- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

Eight-year-old Adora Svitak is a published author, has appeared on national television and has spoken before high school audiences. Her 10-year-old sister, Adrianna, is an accomplished violinist and is first chair in the Seattle Youth Symphony.

The sisters have been home-schooled by their mother, Joyce, and father, John, for seven years — an educational choice that was “accidental,” according to their mother.

“We were trying to find the right school for them, but they were so young, no school would take them and so advanced they didn’t fit in regular preschool, so we ended up with lessons for home-schoolers,” Mrs. Svitak explained in a recent phone interview.

“When we saw that the children were learning more efficiently and were happier, we felt that this was more flexible and family-oriented.”

The Svitaks use an eclectic approach to learning. For many subjects, they use workbooks that present lessons in a well-organized fashion. They also make liberal use of the “What your (4th, 5th, 6th) Grader Needs to Know” books, which cover the contents of each grade level in one large text.

One important exception, however, is in literature.

“We never follow the grade-level recommendations but find books we enjoy and use those,” Mrs. Svitak says. “We read fairy tales from all over the world to teach cultures and literature.”

Mrs. Svitak, who was born in China and came to the United States 17 years ago, also teaches her daughters the basics of the Chinese language, and they study Spanish with a tutor. She works part time as a telephone interpreter for Chinese and English, so language facility is an important skill for the family.

Computers are an integral part of their study apparatus. Adora does all her writing, and a lot of her studies, on a computer.

“We subscribe to Brainpop.com, which is a wonderful learning Web site, and she checks the news through the Internet, too,” Mrs. Svitak says.

The girls’ father is a software engineer at Microsoft and helps supervise the technology side of their learning.

Mrs. Svitak also teaches daily classes for larger groups on physical learning, using dance to teach human anatomy — a course she has been running for about five years in their Redmond, Wash., home.

Young Adora has been writing stories for years and has a Web site (www.adorasvitak.com) about her literary activities where the books can be ordered. She has been interviewed on national television and met Peter Jennings, who gave her a copy of his book “The Century for Young People.”

A book about her writing methods and how children can master the art of writing, “Flying Fingers — Master the Tools of Learning Through the Joy of Learning,” is on sale.

Mrs. Svitak characterizes her educational approach as “whatever works.”

“People sometimes have this misconception about home-schooling — that it’s for religious fanatics or that you don’t ever take classes. We have our free study time in the morning but our group class in the afternoon,” she says. “It’s not unschooling, but it’s not institutional.”

One resource precious to Mrs. Svitak is the public library system.

“In China, where I grew up, there was no public library,” she says. “In coming to America, I have to say that this is such a fabulous resource. In the world, there are not many countries that can afford this.”

Mrs. Svitak intends for Adrianna and Adora to enjoy creativity and contribute to society.

“In order to be happy, there are certain prerequisites — skills, talents, courage and having a vision to fulfill that.

“I don’t want to start a trend,” she says. “It’s important not to just copy one method that has worked, as if one size fits all. Each family has to find their own way.”

• Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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