Sunday, May 27, 2012

The White Tiger

My 4-and-a-half year old son Sabeeh is constantly talking about this “white tiger”, along with his sister and cousins who had accompanied him at the mini zoo (…ok, a micro-zoo) somewhere in Nazimabad, Karachi.

But there is something about this white-tiger that the kids are not easily forgetting! I looked it up and found that this white-tiger is usually smaller in size than the original tigers that Sabeeh has seen on documentaries before, he has also seen other animals… doing things that are very exciting for kids to remember and they’d talk about it for at least a day or two… and then forget about it.There was a moment when…t hey were all standing by its cage…and turned their back towards the cage for a moment and it tried to… either attack or just jump on the grill and some of kids had a mixed feeling of fear and excitement along with a chorus of screams and laughter, they really loved it!

May be its THIS particular event that they are not letting it go. “Baba… uss nay AISAY jump kiaa… aur wo… AISAY bhag raa thaa!”…You know how 4 year olds like to do the…s how and tell… the exciting tone with almost ALL body parts giving their share of gestures!

It made me wonder why this experience has so much impact compared to the very interesting documentaries they had been watching. Why this event is SO… interesting to remember when so many times in so many documentaries… so many animals have jumped on the camera… have done amazing things that a child doesn’t easily forget!

A discussion with some friends… experts of communications, school teachers made me conclude that it’s basically the effect that a REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE leaves at a person, the combined impact of all the 5 senses (or at least 4 in this case, as the children didn’t ‘taste’ anything at the mini-zoo :]) and the deductive ideas generated by input given by these 5 senses within that situation leaves an impression that is incomparable to that of a documentary by even the best multimedia system today.

The urban lifestyle today have kept us away from some of the real life experiences and I am now looking for ways for kids to learn from real life…also, because I realize its actually EASY, and because its…well…REAL.

A small experiment to work on children’s vocabulary using a door, yes… a door! In my house proved to be pretty successful…I just took them to one of the doors in the house and showed them the “handle”, “lock”, “frame” and kind of made up a small story to keep using all the vocabulary about the parts of the door and it was pretty easy for Sabeeh and his Sister to later recall these things ... I’d say…I didn’t have to do practically ANY effort to make them remember it!

I’m now planning to take the kids to a relative’s house at the “University of Karachi” that happens to have some trees…well…whatever’s left of it after expansion of different cemented structures, some small gardens (in fact I have heard a great deal of a garden near the Botany department…obviously!) where…I’m thinking of trying to teach Sabeeh and his sister “colors” in different plants and their flowers, work on their “vocabulary” by SHOWING them the things they read about.

I’d like to know what the experienced home-scholars have to say about this to a newbie, anything and everything that may add value…?


Monday, May 21, 2012

The Positives and Negatives of Home Schooling

Re-posted from:

By Safiyah, a homeschooler in Islamabad (Safiyah is 12 and is a gifted writer and all-round awesome human being. She loves horseriding and can read a book in world record speed.)


In my experience of home schooling there are many, many positives next to almost no negatives, so to me, home schooling is the only option I would willingly accept.

No exams Take away that horrible stress and the overwhelming struggle not to just look over at someone else’s sheet for the answers. The feeling that your insides have suddenly become an endless void is gone, and you don’t even have to worry about teachers patrolling with their creepy eagle-eyes.

Focus on your own character I know I used to wonder whether I should act more like the other kids in class. I didn’t make many friends because I was a little strange, and if I did it was because I was from Australia. In home schooling, you don’t need to look at other kids wondering if they’re better than you; just look at yourself and appreciate it. I find myself enjoying the qualities of myself that my old schoolmates found weird because it means I’m not the same as everyone else.

You can pay attention Did you ever find it hard to focus on what the teacher was saying while all the kids were either trying as hard as you were, finding ways to keep themselves busy, or trying to communicate with their friends? I know I did. There was a rare time when I understood a whole sentence the teacher said, and I’d struggle later to figure it out by myself. I wouldn’t bother asking the teacher to re-explain it, since she’d only get mad and ask why I didn’t pay attention. In home schooling, you don’t have to be afraid of saying you didn’t understand, and there aren’t any kids to distract you (except if you have annoying siblings like me!).

Think for yourself – At school, we used to copy the answers to the questions in our books off what the teacher wrote on the board, then memorize it for the exams, and not actually use our brains. But now, my mum makes us do whole projects by ourselves, getting the information off the internet and reading it over carefully to understand. This way, we have to understand it, because you can’t put together a project without understanding what you’re doing.

Use your creativity – I remember, we used to have to draw something exact for the teacher and if it wasn’t good enough, she’d tell us to make another one. The good thing about projects is that you can decorate it yourself and use your creativity to make it into something beautiful to make it more enjoyable to read.

No more worry for homework – Now that I don’t have homework anymore, I find myself being able to do so many more things! Computer games, yes, but even computer games get boring after a while. So I practice my drawing skills, my writing skills and I read a lot.


There are a few slight downfalls of home schooling, but they don’t matter to me much.

Comforts – At school, you didn’t have all your comforts around you; couches, TV, beds, laptops, etc. So, it’s kinda hard to get into the groove of ignoring how much you just want to relax and get on with school.

No schoolkids – Without all your fellow classmates, you get pretty antisocial, or, for people like my brother who need friends, you go crazy. I was never a very social person, but now home schooling made me prefer to stay in my room even when my sister leaves because my family’s slightly boring to talk to, since they know all the things I might talk about; which is why it might be a good idea to live near friends.

Your mother as a teacher – If your mother is your teacher, it’s kinda hard to take her seriously sometimes. I found myself more afraid of teachers than my mother, because my mother’s just so familiar while they’re almost like strangers telling you what to do. It takes some getting used to.

Distractions – You may think all the distractions will be gone, like the kids and the horrible working atmosphere, but you could be wrong. You actually find yourself looking for distractions. Get a glass of water, torment the cat, act like you’re not listening, they’re all distractions that my siblings and I try. Of course, there’s no fooling your mother…

So, that’s all the majors (let me tell you, there are not many minors), but we’ll end it here so it doesn’t get too long. Thanks for reading!

Homeschooling for Purpose

Re-posted from blog of a Danielle Ali Shah (a homeschooling mom in Pakistan)

Why do we take our kids out of school? The most common reason I have heard is that schools do not treat our children as individuals with their own learning paths… they produce battery chickens who are all fed the same thing and produce homogenous learning.

So if this is the case, how do we nurture that individualism of our kids at home? Of course we will be with them more so can see their own strengths and weaknesses, but if we are just teaching a standard curriculum at home as well, how is it better than school?

I believe that one of the huge benefits of homeschooling can be that we have a unique opportunity to nurture our kids to grow into their PURPOSE.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Purpose is a divine thing… and something that 99% of people travel through life without grasping. I am blessed to have my husband as my teacher in this, and he says that we all have glimpses of our purpose when we are young but that life, parents, expectations etc crowd in upon this and so often we lose touch with it. But it is always there … a longing like the longing for the sea that Saint Exupery talks of. My husband says, and I agree with him completely, that once you know your purpose, you don’t need to do anything else but wait for the opportunities to come to live that purpose. And they will come without effort or stress. When you know your purpose, life will flow.

So as homeschooling parents what can we do to nurture our children to find their purpose? Well what we shouldn’t do is add our own values and expectations on our children. This is where unschooling comes into its own I think. It is a way that kids can go in their own direction with love and support.
I found this great article below and am thinking about developing some activities around this with my kids… perhaps some drawing and writing. The challenge is always to nurture without directing, so let’s see how it goes! I would love to hear your thoughts about how we can nurture purpose in our children.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Homeschooling the ‘not so still’

Re-posted from a blog of a Pakistani homeschooling mother:

Young kids 2 -6 year olds are very restless, have very low attention spans and get very very easily distracted. I am talking about majority of the kids this age, there are,however always a few exceptions. So HOW to homeschool such kids.

This was one the major issue which I faced and was the only factor stopping me from taking the homeschooling plunge.

At home, my daughter hardly stays still, is very easily distracted, talks ALOT,would speak to complete strangers who came into the house.. electrician.. plumber, would confidently speak and ask questions from complete strangers in shops, clinics and every where she went…she would throws things, tears up books at times, she couldn’t stand any poster/ paper etc put up on walls, fridge magnets never stayed on the fridge, toys and books never on the one word.. everything would be on the floor.( Alhamdulilah some of it has changed now)

But when she went to school for four months… Viola!she turned into a totally miss goody two shoes, listening,obeying and following instructions, she was reserved, calm and quiet and hardly spoke..she was considered under confident.

So why this completely opposite personality in school and at home? I was perplexed. John Holts book How Children Fail and How Children learn made me realize the fear factor of schools, which I realized, must be greatly amplified for kids soo young. As Saffiyah…a 12 year old homeschooler who recently began her homeschool points out
“I found myself more afraid of teachers than my mother, because my mother’s just so familiar while they’re almost like strangers telling you what to do.”
So when a 12 year old could be more afraid of her teacher much fear would be in the hearts of a young little 2.5 year old! Just imagine..sending them to school would be cruel!

When I was unable to make my daughter sit still, grab her attention and make her do her school workbook , coloring inside the shape, remembering numbers etc I was upset and asked other mothers and did a lot of research on the net and this is what I have realized.

Young kids don’t need a rigid routine nor a fixed set curriculum, they need not be taught how to add, read or write and this article hits the nail on the head! More over, our deen ..which provides us instruction in every area of life,guides us regarding teaching the Salah to children, that it should be started at the age of 7 . There is also a saying attributed to Ali (r) [I couldn't find a reference] that :
Play with your child the first 7 years, Discipline Your Child the next 7 years and then Befriend your child the following 7 years.
So according to our deen, the first seven years are for play and fun without a rigid routine/curriculum or forced teaching of complex things. However, most schools these days take in children at the age of 2.5 and subject them to forced routine of waking up early,travelling to school, being punctual, even when they are unwell (flu, fever, cold) which is likeley to be most of the time! then by the age of four they are expected to read, do math or other complex stuff.

Interestingly in this article titled ‘Much to Early’, the author argues that very young children need not be tutored to understand complex things, because children are only able to do ‘concrete operations’ such as multiplication, addition subtraction at the age of six or seven and reading is a much more complex process than arithmetic, so forcing them to recall alphabets which are merely abstract symbols is like placing a tough burden on them. Surprisingly in this article, a behavioral and developmental Pediatrician explains that the brain only gets ready for reading between the age of 4-7 years! she explains the physiological reasons why we should not be teaching pre-school children to write, read, and spell at such an early age as it will create learning problems in the future. This article really is a MUST read as it gives us the underlying reason for not ‘schooling’ children at such a young age.

So parents of such young children should ‘chill’ and relax and not worry if their child is not reading or counting or adding or even if they dont know their alphabets. Just have fun with them, play games and do things they like doing. If they don’t color inside the shape…give them blank sheets to color where ever they wish, they want to color the sky red.. let them..they dont want to read…leave them alone..they dont want to count..leave them alone, let them be kids. Every child develops at a different pace, they each learn to flip over, crawl and walk at their own pace, the parent needs to find out when their child is ready for structured learning of complex things, try it out and if you find our child anxious, more restless and not enjoying the activity.. leave it and do what they enjoy doing. There is joy in learning, not jitters. I am going to quote two very important paras from this paediatrician.
Children can’t learn and neurological pathways can’t form as easily when children’s nervous systems are experiencing stress. Forcing children to write, read, and spell, and giving them “standardized” tests before they are developmentally ready, will stress their nervous systems. Furthermore, children will dislike reading and will not want to go to school. If we insist on pushing writing, reading and spelling before the children’s minds are ready, we will continue to create an epidemic of behavior and learning difficulties, especially in our boys.

Activities like imaginary play, climbing, running, jumping, hopping, skipping, walking the balance beam, playing circle games, singing, playing catch, doing meaningful chores, painting, coloring, playing hand-clapping games, doing string games, and finger knitting will strengthen their minds for learning. Children need these healthy, harmonious, rhythmic, and noncompetitive movements to develop their brains. For it is the movements of their body that create the pathways in their mind for reading, writing, spelling, mathematics, and creative thinking. (Susan Johnson,M.D, Teaching Our Children)