Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The disadvantages of homeschooling. And why we will still continue.

Not everything about home schooling is fine and dandy. When you read about homeschooling, or talk to a homeschooling parent, it's easy to get sucked into the idealism of it. As much as many people like the idea, and wish they can do it, it is also easy to get intimidated by it. It looks really far fetched. It looks flawless and perfect.

Our kids have done both. School and home school. In my opinion, both have its pros and cons. Nothing is perfect in this world. I will share with you the disadvantages of home schooling first. Of course, this is my personal opinion. Derived from my personal experience. So I am not generalizing them.

1. The house gets messy more frequent. There have been an increase number of baking & cooking, science experiments, art & craft activities, unfinished (and sometimes abandoned) projects etc etc etc. As much as these are good activities to stimulate their minds and creativity, it can be very stressful for a maidless mom like me. I am not very compulsive about clean house. But when you come back from work, exhausted, it's nice to come back to a reasonably clean house. 

2. They spend more time with each other = more fights = more drama. Sometimes, over every single freaking thing. Especially the girls. And none of them has hit puberty yet. Sigh.

3. It's harder for Medina to pick up Malay language. As a family, we speak more English than Malay at home. And all my kids went to an English medium kindergarten. As a consequence, my kids become a Malay kid that cannot speak Malay. All my kids only started speaking Malay when they started going to school. They learned from friends and teachers. Language immersion. Most of the time the kids would start speaking fluent Malay in 3 months time. Due to our decision to HS Medina, she will not have this opportunity. Now, the responsibility to teach her the language falls on us. She has started going to a Malay play class organized by the HS moms. But it's not the same with the immersion you get from Malay speaking friends in school. So this will be a challenge for us.

4. Your kids and you get asked more frequent on what they have learned, what they are learning, what they are doing, what they have been doing etc etc etc. No offence, I know most of the times it's out of curiosity and good faith...but sometimes it does get annoying. When my kids were in school, I can hardly remember anybody asking them what they learn in school. Most of the time, people are only interested in what exams they are taking and how they did in their exams. I think everybody just assume you must be learning something in school. The fact that Emily was in school for 4 years and can hardly read and write, was never an issue to many people. Coz we viewed the child as the problem. Not the system. 

5. The teens miss their friends. Especially Hajar. She misses her school friends. Although they keep in touch through phones and internet, it's not the same. And when you lead a different life from your friends and you don't go to the same school anymore, there are lesser things to talk about. Luqman is fine with it. But Hajar feels the pinch. I think the friends issue also crops up as a result of Mr O and me being a social retard. The truth is we are not a very sociable person. It would be much easier for them if we socialize more frequent. And they have their own circle of friends outside of school. Although we do socialize more when we home school through field trips, co-op and play group, friendship takes time to develop. Especially for teenagers. And it's harder when you don't meet frequently. Unlike in school when they see your friends everyday.

So yeah. On bad days, it drives me nuts. Having said that, after embarking on home schooling all kids for almost 6 months now, I have no regret. My only regret is not doing it sooner. We have seen them blossom. Much more than when they are in school. 

1. I see their leadership traits emerging. I see them developing into youths with visions to make a difference in this world.
Pic is from Ecoknight.

2. I see them regaining their spark. They become curious again.
They challenge status quo and they discover. They don't conform themselves to what the teachers tell them anymore. Medina with her experiment on senses. She read the book, designed her own small experiments and validate. 
She concluded it's not true. I was impressed not with her findings. I was impressed that she was intrigued to validate the facts from the book. And this is the same girl who was very particular about how things should be done according to what her teacher said last year. And insisted she would not do anything differently.

3. I see them fitting in. I see them comfortable socializing with people. Regardless of age and race. Unlike what most people think, socialization is not an issue with most home schooling kids.
4. They have more time to explore their strengths and interests. 

5. They have more time to learn things that matter. Like attending more religious talk. Even if they are on week day nights.  
Or volunteering on regular basis.

6. Saving money on school fees means we can travel. During off peak time. And kids learn so much from traveling.
7. I see them conquering their fear. Emily started writing. And the huge difference is she enjoyed doing it. Although her writing is riddled with spelling mistakes and grammatical error, it's not the same writing you see kids do in school. Where everybody comes out with more or less the same stuffs. Because the end point is to get as much mark as possible by following the marking scheme.
8. I see them becoming more creative.
And I see them turning their creativity into something meaningful. 
9.  I see them slowly becoming self learner. I see them slowly gaining courage to fail. They failed and they tried again and again.
10. I see them happy. And that is the most important thing.
For these reasons, we are going to continue home schooling them. As long as we can. Even if it means we have to deal with messier house and more drama. I think it's worth it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How to get your kids to love reading.

In my opinion, one of the biggest failure of our education system is we produce children who can read BUT hates reading. By Malaysian standard, before the kid reach 7yo, he/she must be able to read and write and do basic Maths. We make reading so regimented that it no longer becomes a pleasure. Young parents will start panicking if their 6yo has not figured out reading. And the diagnosis will always be there must be something wrong with the child. Let's push them harder.

By the time the kids enter school, the schedule will be so packed that kids hardly read books anymore. Most kids will associate book with school. So it will be very rare to see a schooling kid pick up a book in their free time. They would rather do other stuffs like computer games or watching TV or internet surfing. Isn't this sad???

There are many ways you can make reading interesting to a kid. Recently we joined the kids in CLIC to celebrate Dr Seuss's birthday. It was a belated celebration but what the heck. It was really fun. I was very impressed with the variety of activities the kids came out with. They can present anything related to Dr Seuss.
Read aloud.
 Short play.
 More short play.
 Dr Seuss's inspired cupcakes.
 Taste very yummy too.
 Dr Seuss's birthday cake.
Emily presented her drawing. 
Medina presented her story. With the help of big sister.
I was actually very surprised with Medina. She wrote the story herself. Inspired by The Lorax. It's a reminder to me that if you let the kid get lost in their own world, they can be really creative and surprise you. 

Medina's story. The Lorax & the marshmallows.

Do you like the story? I love it. But then, I am her mom...ha3 :-)

Anyway, after 4 kids, I learn not all kids are born as book worm. Luqman and Medina are voracious readers. They read above their peer's level. They are those kids that will read when they eat and pee and poo and after you switched off their room's lights. Hajar only started reading a lot when she was 12yo. Bored with UPSR preparation, she immersed herself in Harry Potter. And she has been reading a lot ever since. I guess she finally found her genre of interest. Emily is still not reading much. She only started reading when she's 8yo. And she cannot do phonics. I taught her reading using the phonographix method. She's still not a fluent reader. Nowadays, she read comics, picture books, cooking & art books. Most of the times, they are books below her age level. And it's most likely not literature kinda stuffs. Sometimes she pretends she's reading. I know some books are too difficult for her but I let her pretend.

To me, as long as they are surrounded by books, and surrounded by parents who read a lot, they should be OK.
Reading will nurture creativity. It will open magical doors. Doors that you never know it exist. Recently the kids participated in a charity bazaar to raise fund for Myanmmar kids. And they came out with the idea of naming their booth "The Rabbit Hole". And it just tied in nicely with the variety of stuffs they were selling. They had loads of fun pretending to be Alice, Mad Hatter & Rabbit. 
So really, it doesn't matter when the kids start reading. What is more important is to nurture kids who love reading. And they will continue to read for life. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Volunteering is the cheapest & the best way to develop children's character. And it's one of those few things where you gain more than what you give.

We started volunteering regularly few months ago.  Now that the kids are full time at home, they have the luxury of time to do this kind of thing. Before you go "ooohhh & aaahhhh" impressed with my kids, let me put a disclaimer. I dragged them into it. Call me imposing, call me tiger mom, but there are things that I over rule my kids. Volunteering is one of them. Simply because I believe it's the best way to keep them grounded.

In contrast to what many people think, volunteering is a lot of hard work. When my kids volunteered (OK, when I volunteered my kids on their behalf), they did the bulk of the work. Not me.
And it is not always nice and happening. Sometimes, you put so much effort and the organizer don't even acknowledge you. But that's where the beauty lies. You learn when you give, you give sincerely. For the sake of Allah. You don't expect people to appreciate it. Allah knows your intention and that's all that matters.
My kids have learn loads from volunteering. Volunteering get them in touch with reality. They learned there are so many people that live with much lesser than them.
 They learned to work together in a team.
 They discovered their strength. Things they never knew they could do.
They learn how to approach strangers and champion their cause. And they learn that sometimes even a cute face may not be enough to get people to support you. And it's important you don't take it personally and persevere :-)
They met like minded people which is a great experience because it just opens up their mind.
They learned new stuffs. Like Luqman learned how to do an auction. And speak more Malay :-P
They learned in business (whether for charity or not), you need to be aggressive in getting customers. This was very funny. When they were helping out raising funds for a sick baby few months ago, the first customer that came to their booth was from Medina. The older siblings were all playing safe and waited at their booth. Little Missy just went around  the hall and asked the girl "Hey, do you want to come to my booth?" and they got their first customer ;-)
When Hajar & Luqman volunteered for Childline's child advocacy program last year, they learned so much about child rights, media and advocacy. And Hajar spoke in front of thousands of people for the first time in her life.
You can also tie in volunteering activities with your kids' specific interest. This is a picture of the kids doing beach cleaning in Bubble's Dive Resort as part of their volunteering program.
Recently, we started on something more regular. Most of the times, our volunteering activities are a one off thing. I have been looking for something that the kids can do regularly for quite some time. I want them to learn long term commitment. So I was very happy when I found out about Yireh Love Foundation. It's a group of beautiful souls who help out teenagers with special needs. At first, they didn't know how the kids would be able to contribute and fit in. But they are kind enough to let us find out. After 2 sessions, I am very happy to see Luqman & Hajar managed to find ways to contribute and teach the special teenagers.

So really, there is so many benefits of volunteering. Even if your kids are reluctant to do it initially, drag them. The benefits that they gain is so much more than what they give. Think of all the costs of the enrichment classes nowadays. Public speaking, critical thinking, speech & drama, leadership camp etc etc etc. They are sooooooo expensive. What if you can get all those from other means?? Like volunteering?? And you definitely gain much more. And most of the time, it's free of charge. You just need to put in your effort and commitment into it.

If you are looking for volunteering activities, just googled up. Do Something Good is one of the places where you can get started. But seriously, there are plenty of others. Especially for bigger kids. And most of these activities are free of charge. Orphanage, NGOs, youth organizations etc etc. I got a lot of information from Facebook...which explain why I am always online....wakakaka ;-) 

You don't have to be very skillful. There's always something you can do. Everybody can do something. Everybody can make a difference. In our small ways.