Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Well Trained Mind

Yesterday I finally finished reading the Well Trained Mind by Susan and Jessie Wise and the first set of nervous flutters of homeschooling choice began to kick in. In all honesty this classical education style was not really what I had in mind for Ameera when I first decided to homeschool, but it did appeal to me....especially to the part of me that is in constant need for organization, schedules, goals and deadlines. But I knew that this attitude of mine defied why I decided to homeschool in the first place, and I would have to ease up if I was going to be successful. Slowly but surely I have been preparing myself for the inevitable, and while I keep giving myself a deadline for starting formal homeschooling I know that in reality I have actually started from the day Ameera was born.

Since she was a baby we had daily story-time sessions, arts and crafts activities, painting, play dough, nature walks, collage projects, music and dancing, audio book listening cooking, etc. I am beginning now to realize that I am already a homeschoolers at heart, but now imam putting a label on it, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I am an educator. I just enjoy the satisfaction of teaching my child things and having her learn from me.

The book is intimidating and academically rigorous, and while I do see the benefits of the classical method it seems to go against a lot of research done on the way kids learn:especially that of teaching kids reading and writing before they are developmentally ready, which this book suggests should begin at age 4 and 5. Most of my other readings suggest not beginning any formal instruction until the age of 7. And it hasn been found that more and more parents are waiting until their children are 6yrs old to enroll their kids in kindergarten. So far, in almost every book I have read over the past 2 months gives mention to Finland as being the number one country in the world to have the highest achievements on international testing, reading and writing skills. Why? Because they do not begin formal education until the age of 7.

I am in the process right now of teaching my daughter to read, and everyday I ask myself "why am I doing this? Is it because I believe she is ready? Or because I think she should be ready? What is my rush? I often observe her mannerisms and mood while we are doing our reading lessons and notice more often than not that she has difficulty sitting still for the 10-15mins of instruction time it takes to complete the lesson. She becomes distracted easily and doesn't take it very seriously and I usually have to bribe her to get it done. However, she takes to the material extremely well, and in just 13 short lessons is able to read 2,3,and 4 letter words. She gets the material and the concepts and can usually bypass quickly the tasks of the lesson. So again I come back to my questions. She seems ready (and by that I mean has the mental capacity to understand and apply the material), but physically she doesn't seem ready (not ready to actually sit still and focus). Herein lies the dilemma, whatnis the right thing to do? Discontinue teaching her until she is physically ready or continue and train her to sit and focus since she is mentally capable?

The Well Trained Mind suggests to go with a child's mental capability and to train the physical side to adapt. But the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, and Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax(other books I highly recommend, suggest the opposite, to discontinue teaching until she is physically and mentally ready. Lately I have begun asking first whether my daughter would like to do a reading lesson, if she says no, then we don't do it, but she has increasingly been giving me the same answer which is why I have been bribing her. I will continue to feel this process out with her, if I continue to find her very reluctant, then I will wait a few more months and see if she isn't more enthusiastic then.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Educating our Children in Islamic Values

Last night I tuned into 99.5 FM where they held a show about Educating our Children in Islamic Values. You can listen to the show using the link the below.

On the show 3 leading Educators came to discuss three different methods of educating Muslim children: Public School, Islamic School, and Homeschooling. Some interesting issues were brought up, for example, the Public School speaker felt that more Muslims children should be in the public school systems in order to be a stronger part of the community and to be able to have a stronger sense of self-identity since day in and day out they are interacting with multi-cultural and multi-faith children. I too believe that that is an important factor, however it poses other serious issues. For instance, children in public schools are exposed to much more than their islamic private school peers. I went to public school my whole life, and was exposed to dating and alcohol in 5th grade. I remeber being so uncomfortable as child being in these situations where I would witness my friends drinking and not knowing what to do about it even though I knew it was wrong. By the 8th grade dating had taken a turn from the innocent boy girl crush to exposure to physical dating where it became about kissing and such things. Some of my friends had even become sexually active by the 8th grade and I even experienced a friend of mine who became pregnant and had to have an abortion without her parents or the boy ever finding out about it! Can you imagine this! It was traumatic being exposed to all this at such an early age, not to mention the struggle with being part of those who chose not to engage in this type of behavior. You would be labeled as prude and called names because you were not following in the footsteps of your peers.Once I got to highschool it was all about being popular, being involved in sports and of course dating the popular boys or girls and now the introduction to homosexuality, and recreational drugs such as marajuana, ecstacy, cocaine, mushrooms, acid, etc. You name it and kids were experimenting with it. Alcohol at the highschool level becomes a norm and in college becomes a social networking tool. I considered myself a loner in highschool and never really cared to be apart of these groups but the pressure was there nontheless and learning how to cope in certain situations without guidance was extremely difficult.

Most people think that by placing their children in an Islamic School system that they are protecting their kids from these types of experiences and issues, and to some extent the Islamic school does provide some protection from these issues and also provides daily guidance in islamic studies classes, Friday khutbas, studying Quran and of course the muslim teachers who are there to help kids with any issues they may be having. They are also surrounded by other muslim kids on a daily basis most of whom come  from practicing families, all of these factors give these kids less exposure to these issues therefore they experience less peer pressure. On the other hand, as a former teacher of an Islamic School I was aware that many kids were going through some of the same issues experienced in the public schools such as dating  in secret, homosexuality, bullying, low level sexual experimentation, and alcohol. So what exactly are the kids protected from you ask? Well, for one thing, they are not exposed to these things until the highschool level at least, and for the most part, it is a a very, very small number of kids who are engaging in these activites, and kids who were doing these things do them in secret as to protect their reputations and the reputations of their families so other students remain protected from the influence and pressure. Most of these kids are also very aware of the fact they are doing something wrong, but their curiosity gets the best of them, so they constantly struggle within themselves and ask Allah for forgiveness. My point here is that these issues regardless of what school you put your kids in are very real, and they will be exposed to them at some point, so it's important to maintain an open relationship with your kids and keep communicating with them. It is also important to keep a home that enforces strong Islamic values, because the school will not raise your children for you.

However, I do feel that being surrounded by people from all faiths, cultures, and races can help build a strong sense of identity within a child, because they can build pride in the fact that they are different and know that it is wrong to engage in such activities as the norm is here in American culture. But again the Islamic values at home need to be enforced, an the parents need to be role models.

Homeschooling can also be a great way to protect (not shelter) your kids, give them best education, one that is customized, and one that builds and strengthens the family bonds and instills islamic beliefs, and values because it is lived day in and out and there is relatively no outside forces working against you. But every system has its drawbacks, Im just not sure what they are for homeschooling yet since I havent yet started. It seems though from all my readings and discussions with muslim homeschoolers that it is the best of both worlds for the Muslim parent and Muslim children. God-willing Allah will guide me to make the right choices.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Creating an Independant Child

One day, when Ameera was 2 years old, I went to pick her up from school. When she saw me the first thing she did was drop whatever it was she was working on and run to me, only to be stopped short by her teacher, "Excuse me Ameera," she said. "Could you please clean up before you leave?" I looked at her oddly for a moment, and then to my astonishment, Ameera turned around went back to her table put all the pieces of the puzzle she had been working on back in its box and placed the box back in the shelf and proceeded to come back to me so I could put her coat on and we could leave. I was a little more than dumbfounded by this! I could'nt believe that she actually knew how to clean up after herself, meanwhile at home I was killing myself everyday trying to run around cleaning up all the messes she would make throughout the house.

As time went on and she got older, things didnt really change much. I mean ocassionally I would ask her to clean up and reluctantly she would do a mediocre job at putting her things away and I would reluctantly go and fix things so they were in the proper order. She would also give me a hard time eating, as most children do, so day in and day out I would sit her down and spoon feed her while she occupied herself with something else, or if she wasnt occupied it would just be a fight until she finished all her food. If I had let her eat byherself she wouldnt eat. To top this all off, I consistently dressed her in the mornings, undressed her for nap times, dressed her when she awoke, undressed her bed and then dressed her in her PJs to go to bed. I would brush her hair, her teeth, wipe her in the bathroom and then everything would start all over again day in and day out, and i never thought twice about these things.

I then began reading a book called How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin
There are so many useful techniques for teaching your child how to be independant. As soon as I started reading through it I began applying some of the various techniques in my home. One main piece of advice in this book is to look at your home through the eyes of your child. Once you do this you realize that everything in a home is made for adults and can be extremely frsutrating for a child. For example, all of Ameeras clothes were in a dresser that was too high for her to reach, clothes hung in her closet were too high, the bathroom sink was not accessible without a step stool, her shoes in a hanging shoe organizer also high up, along with her coat and other items. The first changes I made were to her bedroom, where I moved all of her clothes down to the bottom drawers and showed where each article of clothing could be found. Next I arranged a higher step stool in the bathroom where she would have access to her toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and towel. I put sticky hooks low in the halls for her coat, and a step stool in the kitchen for her. I then proceeded to make her do things by herself that I had previously been doing for her.

At night time, she would have to dress herself in her pjs, undress her self and put all her clothes in the hamper. She would have to go to the bathroom and brush her teeth, rinse, wash her face, go to the bathroom and get in bed. In the mornings she would also dress herself and put on her coat and shoes when it was time to leave. During dinner she helps set the table and remove dishes and place them in the sink or on the counter. I also reorganized her play room so that certain toys were in certain bins and then showed her where these toys were so they could be properly replaced.

In the beginning this was all very difficult for her, she would cry in fustration and say, "I cant do it!" However, it wasnt that she couldnt do it, it was that she didnt want to do it. Why bother when someone else was doing everything for her day in and day out. I remember at a certain point when ameera was probably 2 or 2.5, she would want to do everything herself, and it would take forever, and because of my own impatience I would rush her along or say, "Let me do it!" Without ever praising her attempts or encouraging her to a result she gave up trying to do things for herself. Withing one week of this transition I was seeing amazing results, not only in her independance but in her confidence. She has become proud of herself and eager to please me by continuing in doing things on her own. With a little practice, encouragement and praise, Ameera has changed in so many ways. I encourage you to read the book or check it out from your local library. It has reduced my stress of having to do everything for both my children, instead I now have a helper and she is so excited about this new role.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Choice to Homeschool

After all my searching and praying I finally decided to homeschool Ameera. While homeschooling was always an option, I had never put it on my top list mainly because I couldnt imagine spending every waking hour at home with my kids, not to mention having the added pressure and responsibility of teaching them everything under the sun that they would need to learn to be successful human beings. Honestly, the thought of homeschooling scared me quite a bit, and on those particular days where I would come home from work tired or my kids gave me a hard time I would think to myself, "I COULD NEVER DO IT!"

And then as time went on and I became increasingly indecisive about where I would send her. Although I did like some of the schools there were still issues I had such as tuition costs, poor location, lack of extracurriculars, poor spaceing, classroom management, etc. I realized I was never going to have all of my desires met for Ameera, and she would not have all of her needs met. This realization led me this conclusion: If I wanted all my criteria met and all her needs met, I would have to provide her with a customized education. An education to suit her needs, nurture her passions, fit into our family lifestyle and above all make her happy and excited to learn. Along with these thoughts a good piece of small advice from a friend was, "Just try it! If it doesn't work for you, then you can always put Ameera back in school."

For some reason, at that moment, my mind had been made up. I was going to try it, actually I knew that I could do it and do it well. It made the most sense financially for my family and it was going to be ton of fun! So from that point I decided to learn everything I could about homeschooling and of course the first person I ran to for help was my sister-in-law, who is a firm believer in homeschooling and does so for her 2 children. The first thing she told me to do was to READ! So thats what I did.  I went to the library and checked out almost every book they had on homeschooling and went through most of them in a week. She also sent me articles and videos, links to homeschooling groups etc. and my what a world there is out there of Homeschoolers, along with some of the most incredible information on education you could ever read about.

I find out that schools are going through major reform becasue of failing systems, unmotivated and illiterate children, decrease in standardized test scores, increases in anxiety and nervousness, violence, excessive homework, boredom, the list goes on and on. It scared me to think that my kids could potentially fall victim to these problems facing the school systems. And I am not homeschooling only to protect my kids, but  I want them to be exposed to the real world day in and day out, not an artifical one. I want them to be surrounded by people of all ages, from all walks of life, not just kids their own age all day everyday. I just want to make them happy. As I continued my research and am still doing today I know in the bottom of my heart that Homeschooling is the right choice for us. And while I dont expect it to be easy, I do expect it to bring our family closer than we ever thought possible and to build lasting bonds with my children. I feel comforted in the fact that I can watch them learn and grow every day and all I can do is my best. Maybe it wont work out for us, but at least I can say that I gave it a try.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Anger Management

Being a mother is hard. I always imagined the kind of mother I would be. I wanted to be stern but sensitive, kind but disciplined, loving and always protective. I would be protective over the things she would see, what she would hear, where she would go and what she would do. But now, having been a mother for4 years to a beautiful little girl and infant son, I realize that things are not always in my control. Having patience, discipline, and time management are the three things I struggle with most as a mother. A mother’s guilt can be like the sea, endless and relentless.  But I learn from myself and from my daughter and from the experiences we have together every day.
Patience was a virtue I never had, especially when I t came to children. I never gushed over other peoples babies, or played with toddlers. I never liked children because I felt I could never relate to them. Growing up I was only child and I often had endless hours to myself, but I was also responsible for a lot at a very young age, such as cooking and cleaning, and watching over myself while my mom was out or at work. I would wash clothes at the laundry mat downstairs from our studio apartment in Sunnyside Queens; I would have dinner on the table at 6pm by the time my mom would come home. I would make the beds and clean the house and finish my homework without ever asking for help, although I may have needed it from time to time. I had to grow up quickly; that’s what being in a single parent household does to children. Someone has to pick up the slack for the missing parent, and that slack usually falls on the child. When my daughter was born, I quickly had to learn the essence of having patience. I was up every hour all night for feedings, she would often cry endlessly or whimper for reasons unknown to me. Sleep deprivation was the hardest for me to deal with and it’s very hard to learn to be patient when one is lacking a key ingredient: sleep. Then as she grew and every hour turned to every 3, 4, and 5 hours and she eventually began sleeping through the night. Another parenting vice reared its ugly head: Discipline.
Discipline began early on for my daughter in the form of time-outs. Ameera seemed to mature very quickly and demanded everything from dressing herself, to specified meals, to napping when she wanted. And of course I was to have none of that. I told myself to be firm, to put my foot down, I was the master and I was under complete control of the situation. Although my tactics worked most of the time I also became a tyrant, giving spankings at will and Ameera would become spiteful and lash out by having hour long temper tantrums that made the twisted head of the exorcist look like doe-eyed Bambi. She would suddenly turn red in the face, while screaming at the top of her lungs, drop to the ground and thrash her arms and legs uncontrollably in fit of rage, hitting walls, bed posts, and furniture never once stopping to acknowledge the pain that must have been radiating throughout her entire little 2 year old body. She would become possessed! And I was no match for her unnatural strength. Discipline was no easy task, and I would have to come up with some new tactics.
Ameera is now turning 4 in January. And one thing I have learned is that Patience truly is the key to successful parenting. I made a pact with myself one day after I witnessed my daughter innocently playing with her dolls in her room, she was pretending to be their mama and she was screaming at them and violently shoving them around and punishing them. I stood there in utter shock…..she was mimicking the way I was with her! It was like looking into a mirror and it was the worst feeling I had ever felt. Then and there I decided NEVER AGAIN! I was spanked as a child by my mother and father and believed that that was the best way to discipline children when they get out of line. But now I realize that you are only teaching your own children to be impatient, and lash out, and hit when angry. So now when I am angry I simply take a deep breath and ask her to sit in time-out till she is ready to act like a big girl, or stop crying, or stop whatever it is she is doing and go about my business. I don’t lose my temper, or spank her (although I still do threaten to do it sometimes, but don’t), or scream at the top of my lungs. And as a result our relationship has become much stronger, and I have learned to cope with anger and be patient. And Ameera is learning to be the same way Alhamdulillah.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The T.V. Dilemma

It all started with Blue's Clues, a harmless childrens show with the most lovable character named Steve and his dog Blue. The show soon became a favorite of mine and Ameeras when she was about 2 years old. I had always been strongly against tv, but thought to myself, "Blues Clues is great, no harm in this show, besides this is the only show I will let my daughter watch." And so it went this way for quite some time, where everymorning Ameera would plop herself on the rocking chair to watch the regularly scheduled Blues Clues show while her father and I got ready for work. After some time Blues Clues seemed to no longer interest her, and so I would let her watch other programs on Nick Jr. that I felt were suitable for her until one day I realized that Ameera was spending significant amounts of time in front of the T.V. I would come home from work and she from school both of us tired and she would ask in her little voice, "Mama can I please watch tv?" "Ok" I would say. Why not? I mean she had just spent the whole day at school being active, a little tv wouldnt hurt her, plus I had to make dinner and finish some household chores. This would keep her busy and out of my way for a little bit to get things done. Finally, at 6pm I would call her down for dinner. "Ameera, come eat!" and her response, "Mama can eat dinner with my TV?.....I would sigh and walk up with her plate and feed her as she continued to watch her show. Well, this was actually better I would tell myself, becasue she is so focused on the TV that she would eat all of her dinner without a fight.

Ameera is a very picky eater and I always have to struggle with her to eat. After dinner, she would take her bath, I would read her two stories and then she would go to sleep. Everyday went just like this one. I often felt guilty, telling myself that I had to stop letting her watch so much tv and that I had to take the tv out of her room. Initially, her room was a guest room that had a tv mounted into the wall, once we converted the guest room into her room I never took the tv out. I would often call my husband complaining about how much tv ameera was watching.

It then became worse. She would cry in the morning to watch, and cry after school if I didnt let her watch. She would watch lots of cartoon in the morning while we were still asleep. She would watch at night if we were home not doing anything. It came to the point that often times I noticed the TV would be on in her room but she wasnt watching anymore, she would be playing with her toys. I realized that she became accustomed to having the sound of the tv on in her room. So wether she was watching or not, she wanted it on. Although she was only allowed to watch Nick. Jr., I did feel that she displayed some aggressive behavior and had some behavioral issues, but I didnt connect the two together, i just assumed that this was her personality.

Finally, after continuous complaining to my husband about how tv was ruining her life and how i wanted him to take it out he said, "Why dont you stop complaining and do something about it already! Just unplug it or take the cable box out!".............................Dead Silence.........................................................................

How come I had never thought of that? He was right, why didnt i do something about it? Ameera was at school and I slowly crept up to her room and stood in front of the tv. I took a deep breath and walked closer to it.....i suddenly realized that I was actually afraid to take it away from her! I had become dependant on it as much as she was! What would she do without tv? What would I do? I couldnt believe these feelings I was having, they scared me. It was then that I mustered up the courage and ripped the plugs out of the wall, tore out the cable box and hid it upstairs in my attic. OMG! I did it! I had killed the TV! And it felt so good.....for now. What would Ameera say when she got home? What should I tell her?

I picked her up from school a few hours later, of course the question came, "Mama can I watch tv?"...."Uh Oh....." "Um Ameera no you cant watch tv becasue its not working, its broken." And then the crying started. "But mama can we go to the store and buy a new one, I dont want that broken tv?" she sobbed. I calmly explained to her that we were not goin to buy a new one and that she would have to find something else to keep her busy. "But mama what can i do?" she would ask helplessly. "Well,"  I would say, "You can play with your blocks, puzzles, do arts and crafts, listen to your audio books, color, or play with play dough." After a few days she got the hang of it and would go into the beautiful play room I had made for her and busy herself with numerous activites. In the beginning she wanted me to play with her constantly, so I would show her how to build towns out of blocks, and listen to her audio books with her, make some arts and crafts, etc. And then eventually she stopped needing me. I would also put her brother in with her to play.

It has been 1 month since I took away the tv, and I cant believe how easy it was. Another major change I noticed was the change in her behavior. She became less aggressive, more calm, whined and cried less, ate her dinner at the table, asked to go outside more and in general became more pleasant. The mornings have become easier and less of a struggle as have the evenings when its time for bed. I started to ask myself wether her change in behavior resulted from having taken away the tv. So i did some research and find a million articles that discussed how tv leads to behavioral problems and child agression. Here is just one:

Its been amazing to see the things she chooses to do now over watching tv. And one thing I wanted to say is that I am a very proactive parent, and take my kids to the library all the time, check out books all the time, she listens to tons of audio books and does numerous activities at home as well as rides her bike, I take her to the park often, etc....but the tv was her main source of comfort, and she would always opt to watch before doing any of her other activities or she would opt to watch while doing other activites or just wanted it on to hear it. And as much as i felt i was limiting her tv time, it was never enough. I would get busy with my chores and time would pass unknowingly. This was a major problem. And I am happy to finally say that it is a problem no more!

One thing to note is that after I took away her tv, she became very interested in the computer. So she now has become very good at using the computer, and I let her use specific sites such as She is also allowed to play on sites that teach math skills and science skills that I have researched. And I have found numerous excellent sites that are interactive reading sites, so listen to audio books and islamic songs etc. But the good thing is that the computer has become an activity that she can opt to do for a short period of time and its a tool i use for her to learn from.

The message I want to send is that getting rid of the tv is not as scary as it seems. Try it out and you will be amazed at the transformation in your kids inshaallah.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Some Interesting Quotes on Educating Muslims

The following Quotes are taken from a book I have been reading called Educating the Muslims of America. It is a compilation of essays written by Muslims on various topics ranging from homeschooling, private schools and public schools to Islamic Media and Muslim Women in college. It was a great read and an eye-opener to say the least to the many issues facing not only Islamic Education in America but to the issues and struggles of parents as well as muslim students who are in alternative schools and public schools.

from an essay entitled Safe Havens or Religous Ghettos?

" ...self definition and identity maintenance pose one of the primary challenges facing Muslim communities in North America...."

"Many Muslim parents fear that the assimilative forces within public schools threaten to de-islamize their children. For example, negative peer pressure, drugs, alcohol use, dating, and violence in schools pose many challenges for Mulsim students attempting to maintain an Islamic Lifestyle and identity while at school."

"Yet Islamic schools, like other independant religious schools are also accused of "ghettozing" students and not providing socialization within a scoiety at large and are considered inadequate arenas for civic engagement in a racially and religously plural society due to their "particularist" orientation."

As you can see there are alot of issues surrounding the education of our children and I believe that every parent should give fair attention. The article links above go hand in hand with these quotes as the families begin to defend their choices for public, islamic and homeschooling.

Identity issues is also playing a strong role in my decision making process. Because while I do not agree that Islamic schools are ghettos, I do feel that they are safe havens and I have actually heard many many friends and family members use the term "bubble" when describing islamic schooling. One friend mentioned to me that once she entered college it was hard for her to associate with members of the opposite sex becasuse she didnt know how to act around them. Another mentioned that she didnt know how to interact with non-muslims until she moved and had to start a new life in a new place. Other incidents include praying, fasting and wearing hijab in the work place.

I feel that if a child is surrounded by diversity then they will be exposed to difficult situations that question their religion but they will learn at an early age how to cope with them and how to respond to non-muslims and this in turn will build their identity and make it strong. Of course the home environment has to be strong Islamically and the parents have to engage in daily discourse to maintain open communications with their children. As you can see there is alot to reflect on when considering schools which leads me to my next topic.

In an essay by Priscilla Martinez called Muslim Homeschooling she says, "Muslim families are considered to be the fastest growing demographic of homeschoolers in the country." Why do Muslim parents choose to take responsibility of educating their children at home?

"Muslim homeschoolers understand that it is their responsibilty to teach their children how to achieve God-consciousness and strengthen their Islamic identity through their own example in every aspect of their lives.This can only be instilled in an environment that fosters God-consciouness, not through the social and educational environments of public school settings."

A friend of mine emailed me the following links from a great site called I had never heard of the site but found it to be a great community of muslim mom bloggers. The following are great articles that explore families who have selected different types of schooling for their children and why:

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Montessori Method

My first thought after I had answered the questions in my previous blog was that I wanted to put Ameera into a Montessori school. Based on some reading and research, the Montessori method is more widely spread than any other modern method of education. The way it generally works is that the classroom is set up to be an environment that will come to be the childs own as they become responsible for its maintenace. It is set up in centers according to subjects and children are allowed to explore the room freely working with whatever interests them. They are allowed to work on a particular project until they tire of it and of course are guided by the teacher but the class is student led. Here is a link to some information on the method iteself. description of the method see the method in action

Why I initially was drawn to this method is because it gives children the freedom to move around all day. They are also able to explore whatever it is that interests them without time limitations and restrictions, yet there would be teacher guidance to assure that they are grasping concepts and ideas. Another aspect I liked was the use of raw and natural materials in the classroom. No artificial, man-made materials. I have a few friends who have their children in Montessori programs and when I questioned them about how they felt about the program. Some key words I heard were: independance, responsibilty, organization, advanced, hands-on, etc. These words they used to refer to the change in their children when compared to others who were not recieving a montessori education.

In my opinion I feel that any type of learning environment were children are able to move freely always works wonders with boys. As a 7th and 8th grade teacher, I have first had experience that most boys aged 1-14 generally have a hard time sitting in seat for extended periods of time being forced to focus on a teacher, book, activity etc that they have no interest in. I have always felt that the traditional school system was actually unhealthy for boys, especially if they have no outlet in which to release there pent up energies which unfortunately is the case with most Islamic Schools. They lack the funding and the resources to provide organized sports teams, practices, coaches etc within the school. I strongly feel that this is something that we need to work on and as a community we should help support for the furture inshaallah.

Anyhow if your interested in this type of schooling I would check The Village School in Waldwick

And some good reading:
Childhood Education by Maria Montessori and
The Child in the Family

This is some information on one option  I am considering.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

First Steps

When I first began thinking about putting my daughter in school, I sat down and began thinking about how one goes about choosing a school for their child. So I asked myself the following questions:
1. What kind of education do I want for her?
2. What do I "not" want for her?
3.What kind of child is my daughter?
4. What have I observed about the way she learns that would steer me in a certain direction?

I realized that I had to make a choice based on Ameera's personality and learning style. It couldn't be about what I wanted. It had to be about her and what was in her best interest. I couldn't blindly choose to put her somewhere without knowing all the details, the ins and outs. I needed to ask questions and get them answered. I also realized that this journey was going to be alot harder than I expected. I became anxious; nervous that I would make the wrong decision, nervous that I could possibly scar her love of learning for life if i didnt put her the right place! A little dramatic? YES! But that couldn't be helped....the feelings were there. "How do people do this?" I would ask myself and friends over and over again. The responses: "It's really hard!" or "It's a tough decision...good luck!"

I then had the sit down with my husband. Together we came up with a list of options. There are public schools, islamic schools, alternative schools, montessori schools and homeschooling. Then there was the issue of if we chose not to put her in Islamic School, how would she learn proper Arabic and how would she learn about the religion? Basically the conversation ended on this note: My husband was going to leave all the leg work to me and come back to him with my findings. Overall he is placeing complete trust in me to do what I think is best, but if I decided not to go with an Islamic School then I would be responsible for incorporating Arabic and Religion into her daily life. It was alot to take in, and I suddenly felt a ton of pressure.

So I started to answer my questions.....out of order. What kind of child is Ameera? She is someone who is independant yet stubborn, she is very competative and is easily frustrated. She has a vivid imagination, loves bugs and animals, loves to paint & do puzzles, loves books etc. What have I observed about the way she learns? Well, she seems to be a fast learner, is able to figure without help to solve basic problems, memorizes quickly, uses new vocabulary, can carry out mature conversations, is a hands on type of person and is also very visual.

Ok so now that I had those questions answered I was starting to get somewhere.

Last two questions: what do I want for her? I want her to be able to continue doing the things she loves to do at home, to explore further topics that interest her, I want her to be able to run freely and have lots of physical activity and play, to eat healthy, to rest when she needs to, to interact with othes of all ages, to understand, interact, and observe the world outside the classroom, and i wanted learning to be student geared etc.....

I stopped here and began to wonder if there was such a place that existed! It seemed and still seems impossible. But I was finally able to answer my last and first question. What do I not want for her? I guess based on my answers that I did not want to place her in a traditional style school setting. And by traditional I mean 26 kids in a classroom, row seating, and whiteboard and teacher lecturing etc. I did not want to really confine her to a classroom 7 hours a day with 45min of recess. I also felt that it would be healthy for her to interact with muslims and non-muslims alike.

I was one step closer. Now my next step would be to research and visit the schools that met my criteria.


I woke up one day to the realization that my daughter, Ameera, was going to be 4 in January. "Oh my God!" I thought to myself. "I need to put her in school next year!" Thoughts frantically raced through my head. I needed to start researching schools, attending open houses, interviewing principals.....but wait.....first I had to figure out what kind of school system was going to be right for Ameera. What methodoligies are being used in the classrooms and which would suit her learning style. And then there was the cost! Would my husband and I even be able to afford private education? Would I have no choice but to place her in public school, or should I just do what everyone in my community would expect me to do and place her in one of the Islamic schools?

So many questions--so little time!

Then another realization. Being a teacher of just four short years in the Islamic School system in Bergen County, I had already developed a philosophy on education. A sense of what works and what doesn't work when it comes to educating kids. I am far from an expert on the subject, but it doesnt take a genius to see that while some kids thrive in thet tradational school setting,  many others do not. And it is these kids that turned me into the concerened teacher and parent I am today.

As a teacher, I was guilty of rushing through materials and units of study, trying to meet time limitations and restrictions of set marking periods. I had to have a certain number of grades plugged in for my students as well as quizzes and tests to assess what they have learned. And at the end of it all, if a handful of students did poorly on those assessments I would send a reluctant email out to the parents that their child was still struggling in my class, and reassure them that I was always available for extra help, but otherwise, the class was moving on to the next unit.

 I would bombard my 7th and 8th graders with English homework even when they and their parents complained believing that I was only preparing them for what was to come in HighSchool. I was prepping them for the endless workloads, and papers, and projects. I was getting them used to committing hours and hours of their precious free time to homework. And of course I was backed and supported by my superiors.

It wasn't until this year, when I was hired as writing consulting did I realize the error of my ways. Being a consultant gave me the ability to be on the other side of the spectrum of teaching. I was given time to thouroughly research ideas, and lessons before implementing them. I was given the time to study how children learn, how they absorb material and information.  I was able to try new methods and take the time to spend with the kids to see if they were grasping the material and how they were absorbing it. I was given the opportunity to work with those kids who were struggling and help them through those tough moments. And when a student overcame an obstacle or succeeded in implementing a strategy, their smile was worth all the endless hours of work and research in the world.

These experiences have made me especially cautious and weary in choosing a school for my daughter. What kind of teacher would my daughter have? Would Ameera be one of the lucky few to grasp all material thrown at her or would she would be among those who struggle? And if so would she get the attention and help she needs or be left behind? Would I be one of those parents who recieved that dreaded email that her daughter was still struggling in a particualr subject, but that the class was going to continue to move on?

All these reflections and realizations have led me to the journey I am taking now. The journey of sorting through different and alternative methods of education. I ask Allah to guide me through this journey and help me seek out the best answers and to help me provide some useful information to all moms going through the same journey.