Homeschool 1.0

Our initial vision for homeschool is essentially something we have stuck with.

Academia

We wanted to teach the kids maths and 6 languages up until around the age they could start preparing for high school exams and once their English, logic and maturity was at a level they could prepare for the exams they would start doing them.

Note that meant no sciences, history, geography, etc… up until essentially 9 or 10.

Here is how we taught the languages and maths:

Maths – I taught my kids maths using Khan Academy for 1 hour every weekday. It wasn’t a case of letting the kids get on with it – I was very much involved in explaining all the concepts to them.

English – my wife, Isabelle, just gave the kids exercises from various books and marked them. The kids started reading so much, as they had so much time, that we did not need much beyond that.

French – Isabelle is French. So she spoke to the kids in French from an early age. And then she started giving them written exercises. All she’d do is give the exercises and mark them, explaining what they got wrong.

Arabic, Chinese – tutors came in twice a week and taught each kid separately. We realised that the kids weren’t improving their conversational skills nearly quickly enough in either languages. So then we hired native speakers to just chat with them over Skype for 20 mins each twice a week, and this worked wonders in terms of their ability to converse.

Urdu/Hindi, Malay – these languages we decided to focus on the spoken only. So it’s just chatting over Skype for 30 mins twice a week.

After they reached a certain maturity, we would then started going for high school exams.

They work 7am until 12pm flat out, and then they’re done. No homework, no work on the weekends.

Sports

The kids chose a few sports and they’ve stuck with them, and become good at them. We didn’t want them to become jack of all, masters of none.

For Danyal it’s middle-distance running, football and squash. Maryam and Sabeen haven’t been too keen on sports and they’ve just done rock climbing and they often join Danyal on his runs.

Socialising

Most days my wife would take them out just so they meet other kids. For sports, to meet friends or for other group activities – often with other home schooled kids.

So all of this has been our plan from the beginning and we have stuck with it. We think it’s worked – Maryam could speak 5 languages well (Urdu/Hindi got left behind) by the time she was 10, all 3 kids are around 5 years ahead in their maths, they play their chosen sports regularly and to a high level, and have a great social life. They’re confident, cheeky yet well behaved when they need to be. And they have plenty of time to do what they want (read, cook, etc…), and are among the happiest, if not happiest, kids I know. I call that a result.

It’s the post 9-10 age where we have somewhat changed our vision, but I’ll discuss that in another post…

Isn’t homeschool for losers?

Prior to mid 2013 if you had told me that you homeschooled your children I would have thought you were nuts and you and  your children were losers.

By year end 2013 we had given notice to our kids’ schools that we were done with school.

What happened?

Well, a few things came together from mid 2013:

  1. One to one teaching. I realised my kids’ schools weren’t really challenging my kids in maths, so I started to teach my kids maths on the 15 minute drive to school. No structure, no whiteboard, no textbooks but they learned far more during the 15 minutes drive than the school was teaching them throughout the day together with all their homework. So I hired a teacher on Skype for US$5 per hour to teach them maths on the weekends instead of teaching them in the car, and within weeks their maths had progressed way beyond their colleagues. The benefits of one to one teaching were becoming clear.
  2. School too hectic. We wanted our kids to play sports, learn Mandarin, Urdu, French, and Arabic (all outside school as their school didn’t offer those languages), do their extra maths lessons. Lessons after school, lessons during the weekend, collecting the kids, dropping them off, it all become a bit much, for us and the kids.
  3. A great example. One of my friends from the UK had visited us in Malaysia, and his 4 kids were homeschooled. I asked myself which kids were the best brought up kids I knew and I realised that they stood head and shoulders above any other kids I’d seen. They were academically years ahead of their peers, social, cheeky, polite, and unlike most other kids were able and interested in talking to adults, and they were great with other kids too.
  4. US study. I saw a nationwide US study that showed that homeschool kids massively outperformed school kids academically, in social activities, and at college, if that is where they went on to.

In late 2013 I discussed the idea with Isabelle, who is more risk averse than I am on radical ideas like homeschooling, and to my surprise she agreed that we should give it a go over the Christmas vacations and if it worked well we’d try it for a year. She too felt that the kids could learn so much faster if they were constantly challenged and had 1 to 1 tuition. She also felt we could customise every aspect of their education to what the kids wanted and what we wanted for our kids.

We asked the kids. The two younger kids, Danyal, 7,  and Sabeen, 5, were all for it. They loved the idea of doing lessons in their pyjamas, and seemed to hate the routine of school. They didn’t seem to care about missing their school friends (rather worrying) despite both being fairly popular and social. The eldest, Maryam, was marginally in favour of homeschool only because we agreed with her that she wouldn’t get homework, she’d no longer have weekend classes, and we assured her that she’d still see friends regularly. That mattered to her more.

The Christmas trial went very well, and so we gave their schools notice and a one year homeschooling trial it was. And since the one year trial started we haven’t even once considered sending them back to school.

Homeschooling was not just good. It was far better in so many aspects than we had even hoped…