Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why we chose to educate our children at home

As-Salaam Alaikum Wa-rahmatullahi Wa-Barakatuhu,

The following is a defense for home education, which was written to a sister some months back. Alhumdulillah, we are now a full fledged home educating family. We'd like to share this for those wondering why we took the plunge:

Dear sister, I know this response comes rather late, but I’d like to share my 2 cents here (in my country - Pakistan even 2 cents is worth something! ) My kids are currently in what is considered one of the best schools in the city, it's not an religious school (no Hifiz) but tries its best to give tarbeeyah and importance of values. My husband and I have been reading up on unschooling and homeschooling lately, we work with tarbeeyah programs for teenagers too, and we’ve come to the conclusion: the very institution of school is flawed.

A school teacher cannot cater to the emotional and even academic needs of each individual child. Children learn to work because of their fear of looking bad in class and being humiliated by teachers or peers. “Good students” have the pressure of having to look “good” can’t afford to make too many mistakes or make their lack of understanding apparent – they have a reputation to maintain. Students are motivated to work for stickers and empty words of praise, rarely do they experience the sense of achievement and pleasure attained from getting knowledge because they wanted it: striving to learn because one is curious to know. Knowledge in itself is no longer a goal it’s a means to empty goals: an A grade or a star sticker. This knowledge doesn’t have any worth to the child and once the pressure of the examination is gone, the knowledge is gone too.

In the case of school forced Islamic knowledge, often a child will find it a burden and soon seeking Islamic knowledge for the sake of Allah’s pleasure will be replaced by learning because of the fear of attaining a teacher’s displeasure.

Teachers aren’t horrible people (schools feel the best teachers are those who can “control” their class best though), but they are pressured into “completing a syllabus and preparing the class for the next grade”, students needing more time to understand a topic must be left behind (with the constant fear of “failure” on their heads) and faster students must wait till the majority of the class is ready to move on to a new topic, no time to delve deeply into a topic that interests a particular person, the class must move like a crowd; ending their curiosity and leaving life skills to be taught at home.

At home? Schools here emphasize how important it is for parents to bond with their kids and give tarbeeyah, but after the best hours of the day (when both children and adults are alert and active) the remainder of the day goes into homework (extension of school and a pressure on both children and parents); many take tuitions because children need more time and practice to keep up with the teacher; and the wrapping up of the day – dinner, quick chat with Abbi, maybe a little time to wind down and play or read something the school hasn’t ordered them to and then rush to bed so that their fresh for school the next day.

Many are so used to this paradigm it seems impossible to “learn” anything unless dictated to by an authority (school) who changes its orders according to how previous students have reacted to their orders. The current latest methods of teaching in school will change after our kids pass out of school because the methods were flawed and there are better ways now…

Some parents like schools to babysit there kids and obviously if the child hasn’t achieved much we can blame the school who in turn blames the parents for not trying hard enough…

Teaching at home doesn't mean you must do it alone; workshops and tutors are a part of homeschooling, where a family can chose what they want to study and making a choice for one’s self makes the child learn what he wants to know, you don’t really have many choices at school.

Sorry for rambling on, I know I sound like a fresh homie, but as much as my kids enjoy school, I realize there is a better way, I want them to value knowledge and use it. Often my husband says that if families did their part, we wouldn’t need so many Tarbeeyah classes here, families can provide good roles models from amongst themselves and others in society if they had the time to get the children in contact with good adults. School really takes up most of our time here in Pakistan.

There are lots of articles online by John Holt and about unschooling, about homeschooling by teachers explaining the flaws of school (John Gatto – Dumbing us Down), maybe when your husband feels he has time to spare you can read them together and discuss them. Allah has made education a right our children have upon us, may He help us attain the means that with help us forfill their rights and attain Allah’s Pleasure, Aameen.

Well that’s my couple Rupees worth. May Allah grant you and your family success in this world and the hereafter, Aameen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Special moments of homeschooling life

Assalamu alaikum,

I wanted to share with all of you a special moment of our homeschooling life.

A bit of history first. :) When I started out homeschooling with my kids, I wasquite up-tight about the goals I wanted to achieve with them. We followedcourse-books quite strictly, I planned their activities for every subject onweekly basis, I recorded in a diary their daily progress and tried to keep ourhomeschooling life on quite strict tracks. Well, needless to say, soon Irealized that such strictness was but only a burden on kids and on me. So as thetime went on, I relaxed about the requirements, scheduling (plus the rest of'official' stuff) and slowly drifted towards a more child-centered learningenvironment.

I've always been reading with great admiration the stories of families, who havechosen to do away with any kind of curriculum and let the kids themselvesdetermine, what they want to learn, at what time and at what speed. Although Iknow that this completely child-directed learning model is not quite fit for thetype of family that we are, from time to time, through daily experiences I'velearned to trust my kids more and more regarding what they are able to achieveon their own.

With all the long intro in mind, what I wanted to share with you is my thismorning's experience with my kids, which once again proved to me that kids CANdo great things. When I woke up this morning, I found that my 8 yrs old son isnot in his bed. As I was wondering, where he could be, he came into the room allfresh and happy to announce to me that he has done 3 pages of his grammar book,2 sections of his Arabic practice workbook and has read a chapter from hisreading book! He topped it all with a happy smile and announcement that he'sdone with his studies for today. Well, what could I answer? I had to say OK. :)

My 5 yrs old daughter is not reading yet. She's been doing lots of writing andreading related activities but so far hadn't expressed any wish to start to readon her own. I had decided to leave her alone (struggling with my wish to'teach!' her how to read) and see, when exactly she would decide that she needsto learn to read. Today, I wanted to give her a slight push for starting toread. So I picked up the first book of Mr. Rayed's published MAZE readersseries, gave it to her and said that I was sure she could read it all byherself. She had previously looked through the book together with me many times,but had always preferred not to read it JUST YET. :) Today, she decided to giveit a try. So she got sarted and slowly read the first few pages with some smallhints from my side. Then she realized that she actually CAN read it and kept onreading, reading and reading... till the end of the entire book AT A FLUENTSPEED! The vocabulary of the book consists of merely 22 words, of course, buther effort and determination to get through all the 23 pages of reading trylyamazed me! Subhanallah! The best thing about this her reading experience,though, was her genuine excitement of being able to do it and the empowermentshe felt about finally mastering the words all by herself.:) Now I have to add to this that I've never bothered her with endless pages of phonics exercises orany other 'official' school stuff of how kids are 'supposed' to learn to read. I helped her to learn the alphabet, time to time tried to draw her attention tohow words look like and how to sound them out and, of course, read a lot ofstories to her. And this proved to be quite enough, Alhamdulillah.

Now to finish all of this, I have to admit that mornings like these are notusual in our home. Just like any kids, also my kids have their ups and downs,when it comes to studies. But it is mornings like these, when I see the joyabout learning in their eyes, that make me more confident about the choice tohomeschool. I'm just happy they can go at their own pace, speeding up, whennecessary, and slowing down, when required.