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.