Our First Year with Classical Conversations

We had always been entertaining the idea of homeschooling our children, but only last year did we seriously ponder over it.

On one side, there was our extrovert four-year-old who constantly craved for friends to play with, yet unfortunately more and more peers of hers could no longer be found at the playgrounds as they were getting busier with schools and homeworks. On the other side, we wanted her preschool years to be filled with plenty of play and free time instead of academic schooling – as is healthy for a four-year-old, but the preschools that shared our philosophy were just beyond expensive. And then, there were also the reasonable inquiries from the grandparents if their eldest granddaughter would be starting any formal education soon.

The carefree and playful preschool years.

Considering all the above, we concluded that if we were to continue with our education philosophy for our eldest daughter, we would need to find a community of people to do this homeschooling thing together. This we hoped would provide healthy peer interactions for her and also assure our own parents that we were not queerly doing this alone, that we had a community that supported us and a community we were accountable to.

That was how we decided to join a Classical Conversations (CC) community, a Christian homeschooling community that pursues a Christian classical model of education. If I could summarize it simply, classical education is a philosophy of education in which the goal is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue in its students, using the greatest ideas and thinkings of the wise men past as its main resources, learned by its students through three major stages called the Trivium:

1. Grammar stage (where students train their minds to hold huge amount of information by memorization);
2. Dialectic stage (where students learn to make connections between what they have memorized, to build understanding of what they have learned, and to critically question what they learn); and
3. Rhetoric stage (where students learn to synthesize ideas based on what they have learned and present their case in the most persuasive way possible). 

I like to think of these three steps as the steps I take in making a meal: get the ingredients, cook, present. And I think, in essence, almost everything naturally goes through the trivium process, like how my preschooler and toddler memorize my vocabularies, internalize them, and spit them out back at me to their advantage, can you relate? 😒 Anyway, if you’d like to find out more about classical education, you can start here.

So, back to the community, we were really blessed to have found a CC community nearby (with a toddler in tow, I could only do minimum traveling). We met once a week with several families from 9 AM to 12 PM. Our community day always started with prayer, scripture memorization, and national pledge, after which a tutor (CC engages one mother of the families as tutor) would guide the class through:

1. A set of new grammars to memorize (consisting of History timeline, a particular History sentence, Science, Math, Geography, English, and Latin);
2. Fine arts;
3. Presentation;
4. Science experiment;
5. Review of the previous 6 weeks’ grammars.

With so many things going on and so many facts to memorize, it seems rather hefty, doesn’t it? Thankfully, it was not as intimidating as it seemed to be. Points 2 to 5 involved a lot of moving around, games and hands-on moments so they were engaging. Now, for the new grammars memory work, although we used many creative ways to aid the memorization process, I have to admit that the amount of informations needed soaking up were not few. However, we were really impressed with how the children did it quite effortlessly! It’s not mere hear-say, children truly have amazing minds and memorizing comes naturally to them. (Think how our toddlers just copy whatever they hear from their surroundings.) And I was not less surprised to find that old brains like ours – the parents’, could keep up too when re-trained!

Singing and dancing while memorizing the world’s history timeline.

Hands-on science experiment.

One of the Fine Arts sessions – Andrew Wyeth (copying the great master’s painting style).

Science project – Anatomy.

Presentation, a show and tell session for the younger ones.

A CC year spans across 24 weeks, usually with a break every 6 weeks, following the U.S. school year it starts in September and ends in April before the summer break. We have just finished one cycle last April and are loving the long break, but we also miss the weekly meet-ups, especially the fellowship over lunch and the playground time afterwards.

For now, we are keeping the academic side of the learning light for our eldest, and we intend to keep it that way throughout her preschool years (after all, it’s called pre-school for a reason). To us, most importantly her needs for meaningful and extended interactions with peers were met through the CC community. When asked what she liked most about CC, she replied “My friends, of course!” And we are glad for her.

“My Friends”

As for me, I am thankful for a community of very supportive and gracious Christian families. Homeschooling can be a lonely journey, it is tough and is often full of doubts. Having a group of committed people to journey together is truly a blessing.

Looking back, we thank God for a blessed and fruitful year. Looking forward, we can’t wait for September to come!

Learn more about Classical Conversations here.
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While They Are Illiterate

Making, and sticking to, the decision to not vigorously enforce reading and spelling during our children’s preschool years are definitely not easy. We have sometimes been a little bit anxious for our eldest, who turned four this year and does not know how to read yet, and write, for that matter. We have often second guessed ourselves and our decision in regards to her preschool years education. And we have gone back and forth between wanting to take things easy and slowly until the age of seven when children’s brains are deemed ready for reading, and responding to the pressure of the modern extra-young age literacy (in this part of the world we are living).

We agree that the ability to read and write is a wonderful skill, in fact it is the skill unique to human which sees to our species’ super fast advancement. But how early should this powerful skill be mastered by our little ones, scientists and education policy makers haven’t seemed to come to the same conclusion.

As my husband and I addressed our concerns over our daughter’s illiteracy at the moment, we eventually decided to pursue literacy less by enforcing the alphabet and phonics lessons, and more by reading to and cultivating appetite for good reads in her. There are two things which we consider as basic and important as we assess our approach to teaching a child to read: the purpose for literacy and the method to achieve that purpose.

It is a sad thing to hear fellow parents lamenting their preschoolers’ increasing lack of playtime as they need to go for their phonics lessons or English and writing classes. It is all the more saddening when the reasons for that are “so as to not be left behind in the primary school level” and “to be able to understand the questions asked in homeworks and tests when they go to Primary One.” The privilege of enlightenment is becoming a kindergarteners’ race and a banal requirement for first grader education system.

We believe the purpose of literacy is to enable one to understand other’s thoughts (this includes knowledges from informations to opinions), to express one’s own thoughts, and ultimately as people of faith, to understand the Scripture as God’s revelation and to share the Truth with others. As for the method, we are not convinced that it is more useful to train a child to read at the age of four than at a later age, say of seven, when studies suggest that children’s brains are more ready for literacy training. In his own words, the author of Math for Little Ones Alexander K. Zvonkin wrote, “Premature instruction is no more beneficial than premature birth.”

While waiting for the neurons to establish their pathways, we believe we can prepare the child for a lifetime love for reading – good reading, that is. It can be done by establishing a culture of reading in the family, where the parents read themselves and read to the child regularly. And just as is the case with putting a child into the habit of healthy eating, we should also ‘feed’ the child with good and worthy reads. As the famous writer C.S. Lewis said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty.”

It is also beneficial to exercise a child’s memory, especially during the preschool years when it is at its strongest. Children are able to memorize stories read to them, word for word, and they do it quite effortlessly to our astonishment. Fill their memory banks then, with good books, poems and stories of excellent virtues, and with the sacred verses of the Scripture. The vast vocabularies, writing styles and the taste of literatures they have committed unto their memory will without a doubt bring them far when they can finally decode and compose strings of letters by themselves.

While the ability to read and write things down tend to excuse us from exercising our memory, we see this illiterate time window as an opportunity to train our daughter’s memory. Because she cannot read her story books, she memorizes them. Likewise, this time window affords us the control over what kind of reads is poured into the minds of our children and at the same time the opportunity to bond as we read to them. Few are things that a child cherishes more than to sit on her parent’s lap with a good book being read to her. We know it is one we will miss so dearly too, because soon she will be reading on her own.

Cherishing their illiterate moment.

Little Nonas’ Nature Finds: Rearing Autumn Leaf Caterpillars

Our little nonas are very much fascinated with butterflies; their beautiful wings, in amazing array of patterns and colors. But we have never been able to get close enough to admire the detail of arts they carry on their wings.

Yesterday morning, as we were chasing butterflies around, we thought why not try rearing caterpillar, that way we could have a chance to get up-close with the butterfly once it emerges. So we got ourselves some Autumn Leaf caterpillars as pets from the garden behind.

We have since been watching these creepy crawlies with amazement; their colors, their movement, the way and the speed with which they chomp down leaves, and how quickly these creatures excrete their frass too. We hope we’ll get the chance to see them metamorphe into the beautiful butterflies they are meant to be. (Just please don’t die on us.)

I am probably more excited than the nonas. It’s the first time I get this close with caterpillars, and while I still freak out a bit inside, I find it very exciting and I delight in observing them. I guess not only is it preschool with mommy but also preschool for mommy. Never mind I am in my late twenties, because learning never ends.

Singapore, 19 May 2017

 

Little Nonas’ Nature Finds: Mating Snails


While the Big Nona was chasing a Changeable Lizard this morning, she fatefully jumped over another creature. The lucky thing turned out to be a pair of garden snails (Cornu aspersum), and they are in the busy process of mating!

It’s the first time we saw copulation process of snails, and it’s so unlike that of vertebrates. We had initially thought that it was just two snails lying dead before noticing that they were actually connected by what we supposed were their reproduction organs (see the white tentacle-like organs near their heads).

Not long after, we met a pair of dragonflies, yes you guess right, in the process of mating too. No picture as they kept flying away whenever I approached them (“What a rude human being!” they probably thought ).

Love is in the garden. May could be the month of love for them.

As to the 4 year old I could only say “The snails and the dragonflies are both getting married.”

Singapore, 11 May 2017

Little Nonas’ Nature Finds: Gliding Lizard

We spotted a gliding lizard (possibly a Draco boschmai) during our morning walk last week. With body color that very much resembled the tree on which it was perching, the lizard was well hidden. It took some time for the nonas to be able to spot it, with Mommy busily pointing “Look! Over there! There! Can you spot it?” all the while.

The lizard had a yellow triangular gular flag under its neck, which I initially thought was a piece of leaf. (Wait, do lizards even eat leaves?? Haha ) Only when I spotted its folded patagium (wing membrane) between the limbs did I suppose it to be a type of flying lizard. And true enough, Big Nona caught it gliding to another tree nearby soon afterwards.

We tried to take a picture of the lizard but it was no good, the lizard was way too far and we were facing the bright sun. I guess we should just leave such phototaking to the professionals and make do with hand sketches.

This was the first time we spotted a different lizard. The ones we usually meet are the Changeable Lizards (Calotes versicolor). But to Young Nona, they all probably look the same, because she always points to every one of them and says “MUSHU!”

glidinglizard

Sketch reference from:
www.ecologyasia.com/verts/lizards/boschma’s-gliding-lizard.htm

Singapore, 08 May 2017