Book Review: 我家就是國際學校 My Home is an International School

internationalschoolI finally got my hands on the book 我家就是國際學校 My Home is an International School this afternoon.  I devoured it in an hour.  It will require a reread probably.

This is a book written by a Polish homeschooling mom and her Taiwanese husband, about their trilingual (Mandarin, English, and Polish) homeschooling journey in Taiwan.  The mom, Dorota, has a Masters in Chinese. And obviously she learned English (starting from middle school?) in Poland. She has two kids, a girl and boy and is Montessori trained.  The old one is 18 this year.  That was one reason I  had been eyeing the book for 2+ years, since I’m trying to do bilingual Montessori homeschooling.   I had also heard in an interview how she had to figure out how to work with her son’s learning style, which was different from her daughter’s.

The book is divided into 4 sections:

  • Realizing they wanted to raise a child with a world view (國際觀).   This section is really about their background before they moved back into Taiwan.  How they lived in Seattle and how she received her Montessori training while they lived in England.  What they did during this time to educate in 3 languages.
  • A few chapters on their educational philosophy and comparing that with what they saw in Taiwan.  How this led them to decide to homeschool.
  • The third section focuses on how they learned English, Mandarin, and Polish at the same time.
  • How they learn (project based), how it was different between brother and sister, and socialization.

The few things that’s fresh on my brain after a quick first read:

  • In the book, she talked about how her daughter has very long attention span and is very suited for project-based work, while her son needs new things to study every day.  The daughter would work for months on one project, whereas the son’s project lasts one week to a couple of months max.  I don’t know how Astroboy works yet, but right now he definitely doesn’t have that attention span unless he’s building trains.  But I’d always wondered if it was because Astroboy never went to formal Montessori preschool and Thumper did.  It’s the one thing I kind of wonder about, since I know I cannot provide that kind of Montessori environment to promote concentration at home.  I love Montessori, but I’m not a strict adherer to its principles when it comes to implementation.  We’ll never know I guess.
  • Obviously I wished the section on how they homeschool were longer.  A lot of details got left out and I really wanted to know what materials they used.  She did actually detail quite a few resources in how they learned Chinese.  Other than Greenfield, I wasn’t too too impressed with the Chinese resources she listed.  There are quite a few resources for English too.
  • What surprised me most was how much she doesn’t list her Montessori materials in the book.  You can kind of get a glimpse of it in the photos.  But most of her resources listed in the book are not Montessori.  However, I’ve seen videos of how she teaches and there are lots of Montessori stuff.  It’s making me think about how you can use other materials to accomplish the same goal, of a self-motivated student who’s learning about the word from a top-down approach.
  • She asks the children to rotate between Mandarin, English, and Polish for their diaries.  It’s a requirement to write in Mandarin because if left up to the kids they wouldn’t choose to write in Mandarin.  I’m stealing this idea!
  • One thing about socialization.  Her kids meet a lot of different children in different situations.  I’m inferring what she wrote.  But unlike going to school where you tend to see the same kids day after day and friendships with a particular person can become very important, when you homeschool, you tend to meet new people, make friends, and maybe you don’t keep in touch.  Maybe sometimes a friendship doesn’t work out, but you learn that it’s not the end of the world, that you will have a chance to make new friends.  Obviously something I worry about, that Thumper doesn’t get to make long lasting friends and maybe I’m not fulfilling a need she has.  But from this point of view, it doesn’t seem too bad and more reflective of adult world.
  • The most important thing I got out of the book is how important intention is.  As I read the book, I realized the authors knew exactly 1) how and why they wanted to teach 3 languages and 2) how and why they wanted to homeschool.  With the intentions clear, the author, especially Dorota the mom, made a lot of effort making sure her kids were exposed to both Chinese and Polish culture and language.We can say what we want about how it’s much easier to teach Mandarin and English when you live in Taiwan.  But she is also teaching Polish, definitely not a language many children speak in Taiwan.  The fact that her child can speak 3 languages well reflects how hard she worked to make it happen.  When you have a clear intention and end goal in teaching multiple languages, and you make it a priority, you make lifestyle choices to reach that goal.  They chose to live originally in Seattle because it was a middle ground, far enough from Poland and Taiwan for neither language to have a stronger influence. She detailed the lengths she went to to make sure her kids met Polish speaking friends and learn Polish culture. For example, she didn’t just visit Poland during the summer, but made sure they went back at different times of the year so the kids could experience various holidays, celebrations, and seasons.

    Here’s another example. She taught at a Montessori school in England where her daughter attended as well. But she still insisted on speaking Polish to her in school!

    How many of us say things like, “Oh but I can’t speak Chinese in these situations because of this and that reason.”For me it always goes back to how much you want something vs what excuses you make for not doing it. I know this is overly simplistic and I’m not above doing it myself. But there are many cases where the only thing stopping me from accomplishing a goal isn’t my circumstances or the environment, but myself. And I need to remember to keep that in mind next time my sentences start with “But….I can’t because….”

My verdict? You don’t have to go out and buy this book. But if your friends have it, borrow and read it!
Oh here are two videos showing her oldest speaking English and Chinese.  And another of her parents talking about homeschooling in English.

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