Homeschooling: Interest-led learning with Alex Hao

I’m so happy that I finally have the time to write about the other session that I loved at the last Philippine Homeschool Conference 2016. I’m sorry it took me this long to write about it as I’ve had my hands full over the holidays with my kids’ musicale and all other events my husband and the kids had going.

Anyway, I really want to share with you my thoughts on the session “Interest-led learning” with Alex Hao because it’s something that my husband and I feel very strongly about.

Please note that it’s been months since the event and I also missed the first 5 minutes of the session.



Alex Hao simply shared what she does with her kids. Other than learning Math and reading History to her kids (I’m not sure if I’m missing one more subject here), she pretty much focuses on life skills.

For example, everyday, her children feed the chickens, clean their coop, observe it and watch it grow, among other chores.

She supports their interest in music and in sports and drives them to their training sessions, no matter how far or how early the sessions are.

In Alex’s own words, she said her kids don’t learn what regular students learn in school. When they asked, she told them that they may eventually have to learn these things.

But at the moment, she focuses on building on their interests and supporting their dream, and teaching them Math.
Because you need Math,” she says.

Directions and Solutions

The Hao’s homeschooling method may be unconventional, but this has not closed doors of opportunities for them.

For instance, one of her daughters, who is a Violinist, wanted to audition for the Philippine High School for the Arts. Since she didn’t have a school transcript, Alex’s daughter reviewed for the PEPT test arranged by PHSA and took it.

Alex says that they agreed that if she passes the 6th grade, they will discuss PHSA. But she got a 70 in her Science and according to Alex, in DepEd standards, she’s only in the third grade. So the plan to go to PHSA was shelved.

Since then, other opportunities had come along. Alex showed us some photos of the same daughter on a 3-week International Orchestra Summer Camp in Ingenium Academy in Winchester London last year.

She’s 16 and is allowed to take the PEPT for 10th grade. Alex says they have six months to figure out how to navigate her senior high school.

Why  no curriculum?

The Haos don’t find it necessary to buy curriculum. Alex explains that she thinks the current curricula are much too expensive and they prefer to save their money for the future.

Alex doesn’t seem to worry about whether her kids are keeping up with students from regular schools, but she explained that it doesn’t mean that she makes no plans or that she doesn’t assign workbooks to her kids.

Here’s what she said:

Weighing the pros and cons

Jay and I are leaning towards interest-led learning because our kids show clear interests in certain things. But we don’t have the confidence to ditch curricula entirely.

I agree with Joy Mendoza of when she said years ago at another homeschool conference that it is our mandate as parents to “teach our children in the way they should go.” (Proverbs 22:6)

We try to be respectful of our children’s preferences, but at the same time, we teach them things that we feel are valuable learning. We still have the opportunity to guide them, I’m not about to take that for granted.

What I dislike is the idea that my kids have to keep up with other kids in terms of the topics we cover. Personally, I feel that the educational system here in the Philippines pulls us back a bit because it always seems that our children are expected to do exactly what other kids take up in regular school.

And because both my husband and I hold 8-hour jobs, it’s hard to add any more to the required curriculum because they have already taken up all of our homeschool hours.

We’ve been working on the work books the past two school years, I’m dying to get them out there to put all these theories, principles and knowledge into action!

These hands-on experiences, of course, are on us. We need to do something about this as their parents.

To learn versus To complete

A friend of  mine raised the matter of having deadlines in the real world, and I agree that teaching your child to deliver to what they committed to is important, but not to the extent that you take out the joy in your child’s learning experience.

My kids are slow in topics they dislike but are pretty quick at the ones they love. For instance, my 7-year old has already completed his Math and Science workbooks for the year, but is tediously slow in Civics.

My eldest studies animation and blender programming mostly on his own, but can be frustratingly slow in anything that involves writing. But he can read. He reads the materials we give him and can discuss them with us.

I can’t begin to tell you how much yelling (and apologizing!) I’ve done this school year because I wanted them to speed up on the work sheets, but I caught myself in the middle of it and realized that the quality of learning is much more valuable to us than completing the exercises on time.

Exhibit A — ME!

I believe that when a person is truly passionate about something, he will find the drive to get his act together and give it everything he’s got.

I was an unconventional student. I did not fit in any of the schools my parents sent me to. I transferred schools thrice in high school and twice in college. I barely came to class on time, if I ever did go. I cared little about deadlines and just did enough to get university over with.

I was labeled a difficult child back then and I don’t blame people for that. I’m not proud of my past, but what I’m saying is that even though I didn’t meet the standards of the traditional system, I am confident that I have done well in every professional work I’ve taken on and in the work ethic I have shown my clients.

My point is that my kids will most likely not choose careers they are not,in the least, interested in. And if they ever face the same challenge as I did – having to shift careers, then I guess we need to prepare them to rise up to it. We just need to find a better way to do it without extinguishing their fire.

(READ: Why a child’s listening skills matter)

Shifting to Interest-led homeschooling

It took a few years but I’m grateful that my husband has involved himself more deeply in our children’s homeschooling. He used to just let me take the reins and okayed everything I set my mind on. But now, he has taken position in certain areas and voices them out. I appreciate that.

After struggling with DepEd’s curriculum this year, we agreed that we need to customise our homeschooling around our kids’ interests and areas of strength, which is what we should have been doing in the first place.

We also feel that we cannot afford to take away our focus on our children’s character and values. We’ve got too much going on, we just have to let go of things irrelevant to our goals.

Two things that inspired us when we listened to Alex Hao: Her confidence in the things to come (it takes huge faith to do as she does it) and her courage to go against the tide.

In the Philippines, the traditional school mindset is quite strong and the current educational system amplifies that even more. Admittedly, I’ve made many decisions in our homeschooling based on my fears fanned by traditional school thinking.

The coming years don’t promise to make it easier on us but being on the same page with my husband on the shift helps me to be brave.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

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  1. Homeschooling is never easy. It takes a lot of determination and discipline. I did consider homeschooling but in the end chose supplement schooling for my kids as it is still better to send them through traditional schooling which gives them a more varied opportunity for different kinds of exposures and also chance to interact with many different kids from different walks of life.

    1. That is actually a misconception already addressed and discussed many times over.

      My eldest son has had more opportunities in the professional world even at his young age of 11 because we homeschool him. He also has interacted with people of different ages and nationalities because we are able to bring him along with us. The conflict discussed in the blog isn’t whether I want to homeschool or not, but whether to go for interest-led learning and break away from traditional schooling method which pulls us back from our goals, but at the risk of going through a more tedious process with the DepEd.

  2. Go for it! Don’t be afraid! =) We’ve been doing the interest-led approach ever since. My eldest is now 8. We use a lot of books that are related to his interests. We study music a lot and those related to it because he is musically-inclined. When my husband first asked me to investigate homeschooling, I said that if ever we’d homeschool, I’d homeschool the kids up to Grade 1 only. That was because I wasn’t confident I could homeschool our child effectively beyond that. When he was 5 years old, I had him assessed at Headway School in QC. He was assessed to be at multiple grade levels, mostly advance his age. In some subjects, he was already Grade 3. This affirmed me to continue what we were doing. =) Today, my eldest is already 8 and I have 2 younger kids, 5 and 2. I use the same approach with my younger kids.

  3. I am considering homeschooling as I’m really inspired by you and other homeschooling mommy bloggers. But I still have to weigh things out, I see that homeschooling isn’t easy too. And for someone who works full-time, I don’t want to commit to it just yet. I’ve yet to sit down and discuss this with my husband pa.

    1. I work full time, too, although I work from home. So I don’t have the traffic to worry about. You do have your weekends and your evenings to help your child out. Perhaps you should look into PACES curriculum? Try School of Tomorrow for your provider. They’re affordable and the modules are designed for independent study.

  4. I attended a homeschooling talk last year and was inspired homeschool our fourth kid. We were informed that we could either choose between interest-led homeschooling or the curriculum based technique. I feel your sentiments re sticking on what youve started. It seems too challenging to try the interest-led way of homeschooling. But the promise of seeing your kid happier is tempting not to try it as well.

    1. I can’t really do it the way the Hao’s do it, but we will at least customise our curriculum based on our kids’ areas of strength. 🙂

  5. Hi May! I envy parents who are considering homeschooling because even with its merits, I don’t even consider it.

    Regarding the interest-led approach, I agree with what Joy Mendoza said. We want our children to be happy and follow their dreams, but they must also remember that the world does not revolve around them We all have to do things we don’t like, because don’t just live for ourselves.

    Our children would have responsibilities in the future that would require knowledge and acumen on certain things. While our education system is not perfect, I still respect the time and effort of people who decided what subjects children need to take up in school.

    1. Hi Maine! I do not mind the subjects. It’s just the pressure to keep up at the same pace as everyone else as each child has his own learning pace that needs to be considered.

  6. Wow, I admire parents – moms especially who homeschool their kids! I just don’t have the patience to teach little kids!!! I like the interest-led though, but exposing them to more opportunities and interests will do them great too!

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