Monday, January 26, 2015

Our DIY Project Based Learing Room

As I have mentioned in previous posts I have been completely changing the way I see homeschooling. We recently had some family visiting for a while so I took the opportunity to take a nice long break from our normal schedule of lessons and activities to let the kids just enjoy the time with their cousin. During this time I was able to take a step back and think about the different things I hoped to accomplish in the New Year.

The Project Based Learning Room was a very important goal I had that I wanted to complete by the end of January. And so here it is in all its glory. For one thing I knew I did not want to spend any money on it. I wanted to make use of what I already had at home to make it cost efficient and easy to complete. As per the location there were two rooms I had in mind. The first is the room on the first floor being used as an office, and the second was the kids playroom in the second floor that was completely unused. The office is a darker space but has access to the main living area. Their playroom as you can see has lots of natural light, has built in closets and was virtually empty. It also has access to their bathroom just outside the room. Although it is upstairs and away from the main living area I opted to use this room. My husband removed the 3 long wooden doors off the closets so that the storage would be open and easily accessible to the kids and I used the long doors as tables to create an L-Shape working surface. I have 4 small folding tables holding the closet doors in place.

An unused leather storage bench provided ample seating, and old recycled empty class jars, containers and tins are used to hold markers, colored pencils, crayons, glue, scissors, beads, tape and other arts and craft items. In the closet I hung an unused shoe holder and placed some wicker baskets and an old table to create some organization within the space. I also placed a wicker basket full of some art, craft and science books that could provide some inspiration, information or motivation to begin various projects  In the closet holds all types of paper, coloring, sticker and workbooks, various paints, and knitting and sewing items, along with their loomband case.   

On the wall to the right of the closet I stuck a piece of sticky chalkboard paper. And have some additional shelving and toy bin which eventually I would like to find another home for as it doesn't really belong in this room now. In the end I spent zero dollars on this project and created a great space for the kids to work in. The best part is that this room does not always need to be clean. Things can stay out and the room can get messy and will be out of sight. That being said any space can be a great project space as long as you make it open and accessible to your kids.

How Children Fail

I just finished the book How Children Fail by John Holt and I cant begin to describe the vast amount of wisdom that is held within its 176 pages. Holt wrote this book based on the observations he made of students in a journal in how they were learning or failing to learn. He believes that school is a prison in which children are coerced to learn things that is unimportant to them and does not make sense to them. Therefore they do not retain any of the information they are given. As a teacher he believes that the education system thrives on a system of right answers and that right answers are the only ones that matter. Teachers give tests, and give reviews to tests telling children exactly what they should know on the test so that when test time comes children will only appear to have learned what they were taught.

What I would like to do here is to share some of his quotes that I felt were really meaningful and made me think very deeply about what it means to educate children.

"Our learning is not real, not complete, not accurate, above all not useful, unless we take these word strings and somehow convert them in our minds into a likeness of the world, a working mental model of the universe as we know it. Only when we have such a model, and when there is at least a rough correspondence between that model and reality, can it be said of us that we have learned something."

I have seen with own eyes, as a teacher in the classroom and as a parent,  how disconnected learning can be from the real world. Like when I am trying to teach Ameera a math concept such as multiplication but I don't provide an example in a real world setting it goes completely unabsorbed. Had we come to a situation in which the concept arose naturally she would then, out of curiousty ask me about it and then we would learn it together to get the answer, thereby really learing and absorbing the material.

"Children--get into the habit of waiting for teachers to show them how to do everything, so that they may continue a process of blind imitation--. They do not expect to figure out from mere words what it is that one wants them to do. Nor can they distinguish between goal and the route needed  to get there, the job to be done, and the method needed to do it. If someone gives them a problem, they either know or don't know how to do it, the problem itself is meaningless to them. And this is the great danger of asking children to manipulate symbols whose concrete meaning they do not understand. After a while they come to feel--that all symbols are meaningless. Our teaching is too full of words , and they come to soon."

"With enough time, it might be possible to go back to the beginning and rebuild [a] child's intelligence. But this could not be done unless the outside world left her alone while she was learning to make sense of things, and did not try to make her appear to know and di not try to make her feel foolish  or ashamed  for knowing so little"

"When children are doing concrete operations --doing things that they feel are sensible, getting ansers by themselves , answers they can be sure are right, there is much to be said for letting them use a cumbersome method until they feel thoroughly secure in it, before suggesting the possibility that there may be an easier way"

"We ask children to do for most of the day what few adults are able to do for even an hour. How many of us attending say a lecture that doesn't interest us, can keep our minds from wandering? Yet children have far less awareness of their control of their attention than we do. [...] A child is most intelligent when the reality before him arouses in him a high degree  of attention, interest, concentration, involvement-in short, when he cares most about what he is doing."

Children have a natural tendency to want to seek out answers to things they don't know or understand.  The message being relayed here is that we just have to put trust in our children to let them learn they way they know how. The only way I see being able to do that is to relinquish control and become more of an observer and advisor or a guide.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Diary of a New Runner

I recently started running, and by recently I mean I just completed my 6th run today, which completes my second week of running 3 times per week. This is a pretty big deal for me for 3 reasons. The first being I hate running, second, when you are homeschooling 3 kids there is little time to enjoy a leisure run 3 times a week, and lastly running is physically exhausting (for me). That being said, another of my goals for this year was to lead a healthier and more active lifestyle, and specifically to work out no less than 3 times a week. Over the past 6 years I have worked out on and off but never committed to routine for longer than 2 months. That was the point I would usually get back into decent shape and say, "ok, I look pretty good, I'll stop now! OOhhh, I think I will treat myself to some strawberry cheesecake Hagen Daz ice cream to celebrate my success!" Yeah Ummmm looking good doesn't really last with that thought process. Consistency is the key obviously but oh so hard. Let's be realistic we moms are sooooooo tired! My relative who was staying with us, who is also an endurance athlete, would tell me to "MAN UP!" So that's what I am trying to do. To be completely honest I have no idea if this new routine will stick, or how long it will last, but for some reason there is something that has kept me going until now. I cant quite put my finger on it. Perhaps this will be just another attempt at a hobby that I cannot maintain. (I hear the baby crying.....her nap lasted all of right back.) Ok, I'm back. So what I want to do now is just discuss overall how I have felt the last two weeks running.

The first week I started by running 1 mile 3 times. 1 mile was the goal but I ended up running more like 1.4 miles each time mainly because I hadn't mapped any routes I would just record my run using an IPhone App and then check in to see how far I had gone. The first run was pretty hard because I was panting and out of breath. I consciously tried to control my breathing and run at a pace that I was comfortable with. I remembered one of my drill sergeants in the army saying that it was good for a runner to chew gum to control breathing, so I would just pretend like I was chewing gum. Oh yeah this is usually the point where people say, "WHAT YOU WERE IN THE ARMY?!" And I answer, "Yes, I enlisted in the army when I was 17, an impulsive move.....long story."  Perhaps I will share the story another time. Another piece of breathing advice my female drill sergeant would give us is to breathe twice through your nose and once out the mouth. Its funny I never ever used those techniques while I was in boot camp( I was terrible at running then), but I am conjuring up all these old memories now.  Whoooooa, baby just had a poop explosion in her Bumbo, excuse me be back in a jiff....knock at the door, family is home. Ok, now I'm back to writing, where was I? Ah yes, so my second run was better, I was still feeling a bit sore from my first run and still panting, but it was better.

After the first week I decided I was ready for a longer run and decided to run the 2.6 mile loop that my brother-in-law had discovered on his runs around my compound. On my first try I did it at night and with no problems, I definitely felt tired by the second mile but just had to slow down my pace a bit, but was able to continue without stopping. It was a HUGE accomplishment for me and I felt pretty great about it, I had become better at controlling my breathing and my pace and was able to keep it consistent throughout. My second time doing that loop was harder, I did it in the morning without eating and had a sinus cold. I was parched and tired but still managed to push through without stopping. Today was my final run of week 2 and I was able to run 2.7 miles pushing my 5month old in the jogging stroller. It was another morning run, but this time I had a half cup of coffee and a piece of wheat toast with cream cheese (fuel).  I'm not fond of running with kids because it adds extra exertion and makes me go a bit slower (excuses, excuses), but as homeschooler, my kids are the reality of daily life. As you can see that's me writing with little Aleena next to me in her Bumbo. They will always be with me. And if this is something I am serious about continuing, then I have to at least try to include them. I definitely wouldn't be the first to do this. The tricky part will be when I attempt a run with all three kids.  I will save that experience for another post.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


After almost 2.5 years of worrying about Ameera's progress with reading, at almost age 7 now I can say she is finally picking up books on her own and reading from cover to cover. I had started teaching her to read at 4 years old. We had some success in the early stages but as we continued she became bored and very anxious and unsettled and I frustrated. I decided then instead of being a momster to shelve our reading lessons till a later time when she seemed more ready and willing. Over the course of 2 years I would bring out the reading book again and get through some lessons here and there but it wasn't until she turned 6 that we began to make it more routine or daily. Everyday I would sit with her and spend about 10 minutes or so on a lesson and she would be done and she did it without objection, a sign that she was ready for learning to read. After just a few short months we got through the remaining lessons in her 100 lesson book! It was a big day for us when she finished the book. And we both felt a big sense of accomplishment. I had watched her grow and learn something that I had taught her. It was a great feeling. And she felt proud as well, now she feels joy at going to the library and picking books that interest her, its a whole new world in a sense for her and for me to be able to observe and learn about what fancies her to read, when for 6 years I had been choosing her books mainly. She is reading at night during story time, in the car, and almost everywhere and its a joy to watch. She hasn't yet turned 7, but will in January. What I learned from this experience again is that when a child is ready to reach a milestone, they will do so on their own good time and do it willingly without struggle and force. This has definitely been a learning experience for both of us as we continue to shift and change our dynamics of teaching and learning.

Funny Girls Rock

One of my 2015 goals was to start blogging more consistently, so here I go I'm just gonna start blogging hoping some useful shit comes out of my mouth. Did I just say "shit?" Oops. Moving on. So I recently discovered that I love funny girls Why? Because funny girls are just cool that's why, they bring laughter into the world. I have some pretty awesome friends who no matter what comes out of their, its just freakin funny. I mean, they aren't even trying to be! And then another realization, "I'm totally freakin boring? Or at least that's how I make myself appear to be. I mean really, "Reflections of a Muslim American Educator!" You can't get much more boring than that title. I've been meaning to change it for months now but because I am so technologically crippled, I can't even do that... Sad I know. But I just keep asking myself, "Why do I project myself to be so serious all the time?"

I mean, I am a 32 year old homeschooling mom of 3, I should be anything but serious and boring. Another thing I can't understand is why I can never find anything to write about. I always feel like I just have nothing interesting to say. But my life is pretty darn cool, not to be pretentious or anything but I'm a homeschooler, a world traveler, I even started running. Yes, you heard right, I run...for fun! Ok actually it's just to get fit. 5 runs now, doesn't that qualify me as an athlete or something? No? Ok, well, moving on. I believe I am an overall pretty decent person. I should have loads of wisdom and knowledge to share with the world. Right? Yet, I struggle day in and out to find anything meaningful happening in my days. Actually, my days are very full and meaningful for my family and I, but I never think they will be meaningful for the rest of the world. So, in an effort to be less serious and less boring to my social media audience I plan to become a funny girl! Great. So.......... What do I do now? Is there like a class or something I can take?