Sunday, February 27, 2011

An accidental homeschooling mum

This was written in my facebook (FB) notes recently which I thought it would be apt to share:

It has been almost 19 months since Dumpling and I started doing home learning. I am actually an accidental homeschooling mum. I did not start off having any intentions or grand ideas of homeschooling (hey, even I would like to have a life!) and do not consider myself maternal (I had such severe PND that in the initial months I wanted to chug my kid down the chute!) or hardworking at all. The entire thing was and still is a slow progression. We started with signing which really encouraged her to communicate to us, the crafts and then adopting a more "thematic" approach. Then the daily sessions took on a life of its own where with a thematic based approach it was easier for me to source for books and craft materials.

Then slowly we added on more dimensions to our sessions as her attention span became longer and longer where she now can easily sit through more than 90 mins of home learning (with regular water, snacks and toilet breaks of course) and I have to make a hard stop many a time which are unfortunately met with tears as she does not want to stop! Yup, that's right, she wants to continue to paint / read 2 more books or watch another episode of "Cat in the Hat".

When I first started uploading pics on my FB, it was and still is meant as a platform to share. I still hope to do that 'cos I wish that other parents would share with me too - the websites they visit, free printable downloads, good reading resources and of course, good teaching resources. Then I realised that unfortunately some would view the progress / journey as "showing off" and there were also strange experiences with parents who were really uncomfortable chatting to me about our kids and just brush off the conversation by saying "ai ya, am sure your C is able to do much better lah" when we are just chatting generic stuff and not chatting about schooling! Or that I get judged and labelled as being very "competitive" / "KS". I also get a lot of comments such as "oh, we don't really want to push our kids as we want them to enjoy their childhood".

I have always been a driven person with high levels of energy since young (typical type A). I get bored with routines and always need to be challenged. Hence even at this age, I still am looking forward to taking up courses and learning new stuff (hence I became a certified Baby Signing Time instructor last year).

This essentially became half of the reason why the homeschooling worked for us so far - being able to homeschool my child also means that I , too, am able to learn along the way. The other half of the equation is C's interest. And this is where unfortunately, I have to dispel any notions you have of me holding a cane (I do not beat C) or forcing C to "spell" or memorise the multiplication table. Ha ha ha... C's interest is really what drives most of the topics for our homelearning. I get annoyed when people get very judgemental and pass on comments such as why I would force C 'cos she is only 2 and that they do not homelearn with their own kids because they do not want to force them and would like for their kids to have a very enjoyable childhood.
Errrrmmm... What's your definition of an enjoyable childhood then? How did you conclude that a child needs to be forced in homelearning sessions or that it must be direly hard / boring? At least for my case, I can safely conclude that C and I have great time together. May I also ask how was your childhood? Mine was lots of hard work driven mainly by my aunt but I also got to head down to catch grasshoppers, shoot rubber bands at lizards, slide down on a steep slope in a cardboard box and almost all but broke my neck. From the first exercise, I learnt to anticipate how far the grasshopper can leap / hop and prepare a plastic bag large enough to contain it (and of course speed matters here as well). From the second exercise, I learnt to hone my shooting skills (haha!) and I never have a fear of lizards and from the last (which was one of my absolute favourite activities), I learnt how to steer the box (which I can attest to my "grand prix" inspired driving skills now), the angle to to lean in order to gain more speed and who to partner which led to me winning many of such races.

And just how much does C get to explore from homelearning? Well, how many children get to head down to the park / grass slopes to dig out earth worms and go on a snail hunt just to confirm the theory that both do not have feet and are invertebrates. Why a marble is able to roll faster across a smooth surface versus that on a tarmac (inquiry based learning)? We also learnt about how ice is formed and why it melts through coloured ice-cubes painting (magic school bus helped too :p). We homelearn because we have loads of fun at home. It also adds to the entire bonding process and I love it when she is able to tell me / apply theories based on new things we learn and most importantly, I understand her "attempts" to test the theory and we get to share some good laughs over these attempts.

We homelearn because I am able to encourage her interest in learning and this is possible only because we have FUN. I would like to add on for the record that I am not expecting her to be or expecting myself to raise a genius. Whether she gets that snails are invertebrates at the first or fifth attempt is not important. It is the process and journey of digging the soil, finding, experimenting, touching, learning and laughing together that matters to me (she all but "threw" the darn snail at me when she realised that it was a bit slimy). Since the attention is on a "one-on-one" basis, I am also able to match her pace and topics of interest accordingly and thereby encourage her inquisitiveness and interest in learning. So, if I do not judge your parenting style, please do not judge mine as each child is different; I do not appreciate being labelled and I am sure you do not like to be labelled too. Also, bearing in mind that while most kids attend a bilingual playgroup and learn from school, C goes to a pure mandarin playgroup during the day and so if I do not expose her to english and all, she has 0% exposure.

For friends who asked me about a "method" for homelearning, there is no pre-fixed method as I think it still is best to be child led. What I would perhaps recommend is to do it either "literature-based" or "thematic-based" to start off so it is easier from "research" standpoint.

I am sort of mixing literature + inquiry + lapbooking depending on topics. So for e.g. if your child loves reading, then read read read with your child. But you can also look into the extension of just story books to factual based books to increase general knowledge. For e.g. Katy No Pocket can be incorporated with reference books from the library on Kangaroos. You can even extend it to learning more about marsupials and if Koala bears are really bears and why do they sleep so much, etc. The sky is the limit when you homelearn. And I highly recommend craft. Craft helps them to improve their motorskills and also with creativity I think. You can always start small like what C and I did when she was younger - 20 mins per time. Good enough for 1 book and then extending it to painting / tearing and pasting (collage) or just head downstairs for a nature walk (if it is nature theme driven).
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