Mariel Uyquiengco and Sanne Unson remind me of those girls I would have loved to be friends with in college. They’re funny, friendly and passionate achievers, I can imagine study group sessions filled with lively conversations about anything and everything under the sun.
We all graduated from the same university, but the years kept us a few batches apart and unknown to one another until a chance encounter a few months ago. Since then, we have kept in touch, and last week, I caught up with these busy ladies—and discovered the amazing world of home-schooling and joyful learning.
Mariel and Sanne were batchmates at Ateneo de Manila University, both with a degree in Management of Information Systems. But it’s hard to believe that they didn’t grow up together, as I watch them finish each other’s sentence.
After college, both girls worked in the IT sector, until they realized they were not on the right path. Writing courses, master’s degrees, marriage and kids soon entered their lives, and with these, they found their calling in early childhood development.
Though both continue to work part-time in IT, and in the case of Mariel, as a US-licensed Kindermusik educator, they have found a way to balance not just work and family, but even their children’s education, as they home-school their children.
Both women graduated from conventional local schools and enjoyed it, yet both chose to home-school. Before I could ask, Mariel gave the simplest and truest answer: “You are your child’s first and best teacher.”
Knowing this, both decided to explore their options and try preschool home-schooling. Rather than send their children away for half the day, both mothers choose to “keep (their children) at home to learn and discover the world by our side.”
“You know, at age two, my daughter and I were doing things at home together,” says Mariel. “I’ve always been hands-on. We read, cook, bake, do arts and crafts, so I said, why not continue? I researched on home-schooling and discussed it with my husband. Fortunately, he gets it.”
Of course, home-schooling is not without challenges. “It’s difficult. Sometimes I ask myself, am I doing the right thing? Is it best for my child? Is it enough? But then I see her learning, truly learning! And it convinces me every time.”
Even I’m convinced, as Mariel shares anecdotes on her preschooler’s current reading habits. I prod her to tell me what level her five-year-old daughter’s reading skills are, and she reluctantly says that her daughter is impressively reading at a third grader’s level!
But it’s not just about academic results for these moms. Their first priority is to develop the right outlook and attitude toward school and learning.
“I want my child to have a positive early learning experience and to develop a love for learning more than academics at this stage,” Sanne explains. “In my case, my mom was my first teacher when I was three. She taught me before I went to big school for elementary. We are actually the home-school generation, and we turned out okay.”
Both women offer amazing insights into early child development, and while they agree on many points, they also have their own opinions and differences in approach.
Sanne has a more formal and conventional approach to educating her child, while Mariel has a more flexible and relaxed style.
Differences in teaching methods yield the same positive results—which just goes to show that there is no one way of doing things right.
Mariel and Sanne use Jane Claire Lambert’s “Five In A Row” home-school program. It uses a “non-curriculum” method, and instead relies on a “literature-based treasury of activities.”
As parent and child read any of the recommended books on the list for five days in a row, they focus on different aspects and details of the story every day, and use these as “jumping points for gentle learning.”
I wondered how they could keep their children so interested in a story that they could discuss it for five days in a row. I was amazed at the different methods employed by the two.
Beyond songs and dramatic reading voices, Sanne and Mariel go the extra mile by making it interactive. For instance, when Mariel was reading about a young girl who goes to town to pick up something in every destination with her mother, she created mini stations around the house where her daughter could pick up those same items.
Sanne does the same things, incorporating props and costumes in storytelling and creating arts and crafts projects with her daughter to complement the story they are reading.
Every week, they carefully prepare the contents of the week’s “learning basket,” which ranges from books, arts and crafts materials, costumes, CDs, and musical instruments, to toys, games and whatever else their little student might be inspired to add.
But do not be fooled by the “home” in “home-school,” as these little students probably have more field trips than your average student. These trips are coordinated to complement the week’s lessons.
After a few months of home-schooling, Mariel began a blog (www.thelearningbasket.com) to share these learning baskets and “inspire other parents to be active participants in their children’s learning, as well.”
The blog (though Mariel maintains she is not a blogger) is a gem of a website with generous pieces of advice, tips and suggestions on home-schooling and educational activities parents can get into with their children.
Soon, she began receiving inquiries about home-schooling and reading. Taking her cue from this, she and Sanne started giving parenting seminars to promote their advocacies.
Now, they are invited by companies to give seminars and workshops to employees on parenting and education. The two women are guided by the belief that parents are their child’s best teachers. They enjoin other parents to embrace their role as primary educators.
As more parents became aware of this advocacy, they began to receive more and more e-mails and messages on what kinds of books they were using, and how to get these. Not all the books in the learning baskets are available in local bookstores.
After some discussion, the two friends decided to open an online bookstore accessible through Mariel’s blog.
Here, they offer most of the recommended books of the “Five In A Row” program and an extensive choice of well-curated books for children of all ages.
Both women are book lovers and choose only books they themselves have read and can honestly recommend. They go for well-loved classics and those which regularly appear in respected book lists, veering away from commercial “character” books.
They prefer children’s literature with a different but educational “rhythm of language,” to the standard character books.
Eventually, Sanne will put her daughter in a conventional school, possibly in elementary. Mariel is taking things one year at a time, and plans to continue home-schooling for as long as she can.
Wherever life leads these two, I am sure they will tackle it together, as they always have. And they will face it with joy and passion, giving their children their very best.