Archive for the ‘Homeschooling’ Category

Homeschooling Update



Sophie has "graduated" from Nursery!


We completed her Chinese and English workbooks last week! Woo hoo!


We took about 5 months to do so and stopping for about a month when Levi was born. It's not a race but I just wanted to celebrate her efforts so each time she finished a workbook, we celebrated with a glass of milk and cookie! She loves that! She also got a book as a present. I remember I used to get book prizes in primary school and it was just such an encouragement and I felt so proud! She doesn't go to school so we just want to celebrate her efforts at home.


Yeah Sophie! You've done well and Mummy and Daddy are so proud of you!


I'm really thankful that we've managed to keep up the homeschooling this time round and Sophie has really flourished in both languages. I thank God for the strength. It hasn't been that much work on my part and we've kept to the books and basics but it helps that Sophie is a quick learner. Flipside is that she gets bored easily so lessons have to be quick and interesting. The Math book we got is too tedious for her so I stopped using it and only recently changed to another syllabus that is much more interesting (will write more about it next time.).


We take a "school" break for the next two weeks. We'll be in Vanuatu and I'm sure we'll have lots to learn on the journey. When we return, we'll start on the K1 books and new stuff. Excited :)

Learning Mandarin

I’ve been really encouraged with Sophie’s recent interest in Mandarin that I thought I will share what we’ve been doing in this area.


For a long time I really struggled with having to prepare Sophie for school, in case we decide to return to Singapore to put Sophie in Primary 1. Esp in the area of CHINESE! Eeeeks! I had Chinese tuition from Primary 3 all the way till JC2 and it didn’t help at all! I still hardly read or write.


I’m really thankful that James’ family speaks Mandarin at home. My mum in law is actually a Chinese teacher at a kindy! In fact, my own conversational Mandarin improved heaps when we got married and lived with them. I can even joke in Chinese now, don’t play play. Cantonese is another ball game altogether though. I still feel like I’m in another country when I’m with his family sometimes.


On our recent trip back, Sophie picked up quite a bit of conversational Mandarin because of the exposure even though most of the time my in laws spoke to her in English. Which just reminded me that language can only be really picked up if someone keeps speaking it, even if it was in drips and drapes! But it was good enough to get us going! She started answering in Mandarin if we spoke to her in Mandarin. Previously, she had refused! And guess what were her first words? NO!


Our conversations went something like this (in Mandarin, I’m not going to put my hanyu pinyin to the test so just imagine the conversation):-
Me: Sophie, would you like some bread for breakfast?
Sophie: NO!
Faint… I guess in any language, kids learn to say “NO!” first!
Argh…. Ok, better than nothing.


I was really encouraged and decided to continue doing that here.


We picked up a couple of Chinese audio CDs, videos and books from Maha Yuyi (They are located at Bras Basah Shopping Complex and they also have an online store.) and Popular Bookstore (They also have an online store). This was in addition to the storybooks we already bought in China last year. Btw, China has a great selection of storybooks for kids at really good prices e.g. S$3 per book.


Here’s how I selected them, bearing in mind that my own reading and writing ability for Chinese is also at preschool level:


For Story Books:
1. It must have Hanyu Pinyin! If it is accompanied by an audio CD, all the better!
2. Preferably only 1-2 sentences PER page. Beyond that, I can’t read fast enough and it’ll bore Sophie while I try to figure out the hanyu pinyin.
2. Stick to the plan. I figured out my aim for this year is for CONVERSATION and EXPOSURE. I’m not trying to get Sophie to be brilliant in reading and writing. So it has to be FUN and of interest to her! I simply chose story books that were of interest to her e.g. planting, cooking, dancing etc.


These are some of the books that we chose: –

Left: The Winnie the Pooh book, Two Little Cats, I can Read (the one with rabbits) and Wizard of Oz books were from Maha Yuyi. All of them come with audio CD except I can Read. Sophie loves the I Can Read book because it's stories of two little rabbits and their family. Very easy to read. The two pink books are from Popular and there are lots to choose from. Sophie and I really like these coz they are so relevant and so easy to understand and read. The fairy tale book comes in a set of stories and I think my in laws got them in China but I've seen them at Popular.

Right: This book is a treasure! I found it at Maha Yuyi. It shows how the Chinese characters were formed over the ages. Very visually interesting. Love it. It's more for me to stimulate my own interest, ha!


For Workbooks:
1. I prefer workbooks with topical sections with lots of opportunities for discussion and conversation rather than those that focused on writing and word recognition.
2. Instructions for each section needs to come with an example, in case I can’t read the instructions. HAHAHA!


This is the book that we’re using and I love it. It's from Popular. It really suits the level we’re at or I’m at (ha!). Sophie loves it too. She can go on for 10 pages at a time, which I think is pretty good! I’ve only been homeschooling her for a month or so and we’ve finished almost half the book! She can also recognize almost 10 Chinese words!



Why I like about this book
1. Word recognition through learning how the characters have been formed over the years, very visual (SO GOOD!). They even have creative ways to help the kids remember how the characters look.
2. No writing required. She just needs to draw links and do ticks or crosses.
3. Lots of opportunities for conversation and discussion. I notice that most of these local workbooks have incorporated civic and moral education e.g it is right to throw the rubbish in the bin and not on the floor (so Singaporean ah…). Very interesting and been quite good for me to teach them to Sophie.


For others e.g Media:

I just bought and tried whatever I could find. I wouldn’t say that they are the best around or that Sophie really enjoys them but seriously, for the price range that we can afford, the selection is quite limited.


These are some that we are using:-

Left: Very old school and cheena but quite good. Got that from John Little

Right: Good song selection with flash cards of Chinese characters. From Maha Yuyi.

P/s: – I also found out that it pays to be really humble at a Chinese bookshop and just tell the salesgirl that I’m really pathetic in Chinese and want find some stuff for my little girl. HELP! Oh yes, and now Sophie can say things like “Ma ma, wo yao che xiang jiao.” (Mum, I would like to eat a banana.) That’s pretty cool ya?

Helping with the chores


As mentioned in the previous post, I had in mind a daily plan but as I implemented it, I decided to improvise and added daily chores into our early morning routine.


Now that we do not have to rush out of the house for classes/meetings in the morning, it gave us some time to do some chores like washing the dishes, cleaning the house etc. At first I was doing it by myself but then I thought "Sophie can wash dishes!" so I got her to help and she’s amazing! Over those couple of days, she helped to wash up our breakfast and lunch dishes, with some supervision from me. Of course she uses too much detergent, figures out that putting a spoon under the tap makes a fountain and that squeezing lotsa soap makes it all the more fun and she leaves the water running BUT BUT overall, she gets the job done! While she does that, I can wipe the dishes and put them away! So so cool! Best part is she enjoys it! It’s a bit stressful for me I must admit at times when she handles the glass plates but I’m thankful she’s rather careful.


When we are done, we try to do one chore a day e.g. vacuuming/cleaning the windows. I try to assign her something that she can do like spraying soap and water and cleaning tables or silly things like wipe the doors. While I do the real work. Of course she doesn’t really know she’s not doing much but she loves it!


I hope we can keep this going because I doubt we’ll ever have a maid in our lifetime and I’m hoping if we start young, she’ll see that doing chores is what a family does together and not something that only mum does or a kid must be given a reward/paid to do it. Also I’m really hoping that she’ll be a good help when baby comes along. :) Hopefully the novelty doesn’t wear out! Will let you know :)

Charlotte Mason

I like Charlotte Mason’s homeschooling philosophy but I don’t think I have fully grasped the fullness of it yet. This is how the Simply Charlotte Mason website describes it: – "A method of education popular with homeschoolers in which children are taught as whole persons through a wide range of interesting living books, firsthand experiences, and good habits."


There are essentially 3 parts to the education she prescribes – living books, experiences and good habits.


Living books are books that are usually stories written by an author with a passion for the subject and the subject comes alive. For example, Sophie has a book called "The Little Rabbit" (It is part of the Before Five In A Row reading list. She’s almost read it to death! The edges are bent and slightly torn.) It’s a story about how a little girl’s pet bunny gives birth and the life of the bunny. It’s a really simple story but the pictures are real photos. From it, one can learn about the life cycle of a rabbit, differentiate a pet bunny from a wild bunny, know what rabbits eat etc. It’s not a dry textbook or encyclopedia. Sophie loves encyclopedia type books as well but reading living books triggers her love to know more and understand more. 


Experiences – Charlotte Mason believed in providing a child with real life experiences. Reading from a book is not enough. Experiencing nature and culture is also needed. Sophie gets that a lot here but not sure how to fully implement that when we return for good to Singapore.


Lastly, teaching good habits – I’ve not figured out how to incorporate this fully into our lives yet but we’re getting there. Charlotte Mason has a whole list of how to do this and it’s a pretty hard read and almost seem archaic. BUT BUT so much truth to it. Just needs real discipling and vision to implement it.


Well, we’re starting somewhere. Not every book we have in the house is a living book but we pay a lot of attention to the kind of books Sophie reads. The Sonlight P3/4 books that we bought somewhat subscribes to the Charlotte Mason philosophy but in comparison, I much prefer the Five In A Row books and manual. There are some stories in the Sonlight books that are repetitive (e.g. the Fairy Tales) and Fairy tales, I find, are rather gruesome! E.g. stomping giants, ugly witches and magic potions etc.


Nonetheless, for this season, we’re reading Fairy Tales, for exposure sake. :) It’s quite fun re-reading these stories for myself too! Just to share some stuff that we’ve been doing with these stories: –



Jack & The Beanstalk

We painted some plants and planted some herbs. I meant to do a little booklet with Sophie about parts of a plant and life cycle of a plant but the internet failed on me so didn’t manage to get materials in time.



Sleeping Beauty

We made a castle out of a tissue box, toilet rolls and egg carton. I sewed a pillow for "sleeping beauty". Took out the lovely princess dress up cut outs that Steph gave Sophie for her birthday last year and she played dress up with them for a bit.

Homeschooling Schedule

Now that school is over and most of our friends are gone, it’s time for us to resume to our grand plans of homeschooling. If we remain here for the next year, it kinda means that I can only homeschool Sophie 6 months in a year because school/creche is on for 3 months at a time, twice a year. Realistically speaking, counting going home on holidays and mission trips, I am probably only schooling Sophie a good 3 months a year! Eeeks! Well, we’ll see how it goes.


We started in April when school was slowing down and Sophie was so thrilled. We’re into Fairy Tales right now so we do 2-3 stories a week. So far we’ve read Emperor’s New Clothes, The Gingerbread Man, Sleeping Beauty, The Ugly Duckling, Jack and the Beanstalk.


Our Daily Schedule

8 – 9 am – Breakfast, Clean up, Chores (We read our Weekly Bible Passage over breakfast and sometimes we listen to stories/music.)

9 – 10 am – Homeschool – that essentially means reading a story, doing activities related to the story, writing, and phonics.

10 – 11 am – Free play and snack (I need a break ah! Normally I cook or bake something here. She doesn’t really like just playing on her own so she’ll just have her snack and then hang around and help out.)

11 – 12 pm – Craft

12 – 1245 pm – Outdoor/Friend Time/TV (Depending on the weather)

1245 – 2 pm – Lunch

2 – 3 pm – Quiet TIme (This means I take a rest and Sophie either reads on her own or takes a nap)

3- 5.30 pm – Daddy Time (It’s the hols now so Daddy is a bit freer but once he’s working again and Baby No 2 is here, we’ll need to figure out what to do here.)

5.30 – 6.30 pm – Dinner

6.30 pm – 7 pm – Bath and Stories

7pm – 7am – Sleep


Schedules are great but I’m not really good at keeping to it. I try to flow with Sophie as well. The schedule just keeps me sane and aware of what I’m doing. It helps to give Sophie a structure and what to expect. For example, she’s starting to understand what I mean when I say "Free Play time!" The thing about being an only child and being 3 going on 4 is that she loves to do stuff and play pretend. But she needs company and that means me most of the time if her friends are not around! She’s not so keen on doing her own thing if I’m around. In structuring a free play time, I’m hoping that it’ll give her some space to discover things on her own and learn to play on her own for a bit.


Our Weekly Plan

Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays are English story days. I incorporate Social Sciences and Science into these days, depending on the topic at hand.

Wednesdays are Chinese story days.

Fridays are Creative Math lessons and outing days.

We don’t school on Saturdays and Sundays.

Which comes first?!?

Sophie could spell her name even before she could recognise alphabets. That was only coz I kept repeating it to her.


Recently I found out that she can spell Toby, Evan, Cow, Dog! I didn’t even know that kids could spell before they can read or write?!! Is that normal? I’ve not intentionally taught her how to spell these words but I think she picked them up when we read. "Cow" really surprised me coz one day she drew a cow and then wrote the word "cow" under it.


This homeschooling business is a lot more complicated than I thought. I keep thinking there must be a process to all this, e.g. recognise alphabets, learn sounds, write (Montessori book says that they learn to write before reading), read, spell. Sophie seems to have got them all jumbled up and I’m confused. Wish I had studied some early childhood education degree rather than my econs/euro studies degree.


Anyways, I’m happy she’s picking up things along the way.


I’m trying to get Sophie to practise her handwriting a bit more, especially her small letters. Her teacher at creche has been getting her to practise those that she’s been weak at, for example, "e". It’s so hard to write "e"! It’s really cool of her teacher to do that and she writes on these small pieces of paper. She’s been practising the letter "e", the number "5", and she’s practising how to do a tick. I really thank God for her teacher because I really haven’t had time to do regular homeschooling with Sophie.


However, with school coming to an end and this being a long weekend, I decided to get my lazy butt going and prepare some materials for the next few weeks.


I came across this cool website that allows you to input whatever words you want and it prints out a handwriting sheet! Voila! Brillant.

Our Sonlight stuff arrived!


The homeschooling books that I ordered from Sonlight arrived in the mail yesterday!!! Almost 30 kg full of books!


Ooo there was so much excitement in the house! Sophie was happily checking out the books and so was I. She could recognise some stories from the books. They were the books that we already had back in Singapore but didn’t bring with us.


Ok more about what I bought: –


I decided to buy the P3/4 curriculum from Sonlight. First of all, because it is such a costly affair, I had to think long and hard about which curriculum to go with.


Several reason why we decided to go with Sonlight:-


One, it’s a Christian company and that’s the foundation of the books and curriculum they choose and plan. Two, they are very big on reading. They believe that children learn best through reading good books, not just textbooks. Hurray for that! Three, they include most subjects e.g language arts, history, science and they recommend third party Math curriculum. Pretty comprehensive. James was quite insistent on us trying to use a complete curriculum so that I don’t have to spent so much time planning and figuring out what to do in our first year of homeschooling. So nice. Four, great support and internet community. Very impt since we’re away. I had a real good experience with their customer support. And lastly, they give a 25% discount to missionaries and hurray to YWAM because all I needed to do was mention YWAM and immediately I got a discount, without even needing to give any proof! So it cost us about S$400 including shipping from the US. I think that’s pretty good considering the amount we needed to pay if we sent Sophie to nursery. Plus they are such great books that we can use in the future.


Next, I deliberated a long and hard over whether to get the P3/4 or the P4/5. The former is for 3-4 year olds and the latter for 4-5 year olds. I "browsed" the books through Amazon and decided on P3/4 instead. I was really tempted to go for P4/5 because being the kiasu Singaporean, I wanted to move one standard above where Sophie was at so that she can grow into it. And P4/5 also come with ABC learning books, readers, some interesting science books and 4 IQ building books plus a year-long curriculum all planned out. Super tempting! However the Read-Aloud books were, I feel, far too difficult for Sophie to sit through. Quite a few of them were Chapter books. I think at 3, that’s a bit too much.


SOOOOOOO, I decided, we’ll do well with the P3/4 read alouds. I prefer that Sophie doesn’t get put off reading and that she enjoys the books. There is a social studies one (Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day), science related books (Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm and A Flip Flap book on Body from Usborne), a couple of sorting and puzzle toys. P3/4 doesn’t come with a year-long weekly curriculum, only a 3 trimester reading list with suggested activities, a little like Before Five In A Row. But it’s great coz with our schedules, I can be a bit more flexible.


For learning to read, Math and Chinese, we’ll just supplement with some workbooks. Btw, Popular back home is great for these pre-school workbooks. We’ve got one for Math and a Chinese. Btw, these Chinese workbooks should come with Pinyin for the instructions. Got me there man! I am also planning to buy Reading Made Easy, comes highly recommended.


We’re all set for the year! Sophie’s been asking to read the books ALL THE TIME!


Anyways I think that whether we homeschool or not, the reading list from Sonlight for each grade is still a great reference for books to borrow from the library/buy for our kids. Btw, P3/4 also came with a story book published by Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF) on a missionary’s experience! How cool is that!


So if you are looking for good books to buy, do take a look at the Sonlight list first. Another good book list is from the next step up from Before Five in A Row called Five in A Row.