Listen in 2018

There must be a reason why talking and listening are difficult to engage in simultaneously. If it were easy, no one will accuse anyone of talking endlessly but not listening enough. No teacher will ever need to reprimand a student to stop talking to his seatmate, to pay attention, and to listen. And spouses... well, you know what I mean. 

Sometime in my youth, I read that people were created with two ears and one mouth so that they can listen twice as much as they talk. Or so that they can limit talking to half the time and the effort they use to listen. Have you heard that one about saying nothing if you have nothing to say?

I admire quiet and pensive people who talk only when they have to. When they do, we actually stop to listen because they always make sense. I suspect that they always make sense because their default position in communication is listening, and listening makes us think, and thinking makes us circumspect, judicious, and eventually, hopefully, wise. 

My word for 2018 thus, is LISTEN. 

What's yours?

Be still and know that I am God. 
~ Psalm 46:10



Image courtesy of suwatpo
at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maybe tomorrow will find him crying, frustrated that he is unable to recognize his surroundings and the people around him. Maybe tomorrow he will be immobilized by unreal fears, such as rodents, robbers, and murderers.

But today, the sun is out and he walks briskly about what used to be the farm he took pride in. He surveys what was mercifully left after that typhoon three years ago - the coffee trees he himself planted more than three decades ago, the pepper vines in between, and an assortment of fruit trees. There is a recently acquired pair of cows growing healthily and the newly planted dragon fruit vines.

Today, he looks around with a pleased look on his face, surely thinking happy thoughts even if he does not speak them. Today, he asks me about my children and their plans for college, smiling and nodding as I update him.

Today, he looks at me and remembers my name.


Eldest Daughter

This piece first appeared in my personal Facebook page as my way of sharing our joy over Eldest Daughter's college graduation with family and close friends. Today, I share her story with you.

Through no choice of her own, she was born when her father was a struggling graduate student, and her mom knew next to nothing about motherese. As if that was not enough, she learned quickly that she could not barter her parents for the Easter Bunny or Winnie the Pooh. She quickly got over it, and mostly parenting herself, grew up to be the independent, brave, sensitive, and caring person that she is today.

The week before her college graduation, she got herself a dream job offer. A few days before graduation day, she dry cleaned her graduation dress all by herself and sewed the pleats of her sablay*  for it to drape nicely across the front. On the big day, we trooped to the university to see her march with her classmates. Oh, what pure joy! Surely, the graduates' parents deserved to be congratulated along with their children, but her father and I - we were ambivalent about that. She did it all by herself. It was her day and hers alone. Our parental pride is boundless, but more so is our gratitude for her graciousness to overlook our shortcomings, obligingly and generously rolling with the punches that firstborns seem to get by default, and just keep plugging away.

And there she was in her sablay - a picture of consistency, fortified by the virtues she sustained in a university that people wrongly judge to be pagan, of efficiency, having learned to conduct her affairs in gratitude to the love of her God, and of unbiasedness in her views of the world, firmly believing in the good of each person.

Today, she hoists her sail and looks to the horizon. With her quiet confidence, I know that she will achieve significance.

* The sablay is the academic attire used in graduations and other formal academic ceremonies in some Philippine universities. It is worn in lieu of the toga and cap. It has indigenous beginnings, and the embellishments on the fabric are rich in meaning. You can read about it here


October Mappings

In adoration

October being a Marian month, I echo the Blessed Mother's Magnificat, the prayer that we heard from her when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. We read the Magnificat in Luke's Gospel (1:46-55):

My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth, all generations will call me blessed;
for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy,
as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his posterity forever.

I lifted the Magnificat from the Ignatian Bible.

Our Catholic Prayers gives a very good and easy to read explanation of the Magnificat here.
To those of you who are into Latin prayers, EWTN gives you the Latin version here.

The Annunciation in stained glass,
Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Penafrancia
Naga City, Camarines Sur, the Philippines

In contrition

I consider my favorite virtue of the Blessed Mother - humility. 

As always, we can find find guidance in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which quotes Saint Augustine's succinct take on humility (CCC 2559): "Man is a beggar before God."

I guess that because virtues are practiced by men with feet of clay, they acquire certain nuances. Let us say that I am in a party listening to a guest brag about how his office cannot do without him. Objectively, I know that he is actually bragging about peanuts, so I decide to keep quiet. Is that humility? Hmm.

Here are other sections in the CCC where you can read about humility:
CCC 2631 - When we say a prayer of petition, we have to ask for forgiveness first.
CCC 2713 - Humility and poverty are at the core of contemplative prayer.
CCC  2546 - The Beatitudes remind us of humility.

The altar of the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Penafrancia

In thanksgiving

I am assigning myself the task of keeping a daily gratitude list for the month of October. If I succeed at it, maybe later I might be brave enough for gratitude journal. Theresa Ceniccola over at CatholicMom, gives practical advice on keeping a gratitude journal

Family is always a reason to be grateful. This is a throwback.
Eldest Daughter is now a young professional. Second Daughter and Only Son are in college.
Youngest Daughter was born after this picture was taken.

In supplication

I prayerfully consider the Holy Father's October prayer intention for the workers and the unemployed: "that all workers may receive respect and protection of their rights, and that the unemployed may receive the opportunity to contribute to the common good." 

You can read the relevant reflection for the prayer intention here

As we give God our wish lists, it is good to consider how others are faring.

Around the house

The closet organization saga goes on, and I hope it reaches a conclusion this month. I am overwhelmed, so that is all I am going to say. 

This part of the house is faring better than the closets.

Around the kitchen

Because Saint Francis of Assisi, my patron saint, was Italian, I will try to put together a decent Italian pasta dish around the time of October 4. I say "around the time of" because tomorrow is already October 4...

I also have a devotion to Saint Teresa of Avila because the school where I spent my elementary grades bore her name. Paella on the 15th?

Thus far, I have been making some progress with quick but healthy breakfast recipes. I am keen on sustaining that progress especially because Second Daughter leaves for school very early in the morning to beat traffic.

Rushed meal preps tend to overlook table settings, and table settings are sometimes half the story.
Two Christmases ago, we enjoyed our family holiday meals here.

Primary educator, always

October is Museum and Galleries Month in the Philippines, so Youngest Daughter (the only remaining student in our homeschool) and I are off to the local museums. In the oh-so-hot and oh-so-dry month of April, we visited the National Museum, but had lost steam by the time we reached the history galleries. So, I would like to give those a second go. Then, too, I have feeling that most of my friends have been to the Pinto Art Museum, and I have no excuse not to go, so I am changing that statistic this month. With Pinto, I will insist that the whole family goes. This should be easy because there are good restaurants in the area. Surely, gastronomic incentives and cultural endeavors are compatible.  

A street sign in Taal, Batangas, the Philippines.
Walking around town was like going to a museum.

Tackling the book hoard

Hands up if you have a hoard of books that you started reading but did not finish for one reason or another. C'mon! It can't be just me... Okay, so I don't want the year to end with those books stringed together around my neck. Too heavy to carry onto the New Year. Let's see what happens. 

From where I sit.

That's it. If you have reached this far, thank you, dear reader! 

I hope to write posts on how I make (or fail to make) progress on these points. If you would like to know why and how I do these monthly mappings, please do read this. Then, if you would like to do your own monthly mapping, please do share the link in the comments below!

But if you just make up your mind to have a peaceful and happy October, that's more than good enough!

~ ~ ~


The Tasks of a Homeschooling Parent, Part 2 of 2

Part 1 discussed the top requirement in homeschooling, curriculum planning, instructional materials sourcing and development, and lesson planning. 

Part 2 below covers instruction proper, assessment, recordkeeping, and the decision to homeschool. 

Please read on!

Instruction proper. The keyword is discussion. Even if a child is an independent learner, you will have to make the effort to discuss her lessons with her. Likewise, she should not feel that she does not need your help anymore. When lessons are discussed, details are examines, nuances are discovered, and the big picture emerges. Child and parent get to ask questions, which are quickly resolved. Misimpressions are corrected. Real learning thus takes place. Discussions are also excellent means of improving your child's oral communication skills.

Parent-child dynamics are important here, especially for older children. For example, it is so much easier to discuss lessons if you do not otherwise have to fight over "stuff" such as hairstyles and clothes. On the other hand, a decidedly pleasant discussion could be a springboard for resolution in the "conflict areas" between parent and teenaged child. Dynamics with the younger ones are so much simpler; a little prodding here and there goes a long way. And as yet, they haven't learned how to negotiate over schedules and requirements!

The daily bottom lines.

Assessment. In other words, tests. Well, mostly. Boxed curricula usually come with tests that parents administer. Occasionally, I feel the need to add test items of my own. It is also good practice to give weekly or unit/chapter quizzes. Parents are usually tasked grade the quarterly tests. Some arrangements require that completed requirements be submitted for checking by the curriculum provider. Grading systems may be prescribed or parent-determined. For me, what is most important is that the student is given timely and sufficient feedback so he can reinforce or re-learn, as the need dictates. 

Recordkeeping. Portfolio, activity logbooks, and report cards. Honestly? This is the task that I least like. Yup. Homeschool recordkeeping requires a good sense of organization and discipline. It takes one kind of effort to set up a system and yet another to maintain that system. It's supposed to get easier, though, so take courage. Report cards are essential and very, very important in high school because they are required in most college applications. For the early grades, I prefer a list of competencies that I can tick off as the child learns. It has much more practical benefits than a report card with numbers and/or letters that have little practical meaning. 

If you clean up for a few minutes at the end of each homeschooling day,
you will have a pleasant start the next day, and you don't ever have to be in an overwhelmingly cluttered situation.
Sometimes, you can miss, though :-(.

Why not?! Are you capable of doing all these sans the education or training to be a teacher? I firmly believe that you don't have to be an education graduate to be able to teach your own children. I have our family's experience with institutional schools as empirical evidence that degrees and a teaching license do not necessarily a teacher make. As with any decision involving the several aspects of homeschooling, this is a question that is reckoned with at the personal and family levels. I would say that some of the factors that might be considered are your discernment of how you are to carry on your role as primary educator of your children, your assessment of your own capabilities, and your inclination to acquire the discipline and disposition for study and teaching. 

I did not study education in college and I have no teacher training. I did well in school, but I was not exceptional. I enjoyed the discipline and rhythm of studying. I found it burdensome at times, but I could prod me on and I found things to amuse me along the way. I believe that we never really stop learning, and I am sure that there is something new to learn everyday. We don't even have to be formally registered in a school to learn. And what we learn, we can teach. 

I believe that because God had intended for parents to be the primary educators of their children, He also endowed them with a "teaching instinct". This instinct and parental love can stand up to any paper credential in teaching. This is my firm belief. 

While details and nuances of lesson content are always important, the big picture should never be lost. 

Consider, too, that you do not have to start from scratch. For me, boxed curricula are Heaven-sent. Then, too, help is available. You do not have to homeschool by your lonesome. You and your husband can team-teach. You can rely on your older children to supervise the younger ones in say, penmanship practice and math drills. You can also tap music teachers and sports coaches for those parts of the curriculum. Some curriculum providers have academic advisers to answer the questions of homeschooling parents. If you know a college upperclassman or a graduate student, you can hire them to grade essays or lab reports. Books and resources are available for free from the Internet. Just like any technological wonder, if you know how to use it, the Internet will serve you well. 

And hey, who said that you have to have all the teaching content at your fingertips? With just a little commitment and time management, you can study a topic just a few days before your child does. Or you can study together. One of the rewards of homeschooling is being able to learn together with your children. 

Finally, with or without paper credentials, it pays to lean on a Mentor. Maybe I am somewhat more relaxed now as a homeschooling mom. I am also more confident of my children's abilities. But I am definitely more trusting of Divine guidance. This the larger context boosts my resilience and sustainability factors. Yes, there have been burnouts, but when they came, so did the second winds. 

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us. 

Well, thank you for reading this far! May you have a fruitful and meaningful experience in homeschooling!


The Tasks of a Homeschooling Parent, Part 1 of 2

"Can I homeschool my children? I don't have the education or training to be a teacher." This is my long, but hopefully substantial, answer to that short but anxious question. I am dividing the article into two (still long) posts. Please do read to the very end!

Part 1 covers the top requirement in homeschooling, curriculum planning, instructional materials sourcing and development, and lesson planning. 

Part 2 covers instruction proper, assessment, record keeping, and making the decision to homeschool.  

This is a quote from Saint Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church.
It is also why you might decide to homeschool.

The top requirement. In our long years of institutional school hopping, I learned that the paper credentials of a teacher are merely secondary to her character, disposition, and motives. In my book, the one defining trait of a teacher is malasakit. It is difficult to think of an exact English equivalent. It is a Filipino word that collectively means concern, empathy, compassion, and readiness to help. The lack of it poses a limiting factor. No matter how intelligent a teacher is and no matter how efficiently she manages her classroom, without malasakit, that classroom is not any different from an assembly line in a factory. A true teacher is tireless and refrains from constantly putting the question, "What's in it for me?" in the forefront no matter how valid, or even legal, that question is.

'You know what they say about looking for something everywhere when it is just right where you are? Although we did find desired traits in a number of teachers - may God truly and richly bless them - there is one place where concern, empathy, compassion, and readiness to help will naturally and always abound. It is the home. That makes parents run-away winners in the first and most important requirement for being a teacher.

"As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them
which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental."  ~ Catechism of the Catholic Church 2229

The "technical" part of the job. Now certainly, there is the so-called technical part of the job. After some years of homeschooling, I learned to deliberately partition this into the following:

~ Curriculum planning
~ Instructional materials sourcing and development
~ Lesson planning
~ Instruction proper
~ Assessment
~ Recordkeeping

Curriculum planning. In form, the curriculum is a list of the school's learning goals, targeted competencies, and scope and sequence of topics for each subject. Planning a curriculum is not as formidable as it sounds. You don't even have to actually do it if you choose to use a boxed curriculum. My criteria for choosing curricula include consistency with Catholic teaching, compliance with academic standards, a good balance of concept and application, and flexibility for adapting to individual students' traits and needs.

If you choose to craft your own curriculum, useful books and online resources abound. You may also wish to use the education department's curricula as basic material and come up with an enriched version. On our first year of homeschooling, I found it convenient to acquire boxed curricula and use them as they are, making only minimal changes. This can assure beginning homeschoolers that their time and effort are largely devoted to instruction proper, the core task of any teacher.

As homeschoolers, you will find out that books have a life of their own.
You start with a small pile and before you know it, books have overtaken every storage area in your house. 

Instructional materials sourcing and development. This is my fancy term for the annual task of choosing books and other instructional materials that will be used for a grade level. Boxed curricula necessarily come with book lists. You can also come up with your own book list. The main instructional material is always the textbook. If you and your child can handle only one book for the year in a particular subject, what would it be? The answer to this question is the title of your textbook. Many textbooks come in series, and if a series captures your heart, you become best friends for many years. My personal example for English grammar is the Voyages in English series by the Loyola University Press.

Supplemental and/or enrichment resources support the textbook by providing additional information, offering alternative ways of teaching a topic, or giving additional exercises. In our homeschool, they are optional -- nice-to-haves, if you will. I do not feel less of a parent nor fear that my child will be less of a scholar if we do not have them.

Finally, instructional materials could be in print, online, video, audio, or manipulative form. They could also be purchased or homemade. Examples of homemade materials are hadwritten math worksheets and learning guides for a novel.

I organize the textbooks and learning materials in what I called the Annual Resource Table. You can read about it here.

The Annual Resource Table has a basic format that can be modified to suit needs and preferences.

Lesson planning. A lesson plan is a daily action plan. What will you teach today? How will you teach it? What output is expected from your child? This is not necessarily the tediously prepared lesson plan that teachers prepare for inspection by the superintendent. The boxed curricula that my children used (and one of them still uses) came with daily/weekly plans. These relieve me of the task of appropriating a year's lessons across the quarters, weeks, and days.

However, based on individual learning styles and needs, you still have to figure out how to present a topic to a child and what to concentrate on in your discussions. You will find out that sometimes, you do not even have to go to town introducing a lesson because your child/children can independently work on it. Many children can actually learn by themselves with just a small amount of supervision. I review the prescribed expected outputs and decide whether these are reasonable, and they usually are. Each child gets a written list of readings, activities, and expected outputs for each of his subjects for the day, week, or quarter. Thus, he knows what he should deliver on and can pace himself accordingly.

I also prepare a schedule for each child, but divide the day into morning, afternoon, and evening, instead of exact time periods. The flexibility will hopefully give them some exercise in time management.

There is an astoundingly huge number of choices of curricula, books, resources, and methods in homeschooling.
Remember to stick to what matters.

This is the end of Part 1 Thank you for reading this far. I hope it has been of help. I will be posting Part 2 in a few days. It will cover instruction proper, assessment, record keeping, and making the decision to homeschool. I hope you will read that, too!


The Socialization Question in Homeschooling

The following is my take on the run-away most overrated or underrated (depending on your own take) question on homeschooling. I wrote it nine (!) years ago when we were homeschooling all four children, and posted it in my now-deleted blog. I have revised certain parts, but on the whole, my stand remains.  And it is this: socialization is a non-issue. The article frequently draws context from the Philippine culture and my own experience.  

Socialization, defined. I define socialization as the process of dealing with and trying to get along with other people. The composition of "other people" includes not just one's peers. It includes older and younger people. It also includes people who are not necessarily in the same undertaking, e.g., being a student, that one is in.

Image courtesy of Vlado
at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Family dynamics. Socialization, not surprisingly like charity, begins at home. Homeschoolers socialize with their siblings; some siblings may be close to their age, while some may be older or younger by quite a number of years. My eldest and youngest kids were born ten years apart. The two middle children have an age difference of less than two years. Necessarily, homeschoolers also socialize with grownups because at least one grownup is in personal contact with them the whole time. In the Philippine culture, "grownups" refer to parents, and depending on circumstances, extended family and household help. Everyone living under one roof comprise the family. In my own family now, we do not employ household help, but in my my family of birth, we called our nanny "Inay", the Tagalog word for mother, and the other helpers, "Ate" or "Manang", which mean "elder sister". We call our biological mom, "Ma". This is not uncommon in Filipino families. Properly lived out, the arrangement reinforces - rather than dilute - the children's affection or respect for their parents.

Because homeschooled children have their siblings and at least one parent for company most of the time, the quality of family socialization is potentially better. They eat most or all meals together - leisurely, for schedules are not rigid, and there is time for old-fashioned conversation. They do house chores together and fight over them, negotiate, and may or may not arrive at a consensus. They study together, hush up those who read aloud too often, and reprimand those who use up too much paper and lose pencils all the time. They cheer on the little one who is just beginning to read, and dissuade a discouraged sibling from giving up a sport.

The content of socialization is not limited to academics, teachers and classmates, sports, and other usual concerns of the young. Children listen to their parents talk about rising prices, current events, and issues in the workplace. Gradually, they earn the privilege of joining in "usapang matanda" or grownup talk because they know enough and/or they are confident enough. (I feel some sense of victory when they manifest both.) Of course, children attending regular schools experience this, too, in their respective families. However, because they may be exposed to contradictions outside the home at an age when they are not yet discerning, confusion is likely to set in.

Image courtesy of sattva
at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Even counting the people they meet in homeschooling groups and sports and music classes outside the home, homeschooled children do socialize with fewer people. However, I have yet to hear of a "socialization quota" or of a "critical mass" required to raise a well-adjusted child. What I know is that respectfulness, supportiveness, and kindness are traits that are appreciated anywhere one goes.

Awareness of community. Awareness of community is easily inculcated in homeschooled children. In our neighborhood, garbage is collected on Monday and Thursday mornings when just about those left in the neighborhood  are stay-at-home moms, household help, children who are too young to go to school, and my kids (who occasionally get asked if they go to school at all). My children witness firsthand how difficult and risky the job of a garbage collector can be. They know that those who do not cooperate with the waste segregation policy make the situation worse.  They become conscious of the garbage that we generate, and dutifully sort them. When the "diario-bote" (literally, "newspaper-bottle", but refers to recyclable junk) guy was not seen for some time, they worried that he might be sick or might have died, being advanced in years.

Image courtesy of Vlado
at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Which brings me to the goal of socialization, for surely, socialization should not be without an end. Any form of socialization should aim to undertake an activity that is beneficial for all members of society, such as education, employment. and governance. How do you train a child to play a meaningful part in the dynamics of these activities when he is all grown up? I am not a psychologist, and as a parent, I trust my instinct. So if there is only one thing that I can teach my children about getting along with other people, it is this -- you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes. In their situation. In their person. It is called empathy.

Peer influence. Now, when one one talks about socialization in the context of schooling, one also has to cover peer influence. So let's do that. (Finally.)

One of the selling points of homeschooling to Husband and me is that it gives us a good degree of control over the peer influence that our children receive. C-o-n-t-r-o-l? Yes, because our children are minors and we are responsible parents. Why do we worry about peer influence? Because it come from people, who like our children, are still in their formative years. They are in a self-centered and unstable phase in their lives. They need a definite road map and a reliable compass.

For example, when my children have questions about life, I want to be the first person that they will go to. It gives me the creeps to consider that they might learn these things - unsolicited - from a grossly misinformed yet over-confident youth. Guess who has to do the undoing.

Image courtesy of Vlado
at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Of course, peer influence could also be positive. My high school barkada (group of friends, clique, maybe?) was a diligent lot. We took studying seriously, and we all did rather well academically. My college buddy was the serious type, but we spent many happy Thursday afternoons throwing all cares aside in the name of duckpin bowling. I've kept most of these friendships through the years, and I am both proud and thankful.

Will our children be deprived of similar friendships because they are homeschooled? No. No. No. One day, when they are ready and self-assured, they will go to college or find a job. Then out of prudence rather than luck or whim, they will find friends that they can further mature and trek life with. In the meantime, there are Tatay (Father), Nanay (Mother), siblings, cousins, grandparents, uncles, aunts, coaches, tutors, helpers, some of the neighbors' kids, and other kids that they can meet in homeschooling groups and sports and music classes. We make rather good company.