里教英语,我的学生告诉我有关学校的恐怖故事,以及越来越糟糕的高中情况然后一直到高考。 我绝对不希望我的孩子在中国上高中,我不希望他们参加高考,但我仍然认为,公立学校的前两三年级是有用和可以接受的,以获得学习汉字的基础。 不过,二年级或三年级以后,我想让我的孩子转到马尼拉的一所进修学校。

这是我的意见。可悲的是,这个方法遭到了另一方父母的反对意见。 所以这就是为什么有一个尴尬的僵局,也许只能通过时间来修补,也许不能。 无论如何,学校今天开始了。 我们会看看它是怎么回事。

有一些家庭教育学生自己学习阅读的情况,但这是英文。 我不知道中文可不可能,因为它是一个更复杂的语言。 你必须知道数以千计的汉字才能阅读,所以必须有一个方法,而不是随随便便的,这可能发生在学习英语。 有报道过有些儿童在没有任何指导的情况下学会如何阅读英文。 彼得·格雷博士在这篇文章中发表的: 孩子自学阅读 。 如果在中文学习有类似的情况倒是挺有趣的,很难以想象因为没有中文字母表。

我去拜访过一些中国家庭教学的家庭,他们的书架上堆满了材料,似乎他们必须回应学校的教学,但在更短的时间内,因为学生与教师的比例要少得多。 但是,中国的家庭教育仍然需要在父母方面承担过多的努力。 只能通过很多的承诺和纪律来做到这一点。

我的朋友苏珊和我想在这个城镇开一个图书馆。 我们一年前离开大港油田之前就谈过了。 我以为她能够在家里开始一些事情,但事实证明,她的丈夫想要利用额外的空间,而不能分配给图书馆的梦想。 苏珊最近组织了一个户外活动,让孩子们在水库里收集昆虫,这就是我们再次开始谈论梦想。

中国的学校或小镇没有图书馆。 只有大城市有公共图书馆。 这就是为什么我不想在中国上学的另一个原因。 像图书馆这样的资源是至关重要的。 此外,事实上,有这么少的家庭教师,孩子们不会有任何人在白天与所有其他孩子在学校互动。 在菲律宾,美国和其他国家,现有广泛的家庭教育网络可以深入人心。 中国也没有在我们即将在的小城镇。 (这里的 中国家庭学校网站 。)

哦,我忘了,我选择把我的孩子送到中国学校的最重要的原因:约书亚和吉米真的很喜欢和别的孩子在一起。 他们茁壮成长,他们喜欢,我认为他们会在与其他孩子在一起的环境中学习更多。 我不知道老师是否会在稍后再来一次,可能是阻止他们的因素,但正如我所说,我们需要等待着看。

过去一年,我丈夫两个儿子从天津到大理到马尼拉到西双版纳去巴厘到西双版纳到马尼拉到旧金山,到加拿大去中转,然后回到马尼拉和天津。 在美国的头几个星期之后,我已经想到,除非有工作或学习有关,否则我不认为我可以长途旅行。 在我们的背包和袋子上生活之后,我也感觉到我的孩子们已经准备好安顿下来,我一直在向他们保证,我们会得到一个房子,把他们放在学校里,并得到一只狗。 我们准备好一些更加稳定的旅程,而旅行时总是可以在假期期间完成。

我的一个亲密的朋友说,我不应该太担心把我的孩子放在中国的正规学校,因为两个非常非常规的,开箱即用的父母,他们将能够平衡所有出来的严格的中国制度相对毫发无损。 他们仍然会以世界的广阔视野结束。

另一位朋友告诉我,我不应该担心中国教育带来的压力,因为如果父母不给孩子增加压力,那么对孩子来说就更轻松了。 我的朋友经历了同样的中国学校制度,父母没有压力,所以她长大了,从小学到大学都很开心,放松。

一切都在进行中。 我们不应该害怕尝试不同的方法来实现为我们的孩子提供最好的目标。

 

Why I Choose to Let My Children Go to Chinese School When I am an Advocate of Alternative Education

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I would probably be the last person you’d expect to send her children to regular school in mainland China.  Known for its rigidity and highly-pressurized environment, it is the exact opposite of the ideal education I want for my kids. I would love to send them to a progressive or democratic or even a Waldorf school, but none of those options exist where we live.  I would love to homeschool but I am ONLY for homeschooling when there is a community of homeschoolers, unschoolers or worldschoolers with whom they could have regular interaction and activities.  I would love to homeschool but ONLY if I can hire tutors for the academic portions and there are a number of non-academic options to pick.  In Manila, homeschoolers can study theater, hip hop dance, cooking, speech, football and other courses with fellow homeschoolers.

I believe strongly that education should happen within a community.  It is not ONLY the parents who should be the main teachers and it should not even be just the school teachers.  Children should be exposed to as many positive people — mentors, coaches, inspiring leaders — as possible.

We live in a town where the only option is the Chinese public school.   I taught English in a university here and my students told me horror stories about school and how it got worse and worse leading up to the gaokao in high school.  I definitely do not want my children to attend high school in China and I do not want them to take the gaokao, but I still believe that the first two or three grades in public school is useful and tolerable to get the basics of learning Chinese characters.  However, after the second or third grade, I would like my kids to switch to a progressive school in Manila.

That is my opinion.  Sadly, it goes against the opinion of the other parent in this equation.  So that is why there is an awkward stalemate that can only be mended perhaps through time or not.  In any case, school starts today.  We shall see how it goes.

There are cases of homeschoolers learning to read on their own, but that’s in English.  I wonder if that’s possible in Chinese because it is a more complicated language.  You have to know hundreds and thousands of characters to be able to read so there has to be a methodical way, not random or casual which can happen in studying English.  There are reported cases of children who learn how to read in English without any instruction.  Dr. Peter Gray wrote about it in this article: Children Teach Themselves to Read.  It would be interesting to see if there are any cases of this in the Chinese language which is quite hard to imagine since there is no Chinese alphabet.

I went to visit some Chinese homeschoolers’ houses and they had bookshelves bursting with materials that it seemed that they must be echoing what the schools teach but in less time because the student-teacher ratio is much less.  Still, homeschooling in China must take an inordinate amount of effort on the part of the parents.  It can only be done through a lot of commitment and discipline.

My friend, Susan and I want to start a library in this town.  We talked about it before we left Dagang Youtian one year ago.  I thought she would be able to start something in her house but it turned out her husband wanted to make use of the extra room and it couldn’t be allocated to the library dream.  Susan recently organized an outdoor activity for kids collecting insects in the reservoir and that’s how we started talking again about the dream.

There is no library in schools or small towns here in China.  Only the big cities have public libraries. That’s another reason why I wouldn’t want to homeschool in China. Resources like libraries are paramount.  Plus, the fact that there are so few homeschoolers, the kids won’t have anyone to interact with during the daytime when all the other kids are in school.   In the Philippines, America and other countries, there are existing wide networks of homeschoolers that one can tap into.  China also has but not in the small towns where we happen to be.  (Here’s the China Homeschooling website.)

Oh, and I forgot, the most important reason why I choose to send my kids to Chinese school:  Joshua and Jimmy both really, really love to be with other kids.  They thrive, they enjoy and I think they would learn more in an environment where they are with other children.  I don’t know if the teacher would be a clincher later on and could be a factor to discourage them eventually but as I said, we need to wait and see.

This past year, my husband, two sons and I have traveled from Tianjin to Dali to Manila to Xishuangbanna to Bali to Xishuangbanna to Manila to San Francisco driving to New York with stopovers in Canada and then back to Manila and Tianjin.  After the first few weeks in America, I already thought, I don’t think I can do long-term traveling unless it’s something work or study related.  After living off our backpacks and bags, I also sensed my children were ready to settle down and I kept promising them that we would get a house, put them in school and get a dog.  We were ready for something more stable while traveling can always be done during the holidays.

One of my close friends said that I shouldn’t worry too much about putting my kids in regular school in China because with two very unconventional, out-of-the-box parents, they would be able to balance it all out and come out of the strict Chinese system relatively unscathed.  They would still end up with an expansive view of the world.

Another friend told me I shouldn’t worry about the pressure that comes with Chinese education because if the parents don’t put added pressure on the children, then it’s more relaxed for the child.  My friend went through the same Chinese school system and her parents didn’t pressure her so she grew up very happy and relaxed from elementary all the way up to university.

Everything is a work in progress.   We should not be afraid to try different ways to achieve the goal of providing the best that we can for our children.

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This is the activity my friend, Susan organized for kids to explore and enjoy the outdoors:

 

 

 

Clearing a Misconception

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It seems there is a misconception about the research work I am doing about education. My research is not just about homeschooling; it is about alternative education which includes homeschooling, unschooling, worldschooling, progressive schooling, democratic education, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason and many other streams of non-traditional education.  My personal preference for my own children is a progressive or a democratic school but there is no option of that kind in China.  There are progressive schools in the Philippines and in other countries like America.  There are Waldorf schools in China and the Philippines which I have also considered.

For me, the important thing is that education takes place within a community, not in a vacuum, not in isolation.  Having a community of like-minded families whether in a formal, informal, institutionalized or non-institutionalized setting is okay and ideal for me.

What is not okay is homeschooling that is narrow, that is closed-minded, that does not allow the children to enjoy learning and instead have to suffer through being called “stupid,” being hit on the head, making them afraid of making mistakes, criticizing them all the time during study and meal times.  It’s the same as putting them through the horrors of the worst case of traditional schools, having nightmare teachers who instill a phobia of learning.  Now, if the parents are responsible, patient, by no means perfect — because no parent is perfect — but with a kind and patient heart, then I am all for homeschooling.  If the parents are fighting all the time in front of the kids, that is also not good for homeschooling.  If the relationship of the mother and father is not good, that is not also a healthy environment for homeschooling.

What is also not okay in homeschooling is if one parent believes a tutor would be more helpful but the other parent does not agree.  What if the tutor has a better method that is more effective and not abusive?  Homeschooling is a decision that both parents should be united in making.  If they are not united, the conflict affects the whole family.   It is better to send the kids to a progressive or alternative school.  What if the country does not have those kinds of school?  What then?

Gridlock.

The children suffer.  The parents suffer.  Nobody wants to compromise.

What is also not okay in homeschooling is that if BOTH parents do not work.  I think this is fine if both parents choose to retire early after having worked and earned what they both agree is enough.  But what if one parent wants to work and another doesn’t and again there is stalemate.

Stalemate.

The children suffer.  The parents suffer.  Nobody wants to compromise.

There are progressive schools in my country as well as a huge homeschooling community with many activities to choose from and the children have a lot of opportunities to learn with other kids.  I myself am involved with the Gopala Learning Haven, a center for homeschoolers in a farm setting which is like one of the centers we visited in America called Macomber.

We all want what’s best for our children but it is difficult when there is a conflict in the manner by which this goal is achieved.  There is no ONE right way.  There are MANY ways.   There is the mind that is open and the mind that is closed to accept other ways different from the one seemingly set in stone.

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This is a picture from the Gopala Learning Haven taken when Laksmi and her family recently visited a beach in Calatagan.  Read about Laksmi’s beautiful description of the beach which she says is a piece of paradise.

Read my articles about researching education, homeschooling, worldschooling and self-directed education.  I will continue to promote the ideals of alternative education even if I agree for my children to experience a traditional way of schooling, only because I am in China and the options are limited.  Homeschooling is not an ideal option here because as I mentioned, if it is not done within a community, it will be more disadvantageous.  Read this article written by Dr. Peter Gray on why children need community.

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense that children would want to form close relationships with many different people, not just their parents . . . . . the goal of childhood, in our culture as well as in hunter-gatherer cultures, is to become an independent being who can form relationships with lots of different people—relationships that are essential for survival and reproduction.  You don’t learn to do that by paying attention just to your mother and father. You learn it by paying attention to lots of different people, who have different personalities and needs and different things to offer.  Another goal of childhood is to educate yourself, that is, to acquire the ideas, lore, knowledge, skills, and values of the culture in which you are growing.  If you were to try to do this by attending just to your parents, you would learn only a narrow slice of all that is out there and you would not prepare yourself well for the world.

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