During my fifth child’s PTM with his kindy teacher, I could sense that she was trying very hard to be encouraging while giving me the news as it was – my six-year-old son was to graduate from kindergarten unable to read or add.
In addition, even though he had great penmenship and coloring skills, he could never finish his school work on time. Therefore, his graduation file was filled with half-completed work.
Strangely, I was neither distressed nor apologetic and had every excuse: his brother was having so much problems in school, I had to camp in his school every day. I also had to ferry my three older children for sports training twice a day, and had no family support after my father-in-law passed away.
I could hardly cope with just putting meals on the table so why would I have time to read to him or deal with his academic studies? After that first and last PTM I attended, he was to start formal schooling in Primary 1 (or Grade 1), and I knew he would struggle with zero literacy and numeracy. What was I to do?
Building the First Foundations
Unlike most parents who engage tutors at the first instance, I deliberately slow down on the academic front. Knowing he is timid by nature, I wanted a good ‘canvas’ to work on, so decided to improve his self-esteem first. I told him he would become the smartest child among all my children, (I just didn’t tell him his four older siblings started reading from 9 months to 4 years old), and that he would be good at both Math and English. I boldly told him he would be a genius – something he still believes he is to this day.
The next thing was to find a good syllabus to teach him with. I didn’t want to engage tutors, or play catch up with the P1 syllabus that he would not be able to follow. Trying to catch up with the school teacher was too stressful for me. My plan was to find a good curriculum and spend two hours a day with him. A plan that lasted to this day.
Since he was not ready for P1 or Grade 1 work, I decided to use the US Kindergarten curriculum for Language Arts, Writing and Math. I also engaged my husband’s help to read Berestein’s Bears and Dr. Seuss to him every night. In two months, he started to read and could add. I also bought a clock to teach him how to tell time.
Planning for Success
For three years now, I plan the syllables every six months using resources from the Internet, books I bought from the bookstore, or Singapore textbooks when we go back for vacations. My son and I agree that he has to do five pages of Math and thirty minutes of writing and Language Arts everyday.
Three years on, my son is a far cry from that academically inferior boy. He has been accelerated two years by his school. At home, we have just finished US High School Algebra I (equivalent to Grade 10 Math in Australia or Sec 1-2 Math in Singapore) and he is covering SAT writing and vocabulary. To some extent, I think we made some good progress.
I knew that if I had chosen to pump him with tuition, hot-housed him with a heavy workload, or rush to have him score As in his SA or CA, then I would have not achieved what we did. Education is a long journey and I still do not know if he will be successful academically but we are progressing.
Filling an Important Gap
Besides helping my son catch up, I had to homeschool my children when they could not go to school for various reasons either by choice or by circumstances.
My definition of homeschooling is to have a fixed time-table, firm schedule and a place to sit down with the children to cover a specific curriculum. Over the years, I have taught my children many things that I have no expertise in.
I taught my daughters three grades in a year on the piano when they had no piano teachers (I am Grade 0), one passed with merit and the other with distinction. All my four older children were homeschooled for 23 subjects at High School level (Grades 9 – 12 or Secondary 4 to J2) including Math, History, all Sciences, Computer Programming, Visual Arts, Music Theory, Geography, Literature and Psychology.
Of course, I know some subjects really well, but for the others, I knew almost nothing. After they have earned their High School Diploma, I still do not know some subjects very well because my job was more a guide than a teacher. I had to teach them how to learn effectively.
It is when we homeschooled that my children accelerated the fastest. My third daughter finished three years’ High School work in nine months when she was 13, my fourth son finished the same in six months when he was 11. I know that they could not have made it to the university in their early teens if not for our family’s habit of homeschooling ever since they were young.
Homeschooling puts them miles ahead of their age peers.
I have learned that homeschooling is not so much about teaching but learning. Success requires a good curriculum, sheer determination and discipline.
Homeschool is a Secret Weapon
Over the years, I have stopped playing catch up with schools, letting teachers teach what they need, and never tutoring my children school work. Instead, I have chosen to look for other curriculum and teach them useful things or skills I know they will need later. It reduces boredom and gives them confidence. It also gives us plenty of common things to share.
So there. My experiences with homeschooling, which includes how I helped my son who was falling behind academically. We tried something radical, did away with tuition and self-pity, slowed down rather than fire-fight.
With a good curriculum and the willingness to spend time to learn with the child, he will not just overcome, he will surge ahead.
Every time the education system fails me, I will remember that nobody owes us anything. They can take away school from us, but they can never take away our education. So instead of complaining, I will brandish my little secret weapon: the homeschool planner. I hope that every parent will find that secret weapon, too.