When did we start?

I cannot ascertain exactly when our homeschool journey started. Perhaps it was when I first met a missionary family who was passionate about the Gospel, whose lives they generously shared with the people God sent their way. Their home was always open for every hungry child, a weary laborer, a teenager loaded with questions, or mothers finding rest. Somehow, I aspired to have that kind of family that served God and others. This aspiration led me to make decisions I never thought I would make.

I am an engineer by profession, taught math and engineering subjects in the university, and have always considered myself dedicated to the task of education. This same dedication caused me a dilemma when I gave birth to our firstborn child. I was faced with the choice every career woman has to make once she becomes a mother:  to fully take care of the baby and be a hands-on mother, or to juggle both career and motherhood. I chose the first. And thus began my journey into the fascinating world of taking care of a child – diapers, breastfeeding, lullabies, and the many activities to stimulate the child’s mental, emotional and spiritual formation. So, our homeschooling journey started when we decided to make home truly a home – a home to come home to, not just a residence; a home where one finds love and acceptance, not just expectations and rules; a home filled with warmth and food for every kind of hunger – be these in the form of books, games, laughter, a listening ear, or plain brownies.

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children…

Psalm 127 is my life’s song. It affirms that God is front, center and the foundation of everything and anything that I have in life. It also has many things to say about children. God eventually gave us five of them, and our prayer is that as arrows in our hands, may their bodies be strong to withstand all the rigors of their flight, their minds sharp to pierce through any hindrances, and their spirits yielded to the Holy Spirit that they may go in the right direction. Being a hands-on mom allowed me to see this prayer lived in the lives of my children. You see, it’s one thing to utter prayers and merely wish for them to come true, and it’s another thing to allow yourself to be used by God in the fulfillment of that prayer.  We are the stewards of these treasures.  We cultivate the environment in which they grow. We do not just leave prayers uttered, but we roll up our sleeves and labor until we see them answered in many ways.

I realized that learning starts from infancy. A child learns whether or not the world around him can be trusted through the persons taking care of him. To be physically strong and mentally alert, children need the proper nutrients starting from infancy. Breastfeeding is key to this. The physical closeness also fills their emotional needs, the Bible stories being read and the songs sung to them while feeding will help stimulate their minds and they hear about God early.

Children also learn as they play. They learn to relate to others as they explore the world and the things around them. A child on the playground learns as much as he does in the library. So we surround them with books and toys, and spend a lot of time reading and playing with them. We also frequent the beach, the mountains, and farms. We also slowly introduce them to chores. Self-discipline, thoroughness, and good stewardship are learned through chores.

The many opportunities to learn are brought about by playtime, chores, and going on trips, exploring the world around us together. Being around 24/7 for my children has set the atmosphere ready for bringing the formal academic classroom at home.

Choosing a curriculum

Then came the time when they were of school age. This meant formal schooling to us, with learning classified into subjects and interests, and a set schedule for academic learning. Which curriculum should we choose among the many that we looked into? The modular learning style of the ACE system appealed to us the most, as we understand that each child’s learning is measured according to his own pace. Each module is doable for over a specified period of time. I also love the drills. Drills are to the learner as daily practice and exercises are to the athlete. One whose eye is on the goal keeps himself fit, so the drills help in rote learning and mastery. The memory verses in each PACE are helpful in keeping God’s Word to heart and have naturally become part of daily activities. We also like the cartoon strips featuring the other kids growing up doing PACEs, as these teach values and character.  Soon, we realized that the kids love Ace, Christy, Pudge, Sandy, and the others so much that the older ones have to keep themselves from spoiling or spilling the story of what became of them in the higher-grade PACEs! It’s like they had company as they did their PACEs.

We are grateful for the staff of PCST-HEP as they are our partners in educating our children. The training I received from them regarding the administration of the PACEs, the reminders on deadlines, the encouragement for the children to join the student conventions, and the adherence to educational integrity are what I value most. To us, they are like family whose concern for our children’s learning is important. It’s been a partnership for almost twenty years!

How we do it

A well-meaning friend asked me how we can seriously do lessons at home, when the children might just be playing, relaxing, not following a set schedule, until the day is done. So I told her that the key is simply setting a schedule. The difficult part might be adhering to it, so it takes discipline for the mother as well. It has to be intentional. We do PACEs from 9:00-11:30 am, read and/or nap after lunch, do Science experiments and self-tests (if any) from 3:00-4:00 pm. The rest of the day are for play/free time, chores, family time (we usually play board games or watch a movie), meals, prayer time, personal time, and sleeping time.

I found out that the children need only two straight hours of focused academic study. Like sponges, the brain accumulates all the information in these two hours. The secret to learning is assimilation: how this information and new learning are incorporated into their lives; the things they learned are put into practice. The easiest example for this is the Science lessons. After the second-grader experimented on growing seeds, we gave him pots in the garden to place seeds in, cultivate, and harvest the mung beans; this truly allowed him to observe the growth of plants. Social Studies learnings are amplified through conversations and making further readings, and time at home afforded them ample time to read and share about what they read. English grammar needs practice, so they have journal entries, and are encouraged to write their thoughts on matters of interest. Math is basically practiced in everyday chores – how many spoons and forks to prepare in setting the table, making proper measurements in baking bread, observing the geometric shapes of the things around us. We also allowed them to make ice candy to sell, and each child opened a savings account, no matter how minimal. That’s business math in practice. For their TLE, there are computer applications software that are helpful in developing their coding, video editing and other computer literacy skills.  The grandparents usually ask the kids for assistance with the use of their phones and laptops. The children also dabble in art, try their hand at sewing, keep a hen and a rooster and watch for eggs! Larger chores like car cleaning and baking encourage interest in entrepreneurial endeavors. One of the older children now accepts and delivers orders for his homemade pizza and chicken menus.

It is also beneficial to ask for help with the children’s other needs. There are several things that we need help with, so we look for experts in such fields. For sports, we involved them in the local soccer club, where they developed the spirit of sportsmanship, not only to compete to the best of their abilities. The boys also joined the summer basketball sports fests in the village. Aside from soccer and basketball coaches, they also have swimming coaches who teach them a zest for life and to face their fears. For music lessons, we have a piano teacher who has become like family. Being involved in the homeschoolers’ local group also allowed the kids to learn to play the ukulele together with the other homeschooled kids. They spend time for individual practice at home to hone their musical skills.

On some days, we do trips.  We go to the beach. We go up the farms in the mountains. We join camps. We also go on planned long trips out of town – visiting Mt. Mayon in Albay, Taal Lake in Batangas, the Hundred Islands in Pangasinan, the pineapple plantations in South Cotabato, the big cities of NCR, the hot springs in Laguna, the rice fields of Capiz, the strawberry farms in Benguet, the sparse farms and city of Davao. We have also gone to Hong Kong. It is equally-educational to know the cultures of the people in the places we visit too – for instance, the locals prefer to do overnight swimming in the beaches along Sarangani Bay in General Santos City, the seeming indifference of commuters as they rush through railway stations in the capital city as if running out of time, the day-to-day dependence of the small-island people on the sea for their survival. There is a myriad of insights that can be had on these trips.

The highlight of our school year is the students’ convention when they meet other homeschoolers across the country and find the validation, affirmation and camaraderie among students who walk the same journey as them. Knowing that it is not a lonely road at all and that they have each other has bonded them tightly. It is also refreshing for us, homeschooling moms, to meet and continue being supportive of each other even when the convention days are over.

Airplane trumps school bus

Homeschooling was not easy for the kids initially. Their playmates ask them where they went to school, and the concept of going to school at home seemed to be so unusual that their friends had a hard time grasping it. Homeschooling feels very different and it was a lonely road in the early 2000s. Also, every morning, the kid living across from us was fetched by the school bus and the children would imagine how wonderful it was to ride the school bus to and from school. The school bus was quite romanticized. They longingly watched the school bus arrive and leave each school day, and the more they saw the school bus, the more they felt how different they were from the other kids. There was also this instance when I brought them to the mall and while I was paying at the cashier, the woman behind me asked them why they were not in school on a weekday. Naturally, the kids fumbled for what to say to her, and I was just in time to tell her that they were homeschooled and afternoons were usually their free time. Homeschool? She asked. What’s that? I began to explain what it was but she seemed too opinionated to listen, which was frustrating for me. Somehow, I got the idea of adopting a school uniform-looking clothing for the children – plain colored polo for the boys with matching formal pants, and cuff-sleeved blouse with long, pleated skirt for their Ate. Whenever we went to public places on weekday afternoons, they wore these, and I noticed that they just blended in with the other kids in uniforms at the mall, and strangers assumed that they just got out of school. While I welcome discussing homeschooling with those who are interested to know, the issue of random, unkind strangers asking the children difficult questions about “not going to school” seem to have been solved with the uniform-looking clothes! However, it has been quite a struggle with the school bus.  It is quite a fixture in our village, and picking up the kids and bringing them back home has endeared it to the families. This fixation on the school bus was solved at the time when airfare was on a promotional sale! For advanced bookings, a round-trip ticket would cost less than Php 100, in fact, the husband was able to book our trip to General Santos City in 2008 for Php1 fare for each of us! Advanced bookings to Manila and Legazpi City were at Php 99, the terminal fees cost more! Oh, how we loved planning and going on trips!

Being able to visit different places in the country made them appreciate having ample time for field trips that homeschooling allowed. Once, we were at the Science Museum and a school had its field trip the same time we were there. We told the kids to give way to these students as their stay at the museum was short. True enough, after two hours, they were called back to their school buses. But we had the museum for ourselves the whole day! Same is true with the National Museum – we took pictures with the Spoliarium to our hearts’ content, followed Jose Rizal’s footsteps around Fort Bonifacio, and examined the sculptures at Luneta even longer, as we were not pressed for time. Somehow, the children loved flying in airplanes for our field trips so much that they didn’t long for a school bus ride anymore.

Sowing and reaping

What is said about reaping what we sow is an encouragement for us. Those days when we rolled up our sleeves and worked hard in sowing the seeds of quality education, Godly character training, and desiring to glorify the Lord in all that we did no matter how difficult at times granted us fulfillment. Three of our five children have graduated from homeschooling already with scholastic honors and high results in the standardized tests. The eldest finished her Bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering as Magna cum Laude. At present, she is still waiting to take the licensure exams as it has been postponed during this pandemic, yet she is currently Associate Test Engineer in one of the country’s top electronics companies whose home base is at the Silicon Valley in the US. She plays the piano well, serves in church with her music, volunteers at camps, and beats the boys at chess! She is a doting Ate to her baby brothers and remains to be well-grounded amidst her achievements. The second child is currently in his third year taking BA Psychology at the state university, is feature editor of the school paper, volunteers with the school guidance office as peer facilitator, and is active in the social justice thrusts of the university. He serves in church with the technical team, as the church services are livestreamed online during this pandemic. The third child serves in church too, he plays the keyboards, teaches kids’ Sunday school, and joins the creative team as cameraman. He recently entered senior high school and was chosen as representative to the student body. Our prayer is that these grown children will be effective witnesses for the Lord and make good contributions to society. Meanwhile, we have a fifth-grader and a second-grader at home. We are still in the midst of sowing in the lives of these two younger children while enjoying the signs of a good harvest in the lives of the first three.

For others to homeschool or not

The times have changed with the pandemic that hit worldwide. Many have asked me regarding homeschooling, sincerely wondering how it could work for their families. My encouragement for them is that it is a journey not only for the children but for the parents as well. As I describe what homeschooling looks like for us, I also ask about how they could commit to it, should they truly decide to homeschool. There needs to be a shift in perspective, a shift in taking full responsibility with the children’s education. We cannot leave it entirely to the school. Rather, we consider the school as partners in the huge responsibility of training children. Homeschooling entails a commitment from the parents to see it through until the finish. Several times, I introduce the very interested families to our homeschooling advisers, giving out their email addresses, to have their other queries answered.

I hope they have committed themselves to homeschooling, not just because it is necessary during these pandemic times. As for us, we consider ourselves blessed as God led us to the ACE curriculum. As DepEd teachers scramble and work hard in coming up with the modules to send and collect from their students’ doing schoolwork at home, I appreciate how God has gone ahead of us and provided us with an excellent curriculum. The children have also established their routines at home. All that is needed is for us to persevere down this road, yet, knowing how fulfilling it is, and how it has shaped our grown children into God-loving and intelligent individuals, there is light ahead. What we find difficult these days of the pandemic is missing the other homeschooling kids terribly. Our monthly gatherings were refreshing and we look forward to seeing them all again face-to-face.

I once struggled about how lonely this homeschooling road had been. I am now glad to see that there are co-sojourners on this road. I remain thankful for the curriculum, and I encourage other parents to join this self-sacrificing, hands-on, satisfying adventure of training children into who God designed them to be.

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