Mommy Talks is featuring different homeschooling parents. Our guest for today is Dawn Stephanie Ong. I haven’t personally met her yet but would love to meet her someday soon!
PLEASE SHARE A BRIEF INTRODUCTION ABOUT YOURSELF, YOUR FAMILY AND YOUR HOMESCHOOLING JOURNEY.
I’m Dawn Stephanie Shangkuan-Ong and I’m a radio broadcaster on 98.7 dzFE, The Master’s Touch. Even before we were married, my husband and I decided we would homeschool our children if God blessed us with them. When we heard about the concept of homeschooling, something just clicked in both of us. From the start, it wasn’t a struggle to decide to homeschool. We had always planned to send our kids to preschool first before starting our homeschooling journey, so I taught my daughter full-time after she finished two years of preschool. But, with my second child, I homeschooled him from scratch. Now, my daughter 8 year old daughter is flourishing in the fourth grade and my 5 year old son is in the pre-K level.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO HOMESCHOOL YOUR CHILDREN?
The concept of homeschooling was very attractive to me when I first heard about it because I had been dissatisfied with my own primary & secondary education. I had had one year of elementary school in the States, and I remember thinking, “Why is school such backbreaking hard work in the Philippines?” Needless to say, I was reluctant to come back to our country after that one year in third grade. I also wondered why my classmates in Arizona were much more articulate than their counterparts here…even though they had little to no homework and only a smattering of quizzes throughout the school year.
At the public school I attended in Arizona, we went to class at 8:30 and were let out at 2:30. We had ample time for other pursuits. I could actually get in a decent amount of practice time on the piano. Once a week, above average students were sent to another school—one for gifted children—and there, we would solve problems in logic or make cut-out bird figures and create a mobile out of them. For the first time, I thought, “This is how school should be.” I sought to replicate that kind of experience with the school system in our country, and homeschooling was the answer.
IN THE YEARS THAT YOU HAVE HOMESCHOOLED YOUR CHILDREN, WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES THAT YOU SAW?
In my five years of homeschooling, I can list down these as advantages:
1. It is cheaper to homeschool than to enrol your kids at private school. Some parents may disagree with me, but my experience has been that I don’t sacrifice quality in choosing curricula. Still, it has been cheaper to order books than to pay a private school to teach my kids. I use Sonlight—a literature-rich curriculum and something that isn’t considered cheap among curricula. The upside is that these ‘living books’ will form a substantial library in our home over the years. We don’t use textbooks often but real books.
2. Your children are much more relaxed and they have a robust love for learning that you seldom see in most school children. This is a normal phenomenon: In preschool and kindergarten, most, if not all, kids love going to school. But somewhere along the way, in first grade perhaps, the kid’s love for learning gradually ebbs away. There are articles about how schools kill creativity and the love of learning in children, and that was partly what had happened to me in high school. I also realized that, even if you graduate at the top of your class, you can still have serious learning gaps or holes in your knowledge. We didn’t go through Shakespeare and I did not have a firm grasp of world history. Part of the reason why I wanted to homeschool was to do things over for myself.
Here are two anecdotes that show how my kids love learning. In the summer, when we take a break from homeschooling, my daughter’s biggest problem is boredom. She is so used to being intellectually and emotionally stimulated by all the rich books we read that she finds all that free time a bit daunting. I encourage her to take her favourite books from the school year; e.g., Charlotte’s Web, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Caddie Woodlawn; and read them again. The other day, I called my son Keith to begin our time of study. He was playing on my sister’s iPad, but when he heard me call for him, he just ran for the schoolroom! I wonder how many children still have that same bright enthusiasm when schoolwork looms in front of them.
3. You can see and guide your children’s character in a way you would never be able to in conventional school. When you’re a homeschooler, you’re with your kids day-in and day-out. Even if you run errands or go to the gym, that’s only a little amount of time you spend away from them. So you see every aspect of their personality—their attitudes, behaviour, character…a peculiar trait you would’ve missed if they were away from you from 7 ’til 4 every day. Sure, parents can keep tabs on their children in school; but in homeschool you can catch behaviour before it becomes a habit.
HOW HAS HOMESCHOOLING AFFECTED YOUR LIFESTYLE?
It hasn’t really affected our lifestyle because, from the start, we had decided to homeschool. The decisions we made, the way I structured my career, were all geared towards staying at home with them half the day. I work part-time and have my plans in the back burner ’til when my kids go off to college. But I would also say that homeschooling has affected our lifestyle in a positive way because (1) we don’t have to pay the exorbitant tuition fees private schools charge; and (2) my husband and I have time to go out on weekly dates, lead or attend Bible studies, and serve in church because we don’t have to stay in most nights to tutor our kids for the next day’s tests or assignments.
HOW DOES A USUAL HOMESCHOOLING DAY GO?
I am blessed because my daughter has been an independent learner since she was six. We stumbled upon this fact quite by accident. She was living with my parents for a few weeks, and I would go to their house and teach her every morning. On days when I was running late, she would go ahead and do her English assignments, watch her Math lesson on DVD, and do the exercises herself. It was a happy discovery because then I wouldn’t get hot under the collar teaching her Math. Nowadays, she’s studying English, Math, and Civics all by herself (I only check her work), and she has a Filipino tutor and a Chinese tutor. I’m in charge of all her read-alouds: Bible, History & Geography, Literature, and Science. Her dad is in charge of the hands-on work like science experiments and developmental activities. I made a grid for Paige that shows all the work she has to do in a week, and she checks them off when she’s finished. So, we don’t really have a “typical schoolday”.
With Keith, I read his Sonlight books at the pre-K level and do a page or two of Sing, Spell, Read & Write with him every day. He looks forward to our time of “ownschooling”, as he calls it.
ANY TIPS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH OTHER HOMESCHOOLING FAMILIES OR THOSE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN HOMESCHOOLING THEIR KIDS?
Read up on the various approaches to homeschooling. I was fortunate because we chose a curriculum that used Living or “Great” Books instead of textbooks, and these could be used as a foundation for Classical Education. When we first chose Sonlight, we didn’t know that it was based on the Charlotte Mason method of teaching, or what a Classical Education was. But, as I read books on education, I realized that many of the things I did over the past five years were based on the right principles. Whew! What a relief.
Reading about child education is not just for homeschoolers. Parents who send their kids to conventional school should also do this. They should choose their child’s school based on what they believe a child’s education should be, not because they think that school will enable their kids to get into the best universities in the future. That should not be the only criterion for choosing a school. Many schools these days are rushing the process of learning by having kids memorize endless lists of facts without understanding, forcing kids to be ready for something just because there is a test, or letting kids start school earlier. In the world of home education, children are encouraged to play, to explore, and to learn without insisting that they sit at a desk for hours to do workbooks (something they may not be ready for). The bottom line is to cultivate a love of learning in your child and train up independent learners so that your children become lifelong learners. In today’s world, learners who know how to communicate articulately (verbally and in print), research well, and use technology confidently are those who will have a bright future ahead of them. We should keep that in mind whether we’re homeschooling or sending our kids off to conventional school.