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.