Jen Oh, Jen Oh!

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Every Wednesday, Jen leads a group of women in bible study.   I’m very blessed to be part of their study group even if I get to join only during holidays in Manila. Within a group of ten, Jen and three other mothers homeschool their kids.  Here are Jen’s thoughts on homeschooling:

Why did you decide to homeschool your children?  

One of the main reasons that led us to homeschool was a general dissatisfaction with how children are dealt with in conventional school. It has become increasingly competitive, schedules are toxic, and children are required to learn massive amount of information without real meaningful learning.

Packing our children’s minds with information and then testing how well they retain that information has become more important than building their character, helping them to think critically and make sense of the things they discover in the context of real life.

What made you decide to educate your children this way?

The one thing that convinced me to homeschool was the Biblical call to all parents in Deuteronomy 11:18-19, “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul… You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.

God has called all parents to intentionally teach our children about Him and to love Him. Of course, this can be done whether or not you homeschool, but homeschooling provides a very conducive environment.

Tell me more about that turning point that led to your decision.

Initially, I wasn’t keen to homeschool. It was my husband who was into it. I had already made a shortlist of possible pre-schools to enroll our daughter in. But each time I asked my husband about which school he thought would be best, he would always reply, “Let’s just homeschool.”

I asked him a total of 3 times. In the end, I thought to give homeschooling a try for a year. Since we were starting with kindergarten, maybe if I mess up (as a teacher), it wouldn’t be too bad, since she’s still young. So, we took the plunge.

Did you encounter any doubts and discouragement from family and friends around you when you made this decision?  

Yes, there were some misgivings, especially in the aspect of socialization and meeting academic standards. But there weren’t rabid antagonists. The people that matter most to us were generally supportive.

How did you manage it then?   

I would engage people in a discussion about the benefits of homeschooling if they were genuinely curious or concerned. But if I get the feeling that they’re quite closed-minded and argumentative, I usually just keep my mouth shut, smile and change the topic. I believe that through time, they will see the beauty of homeschooling, particularly through how our daughter blossoms (academically, socially, spiritually), how she relates with us and other people.

In the end, I think most homeschoolers will agree that we homeschool not so much because we want to meet the standards set by an organization, by the government, or by so-called experts (e.g. they have to learn to do so and so by this age). We homeschool for what we believe is a far greater purpose than meeting academic or skill standards.

Do you still face discouragement now?   

Of course. Self-doubt comes with the territory.

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What do people say or do that’s discouraging and how do you handle it now?

As I mentioned, the typical objections to homeschooling are usually about socialization and if your child will meet academic standards. When it comes to socialization, I ask people to qualify what socialization is.

This has been talked about in hundreds of homeschooling books and articles – that socialization in homeschool is more realistic, in that the child gets to socialize and build relationships with different kinds of people: whether kids from her Sunday school class, or great grand-aunts and grandmas, or even people in grocery, restaurant, hair salon, bank, and more importantly, her family!

This is as opposed to sitting in a classroom for up to 7 hours a day, with the same peers and teachers for the entire year. So when I say something like this, I hope to make other people think about what real socialization entails. But for most of us who’ve grown up in a conventional school, it’s difficult to wrap our minds around it.  It took me a while to appreciate it, too.

What do you like about the choice that you made?  

It saves time! Yes! Especially here in the Philippines. We do not have to:

  • wake my daughter up before sunrise to prepare her for school
  • get stuck in traffic for hours every day
  • tutor or send her to tutors to go over the things she’s supposed to have already learned in school
  • go through things that she doesn’t need to learn or is not ready to learn.

We develop the love of learning. Homeschooling allows us to do this because learning is organic, not forced. We can learn about a topic as deeply as we can. We can have long discussions about a film and reflect on its implications. As opposed to conventional school, when most of the time, we can’t wait for dismissal or summer break!

When we do get interested in a topic in conventional school, we are limited in time and resources to learn about it more deeply. This, I feel, stunts a child’s curiosity. Conventional school doesn’t allow us to take a child’s interest and run with it. Conventional school tells us the bell has rung and it’s time to change the subject.

What does it allow you to do?

  • Travel without concern for “missing school.” Travel becomes part of school!
  • Spend tons of quality time together and being present during “teachable moments.”

What’s your typical day like?

We are very relaxed homeschoolers. The curriculum we use does have a schedule all laid out, but I don’t follow it strictly.

Late mornings are spent doing “academic” work – such as learning about history, the Bible, science, and so forth. Then producing output related to the topics, like making lapbooks or crafts, answering worksheets, or writing a reflection. We usually take up 2 subjects each morning and as much as possible, I try to integrate them with each other to make learning more meaningful and cohesive.

Afternoons are for pursuits or classes outside our home – like art, ballet and math; visiting grandparents, doing errands, and free time.

What are the things you enjoy the most doing with your children?

Reading to them, watching movies, and traveling when we get the chance!

What have you observed are the different learning styles of Olivia and Stella?  

I can’t say for now. I find that Stella can learn any way, she’s very adaptable. Whereas her younger sister, I’m not so sure as we haven’t formally started our homeschooling yet, as she’s only 3.

I’m not very keen on labeling the kids as “kinesthetic” or “visual,” although I’m aware that we generally gravitate towards a particular style. I want us to be open and flexible to learn in different ways.

How do you adjust your teaching style to their style of learning?

I think I am blessed in that Stella so far, has been a very interested learner – whether we sit and discuss a topic, do crafts or experiments, watch videos, and so on. One of my strengths is crafting and I’m glad she is very much into that as well.

Do you still encounter doubts sometimes about this method that you have chosen? How do you handle it when those feelings come?

Definitely. I think this happens to all parents, whether or not you homeschool. When it happens in the homeschooling context, I breathe, pray and always go back to the main reasons why we homeschool – something like our mission statement.

These main reasons are different for each family but they are of utmost importance. These serve as the foundation of your journey, something you look back to whenever you feel any doubts.

What do you do when you notice that your child is bored or doesn’t know what to do?

I suggest activities. More often than not, she ends up finding or doing something to entertain herself – whether it’s playing with her sister, drawing or painting, fixing her desk or curling up to read a book. I believe it is good to get bored. Boredom is one of the greatest springboards of creativity. It teaches the child independence, to think for themselves, and how to make use of their time productively and creatively.

How do you divide your time between work and time with your children?

I am a full-time mom so this is a great advantage. Before I had a part-time job, so that required some time management and the Jedi-ability to fight off distractions.

What’s the most challenging thing about homeschooling?

Self-doubt. Always questioning if you are doing enough or if your child is learning enough.

Do you allow your children to watch TV or use gadgets?  Why or why not?

Seldom. We want our children to be creative spirits, to be able to entertain themselves, to create something out of “nothing.” And these they do on a daily basis – for instance, they have a box filled with different kinds of long sashes, ribbons, and ropes. They have fashioned these as clothes-lines and pretended they were doing laundry by hanging bits of fabric on them; they’ve tied chairs together to create a choo-choo train, and so on.

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What do you plan to do when your child or children approach university age?

Hopefully, she would have a good idea of what she wants to do. We will not pressure her to go into university as soon as she finishes high school. We are open to apprenticeship or doing a gap year. My husband and I both agree that a university degree may not be necessary, depending on where our daughter’s interests lie. For example, if she grows proficient in baking and wants to pursue a future in that, we are open to sending her to short courses and perhaps help her set up her own business. We have so many resources now, we can learn anything we want and be proficient in it, without having to go get a University degree.

But of course, if she wants to be a doctor, then by all means, a University medical degree is a must.

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Dissecting a Fr(Bl)og

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My cousin in New York emailed me a letter dissecting my blog which I truly appreciate since it gives me extra writing prompts. Plus I’m grateful anyone is even reading my blog, in this case thoroughly enough to comment with cross references.  Sometimes, all I wish for is a sounding board and somebody to listen to my senseless ramblings.

Since she’s a painter, my cousin and I share a common understanding of the creative process.  She wrote: “If as you say in your blog, dated July 13, 2016, entitled “My Ex-Boyfriend. . .,” Architecture is your ex-boyfriend, I would say, writing is your current life companion, your chosen vehicle to communicate your inner life.”

My cousin also experiences getting lost in the act of riding the flow, forgetting other things that may need to take precedence. “Rather, the sheer volume may overwhelm you and cause you to forget your priorities and become lost in the current project.”  Sometimes I have to reign myself in from over-planning and over-blogging about this dream because the most important “project” at hand is my responsibility towards my children.

On other points, however, my cousin and I may differ.  She wrote, “You mentioned that you would love to start an alternative type of school. That you miss the parents’ network, so strong in the Philippines. I don’t see how you can fulfill your dreams in China, which is also a place where your children may not have a future without the formal Chinese education that you are rejecting. But I don’t think they face the uphill battle at home that you face.”

There will always be conflicts wherever we choose to live but at this point in our lives, there will be bigger frays in the Philippines that we would more likely lose and that I prefer not to fight.  It is still better, for now, to make China our home base, unless of course China goes to war against the Philippines and America, then we may be forced to rethink things.

Just yesterday, I met up with my friend, Grace, a homeschooling Chinese mom with five children and Karen, our new-found American friend who homeschooled her three sons in China.  Karen introduced us to their community of homeschooling families from different countries.  The network of parents here may not be as big as the network in Manila but it exists and is thriving.  They are convinced I will find such communities in Dali, Yunnan. It’s a matter of being resourceful and taking initiative to connect with them.

The graduates at Karen’s homeschooling group have all been accepted by US colleges.  “In fact one young man got into Harvard, Yale and Stanford, but chose to go to Notre Dame with a full scholarship,” Karen explained, “But parents need to be highly dedicated, and you need to honestly evaluate each year whether or not this is working out well for your family.”
Tomorrow, I fly to Taiwan with my two Chinese friends to attend the Asia Pacific Democratic Education Conference.  One of the speakers is psychologist, Peter Gray, author of “Free to Learn.”  I emailed him my PhD proposal and he replied by telling me about the conference.  Joining me are two fellow university teachers, Donna and Lucy.

Donna lectures on psychology and is very much into Rudolph Steiner’s philosophy, sending her daughter to try Waldorf schools in Auckland and Manila during summer holidays.  Lucy finished a PhD in Literature and plans to pursue a second PhD in Education. All three of us are participating in the conference less for career development and more for our children. We want to be better educators for them.

I do not know if this will alleviate my mom’s worries but I have tried and tested out Skype tutors for English from America and the Philippines and Mandarin Skype tutors from mainland China.  I hope that in September, when we’re back in Manila, I can convince my mom to meet with two moms who homeschool their daughters. I know she doesn’t have time for the homeschooling orientation at TMA but perhaps a meeting with my fellow CCF homeschoolers might lessen her understandable apprehension about what we are doing.

The last point my cousin proposes is similar to my sister-in-law’s concept to leave Joshua with her for a year so that he can start primary school while we travel around the world. My cousin broaches that we can entrust Joshua with my mom in Manila so he can enroll in one of the best schools there.  I appreciate these suggestions which only highlight people’s deep love and concern for our children, however, I think our children will suffer more if separated from us.  We work as a family unit and any idea to break us apart will not be welcomed.

When I wrote the blog entry, The Question of Play mentioning my sister-in-law’s proposition, I received one touching message from a friend I haven’t seen since our university days.  A mother herself, she wrote, “Your Joshua will have more emotional issues if he is left behind by the family.  Go and be together!  Also check out Waldorf School.  Might just be your answer later on AFTER your year-long trip!  Enjoy the best years of your kids’ life together!”

I know I face uphill battles but that would be true should I decide otherwise.  There are no easy decisions.  Challenges pounce from every corner but I believe I’m on the side I ought to be. I lose my footing sometimes but who doesn’t.

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The pictures were taken at Karen’s place.  It’s Jimmy with Grace’s four children romping around the garden.  Grace’s youngest is with her parents in her hometown. Karen’s two elder sons are studying engineering in the U.S. and her youngest son is working as volunteer in Africa this summer.  Karen’s three sons have all been homeschooled by her in China. 

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Creature from the Black Lagoon

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So this is how it’s done.  We run some errands while Jason keeps checking in on his WeChat friends’ moments.  Shen Lan, one of his friends, posts pictures of fish they’ve been grabbing from muddy waters.  He sends Jason their location.  We try to follow them after finishing our tasks for the day.  We are too late as they have left but we find the exact spot where they were, an area partially drained of water so it’s easy to catch the helpless but still slippery fish.  The kids go in with Jason and they have a hoot!

Jimmy goes in with a bright yellow shirt and exits like a creature from the black lagoon.  Joshua starts slow and unsure but then after the experience, he nags his dad to take him back.  Jason is proud of his catch while I just admire them from a safe distance, taking pictures, vicariously dipping my legs in the jet black mud without the ickiness and stickiness.  When they come out, Jason partially washes their bodies using beer that was left by his friends. They enter the car stinking of beer and mud, then go straight to the hot spring pool to wash the smell off.

In the car ride, we pass through Jason’s childhood home and he points out where they went mud fishing with his buddies when they were about Joshua’s age.  At that time, all around were just swamps and fields of tall grass.  No buildings and factories blighted the land and there were no electric pumps to drain the water.  They had to manually scoop the water themselves using whatever container they can find — wild boys with all the time in the world to drain half the water from a pond.  It takes them way longer to do this than to catch the fishes.

We were lucky that the swamp, when we arrived that afternoon was already partially dry although Shen Lan and his cohorts had already gotten most of the fish.  He posted the most delicious looking fish dishes on his WeChat that evening.  Shen Lan is a chef and I’d go through mud if I knew at the end of it, he’d be doing the cooking.

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What’s the connection of this to homeschooling or our dream to drive around the world?  It’s practice following where the clues lead us and perhaps a lesson in biology and geology.  While waiting for them to have their fill of fun in the mud, I took the following notes from the book, “Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace” by Sarah Mackenzie.

“Rest is the virtue between negligence and anxiety, but many of the homeschooling moms I have met, myself included, find themselves more likely to fall prey to one camp or the other.  When we are weak in virtue, we inch toward vice.  A curriculum that leaves no room for the soul to breathe will suffocate, but so will the absence of purposeful and intentional teaching . . . . . Rest, therefore, is not the absence of work or a failure to consider and carry out a plan.  It is work and leisure, properly ordered.  It is doing the right thing at the right time . . . .”

“We must drop the self-inflated view that we are the be-all and end-all of whether the education we offer our children is going to work out.  We are too quick to feel both the successes and the failures of our job as homeschoolers.  Our kids test well on the SAT and we pat ourselves on the back.  They are miserable writers and we scourge ourselves for failing them. . . . The success we seek is not the same success that the world seeks.  All true education begins in wonder and ends in wisdom.”

“That writing assignment on the plan today?  Do it well.  That math lesson that your child struggles over. Sit down next to him and do one problem at a time, slowly and carefully.  Smile a lot.  Lavish him with love.  Because whether or not he becomes an excellent writer or a proficient mathematician is not your business to worry over.  Your business is that single assignment today and loving him through it.”

I’d love to be a homeschooling mom with unshakable peace but I still get shaken and stirred in every which direction.  Not cool.  But days when I see them immersed in and leaping through mud, I could be at peace knowing that we are doing what we believe is best even if people think otherwise.  My study sessions with the boys still carry some tooth-pulling pain but I’m balancing between being too relaxed and too demanding.  If only I let go of wanting the results veer a certain way, as Sarah Mackenzie says and as my happy fisher husband believes, it’d be okay.

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From the Mind of a 13-year old Homeschooler

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You won’t believe she’s only thirteen years old and she’s being homeschooled by my sister.  My niece, Gianna is quite wise beyond her years.  Every year, I look forward to her birthday because each time, I take her as promised, to Fully Booked to choose books she wants.  Now I can’t believe that she’s gone beyond the YA section and reading the same things I was only acquainted with in my twenties and thirties.  What’s more, she’s writing increasingly like a pro and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her bright, bright future.

From a proud aunt and godmother, here’s our interview conducted online:

Tell me what your typical homeschooling day is like.

Usually, my mom will wake me up and give me some time to eat breakfast and get ready to study. I find that this really helps because the more well rested I am, the more I am able to focus. At around 12pm, I will eat lunch and lounge around until 1pm. My mom will then write down the things I am required to finish within the day. I’m glad that she expects me to be independent and responsible with my obligations for school. The time I end school usually varies depending on what subjects I have to do within the day. Usually, English, history, and Bible are quicker to finish as opposed to Math and Science because those subjects are more complex.

What do you like best about being homeschooled?

I like learning. In conventional school, you memorize; in homeschool, you understand. Not all minds are the same, and that is something conventional schools tend to forget. We all learn at different paces and speeds. However, I do believe that we are all intelligent in different ways, but if your “way of intelligence” is unorthodox, conventional schools will shun your intellect and ways of learning. I realized that the more your thoughts become restricted, the more your ideas become limited–this is something that never seems to happen in homeschooling. My ideas are able to soar instead of being put into a prison cell.

What activities do you like most to do?

School activities-wise, I enjoy answering essay questions. My mom will always (as in, ALWAYS) push me to make profound and insightful answers. If my answers are just full of facts and lack learnings and depth, she will give me a low mark on my tests, seat works, quizzes, etc. I’m really glad she pushes me to think deeply and to find some sort of lesson in everything.

What things have you discovered or done that you think you wouldn’t have been able to if you went to a regular or traditional school?

I discovered my ability to write. In conventional school, they will state the essay question then put “Explain in no more than 5 sentences.” With this in my mind all throughout grade school, I avoided writing because my perception of writing has been tainted. I saw writing as a chore because I had so many requirements and restrictions. But, in homeschool, it is the substance that matters–not the amount of sentences. There, I found my love for writing and literature.

What are the things you are most interested in studying?

I enjoy studying science. My science book is creation-based and supports the existence of God. Ever since I have started using that Science book, I do not even dare to question the existence of God. Science fully supports Him! The fact that not everything He did can be scientifically proven, proves that He is God; because since He created science, He can surely break its laws.

How did you discover that interest?

The Science book I use is very easy to understand (yet it challenges your mind) and the style of writing is very interesting.

Do you have friends who are being homeschooled and do you have friends who go to regular or traditional school?

Yes, I do have friends who are homeschooled, and I have friends who go to conventional school. I actually get along better with homeschooled students sometimes because their minds are used to thinking outside the box. But, conventional school students are also fun to get along with because I get to teach them how to think outside the box. It is also beneficial for me to hang out with both types of students because this teaches me to be a more flexible person.

Do you notice any difference in the way they are?

Yes, I do. Conventional school students hate school, while homeschooled students (at least the ones I’ve hung out with) seem to enjoy school more. In fact, they sometimes enjoy school so much that they like researching on various topics related to their subject. Some even like to study advanced lessons

Are you tempted or do you ever end up just playing video games or watching TV the whole day?

I do wish I could use my phone at times, but my mom keeps my phone during school hours. She only lets me use it when my work is finished and done excellently.

What do you do when you are bored or when you don’t know what to do?

When I get bored, I usually write or read a book. Most of the time, I’ll stay with my mom and brother.

How do you find people to help you when you have questions and your parents can’t answer your questions?

I really try to avoid asking my friends for advice. I just can’t seem to trust my friends (especially “worldly” friends) because they aren’t as mature as my parents and do not know much about life. I usually just wait until my parents are available to answer my questions.

What are the things you don’t like about being homeschooled?

I don’t really have any issues with being homeschooled.

What are the challenges of homeschooling?

One of the challenges I often face is when someone will ask me where I go to school. When I tell them I’m homeschooled, there are two ways they can react: First, they can belittle me and pretend like I’m dumb or insult my intellect by asking me strange questions like, “Will you be homeschooled in college?” or “Are you okay? Do you have friends?” Second, they can bombard me with questions related to my academics such as, “What is the real name of George Orwell?” or “Why did the Ming dynasty fall?” Both of these reactions are equally painful and disturbing

How many tutors do you have now and in what subjects?

I have 2 tutors. One for Filipino, and one for math.

Can you describe your relationship with your tutors?

The relationship I have with my tutors is actually very good. They consider me to be eloquent and pretty mature for my age. I’ve grown very attached to them, especially because my education somewhat relies on them.

How many hours a day do you have tutorials and how many times a week?

I have two hours for math twice a week, and the same for Filipino.

What do you like about having tutors?

I enjoy developing relationships with them. It helps me appreciate people who actually take the time to educate others and go out of their way to shape the minds of people who are eager to learn. Also, I learn to socialize with people who are much older than me, since I see them twice a week. It helps me get used to different kinds of personalities as well, and it overall prepares me for the real world, because not everyone whom I will be working with will be my age.
What are the things you do with or for the community?

Since we have a pre-school in our village, I will sometimes teach there and take care of the children. I know that these kids will most probably end up in a conventional school. So, I want to teach them to think outside of the box and to not limit their ideas, even from an early age. I know that I may not be an influential person, but as long as they know that they are capable of using their minds correctly, I will do whatever I can to get that message across to them.

Transitioning

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Today is my last day of teaching at the university.  When I hand in the grades, I’m finally free to be a full-time mom.  It’s so strange to embark on this “jobless state.”  My husband would disagree because it is a big job looking after kids but what I mean by job in this case is paid work.

After graduating from university, I can only remember two times when I didn’t hold a salaried post.  The first was one month between working in Congress and starting work at the Department of Social Welfare and Development.  It was one of the longest, most excruciating month at that moment because I hated the uncertainty of not knowing what to do next.  Being in limbo didn’t agree with me and towards the end of the month, I hit upon the idea of listing down names of people I admire and dream of working for, contacted the first one on the list and got my next job with her as an executive assistant, a case of the universe conspiring to give you what you want.

The second jobless period was the one year I battled cancer.  Oddly, it was not as excruciating as that month in employment limbo.  Because I was pregnant with my second child, I was hopeful, optimistic and jubilant.  My miracle baby was born healthy despite my going through chemotherapy while he was in my tummy.

After two years working as an English teacher in a Chinese university, I am now again entering but this time deliberately – an indefinite, no-formal-job status zone.  On my own volition, I chose to give up my current “stable” life for adventure on the road with my husband and sons.  No more tension between wanting to finish my work and wanting to be with my children.  Now at last, family always comes first.  How many times have I felt guilty preparing lessons for class or grading papers before attending to Jimmy who wants to play or preventing world war two from erupting between two warring factions.

There would still be tensions but they would be of a different cause and nature.  For example, my husband and I both agree in principle to homeschool and roadschool our kids.  However, we sit at different points within a wide spectrum.  Thankfully, at least we’re not at opposite or extreme ends.

He leans towards unschooling and while I believe in this as well, I am not keen on going all out unschooling during the first few years.  I believe the three R’s — reading, writing and arithmetic — should be acquired first, using more curriculum based methods like homeschoolers, unlike unschoolers who do not have a curriculum since their curriculum is whatever the child is interested in.

In primary school, the kids would spend around seven hours in class.  Now, they only spend less than an hour a day getting lessons from my husband and me plus tutorials thrice a week.  I would like to expand that to have daily tutorials but my husband prefers to teach them on our own.

While it’s wonderful and rare that both parents are able to be at home for their children, I believe we can learn a lot from others who have more experience and patience teaching young kids.  They say it is easier to teach other kids than one’s own. Watching others teach my sons would allow me to see other perspectives that can only enrich my way of instruction.

So I hope and pray that my husband lets me to arrange tutors for our children — both face-to-face and online to able to compare techniques.  Eventually, we might have to rely more on Skype tutors because we would be travelling a lot so it’s good to try them out to find a good fit.  Other homeschoolers and unschoolers around the world depend partly on tutors for their children.  Parents combine teaching subjects they are most comfortable with and getting experts in other areas.  For instance, my sister who homeschools her thirteen-year old daughter, teaches her science, history, English and the bible but hires tutors for math and Filipino.

Perhaps there is more pressure on me to undertake a more structured format because I am responsible for enrolling the kids at TMA, a homeschool provider in the Philippines that helps families comply with government regulations regarding education.  Beacause of this, I am more conscious than my husband about fulfilling academic requirements.  This September, Joshua is scheduled to take a test at TMA so that he can be enrolled in Grade 1.  From then on, the kids will take tests at TMA every year and we will have to submit quarterly portfolios of their work.  In the future, should they wish to attend high school or university, they can more easily do so even if they are homeschooled because of the records and documentation of TMA.

 
My friend and fellow-homeschooler, Grace told me that it is important for husband and wife to communicate about and agree on the methods of homeschooling because children are very clever.  They can spot if there is a difference in styles and can use it to get their way.   At the end of the day, my husband and I both want what’s best for our children.  We may disagree about the definition of “best” but we can always negotiate the details.

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Between Two Moms

Two Christian homeschooling moms talk with each other.  This dialogue may be helpful for mothers who struggle with some homeschooling issues and challenges.  One mother is new to homeschooling while the other has years under her belt.

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D: How do you encourage your children to do things that you want them to do?

G: I found a book called The Secret Garden which is made of elaborate and detailed drawings to color.  I printed out the book hoping my daughters could color it but my daughters thought it was too hard to finish so they refused to do it.  I didn’t know how to solve this problem.  So after some time, I decided to color it myself.  I spent two hours coloring it and showed them how amazing it was after.  They realized how beautiful it could be and they asked me to print more pages to color themselves.  After that, I didn’t have to ask them.  They did it by themselves.  If you want your children to do something, you have to do it yourself and let them see the amazing results.

D:  We are homeschooling our children but I think my husband allows them to watch TV and play games in the tablet too much.

G: The most important thing about the home education is the communication between the husband and wife.  You must agree with each other about the education method because children are very clever.  If one parent uses one way to teach or influence the children but the other parent uses another way that is the opposite, the children will choose the easier way for them.  So the most important thing is you should talk to your husband and tell him your opinion.  In the beginning, I faced this problem in my family but now we can discuss and stick to one way that we chose.

First of all, you must understand why your husband allows your children to watch TV a lot. I think a lot of Chinese people do this because they want to keep their children quiet and not make a mess.  In this way, the parents can relax more.  So maybe this is also your husband’s reason.  Look at the reason behind the problem and then you can find solutions to the problem.

D: Do you let your children watch TV and play with gadgets?

G:  In my family, I don’t let my children watch TV but I let them watch shows online. My husband likes watching shows on his mobile phone and he spends a lot of time on his phone.  I don’t like that so I talk to my children how long they can watch TV and we set the clock.

D: What’s the role of fathers in homeschooling?

G: I think in China, most fathers don’t want to raise children.  Fathers want to work and earn more money.  When we were growing up, most of the time, it’s the mother who takes care of us.  It’s the same probably with your husband.

D:  My husband doesn’t work and he is not like the other Chinese men who want to earn money.  He also gets angry easily but he really loves to spend time with the children which is very good.

G: You should understand him.  This is the most important thing and then you should express your own opinion.  As a wife, you must appreciate his help.  Some Chinese men, when they talk to their wife, they easily get angry.  I think this is a problem with Chinese husbands.  After they get married, they fight with their wives.  But don’t worry too much because you are a good mother.  You are doing your best to educate your children.  You are teaching your children to read and that is very important.  After they learn how to read, they can do it on their own.  I hope you and your husband will be able to balance things.  You should appreciate that your husband likes spending time with the children.  Not too many Chinese fathers are like that.

D:  What’s the biggest problem you face now?

If I don’t work, I don’t have money to pay for the meals and rent.  I usually try to set a strict schedule for our children and myself but it’s really hard work.  You know when God closes a door, he opens a window for us.  Sometimes the hard situation is good for us and for our children.  It will all be okay.  I’m sorry about your relationship with your husband.  The communication between the husband and wife is very important.   God also teaches us that we should not try to change our husband.  We can just influence him but not change him.  If you try to change him, he will go crazy.  Some people disagree with other people’s criticism of them.  The most important thing is you do the best that you can do yourself. Your husband will do what he does but he will make the change only if he sees that he must.

Before last year, my husband and I also quarreled.  But I want to listen to God’s words that I should follow my husband so I changed myself.  I began to let him do what he wants to do.  I give suggestions but most of the time, my husband does not accept my suggestions.

We quarrel with each other less than before.  We can sit down and talk about education, daily life and different ideas.  Sometimes he will follow his own opinion, not mine but in fact, I wish he can follow me so it’s really hard.  I accept everything so in this way, he is also changed.  As wife and husband, we should follow God’s word and not worry too much. Everything will be okay.

D:  What other suggestions can you give me?

G:  Let your children spend time playing with other children.  It’s very important because we are part of society.  Everybody needs to learn how to communicate well with each other so it’s good to let children play with others.  It’s important that we should be a happy mother.  If the mother is happy, the family is happy, the children are happy.  If the mother is worried, the others will be worried.  So you must be a happy mother and have a happy family.  God told us, worry does not change anything.  I am a happy mother.  We should also pray a lot.

Monkeys and Mowgli’s

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Like monkeys and Mowgli’s, the kids climbed the trees, expertly hugging the trunks with their arms and legs because that’s what they’re built to do.  They scooped up tiny fishes using a bottle and net, caught insects and dragonflies and frolicked under the sun while the mothers and fathers sat in the shade chatting and eating.  Last Sunday, a few Chinese homeschooling parents from Tianjin gathered at the Water Park organized by the lone foreigner in the group –me.  I was proud because it took one foreigner to get them together.  I was happy because I’ve been aiming to meet homeschooling parents in Tianjin for quite some time and all my online research finally paid off.

Mr. and Mrs. Wu brought four out of their five children whom people generally stared at disbelief because it’s not often in China that you find families with more than one or two kids.  Their youngest, still a baby was being cared for by the grandparents in their hometown.  Mr. and Mrs. Wang have a boy and a girl who graciously distributed the homemade sushi into paper bowls.  Hope’s daughter and son, pre-teens, were older than the other kids so they rode on their hoverboard while others ran around.  Donna’s daughter, Chong Chong was so excited by the picnic that she forgot to eat breakfast and spent the whole morning cutting melon and preparing potato salad by herself.  Jason, Joshua, Jimmy and I arrived late because we were the only ones coming from Dagang.  Everyone else was from the city.

It was a good turn-out and the little kids had the most fun playing but the parents had a good time too exchanging stories among kindred spirits.   Hope’s 10 and 12 year old children go to school only to take final examinations but they study at home and do not attend regular class.  Donna wondered how this could be done and Hope explained that she personally wrote a letter to the headmaster explaining why her children have to stay at home to study.  Fortunately, the headmaster agreed and allows them to join the final exam every year.  Not all headmasters and schools can accept this arrangement so most parents face a lot of difficulty when they decide to homeschool.  Hope plans that her children will study abroad someday so they don’t need to worry about the gaokao (Chinese university entrance exam).

For Mrs. Wu, the most important thing is not the academics but how to build up discipline and set boundaries.  Parents believe that when they homeschool, they are able to pay more attention to shaping their children’s character.  The children spend less time studying and more time doing housework.

Through homeschooling, the children have more time to do things which they are interested in such as sports and other hobbies. The parents can give individualized education according to their personality by discovering what they want to learn and what they are good at.

Donna’s daughter, Chong Chong attends regular school and is now in Grade 3.  Donna asked her if she wanted to study at home but Chong Chong prefers to go to school.  In the future, if Chong Chong decides to stop school, Donna is prepared to do homeschooling.  Maybe when Chong Chong reaches a higher grade where the homework and school pressure becomes too much, then she’ll choose homeschooling, but Donna will leave the choice to her daughter.

In China, most parents worry about how their child will enter primary school, middle school, high school and university.  They are very much focused on getting high grades.  In homeschooling, there are no documents, reports and grades so most parents do not even dare consider this method.

After this summer holiday, Mrs. Wang plans for her daughter to attend primary school for one whole week.  After that, she will attend classes only for half a day and spend the afternoon at home.   Hope also did this in the beginning with her two children but now they have switched to whole day homeschooling.

The mothers in the picnic talked about balancing the dream and reality.  Parents need to earn money to support the family while they nurture their dream of homeschooling.  Both need time so like anything in life, it’s a challenging balancing act.

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Note:  Thank you very much to Mrs. Wu and Donna for translating the Chinese discussion into English for me.  I wouldn’t be able to write this article without their help because I get totally lost when several people speak in Chinese. 

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