We’re several months into this new iteration of our time in Taiwan. This has been a new leap for us and things are coming together but we’re always learning on the go. Sam’s now in third grade at Lih-Jen and the twins are in kindergarten (大班) at Xinguang Catholic Kindergarten.
Sam’s life looks both more relaxed and fuller this year, but the pace of instruction here is fast. He has at least two good school friends. One is an Indian student who has also grown up in Taipei but went to Dominican (a Catholic English/bilingual school) until this year, and then his buddy Connor, who is Korean-American and came in early 2016. There’s a Monday afternoon park play group, led by Jane, mother of Kevin, who is kind of a Tiger mom who aspires to less pressure for her kid (but Kevin is studying Japanese and French, piano, swimming, and ping pong, and his mom speaks to him in English). I know all the kids and parents fairly well now and I like them all. Right now my parenting style feels like:
expat parenting + Gen X helicopter parent + raising a PK/MK (pastor’s kid, missionary kid) + living among urban competitive Taiwanese parents
I always fear we’re going to crash and burn eventually. On the other hand, it’s pretty reassuring to talk to other parents (from cub scouts, church, Lih-Jen, the twins’ school) because there’s just no way to do everything and we’re all trying to figure out what’s enough and what’s too much.
Sam’s English teacher this year gives him a much longer leash, which is nice. It’s meant he sometimes gets behind or doesn’t do great on assignments, but the teacher also figures as long as we’re okay, he’s okay. Sam does a lot independently (he likes to write little books about dinosaurs, cars, or pokemon, and he’s a good drawer).
I feel like Sam is doing well, but he also won’t be the model student, even in English, because:
-He sometimes goes too fast. We read the assigned book, Superfudge, in a week, but most students are reading a page a day over a semester. Sam’s often forgotten whatever they’re to be tested on by the time we get to it.
-We don’t always see his school work. This meant on tests he struggled with place values for numbers and with calculating time differences (I’m grateful for the tests, since it told us what he was missing).
The upside is that Sam is really loving school. Sam’s friend’s mom worried that maybe her son ‘is loving school too much.’ At Lih-Jen the computer teachers lets him and his friends look up car designs during nap time, and he seems to like recess, art, and the rest. We’re probably going to let him drop violin, but he’s said he’d switch to chorus. Our only real dilemma is math, where Taiwanese school is fast. They’ve already done multiple digit multiplication and are on division now. We’ve started working with Sam on flashcards and a poster and the rest, but he may just be slow out of the gate on this. With reading we didn’t push him at all but he also seemed to get the hang out of it without a lot of stress. With math, it seems he’s caught on basic memory work (8 +7, 4×4). I wonder if some of it might be language, so we visited a local cram school and the owner helped sign him up to work with a teacher twice a week. To me it feels a bit insane to have him in buxiban in 3rd grade, but most of the kids I see there are his age or younger. Connor’s mom also signed him up, but with a different teacher. I don’t want him to be too far behind US work, and I also don’t want him to feel like he’s bad at math, when really he’s just had a lot fewer hours doing it than his classmates.
The school itself is not a perfect mix. It’s really designed for native Chinese speakers and non-native English speakers, and we’re the opposite of that. I feel like in Chinese, he gets almost forgotten, because the teacher is used to ignoring the non-native students. I wish I could have another curriculum I could help him with. The Chinese program is mostly texts to copy plus writing characters. There’s no core vocab, no writing exercises, nothing like I studied when I had Chinese.
Sam seems to also learn a lot on his own. We’ve been reading about US presidents lately, and he’s very into sports cars (which was never something that hooked me). He’s memorized dozens of cars and is interested in the mechanics. He watches youtube tutorials on drawing. For novels we’ve done Harry Potter #5 and are now doing a mix of Little House, Charlotte’s Web, Geronimo Stilton, some audio books (they love Dan Gutman), and whatever looks interesting from the library. I really enjoy reading with them. I started Roald Dahl’s the Witches with the twins and they love it, and I have the audio for Frog and Toad.
The twins seem very happy with their school. They are older for their grade (just turned six in October), so I feel like they’re used to being in charge more and seem to have the run of the school. Their Chinese is great right now and they both have a modest amount of well-thought out homework. We may try public school for them with some additional tutoring for English, because they seem a little more mature than Sam was at this age. They also have each other, which is a nice help. And often if we don’t understand the instructions in one classroom, we get another explanation for the kid in the other room. It’s an unexpected benefit of twins.
Taiwanese education, with an escape route
With our kids, we really have an escape valve. Probably by junior high they’ll be in an English program. For Taiwanese students, all paths have traditionally led through a series of hard exams (to get into junior high, then high school, then university), so anything that radically undermines this is dangerous. Cultural expectations are also quite different. We expect school to be fun and we value a mix of activities. I want my kids to read a ton of books for fun, to draw a lot, to play in the park, go to church, and so on. I’m probably naturally an over-scheduler, but Emily often feels we’re already doing too much.
With our kids I still struggle to give them conflicting messages: learn everything you can, follow your passions, but don’t close doors because you don’t like something right now, respect your teachers, but institutions can also be soul-crushing, be independent, but ask for help when you need it, trust others who know what you need to know, but listen to your own voice.