Let us take you back to your elementary school days for a moment. You might reminisce the sheer joy experienced while enjoying care-free moments with your peers. However, looking back from the perspective of learning, was your education suited to your needs or did you have no choice but to fit in? Were you that child whose questions were dismissed for being too silly? Were you encouraged to think critically and take a problem-solving approach to learning or instructed to stick to the textbook word-for-word, in a parrot-fashion instead?
We have all pulled through classes that sometimes seemed to stretch our brains like a rubber band that’s about to snap. We peeked at our wrist-watch, counting minutes as we waited for the lunch bell to go. The beautiful flower outside the window appeared so much more interesting than its black and white diagram on the blackboard.
For many of us, the reality of school was that we didn’t care about ‘learning’ as much as we did about clearing the exams. We would fill ourselves with as much information as we could prior to the exam, purge it on that sheet of paper on the assigned day and hit the delete button in our brain as soon as we left the exam hall. What followed was an unhealthy competition and comparison of marks, as we struggled to meet the expectations set for us. There was no room for failure, to make mistakes and learn from them. For if you did, they’d tell you - you won’t make it far in life.
Is There A Better Alternative To Regular School?
When we reflect on our education system, isn’t it really surprising that we choose to trust complete strangers with the responsibility of letting our child know how to perceive themselves and the world around them. As parents, we know our children best — their unique learning styles, interests, needs, likes and dislikes, the strengths they have and the challenges they face. Allah has placed this natural love and concern for their well-being in our hearts. The kind of love a parent has for their child is unmatched, no person on this planet is more concerned about their well-being. It is on this strong foundation of love that a homeschool is built.
What if you were told that you could give your child a world-class education at home, where your child learns in a care-free environment experiencing the world around them instead of being confined to a desk. Your kitchen could be their chemistry lab. As you crack an egg to fry, you demonstrate to them how liquid turns to solid. You’d be surprised at how you could teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and literally all the subjects in the world to your child through the process of baking bread together. A wonderful math lesson would unfold as your child weighs out the ingredients to learn concepts of measurement. They learn fractions as you cut through slices of that freshly baked bread and the nutritional value in it can be mutually arrived at. Science is introduced as they observe the yeast react with the warm water and the temperature of heat required to bake the bread. You can explore the history of baking bread, the climate required to grow wheat and you can also touch upon genetics as you discuss the impact of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). To enrich the learning further, you could pack some of the bread for neighbours and friends to inculcate the value of sharing, all during this simple activity. The possibilities are limitless!
What is Homeschooling?
Homeschooling is when parents take the initiative to manage their children’s education instead of letting a school take over that responsibility. The parents design or choose a personalised curriculum and schedule that suits the needs of their child while allowing them to explore their areas of immediate interest in as much depth as they would like. When educated at home, the child is encouraged to explore, discover and develop their own passions and talents. There’s a lot of flexibility to cater to the individual growth of your child. For instance, if the child isn’t comfortable with a certain topic or the mode of learning, the parent can alter it anytime.
Contrary to popular belief, homeschooling isn’t a new concept at all. It was only the end of the 19th century that schooling became institutionalised and consequently education became synonymous with sending children to school. Not only that, we internalised school as the 'sole pathway’ to learning. What is interesting to note is that for thousands of years before that, children learnt independently while real world experiences were their primary teacher. They explored life under the guidance and support of their parents and sometimes other knowledgeable individuals. Agnese Foresti, a Muslim homeschooler who runs the Salam Homeschooling blog beautifully drives this point home as she says, “Brilliance, invention, ingenuity and the potential for a fulfilling life were available before school was invented and insha’Allah they can certainly be achieved outside of it!”
Mental Barriers To Homeschooling
“Homeschool is like jumping into ice cold water. When you first jump in it doesn’t feel very nice — the adrenaline and the excitement is there, but it is uncomfortable. It is cold and you can feel it. But you wait a few minutes, and your body acclimatizes so that you no longer feel the cold anymore. Now you can enjoy the swim and have fun. This is Homeschool. We begin unsure, but as the weeks, months and years go by we warm up. We acclimatise. We start to see the benefits and experience the joys. That’s when you know you got this” says Umm Khadeeja, an experienced homeschooler whose children have been home educated all the way through secondary school and are now preparing for their GCSEs.
1) Can anyone homeschool?
For someone new to homeschooling, these concepts might sound great, but questions like — “How will I manage it all on my own?” “I can’t teach well” or “I’m not qualified enough to do this” are bound to arise. It's a fear almost every homeschooling mother you interact with would have felt at the start of their journey. Well, the good news is you do not require any formal qualification to home educate. There’s no training course in the world that could make you feel completely equipped to homeschool because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every family is unique and so is their style of homeschooling. What works for your friend’s family won’t necessarily work for yours. In today’s world, there’s a plethora of resources, workshops and support available from homeschooling mothers across the world. One can definitely benefit from them and implement what suits the needs of their family in order to improve the homeschooling experience.
2) What is the learning environment like?
The learning environment between the parent and child is one on one and informal in a homeschool setup. It’s nothing like school where the teaching model is designed for instructing a large group. Furthermore, at least for the first seven years of their life and even beyond, you don’t have to ‘teach’ — in the traditional sense of the word. Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist who is known for his systematic study on intellectual development in children said, “When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.” You’ll be amazed at how much a child will learn through self-directed play and discovery. “If we give them access to enough of the world, including our own lives and work in that world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to us and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than we could make for them.” ~ John Holt in his book, How Children Learn.
3) Do I have to know it all?
You do not have to be an expert in all the subjects your child is learning. However, there is no doubt that it will be helpful if you have been educated to an extent and are knowledgeable in a certain area of study. “My job is not to teach at all, but to find the opportunities for my kids to learn. NOT knowing something can be an advantage, as it reminds me of the wealth of resources out there in the community and world, if only we are willing to go look for them.”, says David Albert in his book — And the Skylark Sings with Me.
In the process of learning with your child, you share what you know on the subject and you research areas you don’t know. If you do not understand or remember a particular topic, you can easily look it up and quickly prepare, there’s an entire galaxy of information out there. Give your child real world experiences and opportunities to learn from the local community. If you’re learning about the human body, get your child to talk to a friend who is a biologist or a doctor, let them ask questions and learn from the expert. If your child is fascinated by animals, take some time off and spend your day on a farm together as a family. When they’re out in the open, all their senses are active — they see the animals, smell the hay, feel the breeze, hear the chirping birds and taste the fresh produce. And above all, they’re making memories they will cherish for a lifetime. Who do you think will retain what they learnt better — A child who learns from memorable experiences such as these or the one who is given a paragraph to read about life on a farm?
For areas of study which both parents aren’t comfortable taking up, there’s always an option to reach out and take help by outsourcing a private tutor for your child, this is the path many homeschoolers take once their children advance in age. If complex mathematics isn’t your cup of tea, you scout for someone you trust who could educate your child and do an excellent job at it. In the present world of the internet, this isn’t a challenge at all.
The Perks Of Homeschooling For A Muslim Family
One of the biggest perks of homeschooling is that the parent is in full control of what their children are learning and are exposed to. As Muslim parents who intend to nurture our children upon the Qur’an and Sunnah, this could prove to be beneficial in preserving the original disposition of our children — their purity and innocence, for as long as possible. The aim would be to equip them with strength of character and conduct during their formative years that will aid them in protecting themselves from the trials and evils of this world when they will inevitably be exposed to it in the future.
For most families who homeschool, the day is far from boring. Learning isn’t limited by time or space, it happens round the clock, from the moment the child opens their eyes in the morning until they go back to sleep. As Isabel Shaw, a freelance writer and homeschooling mom of 15 years puts it — “The word ‘home’ is not really accurate, and neither is ‘school.’ For most families, their "schooling" involves being out and about each day.” They learn from the wide variety of resources available at home, in their immediate environment and through interactions with their local community.” When a love for learning, creativity and imagination is established in younger children, it continues with them throughout their homeschool days and tends to persist even after they graduate from college.
How Rewarding Is Homeschooling?
Homeschooling is becoming increasingly popular every day, with a growth rate of 7 to 15% per year. Children who are homeschooled perform well on standardised tests and are welcome at colleges and universities across the globe. In fact, they have a reputation for being self-directed learners and reliable employees as adults.
Here is an excerpt from a recent study of homeschoolers: "According to a report published by the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), homeschool student achievement test scores were exceptionally high. The median scores for every subtest at every grade were well above those of public and private-school students. On average, homeschool students in grades one to four performed one grade level above their age-level public/private school peers on achievement tests. Students who had been homeschooled their entire academic life had higher scholastic achievement test scores than students who had also attended other educational programs.” The study states, "Even with a conservative analysis of the data, the achievement levels of the homeschool students in the study were exceptional. Within each grade level and each skill area, the median scores for homeschool students fell between the 70th and 80th percentile of students nationwide and between the 60th and 70th percentile of private school students. For younger students, this is a one year lead. By the time homeschool students are in 8th grade, they are four years ahead of their public/private school counterparts.”
Homeschooling Pros and Cons
We have discussed about ”What is Homeschooling?”, the “Mental Barriers To Homeschooling” and touched on other topics about the benefits of homeschooling. Now it is time to have a very frank conversation about the pros and cons of homeschooling based on feedback from the many homeschooling parents we've met. The following collection of pros and cons were inspired by a list made by a seasoned homeschooler who writes for the Family Education blog.
- The child has the freedom to study and learn what interests them, at their own pace without any interruptions.
- Learning is designed to suit the child’s ability and maturity levels.
- No rigid structure and schedule for the year, which means the family can plan off-season vacations, visit parks and museums during non-rush hours and live life according to what works for them.
- The children don’t have to “fit in” — the child can dress, think and act the way they want. They are also shielded from peer pressure and bullying, both of which negatively impact academic performance and self-esteem.
- Homeschooling provides the opportunity for parents to incorporate Islamic beliefs into their curriculum and daily lives.
- The bond between homeschooling parents and their children is very unique as it helps you find time to foster loving ties. The relationship between family members is strengthened everyday as they progress in their journey as partners in life and learning with fun, laughter and wholesome interactions.
- During difficult times, the stability and flexibility homeschooling offers is a huge advantage. It helps families cope during challenging times — a new baby, illness, death in the family or any other life transition: you can work around them.
- Homeschooled children can accomplish in a few hours what takes a week or more to cover in a typical classroom in a school setting. In an interview, John Taylor Gatto, a 26-year teaching veteran said that in many classrooms less than one hour out of each school day is spent on "on task" learning. No wonder these kids have so much homework. And that brings us to a major "pro" of homeschooling: No more homework!
- There's no doubt that a good chunk of the parents’ time has to be invested in educating their children, choosing hands-on experiences and interesting activities for them.
- If the mother is working, she will most likely have to forego full time employment in order to homeschool. However, it’s surprising to note that most homeschooling families believe that the brief loss of income is well worth the satisfaction of watching their kids grow and learn in freedom.
- Your kids will be around 24/7 if you choose to homeschool — which might get quite overwhelming. You need to enjoy your children’s company, if not, homeschooling may not be for you. There are times when it gets difficult, but most homeschool parents view the interactions with their kids — the ups as well as the downs, as opportunities for growth, personally as well as for the family.
- The child may have lesser daily interactions with large groups of children of the same age. There may also have fewer opportunities to participate in team sports. Conversely, this could also be seen as a merit of homeschooling as the parent can supervise the kind of company the child is making. Unlike common perception, homeschooled children aren’t socially isolated as they benefit from mature and healthy social interactions with adults as well as children of different ages from among family, friends and local community. Your child can have excellent social exposure as you enrol them in extra-curricular activities based on their interests and set up play dates with their friends or other homeschooled children.
- Parents will need to adhere to the education guidelines in their country of residence. Hence, in many cases the parent may have to ensure that the curriculum followed at home is in line with the national curriculum. Click here to check the home educationlaws and requirements specific to your country.
- You may have to face criticism from family and friends. Like any other decision you make that opposes mainstream thinking, your choice to homeschool will most likely be met with disapproval — mostly by individuals who have very little or no knowledge of what homeschooling truly is. It will be hard for onlookers to accept that ordinary parents are succeeding where trained professionals often fail. We would need to get used to living “outside the box” and handling the comments from sceptics in stride.
And the most comforting advantage is, “When you need a hug, there’s always one to be found!”
To promote a culture of pure learning, we at Arriqaaq are launching a brand new project on education. We aim to inspire parents to nurture the natural curiosity of their children to ‘learn’ and give them the freedom to learn what interests them in a way that sparks their creativity and imagination, whilst making sure parents' do not have to compromise on their kids Islamic education.
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