Three Bonuses Plus


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.



Go Gopala! Go, Go Gopala!


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.


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.


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.

Explosion of Options


In my mind, I pictured a school I’d want my kids to attend and it’s more a Sudbury-Summerhill type where kids are free to roam outdoors and choose activities and classes according to their interests.   When I entered the gates of Navadwip Farm in Silang, Cavite and saw the expanse of grass and trees, it felt like home.  When Laksmi Maluya, the organizer of the farm activity and founder of Gopala Play Center showed me a run-down, nipa-roofed building on stilts that she wanted to convert into a center for homeschoolers, I was smitten.

Joshua rode his bike up and down the gentle slopes.  One of the older kids pulled a blue cart while others pushed so that the smaller kids could have a ride of their life.  Laksmi prepared a day of games, salad making, hiking, scavenger hunting, knot tying and others but the children ruled the roost.  They mostly ran around and in expert fashion spontaneously did what they do best: play.

My mind was racing with images of the school I wanted for Joshua and Jimmy, the schools I’ve been researching for over a year that existed elsewhere in the world except the Philippines.  Now, it was here within arms reach, realizable and feasible.  Laksmi operated an indoor play center in town but when the opportunity to move to the four-hectare Navadwip farm came, it was a no-brainer to transfer.  She just needs to have the existing structures renovated while there’s a place in the property that can already be used temporarily.

Laksmi was a homeschooled child herself who attended no gradeschool, no high school but was able to enter college merely by taking the test.  They were six kids in all who were homeschooled by a group of vegetarian parents and now, Laksmi herself is homeschooling her three daughters.

In the afternoon, all the parents gathered around Laksmi as she shared her own homeschooling journey as a child and as a parent.   As I listened to her speak with passion and heart, I realized this dream school of mine is not merely about the place.  More importantly, it’s about the people who share the same vision.


Whenever I arrive in Manila for a holiday from our China home base, I always hunt for whatever is available for homeschoolers.  I wish there was as much of an explosion of options for homeschoolers in China as there are in the Philippines but I learned that you have to make opportunities yourself where there are seemingly few.  Exploring the abundance of choices here in Manila gives me ideas of what I can do in China and vice versa so shuttling between two countries can feed on each other in a positive way.

The number of resources and support for homeschoolers in the Philippines is so many, it makes me wish I could go back.  But because we live in a third-tier city in China, life there makes more economical sense than Manila where the cost of living is much higher. However, the environment in China doesn’t lend itself well to homeschooling because in the town where we are, most if not all Chinese students attend school.  There’s a small community of foreigners who homeschool but we still have to see if some kind of co-op can be formed.  A Chinese friend of mine who is planning to homeschool is interested in pooling resources as I can handle the English and she’s in-charge of the Chinese.  We plan to look for other families who might want to join us.

In the Philippines, because the number of homeschoolers are in the thousands, co-ops, resources, enrichment programs, classes and Facebook groups have mushroomed serving and connecting eager families, building communities of life-long learners.

When Joshua was 4 years old, he joined some sessions of the Futbol Funatics.  This is a football program for kids, not necessarily homeschooled.  Joshua is such a natural at the sport and derives so much joy from it that I wish his inconsistent but much missed foray into football is not limited to whenever  we go home to Manila during the Chinese holidays.  I hope we can find a football group for him in Xishuangbanna.

Another homeschooling activity that we tried was organized by the Flying School Bus on science and engineering.  I wish we had more time so we could try Homeschool @ Valle Verde, too.


Summerhill School, UK

Sudbury Valley School, USA

The Sudbury Model

The Alliance for Self-Directed Learning









Handholding Across the World


Most women merely want to vent and have a sounding board for their rants and issues.  Victoria wrote about her doubts and challenges about homeschooling, posted them on the Worldschoolers Facebook page and got a number of encouraging advice.  Her story resonated with many others who were either going through or went through the similar situation of not knowing whether what you’re doing is right or best for your children.  Mothers wrack their brains, sometimes unnecessarily so, needing to chill out more like the dads who seem too together, too relaxed, too not overwrought.  No pressure because one half of the partnership in stress is already one too many.  Of course, that may be an oversimplification or an unfair generalization but you know what I mean.

I’ve been feeling so many doubts myself about this whole homeschooling/ unschooling/ worldschooling thing that I appreciate truly the kind, listening ear.  I set up a Skype date with our teacher-advisor at the Global Homeschool, our provider in the Philippines and poured out the worries bugging my brain and in the end, it was a relief to be talked out of panic mode, to remember to laugh and enjoy, to let go of what doesn’t work in favor of something lighter.

Today I took Joshua and Jimmy to the big indoor playground in the supermarket.  I’d like to imagine it’s my weird version of the Sudbury School here in China.  The kids are free to run around and choose what they want to do amidst an age-varied group.   It’s frustrating doing all this research work on alternative education and I don’t have access to any — except what we can create on our own.  If we lived in the United States, imagine the wealth of choices!  Sigh.  Wishful thinking.  Envy.

Sudbury school is a type of school, usually for the K-12 age range, where students have complete responsibility for their own education, and the school is run by direct democracy in which students and staff are equals.[1] Students individually decide what to do with their time, and tend to learn as a by-product of ordinary experience rather than through coursework. There is no predetermined educational syllabus, prescriptive curriculum or standardized instruction. This is a form of democratic educationDaniel Greenberg, one of the founders of the original Sudbury Model school, writes that the two things that distinguish a Sudbury Model school are that everyone – adults and children – are treated equally and that there is no authority other than that granted by the consent of the governed.[2]

While each Sudbury Model school operates independently and determines their own policies and procedures, they share a common culture.[3] The intended culture within a Sudbury school has been described with such words as freedom, trust, respect, responsibility and democracy.

— from Wikipedia

Tonight, Joshua spilled out a revelation quite surprising to me that it’s not his dream to travel around the world.  My husband went inside the room and said it was Daddy and Mommy’s dream.  I told him, maybe after our trip to America he’ll think differently.  And even if he felt the same, that I’d still be here to listen to his dreams and we’ll work out a way and support each other through those dreams as a family even if others in the family had different dreams.  I, too am rethinking this dream drive around the world.  Like my son, Joshua, I also want to be more settled in one place, but I also want to travel.  Perhaps this American road trip will be the longest stretch (four months) we will do and then after that we’ll settle in one place and travel only for a month or so max at a time.  So it’s still going around the world but in segments.  There’s also way of worldschooling that can be done locally by doing mini discovery trips, welcoming travelers, opening eyes to culture and pushing the creativity envelope.

There was a worldschooling Mom who railed about her child who just wanted to play on the computer the whole day and wasn’t interested in traveling and there she was planning trips left and right with aplomb.  The advice she got from others gently reassured her to get on the road with her child and gradually, there would be changes.

Dreams are tricky when you’re in a family and they don’t match up or they are in conflict.  But there’s also a way of threshing out differences so conflicts turn into something that complement each other.  How?  Sheer perseverance and by being sensitive to all members of the family – the parents and the children, the adult and the young, according equal respect to each and every one.






Homeschooling Updates


We have settled into a rhythmic homeschooling pattern where in the morning, Joshua and Jimmy work with online programs in English, Chinese and math.  Joshua writes in his diary while afternoons are free to enjoy the outdoors.  While time4learning is loading, Joshua does math or language exercises in IXL which was recommended by a homeschooling couple we met in Manila with four kids.

We have a new favorite app that solves the long standing dilemma of being stuck in a place with no English bookstores.  Getepic offers hundreds of children’s books online and the range of choices is amazing!  No more hankering for a quick escape to a big international city or looking in frustration for English books on Taobao.

In the afternoon, we explore the mountains nearby which are filled with rows upon rows of beautiful rubber trees that have tiny bowls attached onto each trunk ready to catch the day’s sap.  Upon research, however, I found there is a sad story behind these huge tracts of rubber and banana plantations that blanket the slopes of Xishuangbanna.  In pursuit of the almighty profit, the rich, diverse jungles gave way to a monocrop that is destroying the environment, the reversal of which entails much political and community will.

The Chinese word for rubber tree has the same sound as banana so when Jason kept pointing at the xiangjiao, I couldn’t figure out where the heck were the banana trees until the wires connected in my brain that this was one of those common occurrences studying Chinese.  It always happens to a hapless learner – those pesky homonyms but to the native speaker, the tones and characters are definitively different.  Jason is not amused when I ask him to keep repeating the two words until I could distinguish the difference because even if I listen a million times, it’s the same banana to my stubborn, untrained ears.

Anyway, I remember in school when we were asked to memorize which products and raw materials were produced in regions and countries around the world like rubber, copper, wheat, etc. which I’ve all completely forgotten.  I didn’t know then what Joshua and Jimmy saw for themselves now walking in the forest – botany and social studies alive.  Jason talked about the dangers of having a single crop culture degrading the quality of the soil, making it dry.

Together with Hudou, Jason’s friend and partner in the tea business, we drove through kid-unfriendly, vomit-inducing winding intestinal roads up and down the mountain to procure tea leaves.  The paths to the wild tea trees themselves were even less accessible like they were secrets to be guarded.  A sumptuous lunch of worms gathered from the insides of bamboo stalks waited for us in the village.  To a junk food addict like me, the combined crunchiness and saltiness made it like a nutritious alternative to potato chips that went well with a bowl of steamed rice.

The random mountain trails we find close by have me convinced that life here would be hard to beat by any place in the Philippines or China.  The mild weather, affordability, the urban and the natural weaving in an unlikely harmony.  It’s a wonder people are not flocking in droves and there are real estate projects like ghost towns pockmarking Everywhere, China.  Perhaps that’s another plus side to new recruits in the area looking forward to an nth boom, figuring out how landlocked regions turn their weaknesses into an advantage.

Now, if only I can find other homeschoolers.

These are examples of treasures from Getepic.  I think I am having as much if not more fun than Joshua and Jimmy opening these gems.  I sometimes avoid clicking on the books that I know they like but I don’t because of the writing.  What I do is what I do even with actual books: I try to hide the ones I don’t like so I can read the ones I do.  I don’t do that all the time but I try to sneak in the ones I favor even though I’m an advocate of self-directed learning and freedom of choice.  Since I’m the one reading the books out loud, some bonus for the audio talent, please.



Who’s In?



July 2017

Hold a seminar-workshop on self-directed education with Yaacov Hecht and Simon Robinson as speakers.  Yaacov and Simon will talk about his experience with democratic schools and the workshop after will discuss the following:

  • What are the possibilities for a self-directed school or a self-directed type of education in the Philippines?
  • How can ideas of self-directed education be practiced within existing schools in the Philippines?
  • How can a self-directed school or learning center be started in the Philippines?

August 2017

Attend the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference (APDEC) in Tokyo and months before the event, promote this in the Philippines and in China so that more people will know about it and those who are really interested can attend.  We need to build a network of people who believe in this kind of education.

October 2017

Hold a talk-workshop with Peter Gray about the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and share examples of schools, centers and organizations which believe in and practice self-directed education such as the Sudbury Valley School.  This would be a follow-up session on the July workshop that would build on the momentum started with Yaacov and Simon.  Hopefully a core group would emerge from the people who attended in July and in October and who will eventually initiate a self-directed learning center in the Philippines.

Aside from the Sudbury model, another model that could be considered is the Macomber Center because in the Philippines, there is already a growing number of homeschoolers and unschoolers.  Members of the Macomber Center are all registered homeschoolers and they “pursue their interests in their own way, at their own pace and are free to explore the world in a way that they find meaningful.”  They have “no formal curriculum or guidelines for achievement. Instead, they 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 knowledgeable, helpful adults.” The “school” or “center” does not even need to have a physical space or address.  It could be a network or an alliance similar to the one set up by Peter Gray, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.  People can come together as they choose and the whole city, the whole country, the whole world is the school.  Venues change as needed and as opportunities allow.


  1. Introduce and promote the idea of self-directed education and ensure that the talk of Yaacov and Simon will be well-attended. The target number of audience is 100 so we need to target much more than that – probably 200 or 250.
  2. Promote the Tokyo APDEC in the Philippines and in China to see if there are people who would seriously consider attending the conference. Use social media and our personal networks to reach out to as many people as we can.
  3. Promote Peter Gray’s talk about self-directed education in Manila. Coordinate dates with the conference organizers who originally invited him to Manila.


And how does all these efforts connect to China?  My friends who attended the APDEC in Taiwan, Donna and Lucy also dream of setting up a self-directed or democratic school in China but as a strategy, we could start in the Philippines where the opening is wider.  In the future, we can invite Chinese students and teachers to experience this for themselves, too.

Here’s a bit of Peter Gray’s background from his blog, Freedom to Learn, Psychology Today:

Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor at Boston College, is author of Free to Learn (Basic Books, 2013) and Psychology (Worth Publishers, a college textbook now in its 7th edition).  He has conducted and published research in comparative, evolutionary, developmental, and educational psychology. He did his undergraduate study at Columbia University and earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences at Rockefeller University. His current research and writing focus primarily on children’s natural ways of learning and the life-long value of play. His own play includes not only his research and writing, but also long distance bicycling, kayaking, back-woods skiing, and vegetable gardening.


It’s Now Official


Last October 17, Joshua was officially enrolled at the Global Homeschool (formerly TMA Homeschool).  It felt like a truly momentous step for us because not only was it delayed several times and unexpected hurdles threatened to thwart our efforts that day as well as some weeks back, but also because we were able to do it as a family.  The hurdles, like other obstructions in life were merely there to test our resolve.  Jason, Joshua, Jimmy and I trooped to the Fun Ranch where their office was conveniently located with a selection of activities for kids.  While Jimmy was at the playground and Joshua was taking the diagnostic, Jason and I spoke with our advis0r, Ani who oriented and gently reminded us of our responsibilities.

We signed a teaching commitment which binds us to “be actively involved in educating” our children, “teach the required subjects” and allocate “2 to 4 hours for primary graders.” Since March of this year, we have been “unofficially” homeschooling but the actual enrollment imbues it with a formality that holds us more accountable for our actions.  We have requirements to fulfill and can’t be too casual about it.  We now have quarterly power point reports to produce (November, February, May and August) and grades to give.  It pushes us to be more disciplined and less lackadaisical, more proactive and less reactive.

I am extremely grateful that our advisor, Ani is thorough and patient in following through, giving updates and reminders through emails and texts.  It feels like somebody is holding our hands through a process that can be quite nerve wracking for beginners.  Despite the now official status, Ani’s fundamental and most important message for us is to relish and enjoy the time with our children.

This coming Saturday, October 22, we’re excited to attend the Philippine Homeschool Conference where veteran homeschoolers Deonna Tan-Chi, Joy Mendoza and Bo Sanchez will be speaking.  Andrew Pudewa is coming from the United States to share his insights from homeschooling his own seven children.  As the director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, he has “helped transform many a reluctant writer and have equipped educators with powerful tools to dramatically improve students’ skills.”  Don’t hesitate to bring your kids along to the conference because there will be an area for them to express their creative, artistic and energetic selves.

Three weeks ago when I was supposed to choose materials to use from Global Homeschooling’s well-stocked bookstore, I had an epiphany.  This was the second time I was choosing and the first batch of workbooks that I got didn’t work well for us, so I hesitated and searched online for alternative resources.  I found time4learning which may be a good solution for certain homeschoolers who travel a lot.  After comparing it with other online programs, I paid and Joshua has been on it for more than two weeks now.  It’s proving right the positive reviews it got from actual customers.

The other resource that we love as a family is Backyard Science, an Australian TV program for kids with lots of episodes available on  youtube.

Here are some pictures of Jason doing some of the experiments with Joshua and Jimmy and us on enrollment day. 

Can’t wait for the conference tomorrow!