Advocating for Homeschooling

21 October 2019, Metro.Style published an article, “Homeschooling Myths—Busted!” by Samantha Ramos-Zaragoza, a month after the Philippine Homeschool Convention 2019. The article included the viewpoint of Homeschool Singapore founder Dawn Fung. 

Here is the full transcript between Samantha and Dawn. Some parts have been edited for clarity.

Samantha : When and how did you start advocating for homeschooling?

Dawn : This question is interesting because usually people ask me when I started homeschooling. Advocacy is publicly recommending or supporting a cause. If I were to pinpoint a moment in time, my memory recalls a not-back-to-school picnic in 2014 that the local homeschooling community organised in Singapore. I remember my first time there – not knowing anyone as I was a new homeschooler – yet feeling a deep confirmation that these people are my tribe. When I know I belong somewhere, I cannot stop sharing about the good or the impact it makes on me. On hindsight, I suppose you can say that I have been advocating for homeschooling as part of the work I do homeschooling my own. 

Samantha : What were the main reasons why you began doing so?

Dawn : Because of the benefits. I won’t advocate for something that is untrue, uninteresting or detrimental to life. Homeschooling is a legitimate, educational opportunity that can work for children and parents. I can think of a few groups straightaway that need this. 

One important demography is children with special education needs (SEN). With early intervention, a quieter space and customised attention, SEN children can thrive. Our community has seen remarkable developments. Particularly noteworthy is Li-Ann, daughter of Apple Wong. Li-Ann has has Down’s. But she has been so attentively cared for and educated through Apple’s homeschooling methods, that she is now a confident public speaker. 

Another demography is children who have natural strengths in skills that are not surfaced in a school setting. In Singapore, primary years are given to the work of learning English, Math, Science, a Mother Tongue and co-curricular activity (CCA) activities. What if you fall behind? What if the things you are truly good at cannot be found through school? Schools, after all, are limited by the people they hire, and the CCAs they offer. One homeschooled child in our community was given opportunities to learn cooking by professionals. Two years ago, Phoebe Lim fundraised through her homemade chilli. Is it possible that if you go to school, you might do what you love after school as well? Yes but it takes time and fewer children have the time in Singapore to pursue their interests for long hours. In the homeschooling community, having lots of time to nurture your interests is the norm and not the exception.

One more demography that comes to mind are parents who are ex-teachers. People who love teaching children love the idea of freeing children to learn in their own ways. Parents who used to be teachers understand this idea because it is a familiar goal but one that used to be impractical. When you work in a school in Singapore, you follow the syllabus that the Ministry of Education sets. But teachers do not all work in the same manner or enjoy teaching the same values or content. I have seen in our community, parents who were ex-teachers rethinking education. I see their dreams come to life in their families when they are given the time to observe and customise pedagogical approaches. It is absolutely wonderful that they feel teaching is a noble, practical pursuit. I am one of those ex-teachers who has chosen this second chance.

Samantha : At what age did you shift your child/ren to homeschooling? What were the benefits of doing so?

Dawn : I homeschooled my two girls when they were 6 and 4. I quit my teaching job to focus on my children because I wanted to grow up with them. As a teacher, I was acutely aware that my best waking hours were spent on other people’s children while mine were suffering from the lack of time with me. I remember my firstborn reminding me to close the laptop so that I would play with her. How many times have I invoked tiredness and work as an excuse not to spend time with my preschoolers? Too many. You can get used to treating your paid work career as a child, while outsourcing your children to other workers.

Take a hard look at how you decide to spend your time at home. Actions always speak louder than words. If I could do it all over again, I would have been with them since the day they were born. With my third kid now, I realise just how much I missed out. I have witnessed all his firsts and I am his first everything. It is a deep satisfaction because I believe this is the natural design of life. 

The benefits are plenty. What is the basic currency of life? Time. Time is what you exchange for money in society. When you go up the corporate ladder, you can exchange one hour of your time for more money, isn’t it? I don’t need anyone to pay me to be with my children. I do not want my children to pay me for my time. We get to be with one another and nobody can take that opportunity away. It is a choice that I make and it has sacrifices. But it is worth it because time allows us to grow up together well. Imagine what you would do if you had all the time with your children now. 

Samantha : What are the pros and cons you faced homeschooling your child/children? 

Dawn : Pros – behavioural issues, socialisation. We socialise so often that we have to intentionally stay at home to avoid being burnt out. Homeschoolers have so many activities! Remember, these are parents making fast and important decisions. Homeschoolers are parents who spare no expense at giving their children the most exposure to friends, interesting people and places. You are spoilt for choice. In these social settings, we nip bullying in the bud. We observe our children and immediately take action to avoid further harm. This is wonderful because your children can grow up unafraid.

I don’t believe in exposing children to suffering early in life just to learn resilience. Suffering is inevitable in life. A caregiver will pass away, wars happen, famine. But suffering will not come through my hands. I will not intentionally hurt my children in a prolonged manner. It is not something I design for them. But when suffering happens, it is real and unavoidable and we will weather the storm as a family. (By the way, I do not mean suffering in the same way that discipline is required for training in sports.)

Cons – it is extremely tiring for the main homeschooling parent. You have to have a self-care routine in place. If you do not take care of yourself, you will burn out. Some people believe to avoid this tiredness, it is best to outsource children to other caregivers. Whatever helps your family, do so within reason and respect for the child. For example, leaving the child in the hands of a trusted family member for a few hours just so you can have a break is wonderful.

But accept the reality: tiredness is real in every job. If you want a break from children, it just means you pass the tiredness to someone else. This job of homeschooling your own must be your decision to make. And the ups and downs that come with it are important. They allow you opportunities to learn about yourself and your children. I see it as training for the soul.

Samantha : What can you say about these homeschooling myths/beliefs? 

  • Homeschooling is easier.

Dawn : For me it is. It is easier to bring up a child well than repair him as an adult. (The original quote by Frederick Douglass reads “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”)

Easier does not mean less tired. Tiredness is a part of every commitment you make. Commitment is tiring. But well placed commitments can lead to an easier path down the road. You need to read yourself. This journey of homeschooling is not easy in the sense that there is a formula that works. Caring for people has no blueprint. You have to journey with them and face each challenge as it comes. But it is easier to journey from young.

  • Homeschooling doesn’t have a structure.

Dawn : Homeschooling has 1001 offers of curricula online. I have never heard homeschoolers complain from lack of structure (I mean curriculum options with structure involved) unless they choose unschooling.

You have to break it down. What does structure mean for the family? If it means a timetable, observe your own family’s lifestyle this season and time it! Then you would understand just how much you need to allot for what activity. If structure means a set of subjects, figure out what each child needs this season. Children tend to change their minds quickly. Discuss what subjects are important for the parent (especially if the child needs to be prepared for an important exam) and what subjects can be discarded later on.

  • Homeschoolers have a hard time socialising.

Dawn : This is true if you isolate your children and you are not a nice person to hang out with. Having built small communities over a decade, I can see homeschoolers who thrive and wilt in different socialising situations. You need to know yourself. Does a big group freak you out? Look for a smaller one. Do you have a hard time socialising because you prefer staying at home while your kids are yearning for playmates? I love inviting people home. Let your home be a co-op space and be hospitable. Include long hours for play and potluck. Children who have regular exposure to playmates, play time and food are happy. So would you.

  • Homeschooling has less “requirements.”

Dawn : Yes it has, if requirements refer to certifications and a compulsory host of subjects to learn. You decide what you want. Unless you turn out to be a dictator at home and your dream child is a trophy winning swimmer for the nation, you will not choose to fill up your children’s time with activities for the sake of making yourself look good. Always work out the requirements as a family. Is your family moving? Does one child show more aptitude for sports than academics? These things have impact. 

  • Homeschooling is only for the rich.

Dawn : No. Homeschooling is for the committed parent who want this educational opportunity to teach his or her own. Rich people or poor people can be scared of this choice. You will meet lots of people across income levels when you homeschool. Because it is not the norm, people tend to be more open to meet one another across spectrums of living standards. That is a good thing. Schools may segregate people groups more. Nowadays with the internet and the available of free learning platforms like Khan Academy, there is no excuse for lack of opportunities for the basic subjects. You may not have the money to give your daughter the trip around the world, but you have all the time to visit the library and check out great movies to learn about the stories of the world.