When I asked my children what they felt was different about homeschooling in China, versus our experiences homeschooling “back home” in Canada, my nine-year-old daughter’s first response was, “It isn’t really all that different from homeschooling in Canada.” And in many ways, she’s right.
We study the same subjects, we have the same schedule, the same triumphs and trials as we would if we did the same thing somewhere else. And we should know. In the past six years, we’ve inhabited six different homeschooling spaces: our home in Toronto before our move to China, homes in two different cities in China, and two more homes in southern Ontario, Canada when we moved back for two years in between our years here. Our current home has the best homeschool space yet (we plan to stay put for a while, by the way):
But certainly, many aspects of our homeschool are different from the way it would be if we still lived in Canada. Here are a few of the differences we came up with:
1. Some things are harder:
Nature study is probably the biggest area we see as different. In a country with billions of people, it’s pretty challenging to find anywhere that man hasn’t touched or modified nature in some way. Even “hiking” here often means climbing stairs to reach the top of a mountain–Chinese women do it in high heels!
While we might take a blanket and study outside on a hot day in Canada, that really isn’t an option here. Not only would it be difficult to find a quiet place to do so–or even grass to sit on–we would instantly become an attraction, and people would stand around and unabashedly stare at us. We’ve been known to draw a crowd of up to 25 people in less than five minutes.
When nature can be found, it often can’t be identified. We spotted this interesting specimen one day on a nature walk. We thought at first these were beautiful flowers on this tree–and then they moved. Upon closer inspection, we discovered they were caterpillars. None of the pictures of caterpillars we found online quite matched these guys, although we have some idea what they might be. Like many things about learning and living here, we sometimes need to learn to live with the mystery.
2. Some things are easier:
A number of homeschool math curricula aimed at increasing a student’s understanding of place value teach children to number the “tens” column differently, so that 19 would be ten-nine or onety-nine. Understanding Chinese, however, helps our kids gain an immediate grasp of this concept, since numbers function exactly this way in Chinese. (Nineteen is 十九 shí jiǔ–ten-nine.)
We also found that when first studying Latin, it was no problem for our children to understand that there are two kinds of “you” in Latin–the singular and the plural. In Chinese, we say 你 nǐ (you singular) or nǐmen (you plural) 你们 so the concept is quite clear.
3. Some things are better:
Many language curricula are aimed at imitating the immersion experience, but we have it at our doorstep. This is one of the biggest reasons to love learning where we do. And our children see us as fellow learners, since we’re all in this language-learning thing together!
Not only are our children learning a second language, they also have a rich opportunity to understand another culture–and enjoy its sweet benefits.
Here are the mooncakes we made in October for the moon festival:
Because we live in Asia, some of our “field trips” have been a bit outside the box. Our kids have:
■ cuddled lion cubs
■ held an orangutan
■ ridden an elephant
■ fed sea lions
We wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything!
4. Some things are just different:
Shipping books to China can be expensive, and shipping can take some time. So we have had to use Explode the Code online instead of the book version, use Dreambox Learning, when we might have chosen Right Start Math instead, and often opt for an ebook version of a book if we can’t buy through Amazon China or Book Depository (which has free shipping to China). Sometimes I have to be creative. In a recent post, I highlighted the learning we did with the picture book, Brave Irene, from a YouTube video in which the story was being read aloud.
St. Augustine is reported to have said, “the world is a book, and those who do not travel have seen only a page.” We’re so blessed to have had the opportunity not only to travel, but to open a new world of discovery to our children as we all learn together!
Carey Jane Clark is an author of fiction, teacher of children and lifelong learner. She and her family have been living and learning in China for a total of three years. You can follow her family’s adventures, homeschooling in China, on her blog — enCouragement.