A big thank you to Jameelah Madyun, author of 7 Steps to Start Your Muslim Homeschool: An Alternative to Traditional Schools, for taking the time to answer a bunch of our questions, especially about homeschooling as a single mom. As a former teacher Jameelah offers plenty of insight on the technicalities of homeschooling here and in her book.
Brooke Benoit: Being a single-parent homeschooler seems overwhelming. Can we talk about some of the practical ways of doing it?
Jameelah Madyun: It can be overwhelming. I find preparation and organization to be my two biggest tools. I mention in my book a little about meal planning and it is such a lifesaver. Just having a menu saves me both time and money!
Brooke: Is self-employment going to be the only or easiest way for a single-parent to homeschool?
Jameelah: I don’t know that self-employment is easier. It is certainly more convenient because you can schedule your hours and work flow. However, as any self-employed person knows, you usually find yourself working harder than ever.
Brooke: What kind of set-ups can be arranged for young and elementary-aged children to be cared for when the single-parent does have to work outside the home?
Jameelah: Here is where your support system will have to come into play. Having caring, involved family and friends can be extremely useful. But it is not always available. Day care and child care are the two most often used by other homeschoolers during traditional school hours. It is not ideal, because it can put your child into the school environment that you may have been trying to avoid. Having a babysitter or a nanny during school hours may also not be ideal. These caregivers cannot always be trusted to follow through on educational activities and routines. The best support sometimes comes from other homeschoolers. I know of some situations where the parent sent their child to another homeschooler’s “school” while they were out during the day. If possible, you could join a co-op and possibly drop your child off during the co-op hours. As homeschoolers we must be creative and flexible.
Brooke: Some government service can either come hand-in-hand with unsavory compromises for homeschoolers and others may just make us uncomfortable. What do you think about relying on state-provided services?
Jameelah: I would say don’t do anything that makes you feel extremely uncomfortable. Research and investigate as much as possible before making a decision. If the option is truly just a compromise, look at it as such and resolve to keep trying for a more comfortable alternative. Sometimes when you are homeschooling you must make these difficult decisions but plan your way out of it. When I go into these types of situations, I say to myself, “Okay this is temporary for the next six months.” And then I come up with a plan for how I will try to turn this situation around in six months or even a year.
Brooke: What are some things that really help you to homeschool as a single-parent?
Jameelah: Networking with other single parents was very helpful. It gave me confidence to know that it could be done. It also helped me to see how it could be done. Practical advice from others has served as a guide and a cautionary tale.
Brooke: Where did you find the time to write 7 Steps to Start Your Muslim Homeschool???
Jameelah: During the summer months I give my kids a summer vacation. This is controversial as most homeschoolers will tell you they homeschool all year round. But for our family we needed the break. I needed it even more than they did! During our break I found the time to take ideas I had been toying with and working on and compile them into the book. (It is also helpful that my youngest just turned 7 and my oldest just turned 13!)
Brooke: How do you find teaching your own children different from being a teacher?
Jameelah: Regrettably, I find that I have much less patience with my own kids. With other children their misbehaviors, temper tantrums, etc. really didn’t bother me. With my own, I have a much different reaction and I find myself pulled out of “teacher” mode and into “mommy” mode. However, on the positive side, I find that I have an easier time reaching my child as a student. I know what motivates them, their strengths and weaknesses. As a teacher it takes a few months, sometimes the whole school year to gain that knowledge. And then when you have it, it is time for them to move to the next teacher for the following year. I really think traditional schools could be improved by just this one factor. They should keep kids with the same teacher for at least two years.
Brooke: I really appreciate your addressing the problem of Muslim children learning from the white-male literary canon under the guise of them being “classics.” Have you found good resources for offering our children better, more appropriate material? What do you suggest instead of simply accepting the majority of the classics?
Jameelah: I really had to research to find books that truly represented culture of others respectfully. Books that would have been considered true classics in that culture. Google was extremely helpful in this. Also, if you have friends or acquaintances from a culture, you can ask about their classic literature. And as situations arise you can address them at age appropriate levels. For instance, after watching Mulan again with her younger sibling, my 13 y.o. was eager to learn the true story of “the girl who saved China.”
Brooke: In your book you tell us that if we don’t find various resources we need, then we have to create some. I think even though homeschoolers are already doing – creating – something radically different by homeschooling, still that sounds intimidating. Many of us eagerly seek out boxed curriculum, coops and whatnot. But you’re right, soon enough we hit a wall and have to do something else we likely never saw coming. What is something(s) you had to create for your family?
Jameelah: My children are learning Arabic using the “Madinah” series. I created worksheets, games and quizzes to go along with the book because I really felt that the book did not offer enough practice for those who are truly learning Arabic for the first time. I also created similar items to help them really understand and remember the meaning of the surahs they are learning. They attend a Quran school and it helps them with tajweed (pronunciation) and memorization. However as native English speakers I feel strongly that they needed more help in making the words meaningful to them.
Brooke: What are some of your biggest alhumdulillah moments from your family’s homeschooling journey?
Jameelah: My biggest is helping each of my children find joy in reading. When I started this journey, my older children were already reading but I knew I would have to teach my youngest. This was my biggest fear. I really doubted I could do it. But alhumdulillah, she learned and is now an avid reader, reading well beyond her age/grade level.
Brooke: Anything else you would like to add?
Jameelah: I would like to say thank you for the support and help that you give to homeschoolers. We cannot do it alone and it means a lot to have you and Fitra Journal, giving us a voice and a forum! May Allah bless and reward you, Ameen.
Thank you Jameelah! We gave 7 Steps to Start Your Muslim Homeschool: An Alternative to Traditional Schools a glowing review in issue four, “There’s No One Way To Do It” of Fitra Journal, and really meant it!