Wednesday, 17 February 2016

A Very Special Monkey

For those who are not familiar with the Chinese zodiac signs, I wrote about it in this post.  This year being the Year of the Monkey, I decided to introduce Tiger to one of the Chinese classics, Journey to the West ( 《西游记》)

As with many Chinese children, Tiger's first introduction to this Chinese classic is through animation:

After seeing him become enamoured with the cartoon above, I told Tiger that the cartoon shows only a very selection of the monkey's journey, and that it is part of a very long Chinese novel.  He immedidately asked me get him the story.  I got him the abridged, single-book version of the classic to see how he got on with the story.  At 528 pages, the abridged version gives a good overview of the actual novel but when I asked Tiger whether he read about the characters' encounters with certain demons, Tiger realised that there are many juicy and interesting adventures that are being left out, so he asked me to get him the unabridged, four-volume version:
  1. Volume 1 - 576 pages
  2. Volume 2 - 424 pages
  3. Volume 3 - 464 pages
  4. Volume 4 - 440 pages
Seeing Tiger read this Chinese classic novel in English translation (I read the original Chinese version) brings back memory of my own experience of reading Pride and Prejudice in Chinese translation at about 12 years old.   Obviously it is always preferable to read a story in its original language as certain linguist nuances and subtleties are often lost in in the translation process, but where one's language skills are not up to the required standard to allow one to read the original text, then finding a good translated version is the next best thing to do.

When Tiger has read the four books through twice (it took him about a week), I showed him a TV series based on the book.  While this classic has been adapted into movies and other performances many times over the years (the latest one being a new movie based on one of the major adventures from the book):

the 1986 TV version is the one that I think stays closest to the original novel, and the actor who played the monkey is acknowledged as unsurpassed in his interpretation of the character:

Journey to the West is the most popular, accessible of the four major Chinese classics.  Even those who have not read the book would know about a number of the fantastical adventures of the main characters in the story.  However, although the story is written in the form of a historical fantasy/myth, the story has a much deeper, spiritual meaning to it, in a very similar way that The Lord of the Rings is so much more than a fantasy story. 

The following video is rather appropriate as a new year wish from me to you: may your year be full of wonderful adventures!  I know mine will be!

(I know those are apes in the video but they belong to the same primate family as monkeys.  Besides, they make me laugh, so that'll do for Chinese New Year.  I'm sure Sun Wukong would approve!)

*Disclosure: some links are affiliate links, which means I earn a commission if you click through and buy something.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Collage Friday
  2. Multicultural Kid Blogs
  3. Hip Homeschool Hop 2/16/16 - 2/20/16
  4. Finishing Stron #77
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one that started with an amazing Valentine gift

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Year of the Monkey

The Year of the Monkey started last Monday.  The celebration usually lasts 15 days so we have two weeks to mark this significant Chinese festival.

As with last year, Tiger and I found an Chinese New Year-related activity to do in London.  This time, the National Gallery had a short workshop on decorating the Peking Opera mask, so we went along and did that.

Although the workshop emphasised creativity, which Tiger exercised plenty of, his mask doesn't look particularly Chinese in colour or design, so I asked him to read the Origins of Chinese Art and Craft as well as Lianpu in order to look into the significance of the design and colours of the various traditional Peking opera masks to understand that they are not chosen randomly.  We also found the following clip useful to give us a better understanding of this art form:

From the National Gallery, we walked to Chinatown to buy a few special items in preparation for the Chinese New Year as well as to eat a hearty meal.  It is interesting to see that we have chosen exactly the same food as last year.

Once we got home, we started decorating the house by putting up various decorative items around the house, much like what people would do to decorate their homes for Christmas.

Many of the Chinese decorations have symbolic meanings that usually mean well-wishes and the ushering in of good fortune and prosperity for the family.  Unlike a child who grows up in the East who will understand the symbolism behind the various Chinese decorations through sheer exposure to the culture in his environment, Tiger does not have such luxury so he has to find out about the symbolic meaning of the various decorations through reading books.

This year's New Year's Eve dinner was quite special in that I bought the 'Yu Sheng' (鱼生) from Chinatown.

This dish is like a raw salmon salad that is only eaten during the Chinese New Year period, and is a tradition of Chinese living in Southeast Asia.  It is a dish to be eaten with family and friends as a way to welcome prosperity for everyone in the new year:

*Disclosure: some links are affiliate links, which means I earn a commission if you click through and buy something.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Finishing Strong #76
  2. Collage Friday
  3. Multicultural Kid Blogs
  4. Hip Homeschool Hop 2/16/16 - 2/20/16
  5. Weekly Wrap-Up: The one that started with an amazing Valentine gift
  6. Practical Mondays Link Up Week #2

Monday, 1 February 2016

Begin at the Beginning

One of the things tha I try to do in our homeschool is to go through history in a chronological order.  In the elementary grades (Cycle 1, according to some factions of the Classical education model), we started from the ancient world.  Now that we are in the middle grades (Cycle 2), I want to start at the beginning again, but this time I want to start at the beginning of life, i.e. prehistory.

One can go as far back as the Big Bang Theory, or the birth of the earth, but that, to me, is stretching too far into science so I decided that we will just start from the evidence of life, i.e. fossils.  It is very handy that our patio is laid with natural stones that contain fossilised plant imprints, so that is a very good place to start.

It doesn't take much to pique Tiger's curiosity so I directed him to the relevant books to acquire the necessary background information,

before breaking out a fossil-making kit to make plaster casts of various fossils.

Tiger also made a scaled-down cardboard model of a Hibbertopterus, which is a two-metre long prehistoric sea scorpion whose trackway (made 330 million years ago) was found preserved in sandstone in Fife.

In our typical fashion of homeschooling, we wanted to see whether we could find any real fossils ourselves so we visited a quarry in Gloucestershire to try our luck.

There was a whole lot of stone-staring that day... we were at a quarry after all.

Take for example the following: do you see anything special about these stones?  Are they just some rocks?

How about now?  Can you spot the fossilised mollusks embedded in the stones?

Once we knew what we were looking at/for, thanks to the very helpful geologists with whom we tagged along on the trip, we started finding fossilised bivales everywhere on the site!  If they were not exciting enough, I'd just like to mention that they are from the Jurssaic period (205 - 102 million years ago) too.

I don't know about you, but I personally think it's very cool to actually find something that is hundreds of millions of years old.  That got us to contemplate the geological changes that have taken place on earth through the ages, such as the simple fact that the land that we were standing on was once the sea floor where these prehistoric creatures dwelt in.

We brought two big bags of fossils home with us that day.  Once they were thoroughly cleaned and dried, we identified each one using a fossil identification chart.  The most interesting one that we found was the gryphaea, commonly known as the devil's toetail from Victorian folklore.

After identification, Tiger made notes in his science notebook to record his observation by a variety of methods that include drawing and taking rubbings.

Below are a few samples from his notes on fossils:

We watched First Life for review, and to check whether we had any gaps in our knowledge so far.  While we have learnt much from books and especially on the field trip, there is nothing quite like watching a good documentary to bring the prehistoric habitats to life.

The link from the study of prehistoric fossils to present day is that of fossil fuel, which we read about using the following books.

However, the greatest outcome of our study so far has been that Tiger is now the proud owner of his own sizeable collection of fossils, which he is only too happy to talk about all day to anyone who'd listen.  I therefore have been on the receiving end of a much-needed education on the various fossils that include:
  • their identification
  • where they were found
  • the geological time period in which the original creatures existed

* This post contains affliate links to products that we have bought and used ourselves, and that I recommend.  I earn a little bit of money, at no extra cost to you, when you make a purchase through the link.  Thank you for your support.  :-)

This post is linked up to:
  1. Finishing Strong ~ Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years #74
  2. Collage Friday: A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool
  3. Weekly Wrap-Up: The last one before Texas
  4. Hip Homeschool Hop: 2/2/16 - 2/6/16

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Liebster Award Nomination

I have very kindly been awarded the Leibster award by Lynn at Raising Little Shoots. Thank you, Lynn!  Sorry it has taken me so long to get round to it but better late than never!

Liebster Award Rules  
  • Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  • Display the Liebster Award on your blog
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions you were asked.
  • Nominate 11 bloggers with less than 200 followers for the Award and have them answer 11 questions.
  • Let the other bloggers know you’ve nominated them.
  • Copy the rules into your post.

Here are my 11 Random Facts:

1.  For a time I used to read exclusively non-fiction books but now I read more fiction books.
2.  I used to play the piano really well.
3.  I dream in another language.
4.  I have a deeper emotional connection with the language that I was brought up in.
5.  My memories of my siblings are frozen in time so in my mind's eyes they are still tweens(!), which must really irritate them because I sometimes forget and still treat them as such, even though they are in their 30s now.
6.  I can't be sure about this one, but I suspect I may be a luddite.
7.  I don't mind driving fast but I don't like to be a passenger when someone else is driving fast.

8.  Of the online friends that I've made through this blog, I've only ever met and spoken with two in real life.  It's nice to know that there are at least two real (non-virtual), wonderful people who read this blog.

9.  I have eaten barbecued fruits bats, compliments of a friend and her family in Borneo.

10.  I once saw a burning corpse floating down the Ganges while people were washing clothes or bathing themselves a few hundred yards away.

11.  I once spent 10 days floating down the Nile in a felucca boat.

Answers to Lynn's 11 Questions:
1.  Your favourite season?  Autumn.

2.  The words I’d like to live by are…  Be true to who you are.

3.  Introvert or extrovert?  Introvert.

4.  Your favourite childhood place?  My childhood home.

5.  Which character from a book would you most like to meet and why?  Siddharta from Herman Hesse's Siddharta, because I am intrigued by the character's path to spiritual fulfillment.

6.  What are your hobbies?  Too many to list.  The only hobby I can manage with an acceptable level of consistency at present is reading.

7.  Something you’re good at?  Cooking.

8.  What would your super-power be?  Empathy.

9.  Your favourite drink?  Chai Latte.

10.  Your favourite book?  Siddharta

11.  What kind of day are you having today?  Hmm... that's a hard question to answer at the moment.  Lots of ups and downs is all I can say.

11 Questions for my nominees:
  1. What did you do before you became a homeschooling mum?
  2. What is your greatest joy?
  3. What is your worst fear?
  4. What is your dream destination?
  5. Why do you blog?
  6. What are your personal dreams?
  7. What is the most exciting thing you have done?
  8. What are your plans for when homeschooling is over?
  9. Which book/movie has the deepest influence on you?
  10. In what ways has the book/movie chosen in question 9 influenced you?
  11. Who do you look up to?

I don't really know of many blogs with fewer than 200 followers, so I am nominating the following blogs in good faith.  Please don't be offended if you already have more than 200 followers and I thought you didn't, because I honestly don't mean to cause offence!  My nominees (in no particular order) are:
  1. journey-and-destination 
  2. Luminous Fire
  3. Stories of an Unschooling Family
  4. The Queen of Hats
  5. Frolicking Flamingoes
  6. Quark Academy  
  7.  Laugh, Love, Learn
  8. delivering grace

* This post contains affliate links to products that we have used and that I truly recommend.  I earn a little bit of money, at no extra cost to you, when you make a purchase through the link.  Thank you for your support.  :-)

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Things Experts Say

Unless you are a second-generation homeschooler, or that you have heard about or knew someone who homeschools, making the decision to home educate your own child seems like a deliberate act of defiance.  After all, why don't you leave the job of educating your child to the "experts", like everyone else?  Has anyone else heard this?  I have.  Many times.

Let's have a look at the track record of the experts that we have encountered over the years:

1.  During my pregnancy
I experienced light spotting in the early days of my pregnancy.  Being a first-time mum, I didn't know what to do or what it meant, so I went to see my GP (expert in general medical matters, right?) who told me point blank that I had lost my baby.  Bad luck.  Sorry.  That was it.  I was in and out of the GP's room in two minutes.  He didn't have the time or compassion to explain what it actually meant, why it happened, or what the cause was, because he had a long line of patients in the waiting room.

I don't remember how I walked home from the GP's surgery or what else went on that afternoon, except that my mind was completely blank (a sign of deep trauma - thanks, doc!).  When my husband came home from work that evening, I told him what the doctor said and that I didn't think he gave me a proper diagnosis in under two minutes.  I then decided to cull all my activities to a bare minimum for the rest of my pregnancy.

How things turned out: I'm the biological mother to my son.  Need I say more?

2.  When Tiger was born
Tiger was born 10 weeks early.  When he was born, I only held him for less than 5 seconds before the nurses whisked him away to be put into an incubator in the post-natal ICU.  A few hours after resting in the hospital bed on my own (my husband had returned home to sleep as he had to go to work early the following morning), I went to see Tiger in the post-natal ICU.  A doctor (expert in babies' medical matters, right?) was on shift at that time, and he told me to "be prepared that the baby will not make it to the morning."

I don't expect this to be a normal remark that one says to a new mother who had just given birth a few hours earlier.  At any other time I probably would have torn his head off (metaphorically, of course), but at the moment I was physically exhausted from the birth process so I could only growled at him like a mother cat, "You just do your job well, and my son will do his."

How things turned out: Tiger is 11+ years old now.

3.  Days in the ICU
At one point during Tiger's stay in the ICU, he experienced severe reflux.  One of the consultants' (experts in babies' medical matters, right?) wanted to try out a new procedure on Tiger, only a few weeks old then, to treat his reflux.  When I enquired about the new procedure, the consultant was reluctant to explain, since he assumed that I was "just a mum" so I couldn't possibly understand the complicated medical terms that he was throwing around.  It turned out that I was "just a mum", I was (still am) very interested in what gets put into my son's body.  I didn't want to give consent to anything without understanding it properly so I went about searching for information frantically because I was given a few hours to make a decision.

After doing a quick research and asking the right people for information, I found out that the new procedure involved putting a radioactive substance into my baby to locate the source of reflux easily.  Really?  Putting a radioactive material into my baby to make someone's job easier?  No, thanks. 

How things turned out: I refused to give consent to the new procedure.  It turned out that there are many tried-and-tested ways to solve the reflux problem anyway!

4.  Upon discharge from the ICU
On the day of discharge, after two-and-a-half months in the ICU, I was taken to a small meeting room whereupon a senior nurse and a social worker (experts in babies' health and social matters, right?) who gave me a prep talk on how to prepare myself to take care of my baby, who, according to their many years of working in post-natal ICU, was "very likely going to be mentally and physically delayed", and that I would be very lucky if "he catches up with his peers by the end of primary school".  They also very kindly gave me many leaflets to various support groups for families of disabled children.  Well, um, thanks, I guess.

How things turned out: At Tiger's final compulsory health check that took place when he was two years old, two nurses were present and they couldn't believe how quickly Tiger completed the tests for his physical and mental abilities.  We were allocated 30 minutes for the appointment but since Tiger completed his tests in half the time so the nurses thought it would be interesting to spend the next 15 minutes giving him tests for older children.  I watched Tiger and the nurses sit at a small table from some distance away since I didn't want to skew the result of the tests by giving Tiger any help.  By the end of the tests, the nurses looked at me in disbelief as they said, "This is a test for six-year-olds, and your son has got them all correct!  How did you do it?  What did you do with him at home?"

Fast forward to the present.  Tiger would be in Year 6 of primary school education if he were in school.  He is in the top 10% in height for his age group, and I hazard a guess that he has probably caught up with his peer group by now.

5.  Bewildering health issues
Tiger's health and behaviour took a severe dive a few years ago.  We went to see the GP (expert in general medical matters, right?) many times but he could not figure out what was wrong.  After countless bewildering moments, both from trying to understand Tiger's condition and not given any accurate diagnosis, we limped on for a few years while I continued my non-stop research in the attempt to solve a problem that nobody seemed to be able to help at all.  Eventually, I had to arrive at the diagnosis by myself (!) and then present my case and evidence to the "experts" whereupon their response reminded me very much of my experience during pregnancy in point 1 above: "There is no known cure for this condition.  Occasionally people grow out of it, but that is very rare.  It usually gets progressively worse but there's nothing anybody can do about it.  We can suggest using pharmaceutical drugs or behavioural therapy but don't get your hopes up."

How things turned out: I talked about it in this post, in point #3: Improved Health.

6.  Children miss out academically and socially by not going to school.
The accuracy of the above statement very much depends on many circumstantial factors, one of which is where the child would be best supported emotionally and intellectually.  In the UK, most people choose to homeschool for reactionary, rather than philosophical, reasons.  The majority of parents with whom I speak to only homeschool as a last resort, either because their children have been constantly bullied or that they have not been supported academically.  They tried sending their children to school, and it didn't work for them.  Quite a few parents persisted because (1) they didn't know that homeschooling is a legal option in the UK, (2) they trusted the teachers and school administrators (experts in teaching children, right?) to provide a safe and appropriately stimulating learning environment for their children, until their children became severely damaged by the system that the parents had no choice but to remove them from school. 

How things turned out:  Many home educated children who aspire to attend universities go on to do so successfully, with an increasing number attending the Russell Group universities (the UK equivalent of the Ivy League universities) each year.  Going on our own experience as recorded on this blog, I don't think Tiger is in any way deprived of sociability or a well-rounded, rigourous academic training.

Gven the deteriorating state of affairs in the education system, I am not sure there is any real, viable proposition for schools to exist, whether for academic reasons or for social reasons, apart from being a depository for children while their parents work hard to pay taxes and let someone else raise their children in the meantime.

Homeschooling is not an easy path -- it would be much easier to drop the children off at school than to homeschool them -- and it's definitely not a cop-out like some people would have you believe.

Only a desperado would blindly trust his children to a collection of untested strangers and hope for the best.
-- John Taylor Gatto

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Slowly Making My Way Back

Hello, everybody!  Remember us?

Many things have gone on at the home front since mid-December, which explains my absence on this blog.  There has been much joy, with the birth of my new nephew thousands of miles away (which Tiger is very happy about since he is therefore no longer the youngest member in the family),

and Tiger recovering from his nasty ear infection in time for us to enjoy a wonderful Christmas with all of the family.

As if all these excitement was not enough, my little cozy world was, and still is, somewhat "shaken" by a few remarks and observations that I received both online and offline.  As though being hit by a wave of personal issues all at once, I had to take time off from blogging and from many other activities to think things over, to untangle each interconnected piece so that I can tackle each one effectively.

Meanwhile, one of the issues/topics that have come up again and again over the years in various forms is that of giftedness.  I intend to share more of our experiences very soon.  While you're waiting for me to get my act together, may I direct you to a few related posts that I have written over the years, particularly this one that was written in 2012?

Friday, 11 December 2015

Countdown to Christmas: Week 2

It has been a difficult week.  Tiger has been very ill with high fever and severe headache all this time.  It took three visits to the GP to find out that Tiger has a middle ear infection, which most likely resulted from his weekly swimming lessons.   There is no a lot to be done apart from taking the prescribed antibiotics and waiting for the bacteria to be gotten rid of.  The infection is a nasty one, causing such a spliting headache for Tiger that he (and consequently, I) has been woken up by the pain several times in the night for the past week.  Hence, all external activities have been cancelled, with Tiger spending most of his time lying on the sofa.  He is only well enough today to play with LEGO and his train set.

Compared to how active Tiger normally is, this week has been very boring for him as all external activities have been cancelled due to his being ill.  With all my not-so-well-planned December plans out of the window, luckily we have been able to manage some continuity with the daily unwrapping of Christmas-related storybooks.

  and rewatching a Christmas classic:

When he felt well enough to get off the sofa, we continued to look through the RI space-themed advent calendar, watched the second week of the Angel Trail, and made tin can lanterns that turned out to be very pretty.

At the very beginning of the week Tiger felt really terrible so in order to distract him from the physical pain that he was experiencing, my husband had the brilliant idea of introducing Tiger to a classic movie that he (my husband) has always wanted them to watch together:

No, Tiger will not be getting any Star Wars-related presents.

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