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Bringing Up Kara
Bringing Up Kara
Not everyone has the patience and perseverance to homeschool their child, but Karen-Ong Tan is one such parent who makes it look easy. In this heartfelt interview, she opens up about her commitment to homeschooling and how that has made her a more confident parent.
Jasmine Alimin

Being a mum is no walk in the park, what with the sleepless nights, diapers, breastfeeding, teething woes and more. All that is followed by an endless stream of consciousness: To sleep train or not to? To be a mindful parent or a pedantic one? To school or to unschool? Whatever decision you make, know that there is no right or wrong answer, but one that works best for you and your child.

For former lawyer Karen-Ong Tan, homeschooling seven-year-old Kara was something that happened organically. It was also a decision that she and husband, Samuel Tan—who manages personal and family investments, felt very strongly about. “This path of homeschooling resonated with us as it allowed for more shared family experiences, and helped us fulfil our responsibility as parents to impart good values to her, especially at an age when children face increasing amounts of outside stimulation,” explains Karen. “This is also the time of Kara’s life where both of us, and her grandparents, are still able and mobile—allowing us to share a wider range for experiences together, including more physical activities such as hiking and travelling.”

Being a full-time mum and primary caregiver accords Karen a lot of precious one-to-one time with her only child, which is one of the pull factors for many parents who choose to homeschool their kids. “I’m at a stage of my life where I’m not only excited, but also fortunate to have the opportunity to rearrange my commitments to make time for our little one during the precious early years. I’m also blessed to be able to do so because of the love and support of my husband,” she attests.

Judging by Kara’s bubbly personality, boundless energy, heightened confidence and unbridled enthusiasm (just like Mum!), we see the profound effect homeschooling has had on this talkative little Miss. “Kara has always been a vivacious and fiercely independent little girl with an infectious passion for learning, so teaching her brings us lots of joy,” says Karen. “We’re surprised when she started reading and writing confidently and independently by three, and that has proved to be a milestone that has shaped our little journey.”

We ask Kara if she has any subject she doesn’t like, and she quips without missing a beat, “No.” Not even Mandarin? “I enjoy it very much!” she replies in an almost Queen’s English accent, then marches off wearing Mummy’s heels despite Karen telling her not to do so.


Instead of enrolling her daughter into preschool, Karen wanted to fully experience the joys of motherhood by being the main provider of Kara’s mental and emotional needs. She planned a home curriculum not based on any particular pedagogy, but one with a strong child-led focus that resembled a typical day at school. “Early mornings would be spent with some outdoor play and exploration, followed by learning and discovery projects, and tasks at home. Afternoons were set aside for naps, playdates and outings with different groups of friends,” Karen details.

After seeing tremendous growth and development, it seemed only natural for Kara to continue her homeschooling journey in her primary years. “My friends, who send their kids to regular school, were the ones that encouraged me to homeschool Kara after noticing how much I loved guiding her all through preschool,” Karen reveals.

In order to embark on a homeschool journey at primary level, Karen and Samuel went through the rigorous process of applying for Compulsory Education exemption from the Ministry of Education (MOE). This entailed providing various educational certificates of the parent who would be doing the homeschooling, an outline of the curricula, as well as a proposed weekly timetable. Karen is also required to submit a yearly report on Kara’s progress to the MOE. In addition, an MOE officer will pay the parents a home visit to conduct an interview, discuss curriculum details and check that the child has a suitable learning environment. The visit also includes an informal chat with the child.

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September 2019