Category Archives: Homeschooling

Telescope Viewing with The Park Astronomers

Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon this sign in our village park during my usual afternoon walk with my dog.

Free Telescope Viewing by The Park Astronomers A free telescope viewing! I spoke briefly with the two young astronomers to ask about their project, then rushed to the playground to invite my son and his friends to try it with me. It was about 6:00pm, still quite bright since it was a March summer afternoon, but through the telescope, we got a pretty close view of the moon! I promised to come back later that evening with the rest of my household. I’m so glad we came back at around 9:00pm. We saw not only the moon but also Jupiter, the Orion Nebula and the star Sirius! So cool!

I was so awed by the enthusiasm and generosity of Paolo and Hiromi, the duo behind The Park Astronomers. I wanted to know more about their project so I could share it with other Filipino astronomy enthusiasts and other southern Metro Manila residents who might want to support it.

Here is a Q&A with The Park Astronomers Paolo and Hiromi:

Q: What inspired you to start The Park Astronomy Project? 

Telescope Viewing in the Park“Carl Sagan. We’ve read a lot of his works and he had this vision of making science fun. It was this vision of his that really pushed us into starting this project. He wanted to make science approachable to the regular person, to show others how amazing the universe is. And just like him, we want the same for the youth of the Philippines. We want to raise awareness, to educate, and to awaken the inner scientists in everyone.”

 Q: How did you go about setting it up? Any challenges or obstacles so far?

“Initially, we just set up our mount and scope on our driveway with a sign saying ‘Free Telescope Viewing’ and waited for interested passersby. We moved on to setting up at our village park with the hopes of gaining a bigger audience. That’s where we got the idea of visiting different parks. As of the moment, our telescope mount is starting to give up on us. That’s one of our main obstacles. You can also say that location, village permission, as well as weather conditions are some of our challenges.”

Q: How did you become astronomy enthusiasts?

Paolo: “It all started with this video I saw back in 2009.  I was amazed and humbled to see how objects can be so large yet appear so little in our sky. I gained an existential epiphany upon realizing that even with all my problems combined, it all meant very little to the universe in its entirety. Carl Sagan once said: ‘The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent to the concerns of such creatures as we.’ I think it takes a lot to be able to grasp this reality.  Ideas like this are what define me as an amateur astronomer.”

Park Astronomers Hiromi and Paolo

“When Hiromi and I started going out, I shared my Carl Sagan books with her. There was this one book, aptly called ‘Cosmos’ which tackled the whole universe. We enjoyed countless nights walking around my village and just talking about distant stars, galaxies, planets, even the possibility of aliens! This went on alongside my telescope until we had the idea of a free telescope viewing initiative. We wanted to share what we felt when we first saw the moon because people often take it for granted. We see the moon 2 weeks in a month but give little to no thought to what it would look like up close.”

Q: What do you hope to achieve with The Park Astronomy? How do you see it a year from now?

“A youth that is more conscious not only scientifically but also existentially. We want our participants to gain a better perspective of our place in the universe and what we can do about it. Hopefully a year from now, we’ll have extensive operations including workshops, astrocamps, focus group discussions, and have more volunteers to aid us in facilitating our activities.”

Stars (photo by The Park Astronomers)The Moon (photo by The Park Astronomers)*********************************************************************************************

If you want to join The Park Astronomers and see the moon, stars and other planets in the night sky, check their Facebook page for updates.

If you want to help Paolo and Hiromi continue and grow The Park Astronomers project, please consider making a donation for a new telescope and for funds to support their project expenses through The Park Astronomers page.



High School Writing and Psychology with 7 Sisters Homeschool

7sistershomeschool ebooks

A few months ago at the start of this school year, I found myself looking for materials for my daughter who is now a 10th grader and part-time homeschooler. (She takes some classes in a learning center a few days a week, and other lessons are learned at home.)  Since we don’t follow a boxed curriculum or set program, I am always on the lookout for good materials, new or old, that might work for our homeschooling needs. Besides, I enjoy researching about new education and homeschooling trends.

I stumbled upon 7 Sisters Homeschool. What caught my attention were the words “No busywork” and “E-book.” I don’t believe that busywork equals real learning, so yay to no busywork! And I like that with ebooks, we don’t need to pay and wait for shipping, especially that we live all the way in the Philippines and these ebooks are made in the USA.

I found some positive reviews online. I checked out the 7 Sisters Homeschool website for prices and samples of materials for psychology (my daughter spoke of her interest in it as an elective) and writing. Prices were reasonable, $7.99 for the Introductory Guide to High School Essay Writing (recommended to be accomplished in 5 weeks) and $29.99 for Introduction to Psychology from a Christian Perspective. With this psychology course, they have recommendations on how to use it for a high school half credit or full credit, for normal or honors course.  Yay for flexibility and affordability!

My daughter and I looked at the sample pages and decided that they were worth a try. The language is simple and straightforward. The lessons are not too long and can be done independently or one-on-one (and in groups if preferred). For psychology, the topics are basic yet interesting and the homework varies from asking the student to reflect and ponder to making clay models to writing movie reviews. For essay writing, the lessons on how to write are clearly and simply broken down step by step. Suggested rubrics for assessing the essays are included. I placed my orders, and within a minute I had the links to download my copies!  Easy.

It’s been more than a month and we are getting acquainted with the writing and psychology curricula of 7 Sisters Homeschool. We are trying it out and seeing how we can adjust it to fit my daughter’s learning style and objectives. We started out printing only the pages with questions to answer. After the first few lessons, my daughter told me that she would rather read the lessons on printed pages. I wasn’t surprised since I know that she is a tactile-kinesthetic type of learner. She prefers printed books over ebooks. She likes to draw, paint and do hand lettering. She likes the feel of paper. If she can understand and retain the lessons better with printed paper (and a nice binder, as she requested), so be it. Good thing the ebooks of 7 Sisters Homeschool aren’t thousands of pages long!

Here’s keeping our fingers crossed that the curricula of 7 Sisters Homeschool works for us!


Dream Boards in Progress

With storm after storm coming to the Philippines recently, it’s been a rainy and mostly homebound past few days for us. And with afternoon trips to the park and football training cancelled, I wanted to find something else for my kids and I to do. I figured now would be a good time to finally do something that’s been on my mind – make our dream boards.

I’ve been wanting to make our homeschooling more purposeful, more intentional. I’m hoping that having our dream boards will guide us in making the right choices in our learning journey.

Working on Dream Boards

How we made our dream boards:

1. We listed down our dreams.

I asked them a few prompt questions to help them verbalize their dreams:

  • What do you want to be remembered for?
  • What do you want to become better at?
  • What places do you want to visit or live in?
  • What do you want to have or experience?

Soon enough, we each had a list of about five to seven dreams. We were ready to visualize them.

2. We looked for images and words that represented our dreams.

This is the fun and frustrating part. One gloomy, rainy afternoon, we sat on the living room floor, with piles of magazines and some art supplies around us. We searched through magazine after magazine for photos, illustrations and words that showed our dreams. I saw a photo of Mount Fuji, Japan but none of the cable cars in San Francisco. My son cut out a photo of the latest Alienware computer, but couldn’t find any photos or logo of the NBA. My daughter saw tons of photos of cakes, cupcakes and other delicious pastries, but none of the Seattle Space Needle.

It was like a treasure or scavenger hunt.  We found some things, but not everything on our list. For the things we couldn’t find, we wrote them down.

3. We put the cut-out photos and words on our boards with sticky tape.

I suggested we use small pieces of sticky tape so it will be easier to move the pieces around or remove them if we want to. We filtered the cut-outs and mounted the ones that we liked most (and fit on the boards). Finally, we had our dream boards!

Dream Boards in Progress

We didn’t fill up our boards completely; we left some blank spaces. My son was a bit worried about filling up his board with too many things; I think he wanted it to look neat. I purposely left some spaces on my board because I wanted to have that openness to new images, new words, new dreams.

We’ll be hanging our dream boards on our walls to remind us everyday of what we are looking forward to. Our dreams are mounted with sticky tape because they can move and they can change. Our present dreams have blank spaces in between to welcome the possibility of future dreams. Our dream boards, like our dreams, are works in progress.





Minecrafter, Lego Master and Other Cool Skills with DIY

I discovered in May 2014. My son, who has 9-years-old then, was heavily into Minecraft. I wanted to find a way to use his interest to encourage creativity and self-motivation. I stumbled upon and it seemed like a fun way for my son to set his own goals, work toward them, get rewarded (with patches similar to Boy Scout or Girl Scout badges) and maybe meet some new friends in the process.

My son signed up for his own account and, not surprisingly, chose to first work on the Minecrafter skill. I signed up as an adult/parent member so I could supervise his activities on the website. I helped him document his work by taking videos and photos of his physical challenges. He did the screen recording for his online challenges. After submitting projects for two challenges (you need to have at least 3 projects approved to earn a skill), we both put it in the background and eventually forgot about it.

DIY Athlete patch earnedA few weeks ago, I was into the thick of planning for another year of homeschooling. As usual, I am always looking for what’s new, what’s exciting, what’s working well and what isn’t. Thankfully, this brought me back to I talked to my son about it. After looking at the website again, he was not only keen to pick up where he left off but also excited about earning more skills. I also promised to buy him the embroidered patches so he can keep them as souvenirs, or wear them on a cap, jacket or bag as badges.

He started working on DIY again last week, and just a few days ago, he earned his first two patches! On my son’s DIY portfolio, he is officially a Minecrafter and an Athlete! So cool! (I was just as excited as he was to see the notification!) He is looking forward to earning the Gamer patch, and maybe the Animator patch.

What I Like About DIY

  • easy-to-use, child-friendly interface
  • free membership
  • quick response time on email and Twitter
  • colorful, well-designed patches
  • list of skills and language used are appealing to kids
  • embroidered patches are affordable and can be shipped internationally
  • adult/parent dashboard shows insights on child’s interests and strengths, monitors child’s social interaction within site

What My Son Likes About DIY

  • cool list of skills to choose from
  • cool-looking patches
  • can give and receive favorites and follows and make comments on other kids’ projects

I’m glad my son and I rediscovered DIY. It gives him a fun and safe place to earn skills, level up, show his work and appreciate other children’s work, and as DIY says, be awesome. For him, more fun challenges and cool skills ahead. For us, hopefully, a DIY club or network here in Metro Manila.


My Son Learning 3D Animation with Youth Digital

We’re about a week into our new homeschool year, and my 10-year-old son is finally starting his 3D Animation online class with Youth Digital. This is his first course with Youth Digital, and I was able to buy it for my son thanks to a good deal some months ago with Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

3D Animation Online Course for Kids by Youth DigitalThis is an online, self-paced course that is made for children aged 8-14. No background in animation or any other graphics / design software is needed. For as long as your child knows how to comfortably use a computer and follow video instructions, he can take this course.

I looked into this course when it was offered by Homeschool Buyers Co-op because I read that it would teach your child to use Blender, the 3D animation software that professionals use. My son had told me as early as last year (when he was 9) that he wanted to try making Minecraft animation videos. He told me about Blender, saying that it can make really nice, detailed animation.

So, here he is now, getting his feet wet in Blender. The course has 13 modules, and as of this morning, my son has started the 2nd module. So far, it looks like he will finish 1 module per week (he does the Youth Digital online lessons about 2-3 times a week). I sit with him and listen to the video lessons that are clearly explained by this funny man named Sam (his sense of humor makes the lessons more fun and interesting for us; thanks Sam!).

I like that the video lessons are not too long (about 15 minutes each) and interact directly with my son. When Sam asks my son to do something on Blender, the video automatically pauses to give him time to do it and then switch back to the video lesson on the Youth Digital portal. There are also short reviews and quizzes in between lessons to help my son remember the commands, terminologies, etc. And I really like that one of the first lessons was called Blender Blunders, where my son learned about some of the things that can go wrong, and go very wrong, in using this sophisticated software. It helped my son feel less intimidated by Blender’s user interface (I’m still a bit intimidated but also still very much fascinated) because he was given chances to make errors and correct them. It was comforting to know that people do make mistakes on Blender and that these mistakes can be fixed or avoided with enough practice and discipline.

Here I am enjoying this new learning experience with my son. Here he is enjoying learning how to use Blender (and maybe make his own sophisticated Minecraft or other animations for his YouTube channel). I see exciting times ahead.





Homeschoolers in College: Raffles Design Institute Manila

Raffles Design Institute Manila is a private college in Makati City, Philippines that offers courses in fashion design, fashion marketing and management, interior design, visual communication and business with specialization. Being part of a global network of colleges and universities, they offer a 2+1 program (two years in the Philippines and one year overseas) for their Bachelor Degree programs.

Justin Seow has been the Director at Raffles Design Institute Manila for the past two years. Prior to that, he was based in their Mongolia campus for one and a half years. He shared some information on their school’s policy and experience with homeschoolers.

There are currently three students enrolled in Raffles Design Institute Manila that were homeschoolers in high school. Did they have any difficulties adjusting to the culture and workload in your school?

“They are doing fine. They had some had issues in the beginning, but they managed to overcome them. The initial problem was communicating with other students. For the home schooled students that we have, they never really had a chance to mix with classmates before, so at first they kept to themselves.
“We talked to the students and provided our phone numbers to the parents for them to call us at anytime if they felt that their children need any help. My student services manager and I are always open to talk to the parents and students anytime. What we do is not exceptionally difficult. What we need is patience and time to listen. Offering our help as much as we can is what we do. And being a small school, we are able to concentrate on the students easily.”

For homeschooled applicants who wish to study college in Raffles Design Institute, do you have any requirements that are different from graduates of regular (brick and mortar) high schools?

“We accept homeschooled high school graduates with local (Department of Education-accredited) and foreign accreditation. Similar to other applicants, we require a copy of the high school diploma and a portfolio. For applicants with foreign accreditation, we also require passing results of SAT, ACT or other international tests for college readiness.”

Are the tuition fees for students with foreign accreditation/diploma different from those with local accreditation/diploma?

“Tuition fees are the same for all accepted applicants.”

Author’s note: This article is part of my personal research on the policies and experiences of various colleges and universities in the Philippines regarding homeschoolers. This article is not a paid feature nor a personal endorsement for the featured school.

Homeschooling Math with Khan Academy and a Whiteboard

KhanAcademy SkillsProgressSince my son has already finished his Brain Quest 4 Workbook and we still have a few months left in our current school year, I decided to find another resource to help him brush up on some math skills. I’ve long wanted to try using Khan Academy, and even had my two children try their programming course some months ago. They didn’t stick to it so we left it at that.

Just a few weeks ago, I logged into my parent account in Khan Academy and started tinkering with it again. I also read up a bit on how some homeschooling families use Khan Academy and I learned about choosing missions according to grade level. The default setting as goal or mission is The World of Math, and all of the skills in that world was too much for my son and me (who aren’t exactly math lovers). So I tried assigning my son the 4th-grade mission for math and that made it much more manageable (not so overwhelming) for us. Yay!

KhanAcademyMissionWarmUp The mission warm-ups are a few math questions every time you log in to determine which are the skills you’ve mastered, need practice in or have not yet learned. It helps the website in suggesting lessons for practice and mastery. Since my son is a gamer, what he enjoys about using Khan Academy is how he earns points and badges for completing practices and answering consecutive questions correctly. And right now, he is motivated to earn several thousand more points because he wants to unlock the Johnny avatars (Johnny is a cool-looking robot avatar).

Homeschooling with Book and WhiteboardMy son has struggled with doing mental calculations for some of the math exercises, and using the scratchpad option in Khan Academy is quite hard since he has to use a mouse to write (not using touchscreen). I brought out our trusty old whiteboard and markers and suggested that he use them for computing. Just like before, the whiteboard was a success (yay)! My son doesn’t really like handwriting, and I think the space to write boldly and colorfully and the ease of erasing things make the whiteboard a more fun way for him to write and learn.

I may soon start shopping around for a new math book for the next school year, but for now (and maybe in the future), it looks like Khan Academy and the whiteboard are a winning formula for my gamer homeschooler.



Learning Circuits with Minecraft Homeschool and littleBits

Redstone Academy - Minecraft HomeschoolMy son’s first class (and mine, since I also learn alongside him) with Minecraft Homeschool (MCHS) for 2015 is Redstone Academy. He has taken several classes with MCHS before, but this is his first class that is technical and is focused on becoming more skilled in using redstone in Minecraft.

The Redstone Academy class in Minecraft Homeschool is proving to be more challenging for my 9-year-old son than his previous classes (before enrolling, he told me he wasn’t very good at building with redstone). Three weeks have passed (two more to go), and when we would watch the instructional videos at the start of the weekly lessons, we kept repeating some parts till we understood. My son has been a Minecrafter for about two years now, yet he still Minecraft Redstone Handbookgot confused at times.

Imagine poor old me, the mommy who doesn’t play Minecraft, watching these videos and trying to remember how the location of redstone dust affects output and the difference between an inverter and a repeater. Terms that I used to only occasionally hear were becoming weekly lessons for me: sticky pistons, redstone dust, wool blocks, etc. I am of no help to my son in this class, so I bought him the Redstone Handbook with the hope that it will help him in his builds.

After many classes where he learned about animals, architecture, and world history and culture, this Redstone Academy Vault - Redstone Academy Build (Minecraft Homeschool)is something familiar yet new, challenging yet fascinating.  When my son had to build a redstone door for his spy base build, he decided to try building it first in his own Minecraft world – practice before building it in his class server. I heard sounds of frustration again and again. But after some minutes, I was so happy to hear him exclaim with pride and satisfaction! “Yes! Mom, I did it!”

I realized that using redstone in Minecraft is essentially about building circuits, with power sources, inputs and outputs. Our Art Bot with littleBitsToday, I suggested to my son that he build a real-life circuit using our littleBits kit.  Following instructions from the kit manual, he built a simple yet cool ArtBot  (a littleBits robot that draws circles). Looks like we’ve found a fun offline activity to complement Redstone Academy!

I’m guessing that at the end of this class, I will be the one feeling so proud and satisfied that my son has not only improved his redstone and circuit-building skills, but more importantly, his patience and perseverance.


Our DIY Christmas Calendars

Craft materials for Christmas CalendarIt’s December 1! Have to stop procrastinating on my holiday preparations. Today, I started by making sure that we finally made our Christmas countdown calendars. With our DIY calendars, we won’t be getting any sweets or treats. Instead, everyday from December 1st to the 25th, we will write something that we are thankful for. Ours are Christmas calendars of thanksgiving.

We used old desk calendar sheets, star-shaped Post-its, stickers, rubber stamps and markers to make our Christmas calendars, and re-usable adhesive tack to put them up on the wall.

I’m hoping that this daily exercise in thankfulness will reinforce an attitude of gratitude in our family, and what better time to remember to be thankful than this end-of-year season, a season of celebrating our blessings with family and friends.

Christmas Calendar of ThanksgivingOn this day, December 1, I am thankful that my family has been and is together. My son is thankful for his friends. My daughter is thankful that she isn’t injured and is fit to play football. When my husband comes back from his business trip, maybe he’d also want to make his own Christmas calendar of thanksgiving.



What I Learned from InkTober

InkTober drawingsIt’s November, and InkTober 2014 is done. I’m relieved that it’s done because the pressure of having to draw something everyday did sometimes get to me. I’m also sad though because I know that, without that pressure (that voice in my head reminding me to stay true to my commitment), I will be drawing less and less, if at all.

What I Learned from InkTober

1. Drawing is hard work! I’m not an artist. I am not skilled in drawing (I usually make stick drawings, if I have to draw at all). I had to read tips on how to draw, sketch, use brush pens, etc.  And I still have a long way to go. I don’t know if drawing comes much easier to those artists who are naturally talented, who were born with it. But I imagine that, gifted or not, drawing to produce beautiful art is hard work. My hat goes off to people who draw for a living.

Grimm Little Red Riding Hood2. Thinking of what to draw is also hard. At first, I tried to draw what I imagined, tried to pluck inspiration out of thin air.  There are just so many things one can draw, one can imagine, and trying to put them down on paper can be daunting. When I started to limit myself to themes or templates (like my Matryoshka doll drawings), I found it easier to choose and imagine what to draw.

3. Reproducing an image is easier than drawing from nothing. I don’t know if this is true only for beginners like myself. Over the course of this month-long challenge, I realized that my drawings came out better and I enjoyed myself more when I was copying an image. Looking at a photograph and trying to draw it on paper gave me a plan to work with and a gauge to measure its completion. Maybe this also my logical, organizational side kicking in, but drawing this way worked much better for me.

InkTober Day 4: Matryoshka Owl4. Some people draw fine; some people draw big. Both are okay. I experimented by using drawings pens and brush pens. Sometimes, I used only drawing pens or only brush pens. Other times, I used both. I learned that, for now anyway, big brush strokes work best for me. My daughter is very dexterous and can make drawings, paintings, clay art and nail art with beautiful, fine details. On the other hand, I prefer  to draw with big, colorful brush strokes. I’m not good with drawing in detail and in such fine strokes. I’d say it’s a matter of preference, of style. And whatever style works for you is fine.

5. Drawing takes practice and includes mistakes. At first, I thought I could just plunge right into drawing. I went straight for the pen. I made mistake after mistake. Then, I started drawing with a pencil, which allowed me to erase mistakes and draw again till I was satisfied enough to draw over with my drawing pen or brush pen. Several times, I had to make drafts and do-overs before I was happy with my drawing. And there is nothing wrong with that. Just like in writing, drawing requires practice and editing.

Many thanks to Mr. Jake Parker, who created InkTober in 2009 as a challenge to improve his inking skills and to develop positive drawing habits. Thank you for replying to me on Twitter, and encouraging a non-artist like myself to join the challenge.

I’m glad I gave InkTober a try. It was fun to practice drawing, and it was a pleasure seeing the many beautiful InkTober artwork made by people from all over the world. Now I have 11 months to consider and prepare for next October.