Had someone told me years ago that I'd one day be educating two hyperactive, adorable little mini-me's at home, I would have laughed in their faces and called them the most glib prophesiers ever! Stay at home all day with two naughty little elves always up to something? Never!
And here I am, tired and drained as I write this, but wonderfully happy with my decision to homeschool. This wonderful foray into the world of home education, child psychology and parenting techniques began with first my stint as parent.
Utterly clueless except for a burning desire to fulfill my responsibility as a mother, I sincerely prayed to the One who had placed me in this important position by handing me a crying, burping, squealing, pooping and spitting-up bundle of joy, to guide me to raise her right – in a manner that would get me His pleasure and approval.
When that first bundle was merely a few months old, I started hearing well-wishing advice from others urging me to register her as soon as possible in one of the “good schools” in the city – schools that have hefty admission and monthly fees, long admission applicant lists, bureaucratic interview processes, and even longer waiting lists for the unrelentingly ardent hopefuls. I went along wherever the tide took me, never challenging those who insisted, “It is very important for a child's confidence and personality development to put him or her into a good school at a very early age nowadays, as early as 18 months or 2 years! If you do not do that, your child will not be able to succeed in life, or learn how to be sociable.”
It was not long before I found all these myths and delusions challenged by practical experience and observation. Children as young as 2 do not need to be left in a room full of strangers to develop their confidence. Why does Allāh make a child suckle for up to two years? Why does Allāh not enable a human baby to walk before the age of 10-11 months at the very least (even though goat kids and other mammals start walking mere hours after birth)? Why is completely potty training a child not possible before the age range of 18 months to 3 years? —> Because children so young need their mother's unswerving love, attention and physical contact to gain confidence in their budding, initial years of life.
I started reading up a lot about homeschooling, parenting techniques, child psychology and educational models and methodologies online. Whenever I'd face a problem with parenting both my children, I'd go online to try to find a solution for it, e.g. how to handle a tantrum, and from there I'd also try to discover why a child throws one, so that I could avoid the problem in the future. I discovered eye-openers such as this:
“Children, like all human beings, crave freedom. They hate to have their freedom restricted. Children explore and play, freely, in ways designed to learn about the physical and social world in which they are developing. In school, they are told they must stop following their interests and, instead, do just what the teacher is telling them they must do. That is why they do not like school.” - Peter Gray, a specialist in Developmental and Evolutionary Psychology.
[- Freedom to Learn, PsychologyToday.com]
I must admit, the vast chasm between what I learned during my reading stints about how children learn and what society, especially its elders, were telling me, led me to become an enormous mass of confusion, pushing me into a constant mental dilemma. I started turning to Allāh in earnest supplication (du‘ā’), asking Him to make me see reality as it is, rather than what people want me to think it is. Also, my husband was not convinced that homeschooling was the way for our children, especially since their naughtiness sometimes drove me up the wall so much that he seriously doubted what my mental state would be if both of them not only stayed at home all day, but also had to be taught by none other than me.
I always find it interesting how people are so convinced of specific outcomes of certain actions. They tell you with conviction, “If you do that, such-and-such thing will happen,” even though evidence to the contrary exists right under their noses. E.g. when I started hijab, countless ladies were convinced that “girls who observe hijab do not get married”. But then I did get married, alḥamdulillāh, even before some other girls of my age in my extended family, who did not wear hijab.
The same applies to home education. People will make statements with unflinching conviction, such as, “Your children will become shy and unsociable,” or “Your children will not learn how to write exams or get along with peers” and so on. My daughter studied in school from the age of 2.5 to 5, and despite being around peers her age, she still preferred the company of adults: teachers, school maids, or her parents. One of the consistent “complaints” her teacher made to me was, “You have to make her get along with children her age; she always comes up to my desk and takes an interest in what I am doing, rather than playing with her classmates. This is problematic, and you need to make her hang out more with peers.”
*Cough* This is a “problem“? A child who likes hanging out with adults is a “problem child”? Last I checked, preferring the company of adults and older children over that of peers was one of the signs of giftedness!
When I heard this, I remembered `Ali Bin Abi Talib, `Abdullah Bin Abbas, `Abdullah Bin `Umar, Usama Bin Zaid (may Allāh be pleased with them), and other “children” of their generation who used to regularly hang out with some cool adults as children. How did this adult company affect them? Did it not make them learn skills at an early age, gain foundational knowledge more quickly, and succeed in life after they grew up?
Eventually, I started doing sincere istikhārah, attending activities and get-togethers of home educating families in the city, and brainstorming options with my husband. I was convinced that homeschooling was the best way to raise responsible children, but I was not sure if it was the solution for our family. Hence, the mental dilemma continued, until I started my daughter on her school's summer vacation homework during July this year.
When I actually started practically teaching her, what transpired was nothing less than an epiphany for me. She loved that I was taking time out and teaching her chapters from her books. She did her work quickly and with interest, so much so that we'd finish the reading and question-answer set of one chapter per subject in an hour at the most, whereas her school would make her do the same amount of work in a week – reading out a chapter to 20 children at once in class, making them all answer the questions in their notebooks, and giving the leftover questions as homework to be completed under the parents' supervision at home.
As it happened, my husband read a couple of homeschooling articles online, without my telling him to do so in an attempt to convince him to homeschool, and by Allāh's decree, he became convinced that homeschooling was the best option for us as well.
And that is how Allāh answered my earnest istikhārah prayers and ended my constant mental turmoil. It has been three months since we took this decision, and alhamdulillah, we are pleased that we did.
I'd like to point out a few factors here, however, which I think made the decision to homeschool easy and practically workable for our family:
- We do not have a television set or any kind of video games in our residence, but we do have many other resources to keep our children occupied, which means that they spend most of their time reading or engaging in creative work, games, and productive play.
- We live as a nuclear family, where we, as the parents, get to practice total control over our children's activities and pastimes. This is not always possible in extended families where many others live in close proximity e.g. our children cannot watch any television by going upstairs to their uncle's home.
- I have given all my time to be with my children, as a constant supervisor. At least one parent's constant presence around the children is necessary for homeschooling to be possible. I know that all mothers cannot do that, especially those who work, but it is important to remember that a homeschooling parent's time is not always their own – their children are their constant companions. That becomes, ironically, an effective teaching methodology in itself that benefits the latter: they constantly observe their parents and learn to master adult tasks and responsibilities at young ages. This particular methodology is also endorsed by our Prophet's (صلى الله عليه وسلم) sunnah. He never restricted his company, talks, sermons or other group activities to only people who were adults. Rather, wards such as Anas Bin Malik and even his own wife A'ishah, (may Allāh be pleased with them) were placed in his company as minors/children, because of which they acquired knowledge and grew immensely in their own skin. Contrast that to how we tend to treat children under the age of twelve: we want to get them out of the way, make arrangements for them to be occupied in activities revolving around make-believe, fantastical, dream worlds having princesses/princes, castles and unrealistic characters, and thwart their natural curiosity by giving them lame answers far from reality (“No, no, don't be sad. That kitten did not die, it was just asleep!”).
Will we always be successfully able to homeschool our children? I do not know at this point. We do intend to keep the option of enrolling them into regular school as a valid contingency scenario if and when circumstances change. However, with the rampant culture of private tuition and education in Pakistan, it'd not be an exaggeration to say that homeschooling is here to stay.
Here are some of the most valuable lessons I have learnt as a parent since I started homeschooling:
- Children are naturally curious and possess an intrinsic love of learning. This love is thwarted by none other than the adults around them, when the latter respond negatively to the incessant questions and interruptions children make.
- Children keenly observe and emulate their parents.
- Children like to learn independently, after minimal guidance from adults.
- Children love to read, especially text accompanied by illustrations.
- Children are enthralled by, and enjoy the company of, animals.
- Children love not just to build things from raw materials, but also to take things apart to see what they are made up of (“You broke this up too?!”)
- Children love to play and experiment with diverse textures such as water, paper, mud, wood, plants, sand and paints.
- Children get hooked on television, cartoons, comic books, musical songs and video games only because their parents bring these things into the home for them, and plop them down in front of them to keep them occupied and hence, out of their own hair.
- Children forget and keep no grudges, so even if a parent makes a mistake in their sincere effort to teach or train their child, an onlooking adult might remember it and remind the parent of it later, but Allāh will make the child forget about it, especially if the parent repents and follows it up with good.
- Children love the Qurʾān. If the Qurʾān is played or recited before them, they catch on to it and automatically memorize it without any difficulties.
- Children who are homeschooled start to get along very well with their parents because both spend time so much together. They help their parents and rush to aid them in their day-to-day tasks.
- Children, if left on their own, can learn a skill or accomplish an adult task long before adults expect them to.
A homeschooling household transforms into a center of learning for the children, a place where parents are guides and teachers, where the children contribute to the chores and help out their parents in all activities.
In stark contrast, numerous mothers of school-going children “dread” the onset of summer or winter break/vacation because their children will be at home for three months. The children, on the other hand, treat vacation as “freedom” from books and boring schoolwork. Their home turns into a hotel-cum-entertainment center, where they sleep in till noon and spend the rest of the day wasting time in mostly unproductive activities, expecting Mum to turn into a chef catering to their whims and desires.
Education and traditional means of gaining knowledge are changing drastically as the years go by. An example of this is the Khan Academy, an online tuition centre or teaching program that is a one man show. An MIT and Harvard postgraduate gave up his lucrative full-time career to do what he loves: making online videos teaching math to youth. None other than Bill Gates has acknowledged the benefit of this academy, that was started and is still run from a closet inside the tutor's residence.
Isn't it quite ironic that we formally educate and train our children to attend the best institutions throughout their youth and then instruct them to go work for companies that are headed by college and school drop-outs who left “school” in order to pursue their natural interests and dreams, and consequently became financially successful? Isn't it ironic that these drop-outs are today called in by these institutions to give graduation addresses and speeches?
However, what I am advocating here is not for everyone to drop their formal schooling, or not to pursue a job after they graduate if they want to. What I want everyone reading this post to realize is, that success does not lie in what the world wants us to do, or in what other people think we should do, but rather, in doing what we love, as long as it is not against the pleasure of our Creator. And this is the message which our children should be receiving from their parents, especially at ages less then 10, when they look up to their parents for every answer and for guidance in every little matter.
If you are not courageous enough to stand up to people for what you believe is the right choice for you or your children, how can you expect to succeed in life by always unquestioningly following the majority, riding the wave so to speak, and doing only what everyone else is doing, or what they're telling you to do?