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Even if they never make it to Taiwan, a group of home-schooled children from Albuquerque will soon be represented there.
The kids, ages 4 to 14, painted and personalized paper lanterns while visiting the Taipei City Government tent at Balloon Fiesta Park on Wednesday, during the 50th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
The lanterns will be sent to Taiwan and displayed in February as part of the city of Taipei’s annual Lantern Festival. They will also be among the lanterns that Taiwan takes to another lantern festival in Japan, said Yung-Hua-Shen, a senior specialist from the Taipei Department of Information and Tourism.
The Taipei Lantern Festival, which features hundreds of thousands of lanterns, marks the first full moon of the new lunar year, in addition to bringing luck, health and happiness to individuals and families, he said, speaking through a colleague who was translating.
While pilots from Taiwan have flown in previous Balloon Fiestas, this is the first time the government of Taipei has been represented with their own balloon, which made its U.S. debut at this year’s fiesta.
Seeing the Flight of the Nations mass ascension was, of course, the best reason for the students to be out at Balloon Fiesta Park early Wednesday, but even as bad weather canceled the event, most in the group said they were happy to learn about Taiwan and decorate lanterns.
“Oh, this is fun. It’s a good experience,” said 10-year-old Selah Sleuth. “I’m painting a cherry blossom tree. It just popped into my mind.” And in an acknowledgement of her surroundings, she added the image of a hot air balloon.
Her 12-year-old brother, Nicholas Sleuth, was also busy decorating a lantern. “I don’t really have a theme,” he said. “I’m just painting shapes and designs.”
With five children ages 4 to 13 being home-schooled, mother Kristin Overman said, “We love books, but it’s fun to have the experience and learn from people directly.” Not only did the representatives from Taiwan talk about the lantern festival, they also provided general information about the country’s culture.
Another mom, Michelle Hernandez, had two children busy with paint brushes. Many of the students are learning about countries in Asia, she said, “so this fits in perfectly with their curriculum, and if they were not studying Taiwan, they are now.”
Home-schooled children “have a great opportunity to experience education, as opposed to just learning about it in a book,” she said. “They will always remember this versus reading an article or two.”
One of her kids, Matias Hernandez, 14, was painting a fallen leaf pattern on his lantern, but said he was also contemplating the physical qualities of the lantern itself to see “how they work, what they can do and how the weather affects them.”
Aaliyah Hobbs, 11, opted for painting flowers on her lantern. “I like learning about everything that happens in Taiwan,” she said. “We watched videos about Taiwan before we came here and one of them showed how they make spoons out of bamboo. Bamboo can be used for a lot of things and it’s very strong,” she said.
Elianah Kelly, 11, covered her lantern’s surface with large swaths of red and yellow “because those are the colors of the New Mexico flag,” she said.