What are the chances of sitting in a cafe in Payatas and sharing a table with a player from the Philippine women’s football national team who competed in Russia at the Street Child World Cup 2018 kicking off the recently concluded global FIFA shindig?  Well, the chances are quite considerable if the particular cafe you’re visiting is the one started by Roy Moore who began volunteering in a drop-in center in Payatas ten years ago.

A British lad who looks more like he could be part of a music band, Roy is the soccer coach to hundreds of children in Payatas.  He set up the Fairplay For All Foundation which runs the Payatas Sports Center and the Fairplay School and Cafe.  Kids in the football and school program get to eat the nutritious, vegetarian fare from the cafe ran by mothers from the neighborhood and in the future, Roy hopes to build dormitories for those who are constantly at risk from abuse and neglect.  Roy has made Payatas his home and lives in the community he has committed his life to.

Coming from America, Ken has never been to a place like Payatas, what used to be the biggest open dumpsite in the Philippines where people make a living out of garbage, where people thought they would lose their livelihood when it was declared closed because it was environmentally hazardous located near the La Mesa Dam, a huge water reservoir.  In the year 2000, hundreds of people died and thousands were left homeless when the mountain of trash collapsed.  Now, that mound is dressed up, spruced up in a pretty, attractive layer of greenery, erasing from the Google satellite map what was an embarrassment inadequately addressed by a nation.  Exploring on foot, on the fringes of the fancy green dress, one can still see the layers of garbage coyly peeking out.  There are a number of NGOs in the area dreaming of breaking the cycle of poverty, one of which is Fairplay.

Ken and I got connected to Fairplay through the RadEd Unconference last June where Mon Armena gave a talk about democratic education since he worked as a teacher at the Fairplay School.  No, democratic in this case does not refer to the corrupted term that it has become and the ludicrous sham it connotes when talking politics.  Wikipedia defines it as such:

Democratic education is an educational ideal in which democracy is both a goal and a method of instruction. It brings democratic values to education and can include self-determination within a community of equals, as well as such values as justice, respect and trust. Democratic education is often specifically emancipatory, with the students’ voices being equal to the teacher’s.

Since Ken Danford started a radical alternative to traditional school, the North Star Self-Directed Learning for Teens and was visiting Manila for a week and a half, he might as well check out brother-sister-cousin schools and learning centers that widen the range of education options.  On a bright yellow wall at Fairplay School, these words are written: “Malaya tayong gawin ang gusto natin” (“We are free to do what we want”), but the rest of the sentence is covered by a white board but based on the words at the end, one can guess the second part: “Huwag lang tayo makadistorbo o makaabala sa iba.” (“As long as we don’t bother anyone else.”)

We went up to the second floor and saw a class conducted in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.  You didn’t have the extreme crowd common in public schools and on one side, some kids were playing with educational games on computers.  Roy explained that even in this community, the kids can be categorized in three levels:  1) children whose families can afford to send them to public school and pay fees for uniforms, books, trips, etc.; 2) children whose families can send them to pubic school only if they have some subsidy for those expenses; and finally, 3) children who don’t have family with the ability or interest to send them anywhere. Fairplay Academy helps the children in the third group.

After visiting the school, Roy toured us, through narrow, muddy alleys, around the dump site where, despite the closure, the trash sorting industry continues in full force with separated garbage ending up in places like China.  He shows us the ingenuity of people making new mattresses out of discarded ones.

After the tour, I felt how superficial it is to relate the education alternative we were proposing to put up in Manila based on the North Star model to Roy’s democratic school in Payatas.  Yes, the learning models are similarly self-directed and libertarian in approach.  However, Fairplay Foundation is involved in programs of education, livelihood, nutrition and sports as a way of helping people out of poverty.   Roy hopes the kids whose lives are impacted by the programs, grow up and go out into the world but more importantly, come back to make a difference in their home, Payatas.



Fairplay is a group of people who believe that when we provide opportunities to the poorest among us, they will flourish, excel, and innovate. We believe that it is unfair for a child’s opportunities and future to be determined by where they were born. We also believe it is possible to change that path and ultimately create a better world.

At Fairplay we look to solve the problem, to break the vicious cycle. In its place we create better problems and a new virtuous cycle. In the slums, this cannot be done in any single area alone. The best education is undermined by chronic malnourishment and a lack of access to livelihood, the best nourishment is undermined by a lack of livelihood and lack of quality education, and all areas of life intersect and undermine one another. This is what we mean by leveling the playing field. To turn a cycle from vicious to virtuous, we need every aspect of the field to be raised together.

This is why we run the Fairplay School, the Fairplay Café, and the Payatas Sports Center; as means towards leveling the playing field. We have shown remarkable progress and the kids we work with have shown that when given the opportunity they can become some of the best in the entire country at what they do. Whether that’s some of our girls being called up for the National Youth Football Team, affordable and healthy food from the Café, or completely illiterate teenagers learning to read and write and excel academically, there is much that can be accomplished together.

Who We Are: Fairplay’s Core Values

  • We love to Learn
  • We care
  • We improve: we make ourselves and our surroundings better than they were before

At Fairplay we love to learn. We love to explore new things and gain deeper knowledge where we already are. We care about the people around us and about our community. And we always want to improve the situation and make sure with everything we do things are better this week than they were last. We want to see progress.

Mission Statement

Our mission is to level the playing field. This means creating a safe environment for the families we work with, to develop holistic and sustainable projects in education, sports, and nutrition. Our mission is to empower the community by ensuring they are part of the decision-making process and organisation of each project, in order to identify the root cause of the problem and break the cycle of poverty for good.


Our vision is to build a community that is happy and strives to learn and develop. We seek to build innovative, creative, and long-term solutions through community dialogue and management in each of our projects. This means the students are part of running the Fairplay School, our local mothers run the Fairplay Café, and our older players are trained to coach younger age groups.

In short, through genuine community involvement and participation we can repair mindsets, build a loving community geared towards innovation and sustainable projects for the good of the whole.

Our Dream

As the Fairplay School, Payatas Sports Center, and our social business continue to grow we are looking at the possibility of expanding the three projects by locating them in the same place. The projects will combine to create the Fairplay Academy.

Here we can build dormitories for students at the Fairplay School so the hard-core cases are assured a safe and loving environment to live. During this time we can work with the families to help support them with mindset intervention and other psychological support and economic support through our social business so when the home has healed the student can return to them and stay in the Fairplay School as a day student. How long this takes will differ with every family.

The Fairplay Café and other social business will also have a larger and more permanent base and the futsal courts will move to the rooftop. The Fairplay Academy will be the final version of our work in Payatas and with a dedicated researcher proving the benefits, developments, and improving our work by showing which areas are working best and what needs to change, we can have a thriving learning community that can be scaled and replicated in other communities. At the Fairplay Academy we can therefore hold workshops, seminars, and more for other NGOs in the community and further afield for us all to learn from each other.



Living with Questions

While stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare called LTO today, I took advantage of the long lines by bringing and highlighting three books that have been on my “to read” pile for months and months.  They were books purchased from the Alternative Education Resource Organization last year.  Might as well transform the frustration from waiting and window hopping into purposeful use of time.

One of the books is Fearless Teaching, a collection of stories by Stuart Grauer who started The Grauer School for students grade 7 to 12.  Their website describes the school this way: “Students spend their days in a Socratic environment on our green, six-acre campus in Encinitas, California. We want our students to try classes for fun, make mistakes, follow a passion, and do things that they are drawn to, rather than plotting out a preordained or controlled path. We believe they will achieve more enduring outcomes and passions in this way, and develop values like personal motivation, freedom, and courage.”  Clicking on further and finding out more about the school makes you wish you can send your kids there.

At the start of each chapter of his book, Stuart Grauer poses some questions for teachers to ruminate on and ponder:

  1. How much of ourselves dare we reveal to our students?  What does it mean to be a teacher?
  2. The great martyrs and leaders through history – Socrates, Confucius, Jesus, Siddhartha Gautama, Mohammed – were all called “teacher.”  Who is called a teacher today?
  3. Where do students learn more at school, in or out of class?  Is the role of the teacher to liberate or control students?
  4. Have we accidentally re-engineered our classroom methodologies to exclude students who don’t learn like the teachers we hire?
  5. Working with teens, how do we treat the dark ones?  To what extent do conformity and “standard” expectations force our students to lose their way?
  6. What is essential to great teaching: providing great information or creating a great environment for learning?
  7. How can we make every class like a lab where genuine discovery is possible?
  8. Is our role as teachers and parents to help kids fit in or stand out?
  9. Would teaching in natural spaces result in a different kind of human development?
  10. What if we assigned, benchmarked, taught and measured student happiness in school: graded it, paid teachers for it, and ranked school systems by it?
  11. When was the last time you had a great conversation with a teen?  To what extent do teachers risk their jobs to do this?  Would you risk a job as a teacher in pursuit of great conversations?
  12. What are we doing to give our students a sense of real belongingness in the classroom and campuses?
  13. Are the measurable goals in student achievement more valuable than the immeasurable ones?
  14. What keeps us in this work?
  15. What if there are no answers?  Can we live with these questions?



It is the chapter called Begin and Begin Again that I mostly wish to share with my teacher friends:

“At last unbound, I understood that it was never a teaching career I had been pursuing, it wasn’t any career.  It was freedom.”

“Once we invite the forces that guide us subconsciously to enter into the story of who we are, we have the opportunity for congruence. ‘You will love again the stranger who was yourself.’ (Derek Walcott)”

“Most of us are fearful to access the shadow self because it reveals our vulnerability, lack of control, and dependence.  We replace curiosity with a set of presumptions.  Our ego takes over.  The word ‘should’ creeps deeper into our daily vocabulary and our teaching.  Over time, we ignore the subconscious scripts that dictate to us how we define our “selves” or our profession until they are buried.  Who we are or could be is replaced by presumptions of who we should be.  We don’t want to give up our great resume, however artificial it seems.  And then, like it or not, one day we become aware of how very scripted we are.  We may or may not be looking for this.  We may be driving, or reading or walking – or teaching – and this realization comes upon us like a traveler.  Perhaps we let him in.”

“The awakened teacher embraces the occasional chaos of not knowing where the lesson will end, feels unburdened by the stodgy old authority systems and untethered by the geographical location of the school – but remains confident in the capacity and depth of students.  From the on, our real school is anywhere new thought, creativity, responsiveness and connection occurs among and between students and faculty.

“We will always confront, even within our own selves, the resume builder, the compliance driver, and the distant self-absorbed professional, along with the wild fallacy that our help is more valuable to others than it is to our own selves.  We recognize these ego-people when we see them, of course, and can sense their conflict sometimes mildly in their hurriedness, other times overtly in their diagnostic approach to relationships with students and colleagues.  Of course they are us.

“The disconnect comes early in life, when we join the educational competition that honors high scores above genuine relationships, creativity, and peace of mind.  Schooling can sever our minds from our souls, and as teachers, we can spend our entire careers trying to re-attach them.  Once we meet ourselves, we rediscover trust in our intuitions, in our curiosity, and in our students.  Coincidences, hunches and insights become part of our daily lives as they were when we were small children, and so we invite them into our classrooms.

“Eventually, we may open up the door to a set of presumptions that look pretty much the opposite of those with which we entered the profession; and we can discover a new definition of teaching: the study of the student.  Acknowledging our dependence upon our students and fellow teachers reveals our deepening interest and curiosity about them. We shift our approach from didactic to Socratic.

“Following our curiosity about how our students approach a topic or subject can become a fundamental and endless source of fascination, even though it sometimes does not pay off.  This, in turn, opens the door to authentic and more intimate relationships where students can become more curious about their teacher.  In this same way, we can discover new definitions for service: the study of those we serve.  We can redefine school site leadership as the study of the leaders around us, our faculty or our team.

“Our greatest teachers do not criticize our ideas, however bizarre they are – they only ask to know more. Sufi teachers refer to this as ‘wisdom of the idiots.’  Over time, if we are lucky, we may learn how little we know, and this is the essence of Socratic teaching.  We stop disguising our vulnerability and weakness, we sense that our view of the world is oblique and naive, and so we pursue our teaching and service as a way to access our own larger awareness and connection.  The great teachers, it seems, are those willing to take off their armor and drop the role-play, at least from time to time.  This is the field where we at last meet our own selves in the most natural way in the world, so that we can meet our students.”


I was a somewhat reluctant but enthusiastic University English teacher in China for two years.  I didn’t want to call myself teacher because I technically did not teach anything.  Everything the student needed to speak and write in English was already in them.  They just needed to bring it out and I had to devise creative ways to help them let it out into the world.  Short of being a circus contortionist, it became easier through trial and error and through time.

As the “teacher” of my own children, however, it was less fun and more stress.  I keep wondering how to transform that.   Teaching the rudiments of reading and writing means you have to “teach” something so it becomes a chore for me and a bore for them, rather than that process of naturally facilitating the release of something from within longing for the light.

Working with the university students, I thought of myself as a “confidence-builder” more than a teacher.  With my own kids however, I often think of myself as a “confidence-destroyer.”   It’s different “teaching” university students and your own children below the age of ten but how different could it be when you’re reaching out to a human being just the same?



Resonating Light


If there was something like the Blended Learning Center (BLC) near where we lived when we tried homeschooling for a year, I probably wouldn’t have quit homeschooling.  I believe in the idea of homeschooling but I don’t want to be the one to teach my kids (at least not the academics — sorry too much teeth-pulling for me and them) plus, I prefer to work.

What I personally believe in more than homeschooling is that it takes a village to raise a child — a community beyond the child’s family and that is what Blended Learning Center provides.  I admire how a lot of homeschooling families have this socialization aspect down to a science — arranging classes, field trips, joining and forming co-ops but for some, the convenience of a regular “school in disguise” is still a preferred necessity.

For me, alternative centers like BLC are like schools in disguise but they shouldn’t be because they may actually be what schools ought to be in an ideal world.  Perhaps in the future, centers like BLC will be more of the norm rather than the rare exception.  They are what schools would look like if governments and institutions have not monopolized and desecrated to a certain degree what shouldn’t be about dragging your feet every morning to prisons disguised as classrooms.

I’m sorry I don’t have pictures to show for the visit I made yesterday to BLC with my husband and sons.  The photos here are culled from the BLC website.  I was too busy listening to the teachers sharing their ideas and experiences about non-traditional education to a group of eager parents.  BLC has programs for pre-school, elementary all the way up to high school students (up to Grade 10).

While the parents sat focused, all the kids played ball and ran around the garden.  Every time they kicked the ball higher than usual, I was afraid it would go over the wall.  It went and slid down the roof once.

For families seeking a way out of a system that may be constricting (maybe even crushing) the spirit of their children, this invitation from BLC may resonate:

Sound Familiar?

-Too Many students in one class,
-Students Are Ranked Against each other based on a prescribed one-size fits all curriculum
-Show and Tell Teaching Methods which forces students “to memorize” instead of “to understand, analyze and challenge”
-Manila Traffic + Long School Hours = No time to play outdoors, children resort to too much gadgets
-Huge class size, students can either become unsupervised and can result to bullying.

What If….

-Learning can be Passion Driven, Project Based and anchored on “Real Life”
-Learning can be customized depending on their interests
-A Typical school day can be flexible, self paced and learning centered
-The school becomes a safe learning environment, with dedicated teachers, better teaching materials, free from bullying

Based on Studies Non Traditional Learning Provides an Environment for our children where:

-Development is Accelerated
-They become Focused and Passionate at what they Do
–They Develop Self Accountability and Worth
-And they become “Experts” early on

Learn How this is Possible.

How I wish there was a BLC in every part of Metro Manila, not just Cubao and preferably walking distance from where I live.  Long, heavy sigh.  We can only dream.

Here’s what BLC offers:

While all programs at BLC-Manila cater to families who are not of a traditional mold, there are some common qualities that we see in our Blended and Homeschool parents that might help you make a decision. Check out what you think fits you best:


Perfect for:

– families who want to homeschool but can’t commit to a full-time “homeschool schedule”.

– children who don’t thrive in traditional classroom or school set-ups, but still prefer socialization.

– families who like to travel and take their children along.

– families who like flexibility and are “allergic” to the unreasonable rigor of traditional schools.

– families who believe that understanding, and appreciation is a better hallmark of learning than getting high grades.


Perfect for:

– parents who want a first-hand say in how their child/ren are taught.

– families who live outside Metro Manila or the Philippines.

– children recovering from a trauma, and are getting ready to re-enter the mainstream.

Tutorial Services for students
For regular academics and project support.

PEPT preparation for Grades 1-10
Review and consultation on Department of Education-accredited requirements.

PEPT + for Grades 7-10
Review and consultation on Department of Education-accredited requirements, plus expanded classes and activities that add more value to the learning process.

Teacher Training on Blended Learning

Our inward-bound approach to being the best teacher you can be.

Discovering Sadhguru

Donna and I are hoping to attend the Asia Pacific Democratic Education in India next year.   Today, I chanced upon this video on Youtube while I was viewing videos on parenting which led me eventually to this interview about education and the Isha School. Just posting this here as a reminder that when we go to India, we must try to visit the Isha Homeschool.  It’s another school I definitely want to include in my research.

“Our social structures have created extremely complicated survival processes. A child’s ability to look at life with utter freshness and involvement is slowly disappearing. It is the duty and responsibility of our educational systems to bring that back. Education can never be a profession – it must be a passion. In the process of education, it is very important to see that the child does not lose his joyfulness, his spontaneity, or his ability to be truthful without any fear of consequence. At the Home School, we are striving to create the necessary platform where education is not about loading the child’s mind with information, but about making the child’s mind capable of razor sharp perception, capable of knowing life in its full depth and dimension. Education is about expanding the horizons of human experience and becoming inclusive. Only in a state of inclusiveness can the empowerment of education become a bounty all of us may cherish.”

– Sadhguru.

These are the videos on parenthood that directed me to the interview above.

And if those videos didn’t get you hooked (like me), here are some quotes from Sadhguru:

For those in China who don’t have a VPN and can’t open the videos because they’re from YouTube, here are some Sadhguru videos from Soku:

You can know only now

Why am I stressed?

What is the purpose of human life?

Routine Plus Plus


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.


Cool! They’re in School! (But I Still Want to Be Elon Musk)

So how did Joshua’s first week at school go?  All I can say is I am sorry I am not quick enough to create the school I want for my children but give this Chinese public school system a chance and it might grow on him eventually.  I wish I was Elon Musk and could buy a mansion set in a vast garden, hire the best teachers to teach twenty or so students like he did exactly at Ad Astra which means “to the stars.”  Not satisfied with any of the schools around, Elon, the man behind Tesla, built his own school for his children and their classmates are kids of SpaceEx employees.  Wow!  How cool is that?  But I am not Elon Musk and Ad Astra is the distance of stars away in America.  We are in a town called Dagang Youtian and the schools are much like any you find in China where thirty plus students sit in quiet, compliant rows listening to their teacher.

Joshua complains there is little time for free play and there is not much interaction with other kids because they ought to keep quiet most of the time.  I don’t know if he is exaggerating.  I wish I had a camera to view what goes on in class.   Joshua is excited to go to school, though.  He has been waking up earlier and earlier because he doesn’t want to be late.  He hates to be the last one to walk into class.  The earlier he arrives, the more time he has to chat with his classmates casually without the teacher calling their attention.

There’s an almost three-hour long break between the morning and afternoon classes.  The kids either go home to eat and rest or for the parents who work or live further away, they could go to a nearby house.  The parents pay for lunch there plus the kids get picked up and assisted in their homework if needed.  There are tables where kids can quietly do their work and cots to sleep on if they want.  I took this three-hour break as an opportunity to fulfill a little of my “Sudbury-democratic school” fantasy.  I purchased board games – Chinese checkers and chess – for Joshua to play with his new-found friends.  I intend to bring other games in the next few weeks.  Joshua loves playing the Chinese type of chess called weiqi and weiziqi.

This is Joshua’s class schedule:


So except for Monday, school is from 8:00am to 4:10pm.  On Monday it’s 7:40am to 4:50pm.  There is another opportunity for Joshua to socialize with other kids after class in the place where he eats.  I need to pick him up from there almost an hour after class ends because Jimmy’s kindergarten doesn’t finish till five.

There are two classes in Joshua’s schedule that is not familiar to me:  Correct Behavior and Various Topics.  When I asked my friend to translate the Chinese word, she said “Morality and Law.”  I told her, they can’t be studying that in Grade One.  Maybe it’s studying about what’s right and wrong and how to behave properly and correctly.  In Philippine school, we didn’t have a class on Correct Behavior but we were graded for our conduct in class and we did have Religion class which covers morality.  So there is still an equivalence.  The other class which I translated as Various Topics literally means “Collated Edition.”  Again, that doesn’t make sense in English but maybe it’s a class for talking about various interesting topics like current events.  It might be better to ask Joshua.  It’s like I’m going to Chinese school myself – a whole new world and experience! I continue researching about education including the traditional way, not just progressive and alternative, thus enabling me to make more comparisons.

Jimmy started his kindergarten today and I was one proud and happy Mommy bringing him to his Kinder 2 class.  You can sense the big difference between the Kinder 1 and 2 buildings.  In the first building, you hear wailing and crying which is not present in the building behind where Jimmy is at.  The kids in Kinder 1 still experience separation anxiety but I’m glad I never had that with my kids.  They were both eager to attend school because they enjoy being with other kids.

Jimmy asked me if he could have English teachers, not Chinese.  I told him there are no English teachers here because it’s China but I could be his English teacher.  I don’t think he was satisfied with my answer.  Soon, though, I think he’ll be able to attend school in the Philippines and he’ll be happy with all the English teachers there.  Jimmy, anyway, is happy anywhere he goes.  Not long after entering the classroom, he was hugging his teacher, Mi Laoshi.

I am happy that both Joshua and Jimmy are in school.  I want them to experience this process even if I know that it may be hard especially for Joshua because Chinese school is known to be boring, passive and strict.  But I believe it is important to develop techniques and abilities to fend off boredom.  The only person who is bored is probably boring himself.  My grandmother never liked the word, “boring.”  She always said, “How can you find anything boring?  Life is so interesting.”  That’s what I want my sons to develop – the interest in every aspect of life, pleasant and unpleasant.

Web Links:

Elon Musk didn’t like his kids’ school, so he made his own small, secretive school without grade levels

Elon Musk creates the most exclusive school

I’d like the headline: Joei Villarama creates the most INCLUSIVE school!  Hahaha!

Ad Astra: How Elon Musk is Unschooling His Kids

Elon Musk created his own grade school for the children of SpaceX employees

I can’t wait to see what he does when his kids hit high school!  Puwede na ba kaming sumali? (Can we join?)





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


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.


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




Clearing a Misconception


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?


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.


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.


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.





Three Cheers for Chinese Camp!


Chinese summer camp is over.  On the seventh day, parents picked up their kids in Jixian and were treated to a performance we were so proud and happy to witness.

Every day this past week, seventeen children studied Chinese calligraphy, two types of Chinese flute called taodi (for the boys) and xun (for the girls), two types of Chinese checkers called weiqi and wuzeqi and a type of martial arts called taichi.  They also had sessions on robotics, training in first-aid as well as a life coach.  They wrote a diary everyday and discussed about their dreams and what they want in the future.  They had five full-time and three part-time teachers.

The camp is surrounded by mountains so they trekked up and did their taichi against breathtaking backdrops.  They fixed their beds, did their laundry and ate meals prepared by a really good cook.  The parents had lunch on the day we brought them and picked them up so we know and trust they had good food plus a lot of watermelon.  The parents were updated daily with loads of pictures coming in through our WeChat Group so we felt “fangxin” knowing the kids were relishing the experience.

At night, teachers came in to check that the kids were asleep but one of the monitors recounted the time when a group of kids woke up at 4 in the morning to play weiqi.  The TV remote controls were collected at night to make sure they don’t watch but Joshua told me one of the kids had a cellphone that could control the TV so they were able to sneak in time to do the forbidden which is classic summer camp fare.

Aside from the growth and maturity I notice in Joshua, the other wonderful take-aways from this camp are these beautiful souvenirs that he can enjoy for always.

This is the calligraphy work Joshua produced during the camp:


Jimmy wasn’t able to join the camp because he’s still too young, but when he’s 8 years old, we’d let him attend.  The day before we picked up Joshua, Jimmy drew this:


Read more about the camp in Chinese: Shan Shui You Dao

You can watch the video here: Shan Shui You Dao Video