Zoo lessons for kids taught at home

With more support groups, homeschoolers are getting exposed to more activities

Learning trips to the zoo, group study sessions, sports meets, concerts and even mock examinations are increasingly becoming part of how homeschooled children are being taught today.

And a growing number of support groups helps families with homeschooled children ensure that such events take place more regularly, said parents.

Since 2003, about 500 pupils have been homeschooled, according to the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Yesterday, The Straits Times reported how homeschooled children must now take an MOE assessment when they are at the Primary 4 stage, to better gauge their progress.

Some homeschooling parents are Christians who want their children to be educated according to their values. Others prefer the greater flexibility that homeschooling offers.

They can design their own lessons and spend more time on subjects their children are more interested in, rather than worrying about meeting test standards every year, parents said.

But according to Madam Catherine Tan, 44, a mother of four homeschooled children aged six to 18, "it's not just the parents. It's the whole community working together to bring up the children".

One support group for primary-school age children was started on Yahoo in 2006 with about 20 families. But this has grown to 455 members.

Another online group, Discover Christian Homeschooling in Singapore, has had 331 sign-ups since it was set up last year. The newer Exploring Homeschooling in Singapore group has already drawn 52 members since coming online in July.

Facebook group Homeschool Singapore, started last year by local folk singer Dawn Fung, now has 131 members, who all teach their children at home.

"I am not against schools but I'd like to educate my kids myself, and develop them according to their strengths and learning styles," said the 34-year-old, who homeschools her daughters, aged five and four.

They learn science through cooking, and art by studying the works of artists. Her elder daughter even set up a loom band business to learn about social entrepreneurship, she said.

"Parents in the group ask questions and support one another through the homeschool journey. We share resources and organise events for our kids," she said.

A week ago, for instance, her group organised a festival at Bishan Park, where around 100 parents and children picnicked and engaged in activities at booths.

Another group of families held "exams" last month for about 20 homeschoolers to prepare them for their upcoming Primary School Leaving Examination this year.

More families also seem to be choosing to put their teenagers on a homeschooling curriculum instead of sending them to a secondary school.

The students can either take long-distance diploma courses from American colleges, or turn to centres which use a widely adopted US curriculum known as Accelerated Christian Education.

Mrs Jan Boey, 60, the founder of private school Victory Life Christian School, said it currently has 100 students, up from 17 in 2002.

"Almost every day of the year, there are inquiries from parents. I hope to set up a waiting list soon," she said.

The Sunday Times understands that a group of homeschooling parents met National University of Singapore (NUS) officials last year to find out how homeschoolers can get into the university. They need to have earned a high school education over 12 years, an NUS spokesman said.

This year, 18-year-old Jeremiah Tan, who had been homeschooled since he was three, accepted a place at NUS. He said he has received many calls and e-mail from parents keen to find out about the homeschooling route and his success story.

"It was a challenge to get the universities to recognise my qualification," he admitted. "But the curriculum made me more focused and disciplined, and I developed skills in doing independent research."

There are parents like Madam Annie Pang who chose to switch from homeschooling and move her children to mainstream schools. After homeschooling her two daughters for about three years, the 41-year-old housewife placed them in Qifa Primary School at the Primary 2 and 4 levels in 2011.

"My husband and I realised we were not capable of preparing (our daughter) for the PSLE. I didn't know how to teach her some mathematical concepts, and we didn't have facilities like science labs.

"And we also weren't sure if she could get into a local university. Once in a while, I hear outstanding homeschoolers succeed, but compared with mainstream students, it's still harder to get recognised."

ateng@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 7, 2014.