As an educator, I have always been concerned about my son’s education. I felt, since the moment he was born, that my principle task as a mother was to help him learn to be a well-adjusted, happy and successful man, no matter where he might live.
When we arrived in México, my son was 4 years old, and according to his Spanish-speaking grandparents, he didn’t speak any Spanish. However, he did understand everything he heard. In order to jump start his language acquisition, we decided to send him to a bilingual kindergarten. I found a position with a private school, and he attended with me. We both liked this arrangement since Mommy was his teacher for 1/2 the day. His Spanish improved immensely.
At 5, we needed to make some decisions about schooling. We planned to make México our permanent home, not just a 2 or 3-year stint. It was evident that there would be things I just wouldn’t be able to adequately teach my son about Mexican culture and language. Thus began our homeschool variation.
My son attends public elementary school from 2 pm in the afternoon until 6:30 pm. His normal subjects include Spanish, Math, Science, Mexican Moral Values, Physical Education and Mexican History, with brief sessions of music, art, and computer classes. So my mission was to supplement these courses with those that I thought he might need. We began a home study course in the mornings and on weekends.
I left Spanish alone. A native teacher is always better than a foreigner. At 10, he speaks Mexican Spanish fluently, without a trace of an American accent. He also is the top reader in his class, having been elected several years in a row to represent his school at various reading competitions.
Math, other than learning the terms in English, again was something I didn’t need to focus too much on since numbers are easily understood in digit form in either language. Anyway, I wasn’t much help with the metric system, having learned the English measurement system when I was a girl. His dad does most of the teaching for this subject. Having worked in both the United States and México, he is able to use both measurement systems well. He and our son used hands-on math in the construction of our home.
I added World History to his morning agenda, using interesting books or fun activities like word searches or hidden picture books. I also had him play Civilization on the computer, which really was his favorite lesson by far. If you’ve never played the game, the idea is for you to grow a civilization from the hunter/gatherer stage to a scientifically advanced one. Your scientific and military advancements depend on the civilization you choose. I think, for this reason, he never complained when we had to gather vinas (a bean type plant) or cut grass for the animals. He imagined he was gathering, just like in the game. Now that his reading ability has caught up to the textbooks I brought with us, he enjoys comparing what he learned from the game to the information in the books.
In line with our world culture study, we recently added Bible lessons as well. We can really relate to some of the early biblical accounts as we too have sheep and goats and have to haul water and make good trades. I found Semana Santa (Holy Week) a good time to present the life and times of Jesus since there are live reenactments of the trial and death in this very Catholic nation. He also is my assistant in designing Spanish Bible games for a local Christian church.
Science has been the easiest by far. We live off the beaten path and every day provides opportunities to study native flora and fauna. I remember the day we saw a dung beetle rolling its dung with his hind legs. Having only ever seen that creature on TV, we were very excited to be sure. We watched it for awhile, then raced home to do more research in the bug encyclopedia.
On another nature walk, we came across a snake that my son was able to identify as a non-venomous scarlet king snake, not its poisonous cousin the coral snake, from his readings. Then there are the butterflies of México, every size and hue imaginable. After the rains, butterflies can be found in groups of hundreds. You can literally walk through clouds of butterflies. No museum trip can match the wonder of that.
With the native vegetation, I am as an avid a student as my son. I have been unable to locate any composite books on plants of México, so am always full of questions for my husband and my in-laws. What is the medicinal value of this or that plant? Is it edible? What animals eat it? Which are poisonous? Can it be made into a tea? How do you eat it, raw or cooked?
We also began our mini-ranching about the time our son started school, so he has had hands-on experience with a number of different animals, much more learning intensive than a day trip to the petting zoo. He has helped with births and hatchings, with daily care and milking, with the selling and butchering. He has learned, along with us, about the interconnectedness of the environment. For example, the horses eat grain then poop. The chickens eat the flies and the undigested grains and lay eggs. We eat the eggs, which gives us the energy to plant the grain that the horse eats. He has also seen the agonizing results of improper or inadequate care and learned how we have a responsibility to our animals to provide adequate food and shelter and what benefits we receive in return.
Of course, his daily homeschool curriculum includes liberal doses of English. He helps me design exciting language games, reads, does his (in his opinion ‘not so fun‘) daily grammar or spelling activity, and uses the language every day with his father or me or my other ESL students. He speaks English without a Mexican accent, although he often spells as if the word were phonetically Spanish. We’re working on that.
With non-academic courses such as physical education, music, art, and computer literacy classes, most Mexican public schools do not have a lot of funding for intensive year-long classes, but they do provide sessions as teachers become available.
My son had an art class working with barro (clay) which is a traditional medium for many everyday items still made and used here in México today. He is also learning Zentangle design from a student of mine in exchange for English classes.
He has had a few flute classes, but he never mastered that well. So now, he takes Mommy piano lessons on Saturday and is progressing nicely.
Our daily lives, with its many activities, provide ample physical activity for a growing boy. For instance, my son’s job is to fill the barrica (barrel) using the hand pump so that we have water to wash with. We tease him about how the girls in his class must notice how muscular he has become because of this daily task. We also love to take family bike rides to the next town and back.
And he has had access to a computer from an early age in our home. We have recently been able to get internet service, and the whole world has opened up for him with the click of a button.
I wish I could provide more for my son. The area that we live in is so backward regarding technology and at times, culturally. But I hope that I am providing enough that wherever he may go, he will have enough knowledge to survive and succeed.
After all, as Joseph Campbell says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” and that should be enough for anyone.