Sunday, March 31, 2013

Doing things naturally in today's complex world

From an exchange of emails in Pakistan Home Education Yahoo Group:

Assalamu alaikum,
I feel that we should not force learning. But one question has been on my mind. The children of yester-years, they learnt naturally. All around them, work was being done naturally. Food was cropped, clothes were sewn, furniture was made, trade was carried out. The children were aware from start to finish what was going on. In today's world, NOTHING, is done naturally. We don't know,or want to know, the intricate detail of the finished products we consume. Every field has an expert and a gazillion details. How can our children grow up on the Fitrah NOW? Left at home, all they would see (at least in my home) is a mom, who is either cooking, cleaning or reading. Where is the food for thought? I think, the issue is, if i want them to lead meaningful lives, I have to LIVE one. Myself. Taking full responsibility. To ignite the fire that fuels Imaan. To not settle for anything less than the glory Muslims are destined to create.

Some practical framework is the dire need. So far, I agree with the fact that education is building a world view. Deviation from Islamic culture will deviate our minds. The groundwork is laid,... Waiting eagerly for the real thing.

Sr. Hanaa

Sister, Assalamu Alaykum,

We have taken an unconventional route, and doubts are bound to visit us every now and then. Personally, I feel that given a child's physical and emotional needs - (need for mother, for play, for sleep etc.) and given the fitan of the times, it's best if the child spends his first 7-10 years at home.

Institutional education can wait.

Parents, esp. mother, are the primary educators in these years. But the child can also learn from others (such as Qari/ Qaria, Islamic classes, sports coach, or someone who knows a craft). These early years at home are likely to build a strong base vs. sending him away at age 3/4.

Yes, it's hard work, made harder by the criticism we face, but have conetnement in knwoing that we are fulfilling our responsisbility as parents, and can be hopeful of great ajar and sadaqa-e-jaariah. Don't we read in the biography of some great Muslims that 'Ibtidaaee taaleem ghar pe haasil kee.'' And werent they better Muslism than us?

As for your concern about the natural ways having vanished, I'd say, thank Allah that you live in Pakistan. It's a very rich country. So many crafts and skills are still preserved. Recycling/ reusing come naturally to our people (vs. the drama in the West and West-like Muslim countries whose consumeristic econmies are constantly over-over-producing and then they talk about reduce, recuse, recycle!).

However, this is 2013, and we are city-dwellers. We have to accept the fact that things cannot be excatly as they used to be. It's Allah's will that we born in this time and be city-dwellers. (The Prophet (sa) too was a city-dweller, and we all have our unique role to play in the larger role of the Ummah).

With positive, out-of-the-box thinking, we can make the best use of our situation. Below are some examples of reviving the good, old ways (not theoretical examples, but things I have done/do myself). I'm sure others would have more to contribute:

*** It's easy to make ghee and butter at home in Pakistan, and so nice to see the malai turning into butter/ghee before your eyes. (People also make yogurt at home.) I tell the kids it's healthier than bazaari one, almost free-of-cost, and the ghee's fragrance is amazing. I point out Allah's great qudrah in milk and how it gives us different things. Making these things at home teaches us self-reliance - the old way of life ruined by capitalism - today's dominant econiomic system, which even wants you to purchase water and LimoPani from them!

***As your son grows older, send him alone for ba-jamaat namaz and bringing sauda. This will teach him to be brave*, to deal with people, to do hisaab kitaab. (Dont we see these qualities in the children of poor people?) * Mom also grows braver with this.

*** We used cotton nappies mostly, instead of disposables, for the youngest. (Imagine how put-off and surprised our grandmothers and great-grandmothers would be to know that we use throw-aways every single moment of the child's first 2-3 years, and the child remains unclean all the time.)

*** Whenever the electrician, plumber, carpenter would come over, kids would nautrally be interested in their work. Plus, I woud specifically ask my son to stand next to them and 'supervise'.

*** I have seen people in Pakistan growing veggies in small spaces outside their homes. One can easily plant dhaniya etc. in pots. We planted raai, and beautiful leaves came out.

*** Our mothers and grandmothers knew stitiching, knitting, crochet and embriodery. It's not impossible to revive these highly useful and interesting skills. With our girls at home, we have the opportunity to have them learn these skills again. Quite possible, some famile member or domestic helper could teach them this or another skill.

Rest assured, in an institution, the envioronemt is generally even more articfical . So lets think positive, and make the best use of our situtaion.

Sr. Umm Shanze

Preschools: The seeds of time

By Nimrah Waseem
Source: "Dawn" (
Macbeth is told by a friend,
“You can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me …”

The symbolic use of the word ‘seed’ by William Shakespeare is embedded with several meanings. The quality of seeds is important but crops do not solely rely on it. Water supply, weather conditions and manure also play a role in obtaining a handsome harvest. Seeds symbolise children. We need to provide them with favourable conditions to grow.

Parents want to provide the best they can for their children. In order to give them a fine start they look for the best Montessori school in town. And in doing so they accede to pay illogically hefty fees. Some parents feel social pressure when the child’s cousins and other children in their neighbourhood are already going to a preschool. But most parents who seek admissions for their children in such institutions are rather ignorant of the physiological, social, emotional and academic needs of the little ones.

Karachi has numerous preschools; some of them claim to have foreign affiliations and promise to provide international standards. Others enounce that after passing out from their institution the child will get admission in the desired elite school.

In fact, only a couple of institutions in the city have an educational philosophy. Most of the preschools have only one Montessori directress and the rest of the teachers are just girls who hardly possess a Higher School Certificate. The school administration has nothing to do with education as they are there only to mint money.
These preschools do not hold a single standard procedure of admission. There is an admission test for the young buds along with their parents’ interview. To exhibit their so-called standards, they have an inflexible policy regarding the child’s age. Most of the schools open up admissions for 2.5-year-old children. A well-known Montessori school admits only 18 months old children while another admits children at the age of 2.3 years. But only those whose mothers registered with them when they were seven months pregnant are lucky to get into the school.

It is believed that early schooling will help children win the race in today’s competitive world. Parents do not realise that it can also have long-lasting effects on the future of their family. To decide the right age to start preschool, we should understand the needs of the child in the following domains of development.

Motor skill development

Motor skills are subdivided into two types; gross motor skills and fine motor skills. According to psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget, these skills develop at a certain age and cannot be acquired before time.

Gross motor skill development is related to the child’s ability to use large muscles. Most importantly, a child should have the physical stamina to join preschool. Then, he must be potty-trained. Along with that, a child should be able to follow simple directions, walk in a straight line, eat his lunch and wash his hands without assistance. A majority of our children admitted to preschools do not have fully developed gross motor skills. This makes them unfit for the tough schedule and demands of the preschool as most of these schools are merely preparatory centres for further education and not proper montessories.

Fine motor skills develop more gradually. This is related to the child’s ability to use small muscles, specifically their hands and fingers, to pick up small objects, hold a spoon, turn pages in a book, or use a crayon to draw. A child having fully developed fine motor skills is able to handle scissors, dress up himself and tie shoe laces.

Children are unable to perform these tasks at the age of two-and-a-half years. They have slower reflex actions, lower level of distance judgment and hand-eye coordination. As mentioned already, these skills develop at a certain age and pressuring a child to perform these tasks would be disastrous.

For example, a child of 2.5 years can only use a crayon because the fine motor skills of his fingers are not completely developed and a pencil could damage some of them permanently. The hand-eye coordination also takes time to become perfect. When a child is pressurised by the teachers and parents to improve his handwriting and colouring, it simply builds on stress because he cannot perform better than that. Children under four have difficulties in the playground and at the swings for the same reason. Motor skills can become impaired in a variety of ways, including injury and illness. Later in their lives, they may have problems in riding a bike, in sports and making the right decisions when driving a car.

Speech and language development

A child should have the ability to clearly communicate his needs and understand others. For the purpose, a child should see himself as an individual and understand his place in the world. He must be able to join simple sentences together to describe an action or experience and hold a conversation. His language and cognitive abilities should be developed to the extent that he can participate in group activities. He should begin to understand that a story has a particular sequence, beginning, middle and an ending. One can easily guess that a child cannot do these things by the age of 2.5.

Cognitive development

As far as cognitive development and performance is concerned, Elizabeth Dhuey, a Canadian researcher, believes that “kids who begin classes later often perform better on tests later and are more likely to attend college.”

Social and emotional development

Let’s look at the most neglected area of social and emotional development. Parents think that their child will grow more sensible socially in the school environment. It is true but not for a child under four years of age. Actually, emotional development comes from the child’s interaction with his parents and family. Going to the market or outing or visiting relatives with the parents are experiences that not only add to the social and emotional intelligence, but expand the IQ as well.

Early schooling can be a risk factor because it asks so much of the kids. Preschool is not good for children under four years of age. Play groups are stressful no matter what as kids are stressed by the sensory overload, noise, difficulty of making their needs known to teachers, competition for grabbing attention, necessity of accommodating their own needs to the schedule, etc. Kay Margetts, a professor of early childhood studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia, says that if a child is not ready it could have “… devastating effects on his self-determination and progress.”

Children temporarily “transfer” their attachment focus from parents to the teachers. However, this relationship is not a secure attachment because of its “impermanent” nature. A child in parents’ company develops security and optimism whereas temporary separation from the mother during school hours may develop insecurity and mistrust. This mistrust exhibits itself mostly in teenage or sometimes even later than that.

Moreover, research tells us that children who are in preschool all day have high levels of cortisol and other stress hormones by the afternoon. Sometimes a child keeps himself composed during school hours but as soon as the parent appears after school, he bursts into tears. It reflects that he was passing through an emotional trauma earlier. Many early beginners compensate for the stress in other ways; they regress, they hit their siblings, they have bad dreams or they get clingier. Likewise, youngsters sent to day nurseries before the age of two are more likely to show signs of anti-social behaviour towards their teachers.

On the contrary, older children are able to manage their emotions. During play, they are able to take turns and engage in cooperative activities. The peer relationship skills help them to be socially active like entering a group of playing children.

According to famous psychologist Erik Erikson, the period of 18 months to four years is quiet critical for the child’s social and emotional development. “The well-parented child emerges from this stage sure of himself, elated with his new-found control, and proud rather than ashamed.” On the other hand, if a child is mishandled it, could lead to “… a psychological crisis that includes stormy self — will, tantrums, stubbornness, and negativism.”

Sociologist and psychologist agree that empathy is the most important social skill in terms of family bonding and social integrity. One becomes empathetic only if he is being treated empathically. No one can be empathetic more than a parent, not even teachers. So the most important social skill empathy is acquired in the parents’ company, not in school group situations. If this time is lost these young buds tend to be apathetic towards their parents and siblings later in their lives and we wonder what is wrong with our younger generation.

The writer is lecturer at the English department at the Federal Urdu University for Arts, Science and Technology, Karachi.