We send our eldest daughter Heidi (6) to the local Japanese Primary School just a few hundred metres down the road. She is in First Grade this year, and seems to be adjusting well and mostly enjoying school life. Pippa, our second daughter (recently turned 5) attends a local Japanese kindergarten. She catches the Kindergarten Bus each day from the front of our house. Their Japanese language is good, and Heidi is now able to read and write some Japanese. There is no International School in this area, and even if there was, we would not necessarily send the girls to it anyway. And so, their English education falls onto our shoulders. Of course, we speak mostly English at home, so we don`t worry so much about the kids learning to communicate in English. Reading and writing though, are a different story. The bottom line is, if we want our kids to be able to read and write in English, we need to teach them.
To be honest I used to feel quite overwhelmed by the responsibility that brings. But I guess as time has gone on, I`ve kind of gotten used to the idea.
How Did We Get Started?
We began English homeschooling with Heidi around the time that she turned 5. It coincided nicely with her beginning 5 year old Kindergarten while we were still in Sapporo, and so we thought we would begin a new routine including homeschooling alongside the new Kindergarten year. That was about 18 months ago. Inadvertently, Pippa, who has very recently turned 5, has been joining in with the homeschooling since that time, although we have been less deliberate about her learning until more recently.
Before we began homeschooling I thought that perhaps we would simply find some kind of curriculum, perhaps from Distance Education Victoria, or another Australian based homeschooling group. I planned to sign up and simply get started. Much to my frustration and disappointment, it was just not that simple. The Distance Ed option didn`t work out, due to timing of enrollment and being unable to only use their English Literacy resources. And quite simply, there was no obvious option for us as Australians based in Japan.
And so my search began. After asking numerous friends in similar situations around the world, and from doing some online research, we began with ABC Reading Eggs, an online program which is fairly kid friendly, fun and interactive.
ABC Reading Eggs
We used it primarily to teach Heidi (and Pippa) the basics of reading the alphabet, recognising basic phonic based sounds, all the while encouraging them to love learning by making those activities fun. In the beginning we used that almost every day, say for about 30 minutes, and that was mostly it. And for those beginning months, that was fairly helpful and comprehensive. But after a while, we realised we needed to at least focus some of our time on writing, and also to focus more of our time on reading.
Oxford Tree Leveled Readers
So then homeschooling evolved into random writing activities, plus ABC Reading Eggs, and then we also began using Oxford Tree Songbirds Leveled Readers, by Julia Donaldson and various illustrators. We continue to use these books, and in terms of phonics based resources, these are the best I have seen. They are fun for kids, with engaging stories that go beyond `The cat sat on the mat`. We also have used Jolly Phonics, mostly via You Tube, which was particularly helpful for learning blended sounds and those kinds of things. The kids really enjoyed the songs that go along with the phonics and can still sing them now, although we don`t do much intentionally with it anymore.
Fitting Things In With School
When Heidi began school from April this year though, we had to rethink our strategy. She leaves the house at 7:30am, gets home mostly around 3pm and has about 30 minutes of homework for school each day. So the question then became, `How do we fit homeschooling in, without totally stressing Heidi out with how much she needs to do in the day?` After taking a little while to work things out, for the last 6 months we try our best to do homeschooling from 7:00-7:30am, after Heidi is ready to leave, up until she needs to. Of course, this doesn`t happen 100% of the time, but mostly it does.
And 30 minutes still feels like not really enough time if I`m being honest, but it also is just the most we can manage.
What We Do Now
We now focus simply on reading and writing. As long as Heidi reads something to me, or writes about something, then that is a good day. We have also very recently introduced some spelling words – so that`s about 10 minutes out of our time, but it helps with handwriting anyway, and just needs to happen.
Honestly, 30 minutes does not feel like enough time. But I think lately, as we have seen some leaps and bounds in Heidi`s reading, it definitely does seem to be the case of `slow and steady wins the race`. A little bit every day is better than large chunks occasionally I guess.
Pippa also continues with her own version of Homeschooling. Because she doesn`t leave home until after 9am, we have a lot more flexibility in time and what we do – although mostly it`s still the same things. Reading, writing and spelling.
Is Every Day an Amazing Learning Experience?
Of course, what I haven`t mentioned is how some days go really well, and everyone has great attitudes, and other days it is a stress, full of grumpiness and angry exchanges (myself included)! Some days I`m amazed at what they can do, and others I tear my hair out thinking, `Do I have to say this again?! Leave spaces between the words!` or something else along those lines.
I still feel daunted by the task ahead at times, but mostly I`m thankful for the growth that we`ve seen, and the encouragement and joy that comes as you see your kids learning new skills. I guess we`ll just have to wait and see when we come back to Australia whether we`ve been successful or not in our Homeschooling endeavours!