Catherine Soon was one of the keynote speakers in 2019’s Homeschool convention. She shared her experiences overcoming challenges and criticisms as she homeschooled her children through PSLE.
Jess Kuan: Thank you for taking the time to participate in this interview! Your topic was “PSLE before and after”. Can you tell us a little about that?
Catherine Soon: I believe that PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) can be a useful tool for the child, to train endurance and good stewardship of our time and resources.
In my talk I want to let audiences know that homeschoolers can do well in PSLE, and to inspire other parents. Do not fear PSLE, but let the child take the benchmark exams with confidence, [as] an opportunity to shine as a testimony.
Jess Kuan: Many parents have difficulty deciding what curriculum to use to sufficiently prepare their children for PSLE. Considering how many different curriculums and methods there are, how did you narrow them down to decide what you would use to teach your children?
Catherine Soon: The first and foremost is I must enjoy the curriculum, otherwise I cannot teach it. And after homeschooling for more than a decade, I switched curriculums out of boredom. Imagine teaching the same thing for 5 children!
When I first started in 2004, those boxed curriculum with Christian content, like Bob Jones University Press, saved me lots of preparation; the English is rich and the Bible truths are excellent in character building.
Because of PSLE, I have to do the local Maths, Chinese, and Science when preparing for the benchmark exams. So it is a mix of local and US curriculum.
Currently, my last child loves Classical Conversations and the community day, where she gets to meet her friends on a regular basis. My fears were allayed when I saw how she was thriving and loving every minute of it. With their writing program, I also just discovered she has a flair for writing. So I would suggest to keep an open mind.
Jess Kuan: Why do you homeschool?
Catherine Soon: Spending time with my children is precious. Homeschooling is living life together. It is an extension of parenting.
Jess Kuan: Raising children can be a challenge at times, and homeschooling them can make it even harder. You happen to have five! What is it like homeschooling 5 children? What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
Catherine Soon: I have evolved into a more relaxed and calmer person over time. When I first started, I was very edgy, making sure I filled in the boxes. However, I realize now that I did not really enjoy my children in the process. It was more like doing school at home. So now, I have learned to slow down, do the most important things first.
I see homeschooling as a tool to raise God-fearing, Spirit-led adults–like a means to an end. Building good habits from the start is important, so as the children mature, they are expected to do some independent seat work, chores, and learning–although some monitoring is necessary. I focus mostly on the younger ones, on the rudiments of phonics, reading aloud. My challenge is that my own shortcomings might get in the way, and it could manifest and affect my homeschooling–for example, my fears of an unknown future can make me super driven and anxious in my approach. Also, I find it hard to meet their needs as they grow older, and I am learning to surrender to God to fill in the gaps.
Jess Kuan: What is your daily study routine like, and how does it benefit you?
Catherine Soon: Homeschooling enables my children to see the real me 24/7, and I am learning to model a life that is pleasing to Christ before them.
The children have a set of routine chores to do. I work with individual kids on their weakest subject – Chinese.
Jess Kuan: In addition to Chinese being a tested subject in PSLE, it is an important language to know in everyday life here. As Singapore is a multilingual country, it is useful to know how to speak different languages and dialects. You have stated that your children are learning Chinese. What are the benefits to you in raising a bilingual child?
Catherine Soon: I am only proficient in chinese myself and of course if time and resources allow, learning another language is a plus to anybody.
Jess Kuan: In what ways are you trying to encourage your children’s active use of Chinese?
Catherine Soon: They do not have the opportunity to speak it at home, but I am pretty confident that they can carry out a decent conversation with people on the street, giving directions and making purchases etc. I make it compulsory that they read chinese magazines and books every day. In the past, I enticed them with interesting stories of China’s history.
Jess Kuan: What do you consider the downsides of being homeschooled.
Catherine Soon: The child can grow up self-centered, narrow-minded, and ill-disciplined. Some parents are too child-centered, instead of God-centered. Parents–in not wanting the child ”suffer”–tend to be overly protective or let the child get away with things that are difficult. In other words, the children are cushioned from hardships.
Jess Kuan: Would you recommend homeschooling to others? Why or why not?
Catherine Soon: I would not recommend. But would be more than happy to share if others are genuinely interested. One needs to count the cost of homeschooling as Sally Clarkson has said. I feel someone would need to come to that conviction on their own, rather than being recommended to do so. Going to mainstream school is not all bad. Hence I would not be overly enthusiastic to recommend homeschooling to others.
Jess Kuan: You have mentioned earlier that a homeschooled child can grow up self-centered, narrow-minded, and ill-disciplined. What are your expectations for your children’s attitude and effort? How have you worked to avoid these problems? Were the methods you used different for each child?
Catherine Soon: I expect that they will put their best into all of their pursuits, and in the mundane things as well. Don’t shield them from hard work. I think assigning chores from a young age is a good start. I do not accept slipshod work.
Connection with the child is very important and it is the only way you can reach the heart. I find self reflection and humility before God to also be vital. Some children take longer than others but they will get there eventually, I hope.
Jess Kuan: What advice would you give to this year’s speakers at the Homeschool Convention?
Catherine Soon: To be prayerful about the topic to speak to the audience. Ask the Lord for His leading. Prepare early
Photograph by Larry Toh Photography