Homeschooling Part 1 – A Muslim Mother’s Story
I was in Tobago earlier this year. On a riding adventure at Healing with Horses, I was accompanied by three beautiful home-schooled children. The eldest girl wore her hijab swim-wear confident and brave. Her younger brother was the most calm, collected young man I have seen in a while. And their smallest sibling held her own controlling her horse with stern ‘Walk on” commands whenever he lagged behind. I was fascinated by these children. Veronica, our host at Healing with Horses shared with me they came riding three days a week as part of their schooling. I was fascinated. This has now led me on a Home-Schooling adventure which I will share with you in the next couple of issues.
The following in an interview with the mother of these lovely children as I seek to rid my own ignorance about the home-schooling movement.
Tell us about your kids and at what age did you start home-schooling them?
I am a mother of 4 beautiful children – 2 boys and 2 girls ages 9 going on 10,8,6 and 5 months. Being in Tobago with the limited schooling and facilities coupled with my Muslim faith and the fear of the harsh outside influences, I opted to home-school them from the very start, even in the womb with reading to them frequently. As a result, my kids never went to school (with the exception of the oldest who got a taste of a school environment from a bare 5 month experience on a trip to England 3 years ago). No friends, no cousins, no other kids to play with, they have always relied on me and each other for companionship thus making us very secluded but close knit.
What is your educational background?
I have a BA in English and have taught at high school level before marriage when I was in Trinidad.
How do you want your children’s educational experience to differ from your own?
I grew up in a very academically driven home where my mother herself was a professional teacher. Education was the centre of our lives to the extent of perceiving it as the essence of creation. Being constantly compared to other children’s accomplishments is extremely damaging to a child’s self esteem and is unfortunately something many parents are guilty of. I was taught to judge a person’s worth by the level of education they had. Even religion took second importance to education. The rigorous school system itself was enslaving and highly competitive. My parents grew me up in what they believed to be most ideal and they did it sincerely with love and devotion. However, as a mother myself I bear a different outlook on life and on the contrary I do not want my children to adopt this judgmental perspective nor fall prey to the stressful demands of school at such a tender age when leisure should be a significant part of childhood. Home-schooling liberates them from this competitiveness and superciliousness. I want them to cherish their sense of individualism and to see education as important but not the focal point of life and definitely not a criterion of their worth. For us, God, health and family are most valuable.
How has home-schooling impacted your marriage? Family relationships? Friendships?
My husband is a major advocate of home-schooling and is my backbone on those grim days when I am overwhelmed and stressfully contemplate sending them to school. He always encourages me to ‘keep my eyes on the prize’ and not to give up and undo all the hard work and sacrifice we have made by protecting them from the bandwagon of negative influences from other children, from bullying,, from a laborious system of learning etc. No one is perfect but for the very least we are pleased to say that our children thus far are innocent, loving, intelligent and God fearing children, qualities that are best achieved from within the home. For this, my husband admires and appreciates me more as a wife and mother.
Unfortunately, the same reaction cannot be shared with my family who on the contrary, see our decision to keep them home as regressive, academically and socially depriving, unjust and harmfully secluding.
How did you even know where to begin?
When I was pregnant with my first child, I fantasied about sending her to school and like every parent, mentally mapped out the course of her life from preschool to university. Home-schooling was something I was totally foreign to as I only knew of the school system. Being an orthodox Muslim, we preferred a school that would uphold our values at such an impressionable age. The lack of that, together with the guilt I felt to palm my responsibility off on others for x amount of hours every day lured me to home-school, a task I was excited to undertake. I strongly believe that the first institution of learning is the home and the first and ultimate teacher is the parent, especially the mother. I busied myself researching preschool websites, watching videos of preschool layout, talking to friends who home-school and little by little my house transformed into a school. There were achieving days and there were challenging days. There were days filled with laughter and great progress and there were days of tears and regret over if I was doing the right thing. There wasn’t the option of sending them to the local schools of Tobago and risk being influenced, but for our family, it is different. Home-schooling was always and is still today a temporary option. We plan to migrate to a Muslim country be it Saudi, Kuwait, Morocco etc where they would go to school and finally experience a school setting. Hopefully all out hard work in those early, impressionable years at morally moulding them and educating them would equip them to handle it.
What are your top home-schooling resources?
- Websites for lesson preparation and worksheets
- Apps for educational games
- Text books
- Home-school blogs
Have you and your kids ever gotten way behind and had to come up with a different approach to catch up? Explain.
Being an English teacher, I struggled to teach Math. This was my challenge subject. I still suffer the guilt of all the errors I made at it and the damage to their self -esteem I inflicted. However, we had the opportunity to visit friends in England for some months where I was able to have them professionally assessed and obtain proper math classes. This helped them to fill in the gaps I left opened and strengthen their skills and confidence. Surprisingly they were all at a decent level in the subject and even my 6 year old was a level above. Now that I am back in Tobago, I was afraid to attempt Math again so I got a private tutor to come home and teach them. Still some strengthening to be done but it’s going well.
Does home-schooling following the traditional system i.e. 3 years of middle school, 4 years of high school etc. or some other system?
My home-school is one month at a time. If you ask me about the future, I would still dream about moving to a better country and one day have them in an institution. If I get an opportunity at this tomorrow, I will stop home-schooling. For now ,I am following the American grade system with the intent for them to eventually sit the SATs.
What kind of preparation is needed on your part to teach a daily curriculum?
I’m usually up most of the night researching material and formatting lessons. Every spare chance I get in the day, I am with an electronic device preparing worksheet, notes, tests etc. Even when I lie down to sleep I mentally map out what I intend to accomplish the following day so when I wake up I make a daily outline for each child to stick on their desks what is expected of them to accomplish for the day. Of course most days we fall short of the list and have to drag it to the following day.
What curriculum do you teach and what exams have you decided on your child taking to merge back into the traditional system?
I usually incorporate the American syllabus with the local. I use local texts books as a guide but I research American websites and use their worksheets and test evaluations. As we intend to travel and explore various countries, we decided that the SATs is the most practical test to sit as it is worldly recognized.
Is home-schooling only possible for stay at home moms? Explain what a typical home-schooling day looks like?
I cannot see it fathomable for a working parent to home-school as it is tremendously time-consuming, from preparation to teaching to researching, to assessment etc. A typical day for me would be – wake up at 6am, have breakfast and commence classes at 7:30. Their first class is an online class with an Egyptian school for Arabic and Quran memorization. This buys me an hour to wrap up any left-over preparation. At 8:30 to 9:30 is Math followed by a15 minute break to begin English until 11 (different days deal with different aspects of English – Comprehension, Creative Writing, Grammar etc). After a 30 minute break, at 11:30 to 1:30 is designated for Science or Geography depending on the day. School officially finishes at 1:30. Some evenings they have horse riding and some, art and swimming.
Do children have to be intrinsically motivated for home-schooling to work?
Yes. I think it’s difficult for a child to learn in isolation. Children need to see other children their age learning the same work as them. It gives them encouragement and simulation. Its more engaging and enjoyable as opposed to if he/she is the only one at a desk doing division for eg.
What happens when you cannot figure something out with the home-schooling curriculum?
I usually call my friends who home-school alike or are professional teachers in a school system.
How have your children adjusted to it given their friends all go to regular school?
My kids don’t have any friends so it’s not an issue. They have met a couple kids on our visits to England and they formed a small bond with them but they all home-school as well.
Do you have help in home-schooling your kids? Please explain.
Only from this January I got a tutor to come home and help me as it’s very difficult now with a baby. I however am still in charge of English Language.
What are the 3 things you would want any parent to know about home-schooling before they do down this road?
- It is very time-consuming and requires tremendous patience, preparation and devotion, so ensure you have the free time to commit.
- It can be quite costly – tutors, textbooks, excessive printing, teaching aids and supplies etc.
- It can be very isolating so get children involved in many extra-curricular activities and playdates if possible. (even better if you are able to team up with fellow home-schoolers so your child can have a peer to work with).
What are the biggest rewards so far in home-schooling your kids?
I would say the best accomplishment gained is protecting children from peer-pressure and protecting their innocence and morality.
Are your kids planning on going to traditional college? What does he or her plan on studying and why?
Providing we are able to migrate, I anticipate the day they would be able to go to school and eventually college. My girls are fascinated with horses and dream of a job working with them. My 6 years old son is intrigued with machines and aspire to be an engineer.
What competitive advantage do you think your kids have over kids who attend traditional schools?
I do not encourage my children to have a competitive nature and compare to other children.
Finish this sentence….”Homeschooling is right for you and your child if ….”
….you have the time, money, patience, commitment and contentment with being at home and sufficing with each other.
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