Monday, November 26, 2012

Tree Swinging

We came across these trees the other day that had long, soft, but very strong swinging rope-like branches. It looked kind of like a lagoon tree, or weeping willow. We were grabbing and pulling on them and realized they were great for vine swinging, so we went at this for a little bit and it was loads of fun for me and the kids.

Beginner Nature Forts

Fall is a great time to introduce building beginner forts. Parks, streets, or forests are just full of natural debris that you can collect and use to build various things that suit a child's imagination. Lately, when the kids and I go to local parks nearby we have been examining the various debris on the ground such as fallen leaves, sticks, pine cones, branches, etc. One day we decided to gather all the things we could find to use for building and put them in a big pile near a large tree. We then began to use the items to try and build a small fort of some sort. It took some thought on Ameera's part at first trying to figure out how she was going to turn a pile of leaves and twigs into anything at all, but with some guidance from me she eventually got the hang of it, and began using the twigs and branches to form a small foundation.

Some of the branches were long and kind of resembled rope, so they were easy to twist, turn and mold into various shapes. With these she was able to form the shape of a hobbit sized door. The shorter, stronger branches she would use to hold the structure in place.

 She then used small twigs and branches to lay over the any holes, then used the dead leaves to cover the fort. Overall it was a small structure, but just the sheer thought process and energy that went into making something out of natural materials I feel is valuable in getting children to think outside of the box, and to build their creativity and imagination.

The following week we were at the park again and she asked if we could build something else. And this time, without much help from me collected materials on her own and began to make her own fort.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bad Days

Let's face it, we all have them, and if you are a stay-at-home and/or a homeschooling mom you may have more of these days than most people. This morning was one of those mornings where I just did not want to get out of bed. I was so tired and I had decided the night before that I would keep my daughter home from school. But once morning came, my daughter was disappointed, being that she is in love with her school, and so I decided to take her...late...but felt it would be worth having one less cranky child in the house even if it is just for a few hours.

My son woke up in a cranky mood, which is unusual for him. He was clingy and needy and crying most of the morning and I could not figure out why, which frustrated me since I was having a mood of my own. Lately I have been feeling a bit confined and cramped, like I need to break free from something. I know this feeling well, and it usually comes when I have been lacking physical exercise. I have a love/hate relationship with exercise being that I love it, but have little motivation to do it and often make excuses for myself as to why I am not more physically active. The truth is as much as I need and want that time for myself, I feel I am not the kids are my priority and with a routine already in place, taking that much needed time for myself does not fit in, or would mean I would have to stray or cut something out. It's horrible that I put myself second when actually my well being and health is imperative to my children and household, because if I am not in a good mood, or sick, or unhealthy then how will I be able to provide a positive example for them and take care of them the way I need to? I forget this fact often, and as much as I am out and about with my kids it doesn't provide the physical exercise that every women needs.

With that being said, I was eager to ease my son and really wanted to take him out for a walk and kept making's too cold, I'm too tired, it's almost his nap time, etc. But the crying didn't cease, so I sucked it up threw on my coat and his, bundled him and myself up nice and warm and ventured out into the cold morning to walk down to the park for the 30 mins or so we had before his nap time. Instantly, as I knew he would, he stopped crying. We strolled to the park, which is very woodsy in nature, and I set him loose. He ran through the grass and trees and straight for the swings, then the slides, then just ran up and down the small hills and big piles of leaves, laughing along the way as I chased him and sometimes he would just lay flat on the ground and stare up at the sky. In the end, he became tired and went back to climb into his stroller. I purposely took the long way back home so that I could get in some physical exercise for myself. Just being out doors was healing for the both of us, even if it was only for 30 or 40 mins. So the moral of my story is this: When in doubt, Get Out!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Where we are so far....

Today marked the end of our first unit of study using the Ad-Duha curriculum for Arabic and Quranic studies. During these past few months we have been developing a consistent routine of study and play, as well as incorporating other subjects of interest which added a nice little element of surprise. I decided to jot down some quick notes just to get an idea of what exactly we have covered and what we would like to continue with or omit from our routine. Upon stumbling onto some of our newer subjects I have doing a lot of research and blog reading to kind of wrap my mind around what road it is exactly that we are heading down; that is what method or philosophy of education we will be using.

I feel a bit as if I have been all over the place, but I am somewhat organized, just not as organized as I  would like to be. Blogging has definitely helped me sort through my thoughts and visions of homeschooling, and the blogs I follow have also been a tremendous help and great pool of resources.

I kind of did a quick categorization in my notes of our subjects and topics that I will share here:

Ad- Duha:
Who is Allah?
Shahada- meaning & memory
Quran: Fatiha- Tafseer & memorization 
Math: Arabic numbers 1-10

Nature Study/ Play:
Forest Walks
Seasonal scavenger hunts
Mud Play
Nature Journal
wild flowers, bugs, trees, pine cones
Water and puddle play
Tree climbing & swinging
Fort building
Seasons Theme Pack (taken from a Muslim Child is Born)

Art & Music Appreciation:
Music: Sami Yusuf & I look I see 1 & 2( Nasheed)
Art: Collage Work, Painting, coloring, drawing.

Spelling Dictation: 3 letter words
Reading: Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons (Lessons 1-30 completed)
Read-Alouds done daily during story time hours

Listening: (Audio books)
Alice in Wonderland
Just So Stories-Rudyard Kipling

Arabic  (Ad-Duha curriculum & Sunday School)
French, German & Luxembourgish (Waldorf School)
Film: Subject and Topic related
Geography: based on our travels

Waldorf School
Sunday School 

Looking at this now I see I still need to incorporate History and Math into our schedule. I think I feel pretty good with what we have accomplished so far. But I would like to adopt a method of education and I think for homeschooling we are going with the Charlotte Mason Method. I think it's smart because it coincides nicely with the Waldorf philosophy that she is getting at her school. I also am comfortable with our schedule and feel for the most part that things have been going smoothly. We have our good and bad days, and some days we accomplish a lot more than others, but it's not a race, I just go with Ameera's mood and let that dictate how far we go. Some days we don't feel like doing anything and I am fine with that, but for the most part we work 4-5 days a week consistently, and above all I like to keep things light and fun.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Walk in the Woods

There is something about walking in the woods that is so alluring, and haunting at the same time. I believe it is that sense of mystery that the forest holds, and a fear of the unknown; of what could be lurking behind the trees far beyond sight, or what could be lying under that old fallen tree limb, or inside a rotted tree stump. Forests are usually eerily dark in Luxembourg, except for rays of light that shine down through holes in the trees. And then there is the silence, and the stillness of the woods, which is ironic because the woods are anything but still. Leaves rustle,  branches crack, winds whisper, insects hum, buzz, and scratch. Animals scurry, and the birds soar through the intricate maze of sky. Spotting a simple mushroom can lead to endless questions and hours of observation and wonder. The aroma of the forests are so thick and rich, I find myself inhaling and exhaling like I have never done before just to try and capture and identify every complex scent .  The woods are captivating and beautiful and provide a limitless selection of learning opportunities. It is here where one can feel most close to Allah (swt) our Creator.

Over the past few weeks I have begun to incorporate Forest Walks into our weekly activities. Luxembourg is rich with trails, forests, ponds, parks, and paths through woodsy areas of all sorts. People here are generally very outdoorsy and really love horseback riding, biking, and hiking, so it is not uncommon to walk through a forest on a Sunday afternoon and pass by people riding their horses leisurely through the woods. The first time I mentioned a forest walk, my daughter was terrified and said, "No Mama! I don't want to walk in the forest, it's scary!" She had never been through any kind of wood, her only knowledge of the forest consisted of late bedtime story versions of Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood, characters, all of whom, encounter danger and near death experiences in the Forest. But upon walking through a small passageway, just over a bridge in Esch sur Sure, we came upon a path leading into the woods. My daughters breath almost stopped for a moment as she tried to take it all in. After looking around in wonder and awe, she instantly began to run down the path exploring leaves, trees, bushes and insects traveling along through trodden path.

I remember being young and going on numerous camping trips with my mom and clearly recall how uncomfortable it was camping in the thick of the woods, sleeping on top of roots, rocks, pebbles and dirt, and being hot and sticky and getting bitten by bugs. Back then they did not have these well organized and modernly equipped camp sites with outlets to plug in your portable tv's and bathrooms buildings where you could wash up. If you had to go, you had to find a big tree to hide behind. When it was time to eat, there were no bbq grills standing by, we had to collect wood and build a fire to cook whatever food we brought. It was that very raw kind of camping that is still instilled in my mind till this day, but is something I have never done with my own least not yet. And now 20 years later, I am surprised by the deep sense of calm and relaxation I feel in my heart and mind the second I step into the forest. It is as though time stands still; everything seems to move very slowly as we try to take it all in. We stop to examine old tree stumps, and burrows. Or we try to find the perfect walking stick or walk through the remains of dead trees, leaves and branches. My son stoops over looking at the ground, pointing with his small fingers at something I can not see. But upon closer look they are black forest beetles which cover the path we are walking on. He is not pointing, but touching them as they creep along.  

The longer we venture down our homeschooling journey, the more drawn we have become toward the study of nature and the wilderness. I feel as though it is a neglected field of study, and is not given much thought or importance. I cannot simply walk up to a tree and be able to identify it as a Pine or Oak, which is quite sad. I have never studied the seasons up close observing their temperatures and processes, the simple joys and pleasures of this world I have been taking for granted. I want my kids to be able to study birds, insects, and animals and be able to identify the wild flowers growing in our garden in a very real and personal way. These are the fundamental basics of nature study that I feel every child should learn or at least be exposed to, as well as myself. It would be a learning experience for the whole family if we perhaps kept nature journals as we do writing journals. For now however, I will begin this new journey with the simple explorations of the woods and see where it leads us.

There was a child went forth every day
And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

---Walt Whitman

"In the woods we return to reason and faith."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, October 11, 2012

ADHD Pills

ADHD pills are increasingly being prescribed in schools all across the country, with the biggest percentage being preschool children. This is disturbing. All so that kids can sit and focus in a class for a number of hours longer than is normal for a child to sit. I understand how these pills may help many children suffering from such disorders, but there is increasing evidence and research such as the article below that most kids being prescribed these drugs do not even have a disorder, and are used primarily for kids to focus. With the increasing elimination of extra curricula's in schools, longer school hours, and elimination of recess and Gym, how can children possibly focus when they are receiving no outlets to expend their energy?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Playdough Fun

I find playdough to be a very useful homeschooling tool. It can easily turn a dull worksheet activity into a vibrant, creative, hands-on activity. We did this a while back while introducing the Arabic letters and I have been meaning to share it. I was using lots of worksheets at the time but she insisted on playing with playdough after she was visibly bored. In the interest of not getting side tracked from our days lesson I suggested we make the letters out of Playdough. It turns out learning Arabic letters are a lot more fun when you get to roll, cut, and mold them. I believe it also is helpful for the visual understanding of the symbols because they are recreating them by hand which takes quite a bit of mental and physical work. Arabic letters are not easy to grasp unless you are constantly working with them. We still use worksheets but I try now to supplement more with activities such as these, which I feel gives it more of a Montessori touch.

After the letter making, she wanted to just play with the dough, so I sat with her making cut outs of various objects with the cookie cutters they provide. By doing so we ended up playing a pizza restaurant game. Where we made pizzas with various toppings. Then she would stand on one side of the table and I on the other, and we would take turns ordering slices of pizza from one another. What was great is that it quickly turned into a basic math lesson on fractions and counting. By slicing up the pizza we discussed a Half, a third and a quarter.

I also got a cup of loose change and we would pretend to buy our pizzas with the money which is a great lesson in counting, addition and subtraction.

Playdough is also a great way to keep toddlers busy while you are homeschooling your older children. Mine loves to mush it, throw it, even eat it, and a 15 month old will have no problem making cut-outs with the cookie cutters, and is great for the motor-skills development.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Definition: A forest kindergarten is a type of preschool education for children between the ages of three and six that is held almost exclusively outdoors. Whatever the weather, children are encouraged to play, explore and learn in a forest or natural environment. The adult supervision is meant to assist rather than lead. It is also known as Waldkindergarten (in German), outdoor nursery, nature kindergarten, or nature preschool.

Ummm, I am the only one in complete shock and awe of this type of education system? I couldn't even believe it when I first read about it in Boys Adrift and then again in Last Child in the Forest. I know some may think this a bit overboard or extreme but I just love this concept of kids learning and being outdoors all day. Read more about it below:

I researched and found there are a few in Luxembourg, if I am lucky enough to find one in my area I would definitely try to get my kids in a program like this.

Jewels of the Earth

                                                                Gardening is something I have always wanted to do, but never really had the time to do before, or at least do well, but nothing like a move across the country away from all your loved ones and social obligations to free your days right up! No, but honestly, now that my daughter's school day ends at noon, I can spend a lot more time taking up new hobbies. The garden initially was a mess and was a project in itself just to get clean and ready for planting, but the process has been amazingly rewarding for all of us. Ameera and I decided we would create a space for planting flowers as well as fruits and vegetables. We already had a raspberry and blackberry bush that was fully mature and my 18 month old thoroughly enjoyed picking all the berries off the bush and stuffing his face with them. Although it is October, there are still plenty of winter vegetables that can be planted for spring harvest. I also thought it would be fun just to experiment a bit with different plants to show Ameera which continued to grow, which died, or which just remained as they were in the ground and did not grow nor die. So, we bought various plants of her choice, including lettuce, strawberry plants, pepper plants and various flowers and pines to work with in her miniature garden It is the process, not the product that is most important in my book.

 The process of digging the hole, planting the plant, watering and then cleaning up the debris is really what I wanted her to be familiar with. And she would often look up at me and with a sigh say, "Mama, this is hard I am getting tired." Which is the exact feeling I wanted her to acknowledge in this process. That growing is hard work, and not just growing, but maintaining, looking after, watering and overall caring for nature and the environment are all important lessons for children. It is becoming increasingly hard in this world to provide kids with real experience working with nature. They don't understand where their food comes from, or the process that is involved. I am no expert either, but these small steps will build the foundation for appreciating living and growing things for all of us. Ameera has begun to develop a sense of ownership in her garden now that she has been working on it for sometime, and now requests on her own to go out and plant or do other garden activities, which for me is the icing on the cake. At first she would get distracted easily, and was reluctant to get her hands dirty, but after a while, her attention grew more and more, and I bought her some gardening gloves and tools to work so she feel better about getting dirty. She now has no problem working with her bare hands in the garden. For other interesting, creative and fun activities to do with your kids outside you can check out this website: I really loved the ideas here and thought they were very original.

Over the past few years, I began to feel bothered by the fact that kids in general these days spend a lot of time indoors. School hours are becoming longer and longer with little to no time for outdoor play or recess. Field trips are not what they used to be anymore and homework for the little ones is becoming more than they and parents can handle. It was a bit disheartening; as I have always felt that kids really need to be outdoors more than anything else in order to aid in their developmental growth. There is just something magical about being in the fresh open air, and watching your kids and how they interact with nature. I have made it a point to make sure my kids go out every single day, at least to the garden for a period of time if I can't physically take them out somewhere.
The end result of our work is displayed here; it's not much, but it is something to call her own and she is proud of it. I feel as the process of my homeschooling continues that I am becoming more inclined to to incorporate outdoor activities , particularly ones that involve being in and working directly with nature. I guess we will see where this interest takes us. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mud Pie

Back when I was living in NJ, one of my daughters favorite pastimes was a hole that she had dug in the ground in the middle of our yard. She would ask, "Mama, can I make mud?" I happily agreed and would turn on the hose for her and let her fill a watering can that she could use to mix the water and dirt. She would spend countless hours mixing, digging, unearthing worms and bugs and just having fun. Whenever her cousins came over she would show them the secrets of making mud, "Look you just mix dirt and water!" Soon everyone would be a wet, muddy mess, and while the other parents squirmed, I would be ecstatic.

Now that we have become situated in Luxembourg and have a new garden to work with the first request of my daughter among others was, "Can we please make a place for mud so our garden can be fun?" I had never before thought of actually designating a space for mud play, but her request intrigued me. I did alittle research before hand to see what other moms have done in their gardens and to see what these "spaces" might look like. I found they were fairly simple and wonderfully entertaining. And so, together we created a space for mud play.

Yes, this is picture of my son actually eating mud. I resisted the temptation to run and wash his mouth out and just let him get a taste and see what he did, unfortunately he just kept eating it ;) but on the plus side I found that there are many health benefits of playing with and in the mud and dirt. You can check out this link to read about the 5 health benefits of getting dirty.

In our mud area I keep various objects such as shovels, pails, flower pots, magnifying glass, creature peeper, trucks, watering can, watering table and pots and pans that I had stored in my garage that were not being used. Ameera used one such pan to create a bug home. She filled it with soil and would place her bug findings and earth worms inside to examine and watch. I also keep a large plastic basket to store all these items and a wooden shelf I use as a table top by placing on top of the basket so the kids can work on.
The kids play in the garden in rain or shine so rain boots and jackets are always made to good use. Backyards and gardens however small can be full of wonder and adventure for small children and are great for imaginative and creative play. Not to mention the wonderful conversations that arise from being outside. We have talked about weather, seasons, plants, insects, animals, gardening and about thankfulness and compassion for Allah's creation and how He alone creates everything in this world. For myself, I have found it to be very therapeutic and calming to be working on the garden, but I do not always go outside with them. I often leave them to play alone and find that they do much more interesting things when I am not present.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Power of Unstructured Play

I was simply so blown away by this article that I just had to post and share this, although it seems I am the last to know about it. I think reading this really helped alleviate my motherly guilt over not constantly coming up with "things to do" for my kids. I am always battling with myself if I have been home for two or more days that I didn't take them out to do something "constructive." Even since I started homeschooling it's this constant feeling of "I need or should be DOING something with the kids" as opposed to just letting them run wild. Perhaps I could learn a lesson from Cain and his father. DOING NOTHING in fact helps build our children's creativity. Even reading this I was having flashbacks of my childhood; summers spent at my grandmother's making the "cliche" lemonade stand out of cardboard and selling cups for .25 or .50 cents. Or playing TRAP, a game my cousin and I made up when were bored on those long, hot summer days, where we would make traps out of cardboard, string, tape, (whatever we could find around the house) and strategically place them around the house, and see who would fall in the TRAP first. Like Cain, our time was unstructured and minimally supervised. We never created anything as elaborate as this arcade, but that doesn't diminish the importance of this kind of freedom children need, away from TV, electronics, and the overall unnecessary distractions we as parents may be placing before them.

What Caine’s Arcade Teaches Us About Modern Parenting

It is possible. Because here is what a nine year-old named Caine Monroy did last summer vacation during the weekdays: nothing.  He didn’t have summer camp, swimming lessons, soccer league, violin practice, a Mandarin tutor or anything that could even remotely be called an “enrichment activity.” He was not chauffeured around by his parents, babysitter or nanny on trips to a museum, to the zoo, or to any local historical sites of note. Other than what I suspect were several trips to Shakey’s Pizza and time spent in the Shakey’s Pizza arcade, this is how Caine Monroy spent a lot of his time last summer vacation: He played. And out of his unstructured playtime came the amazing, highly complex, wildly creative and now truly viral phenomena known as Caine’s Arcade.
Over 2.5 million Vimeo & YouTube views and $175,000 dollars later, this is what I think George Monroy—Caine’s dad—teaches us about modern parenting:
Give kids some resources, but not too many.
George Monroy’s parenting reminds me of how I was raised by my old-school immigrant Latino parents: I was given enough things to spark my imagination, but not too much. My sister and I got ball gowns from thrift stores and played dress-up for hours. My sister actually made her own Barbie Dreamhouse out of cardboard. It had wallpaper (made out of wrapping paper) and wine goblets (made out of twisted tinfoil). It was awesome.
Caine was given space in the front of the store, markers, scissors and all the cardboard a kid could ever need or want. When Caine told his dad he “needed to buy” a claw machine, George challenged him to try and make one. And so he did. With blue yarn, an S-hook and yet another cardboard box, a DIY claw machine was born.
George did give Caine more resources when it became evident that Caine was clearly committed to his vision. We see no better proof of that than the calculators taped to each machine, which Caine uses to verify the fun passes using the “check mark button” known by math geeks everywhere as the square root symbol.
What Caine's Arcade Teaches Us About Modern Parenting
Give kids time. Lots of it.
This was, no doubt, the most precious gift George Monroy gave to his son Caine: largely unstructured, minimally supervised time. A regular question among my friends and I who have children is “What are you going to do with [insert kid’s name here] for the summer?” The assumption is that our children will have some type of ordered activity, program, or instruction during this free time. I have not tried it yet, but after watching this video, I am tempted to answer the question with something along the lines of “Oh, you know, the basics.  Keep her safe. Fed. Clothed. That’s about it.”
By my calculation, Caine Monroy had about 280 hours of free time to kill last summer. And boy, did he make it count.
Give kids basic, clear rules.
The impression the video gives is that Caine was told three main things: Be safe. Stay at the front of the store. And let daddy work. Kids like some rules and basic structure—it gives them the sense that the world is an orderly place. Kids also do understand the unspoken implications of the rules, too. “Let daddy work” was code for “I am not here to entertain you.  You will need to find ways to fight boredom on your own. Here is some cardboard for you to play with. Now get creative.”
Encourage kids to do what they like. Even if you think it is stupid. This way, they stay focused. And being focused and going deep are key.
I freely admit this here and now: If my 10-year-old had displayed a wild, passionate interest in video arcades, I would have tried to squash it. Had the interest proved persistent, I would have tried to channel it into what I deemed was an appropriate outlet, i.e. “Let’s go to the library to check out books about arcades! Yaaay!” Sir Ken Richardson, renowned scholar and advocate on the importance of creativity, indicts our entire educational system for this type of behavior that is done with the best of intentions, but has unintended consequences for ourselves and our children. “You were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid,” he said in his now famous TED talk. “Things you liked—on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that: ‘Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician. Don’t do art, you won’t be an artist.’ Benign advice—now, profoundly mistaken.”
This is why I was so impressed with George Monroy: There is not one bit of judgment in his voice when he says that Caine loves arcades. Instead of trying to encourage Caine to try and build other things with cardboard boxes, he encourages Caine to stick with what he knows and loves by encouraging his love of arcades. This is surely why Caine’s Arcade became more elaborate as time went on, with the tickets, the fun passes and the staff t-shirts. It is Caine’s focus and his attention to detail that make his Arcade so amazing. And it is his discipline in sticking with his original vision that is so wondrous.
Modern parenting sometimes feel like a race to expose your kids to as many things as possible. But sometimes a little bit of everything is a whole lot of nothing. Caine may not have known about viral video and the power of social media, but he had deep knowledge of arcades. He stayed focused on what he was building, going deep into things like pricing strategy (5 games for one dollar, 500 for two) and customer research (putting toy soldiers as goalies for his cardboard soccer game when he heard that it would be too easy to score a goal). Then Caine met someone who did know about viral video and the power of social media—LA based filmmaker Nirvan Mullick—and the rest became history.
And finally, the most important lesson of all:  Get the Fun Pass.
It is a way better deal.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Recently my daughter has been asking a lot of questions and most of the time they begin with "Mama, do you remember when...." I find it so interesting to hear what she recalls and how far back she can remember certain events since she is only four. I was also interested in what memories specifically stuck with her. I began to reflect on my own childhood, a complicated one to say the least. What do I remember? What has stayed with me now at my prime age of 30? I have trouble sometimes recalling what I did the day before, where I put certain items, I can barley remember the names of my high school and college teachers, although a few remain intact in my memory; my high school math teacher, Ms. Tracy and English teacher, Mr. Mc. Mahon....that's about it. But I was trying to focus on my childhood and how far back I could remember and what those memories consisted of. To my surprise my strongest memories of my childhood are those of when I was most afraid, and those of when I was most carefree, and engaging in all forms of unstructured play.

I remember picking  blackberries off the rooftops of my neighbors home in the small city of Baalbeck, Lebanon. They were so plump and juicy and they would stain my hands. We would play in the alleys of the rubble filled streets playing hopscotch and racket ball.

I remember walking through the woods in New Mexico with a group of kids collecting berries and scraps of wood, and leaves making up a play about kings and queens which we later presented to our parents.

I remember watching The Little Mermaid when it first came out in theater.

I remember spending endless summer days on the streets of Sunnyside, Queens, where all the children from the neighborhood would come out to play from morning until night. All sorts of fun and games would fill our time. I would ride my bike with my cousin and all his friends all over Sunnyside Queens, having adventures, exploring the city, riding where ever the wind would take us.

I remember spending summers at my grandmother's home in Lower East Side Manhattan; no backyards or quiet streets, this was the inner city in all its glory. I would always be downstairs with my cousin and the kids from the building playing Johnny Come Over, Red Light Green Light 123, Monkey in the Middle, Freeze Tag, Man Hunt, Dodge ball....its so interesting how I hadn't thought of these times in so long, but my how much fun it was to be so carefree and young! During those hot summer days my cousin and I would often make pitchers of lemonade, take a box top, put the pitcher and some plastic cups in it and go around the neighborhood selling cups of lemonade for .25 cents, we would collect all our money at the end of the day and rent movies or buy goodies from the local bodega.

I think about these memories and hope to create even better memories for my children. I think the best way to do that is to give them the same freedom my family gave me, the freedom to have adventures and explore the world. To do this I must provide them with these opportunities. I hope to be able to achieve this through our journey of homeschooling and travel inshaallah.

Coming from a single parent household, we were not under the constant watchful eyes of an adult. Often times I would leave early and come back at night from riding bike, going to parks, playing with friends, walking around the neighborhoods etc. Whether I was in NY or Baalbeck it was the same, adults did not feel the need to constantly be present. Now adays parents are afraid to let their children into their own backyards for fear of falling, getting dirty, being murdered or kidnapped, getting hit by a car.  While these fears are valid kids are going to fall and get hurt and get dirty. We now have become accustomed to keeping our kids locked indoors and use electronics, TV, and computer games as entertainment. I'm not sure if we are really leaving in a world that has become more dangerous or if our fears are getting the best of us.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Our Preschool Curriculum

We have been living in Luxembourg now for over a month and have finally managed to find a home, although, we have another few weeks before we can move in. Living out of the extended stay hotel has become increasingly difficult, but has given me time to think about how I would like to go about homeschooling this year. As mentioned in previous posts, Ameera will still be attending the Waldorf school here where she will be, on a daily basis, engaging in free, unstructured play in addition to cooking, spending lots of time in the forests, tending to and caring for animals, and learning French and German. The school day ends at 1pm, so I have decided to homeschool her in the following subjects: Arabic, Quran, Islamic Studies, and English reading and Writing. After reviewing some of the veteran homeschooling Muslim mom blogs, and getting various recommendations from friends and family we will be using the following resources:

1. Ad-Duha Institute (ALP)

Click here to see book previews

2. Kinza Academy preschool reading list

3. Goodnight stories from the Life of the Prophet Muhammad ( seerah & Hadith)

4. ( intro to Arabic letters & numbers & vocab flash cards)

5. Teach your child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons ( reading & writing)

6. TCRWP Writing and Reading Workshop

As a new homeschooler, I still do not have everything figured out, but I feel this is a great place to start. The Ad-Duha program, recommended to me by sister-in law, seems to be the best option for me only because it is comprehensive . There are many other wonderful books to be used, but I need more guidance as I am not that strong in the Arabic language. I hope to utilize the program to learn with my daughter. I am also considering purchasing the mini mu'min program for my son if I find I really like it. Otherwise, my son who is now 15 months old, I will be doing various Montessori activities with him. I have already begun various activities with my daughter which I plan to post little by little along with a reading list of our favorite books.

As of now I still do not have access to a computer, and am blogging on my iPad, which I personally find very difficult. But inshallah I should be in full swing by October.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Living in Lux

Today is the beginning of my 3rd week here in Luxembourg, and how fast everything happened I cant even believe it. The funny thing is is that I thought I would have alot more mixed emotions about this move than I am actually having. Strangely, I feel comfortable and at ease. Ameera has transitioned nicely, surprisingly, and she seems quite happy here and is excited about starting her new school in September. Noah is happy anywhere so I didnt have to worry about him. We are staying in an apartment hotel in Luxembourg CIty until our house hunting comes to an end....unfortunately, house hunting here is very slow, the market is fast and houses go before you can even make your appointment to see them. The country is historic and beautiful and I feel very grateful to be living here. Most people speak English, so it has not been as hard as I thought it would be communicating with people. Our lifestlyle however has changed somewhat, we have no car for the time being so we walk everywhere mostly exploring the new and old city, shopping, and buying groceries.

Life in Lux is much simpler than it is in the US, people enjoy more free time, work hard but less hours, kids go to school less hours and begin academics later in age. People are friendly, communities are well kept, and there is lush greenery, cows, forests, and castles wherever you turn your head. Views are breathtaking, its almost overwhelming in a good sense, to know that all this World is out there and you have only been living in such a small part of it. I walk around in awe most days, but have been very comfortable and at home in this country thus far. I go out with the kids every single day to become familiar with my surroundings and to get used to taking buses and speaking with people in their native language, which is 3 languages here but I stick with the French. And the little French I know I try to use on a daily basis, which helps me learn. I have even made a few aquantainces at the park here, where there are many moms who have recently moved from the US or the UK and are always willing to share their stories, frustrations, and mostly help out those who are new here.

My current internet connection here is terrible but I plan to post alot more very soon.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Drum Roll Please

After much careful consideration, prayer, and research I have finally decided to place Ameera this upcoming September in the Waldorf School in Luxembourg. The Waldorf methods philosophy holds true to many of the ideals I strongly believe in in Education including religous values. The school itself is a non-English speaking school, in preschool and Kindergarden they speak Luxembourgish, then in First grade classes are conducted entirely in German, and some classes are conducted entirely in French. But French will not be the main spoken language until Ameera reaches secondary school, which we will probably not be around for. While I am aware that doing this will pose many difficulties in the beginning, I feel fairly certain that placing her in this type of environment will force her to adapt, and integrate quickly into the community and allow her to make friends and communicatewith those who are native to the country. This decision did not come lightly, and homeschooling will always remain an option, but given my sudden change of plans I feel that this is the best option for now. I would love to hear of anyones experiances with Waldorf schools.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

9 Essential Skills Kids Should Learn

One thing I love about this article is the last point about being to teach kids to adapt to change. I find that to be a survival skill almost in a world that is so fast-paced and continuously changing as the author states. In my own experience, I had to adapt to drastic changes my whole life. First, with my parents divorcing, my mom and I literally moved around our entire lives. I went through numerous schools and  friends. Then when my dad took me to live with him overseas where no one spoke English, and I was away from my mother for years at a time. And various other cases throughout my life....and I am thankful for those moments. I truly believe that we need to change or shake things up abit for our children to learn this essential skill.

9 Essential Skills Kids Should Learn

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Kids in today’s school system are not being prepared well for tomorrow’s world.
As someone who went from the corporate world and then the government world to the ever-changing online world, I know how the world of yesterday is rapidly becoming irrelevant. I was trained in the newspaper industry, where we all believed we would be relevant forever — and I now believe will go the way of the horse and buggy.
Unfortunately, I was educated in a school system that believed the world in which it existed would remain essentially the same, with minor changes in fashion. We were trained with a skill set that was based on what jobs were most in demand in the 1980s, not what might happen in the 2000s.
And that kinda makes sense, given that no one could really know what life would be like 20 years from now. Imagine the 1980s, when personal computers were still fairly young, when faxes were the cutting-edge communication technology, when the Internet as we now know it was only the dream of sci-fi writers like William Gibson.
We had no idea what the world had in store for us.
And here’s the thing: we still don’t. We never do. We have never been good at predicting the future, and so raising and educating our kids as if we have any idea what the future will hold is not the smartest notion.
How then to prepare our kids for a world that is unpredictable, unknown? By teaching them to adapt, to deal with change, to be prepared for anything by not preparing them for anything specific.
This requires an entirely different approach to child-rearing and education. It means leaving our old ideas at the door, and reinventing everything.
My drop-dead gorgeous wife Eva (yes, I’m a very lucky man) and I are among those already doing this. We homeschool our kids — more accurately, we unschool them. We are teaching them to learn on their own, without us handing knowledge down to them and testing them on that knowledge.
It is, admittedly, a wild frontier, and most of us who are experimenting with unschooling will admit that we don’t have all the answers, that there is no set of “best practices”. But we also know that we are learning along with our kids, and that not knowing can be a good thing — an opportunity to find out, without relying on established methods that might not be optimal.
I won’t go too far into methods here, as I find them to be less important than ideas. Once you have some interesting ideas to test, you can figure out an unlimited amount of methods, and so my dictating methods would be too restrictive.
Instead, let’s look at a good set of essential skills that I believe children should learn, that will best prepare them for any world of the future. I base these on what I have learned in three different industries, especially the world of online entreprenurship, online publishing, online living … and more importantly, what I have learned about learning and working and living in a world that will never stop changing.
1. Asking questions. What we want most for our kids, as learners, is to be able to learn on their own. To teach themselves anything. Because if they can, then we don’t need to teach them everything — whatever they need to learn in the future, they can do on their own. The first step in learning to teach yourself anything is learning to ask questions. Luckily, kids do this naturally — our hope is to simply encourage it. A great way to do this is by modeling it. When you and your child encounter something new, ask questions, and explore the possible answers with your child. When he does ask questions, reward the child instead of punishing him (you might be surprised how many adults discourage questioning).
2. Solving problems. If a child can solve problems, she can do any job. A new job might be intimidating to any of us, but really it’s just another problem to be solved. A new skill, a new environment, a new need … they’re all simply problems to be solved. Teach your child to solve problems by modeling simple problem solving, then allowing her to do some very easy ones on her own. Don’t immediately solve all your child’s problems — let her fiddle with them and try various possible solutions, and reward such efforts. Eventually, your child will develop confidence in her problem-solving abilities, and then there is nothing she can’t do.
3. Tackling projects. As an online entrepreneur, I know that my work is a series of projects, sometimes related, sometimes small and sometimes large (which are usually a group of smaller projects). I also know that there isn’t a project I can’t tackle, because I’ve done so many of them. This post is a project. Writing a book is a project. Selling the book is another project. Work on projects with your kid, letting him see how it’s done by working with you, then letting him do more and more by himself. As he gains confidence, let him tackle more on his own. Soon, his learning will just be a series of projects that he’s excited about.
4. Finding passion. What drives me is not goals, not discipline, not external motivation, not reward … but passion. When I’m so excited that I can’t stop thinking about something, I will inevitably dive into it fully committed, and most times I’ll complete the project and love doing it. Help your kid find things she’s passionate about — it’s a matter of trying a bunch of things, finding ones that excite her the most, helping her really enjoy them. Don’t discourage any interest — encourage them. Don’t suck the fun out of them either — make them rewarding.
5. Independence. Kids should be taught to increasingly stand on their own. A little at a time, of course. Slowly encourage them to do things on their own. Teach them how to do it, model it, help them do it, help less, then let them make their own mistakes. Give them confidence in themselves by letting them have a bunch of successes, and letting them solve the failures. Once they learn to be independent, they learn that they don’t need a teacher, a parent, or a boss to tell them what to do. They can manage themselves, and be free, and figure out the direction they need to take on their own.
6. Being happy on their own. Too many of us parents coddle our kids, keeping them on a leash, making them rely on our presence for happiness. When the kid grows up, he doesn’t know how to be happy. He must immediately attach to a girlfriend or friends. Failing that, they find happiness in other external things — shopping, food, video games, the Internet. But if a child learns from an early age that he can be happy by himself, playing and reading and imagining, he has one of the most valuable skills there is. Allow your kids to be alone from an early age. Give them privacy, have times (such as the evening) when parents and kids have alone time.
7. Compassion. One of the most essential skills ever. We need this to work well with others, to care for people other than ourselves, to be happy by making others happy. Modeling compassion is the key. Be compassionate to your child at all times, and to others. Show them empathy by asking how they think others might feel, and thinking aloud about how you think others might feel. Demonstrate at every opportunity how to ease the suffering of others when you’re able, how to make others happier with small kindnesses, how that can make you happier in return.
8. Tolerance. Too often we grow up in an insulated area, where people are mostly alike (at least in appearance), and when we come into contact with people who are different, it can be uncomfortable, shocking, fear-inducing. Expose your kids to people of all kinds, from different races to different sexuality to different mental conditions. Show them that not only is it OK to be different, but that differences should be celebrated, and that variety is what makes life so beautiful.
9. Dealing with change. I believe this will be one of the most essential skills as our kids grow up, as the world is always changing and being able to accept the change, to deal with the change, to navigate the flow of change, will be a competitive advantage. This is a skill I’m still learning myself, but I find that it helps me tremendously, especially compared to those who resist and fear change, who set goals and plans and try to rigidly adhere to them as I adapt to the changing landscape. Rigidity is less helpful in a changing environment than flexibility, fluidity, flow. Again, modeling this skill for your child at every opportunity is important, and showing them that changes are OK, that you can adapt, that you can embrace new opportunities that weren’t there before, should be a priority. Life is an adventure, and things will go wrong, turn out differently than you expected, and break whatever plans you made — and that’s part of the excitement of it all.
We can’t give our children a set of data to learn, a career to prepare for, when we don’t know what the future will bring. But we can prepare them to adapt to anything, to learn anything, to solve anything, and in about 20 years, to thank us for it.

POSTED: 02.14.2012

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Help...Reflections on a novel

Upon reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, I thought I would share a few reflections as the book had a profound effect on me emotionally. The first being that my favorite character in the book was by far Aibileen because she was in opinion the silent hero of the novel. At times she would be treated with such disrespect by Mrs. Leefolt and Hilly, yet she always remained quiet and did her job with little complaint. At first this passive quality bothered me about her and I wasn't able to fully appreciate it until the end of the novel, where I expected her to finally stand up to Hilly, but instead she remained graceful and dignified, which was most heart-breaking. Although the main characters all make out in the end with hopes of a fresh start as well as Aibileen, I couldn't help but feel a deep sadness for her at the loss of her beloved "children." Her walking down that road brought tears to my eyes because in a way I did feel as though she had been defeated, even though she had gained so much.

This book also made me reflect deeply about myself as a mother. I wonder now what my mom, husband, friends and family think of me as a mother. Am I uptight, critical, loving, stern, protective, careless....? would I even want to know? The mother's in this story play crucial roles, yet we only get to view them from the perspectives of the maids and Skeeter (the child), and the reader is made privy to the many flaws that these mothers all have. What will my own children say about me in the future? What does my 4yr old think of me now? Hilly, on the other hand is made out to be a wonderful mother, but a horribly vindictive person. The question raised in the novel is, can one be a good mother, but at the same time be a deeply flawed person? I thought about this for a while, and to me it seems that just loving and showing your children love may not be enough to qualify as a good mother. As a Muslim I believe that a good mother is one who raises her children with morals, values, and ethics, and teaches her own children to be fair, just, and trustworthy and to treat others with respect and to not be spiteful, vindictive and hateful. And although Hilly's children are were to small to realize it then, they will when they grow up, and her kids will be a reflection of who she is. On the other hand, I at times sympathized with Elizabeth, and felt that Aibileen's criticism of the way she mothered Mae Mobley to be one-sided. I even compared myself to her, thinking "Oh GOD AM I AN ELIZABETH?" I started conjuring up all the times I yell, or scream or get frustrated with my kids...does that make me unloving? Of course not...but as i read I felt the need to keep reassuring myself that I am NOT that mother. Not all mothers are perfect or know how to show their own children love depending on how they themselves were raised, and I got a very clear idea of how Mrs. Leefolt was raised from her own mother's visits. She was the feared, cold, stern, grandmother. If Elizabeth was raised by such a woman, then how could she be expected to be any different with her own child. And while it is sad, and I felt for Mae Mobley so much and cried for her, because no child should be made to feel the way she was made to feel,  I also feel sympathy for Elizabeth becasue I feel she honestly doesn't have a clue.

Skeeter's mother is another character who I sympathize with greatly. While she is often critical and down right hurtful to her own daughter, you still feel that she does love her and truly just wants whats best for her and the only way she knows how to show this love is to try to constantly "fix" and "change" to be and look the other girls. These women are all just a product of their own upbringing and their environment. And while they should be able to think for themselves and know right from wrong, their reputations and social status is always on the line. In regards to the Maids, their treatment of them is horrendous and unfathomable, but you have to ask yourself, if you were living in that time, would you have put everything on the line to try and change things? I would like to think I would. But I don't know if I would have had Skeeter's courage, maybe I would have. 

Our own characters are definitely shaped by the times in which we live. How many of us today are actually doing anything to make right the many wrongs that are happening on a daily basis? I would like to say we all try in our own ways, but do we really try? Most of us, including myself, are so caught up in our own lives to even think about worrying about changing what's happening in the rest of the world. As scary and risky as it was for Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter, they did what they knew in their hearts to be right, which brought many consequences not only for them but for others in the community. Minny was a very noble character, I loved the fact that she mouthed off to everyone including her white almighty employers. She stood up for herself to everyone except her husband unfortunately which I found to be very ironic.

The racism depicted in this novel is a part of our past and unfortunately our present, and I don't believe it is inherent, but taught. Aibileen was doing a good job trying to raise Mae Mobley to see past colored skin, but we can only hope that she will grow up to be a product of her teachings and not of her mother's or Hilly's. Racism is still an ugly and shameful part of our daily lives. Has much really changed since the 1960's? Just look at all the comments that were made after The Hunger Games came out about Rue's character! And that is just a minor example of other things that go on out there in the world. May God give me the wisdom, strength, and patience to try and change the things I know and feel to be wrong in this life.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Moving Abroad

It has been a hectic couple of months since  about a month ago my husband was offered a position to work abroad in Europe beginning July. While we were thrilled, (we had been working on this move for a few years), it kind of threw me for a loop with regards to homeschooling. Ever since I decided to homeschool in early October I have been preparing myself for doing just that....In New Jersey of course....and now everything seems to be so much more complicated. I feel as though I have to start from scratch.

Luxembourg is a landlocked country nestled between the beautiful countries of Belgium, Germany and France. It is just a two hour drive to any of those countries. However, the languages spoken are 3: Luxembourgish, French, and German. While ex-pats make up a good percentage of the population in Luxembourg, it is safe to say that English speakers will be a bit rough to come by. I know that Ameera should have no problem picking up the language(s) quickly being that she is only 4, but I wonder how to transition her properly into our new life there. I have been going over so many different scenarios in my mind, as well seeking advice from family, friends, and those who have been through this experienace before. Many have asked if I will still homeschool and at first my response was surely not. But now that I have become more comfortable with the idea of moving and our plans are falling into place I am exploring all my options.

 The schooling system in Luxembourg differes from the U.S. greatly. Firstly, local children do not begin any formal schooling until the age of 6yrs. And these schools primary focus is on languages with less time dedicated to other academic subjects. However, if you are not a citizen then local schools can be somewhat challenging to get into. On the other hand, there are two international schools that are English speaking and use the British Curriculum, these schools take children from 3yrs old and only offer language as an elective. Then there are the European International schools that accomodate French speaking children, and finally there is one Montessori school (english speaking) and one Waldorf school (German speaking). All these schools I found doing research on the internet, but I will know much more once my husband and I fly down for our 1 week orientation. My major concerns are meeting other moms and children and being able to communicate with them, which is why I thought it might be best to place her in a school for the first year as way to meet people and integrate ourselves quickly. One thing I love about the school systems is that every month or so all the schools have 1 week off, not including major holidays and 4 day weekends. This leaves plenty of opportunity for travel which was another concern of mine. I didnt want to have to worry about pulling her out of school everytime I wanted to travel. And if I placed her in a French speaking school the first year then she would surely have a handle on the language and be able to communicate well with the locals and children if  I decide to keep her home the following year.

My only hesitation is that I really want her to be home with me to be able to experience this whole journey together and be out and about exploring and discovering new people, places and things. And I can always give her language training through classes and other resources I find. It will just be more work for me to find them. The country is very small so there is not a huge variety of resouces but I am sure whatever I do find, I can make work God-willing. Such a beautiful country, so much to see and do and learn. I just pray that whatever I choose I am making the best decision.