TEACHER DAD

Homeschool­ing as an Al­ter­na­tive to Tra­di­tional School­ing

Oi Vietnam - - Front Page - In­ter­view by Michael Arnold Im­age by Ngoc Tran

THE FA­THER OF TWO BOYS,

Ian Kutschke’s decision to home­school in Ho Chi Minh City was made back home in Canada be­fore the fam­ily ar­rived. When Ian’s wife Lizzy found work here, an as­sess­ment of their cir­cum­stances made it clear to them that teach­ing the kids from home was the most sen­si­ble decision given their sit­u­a­tion. With Lizzy’s ex­plicit sup­port and as­sis­tance, Ian now takes full re­spon­si­bil­ity for en­sur­ing his kids keep up with their learn­ing, even though they’re not at­tend­ing a tra­di­tional school.

Was it dif­fi­cult to get started in homeschool­ing?

I had this idea that you had to reg­is­ter some­where and buy a cur­ricu­lum, and it had to be a re­ally or­ga­nized thing—and you do need to or­ga­nize—but it's ac­tu­ally quite sim­ple re­ally. For us, we use the Cana­dian cur­ricu­lum and the Aus­tralian cur­ricu­lum, and they both have web­sites where you can see what's ex­pected of the child and what they're taught at each grade level. You can use that as a guide to see what you should be in­tro­duc­ing to the chil­dren.

I re­al­ized that be­cause of the re­ally small teacher to pupil ra­tio, you don't need to take as long to get across a con­cept or an idea, so you're able to fin­ish an aca­demic year long be­fore other stu­dents do at school.

Did you need to buy a lot of teach­ing re­sources?

We ac­tu­ally had a lot of re­sources to be­gin with, be­cause we wanted in gen­eral to col­lect ed­u­ca­tional types of games— and we see what their in­ter­ests are, so we buy books ac­cord­ingly. When it comes to birth­days and Christ­mases and that sort of stuff, peo­ple ask what they like, and we get a lot of re­sources that way.

Do you need to con­nect with other homeschool­ing par­ents here?

There is a Face­book group here, Home School­ing Aus­tralia Dis­cus­sion Group, and on that you can meet up, go on play­dates and swap sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences. They have ex­cur­sions, field trips and the like, and if you re­ally get into it you can or­ga­nize with some­body to teach their chil­dren cer­tain sub­jects, and they can teach your chil­dren cer­tain sub­jects. I haven't gone that far as it is, I'm a teacher by trade and we live in this com­mu­nity where there are enough kids that the boys do get a so­cial as­pect out of it. They can play with these kids, so

we or­ga­nize to go on play­dates with the peo­ple liv­ing here.

Did you ever doubt that you could pull this off?

I didn't have any doubts, but I did re­al­ize that there were some chal­lenges that I wasn't ex­pect­ing—one of them is hav­ing pa­tience. I could see my­self los­ing my pa­tience at cer­tain times, and that didn't cre­ate a very help­ful en­vi­ron­ment. So I needed to look at dif­fer­ent ways of get­ting con­cepts across, and break­ing ac­tiv­i­ties up and chang­ing things, so we’re not spend­ing too much time on one par­tic­u­lar topic. Throw some phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties in there, and even giv­ing my­self some “me time.” That's an­other im­por­tant thing, mak­ing sure that I have enough time in the day to do the stuff that I want to do, and not feel that I'm al­ways bogged down with kids.

How do you en­sure that your teach­ing is ef­fec­tive?

I think the chal­lenge for any par­ent and any teacher, re­gard­less of the set­ting, tra­di­tional or home school­ing, is to take the ma­te­rial, the stuff that's in the book, and bring it alive, make it rel­e­vant. Make it mean­ing­ful for them in their minds. Giv­ing them some work­book and just turn­ing the page can be in­ef­fec­tual. The lessons that I’ve found where there's a lot of re­ten­tion and that they en­joyed a lot were built around themes that stim­u­lated the dif­fer­ent kinds of learn­ing— kines­thetic, au­dio and vis­ual.

Is it im­por­tant to follow a dis­ci­plined sched­ule?

The beauty of homeschool­ing is that you're re­ally flex­i­ble. You don't have a strict 30-minute class—maybe it's go­ing to take 40 min­utes, but so what? Maybe they're hav­ing a great time while they're do­ing it. Some­times that eats into the time I had planned for some­thing else, but again, so what? The im­por­tant thing is that they're get­ting a lot out of it.

Do you rely much on the com­puter or tablet as a teach­ing re­source?

The in­ter­net is just stacked, it's chock­full of re­sources for homeschool­ing and teach­ing re­sources—in fact, there's too much stuff. One of the big­gest chal­lenges is wad­ing through that, but once you do and get rid of the use­less stuff that doesn't ap­ply to you, you find your go-to re­sources.

I ac­tu­ally try to stay away from the com­puter stuff, to be hon­est. These guys, they barely know how to turn the com­puter on. My opin­ion is that it's not nec­es­sary right now. They will pick it up, kids are just like sponges—so they're not miss­ing out. I think it's ac­tu­ally detri­men­tal to spend too much time on the com­puter. They're not los­ing any­thing. They need to know how to read, they need to do num­bers. Any area like that where they have prob­lems, they're go­ing to be be­hind in class. But if they don't know how to do stuff on the com­puter, it's not im­por­tant.

How do you deal with plan­ning your lessons?

You have to lis­ten to the kids.

They pretty much dic­tate a lot of the cur­ricu­lum and the learn­ing. If you lis­ten to them, and take into ac­count what they're say­ing, they'll buy in much eas­ier and be far more mo­ti­vated to do some­thing than if you say “no, no, we're go­ing to do this” and it's all teacher­centered.

It can be time-con­sum­ing to pre­pare the lessons, but I think a cou­ple of hours a week are enough and you're set for the week.

Do you have high ex­pec­ta­tions of your kids?

I think I do have high ex­pec­ta­tions, but I also al­low them to fail and fall

“flat on their face” many times, be­cause learn­ing to get back up and have an­other go is a far bet­ter skill for them to learn in the long run than get­ting points (ex­trin­sic re­wards, praise or ac­cept­ing less than what they are ex­pected of ).

Do you need to worry about test­ing and grad­ing?

I don't like the whole American test­ing sys­tem, get­ting re­ally heavy on tests. I know it's part of the school en­vi­ron­ment, so grad­u­ally I will get that into their school­ing. But I don't teach the schools, I don't teach to the cur­ric­ula, I don't teach to the other schools' ex­pec­ta­tions, be­cause I teach to the kids. They kind of di­rect their own learn­ing. If you're ob­ser­vant, and see what the child is do­ing, and lis­ten to what they're telling you, that will di­rect your school­ing and teach­ing. If they're get­ting frus­trated with math, for ex­am­ple, maybe we'll come at it from a dif­fer­ent ap­proach. You start to re­al­ize their strengths and work with that as well.

Would you say homeschool­ing is bet­ter than tra­di­tional school­ing?

The rea­son we're homeschool­ing is mainly to do with our cir­cum­stances. Be­ing a teacher, I know what teach­ers do, and there are some fab­u­lous schools with won­der­ful teach­ers out there who should be com­pen­sated and rightly so, but par­ents still can't nec­es­sar­ily jus­tify the costs. If you have the money to send your child to school, that's cool—but if you take that same money and in­vest it prop­erly and stay home to teach your child, it could be the dif­fer­ence be­tween hav­ing a few hun­dred thou­sand and a cou­ple of mil­lion in your bank ac­count for them later on.

There are some great schools here. I'm not go­ing to say that homeschool­ing is bet­ter, or tra­di­tional school­ing is bet­ter, that's ir­rel­e­vant and it de­pends on the cir­cum­stances you're in. I would send my kids to an in­ter­na­tional school for sure, depend­ing on what suited us. You'd look at the en­vi­ron­ment, the class sizes, and ob­vi­ously fees, the gen­eral vibe of the place, prox­im­ity, fa­cil­i­ties per­haps.

Do you think it’s pos­si­ble for a child to thrive even if their school­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is un­usual or even sub­stan­dard?

Speak­ing as a for­mer man­ager and from what I’ve seen and learned over the years, if a child is in a sub­stan­dard school, there is still room for growth. Yes, maybe the par­ent puts in more time at home with their child's school work or maybe not. Ei­ther way, the child is still learn­ing some­thing about them­selves and about life. I think the key in this sit­u­a­tion is for the par­ent to have those con­ver­sa­tions with their chil­dren and make sure they are guided to­wards pos­i­tive self-es­teem, self-eval­u­a­tion and iden­tify needs, aca­demic or oth­er­wise.

Do you ever worry your kids are fall­ing be­hind oth­ers?

One of the traps that par­ents fall into is com­par­ing their kids with oth­ers, wor­ry­ing if their kid is fall­ing be­hind— al­though that is a le­git­i­mate fear. I think everybody com­pares, it's nor­mal, but you don't want to do it to the point where you're only do­ing things be­cause your mo­ti­va­tion is your sta­tus, the sta­tus of your child.

Do you think you man­age to cover the teach­ing fun­da­men­tals in a homeschool­ing en­vi­ron­ment?

Re­ally—and this is a bold thing to say—if you read to your child, you have a gar­den, and a ball, that's all you need. With those three things there, you can start cre­at­ing all kinds of les­son plans. With books, ob­vi­ously there's that bond you cre­ate with your child, but also you in­tro­duce them to all kinds of new vo­cab­u­lary, and you stim­u­late their imag­i­na­tion—whether it's fic­tion or non­fic­tion, it's things about the world, the whole uni­verse around them. Ques­tions arise from those read­ings, and that’s when you can say, well, let's ex­plore this a lit­tle bit more. Voila, you have your di­rec­tion to go start mak­ing lessons. The gar­den, that's a life skill, peo­ple need to know how to grow their own food— and then there's all that con­nect­ing with na­ture and the sci­ence be­hind it, ob­serv­ing, writ­ing in jour­nals, mak­ing pic­tures and then seeing the pro­gres­sion of how things grow, what hap­pens if you don't do that, what hap­pens if you add this, what are the con­se­quences. And ev­ery kid should know how to throw and kick a ball.

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