As my oldest child is getting close to the age for officially attending school, lots of my friends and parents that I meet at the local park frequently ask me about what I am going to do about her schooling. When I tell them that I’m going to homeschool her until we move back to the U.S., they are shocked at and surprised by my decision. Again, homeschooling in Hong Kong is not a common method of education. Of course, they give me all the reasons that I should send my kids to school and tell me how much my kids need it, and how much easier it is to be a mother when kids go to school.
As a newbie homeschooling mom with no homeschool experience before, living in an unfamiliar homeschooling country is very hard. No one understands why I choose to do all the extra work to homeschool my kids. And of course, I don’t get any support from outside of our home.
The only belief that I use to stay strong during these difficult times is to let my kids learn Chinese as a second language at their own pace, and not be forced to do so by the education department.
One of the hardest things about living in Hong Kong right now is the extremely stressful education system and lifestyle. It seems like kids in Hong Kong (and in a lot of Asian countries too) have no life or free time. They spend half of the day at school from Monday to Friday, and then because of the huge amount of the daily homework that they have, they don’t get done with their homework until very late at night. On the weekends, most of them have tutoring sections and other extra-curricular activities to attend. Even during the holidays, there is a huge amount of homework, projects, and exams to prepare. It’s a robotic, traditional education system in which everyone is learning the same thing from the same textbooks. Not many kids are willing to or even have time to branch out and explore the things that really interest them.
Who wants to be a student in Hong Kong?
Why do Hong Kong parents or teachers allow their kids to have such a lifestyle?
Because they don’t want these kids to get behind and not to be able to pass the standard exams. If their kids don’t pass these exams, they worry that their children will be thrown away by society and there will be no future for their kids. I am a product of the Hong Kong education system, so I understand how it feels. Do you think that I will allow my kids to experience this if I am able to offer them something different?
The Advantages of Allowing your Kids to Learn Chinese at Their Own Pace
1. Keep them interested in Chinese
We have all experienced being passionate about something and trying our best to learn everything about it. As a parent, helping my kids find and build their passion for learning Chinese is my ultimate goal. Once they have the desire to gain knowledge for themselves, they are going to dig through all of my Chinese books and dictionaries on their own to get what they want to know. Nothing will be able to stop them. Therefore, the goal of learning Chinese should not be learning a certain number of characters or getting a high score on the standardized tests. My goal is to support my children and help them maintain their interest in learning Chinese.
From my experience:
In my home, English is the dominant language, so once my kids know a person speaks English, they prefer to speak English with them. If a person they meet can’t speak English, they will switch to Cantonese to speak with them. Since I speak English, it was hard for them to always use Cantonese on a daily basis with me. Before we started homeschooling, I tried several different approaches to encourage them to speak more in Cantonese, but, of course, nothing really worked. After a year of homeschooling and adding more and more Chinese to our curriculum, things have started to change. Whenever I read to them in Cantonese, I ask them questions in Cantonese and they respond in Cantonese. Now, even if it isn’t school time, they do not become frustrated if I encourage them to use more Cantonese. As their knowledge of Chinese books and topics has increased, they have even started asking me to teach them certain things in Cantonese, or they ask me to read Cantonese stories. This makes me very excited, and I hope it is a sign of their increasing interest in Chinese.
2. Gain freedom in scheduling
There is no one to tell my kids to memorize the first 50 Chinese characters before they are 6-years-old. I won’t force my kids to stay up late working on Chinese penmanship. My kids actually get to be kids who have free time to discover new hobbies, and digest and apply new information from the everyday study.
As a parent, the best thing I can teach and offer my kids is different methods to learn Chinese when the time is right. When they are not feeling good, or they are just too young for certain worksheets, I am not going to stress because my kids can’t do it. When they are feeling great, or suddenly feeling curious about learning a certain topic in Chinese, I am happy to tell them everything that they want to know and provide a way for them to learn it on their own. There really isn’t any timeline or standard schedule to limit my kids’ limitation.
From my experience:
My six-year-old has not shown interest in Cantonese for a while, so if she needs to go back to the local school with such limited Chinese, she is going to be the bottom student in her grade, and she is not going to have a good life according to what people think here. However, her English is as good as American kids. Also, she does a great job translating words and sentences between English and Cantonese. She may not know as much as the Hong Kong local kids, but she understands and uses everything she knows in her daily life. She may not able to memorize all 500 Chinese characters (because there are a lot of Chinese sight words that have no meaning at all), but once she wants to learn a character, she will never forget it. Do you think she is a low Chinese ability student? Or is she learning at her own pace using her own methods to meet her needs?
3. Easily adjusting lessons to fit the kids’ need
Who told you that we must learn Chinese numbers first then Chinese radicals? Should we learn to write the characters first or to practice the sounds and tones first?
Kids are very flexible, so their learning pace should be very flexible too. Standardized lesson plans will never satisfy all the needs of kids, especially in a classroom with 42 kids. Every kid has different strengths and weakness, so it is very hard to use standardized lesson plans solve all their problems at the same time.
My kids feel much happier and excited when they get to pick their topic or area of learning at school. They feel loved and cared about when they have the freedom to make choices. The lesson that they pick usually turn out really good because that’s what they are interested and want the most. Also, they are more willing to cooperate and to do the exercises, so they understand better and always remember and use those Chinese words when telling people about their experiences because they make a connection with the things they are interested and the things that they learning. When both things are matched, there are great memories and feelings that they won’t forget.
From my experience:
Can you remember all the lessons or themes that you had when you were a child? I don’t, of course. Most of my favorite memories from my kindergarten are playing with my friends, getting treats, and being chosen to be Santa at the Christmas party. What did I learn from school? No idea. However, my kids can remember a lot of the themes, art projects, songs, and games that we have done before, especially those lesson on the days they picked what we studied.
4. Allow kids to be fully ready for their development
All kids have their own timetable for growing and developing. For example, some kids have their first tooth fall out at six, but some kids are later. Kids who are born at the beginning of the year seem to be able to do more things than those born later in the year. Even boys and girls are different in their development. So why do we treat every kid the same when some kids can hold their pencil perfectly and the others cannot?
Therefore, even though my oldest kid is six years old, I don’t give her tons of Chinese penmanship to do. First, I know how hard it is to write Chinese characters, and she doesn’t really enjoy when she feels and activity is too challenging for her. Second, I remember having to write the same character a hundred times a day when I was young. Since I didn’t really remember them, I have to wonder how effective this method really is. Third, when kids are not ready, even the most amazing method will be ineffective, useless, and even damaging to them. I don’t mean we should protect our kids from everything and not try to challenge them, but we need to think about doing things at the right time when they are physically and emotionally ready for it. I’m sure there will be times when I am not sure if it is the right moment or not, but if I’m following their pace, it is easier to evaluate their process and make decisions instead of just following a standard education schedule.
From my experience:
Most of the kids here start writing and practicing Chinese characters when they are in preschool. That’s very early for little kids that have just been potty trained. For my oldest child, I tried to write out some Chinese writing exercise for her, but it didn’t turn out very well. She felt frustrated and lost interest in writing Chinese. I stopped for a while, and now that she is a little older, we started again. She is happier to do it because she can write what she thinks is beautiful, and she is also physically capable of writing.
Learning Chinese is a Long Process, so let’s make it Fun!
Let’s not give up and feel disappointed by the small progress that we have made. Let’s not doubt ourselves or all the effort that we are trying to put in. Learning a language is a life-long process. Do you still learn new things about your mother tongue? I am! Especially when I am teaching my kids Chinese, I sometimes need to go to the internet and make sure that I am teaching the right thing. So, try not to compare your kids to other children. We never will know what they gave up for their success.
It’s OK to not be the same. I have learned to embrace the feeling of being different and unique since I moved back to Hong Kong. We are not a normal family who speaks Cantonese all the time. We are a family who homeschools our kids and still lives an American lifestyle. Everyone and every family has their own pace for accomplishing their goals, so let it be.
This is not true just for the kids; everyone should take the time to enjoy the learning process, especially in learning languages. There is so much that you can get from learning a language: the culture, the people, the food, the boost to your self-confidence, the fun of traveling and learning about the world. Let’s all rejoice in the uniqueness of our individual kids.
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