Guest blogger: Lim Swee Pei is a mother of 4 and she is homeschooling her kids in Singapore. She shares her experience with competitive parenting, homeschooling and struggling with Chinese. (Her kids are members of the Dim Sum Warriors Club.)
We have a big family with four kids, Lenny, 17; Linus 12; Lara 10; and Luther 7.
My first job was as a business development executive with an educational services company. It was a company that provided Mathematics enrichment programmes in and outside schools.
This was where I learned about educational terms like heuristics and models!
It took quite a lot of brain cells to rethink what I learned as a kid as I learned about new modes of learning.
The Pressure of Competitive Parenting
On the job, I got to meet many parents who bought educational materials from us.
I could see how competitive and academically driven many parents felt they had to be.
I remember my boss telling me that in Singapore, it’s just not possible to do well in school without after-school tutoring. That was in 1999.
Today, from my view as a parent, the competitiveness has gone to a whole other level.
Now, kids from neighborhood schools have tutoring for all subjects while many kids from elite schools attend branded tutoring centres.
One reason why I started considering home-schooling
Sometime in 2009, I got to know of homeschooling mom Serene Lim and her blog. That got me thinking about homeschooling.
Lenny was a single child for 5 years, and in that time, homeschooling would deprive him of time with other kids and so, I put him in a nearby kindergarten. I was so stressed because he seemed behind in his reading!
With a lot of hard work and advice, I got Lenny reading using Starfall.com.
Years later, in 2015, Luther was born and diagnosed really quickly with Williams Syndrome at 6 months. My husband, Frankie, brought up the idea of homeschooling again because of the special care that Luther needed. We knew that had to take good care of his social and emotional growth, as otherwise, he would be at risk of depression as an adult.
Homeschooling really takes commitment from both parents and we decided that we would come together as a family and face this challenge together.
I realized that if my other kids were in school, they would have very little time to bond with Luther. Even vacation time were not necessarily breaks from school as they still had homework, supplementary classes and activities.
Frankie and I just couldn’t see how the family would grow together well that way.
Since Covid, Lenny has been homeschooling, and loving it. He is now much more self-motivated and emotionally balanced. Linus and Lara are in the stressful years of PSLE and P4 MOE assessment.
I also came to the realization that to fail is not a sin.
We have heard people tell us that it is not fair to the other kids to homeschool in order to provide a socially inclusive environment for Luther. I think about that sometimes, but recently, Lenny told me, “Mummy, don’t send them to school and undo all the good that you’ve done.”
That’s enough for me.
Our biggest struggle is learning Chinese
The biggest struggle in our family is with Chinese Learning.
My late dad who had a PhD in Industrial Relations, taught management courses in Mandarin and gave consultancy services to trade unions and companies in Asia. Even for him, he speaks in Teochew and English at home, not Mandarin.
My own Chinese is not that great. When I’m put in an environment where I have to speak in Chinese, I will become incoherent.
For Linus, we used the eTutor pen and tablet which helped him get somewhere with his Chinese.
For Lenny, I was very strict and drilled him quite a bit because he attended mainstream schools with strict deadlines. As he got older, I realized that a lot of what he knows is based on memory work and when the curriculum got more difficult in the later years, he fell behind.
When it came to Lara, I started researching how else to teach her and Linus at the same time. I got to know about HSK and YCT learning resources which I got my friend working in China to buy for me. Subsequently, when I started using it last year, a lot of YouTube lessons were made available and these extra resources helped me a lot with their homeschooling.
I think what worked was that all the videos had bilingual subtitles and also hanyu pinyin. Lenny and I also felt that HSK’s Chinese was more conversational, while what we learn in formal schooling was very much more abstract. It just felt harder to make a connection with.
Dim Sum Warriors is great for kids who are struggling with Chinese
Lara loves to draw and the Dim Sum Warriors Membership works for her because of her connection to drawing. Honestly, I didn’t think I could draw much, but I’m drawing along during the sessions too!
With the Dim Sum Warriors App, Lara is the main reader at home as the stories are really quite funny. She finds them hilarious and the kids chat about the characters. I find that the App’s Voice Practice function is actually quite useful for Luther because he listens and mimics well.
Even though it was Lara who was more keen on Dim Sum Warriors, even Linus is attempting to draw too. Dim Sum Warriors has really opened up their creativity!
To me, Dim Sum Warriors works like HSK albeit with a less structured curriculum and it’s more age-appropriate. (HSK is targeted towards adult learners). It totally makes sense!!!
Actually, that Dim Sum Warriors is bilingual is actually quite helpful to the parents … that’s why I like it. It’s great for kids who are struggling with Chinese.
Our family’s experience has taught me about the importance of compassion in a society
In our highly competitive society, I have seen how many efforts at creating inclusive spaces, such as getting facilities for activities for families, or starting an inclusive sports club that’s not for making money can all be quite challenging.
I have learned the importance of compassion for each other, and we can only develop compassion for each other if we are interacting in inclusive spaces with people different from ourselves.
For our family, I believe that God does not let us bear more than we can take, and no matter what challenges we face, we go back to the basics of loving God, loving each other, loving people.