In 2006, Zhang Dongqing decided to home-school her little girl and with three other families, she rented an apartment where she would teach their children.
After eight years, the education pioneer is proud of the growing number of families that have embraced her educational concept.
Fruit trees in Beijing's suburbs surround the redbrick buildings that house Ririxin School. On the football field kids chase each other. Three boys look for insects in the grass while a girl draws a picture of fruit trees in the distance.
"Playing is the way children get to know the world," Zhang says while walking towards her office. During the short walk she was greeted by children running by, some of whom stopped to share their little secrets with her.
Unlike most traditional schools where teachers keep a distance from students, staff at Ririxin are friends with their pupils. They play with them, tell them stories, make handicrafts together and write letters to each other.
Vegetable plots behind the school produce healthy food for the kids and allow them to stay close to nature.
The school offers classes on ancient Chinese poetry, martial arts and handicrafts. Zhang, who was a university Chinese teacher for 20 years, compiles the textbooks for Chinese classes herself.
Twice a year, children from the school travel to other places to study for two weeks and experience life in ancient towns or villages.
"Kids are like seeds. We just need to provide a good environment for them and leave them to grow naturally," says the 48-year-old educator.
Zhang's mission is to help make children become what they want to be instead of modeling them into a same person. She and her husband, Wang Xiaofeng, have tried their best to reach the target for years.
Zhang's oldest daughter received a traditional education. As a teacher, Zhang hated the way traditional schools educated students and said they imposed ideas on them and killed their creativity.
When Zhang's second daughter was born in 2001, the idea of teaching her at home struck her and she read up about home schooling. At the time, Zheng Yuanjie, a well-known fairy tale writer, had started teaching his son at home.
In 2006, Zhang and her husband rented a three-room apartment in Beijing's suburbs. Three other families joined them but the parents had their doubts and put their children in for a few months before leaving the small school, called Ririxin. Despite this Zhang did not give up.
By 2009, 26 pupils were enrolled in the kindergarten and Ririxin moved to a 3,000 square meter complex. The school began to gain a good reputation among parents and attracted more children.
Ririxin now has two campuses: one for kindergarten and the other for primary school, and boasts 260 students. To some extent, the school grew up with Zhang's second daughter.
Zhang opened a grade with only three students, including her younger daughter, to start a middle school.