In the end, I came back to where I had begun: sending my precious 6 year old off to be raised by strangers for the bulk of her waking time, sinking all her best energy, playfulness and imagination into a one-size-fits-most, fairly confining system, STILL didn't seem like the best formula for growing a healthy, happy, active, and imaginative child. Even if now it may grow bi-lingual ones.
But I liked the bi-lingual idea! I learned Mandarin Chinese on my mission in to Taiwan when I was 21, and I suddenly was envious of the idea that kids, but not MY kids, were going to get to be bilingual in their YOUTH! So I decided right then and there that our homeschool would just have to do Chinese too.
Now, I actually don't very often compare our "school" experience to anything done in school. I avoid drawing comparisons for a whole fat heap of reasons. But in this one tiny area - language study by immersion - I decided if we were going to homeschool, we'd one-up our approach. We were going to learn Chinese IN TAIWAN!
So that's what I've been up to for all these months. Now I'm home, I thought I'd let you know how it went: AWESOME!
Taking your family of four kids, ages 3-12, to a foreign country can be an intimidating experience. But the freedom to do it, the ability to live with that kind of adventure and commitment is actually a big part of WHY we homeschool. We believe experience trumps "learning about...." We, with our children, can KNOW, instead of just "knowing THAT...."
We went for 3 months and extended to 4. We went without employment imperative. We went with almost ZERO contact with anyone IN the country. We made friends and found friends as we went. We learned by experience, and trial and error.
In preparation to go, I did work on Chinese with my kids for about a year. Knowing that they were going to USE it, in a MAJOR way, provided some of their interest. We made the rest happen with bribes, routine, and short lessons that were as fun and creative as I could contrive to make them.
I poured my heart out to the Lord for ALL of it - that Chinese would come, that we would get to go, that we could find someone to stay in our home while we were away, and that we would have a miraculous, life-changing time while we were there. God answered each plea with miracle after miracle.
We lived life not only immersed in a different language, but in an entirely different culture. For all the language progress we made (or didn't make) these lessons in culture made the deepest, poignant impressions. At the end of 4 months, if I were to pie-graph our learning in this experience, language would be only the tiniest slice.
That being so, and bilingual children my goal, the adventure continues. While we were IN Taiwan, we interviewed tutors to teach the kids back in the states in exchange for free room and board in our home. So now we are back, our house guest gives the kids a half-hour Chinese lesson each day, tailored to each child, addressing their strengths, weaknesses, and interests in the language. And because we homeschool, without too much fuss, we can add this into their schedules already full with dance lessons, swimming lessons, acting class, piano lessons, makers club, American Girls club, performance rehearsals, etc, AND get to enjoy quiet evenings at home together around home-cooked meals to boot! Only now, some of the dinner conversations are in Chinese!
|Mass Rapid Transit - the road oft traveled|
So, I was tempted, for the sake of learning a language, to send my kids to school. Once again, it turned out that with a little creativity, homeschooling provided the learning experience I thought I wanted, and so much more delight and LIFE beyond it!
If this reads a bit glossy, or like I'm bragging, I want to set a few things strait. First, my kids might have better Chinese if they were in a Chinese immersion program. Second, I realize that not all families can pick up and move to another country. I used to think MY family couldn't. Miracles were referenced because that's what occurred. My point here is that I might have made a different choice. I might have sent my 3rd to a public school so she could be bilingual. I'm betting if that is the choice I made, she would BE bilingual now. And if I had done that, we would not have been able to spend 4 months in Taiwan. We would not have been able to meet our tutor there who is now teaching ALL the kids. And IF she were in school, she would NOT be in dance class, or swimming class, or doing many of our extras, because school would take up that time and energy. Even aiming for language fluency, we chose to take the road less traveled. And that is making all the difference.