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.