First Steps toward Roadschooling

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Wow. What a few weeks it’s been. This will be my first entry from the road — everything else was written while still in Tokyo. We’ve now spent a little over two weeks in Taiwan and it has been a marked by peaks and valleys of elation and despair. I’ll save the drama for another post. Just know that we have emerged stronger and wiser.

First Steps toward Roadschooling

Instead, today I’ll run down a few educational patterns that are emerging in the first weeks of our new intrepid lifestyle. As I adjust to my remote working schedule and the kids adjust to having Mom and Dad as their teachers, these are some of the first steps we’ve taken to keep them engaged and learning.

#1: Journaling & documenting everything

I’ve encouraged them both to document whatever they find interesting or unusual, and they’ve run with it. Now I have to teach them to edit, because the hundreds of pictures and videos are clogging my laptop. Felicia is constantly shooting, and would make the snobbiest food-stagrammer snort with disgust as she spends for-e-ver getting each dish at a restaurant just so before taking its picture. Grumbling stomachs be damned! I wanted a fellow shutterbug in the family, but with Fi, I may have created a monster.

As I mentioned here, both of my kids lag behind in their English reading and writing skills, so after breakfast every day, we have begun to get Jamie and Felicia in the pattern of writing a journal. We’re using some of the ideas I first read in the site, called Wand’rly.: one by one, the kids recount the day before, dictating it to me as I write it into a notebook (I’m using the kiddy paper with the extra lines). Then once they read aloud what I’ve written, they sit down with their own journal and copy the page into it. I come back later and see how it looks and request corrections. This is working well so far, but simply recounting the day before is already becoming a boring pattern (every page begins with “Yesterday, we…”), so I’ll be looking for ideas to better implement this.

The next step will be transferring these from their journals and into their blogs. We have two iPads with detachable keyboards, and I plan for them to write them in using the app Drafts (which I love) and I will then import them into their blogs. But hey, one day at a time, man: I want them comfortable and capable of writing English the old-school way before dashing straight to QWERTY.

#2: Plugging them into activities

Now that they’re away from their friends back in Tokyo, they will need opportunities for play and learning with other kids. This is a HUGE concern for me, mostly when it comes to Jamie. He *needs* peers and playmates, where Felicia has no problem making friends when she wants to. Jamie is also a jock — a shy jock, but a jock nonetheless. He wants to be running and scoring whenever possible, but he hasn’t built up the confidence to approach strangers for a pickup game. That’s where Keiko and I come in. We started looking for soccer clubs and ping pong coaches a month before we arrived in Taiwan. It didn’t all come together until we arrived, but now, while we’re in southern Taiwan, Jamie plays on a weekend league with other expat kids (for a minimal fee), and then plays with an elementary school 5th grade class during their morning soccer lessons. For free. The catch is it’s at 7:40am, but we’re up anyway and Keiko rides him over there every weekday morning, and he loves it.

We were still searching for a ping pong coach during our first week here. We had found one who was quite serious (and expensive), so we were considering putting up a note at the Chinese language center of the local university. The notice board there is full of inquiries for language-exchanges, and some delved into other topics, such as “Teach me Chinese and I’ll teach you Thai Cooking,” and “Teach me about French Cinema (in French) and I’ll teach you Tai Chi (in Chinese).” Our plan was to put up a notice of our own: coach our kids in basic table tennis techniques (in Chinese) and you have free English (me) or Japanese (Keiko) lessons at your disposal.

It would have worked, but then Keiko came across a public table tennis center, and we were set:

Keiko: “Do you offer coaching?”

Ping Pong Center: “Sure”

Keiko: “How much for 2 months?”

Ping Pong Center: “How much? Free I guess…wait, you’ll have to pay the 1000NT ($34 US) membership fee.”

Keiko: “Each?”

Ping Pong Center: “No, for both.”

Keiko: “SOLD.”

It took some research and legwork (speaking some Chinese helped), but we were able to set this all up for very little cash.

Our next stop is Penang, Malaysia in November. I’ve already contacted one of the international schools near our apartment rental and will sign up for their distance learning program: no classes, and technically the kids will will not be students at the school, but they will be allowed all-access to the school’s library and can join after-school clubs such as music, swimming and soccer, which is all I wanted anyway. This costs around US$150 for both kids for two full months, which I believe is totally worth it. My next goal is to find similar opportunities in Chiang Mai. If you have advice or contacts in Northern Thailand, CONTACT ME please.

#3: Setting up tours and workshops

On the advice of a friend, we started contacting factories in Taiwan that offered tours. Want to know how something is made? Visit the factory that makes it. While I’ve worked in the apartment, Keiko and the kids have already visited a sausage factory/museum in Tainan (no, they didn’t see how it was made) and a company that makes wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionaries) in Taipei. They even took a class in making them. This can become a great way to tap into the country/city/culture you’re living in, and will definitely lead to journal entries and multimedia reports the kids will prepare down the line. Next week we tour a Taiwanese pineapple cake company.

So this is what’s happening on the educational front. As for the emotional and professional front, stay tuned, as there is much more to share.

Comments

  1. Hi Jason,
    I’m really enjoying your blog!
    If you find the kids are getting bored with journaling you could ask them to practice different types of writing (and use different verb tenses)! For example – write a letter to their grandparents in GA, writing instructions for a game or activity, making a list, make and illustrate a travel brochure or write a newspaper article, write a funny story about a place they have visited, describe their travels to an imaginary alien, etc. There are many lists of journal prompts for kids if you google and Jamie and Felicia may be more inspired if they can choose what to write about. Hope that helps:)

    • These are great ideas, Angie. Thank you! A few of these seem tailor-made for my two, especially the brochure for Felicia (including her drawings, of course) and the game instructions for Jamie — that has two things he likes: games and following (his) rules.

  2. Good to hear details of the lives of the Jenkins/Yoshikawa family “on the road.” I am envious and proud of you all.

  3. Oh and yeah: ping pong seemed like a logical choice. It’s HUGE here, and an easy way for them to have fun, meet other kids (possibly), learn some Chinese AND get in exercise (the fact that it tires them out also helps). We might try badminton, as well. I know the West’s impression is of light beach amusement, but you can work up a sweat if you’re doing it right!

  4. Glad things are going well! Drafts is a pretty solid app. I just set up a scriptogr.am blog for my wife, and that allows for dead simple input with Drafts, since all the files are hosted from Dropbox. Day 1 app is also pretty cool.

    Nice call on the ping pong. Great idea to get some sports happening!

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