2014 to Mar 2016

Regaining Childhood

After reading about homeschooling and how other families do it, I was rather disappointed by what’s out there. Almost all of it is hugely parent-directed. So much burden falls on the parents to prepare a “curriculum”, to prepare materials and “teach” in structured ways.   I guess I had a naive idea that the beauty of homeschooling is to be unrestricted, to be outdoors all day, to allow the child to discover and explore organically.  Call me a lazy parent, but I don’t see how preparing endless fun activities to learn ABCs and 123 help my children have a meaningful life and set a strong foundation for lifelong learning and being inherently curious (in fact, I think its dampens innate creativity and imagination). Most Singaporeans scoff at the idea of learning without structure. They say at some point you need structure.  I don’t really completely disagree.  But I disagree with giving a structured curriculum for homeschooling preschool because

  1. I’m not interested or in the business of curriculum-making.  Might as well send them to a formal preschool right?
  2. I want my children to make their own meaningful connections to the world and discover their interests, rather than through adult-imposed lenses.
  3. I want to give them the space, freedom and unlimited time to have an entire childhood, free from testing, academic learning, grades and adult-led expectations.

I sound naive don’t I?  After all I live in Singapore, where its academic-central from birth.

But you know what.  Since education is not compulsory until Primary 1, I’m going to give it a go.  To hell with curriculums, ABCs and 123s, and hello to long days at the beach, playing in the rain, painting by the garden, criss-cross stitching at the sofa, creating recipes in the kitchen and doing cartwheels on the grass.

Incidentally, we have been doing this already since I have finally plucked the courage to bring the girls out by myself.  They usually wake around 8am, then have breakfast around 9am, and then we are out of the house between 10am to 12noon.  So far we haven’t really gone beyond our neighborhood coffeeshops, parks and playgrounds but next year I have plans to bring them further and further out.  Then we come home for lunch, bathe and nap.   When they wake up, their dad is usually on his way home and we head out again for more unstructured play time but with their dad around.  Then have dinner outdoors (or we have dinner at home before we head out) and then come home, bathe, last round of milk and sleep by 8-9pm.

I really notice a huge difference when they get plenty of outdoor time vs. when they don’t.  They seem happier, lighter in spirit and they are extremely chatty and lively.  When they are cooped at home, they tend to be more quarrelsome and restless.

Lately though its been raining and if the rain is light, we still head out. I am always nervous when they play in the rain because I was brought up to believe that when rain touches your head, you will get fever.  Of course that’s not true but I get this strange sense of anxiety when they are in the rain, nevermind they are absolutely enjoying themselves. But if its cats and dog sort of downpour, well I let them play along the corridor or void deck.They enjoy looking at what all our neighbors put at the front of their house, from house-plants to slippers.  If they were a little bigger, I will probably even allow them to play in the heavy rain with rain jackets and umbrellas.

I think the closest thing to the version of homeschooling that I’m interested in is unschooling.   I was really apprehensive at first and uncertain if I truly wanted the girls to go down this road. I don’t dislike formal school completely but I think to give them some balance, its okay to delay school till its time to enrol for Primary 1.  The thing is I had a very unrestricted and unstructured childhood myself.  My dad, even though he was a high school drop-out, really believed in lots of play. He grew up in a rural village in Java so I suppose that was how he was raised as well.  Even though he sailed for months on end, when he was home, we were always outdoors.  He also left our house gates open, and my sister and I wandered around the HDB neighbourhood quite freely.  We were only 5 years old and those were the days where there was no stranger danger, and you could wander around your HDB corridor, and your neighbors invited you in for some tea and biscuits or to watch the latest Bollywood flick on TV.  When I started formal school right up to university, my dad would often come into my room and tell me I needed to get out of my stuffy room.  At times, stuffing $50 in my hands and telling me to go meet my friends and socialise rather than staying indoors and studying.  Its all so relevant now that its my turn to raise my children and to give them that carefree childhood I was gifted by my father.

Of course everyone else is like, but what if they are not ready for Primary 1 bla bla bla..uh, I am pretty sure it will be fine.  I refuse to participate in paranoia, as if its not stressful enough raising four kids in the world’s most expensive city.

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