Homeschool Consultation is helmed by a dedicated group of ladies who have been supporting past, present and prospective families on the life-changing discovery of homeschooling. In this interview, we learn what Homeschool Consultation can do for you, uncover individual stories and motivations behind the commitment, hear about the team’s challenges and successes, and find out their future plans for the community.
History of Homeschool Consultation
Enquiries about homeschooling had been coming in since the Homeschool Singapore community started in 2013. At first, people were left to seek out information on their own. As the nature and volume of requests grew overwhelming, it was clear that there was a real need for a dedicated service.
A couple things led to the creation of Homeschool Consultation:
Firstly, it was difficult to find volunteers to answer all the emails that Homeschool Singapore received. It could take up to an hour or two just to unpack the questions, and even more time to answer them satisfactorily. Relying only on ad-hoc volunteers who were all busy homeschool mums was not sustainable.
Secondly, the best people to answer the range of questions had to be veteran homeschooling parents who had “been there, done that”. However, many of these parents also had children who either graduated from homeschooling and went on to higher institutes of learning or transitioned to the public school system. At this point, few stay on in the homeschool community to pass on their valuable experience and advice. Some may have returned to the workforce or taken on other responsibilities.
Thus the idea of a paid homeschool consultancy was born. Matching veteran homeschooling parents with inquirers would be a win-win situation. The inquirer gets high quality advice. The veteran homeschooling parent can have the option to put his or her time and experiences to good use within the community, rather than seek employment elsewhere. Homeschool Consultation can be of real value-add to both parties.
About Homeschool Consultation
Homeschool Consultation started in 2018 with three consultants who were veteran homeschooling parents (Connie Chua, Hoy Tsui Ling and Apple Teoh) and grew to six consultants in 2021, offering both free and paid services. The team has fielded more than 150 enquiries since its inception. Some of the clients have successfully received their Compulsory Exemption Certificate. Others have become more assured of their decision to homeschool. For those who ultimately chose not to homeschool, the opportunity gained by speaking to homeschooling parents and children, and understanding homeschooling as a viable option in Singapore, have inspired them in other ways.
Meet the Team
Former Head Consultant
Hoy Tsui Ling
Sabrina Salleh Quek
Q: What are some of your personal motivations for being part of Homeschool Consultation?
Tsui Ling: We started Homeschool Consultation because we wanted to give step-by-step guidance to families who were exploring alternative education.
Connie: Having gone through the tedious process of finding the right people to speak to and not knowing where to look for resources, I felt compelled to help newbies save time and energy.
Apple: It has been challenging for me to homeschool three children, including one with special needs. However, I saw how my special one grew and blossomed at her own pace and was convinced that this is an alternative pathway for families who have children with learning challenges. It was my desire to share my own story and useful resources to help these parents gain confidence to embark on this exciting adventure of homeschooling.
Sabrina: Over the years, having been approached by prospective homeschooling parents who were polytechnic diploma graduates to share about my Compulsory Education (CE) application process, I saw this as an area where I could contribute. I know the obstacles that these parents would face, and I hope to assist them systematically and carefully when they reach out to me. I also have experience in early childhood education and enrichment education. These are other areas where I could assist parents who are exploring homeschooling in the early years.
Sandra: My son, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and needs highly customised learning, thrives in this setting because it works solely according to his pace. Much learning is motivated by his interest and most of the homeschool co-ops that we are part of are inclusive, giving my son grace and time to learn how to be with others. These are reasons why I would like to engage parents with special needs children who wish to seek this alternative education pathway, and let them witness how we homeschool.
It takes a village to raise a special needs child. I chose my village, i.e. the homeschool community, which supports my walk in this tumultuous caregiving journey. I am privileged to extend my helping hand to assist other fellow caregivers who might be interested in the homeschool community as well.
Q: What exactly do Homeschool Consultants do? Isn’t it the same as having a chat like homeschoolers do with one another?
Kay: One thing I appreciated about my honeymoon in New Zealand was how there was a tourist information centre in every town that we went to. Their assistance was free and helpful in pointing us to the right service providers, be it hotels, restaurants, or tourist guides. This saved us the unnecessary effort to find information on our own.
Homeschool Consultants provide complimentary consultation services very much like that of a person who works in the tourist information centre. I would acquaint myself with the person who reached out, understand their needs, then point them in the general direction they should consider with regards to their queries. In my email replies, I would ask about their homeschooling goals and their family background. The more specific they are in expressing their needs, the more relevant the help I can render.
For example, if their kids are at preschool age and the family has decided to homeschool and just need information on applying to MOE for permission to homeschool, then I would share the latest detailed procedures.
On the other hand, the person could be unsure about what homeschooling is about, so I would send articles for their background reading.
However, if highly customised help is needed, such as how to pick an appropriate program or curriculum for their child, or personalised guidance on designing their homeschooling plan, then our paid consultation service will guide them through their requirements and goals, so that their needs are met in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Other times, I might even tell them that what they are looking for cannot be found through homeschooling!
Apple: I LOVE chatting with other homeschooling parents! We can meet over tea, have a meal or even meet at the playground, park or museum. The purpose of having these meet-ups is to touch base, build relationships, offer ideas, encourage each other, and extend help.
The homeschooling community can be supportive through the sharing of ideas and curriculum, but a family new to homeschooling will need to run the groundwork of laying down the foundations for their journey, including: gathering information from different sources, research extensively to make the necessary decisions, develop a daily and weekly schedule, set goals for each child, etc. Resourceful folks will fare better in such situations, but not everyone is able to do that.
The purpose of consultation is very focused. As homeschooling involves the whole family and affects the home life, it is important for me to understand the relationships between the parents and children, the personality and teaching styles of the primary teacher, and the gifts and learning styles of the children. With this, I then tailor recommendations that are holistic and specific for learning and the building of relationships for that family.
My goal is to empower my clients to teach their own. Drawing from my homeschooling experience of 22 years as well as the collective wisdom of the consultation team, I will give them whatever they need to bridge the gap of knowledge and experience so they can get off on a strong and enjoyable start to homeschooling.
For example, if a child has anxiety issues, the start of his or her homeschooling chapter should not be to jump into another curriculum. Instead, it may involve letting the child rest and recuperate first. The parents will need to assure the child that they are on his or her side and that the family is a safe place for the child. A safe and secure atmosphere nurtures good learning experiences for the child to thrive.
If I sense a need, I may even suggest that clients have a conversation with my own children – John or Rebecca who are now in their late teens and into their twenties – so that clients can find out about homeschooling from firsthand perspectives. It is interesting to hear the questions asked and my children’s responses. Hearing from my children will help them realise that we have had our own struggles in homeschooling as well but that we kept persevering. What is important is for parents to maintain open communication with their children, allow themselves to make mistakes, learn from them, and celebrate the milestones each step of the way.
Q: What is the difference between the complimentary and paid service?
Kay: The complimentary service is a window service for people who want clarity in their discovery of homeschooling. Oftentimes homeschool explorers may not know what they need to know. Speaking briefly with an experienced homeschooler about what they are seeking helps to navigate the way of the land and reach just the right place for them to continue on their journey.
This service is available to all who have an email account. Our complimentary consultation is like making a new friend with an experienced homeschooler. By availing our service for free, we are making the option of homeschooling more accessible, regardless of whether one has friends who homeschool.
Apple: We offer one free email consultation. This is helpful for some who already know what they want and just need answers to specific questions, but inadequate for others who need more hand-holding or higher level support in their research and preparation. He or she might find the work too overwhelming and just give up entirely.
Exploring homeschooling is a huge deal. It requires careful deliberation over the push and pull factors, scheduling, the process of CE application, suitable curricula, short-term and long-term objectives, and so on.
A paid two-hour face-to-face consultation is the minimum time required to establish basic trust and rapport for fruitful discussion and open exchange. Gathering information via email or texting is helpful but it cannot compare to having face-time. In fact, many clients reported that they benefited the most from face-to-face meetings.
In-person consultations together with my research and recommendations occupy about five to six hours of my time. This is what the clients are paying for. In fact, when clients consult with me, they gain a trusted friend who celebrates their breakthroughs and journeys with them, like when parents and children (re)connect with one another, when they find a sweet spot in their schedule, when they enjoy learning as a family, or when they receive approval to homeschool.
Clients are welcomed to stay in touch with me. Some clients do seek help later on down the road about which co-ops to join or for referral to good tutors. Our established relationship makes it easier for continuity and follow up.
Q: What are some interesting questions you have received over the years?
Shan: Surprisingly, some of the most common questions that have come up are: “How much is your school?” and “How do I enrol my child in your school?”
We explain that we are not a school but a community of homeschoolers in Singapore. I would even point them to several homeschooling groups online if they wish to have a better sense of what homeschooling is. If they require more personalised information relating to their situation, they may seek advice from our Homeschool Consultants.
Kay: Once I received an email from a personal assistant requesting me to “homeschool” his boss’ young child. I think he mistook us as private tutors. As you can see, not many are familiar with the concept of “homeschooling” and that’s why we want to have this platform to help more people understand this alternative path of education.
Sabrina: During the pandemic, I had a parent expressing her concern about vaccinating her teen who had medical issues. She wanted to know if homeschooling was an option she could consider if vaccination became compulsory in school settings.
Q: Can you share some of the challenges or criticisms that you have encountered? How did you address them and what keeps you going?
Kay: The biggest challenge for me is that people often mistake us as a full-time business with profit generation as our bottom line. With such a mentality, some emails sound really demanding with a spirit of entitlement.
In reality, we are all full-time homeschooling parents who have our own children to educate and a household to look after. I use whatever margin and even sacrifice my personal or family time in providing the complimentary service. My motivation is simply to help families who are seeking alternative education options in making the right choices.
When I receive such emails, I remind myself that people may act in certain ways because they are uninformed about what I do and what my limitations are. I would try to help them understand my position. The process requires patience and humility. I also give the benefit of doubt because written words in email cannot accurately express the tone of voice. So, I would try to focus on the main objective, which is to serve them instead of defending myself.
Sandra: I have a preschooler and a tween with ASD. Juggling kids and client meetings is a real challenge for me. I do not have extra help at home.
Once I met a client with Apple. This client was an independent tutor who wanted to understand what homeschooling is and what the difficulties are in homeschooling children with learning difficulties. I needed my two kids to occupy themselves constructively while we engaged the client for about two hours. On a typical day, they would play together, but they could run into conflicts too. Thankfully they were calm that day and worked things out themselves. I was amazed because just an hour before meeting the client, I had to handle some disciplinary issues.
On the bright side, my circumstances allow the client to witness how a family with a special needs child manages their day-to-day. I was grateful that Apple was with me as she could share her experience working with her own special needs child too.
Q: How about success stories or memorable moments as a Homeschool Consultant? Can you share some examples without divulging identities?
Kay: The success of my service lies in guiding people to find the right help they need (not necessarily what they asked for), and that they are pointed to the appropriate resource or personnel to journey with them for a while. So, whenever they write back and to share that my advice was useful, I would be honoured and celebrate that, regardless whether they decide to homeschool. All that matters is connection and openness.
Tsui Ling: In a recent case, the client and I hit it off so well from the start. As we spoke and shared, we just felt like we were old friends. She was very open with her struggles and I did my best to help. After the online session, she sent me a thank you email and we still keep in touch.
In another case, a parent was exploring to homeschool her teenage son who was having anxiety issues as a result of bullying. Sadly, the school was not able to mediate the matter effectively and the teen was apprehensive about returning. After the consultation, the parent was so relieved to learn that homeschooling was a feasible route for her son, despite hearing otherwise from the school. They successfully applied to homeschool him within a short time.
Apple: The first thing I am very grateful for is THE TEAM. It helps to be part of a team, where we brainstorm ideas, seek advice and cheer one another on. The load is lighter when there is someone else to help carry it along, and the chances of going further is higher too. My conviction and growth as a consultant has largely owed to the close teamwork when we started the consultancy. I am motivated to strengthen and empower this team so we can help more families experience homeschooling positively.
One case I will never forget is this teenage girl who faced some challenges in school and wanted to homeschool. She found us on Google, filled up the form, and asked her parents to meet a Homeschool Consultant to find out more. I was most amazed by this teen’s tenacity and the parents’ openness to explore something that they were clueless about. After the parents found out what they needed, they took the plunge and saw how happy their daughter was when she could take charge of her own learning.
The second case is this mom who was determined to homeschool, but due to personal reasons, she was not able to get started until about two and a half years later. We kept touch via email and I was so happy when she told me she had received her approval to homeschool her son. From this, I learned that plans may not materialise immediately. In keeping an open channel to connect, the mom could readily seek help and support within the homeschooling community.
The third case is this mom who had many questions over a four-hour consultation in one sitting. Our deep and meaningful discussion confirmed that two hours is the minimum time needed for a fruitful consult.
I rejoice when parents accept fresh insights into their situations and are open to my recommendations. It doesn’t matter whether or not they choose to homeschool. What is important is that they are more informed and empowered to make the best decision for their families.
Q: Finally, what are some programs that can be expected from Homeschool Consultation in the future?
Apple (on behalf of the team): This year, Homeschool Consultation will be rolling out new programs for those interested to know more about homeschooling.
There will be a new small group focused on parents of children with special educational needs (SEN) who are new to homeschooling. We will explain the key pedagogies used in homeschooling with respect to SEN, help them navigate through curricula to find a right fit for their child, and more.
We will offer training for veteran homeschooling parents who would like to become paid Homeschool Consultants. Our Head Consultants will coach folks on how to get started, what to look out for, how to work according to their strengths, and how to best help clients.
We also plan to expand Homeschool Consultation to the Philippines. Our partner consultants in the Philippines are highly experienced homeschooling parents and community leaders. Do look out for updates at HomeschoolConsultation.com later this year!
Shan: Lastly, we will be launching the Homeschool Information Guide 2022 in partnership with HomeschoolSingapore.sg. The Homeschool Consultation team has a collection of FAQs that we refer to internally for our consultation work. People might have the same questions but do not know who to ask or where to find answers easily. The Homeschool Information Guide 2022 aims to bridge that gap, encapsulating basic questions people might ask at various stages of their homeschooling journey. We cannot cover everything or address specific situations because each family is different. Nevertheless, we hope it will be a helpful start. Stay tuned!
This interview was conducted by Editor-in-Chief Kalsum Harun. All photos featured in this article have been granted permission for use by respective owners.