Thank you so much to Muslim Children’s Literature for this kind and thorough review of Fitra Journal Issue One!
Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about early childhood education, and specifically, home education. While I have not been blessed to be a mother yet, I am passionate about homeschooling and have been trying to soak up what I can on the subject. While most of the homeschooling literature is targeted towards Christian families, an increasing number of books are being produced for the Muslim homeschooling audience.
One relatively recent addition to the Muslim homeschooling literature is the Fitra Journal: The Muslim Homeschool Quarterly, Volume 1: Getting Started, edited by sister Brooke Benoit. Brooke, the editor for SISTERS magazine, provides readers with a compelling series of accounts of Muslim parents who have homeschooled or are currently homeschooling their children. This book is a great resource for a wide range of audiences, including parents or anyone with an interest in the topic of homeschooling within an Islamic context…
Click here to read the rest.
And click here to buy Fitra Journal – or search for us on your regional Amazon.
This is my story about how I managed to get my husband to agree to homeschooling our children, something I had wanted to do for many years. He was firmly against me homeschooling due to how he saw schooling. We come from different backgrounds. Schools in his native region of North Africa were very strict and he had to pass yearly tests before he moved up to the next class. It was very regimental. In the school system I was brought up with in the United Kingdom we were always in the same class as those of the same age no matter the ability.
Through personal involvement with my own children’s school experiences, I noticed how the system was struggling to cope with different children’s needs. My son (first born) was a September baby and very advanced for his age. He struggled in school and became disruptive because the work was too easy for him. A school psychologist was brought in to see him at age four at the end of his first year of two years of nursery education. They told us that the issue lay with the nursery and not my son. The nursery was not meeting his needs and they warned that we would struggle with this issue throughout his education if the schools were not prepared to properly engage with him.
As new parents this was quite a shock to both me and my husband. We looked for a school with smaller class sizes as UK school class sizes are about 30 children to one teacher. We found a school with only 15 pupils in the class and we thought that this would work. He still continuously struggled depending on which teacher he had for each year. Some teachers loved his keen interest and flawless assignments, yet some disliked that he struggled to stay patient when he found things boring. These combative teachers expected all children to have the same work and be satisfied with it. We tried the school for five years and then he moved into the secondary school where it was back to 30 pupils in a class. Every year had its challenges and I saw myself visiting the school for different issues. My son deeply hated school but his father insisted that it was the only way to be educated.
I approached the topic of homeschooling many times but my husband always said no, I guess he was fearing going away from the norm, as he had never heard of anyone doing this before. In addition to my son we have two daughters who didn’t really have any major issues at school, they fitted in quite nicely. When I had my first daughter, while my son was in nursery, I went to college to study and get a certificate as a teacher’s assistant. I had to work in a school environment as part of the course. This opened my eyes as to how the school system works. I realised how many flaws there were in the system and that even if you have the best, most motivated teacher they do not have the time to assess and monitor every child in the classroom due to workload and distractions. This is when I first realised why my son wasn’t coping well and believed there must be another option. I went home, did some online research, and found out about homeschooling.
I approached my husband with the possibility of homeschooling, but he was adamant that it wasn’t going to happen. I did this yearly. The moment that it really hit me that I couldn’t let my children be in school anymore was when it was time for my eldest daughter, then 11 years old, to start secondary school. My son, who was then 14, told me all of the horror stories about what happens in school. Not just the teaching problems, but children involved with sex, drugs, bullying, etc. My son knew that at his age his dad wasn’t going to change his mind about homeschooling him as he was already prepared for his exams, but my son really thought it was a good idea to keep pushing for me to homeschool the girls. I had weeks of worrying about what would happen to my daughter, especially as where we live there are no other Muslims and she would be the odd one out. This hadn’t really bothered her in her primary years but the transfer to secondary would mean mixing with more and different people.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy approaching my husband after all these years of him refusing, so I joined many online homeschooling networks and looked for advice as to what I could do to change his mind. I eventually came across a new approach. I printed off many reports, more than a hundred pages- too many to read. These were about all the good points of homeschooling and to be fair I printed off a list of cons too just to keep him happy. Also following advice, I decided to ask for a trial period so at least then he felt as if he had some control in the decision: I think this is important to some men and was crucial for me.
I told him that I needed to have a serious talk with him. We set some time aside when the children were in bed so as not to be disrupted. I gave him the huge pile of reports and said to him that I was really serious about homeschooling both our girls, but especially the eldest and that I did not want her to start the secondary school. I have to be truthful and say he wasn’t impressed. I then explained that I knew he had doubts and that, to be honest, I might start this path and not be able to make it either, but I had to at least give it a try. I told him that if we both agreed to a trial period for the children that even if it didn’t work out, it really wasn’t going to be a big difference in their schooling as they are both fairly bright girls anyway. He still wasn’t too impressed, but he did seem to like the trial part of the deal. I then gave him an ultimatum, too. Yes, I know I was a bit naughty, but I had to let him know I was very serious on this matter. I told him if he didn’t agree then I would refuse to take the girls to school in the morning and refuse to collect them from school too. This is something I have always done and many parents will know it isn’t a easy job, especially in the rain and snow! I told him to think it over but not make me wait too long.
After about three days he came back to me and said that he only looked at a couple of the pages, as I guessed, but that he would agree to a trial of two or three school terms to see how it goes. You can’t believe how happy I was after all these years of asking! All I had to do was put the ball in his court and make it look like he was in control. I so wish I had thought of that approach years earlier. I told my daughters the good news. He did say that I hide to follow the curriculum as part of his acceptance, which I agreed on.
When the time came in July for school to end I handed in the de-registration forms, which is a requirement in the UK. I was so relieved and my daughters were so happy. They did enjoy school, but they also wanted to try homeschooling and they suspected the benefits of it.
When September started my husband expected them to start their school work at 9:00 am just like in school and finish at 3:00 pm. He was at work all day and didn’t know what was happening. At first, to keep him happy, I did make sure the girls kept busy with their studies most of the daytime. My husband was still very apprehensive about our decision and he refused to inform any of his family abroad that we had taken the girls out of school. He also didn’t tell his friends about it as he probably thought it wouldn’t work out. So as best as we could, we kept it a secret. And he didn’t like the girls coming into his workplace (he is self employed) during the day in case any customers started asking questions. Once the end of the year approached I was getting myself a little stressed wondering what he was going to say. I was still ready to tell him that if he wanted them in school he had to do everything including prepare packed lunches, and buy uniforms!
However, I shouldn’t have worried as after the year was up and he saw that we were coping fine and he was happy with the amount of work they were doing, he was relaxed. He saw how happy the girls were and how it was nice to also not worry about them missing any work. At school if the girls were off sick, they never got caught up and simply missed large portions. At home that doesn’t happen and as well if you don’t understand something you have all the extra time to go over it until you do.
My husband agreed that we could continue with homeschooling after the first year. He also eventually told his family and friends. I have to say, he didn’t just tell them, he would tell them how marvellous it was and how great this option is and that the girls’ were doing brilliantly! In the second year he let the girls come to his business and didn’t mind telling customers that they are homeschooled. I am actually shocked myself at how much his view has changed in such a short time. I honestly thought I would have a battle on my hands every year, but now he doesn’t question us and lets me take control. He still doesn’t help to homeschool them, it is all left to me, that was part of his original deal too, but to be honest, I prefer it that way.
This past year I also had the chance to prove to him that I shouldn’t have any problems getting the girls to sit their end of schooling exams (IGCSE/GCSE). My son had wanted to take the option of studying French at school but the school said there wasn’t enough interest and only Spanish could be taken. He had spent three years studying it at school and now they denied him to finish! My son was so upset and I knew he could do it. Knowing the exam system for homeschoolers, I approached the school and asked that if I teach him French at home could he sit the exams in the school and have assignments marked by the school’s French teacher. The school agreed as they knew he was capable. So I taught my son French at home, I followed the curriculum but doing it in my own way as he preferred, an option not available in school. The school marked his assignments and entered him for his exam. He passed with a grade A. So now I feel much more confident myself and it also proved again to my husband that homeschooling does work!
Karima is a homeschooling mum of three from the UK. She enjoys spending time with her family and doing anything craft related which she loves sharing on her blog karimascrafts.com
This article appears in Issue One of Fitra Journal. The entire issue is available on Amazon or here.
With gobs of blogs, Facebook pages, books and so on being written by homeschooling moms, nearly half the homeschooling parents’ voices are being missed. Dads, we really need and would love to hear your stories in the Fitra Journal. We want to know how you are finding homeschooling. How are you managing? What would you like to change? What are you loving about it?
Moms, as we know most of our readers are, please let your children’s fathers know that we really need to hear from them. We want to learn and grow as homeschooling families. If your homeschooling dad isn’t a writer, maybe you could interview him – or we would love to!
Please get in touch about sharing your fatherly homeschooling stories to email@example.com
Have you heard of worldschooling and wondered what it is or thought something like ‘That must be nice for people who can do it.‘? Globe hopping while homeschooling is not for everyone, but some of the great aspects of exploration and ‘getting to know each other’ that are integral to worldschooling can easily be reproduced by every homeschooler. For Issue Two of Fitra Journal seasoned worldschooler Omaira Alam explains how to worldschool at home.
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Attributed to Ibn Battuta
My husband, Josh, is one of the best storytellers I know. He has this dramatic quality about him which both of our children – the little performers – have picked up. He knows how to change the tone of his voice, how to use a dramatic pause, how to engage the audience with his wit and sense of humour, how to play with words that string together into an on-the-edge-of-our-chair situation, and thrust you into fits of laughter or thoughtful pauses or keep you asking for more.
Around the dinner table, Josh shares stories of his childhood, of his life as a teenager in rural America, and of his travels while serving in the US Navy. Each story is filled with colourful characters and hilarious anecdotes about friends, family, and brothers-in-arms. The ones that really capture our seven-year-old’s attention are ones about Josh’s antics with his brother and cousins.
I am grateful that our children have this connection with their father and have memories building. I grew up listening to stories from my mum about growing up in newly-created Pakistan and all of her travels: how she turned over her packing crates and made them into small tables covered in bedsheets in her sparsely furnished apartment in England as a newlywed, how she worked in a factory nearby and picked up the local English dialect, how sometimes when she’s really upset a bit of Scottish flavor comes into her speech because of all her Scottish neighbours in Glasgow, and how “back home” to her, for the longest time after settling in a Toronto suburb, was Glasgow and not Karachi.
That connection by Josh, my mum, and all good storytellers is like a thread that binds us together as human beings. Stories of their travels and experiences make us yearn for a place we have never been. But what if you had the chance to make it so you, your children, your whole family could travel, experience and make memories to last a lifetime? More than a postcard, these experiences are priceless.
“I urge you to travel.
As far as much as possible,
Work ridiculous shifts to save your money
Go without the latest iPhone.
Throw yourself out of your comfort zone.
Find out how other people live
And realise that the world is a much bigger place than the town you live in
And when you come home
Home may still be the same
& yes, you may go back to the same old job, but something in your mind will have shifted. And trust me
that changes everything.”
When my husband and I got married, as a military family we knew and prepared for frequent travel. We understood that we would be travelling every two to three years and some of it to other countries. After thirteen years of service, my husband left the Navy and we became civilians ready to lay down some roots in the Valley of the Sun in Arizona, USA. It lasted almost four years till we uprooted ourselves and travelled cross country to prepare for a life of travel yet again. Every two to three years we will be living in a different country around the world.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – JRR Tolkien
They call it wanderlust: the continuous desire to travel. Since my son was a toddler I’ve travelled with him everywhere and know that he has a deep, and strong desire to travel. He loves it and thrives on it. My two-year-old daughter is not far behind. Most recently, I took the two of them with me on an across-the-world trip to Australia. My son met his pen pal and forged a lifelong friendship. For me, it was an experience of a lifetime – both exhausting and exciting.
Travelling with children, although exhilarating and adventurous, is not possible for all homeschoolers. One of the key tenets of homeschooling is living life, not just reading about it.
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous
Worldschooling takes that to a whole new level. It takes you out of your comfort zone, forces you to find value in a different perspective, and learn through immersion. It enriches your experiences because it requires you to embrace the world with all your senses.
While there are families of homeschoolers that packed up for a year or more and became what is known as worldschoolers, it takes a significant amount of sacrifice and resources of time and money. With many homeschooling families already on one income what then is the next best option for those who need to stay close to home?
Similar to what is considered a “staycation” worldschooling from home is a close second to the actual experience of travel. Worldschooling from home is about an attitude and appreciation of the beauty of where you live. Immerse yourself in your local community by embracing these five tenets:
1. Never stop exploring your surroundings
Living in one place for many years we sometimes forget to “travel” to our local landmarks or experience the reason we were attracted to our current home in the first place. Make it a point to step outside your neighbourhood and explore the hidden treasures right at your doorstep.
2. Learn a foreign language as a family
One of the best ways to learn about the different corners of the world is to learn a new language. Every language reflects the culture in which it was developed and will allow your homeschooling family to get a glimpse of another culture.
3. Learn to cook a diverse array of foods
Take a cooking class as a family. Have a food competition or have a community cook-sale where neighbours get a chance to sample foods from all over. Even more fun, find someone in your greater community to teach your family how to cook a special dish from their culture. While a delectable experience for the palate, the greater experience of history and tradition from a living storyteller and chef will be immeasurable, especially if taught by an elderly person who has a lifetime of stories to share.
4. Use community mapping and historical mapping to learn about the not-so-apparent diversity in your local neighbourhood
Consider who was here before you and your family. Learn about them. Learn about how your local community developed: who came first, why? How was the city designed, why? Ask yourself these questions. Become a part of the story of your town by sharing your story with neighbours and community members.
5. Within your network of friends set up state-to-state swaps and/or province-to-province swaps.
Share trinkets and other items from your home state or province with other friends to their home states using the postal service. This is a step up, like pen pals. Or keep it simple and have regular postcard swaps. There are also many companies that provide opportunities for adventure right from your home. One such company, Little Passports, offers USA and World Editions to have monthly packages delivered to your home about places around the world. Also check with the tourism and trade websites where you can have maps and brochures delivered to your home for free or for a nominal cost.
While these options aren’t the same as worldschooling, they are definitely a step towards developing a bit of wanderlust in your children. They are also ways to develop the skills toward learning about your communities and the communities in which your children may eventually live.
The goal of worldschooling is more than just travelling for the sake of travel. It is a chance to learn about our global human family. It is a chance to learn about all the species we share this planet with. And ultimately it is about knowing Allah, through knowing His beautiful creation.
“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours: verily in that are Signs for those who know.” Quran, Ar-Room: 22
While some of us may be able to do this firsthand, many of us can still experience the wonder, the awe, the immersion, while being at home. In the end, as homeshooling families we want our children to be the narrators of their own stories. We provide the opportunities, the places in the heart for memories to be made, whether we do it from home or from the mountaintop in the Himalayas. The stories our children tell will be different from ours because their time is different. We imbue them with the skills to become the master storytellers of their time.
“Let me touch a tree, smell the rain, see the sunset and hear the birds. Then when I read and write those words, I will understand what they truly mean.” – Benedict Carey, How We Learn
And, if we really think about it, are we not all worldschooling, merely travelers here for a short time? We hope to leave behind our stories – sweet memories – with our children who pass them along to theirs and so on, by the will of God.
“Live in this world as a traveler, and leave behind you every sweet memory. Indeed we are guests here, and every guest must soon leave.” – Imam Ali (RA)
Omaira Alam is a mum The Jibbers (7) and ZanyBaby (2) and has been actively homeschooling for five years with her husband, Josh Herald. She is the Program Director for the Islamic Teacher Education Program (ITEP), an online certificate program and a program of Razi Education. She also helps Islamic schools develop a viable whole-community behaviour management model in partnership with Islamic Education Consultants in Australia, called Dignified Way. She holds undergraduate degrees in neuroscience, world history and global education from the University of Toronto. She completed her masters in Special Education focusing on at-risk students with learning and emotional disabilities from the George Washington University, and has almost 20 years of experience in education in diverse settings, and at various levels. As a regular columnist for the Arizona Muslim Voice, she also shares her musings about education on her blog, blackboardwhitechalk.wordpress.com.
This article is in Issue Two of Fitra Journal: The Muslim Homeschooling Quarterly, available in print or digital from Amazon or right here through us.
The underlining fear behind the “What about socialization???” concern of people who are considering homeschooling is essentially a fear of failure. People think that homeschooled children are cloistered, and aren’t socialized, so then they become weirdos who are incapable of functioning in the world and especially at jobs. Few of us actually know any homeschooled children, other than maybe our own, so even when we do choose to homeschool there is often a continual fear of how the kids will turn out. Of course parents of schooled-children also have these fears, but being surrounded by so many other schooled-people they have more of a (false) sense of security about how their own kids will possibly turn out. One of the aims of Fitra Journal is to demonstrate the many ways homeschooling is done. We also think it’s important to demonstrate some of the results, to introduce you to homeschooled-people, so we include articles and stories about and by The Homeschooled.
In Issue Two of Fitra Journal, budding poet and spoken word artist Faiza Rahhali shares her thoughtful pro’s and con’s list of homeschooling:
I don’t have to wake up early in the morning.
I can study in my pajamas.
I can be with my family 24\7.
I can have my own study time.
I can have midweek sleepovers with other homeschoolers.
I can do stuff in the middle of the day while other kids are in school.
I can advance much faster than kids who go to school do.
I have more time in the day to read, which I have been doing a lot of lately.
I don’t have to be stuck in a stuffy classroom with a bunch of kids.
I have a say in what I want to study.
I don’t get to see my friends everyday like kids in school do.
I can be with my family 24\7.
I have more chores to do.
I get a little lonely when I go to the park during the day.
I sometimes have to do projects alone.
Faiza Rahhali is a homeschooled student who loves writing, crocheting, and learning about history as well as everything about the Victorian Era. She loves reading and watching book-to-movie adaptations and collecting book-themed items
Issue Two of Fitra Journal also features one young women’s story of exploring her options after high school (and ultimately going for all of them!) and another’s story of working with a charitable org. Fitra Journal is available to buy in digital and print through all Amazon’s or right here by us.
*The image with this post is not Faiza, it is a stock image.
In one of my homeschooling groups last week a mom was asking about homeschooling a child with dyslexia, so I wanted to share Ann Lambert Stock’s experience of eventually homeschooling her son with dyslexia which she wrote forin Issue One of Fitra Journal. It’s not exactly a how-to, but a wonderful look into how one family did so. Thanks Ann!
It was in Cairo that I had my first glimpse of the inner workings of the mysterious homeschooling underworld and the mothers who dwell within them. They are an unusual bunch, which is good because I have always liked unusual people. I resisted the common sense reasoning of these moms and the evidence of success they provided me for many years because… it was just… well… you know not my cup of tea. “But I don’t wanna…” came out of my mouth every time I was approached about one of their alternatives to traditional schooling, especially that zany idea of unschooling. It wasn’t until I had been pushed into a corner that I even considered homeschooling for my children. It would be more accurate to say that I held onto the door frame as I was dragged kicking and screaming into the homeschooling underworld.
The biggest problem with homeschooling, I thought, was giving up my freedom. There is something normal and comforting about saying good-bye to your children in the morning and having the whole day to do what you need to do, like taking those Qur’an classes you have always wanted to take, getting back to your career, perhaps picking up the house and having it stay that way for longer than five minutes, or meeting friends for coffee. I had a lot of self doubts too. I couldn’t visual myself setting up a classroom and running a school from my house. How many hours would that take? Also, class preparations and organizing a syllabus seemed overwhelming. What if I didn’t know how to teach the math lesson? Who would teach him Arabic and Quran? Maybe I wouldn’t be patient and I would do more harm than good. Would I be consistent or would I get lazy over time? What if I hated it and my child missed out on a year of his education? Moreover, Middle Eastern countries do not recognize homeschooling, which meant that my child attending a university in Egypt would not be an option. The risks seemed too big. No, I was pretty certain homeschooling wasn’t for me but no one knows what tomorrow will bring.
My son, who is the youngest of my seven children, gave me a hard time from day one when it came to his school work. Throughout early elementary his performance was dismal. He was having difficulty reading, writing and generally trying to keep up with his classmates. His teachers and I felt that he would eventually catch on if only he would work a little harder. However, I knew deep inside something was wrong. I fought these natural feelings because I am a big worrywort when it comes to my children and I kept reminding myself not to overreact, yet again. After all, when speaking to him he seemed just fine. He was bright, curious and always off having adventures on our farm. He was normal in every other way. Surely he was just a playful boy.
When my husband was hired in Jeddah Saudi Arabia, we needed to transfer our children to new schools. It was a teacher, in charge of entrance exams, who first noticed my son’s problem for what it was. After years of struggling to get him to read and write properly, after having his eyesight checked and his hearing tested, the obvious reason lay so clearly before me. He wasn’t lazy about work and just playful. It wasn’t that he didn’t try hard enough. His brain was wired differently. After we had him tested it was confirmed, he had dyslexia and dysgraphia.
I felt guilty that I had not identified it myself, but I felt relieved that there were people out there who are willing to explain what the problem is and how to help me help him. Dyslexia is often misunderstood. It is not a lag in the ability to understand. Dyslexics are often very bright. It is a chronic condition. It is the way in which the brain is wired, and it has to be dealt with in a systematic way to enable the person to have a functioning reading level. After all, reading is a learned skill not a natural ability like speaking. There are many ways to teach someone how to read but schools don’t have time to cater and are slow to change.
Phonology, the smallest unit of sound like ‘a’ as in “apple” for example, is exactly the source of the problem for a dyslexic. They are not able to break a word apart and see its individual sounds. So if they see “cat” they do not see it as c-a-t. They see it as a solid picture “cat”. Kind of like seeing the building but not realizing it is made of individual bricks. In particular, they have trouble distinguishing the different vowel sounds. To compensate, they often look at the first letter and retrieve from their mind any word starting with that letter. According to Sally Shaywitz, MD, who works with dyslexia at Yale University, “70 to 80 percent of American children learn how to transform printed symbols into phonetic decode without much difficulty. For the rest of the students it remains a mystery.” Those 20 to 30 percent are the people with dyslexia, and that was my son.
After extensive research, it has been discovered how to accommodate the dyslexic brain. There is a system and a process they have developed enabling people with dyslexia to learn the steps needed for reading, but it needs early intervention and lots of repetition until the word is properly stored in the brain. This manual method works but it time-intensive. This presented a problem for my son and me.
At first I tried to work with him in the evenings after he came home from school, but he was often too tired to cooperate with me. As a result, he kept falling further and further behind. The school systems in the Middle East generally do not recognize learning differences like dyslexia. It became self evident that homeschooling was his best chance to regain his confidence and have a real education. After years of labor and out of pure necessity, a new homeschooling mom was born into this world.
Homeschooling moms are great at networking, helping each other in various ways, and even encouraging being good Muslims. Their unique bonds of sisterhood make their relationships even tighter. This was a huge help and a great gift to me because once I knew homeschooling was the option I had to take, then I needed to see what exact direction I wanted to go. I needed expert advice and there is plenty of that to be had from most homeschooling moms who are more than happy to give advice to anyone who will listen. Through this process of asking lots of questions from everyone I knew of, I met a sister who also was a homeschooling adviser/coach. We discussed the options that were available. Did I want to unschool? What about a traditional homeschooling program like Calvert or others like it? Or should I use one of the online home schools in which the assignments were arranged by the school and graded by a teacher on the other end of cyberspace? Or should I use an eclectic approach, which is selecting and using what I considered the best elements of all systems? There was a lot to consider, so armed with an assortment of books and a head full of advice, I began to sift through things until I came up with what worked best for us.
Living abroad presents itself with a unique set of problems which my new friend and homeschooling adviser had already plowed through. She filled me in on her research and the solutions to the unique problems of sisters homeschooling abroad. Our problems are multifaceted including: a lack of public lending libraries, unreliable postal service, high import tax on equipment and books (I experienced this in Egypt, but not in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), lengthy screening of imported books which often leads to their confiscation for unknown reasons and with no apologies either.
An online homeschooling program was the best solution for us. Our family lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia during the academic year and back in Cairo for the summers. It was a big benefit to not have actual textbooks taking up space and weight in the luggage. I also didn’t want to come up with my own syllabus because I too am a student and felt I wouldn’t have time to do a good job. The online school had a syllabus and would grade assignments and give feedback from within one to three days. This allowed me to focus on my son’s reading and writing. The best aspect of having his textbooks online is the ability to manipulate the page on the computer screen. We are able to enlarge the print and use readers for difficult passages which has given my son a little more independence. He also developed a little self-help system for confronting his dysgraphia (problem with spelling). After he writes a passage, he goes through and looks at the spell check suggestions and grammar corrections, then he opens the reader and listens to what he wrote to see if it is saying what he wanted it to say. When he has taken it through those three steps, he brings his work to me for a final check.
To make our homeschooling program more interesting, we often go off on tangents. For example we were studying rocks and one of the rocks mentioned was flint which can be used to start fires. Knowing that my son loved survival programs and equipment we began to explore more facts about flint rock and how to use it to make a fire when you are out in the wilderness without matches. This research and experimentation lasted a few days, giving my son a much needed boost as schooling is not his favorite thing.
My fear of homeschooling was unwarranted. I thought I would lose eight hours of every day but in fact schools don’t actually teach students for eight hours. We are able to finish most of my son’s daily work in just two to three hours. He takes an additional hour to work on assignments and to submit his work. He actually studies more than he would if he were in school in less than half of the time. According to long-time homeschooler Reagan Ramm, “Of the 7 hours spent locked away inside a public school building, approximately only 2 and a quarter of those hours are really spent being given instruction. Nearly 5 hours are wasted.”
In the beginning I was afraid of not being able to pursue my studies. With my son in need of help with his reading, he is not always able to study when I am not home or when I am too busy. We killed two birds with one stone by solving this problem. I arranged for my son to attend a Qur’an memorizing school for the three hours while I am in class in the mornings. We come home together and begin his school work. Because we work at our own pace, if I have an exam or need time to do a heavy assignment, we can take a day off. The school provides video instruction for difficult concepts which means he doesn’t always need me. If that doesn’t work, there are so many resources which can be had at the touch of key on Youtube. Although I am not always patient, as I feared, homeschooling has given me the opportunity to learn how to be more patient. I was worried that I wouldn’t continue the commitment with my son but so far, a year and a half later, we are still on track.
I wanted to share our journey and what we have learned through tears, compromise, and adjustment. It isn’t easy teaching a child with dyslexia and it isn’t easy being one either. My son’s experience in school was unpleasant at best. He still has a lot of confidence issues from the emotional abuse that he and other challenged children often face at schools by teachers and peers alike. We have had a lot of ups and downs but we have learned so much about each other and how to study, motivate and organize ourselves this past year. It hasn’t always been easy and it still isn’t, but it has always been worth it. My only regret is that I didn’t homeschool all of my children using an eclectic approach.
[i] Overcoming Dyslexia, Sally Shaywitz, M.D. (Codirector of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention, First Vintage Books Edition, January 2005
Ann Lambert Stock lives back and forth between Cairo and Jeddah with her Egyptian husband. She is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to SISTERS magazine and is working on a four-part caliph series with Learning Roots to be released summer 2016. You can follow her at Musings of a Muslimah umameerblog.wordpress.com
Issue One ‘Getting Started’ is available in both print and digital through all Amazons or directly through us here.
I recently asked our Facebook followers if there were any homeschooling parents (I mean the primary, hands-on parent) who had not experienced burnout. I didn’t find any. Most parents experience burnout, so you can easily imagine that homeschoolers do – and many people do imagine it, so they choose not to homeschool for fear of the stress and burnout. Fitra Journal is going to address (avoiding!) burnout and practising self-care again and again, in sha Allah readers’ will get the message exactly when they need it. Or store it away for future reference… From Issue One ‘Getting Started’ here is our resident psychotherapist (and homeschooler!) Khalida Haque’s step-by-step explanation of why you should and how you can practice self-care:
“You cannot pour from an empty cup.” – Anonymous
What is self-care?
Self-care is seen as a habit that enables well-being. According to the National Health Service it means: “Looking after yourself in a healthy way, whether it’s brushing your teeth, taking medicine when you have a cold, or doing some exercise”. It is done intentionally and purposefully. And it is of holistic benefit.
Self-care is also a divine responsibility. Our bodies and selves, just as everything else, that Allah (SWT) has bestowed upon us, are an amanah (a trust) upon us. When I think of self-care, I remember the following two ahadith:
The Prophet (SAW) once asked a companion: “(Is it true) that you fast all day and stand in prayer all night?” The companion replied that the report was indeed true.
The Prophet then said: “Do not do that! Observe the fast sometimes and also leave (it) at other times. Stand up for prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” (Bukhari)
In the second hadith, Hanzalah (RA) reported:
“Abu Bakr met me and asked: How are you O Hanzalah?
I Replied: Hanzalah is guilty of hypocrisy!
He said: Free is Allah and far removed from all defects! What are you saying?
I said: When we are with Allah’s Messenger (SAW) and he reminds us of the Fire and Paradise it is as if we were seeing it with our own eyes. Then when we depart from Allah’s Messenger (SAW) and attend our wives, our children and our business, then much of this slips from our mind.
Abu Bakr said: By Allah we also experience the same.
I went with Abu Bakr until we entered upon Allah’s Messenger (SAW). I said: Hanzalah is guilty of hypocrisy O Messenger of Allah (SAW).
Allah’s Messenger(SAW) said: And how is that?
I said When we are with you, you remind us of the Fire and of Paradise and it is as if we are seeing it with our own eyes. Then when we depart from you and attend our wives, our children and our business then much of this slips from our minds.
And Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said: ‘By Him in whose hand is my soul if you remained continually as you are when you are with me and in remembering (Allah) then the angels would shake hands with you upon your beds and upon your roads. But O Hanzalah, (there is) a time for this and a time for that, (there is) a time for this and a time for that, (there is) a time for this and a time for that.’“ (Muslim)
It is difficult to be strong when we are spent and empty. And as we know through hadith, the strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer (Muslim). This strength refers to an internal strength and relates to imaan (faith) which becomes eroded if there is no self-love and compassion. Everyone has an internal voice and it is often negative. It is generally an internalisation of a critical parent. This voice, this harsh inner critic that many, if not all, of us possess is not as influential if we take care of ourselves. It loses power if we practice self-care, though it may try to sabotage us when we do. This voice does not believe we are deserving of care, love, affection or indeed anything positive.
I don’t think it is possible to express just how important looking after ourselves is.
“Taking care of yourself is the best selfish thing you can do” –Unknown
Self-care is often confused with selfishness and when someone does something for themselves they can often feel guilty. There is a gulf of difference between doing something for self-absorbed, narcissistic personal gain and doing something that allows us to recharge, replenish and feel human once more. When we are being selfish we are showing a lack of consideration for others and our primary concern is our own profit and/or pleasure. Genuine self-care is not selfish. True self-care is nurturing, honouring, caring for, and loving ourselves – both for our own benefit and for those around us.
Homeschooling and self-care
“Taking good care of you means that the people in your life will get the best of you rather than what’s left of you.” -Carl Bryan, Tennis Coach
If we reflect upon the above ahadith, we recognise that we have to divide and devise our time wisely and that a fair portion needs to be given to each aspect of our lives, selves and commitments. As mothers we are often the worst at self-care because, let’s face it, we basically place ourselves at the bottom of the list; right there at the bottom of the heap, below the ironing and taking out the rubbish. And playing the martyr then comes so easily to many of us: “Look at poor me who is doing everything for everyone”. We often tell ourselves that self-care is something we should do when we get everything else done. When we have some time for it. However it is important that we recognize that we have to make time for it. It cannot be an add-on or afterthought.
Sometimes we may be motivated to take care of ourselves out of guilt or fear: I really should eat better. I really ought to exercise more. I’m not taking very good care of myself and if I continue this way I’m going to get sick, gain weight or something terrible is going to happen to me. And as these negative, critical thoughts roll around in our heads they often become the impetus or motivation for us to “take care of ourselves.” However, it is better if we choose to take care of ourselves rather than feel forced into it.
Experience, theory and practice all say that a happy mum makes for happy children. Therefore, it is really important for us to take care of ourselves if we are not only mothers, but also homeschoolers. Teachers who work in schools are drained by the end of the day. So what does that say for mothers who homeschool? They don’t get time away from the children and the classroom, particularly if there are no boundaries between mum time, learning time, play time, etc. And these mums don’t self-care and put themselves in the ‘I’ll get to it when I have time’ list. There is a very interesting phenomenon, probably something to do with quantum physics … or more likely barakah (blessings), but when we earnestly spend out of our time (be it on ourselves or others) then our time seems to expand. We may have little of it but it can be rich and full. However, it is not just the quality of our time that can grow. The way we are stands to also benefit.
Self-care is not only essential to our personal well-being but it is fundamental for our relationships with others, particularly those closest to us. And as expressed earlier, it enriches us and what we are able to give to others. We cannot give anything if we are drained and working from reserves. Contemplate how you are with your children when you haven’t slept the night before and are plain exhausted. How the slightest thing can tip you into the abyss of negative parenting. Would that happen (so often) if we recognised that we needed to take care of ourselves, just for a few minutes? Self-care can empower us to be more generous and available with those around us in an authentic, true to ourselves manner, whilst modelling to them how we want to be treated.
Taking care of ourselves requires willingness, commitment, and courage. Given the nature of our often busy, bustling lives it’s not always logistically or emotionally possible for us to even make let alone keep our self-care promises. Therefore it is imperative for us to recognise that it is not about doing it perfectly or right, or even about following a detailed plan to the very letter. It is more about remembering ourselves and that we deserve to take care of ourselves. And that when we do, it not only nourishes and replenishes us but also allows us to be available for those important things and people in our lives. As mothers and homeschoolers those things and people are our children and their education.
How to self-care
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” – Etty Hillesum
Truly, taking care of ourselves can be as simple as that. When we focus on ensuring our ‘rest’ we tend to have the strength for all the other stuff in our lives. Below is a list of suggested twelve steps to self-care that are readily available on the internet. I’ve added a few of my own thoughts and explanations.
- If it feels wrong, don’t do it
This first step requires us to get to know ourselves and to trust our instincts. If it feels wrong, at the very least entertain the feeling and give yourself the time to think about it. What’s the rush anyway? You’ll miss out?
‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab is reported to have said: “No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future. Go easy on yourself, for the outcome of all affairs is determined by Allah’s decree. If something is meant to go elsewhere, it will never come your way, but if it is yours by destiny, from it you cannot flee.”
- Say exactly what you mean
Too often we don’t actually say what we mean. More likely we say what we think others want to hear. If we don’t say what we mean how are others to understand our needs? And who can we then blame when they then do things against our wishes? Be clear.
- Don’t be a people pleaser
The things we do and say are usually for the pleasure of others. We like to see others happy. But does it have to be at the expense of ourselves? When we are people pleasing we are putting ourselves at the bottom of the list.
- Trust your instincts
Our instincts are there for a reason. And the only book we truly need to be able to read is ourselves. It will ultimately tell us so much about others. Too often we say ‘‘I wish I’d followed my gut” about dealing with others and making choices.
- Never speak badly about yourself
We all make mistakes but to speak badly of yourself means that you are not recognising the things about yourself for which to be grateful. Also why would you want to speak badly of yourself? Sometimes we do it to illicit sympathy from others and it can be manipulative. And being manipulated causes others to feel bad about themselves. Consider your feelings when you’ve heard someone talk about themselves negatively.
- Never give up on your dreams
Dreams provide us with hope. Aspirations give us something to work towards. Having a focus and a goal can pull you back up when you’ve been knocked down.
- Don’t be afraid to say no
If you don’t want to do something or you can’t, just say no. Saying no can be really hard for those of us who are people pleasers and do not like the idea of letting someone down. However, you will without a doubt be letting yourself and others down if you are doing things you don’t want to or if you overstretch yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to say yes
Particularly to yourself. If you want something and can afford it carefully consider why not say yes?
- Be kind to yourself
If you cannot be kind to yourself then what sort of kindness are you truly showing others? Kindness to others without kindness to ourselves is often borne out of guilt, self-blame and people pleasing. Kindness to ourselves shows us the true way to be kind to others. But be kind to yourself anyway, you’ve probably had a hard day! Also see the earlier reported saying of ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab.
- Let go of what you can’t control
In the psychotherapy world we talk about spheres of control. There is the sphere of things within our control and a sphere that is outside. There is also an overlap area which is referred to as an area of influence. We may be able to influence but we can not control. The idea is that we take care of everything within our sphere of control and leave to others their spheres. And sometimes all that is in our ability is to let go because we can choose to do that.
- Stay away from drama and negativity
Drama and negativity is draining. It will sap you and bleed you dry. So do your best to sidestep it and walk away.
Love yourself. Love others. Just love. Love makes everything easier. And now four things to focus on in terms of self-care:
How we treat ourselves
We need to treat ourselves the way we’d treat someone we love. Think about how you speak to yourself. Would you talk that way to anyone you cared about? Self-blame and negativity are unproductive and when we recognise this it can be very powerful. If we continue with self-harshness it actually moves us away from the things we want to achieve. Consider someone of authority, say a teacher, constantly on your case and demeaning you: how motivated would you be? Now think about a teacher who encouraged, supported and nurtured you, how would you be then? Our minds cannot distinguish between thought and external event. So we hear negative self-talk and experience it similarly. Therefore, it is important that we make sure that our self-talk is loving, supportive, nurturing, and forgiving. It will take some time for us to believe and it will be like hearing a story we know wellbeing told completely differently – confusing and possibly distressing. However, in time we can unlearn and re-train our thought processes to become healthy and helpful. Treat yourself with the utmost respect, you deserve it!
Health and feeling well
Physical and emotional wellbeing are intrinsically linked. We obsess far too much about our external appearances and achieving the perfect body. Instead we ought to focus on what being healthy gives us and how it makes us feel, then we are more likely to feel motivated and stay on track as well as find a deeper sense of gratification. We also start to become intolerant of how unhealthy choices cause us to feel. This leads to us being able to reframe the way we look at healthy options. Self-care requires us to nourish and feed ourselves physically and emotionally. And if we eat well and exercise we are likely to feel our best and thus banish any concerns of ill health. Exercise, of any form, is known to release endorphins (the happy hormone), fight anxiety, as well as leave us feeling good. Moments of stillness and quiet, no matter how brief, enable us to find inner calm and peace. If you are physically and emotionally well you can be more available for others and you can partake in more activities.
Stay positive and be grateful
Don’t waste time and emotion looking at others and wishing you had what they have. If you need visual inspiration for a physical change then find photos of you at your best or perhaps hang up a dress you would like to get back into. If there’s a holiday you want to take then have a picture of it as your wallpaper on your laptop. If you want your children to all go to university create a picture of them doing that (in your minds). Learn to release the negativity and focus on all the good you have and on all that you’ve achieved. Make a daily list of your accomplishments and what you are grateful for. By doing this it will motivate us to do more and help us when we start to feel frustrated and ready to give up. Nothing is too small to be grateful for especially if it is moving you in the right direction.
We need to learn to love ourselves. To do this we need to acknowledge our efforts and achievements and see perfection in our ‘imperfections’. We need to find the beauty within ourselves. To love ourselves we need to catch our negative thoughts and release them, not hold on to them. It may seem ironic but when we focus on caring and loving ourselves the external transformation, (we’ve perhaps been craving), is more likely to occur. When we treat ourselves with the care and respect we deserve the routines needed for a physical transformation to take place seem to naturally develop. Similarly you will be able to be more available for your loved ones or think more creatively in terms of the education of your child(ren). Because you are grateful for what you have, you will make choices that benefit you and your family.
We are fortunate as Muslims that we have built-in time to regroup, recoup and recharge in the form of our daily prayers. I know that as mothers, particularly with little ones, praying in peace is a luxury but if we can enable ourselves to have even a moment of kushoo (calmness, serenity) then it can do wonders for our day and our general presence.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~ Steve Jobs
Islamically, we know that we need to submit to the will of Allah (SWT) but do we recognize that that will has given us the permission to be who we are? And so we need to also submit to who we are. Because it is all contained within us, we have to have those moments of self-care that allow for self-reflection and contemplation to unravel our selves. When we know ourselves better we are better placed to help our children discover who they are.
Khalida Haque is a qualified and experienced counselling psychotherapist who has a private practice, is a clinical supervisor, group facilitator, freelance writer and counselling services manager as well as founder and managing director of Khair (www.khair-therapeutic.com). She is a mother of three with an on-off homeschooling tendency, having been guided by her and her children’s needs.
Issue One ‘Getting Started’ is available in both print and digital through all Amazons or directly through us here.
Fitra Journal is so thankful to Samar Asamoah for taking the time to share her experience for Issue One ‘Getting Started’ (available here or through Amazon). This is her full article –
“It’s not about the pros and cons, it’s about what suits us.”
For me, homeschooling is about taking responsibility for my children’s education. I’m not saying that parents who choose to send their children to school are irresponsible. What I’m saying is I’m not afraid to take it all on myself. Recently a family relative suggested that… or actually they ordered me to send my children to school. They said that they are scared that my children won’t be able to go to university or study sciences if they are homeschooled. I could tell that they had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about the many opportunities that homeschooled children have compared to those in school. When I started to explain the process and to send them links showing cases of home educated children going to uni as early as the age of twelve, it still didn’t seem to reassure them. Is it perhaps because I’m a single parent?
I started homeschooling about five years ago. My daughter was seven at the time and both she and my son, then age three, had just come back from a long family holiday of about five months. I felt that I needed to get my daughter back into school because that’s normally just what you do. My son quickly got a place in nursery but I was told I would have to wait a few weeks before I found out if my daughter had been accepted into a school. I decided that in the meantime we would work at home together so she wouldn’t fall behind. I bought some books and found some online resources. My daughter and I worked together doing maths, English, and science. I found it quite easy, it was like helping with homework after school. Since she was only seven, it was simple enough stuff. When we did get the acceptance letter from the school my daughter looked at me and said: “Mama I don’t wanna go back to school I want to be homeschooled.” Remarkably, I simply responded: “OK then”.
It wasn’t a difficult decision for me to take as I was unemployed at the time, so having the time wasn’t an issue. Not only that, but I was more than happy to continue as we were because really I had wanted to homeschool my children before I even had them. When I gave birth to my daughter I was at university and it was just easier to put my daughter into nursery and school than follow my preference. As for my son, I kept him in school; he finished nursery and went onto reception. He was doing very well and seemed to enjoy it for the most part, he had friends, an excellent school report and exceptional social skills for a child his age. However after seeing all the fun things that his sister was doing at home and hearing about our homeschooling trips, he started asking if he could be homeschooled too.
I didn’t want to take him out of school before the year was over so I told him to wait till it was over. I actually thought that he would change his mind but he never did. To be honest I have been both surprised and pleased with my children in this respect: they rarely change their minds about what they want to do and are quite driven once they decide something. This has been a very useful trait with regards to their home education. There is a three-year gap between them and my daughter being the elder is very good at tutoring her brother as well as self-study. One of the best ways to reinforce your own learning is to teach others. Educators know this, but schools seldom have the time or resources to engage in peer-tutoring activities. I do spend one-on-one time with each of them but, my daughter does a lot more self-study on her own inclination. She is currently learning Japanese by herself. My son also enjoys learning different languages and diverse subjects such as graphic design, sciences, and arts.
I actually feel that as a single parent I can spend more time with my children because I homeschool them. I no longer have the burden of the morning or afternoon school rush. I’m not confined by the school holidays as to when I can travel with my kids or not. Education is a way of life for us, it is not just confined to a particular building time or place. I can juggle my self-employment with homeschooling pretty easily. No doubt it can be hard sometimes but that’s probably more because I take on other activities not related to my home life because I’m quite driven as an individual. These are usually short-term projects though and I think as a parent it’s good to show your children that you are also trying to improve yourself.
I’m sure that two-parent families also have their struggles as well as their strengths. I think the most important thing as a family is working together as a team. Once you have good teamwork in place anything is possible.
Samar Asamoah is an African Caribbean revert and self-employed single mum raising multicultural kids in the north of England. Her artwork and Eid cards for Syria are available at etsy.com/shop/Yezarck.
This article originally appeared in Fitra Journal: Getting Started, available in print and digital here or at all Amazon shops.
One of the aims of Fitra Journal is to reach out to the entire global homeschooling ummah, which we are learning has a far reach masha Allah! Distributing the printed copies is a bit challenging, but using three different distributors it has been possible to reach everyone who so far has wanted a printed copy. The e-book, oddly enough, was a greater challenge to get out there as we were only selling through Amazon. Even I, the editor, couldn’t have read Fitra Journal in digital here in Morocco if I hadn’t brought a Kindle from the US. This hurdle was frustrating us, so we found a way!
Now you can directly buy a copy of Fitra Journal right here, right from us! All you need is a PDF reader on your phone, laptop or any device of your choice. Enjoy!
Click right here to buy Issue One: Getting Started or Issue Two: Homeschooling in the Digital Age
*Printed copies of #1 and #2 are available through our e-store, Amazon, and Book Depository.
Fitra Journal: The Muslim Homeschool Quarterly is now available in digital and print format on all Amazon outlets.
Whether you are a seasoned homeschooler or just curious about this educational option for your children, Fitra Journal offers a community of Muslim homeschoolers’ experiences so that we may travel this less-worn path together, in sha Allah.
Our diverse contributors hail from both Muslim and nonMuslim-majority countries and have experienced a wide variety of homeschooling styles. The journal publishes personal accounts, methodology explanations, resource reviews and a bounty of general homeschooling information and ideas, always from a deen-centered perspective.
Volume 1, Issue 1 – ‘Getting Started’ has several articles that are especially helpful for beginning and organizing your homeschooling lifestyle, such as budget planning, curriculum breakdowns, advice for reluctant parents and solid self-care tips to avoid burnout. We also hear from children who are homeschooled, a single-parent, homeschoolers in Pakistan and Morocco, and a mother of a child with Dyslexia.
Please contact us for wholesale orders, adverting, submissions or anything else at firstname.lastname@example.org
Issue #2 is due out right after Ramadan, in sha Allah!