Where Do We Begin……….

……….to find to like-minded parents who value freedom and creative explorations for their children, without having to send them to a center or an institution to do the job for us? Back when we were still fresh and young parents to our two little girls, we had wanted playmates for them. So we posted a message about our intention to have a meet-up session to discuss the idea of forming a regular  play group for young children and we got several responses – and a playgroup was formed for our girls! That was way back in the year 2000 I think. I remember the kids who came for our weekly play sessions were very young – slightly younger or older or the same age than our girls. We had a simple structure: circle time, story & songs, a planned group activity, snack time and free play time! Each family took turns to host and organise an activity for the week. There were no fees involved. The kids had a regular group of friends to play with. And they grew up together during those few years before it was time for them to enter school. And for some of them who did eventually go to school, we continued with our weekly meet-up sessions on a weekday afternoon (probably on a Friday), while our girls were homeschooling. It was an interesting experience as friendship was established in those early years and we did have good times together! I think I had initiated several playgroups then, or rather they had evolved as our girls grew older. This concept may seem rather odd for those living in smaller towns that still had the extended family ties in place. But in our urban situation, it is very much a necessity for parents to seek one another out and to engineer play sessions for our children. 

“Finding interesting things for children to do is not too difficult……We can easily buy, borrow, or salvage many kinds of materials that will be interesting in many ways to young children. We can invent many projects that many of them will find interesting, and they can invent many more themselves.” (John Holt: “Freedom and Beyond”). 

Our play activities revolved around art and craft, music, songs and movement, traditional games like the handkerchief game, nursery games, and board games. We also did simple cooking and baking sessions, as well as paper engineering and kitchen science experiments, and many more fun and engaging activities. The important take away from these early years experiences was that parents (mostly mothers) were the initiators of these sessions, and we did all the planning, preparing and conducting of these sessions that mostly took place either at our homes or in the parks. 

Little did I realize that these early playgroup sessions would later form the basis for our homeschooling activities with completely different groups of family. The focus was always on play – sometimes they were creative, sometimes they were more structured, and at times they were spontaneous! The last is my favourites kind of play πŸ™‚ 

At no time were we worried about the academics. Because they believed that learning through play was more than sufficient in giving them the education that they needed. And we still believe in that today!

Let kids be kids by giving them space and freedom to explore their worlds.

Let them get a little dirty, and sweaty and smelly, so that they may discover something interesting through their experiences with the outside world!

Protect them from harm, but don’t shield them from experiences that may help them know themselves better and to realise what they want to do with their lives.

It doesn’t mean they will become chefs one day if they enjoy having fun in the kitchen. But it does give them a lasting impression from the cooking or baking process. It also gives them skills to make food for themselves.

So begin by connecting with your children by playing with them……without lecturing, without nagging, without measuring or judging them……just PLAY. Or at least, be there for them, beside them, alongside them, or just watching them from a distance…..for they will grow up in a flash, and there will be no turning back the clock for the missed opportunities that you may forever regret not having the time for.

I’m glad I did that with my kids when they were young! I hope you do too πŸ™‚




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Home is where kids are allowed to have their childhood, and learning can be found outdoors…….

My early childhood memories (1970’s) are filled with what felt like hours upon hours of play activities, with my younger siblings and my Canning Garden, Ipoh neighbourhood friends. We played all kinds of popular games then, that did not involve any hand-held electronic devices – because they did not exist then! So we had lots of physical activities that involved skipping on one leg to catch the other 2-legged runners; and we did rope-skipping – constantly challenging one another on who could skip the most without getting tangled in the rope; and I played football with the boys at the field just a stone’s throw away; and ping pong – we didn’t have a ping pong table, so we used the wall! And marbles and spiders and catching fishes in the longkang (drain)……There was no adult supervision – we just went out to play – and when it was dinner time (at about 5.30pm everyday) my grandmother would holler from our house for us to come home. Life was so simple then.

This is the imagery of how I wanted my children to grow up in – with lots of unscheduled time to dream (oh I was a dreamer child!), to fantasise, to let the imagination run wild……in other words, just to have a childhood and enjoy the period of time where there are no worries, no stress, no deadlines to meet, and no financial responsibilities to fulfil. They just needed to be kids!

But when I tried to reconstruct this childhood experience for my kids, I was in for a shock! Neighbourhood kids were not to be found – they would come back from school and hurriedly get into their homes to finish their homework and to study for their tests or exams, or be driven to tuition centres for more classes. And the padangs (playing fields)? They were devoid of children because everyone was either busy working indoors or on their digital devices. This is the sad reality of our modern-day living.

And with schooling going toward the direction of paper madness to the extent of robbing children of their fleeting time to be children, it seemed like a rather cruel place to be in! This was in spite of (or perhaps, because of) the fact that my dad was a school teacher all his life, and me and my siblings all went through the schooling system, that I told myself that if I ever had kids one day, I would not send them to school. One word to describe my DAD’S decades of teaching service – STRESS! He was “rewarded” with hypertension in his 40’s and subsequently, the list of ailments piled up: diabetes, high cholesterol, which led to his eventual heart failure. But that’s another story.

The thing is, despite the fact that my childhood generation had much more time for outdoor play activities then, and we spent much less time doing book studying for school, our brains were very absorbent and we managed to do well in school tests and exams. Also one other factor I think was important – we had time to read story books. That was my “escapism”! 

So these are the main reasons I had wanted something completely different for my children – to learn and to grow without schooling. It had seemed like an impossible dream but almost 20 years on, it has proven to be absolutely possible!

CWLeng 

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Our journey in interest-led, child-driven, curricula-free home-education

I considered myself a home-educating mom when I found out what home-education was really about, when my girls were about 3 and 4 years of age. I read extensively on how children learn and how parents might provide the fertile space for learning to sprout freely and healthily. I realised that children started learning from the time they were in the womb and from the moment they were born. And we become their first teachers in those early years by giving them love and warmth and respect.

My knowledge is derived from the many wonderful writers and child-advocates who are extremely supportive of child-led learning. John Holt is one of them. In fact, he is considered the pioneer of the idea of unschooling – learning and growing without schooling. 

The first thing we need to recognise, according to Holt, is that children are by nature smart, energetic, curious, eager to learn, and good at learning; that they do not need to be bribed and bullied to learn; that they learn best when they are happy, active, involved, and interested in what they are doing; that they learn least, or not at all, when they are bored, threatened, humiliated, frightened….

…..therefore….we must look beyond the question of reforming schools and at the larger question of schools and schooling itself: Can they do all the things we ask them to do? Are they the best means of doing it? What might be other or better ways?  

Schools put a great deal of structure into the students’ lives – from the breaking up of groups of children into different classes, to the different school subjects to be taught, to recess time and recreation time – everything is scheduled and structured in neat and timely packages. But the question we ought to ask is: do children need all this structure in order to learn? 

According to Holt, children are not indifferent to these structures. They sense them, intuit them, want to know about them, how to fit into them, how to make use of them. “We do not need to put structure into children’s lives. It is already there. Indeed, we might well say of many children, including many poor city kids, that there is far too much structure in their lives, too many situations in which they must constantly worry about what is the right thing to do and whether they want or dare do it, or refuse to do it. What they often need, is a chance to get away from it all – more solitude, time, and space.”

In the traditional classroom, there are only 2 elements: the teacher and the students. The children may be all different but in such a class their differences do not make any difference. They all have the same things to do and they are all expected to do them in the same way.

The second thing we can say of this structure is that it is inflexible, rigid and static. It does not change from the first day of school to the last – the teacher gives out information and orders, and the children are passively receiving and obeying or refusing to obey.

The third thing about this structure is that it is arbitrary and external. It does not grow out of and has nothing to do with the life and needs of the class…. It is dropped on them from above like a great glass box. The teacher is as much a prisoner and victim of this structure as the children. He has little more to say than they about what it should be, and can do little more than they to change it. 

The way of unschooling is the opposite of all that and works to give flexibility and dynamism in the learning which is very much organic and internal. It grows out of the needs and abilities of the children and teachers (parents) themselves. 

“Many children have backs bowed and knees buckling beneath the weight of too much adult concern, even kindly concerns, or perhaps especially kindly concern, too much worry, too much fear, too much hope. Everything the children say and do is a sign – are they going in the right direction? Or the wrong? Are we doing the right thing? Everything becomes too big a deal. 

(Chapter 2: The Structure of Freedom” from Freedom and Beyond by John Holt). 

What children need and want are more chances to see us adults when we are about our adult business, whatever that may be, and more time in which we leave them strictly alone.” 

And that has been very much our approach to unschooling all three of our children – from when they were little, until they are adults. And the result of that, can be seen in how they approach their working adult lives now:

1. They know what they want and learn how to get them.

By immersing themselves in their chosen interests such as music, dancing, skating, and filming. They spend thousands of hours listening to music, watching YouTube videos, practising their art (in piano playing, song writing, guitar playing, skating, dancing, editing…….to be good, one has to commit to being good. There are no short cuts. 

2. They know how to learn and where to find resources to help them learn. 

The World Wide Web is an amazing place to learn so many things. Why put limitations on them? Because of our fears? That is our problem. Not theirs. Books are invaluable sources for creativity and imagination (fictional stories) as well as factual knowledge and innovative ideas (non fiction). But not every child finds books attractive. We should let them choose how they want to learn.

3. They find their purpose in learning. 

This is very important. Learning and working without a purpose is like living without a goal. You just exist and merely go through the motions of living. This will not be enough to drive learning in a meaningful and sustainable way. But purpose can! It may be spending countless hours trying to do a video for YouTube, or to make a short film about something interesting with friends, or writing a song or a story from an idea that came up……they do not have to be big ideas or big purpose. Starting with small projects are good enough to propel them further later. It’s the process that matters.

4. They find recognition and satisfaction from their chosen fields and industry. 

Slowly but surely, with hard work and smart learning, they will one day gain recognition and acceptance from the community and the industry they work in, in the forms of competitions, performances or productions their work. 

5. They continue to improve their knowledge and skills.

They never rest on their laurels but keep wanting to learn to be better than before. This passion and purpose in self-improvement is unique to those who truly learn for learning sake. Not for popularity or succcess, but for self-satisfaction, knowing that they are contributing positively to others by giving their best. 

In the world of cruelty and uncertainty, it makes sense for us to nurture a new generation of peace-loving and purpose-driven individuals, to make the world a little cleaner, better and happier. Hopefully by changing the way we educate our children, together we can make an impact on our world – by learning and growing beyond schooling.

CWLeng

May 2017

Amrita Soon – singer songwriter (unschooled)

Young entrepreneur Program by KV Soon (unschooling father).

Field trip to the mangroves land near Butterworth led by Yu Ling & Kent Leong (unschooling parents of 6 children) and founders of Beach Schooling.

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Public Talk: Creative Thinking Through Future Problem Solving

Methods to help students develop creativity and innovation for future sustainability.

You are invited to join us this Sunday, this would be an interesting session to help develop critical and creative thinking skills.

For information, you might like to email us beyond.schooling@gmail.com

Or register atΒ https://goo.gl/forms/INJuji8gjVvHr5wv1

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Happy Chinese New Year

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May you and your family be blessed with peace, happiness and prosperity.

Thank you for all your support.

 

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First Day of School……

On our first day of school, we did something different……instead of cramming into a classroom full of same-aged kids, we took them out for a swim with their friends of various ages 😊 – sunshine, fresh air and exercise are always good for the body, mind and soul – and doctors can’t recommend it enough!

 

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