Monday, January 26, 2015

Like Stars on Earth Movie Review

I first learned about this movie through a homeschool support group (on Facebook) that I'm a part of. One parent recommended this movie and shared that it was good. Another parent who already watched the movie left a comment saying that the movie can help more people understand giftedness. As soon as I read that comment, I clicked the link shared so I can check it out on YouTube. I searched Google for more information about the movie and after finding out from fellow parents that they also watched it with their kids who are almost the same age as mine, I told my husband that we will watch the movie as a family that same night. 

I'm so glad we did! It was an inspiring and moving film! 

Basically, it's about a twice exceptional kid (intelligent kid with a learning disability)  who was having problems in school. He was transferred to a boarding school by his Dad who was hoping that his school performance would improve after he is transferred. The boy's problem continued and he even got depressed because of the separation from his family. Things got better when a new art teacher met the boy and intervened; so that not only the boy's parents, but also the school teachers and principal would understand what's causing the boy's difficulty in school. 

Let me enumerate some of my reasons for liking this movie and why I would recommend it to all parents, whether they have gifted, twice exceptional or typical children.

1. It depicted many of the characteristics of gifted children in the child actor. My husband and I, together with our eldest son, were laughing at some point when we saw a series of scenes where the child in the movie was acting like our eldest son. The child in the movie had a very good imagination and he daydreams a lot of times, even while eating and during class. This makes him slow in finishing his meals. He also gets distracted by the things around him and some of these things trigger his imagination making him lose focus on what he is currently doing. In the movie, he was asked by the teacher to go out of the classroom because he was not paying attention. He was caught looking out of the window. 

Other characteristics of many gifted children like poor fine motor skills (manifested in poor handwriting), poor hand-eye coordination (shown in difficulty throwing the ball in the right direction), being prone to depression, tuning out and building a world of their own through their imagination and having difficulty fitting in were also shown .

2. It showed that parents need to be more understanding of their children's mistakes and seek to find out the possible causes of their difficulties in school and problematic behaviors. The parents of the boy were clueless to what was causing the child's poor performance in school. The mom was trying to help her son by spending time teaching him and helping him with school work when he gets home but the mom was also clueless on why his son's handwriting was terrible and why he was failing his exams. The dad was too harsh on both of his sons. He was usually saying bad words and demotivating words especially to his younger son who was failing in school. This contributed to the boy's poor self-image and self-esteem. 

It was only when the substitute art teacher, who happened to also teach in a school for kids with special needs, met the boy, looked into his case and intervened by talking to the boy's parents that they learned that their son has dyslexia.  

3. I liked how the teacher explained the boy's condition to his parents. The dad was blaming the boy for performing bad in school. The dad thinks that it's because of the boy's attitude and laziness. The teacher used a brilliant way to make the dad understand that it's not the boy's attitude that's causing the problem. He made the parents understand that their son needs help, support and understanding so he could get over his depression and perform better in school.

4. I loved what the teacher did to help the boy! He not only advocated for the boy to the school principal and his fellow teachers. He also spent extra hours teaching the boy to address his special needs. 

After the good art teacher invested time to help the boy, he performed better in school which shocked his parents at the end of the term.

5. I liked that the movie showed how a child can blossom under the care and guidance of a good, loving and compassionate teacher/mentor. I wish more teachers and parents would be more accepting and supportive like this art teacher in the movie.

This is what I pray for... that we'd find good and loving mentors for my eldest son who is showing very good potential in becoming a talented musician.

6. I liked that the movie reminded those watching it that words have power to build or destroy. The negative words that the child often heard from those around him, including that of his parents, made him look down on himself and his abilities. 

This made me reflect and ask myself if I am also guilty of committing the same mistakes when dealing with my own children.

7. The movie reminds parents that the home should be a place where children feel loved, accepted and supported.

8. Last but not least, I liked that the school chose to accommodate a child with special needs and that the other teachers gave the child a chance after the art teacher volunteered to help the boy by tutoring him and enabling him to cope with the demands of the school.

The movie is in a foreign language but it has English subtitles so my husband and I, together with our eldest son were able to follow and understand it. The kids also enjoyed watching the movie. My kids are currently 6 and 3 years old.

It's a very inspiring and moving movie! Watch it! 

Click here so you can watch the movie in YouTube. Enjoy!

If you want to watch another film about a gifted child, I recommend that you check out my review of the movie Boses here 

Click here to find more articles about giftedness in media.

Friday, January 23, 2015

How Pope Francis' Messages Affirmed Me in My Decision to Homeschool My Kids

It has been four days since Pope Francis left the Philippines after his five-day visit to the country. But his words during his papal visit still ring loud and clear in my mind and heart. I felt that God spoke powerfully through him to affirm my decision to homeschool my kids.
Let me share some of his words that resonated with me.
1. Focus "on the things that really matter"
My main reason for choosing to homeschool my kids is because I want to focus on educating them with the things that really matter now that they are still very young. I want these important matters to be the foundation of their education.
There are many subjects and topics covered in the traditional school set up. Students are overloaded with these information; yet, many kids do not retain much of these information because they are not ready and because they were simply pressured to remember them so that they would pass their tests. 
As independent homeschoolers and as my kids' main teacher, I get to customize my kids' program/curriculum and teach them what I believe is most important to prepare them for the realities of life and for life eternal.   

One of the programs we have for example is the letter of the week wherein I did not only introduce the letters of the alphabet to my second child but I included Bible verses also and things related to our Catholic faith. My eldest child usually writes a Bible verse related to our letter of the week, which I also ask him to memorize. Then, he and his younger brother do an art/craft activity related to it.

Below are some photos for our activities with the letter P, inspired by the Pope's visit last week.

My second son's art work.

My eldest son's handwriting.

My eldest son's drawing.

My drawing/illustration while teaching them truths from the Bible through storytelling.
2. "What is the most important subject you have to learn at university? What is most important subject you have to learn in life? To learn how to love. This is the challenge that life offers you: to learn how to love. Not just to accumulate information without knowing what to do with it. But through that love let that information bear fruit."
I agree with the Pope! When I heard the Pope say this, I was reminded of a verse in the Bible which says, "If I do not have love, I'm simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing."

My eldest son showing his love for his younger brother Mateo
by kissing him and reading to him.
Again, with the information overload, students are overwhelmed and find it hard to determine how to make good use of all these information they were supplied. The question is: do they need all those details/information for the career and life they want to have in the future? Or is it a waste of the children's time to study too many facts which may not be of value to them in their current situation or in the future?
In most schools, students are given very little time to play and be themselves because study takes so much of their time. When they get home, they need to study again because they have homework/assignments. They need to review for quizzes and tests.

In our homeschool, they have plenty of time to play because formal study time (meaning structured and planned by me) takes only a few hours and is interspersed with play time or meal time. Moreover, we emphasize that whatever they learn or whatever skills they acquire should be put to service of others and of the Church. Thus, when my eldest learned how to read, he would read to his baby brother. He passes on whatever new learning he has to his younger sibling. He has also made it his goal to learn to play Mass songs in the piano so that one day he can serve as pianist in the Church during Mass. He has actually done so once when we got to the Church one evening and there was no pianist.
3. "You know how to give and yet you have ever learned how to receive... Learn how to open your hand from your very own poverty."
Society puts a premium on being self-sufficient and independent. But the truth is that we are interdependent. Our children need to learn that no man is an island. That in order to succeed, we need not only be good in our field but we need to also work with people who can help us achieve our dreams and goals. As one of my favorite authors/mentors often say, "Build your dream team."
For in truth, we don't need to learn how to do everything ourselves. We need to learn to be open to receiving help from others. As the saying goes, "No one is too rich not to receive. No one is too poor not to give." 
4. "the Gospel offers us a serene way forward: using the three languages of the mind, heart and hands – and to use them in harmony... To think. To feel. To do. And all in harmony..." 
Schools and universities put too much emphasis on the mental development of students. In our homeschool, I am able to balance both instruction and practice in different areas. Most importantly, because I recognize that my kids are whole persons who have spirits, minds, hearts and bodies, I can integrate into our curriculum materials and activities that will address their needs in all areas.
5. "It is in the family that we first learn how to pray. And don’t forget when the family prays together, it remains together.  This is important.  There we come to know God, to grow into men and women of faith, to see ourselves as members of God’s greater family, the Church."
I'm very happy and I feel fulfilled that I have taught my kids how to pray. I believe that this is important lesson they need to learn in life. By learning how to pray to God, they know that whenever they need something -- be it something temporal or not -- they can turn to God who is omniscient and omnipresent.
6. "...if we do not pray, we will not know the most important thing of all: God’s will for us.  And for all our activity, our busy-ness, without prayer we will accomplish very little."
And let me add, we will accomplish very little of what is truly important.
This is something that I also believe is essential in my kids' education. It is only in and through prayer that they will discover God's Will for their lives. That is my second greatest dream for my kids: for them to discover God's will for their lives and live their lives according to His Divine Will. Of course my greatest dream for my kids is for them to spend their eternity with God in heaven.
7. "Faith does not remove us from the world, but draws us more deeply into it.  Each of us, in fact, has a special role in preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom in our world."
I do not only put much emphasis on our faith in our homeschool. In fact, I have made this the foundation of our homeschool. I'm teaching my kids these things because I believe that these would prepare them to live in the world where wolves abound.
8. "God calls upon us to recognize the dangers threatening our own families and to protect them from harm."
There are so many threats to the family as a whole and to its members. Relationships within the family are threatened by many harmful ideologies and concepts, which bring me to the Pope's next statements.
9. “Sadly, in our day, the family all too often needs to be protected against insidious attacks and programs contrary to all that we hold true and sacred, all that is most beautiful and noble in our culture.”
10. "While all too many people live in dire poverty, others are caught up in materialism and lifestyles which are destructive of family life and the most basic demands of Christian morality. The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life."
The RH Bill has been recently passed in the Philippines and this is one of the reasons I don't want to put my kids in brick and mortar schools in the country. I do not agree with the ideas, methods and timing by which our government has integrated sex education in school materials. I feel that these materials that the government wants to use to "educate" kids in our country are actually polluting both their minds and souls. I want to protect my kids' innocence and purity as long as I can. I don't want them to lose these too early when they are not yet emotionally and physically prepared for these concepts and ideas. 

I also do not want my kids to be influenced by their classmates or peers to be materialistic. Kids nowadays are so concerned about fashion and gadgets. Kids want to have what toys or gadgets their classmates have. I also do not want them to be influenced by popular culture. I want them to be influenced by our faith. I want them to discover their own unique styles and preferences without being pressured to act and dress a certain way just to gain friends or be accepted. I don't want them to watch shows that do not add value to them but instead corrupts their values and do not challenge their thinking just to be included in conversations in school. (My kids do not watch tv.) I don't want them to be brainwashed that it's ok to have premarital sex; anyway, one can use condoms.
10. "So protect your families!   See in them your country’s greatest treasure and nourish them always by prayer and the grace of the sacraments."
One of the blessings/benefits of being homeschooling family that we experience is that we get to pray and avail of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist as often as we want. We are able to go to Mass daily and we can spend ample time in prayer both individually and as a family.
11. "Do not hide your faith, do not hide Jesus, but carry him into the world and offer the witness of your family life!"
By choosing to homeschool our kids, we are actually making a statement with the way that we live our lives. We are communicating to those around us that it's possible to make your faith the foundation of your family life and of your children's education. It presents a counter-culture to what society considers as the norm.
12. "It is important to dream in the family."
It is a wonderful thing for dreams to start, flourish and be fulfilled in the family. I have witnessed this in our little and young family. My eldest son started dreaming of playing the guitar and the piano when he was still around 2 years old. It was a dream that was born out of our family's service to our community. I was then head of the Liturgical Committee. My family was always busy organizing and serving in the weekly Masses. He grew up witnessing this and it has become his dream to be part of the choir. It has become his dream to learn how to sing the songs in the Mass. It has become his dream to learn to play Mass songs in the piano. And all these dreams of my little boy came true one by one even at his tender age. It brings much joy into my heart to see my child blossom into the child that he is today. All these would have been fulfilled at a much later time or maybe not if he was not homeschooled. Because he is homeschooled, going to Mass has always been a priority. He can practice the piano daily if he wants to, day and night. He can spend hours if he wants to perfect a song. And he has the opportunity to use these skills, his gift of music to serve the Church. 

Below is a video of my eldest son (wearing long-sleeved white shirt with tie) singing with the choir during Midnight Mass last Christmas. 

13. “When families bring children into the world, train them in faith and sound values, and teach them to contribute to society, they become a blessing in our world.”

Values formation is another priority in our homeschool. These are more important to us than academic lessons. I have in truth experienced that values are much harder to teach than academics. We are blessed that our kids learn fast in the area of academics, particularly my eldest son. But it would take them a while to learn and adapt the values that we want them to learn and practice. It is said that values are caught, not taught. It helps to explain and have activities that pave the way for kids to understand certain values. But it is best to be role models to kids and to involve them in activities where they can see these values in action and where they too are given the opportunity to practice them or live them out.  
14. “Families have an indispensable mission in society.  It is in the family that children are trained in sound values, high ideals and genuine concern for others. But like all God’s gifts, the family can also be disfigured and destroyed.  It needs our support.”

In homeschooling, we can emphasize the values and ideals we want our children to espouse. We don't need to expose them to values that we do not approve of but are approved and promoted by the school administration. We are empowered as parents to really mold them according to the values that we believe God wants us to teach them. 

My kids and I were not able to attend the events during Pope Francis' visit but we were able to watch almost all of them live. Thanks to the internet also, I had access to the full text of the Pope's messages and homilies, enabling me to meditate on his words longer and gain insights.
You can read the full text of Pope Francis' messages in the links below:
Homily During Mass in Luneta

Are you a homeschooling family, too? Are you considering to homeschool your kids also? Do these words of the Pope resonate with you as well? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Baby Jesus In Our Midst

This poem was inspired by some of Pope Francis' messages during his recent visit here in the Philippines. I especially like his message during the Mass in Tacloban (Read the full text here.) and the encounter with the youth wherein he spoke about the girl who cried as she asked a difficult question (Read the full text here.).
Let me quote a few lines before I share my latest poem. It's funny that yesterday afternoon, before reading a poem to my eldest son, I shared with him that I used to write a lot of poems when I was young up until I was still single. I didn't foresee that I will write another one a day after I shared this anecdote about myself with him.
From Pope Francis' homily at the Mass in Tacloban:
"In his Passion he assumed all our pain. Therefore he is capable of understanding us"
"...he never lets us down. Father – you might say to me – I was let down because I have lost so many things... It’s true if you say that and I respect those sentiments. But Jesus is there, nailed to the cross, and from there he does not let us down... That is why we have a Lord who cries with us and walks with us in the most difficult moments of life."
"Many of you have asked the Lord – why lord? And to each of you, to your heart, Christ responds with his heart from the cross... Let us look to Christ. He is the Lord. He understands us because he underwent all the trials that we, that you, have experienced."
"And beside the cross was his Mother. We are like a little child in the moments when we have so much pain and no longer understand anything. All we can do is grab hold of her hand firmly and say “Mommy” – like a child does when it is afraid. It is perhaps the only words we can say in difficult times – 'Mommy'."
"He understands us because he endured everything. Let us look to our Mother and, like a little child, let us hold onto her mantle and with a true heart say – “Mother”. In silence, tell your Mother what you feel in your heart."
"Women have much to tell us in today’s society. Sometimes we are too “machistas” and we don’t allow enough space to women. But women can see things from a different angle to us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions we men are unable to understand. Look out for this fact: she is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer. She couldn’t put it into words but expressed it with tears."
"When the heart is able to ask itself and weep, then we can understand something... those left to one side, are crying. Those who are discarded are crying. But we don’t understand much about these people in need. Certain realities of life we only see through eyes cleansed by our tears."
"If you don’t learn how to cry, you cannot be a good Christian." 

Baby Jesus In Our Midst
I wonder if Mary never felt tiredness or exhaustion from caring for her newborn child.
I wonder if she was always joyful even when she hardly slept at night.
I wonder if she always rushed to his side every time he cried.
I wonder if it was easy for Mary to care for Baby Jesus since she knew that He is the Son of God.
Photo source here.

Or did she also cry silent tears when the answers to her questions she couldn’t find?
Did she patiently bear her pains and troubles when things didn’t seem right?
Did she desperately cling to God’s Words when she was tempted to think that He lied?
Did she fiercely fight her doubts and fears when her heart and mind were wrestling to understand?

Photo source here.

I wonder if we would all rush to hold and cradle a newborn child in our midst
When we remember that the Son of God once came to this world as a child like this.
I wonder if we’ll not think twice of caring and sacrificing for him
When we realize that Jesus was once a helpless child like him.
Photo source here where I learned that Baby Jesus was wrapped
in clothes meant for the dead, specifically Joseph's swaddling clothes.
It made me think: Do we parents die to ourselves
and wrap our babies with our swaddling clothes?
Are we willing to die to ourselves like what Joseph did
throughout his life as the foster father of Jesus?

Do mothers and fathers see the face of Baby Jesus in their own babies?
Do they recognize the opportunity to serve the King of Kings in their midst?
Do they lovingly enjoy His holy presence through a baby that has yet to sleep through the night?
Do they gaze lovingly at Him and bring Him comfort as he cries?

Photo source here.
Or do they look to Mary and ask her how she endured it all?
Do they ask her if she never grew weary or impatient?
Do they ask Joseph if he was always willing to help and serve?
Do they ask for Mary and Joseph’s intercession to do what they feel they can’t?

The truth remains the same whether we see Him or not because of our pains.
His presence remains… trying to penetrate our ignorance, laziness and shame.
Will we joyfully embrace this Holy Child in our midst and all that He brings?
Will our recognition of the Baby Jesus’ presence change the way we see things?
After writing this poem this morning, I thought that maybe one reason Pope Francis loves to "snatch babies" where ever he goes is because he sees the face of Baby Jesus in each one of them. :)