Monday, January 11, 2010

Our Children are Borrowed and Need to be Returned

Not many people know I came to homeschooling through my work as a freelance writer. I spoke to several sisters on a topic I had never even fathomed.

But Allah knew I was struggling with pre-school and through His guidance I embraced homeschooling, with some nerves but a lot of interest. This did not happen until I spoke to sisters like Umm Raiyaan, after reading her amazing blog, and getting know her lovely children.

What a blessing.

Not only did I continue to homeschool (and plan to homeschool well into the future), I also made great friends and found parenting networks I would have not heard of if I had not discovered the true simplicity of educating your own children.
This is the first time I "spoke" with Umm Raiyaan. It was a year ago, and her interview was not published due to erratic working timelines. Browsing through my old emails, I found this treasure, and just had to share it here. I hope it inspires you as much as it inspired me.

[Kindly note that every homeschooler is different, and decisions to homeschool come from different paths. This is Umm Raiyaan's story].

Homeschooling by Maria:
Why homeschool? I know there are plenty of reasons for a parent to choose the homeschooling route and they are all commendable – but what are your reasons and how did you come to making this choice?

Umm Raiyaan: If a friend lent you a personal item and entrusted it with you, you would return it to them in the same if not better state that they lent it to you. This is what I am doing. I choose to homeschool because my children are an amanah (a trust) from Allah (Swt).

They do not belong to me. They will return to the One whom they belong to, and I wish to return them back to Him (Swt) in as pure a state as possible.

I passionately believe that the school system, whether state, private or Islamic does not provide the means to raise my children as pious and devout believers. I have great aspirations for my children, both Islamic and academic.

I do not want them to merely pass through this world as muslims, but to be the BEST Muslims. I want them to follow their interests and to contribute to the world based on those interests. I want them to be unique and not merely conforming to what the majority say, do and wear (even if the majority are muslims).
I have other reasons why I homeschool, but these are my main reasons. I always knew I wanted to homeschool and it was very easy for me to make the choice due to Allah (Swt) allowing me to befriend sisters who were also homeschoolers. The choice wasn't a difficult one because when anyone believes passionately about something, they just simply go for it!

Homeschooling by Maria:
How old are your children and what homeschooling methods have you adopted for educating them? Again, why would you choose these methods over others since there are so many?

Umm Raiyaan: My daughter is going to be 5 years old and my son is 1 year old [note: this interview was conducted in February 2009]. I have been homeschooling my daughter since she was 2.5 years old. Many people laugh when they learn this. But after taking a look at my blog or visiting our home and seeing what we have done, they realise that you can indeed start homeschooling at such a young age.

As for methods, there are so many! I remember the day I began to look at the type of approach I would take to homeschooling and I became so overwhelmed! There are so many books, so many approaches, and 1000s of websites! I didn't know where to begin. However, I took my time read many books, website pages, and spoke to many sisters.

I knew instantly that unschooling was definitely a 'no no' for me. I just couldn't risk allowing my special sprouts to do as they wished, hoping to learn something in the process!
I then came across a book called The Well Trained Mind and knew instantly that this would be the approach I would take with my children. It is a classical method of education, whose foundation is the trivium.

The trivium organises learning around the maturing capacitiy of the child's mind. The theory of the trivium is that there is a three-part process of training the mind.

The first stage is the 'grammar stage' where memorization of facts is the focus. This stage is language-focussed. This normally occurs between the ages of 5 to 9 years old. For example, rules of phonics, vocabulary of a language, human body facts. The second stage is the 'logic stage' where the child from ages 10-13 pays attention to cause and effect, the relationships between fields of knowledge. For example, analysis of texts, why wars were fought in history. The third stage is the 'rhetoric stage', ages 14-18. This stage builds on the previous two stages. Here, the child learns to write with originality. The child uses the rules of the grammar stage and the reasonings learnt in the logic stage to express conclusions in clear and elegant language. As a result of all of this, the child then follows the branch of knowledge that interests them.

I chose the classical method as I believe it fits in with the fitrah of the human being. I also believe it ties in with Islamic teachings, in that a memorization of Qu'ran is learnt before studying tafseer. Now, I must state that this method can sound quite rigid and dull. It isn't at all and actually there are many blogs of homeschoolers who have lots of fun following this method.

Homeschooling by Maria: How do you feel homeschooling has affected you as a mother and a person? How do you feel as a student under your own education system?

Umm Raiyaan: By the grace of Allah (Swt) it has brought me closer to my children, it has made me value them. It has given me many opportunities to hope for reward from my Lord as every second of my homeschooling is insha'Allah an act of ibadah. As a person, I have learnt how important the foundation of a Muslim is.

My daughter's face changes whenever Shaytaan is mentioned. She really does hate him. As a revert, I do not have that same amount of hatred and I can see how important it is for the foundation to be correct from such a young age, in order for that child to grow into a true believer.

Homeschooling by Maria: You live in the UK, and most people would be envious that you are privy to one of the best educational systems in the world. At least, that is the perception – how would you explain that to those who are skeptical about your choice of educating your children on your own?

Umm Raiyaan: Well, let me tell you that I was educated all the way through the UK system and it wasn't the education system that led me to Islam. Only later in adult life as a result of soul searching have I finally found what 'truly' interests me.

The education system in the UK places the child in a box. 30 chidren must be taught the same lessons with perhaps slight differentiation. If a child who is in year 3 actually performs at a year 6 level, there is no way that a teacher can tailor the education to that level.

So, what happens?

The child is not challenged, is utterly bored and as a result develops behavioral problems. It is the same with a child who is at a lower level. If the child is falling behind, that child does not receive the attention that she needs and again, problems in behaviour occur.
Our children have the right to follow their interests and learn in the individual ways they grow academically and Islamically. School just doesn't allow that to happen.

Homeschooling by Maria: How would you compare a child’s development being homeschooled as opposed to those who attend public institutions?

Umm Raiyaan: I think I pretty much answered this question in the previous one. However, I will say this: Is development merely an issue of exams and tests that are passed or how that child develops into a well-rounded young adult who loves Allah, is fearful of Him and is happy in life? The answer to your question lies in this answer.

Homeschooling by Maria: What are your aspirations for your children? What are the du’as you usually make for them?

Umm Raiyaan: My main aspiration is Jannah al-Firdous. In the dunya, I want them to be happy. This may sound simple, but we are living in an age where most people are desperately unhappy.

It is my firm belief that happiness lies in our relationship with Allah (Swt) as well as fulfilling our potential and engaging in our own personal joys and interests. Homeschooling lays out the path for children to insha'Allah achieve these things.

I do make dua for my children, and home education would not work without Allah (Swt) help and guidance. I make dua for my children to die as good muslims. I make dua for Allah to increase them in understanding - academically and Islamically.

I make dua for them to become learned in the deen and to become hafidh. And I make dua for them to achieve happiness and contentment dunya wa akhirah.

Homeschooling by Maria: Do you have advice for other mothers interested in homeschooling? From a Muslimah’s perspective?

Umm Raiyaan: Pause and reflect.

Why are we breathing and living?

Why are we mothers?

What do we really really want for our children?

Although home education is on the rise alhamdulillah, a lot of homeschoolers are still attacked for the same reasons again and again: You're not qualified to teach. What about socialisation? They need to learn how to deal with people, etc.

My advice is this: Don't listen to people. Go for it. Speak to those who homeschool. Read read and read. And of course pray salatul istikhara and make dua to your Lord to make it very easy for you.

Believe passionately in the aspirations you have for your children and Allah will facilitate the rest.

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