a support and resource group for home education


Dealing with unsupportive family / friends
Homeschooling is a concept that many in our society are still oblivious to. The mere thought of educating children without sending them to school scandalizes even the most broadminded of well-wishers, including close relatives of the children; primarily their grandparents, aunts and uncles. To deal with this challenge, the parents should be armed with patience and good akhlaq. Having knowledge of modern research regarding how children learn and why children fail at learning is also helpful. Confidence in your decision and the realization that your children are YOUR responsibility and not of anyone else, plays an important part in such difficult dealings. Otherwise parents may not be able to stop opposition and skepticism from turning into outright antagonism that can curtail their own motivation and zeal to homeschool. Hence, the solution to this challenge is to arm one’s self with knowledge and forbearance, remembering this verse of the Quran:

The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one that is better, then lo! He, between whom and you there was enmity (will become) as though he was a bosom friend.” [41:34]

Learning to de-school
The term “deschooling” refers to leaving the children schedule-free for some time after they have been extracted from school. This gets them used to of not going to school viz. getting the schooling system, its routine, and its effects out of their system. This also involves just letting them hang out in a relaxed manner at home without pressurizing them to study anything. Books, papers and other educational resources can be left around the child for easy access so that he can approach his books when and if desired. Deschooling also brings the parents out of the schooled routine and expectations. One of the results of successful deschooling, which comes as a very pleasant surprise to many newbie homeschooling parents, is that after some time of relaxing and indulging in creative play, a child who had ended up hating doing his school work and had to be forced to do his daily homework, will willingly begin to open up his or her books, read, write, draw and color without being told to. This is the precise motive of deschooling.

Setting up a routine
What kind of structure and routine a homeschooling family adheres to varies from family to family, depending upon the unique circumstances of each. Each family is one of a kind; therefore, comparing one family’s structure and discipline to another is neither fair nor called for. When parents start their wards off at homeschooling, they usually copy the school format at home: sticking to a rigid “official”, grade-wise and age-wise curriculum, teaching subjects in fixed time slots, and making lesson plans, worksheets and making their children sit exams at home.Soon they realize that this is not required, especially when the wonders of flexible, child-led education and learning opens up a new, wondrous world of discoveries to them, primarily in the form of epiphanies when their child learns something on his or her own without their even teaching it to them. Routine can serve a good purpose: organizing the day and saving time in the primary homeschooler’s schedule. Management becomes easier when everyone knows a rough outline of how their day has to go by. You can make a monthly/weekly/daily schedule for your family according to your particular situation and requirements. However, it goes without saying that a strict routine and rigid structure is not necessary for effective homeschooling to take place and for it to deliver amazing results.

Teaching several children at the same time
The constant interruptions of a younger child, toddler, or infant can stress out most homeschooling mothers when they are teaching an older child. It just takes a small change of perspective to improve the situation. Distraction and diversion is the key to solving this problem. Small children demand attention when they are idle and when they feel ignored or isolated by their parents and older siblings. If they are given an activity similar to that of the older child, allowed to sit nearby, and made to feel like they are being involved in the learning (e.g. by being handed a book that is appropriate for their reading level, or given a pencil or marker and asked to scribble randomly on a paper sheet), they will not feel ignored by their parents and siblings, and will hence stop demanding attention through interruptions and outright hair-raising tantrums. Another way to ensure that younger children do not disturb the older ones’ learning is to ask the older ones to teach what they know, watered down in version, to their younger siblings. This will kill many birds with one stone: encourage sibling bonding, entrench what has been learnt firmly into the minds of the older siblings, engage the younger ones’ attention, and best of all, enable the younger ones to learn things higher than their level or age.??If the support of spouse / family / friends is available, it can be utilized to solve this problem. For example, the younger child can be made busy with the family elders, the father may take him/her out to Masjid or an outing, or a trustworthy household helper can provide supervision to the younger child, when the mother wants some uninterrupted time slot to engage the older children. Another possibility is to take turns teaching the older children, while one of them plays with their younger sibling(s). Young children will usually sleep late in the mornings, or take naps in the daytime, which provides an exclusive timeslot for older childern’s uninterrupted study, if the mother does some wise time management.

Over/under scheduling?
Modern psychology has invented the term “helicopter” parenting or “overparenting” to describe the approach of some parents who tend to hover around their children 24/7 like helicopters. Such parents over-schedule their children’s lives into predetermined, excessive, and somewhat rigid slots of academic study, extracurricular activities, play-dates, sports events and entertainment jaunts. The focus is on rearing the ‘perfect’ child who is an A-lister in every way: academically, socially, emotionally and physically. The results of this parenting trend are not positive. Home Education can easily be turned into something disastrous if homeschooling parents do not let their children off this short leash and allow them to explore the world of books and nature, without constantly supervising them and monitoring their progress, getting overstressed if their child does not achieve a milestone at a supposedly correct time.??At the other extreme, it is not advisable to let the children do indefinitely whatever they want, without the parents having a reasonable goal in mind for their progress, which should also be represented by short-term targets of achievement. The ideal approach is for homeschooling parents to keep the children under direct but distant supervision, giving the latter enough room to learn at their own pace, driven by their own interests, yet always keeping themselves approachable for the children to come to when they have questions. The easiest way to answer the question of whether your children are being overburdened or if their talents are being undermined is, to see how they view their learning and/or other activities. Do they respond excitedly to the prospect of buying a new book or starting a new activity? Or do they often seem tired and disinterested in work? Do they ask you to take them out more? Do they say they miss school, or are they happy that they do not go to school? The answers lie right under our noses!

Unrealistic expectations
It is easy to fall into the trap of “hot-housing” our children by choosing to homeschool them. By this, it means, driving them to achieve more at home than at school, at a faster rate, and forcing them to become over-achievers. This drive could be based on a fear of “failing” at homeschooling, as a result of which parents might place extra pressure on their children to achieve the highest possible grades, excel at everything they do, and settle for nothing short of the perfect results, just to “prove” to the world that homeschooling is a viable option. Home Education will not necessarily produce geniuses, nor will it turn healthy and smart children into dumb duffers. It is important for parents to remember that homeschooling does deliver positive results, but sometimes those results come later than they want them to. E.g. a child who refuses to write at age 4 might begin writing prolifically at age 9. A girl might have been riding a bike at age 3 but her younger sister might not take interest in riding a bike until age 8. The key is not to expect him or her to turn into a young Einstein as soon as he begins learning at home instead of at school.

Managing housework and homeschooling
Home education and housework are both as big a “problem” or “chore” as we make them out to be. If the mother is open-minded and flexible, slowly a routine develops that allows her to teach her children by multitasking successfully. For example, a child can read a book equally well, whether sitting in a noisy classroom, or while sitting on a chair in the kitchen as his or her mother chops vegetables and stirs the curry on the stove, correcting her child’s mistakes as s/he reads. Artwork can be done before sweeping the floor, in order to minimize stress. Most importantly, the children can be taught values of chivalry and teamwork by making them help clear up the mess they make once their day’s activities are done, so that they become helpers in housework; an extra pair of hands doing the de-cluttering, folding, wiping, washing and cleaning. Domestic help, if available, should be wisely used to face this challenge. Once you have decided as a parent that your child’s education is your main responsibility and no one else can do it better than you, then let the helpers wash clothes, dishes and sweep the floor even if not always up to your perfect standards. Keep on prioritizing your tasks constantly: Is it more important to wash the dishes right now or go solve that siblings issue? Is it more productive to have 3 dishes for dinner or teach Quran to your child? Can the clothes be sent to laundry instead of sending the children to school? Can you pay a poor helper for chores instead of paying hefty school’s fee? If you keep your priorities straight, you’ll end up shedding off that extra household stuff, thus finding more time for your children.

Having the kids around all day
This is definitely a matter of perception. Parents of children who go to school, especially mothers, sometimes perceive them as a source of stress during summer and winter vacations. They begin to stress about how to keep their children entertained throughout the day, bringing in television, games and films as convenient “babysitters”. Not so for homeschooling parents, who have learned to perceive the presence of their children at home as a blessing and source of pleasure, notwithstanding the sporadic fallouts and tantrums. How does change of perception come about? It is the result of a proactive paradigm shift in the parents’ own thought processes regarding having the children’s company all day. This can be done by: considering their education and tarbiyah their primary moral and Shari’ responsibility, and hence, homeschooling them becomes a source of earning Allah’s pleasure. Parents of homeschooled children should also remind themselves of how the Prophet [s] never disallowed young children from approaching him and acquiring his company when and as they wished, even letting them inside his masjid (and on his head) during salah, letting them play with the seal of Prophethood between his shoulder blades, as well as letting them sit in the circles of knowledge and discussion when he was with his companions. Thus, the sons of the Prophet’s companions, his grandsons, as well as the young boys who grew up serving him (such as Anas bin Malik [ra]), all grew up to be valiant, influential and leading individuals, mainly because they had the Prophet [s]’s and their parents’ company during their childhood. It also helps to remember that the formal separation of the children from the adults in a society by stuffing them inside classrooms for the better part of the day, 5 days a week, is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of mankind. Before the advent of schools, children used to learn at home and got the chance to “hang out” more with adults, thus learning most tricks of the trade and life skills as apprentices and aides of skillful adults just by being around them and watching them do their daily work. 

Finding time for yourself
This is actually not that difficult for a homeschooling mother. Children are very perceptive and adaptive. Staying at home has its own sets of rules that vary from home to home, but a mother can devise a set of rules that creates time for herself. Mandating an hour or more of “down time” can do this, whether in the form of an afternoon nap, or by calling it “silent hour” or “quiet hour” in which the children can be obligated to remain quiet and in solitude i.e. in separate rooms, reading, writing, playing or crafting / coloring. The mother can do whatever desired during this time: work, read or rest. As the children get older, it becomes easier to find more “me” time, because children through homeschooling turn into self-learners and would mostly be found reading, exploring, creating stuff or playing together on their own. The spouse can help greatly to solve this issue. The father can make a schedule of activities with children, outdoors or indoors, which would allow the mother to have a focused, exclusive time for her own interests / activities. While the father takes the children out to park / for sports, or teaches them biking / gardening / skating in the courtyard, or plays with them scrabble / cricket / football, or best of all recites Quran or reads a book with them, the mother can follow her own personal pursuits, allowing the children some rare alone time with their father. This will kill two birds with one stone: give Ummi “me time” and allow the children to bond with their father. He can thus make his own, very critical contribution to the children’s homeschooling.??In a homeschooling household, eventually all the children settle into a routine, and very quickly become independent and self-sufficient in performing day-to-day tasks. E.g. if their Ummi is sick and lying in after Fajr for longer than usual, it is not surprising to see homeschooled children make their own breakfast, even if it is simply a glass of milk and buttered toast, and consequently start reading, writing or engaging in constructive play without waiting for her to come out and tell them what to do. 

Avoiding burn out
Homeschooling parents do not have to worry about making their children complete daily homework assignments, cram for examinations they do not want to sit, meet project deadlines, or follow a strict timetable that enforces the household to adhere to strict bedtime and morning wakeup timings. As a result, homeschooling parents avoid the burnout and stress that comes with sending children to school, making their life move at a slower pace, giving them time to “smell the flowers” and enjoy their children just being children. However, since life is not a bed of roses, even the most productive of families faces lows. In order to deal with homeschooling burnout, a week or month long break can be taken from officially following the pre-set curriculum. A couple of days a week, children can be sent off to grandparents’, aunt’s, uncle’s or neighbor’s home for a day spend. More outdoor trips can be undertaken as mini-vacations, e.g. visiting parks, museums, exhibits, bookshops and antique stores. The family can take weekend road trips to quiet retreats.Since homeschooling families save a considerable chunk of money by not having to pay school fees, they can actually take a real vacation more often as well, since they also do not have to wait for when their children will be off from school to undertake travel for some fun and change of scene and routine.

Dealing with recurring doubts and feelings of inadequacy (“What if we fail at this?”)
A homeschooling parent often has moments of major self-doubt. They get scared about whether they have made the right choice in education their children without school, and worry about failing miserably in adequately educating their children by adopting the path of homeschooling. For one thing, they should remember that every parent faces such self-doubt, even those who send their children to public or private school.Secondly, finding like-minded and more experienced homeschooling parents and joining their community (in the form of online groups and physical activities), visiting them, talking to them openly about your doubts, and most importantly, meeting their homeschooled children in person greatly helps dispel doubts about homeschooling. Thirdly, constantly doing istikharah and turning to Allah in earnest supplications helps overcome this challenge in homeschooling i.e. it gives a parent’s low morale an immediate boost and prevents de-motivation and despondency from kicking in. Finally, reading online latest literature and research about education and schooling in the form of articles, blogs, news reports and TED talks, helps a homeschooling parent remain up to date with the latest findings about how children should be educated in the current age. Knowledge is the mightiest weapon against worry, fears and doubt. 

Finding (and limiting) the right (amount of) curriculum
Home Education opens up a limitless realm of educational possibilities for our children. There are an unlimited number of books available, which can be bought from bookshops or online. In Pakistan specially, quaint “old books” stores, deliver-at-your-doorstep local services, official school curriculum guides with grade-wise textbooks and Sunday Markets are all great boons for homeschoolers. Besides books, there are numerous websites and blogs that allow us to download resources for free. This can make a homeschooling parent wonder what books to choose for their children, without overwhelming the latter and making them feel burdened beyond their capacity. The solution to this challenge is to take it slow and steady i.e. do not go on a book-buying spree too often, Secondly, the parents should let their children’s interest and learning pace be the best guide to dictate what kind of books to buy for each subject area. E.g. if a child is a more avid reader and not much of a writer yet, he or she should not be given too many workbooks or copies filled with questions and exercises. If a child likes creative writing instead of repetition and memorization, then a suitable curriculum / style can be adopted for him / her. A crafty child should be provided all possible craft materials and a nature lover should be encouraged to explore and learn outdoors. We must keep in mid the advice of our Prophet (peace be upon him) about gaining beneficial knowledge and shunnig the non-beneficial one. When Home Education is affected by a difficult pregnancy, illness or other crisis at home?The flexibility afforded by homeschooling comes in most handy when the family encounters a life “hiccup” viz. a difficult time that affects everyone e.g. if the mother gets pregnant and has to observe strict bed rest, or a grandparent dies and sense of gloom hangs over the household. At such times, homeschooling parents should be thankful that their choice of homeschooling prevents their children from being burdened by strict, unrelenting school homework and examination routines during this time of family crisis. Secondly, learning can be taken to the bedside, where the mother can monitor and correct her children’s work. Also, learning can be shifted to the evenings, when the father is at home to check the children’s assignments or work. It should be noted that homeschooled children turn out to be more empathic and sympathetic because of their being more hands-on about what is going on at home. A family crisis teaches them patience and the ability to look beyond their studies and friends to help out their parents and other relatives in time of need. Finally, the children learn that there are much more serious and important things in life than getting to school on time or passing a midterm examination.

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