According to his ability
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Homeschool Profile on 12 Mar 2010.
What do you do when you’re told that your son doesn’t belong in a regular school? That’s what one public school told parents LT Loo and Shirley about their special needs son Jianwen. Fortunately, the Loos (who also have two grown-up daughters) heard about homeschooling, and in 2001 took the road less travelled that eventually led Jianwen to a private college. I posed 10 questions to Shirley and subsequently edited her responses alongside Jianwen’s input as they shared about schooling without being in school.
Shirley: Jianwen our youngest boy is a ADHD/special needs child. We have 2 grown-up daughters but Jianwen was the only one who was homeschooled.
HF: So it was Jianwen’s special needs that led the family to consider homeschooling?
Shirley: Jianwen first went to a Chinese school for two-and-a-half years. During the second half of the third year we transferred him to a Kebangsaan school where he spent less than 2 weeks in class out of the 5 months he was enrolled there. All through those years we were told that Jianwen was not suitable for a regular school, so we began to look elsewhere. We then signed him up with a private school for the last 2 years of his primary education. I must say that the teachers, staff and management at the school were very supportive, but sadly, the children and their parents were not. A couple of children bullied Jianwen, which gave him nightmares and made him aggressive as well. As luck would have it, we met David and Sook Ching in 2001 and were introduced to homeschooling. So Jianwen began homeschooling during his secondary years, 6 years in all.
HF: Jianwen, you spent time in a government school and then a private school. Can you tell us how you felt about those years in a school compared to your homeschooling experience?
Jianwen: School was kind of hectic and stressful. I had to wake up early to go to school and I felt I was the odd one out especially during group activities. But I preferred the private school because it not only focused on academics but also on the students’ latent or hidden talents. I developed my talent in poetry writing during my time in the private school. The multiple intelligences approach that was used in that school helped improve my critical thinking skills and pique my intellectual inquisitiveness. The hands-on approach to learning was also good for me.
On the other hand, homeschooling allowed me to be flexible and pursue what interests me. I could travel during normal school days. We’ve been around the country, as well as Bali, Bangkok, Hanoi, Beijing, US, learning about different ways of life which I enjoy. Also I did not feel I was a stranger when I was among homeschoolers. I could also attend functions that I would not normally have been able to otherwise. I have also learned many skills like typing, cooking, and baking.
Shirley: Before we began homeschooling, there was a lot of stress managing time. There was also difficulty in managing behavior when others were around Jianwen. But we had a more relaxed time homeschooling since we were able to pursue what was more relevant to life instead of the paper chase.
HF: It must have been a relief for you and Jianwen. Were you worried about educating a child with special needs by yourself? What did your husband say about taking a big step like that?
Shirley: My husband was very supportive, morally and financially. He loves to drive and travel, and it has enabled us to travel and learn. But teaching and guiding him at home wasn’t new to me because I had been helping him with his studies all those years when he was in school. Being a child with special needs, I had to teach differently and specifically according to his ability. We used many different approaches. I would say it was a lot of trial and error as I had no one to model after. However, I did have initial concern for his social life.
Jianwen: But I was involved in lots of activities. I participated in the swimming events in the Paralympic Games. I learned Aikido, joined The Mutiara Voice Club in Penang, which is a self-advocacy club for people with disabilities, volunteered at the Toy Library to help pack and unpack toys, and played with other children in the community centre. When Bethany Home in Teluk Intan organised a 3-day 2-night camp at Gua Tempurung, I went along.
HF: Seems to me he’s got a normal social life then! What values did you encourage in Jianwen and how has he been helped by them?
Shirley: We have always taught our children to give their best in whatever they do. It is not the marks that count but the effort they put in. They should always try to beat their best. For Jianwen, being exposed to the world around him and coupled with his love for reading, it helped him to tackle the questions in his SPM exams with minimum preparation.
HF: Was that his first public exam?
Shirley: No, he attained 3Bs & 2Cs in the UPSR, but we didn’t tell our friends and family back then. But now he’s gone on to college!
HF: It’s remarkable how far you have come since you homeschooled.
Jianwen: Some people say that homeschooling does not conform to the norms of education but my experience proves that I can achieve the required results to enable me to enroll in a college. And, I have won medals in the Paralympic Games, sat on the organising committee of the 3rd National Self-Advocacy Conference. I have also been invited to read my poems at opening ceremonies and conferences.
HF: That’s wonderful, Jianwen. And Shirley, wasn’t it especially challenging just to prepare Jianwen for college? Was there a specific curriculum?
Shirley: The biggest challenge actually was to get him to realize that education was for his sake! We were mainly unschooling for more than a year, so did not follow any specific curriculum although we did use Singapore schoolbooks as a guide. Since Jianwen was of secondary age, we had to have a goal and we tried to do things and stuff that matched the O Levels. But we were in no hurry, and we didn’t push him. We used a portfolio style based on topics/themes incorporating language, maths, science, and history, wherever possible. More importantly, we worked on self-help skills like cooking and household chores.
HF: Homeschool has worked out well for you hasn’t it?
Shirley: Yes, especially for special needs children. They will definitely benefit from homeschooling since it can be tailored to their needs and ability.
Jianwen: Yes, a child’s talent will not be revealed and developed otherwise as mainstream schools tend to focus on academic aspects and have a rigid expectation of children.
Photos: Top, the Loos in a visit to the US. Jianwen is second from right, between his Mom and Dad. Lower, Jianwen as seen on his Facebook page
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