Why I Homeschool

April 11, 2010

Asalaam ‘Alaikum,

I was recently asked to answer some questions about why we homeschool for someone working on an assignment for Journalism. Essentially, they wanted to understand the rights of a homeschooled child with a focus on the right to be heard and the right to individuality. Sometimes a question just spurs you on to action – so I wrote the following response. I felt that perhaps the information I provided would be helpful to other homeschooling parents – or those who are trying to chose the right path for themselves. So, I decided to post my response here as well. Insha’Allah, you will find it beneficial.

Qs) Was the need for individual attention for your child one of the reasons you decided to home school him/her?

Yes, but not because of any learning abilities/disabilities. I will have to explain. When I went to school when I was young I had many “just ok” teachers – very few good ones and several that were memorable for not being nice. Because I loved to write – and later won awards in high school, I was actually accused of plagiarism more than once by a teacher making a spectacle of me in front of the whole class. She (and other teachers) refused to believe that I could write. Alhumdulilah, that did not stop me (I secretly promised myself to send her my first published book – still not one yet, someday insha’Allah.) Anyway – there are a few important principles that I use in my homeschooling. These ideas influenced me to homeshool my children first and I also try to live up to them to provide my children with what I believe is a good education.

(A) I want my children to love to learn. When I went to school I did pretty well grade wise, alhumdulilah. When I moved to high school we had to take tests for math and reading placement. It’s an odd story – but I lived in Canada for most of my time before coming to the US. There were differences in what we were being taught. I struggled to learn conversions and don’t even ask what happened in spelling class. My teacher was certain that I was misspelling words on purpose (cheque, centre, etc.) So, unfortunately while being in regular math up until that point – I was forced to go to remedial math. For those who do not know what remedial math is – from a kid’s point of view – it is where they send those people who really have (1) a learning disability (2) no motivation whatsoever to learn (3) don’t care about school and are just waiting until they reach the age when they can drop out. The classes were mostly filled with students that filled categories 2 and 3 and one or two who where in group 1. Oh, I cannot even begin to tell you how I hated those classes. First of all many of the students in group 2 and 3 were bullies. No kidding. But that aside, I worked hard to get out of that class the minute I stepped in that room. We had so much work we had to accomplish in order to get promoted out of the class. I did all the work in a few weeks and was happily promoted to regular classes again. Now – this really provided me an excellent opportunity to see the public school system. The students who supposedly struggled with their work were given worksheet after boring worksheet (which we did all class long – every day – with no interaction with our teacher aside from when we had questions). For some of them – this class was their only experience with math their entire high school years. I doubt many people walked away loving math from that experience. When I went to my regular classes – it was a bit hard. You essentially went rather quickly over topics – barely touching on them and if you were behind – you were left behind. Still, not much excitement in those classes – just doing drudge work (IMHO). They never worked hard to have students learn how math would help them later in life. They never played games or did much interactive stuff with the students to make learning the topic fun. My only visions of the class are a teacher up at the class explaining and splaying chalk explanations all over a chalk board – students sometimes coming up to the board to show (in front of everyone) what they know or don’t know – and homework. Flash forward a bit and after a year in high school people realized that I could write. I ended up winning awards for my writing. Not because I was super smart – but I guess because they considered me gifted – I was allowed to be part of the Gifted and Talented group. I didn’t take advanced placement classes at that point – but only participated in things they did. I started to go on field trips to collaborate with other creative people – writers – dancers – musicians – etc. We had long workshops of fun activities that taught us how to think “out of the box.” After we participated in these type of sessions – we also went to the local elementary school and provided the same opportunity for those kids – with us as the teachers. When I went to college, I had to take placement tests for math and reading. Alhumdulilah, my math scores were good this time (no remedial work) and my English scores placed me in the Gifted and Talented courses (known as Honors courses). Masha’Allah – here you had discussion and active lessons where the students sometimes led the sessions. We were able to debate and do so many things hands on. It always seemed strange to me. In my experiences – the schools took the people who struggled – and made them do ceaseless paperwork. They never had the opportunity for fun learning – for games. They weren’t aware that learning could be fun – it was further from their thoughts. In the classes where students did okay – but were not “genius level” – they had okay classes. You learned but there weren’t many sparks – hands-on – enjoyable learning moments. Alhumdulilah, also in my life were many people who loved learning. My grandmother was a home-economics teacher. When we would visit her each year, she would provide paper – pencils – glue and every other thing you could imagine and let us be creative. She supported my writing – because I loved it. She supported my brothers’ art because they excelled there as well. She just let us create – and to love to question and learn and explore. Also, another person that was close to our family knew at least 6 languages (self-taught). He didn’t just know the languages a bit – but he was fluent. When I was learning French in school – he would correspond with me in lengthy letters – purely in French to give me more practice. When I expressed an interest about the planets – we were taken to the local science museum and he explained everything he knew about the planets. It is so strange that I never had experiences like this in school. These people were able to give me the love of learning that I have today. Alhumdulilah. All it took was someone who was interested in something – someone who made it come to life before my eyes – to let me see its beauty. Then, they allowed me to explore it – taste it – touch it – and to enjoy the process of learning. Getting back to the school environment – the only time I saw an environment that was conducive to learning – and loving learning – it was with the Gifted and Talented classes. The strange thing is – that smart children aren’t the only ones who can thrive in that type of learning environment. In my opinion – it should not be allowed where the only children who are taught to love learning are those who already succeed. All children should have the same opportunity to see how enjoyable learning can be – and all children should be given the same chance to excel and to succeed. So, with that lengthy explanation – that is why (A) – wanting my children to love to learn – is very important to me. Unfortunately – I don’t think that school is a place where I can ensure my children will gain that ability.

(B) I want my children to know the truth – and to know all sides of a story. It really bothered me when growing up – all the controversy (for example) about Christopher Columbus “discovering” America. I did not understand how we were still “taught” something that wasn’t true. It always bothered me when we only heard one side of the story – any story – especially in my classes in History but sometimes in Science as well. As the teacher of my children, I now try to teach them the truth of history – because history can be a great lesson to us in moving forward. Our school now still only teaches the same stuff that we learned while in school – a basic, glossed-over picture of American history. However – there is so much that is not said. So, while we are learning history – I provide other materials – and teach my children to see these historical moments from other perspectives. Still, to this day – the colonization of America is not really focusing on the plight of those who already lived here. It is sad. Still, to this day – slavery is still glossed over as something that was done – something that is no longer done. There is not much focus on the people who were affected but these atrocities. It is sad – we really could learn a lot from the lessons of those before us. My kids recently learned one tiny lesson in class about Harriet Tubman. It was a poem that said “She wasn’t willing to be a slave.” Strangely enough – there was just that poem to read – no lesson on what slavery is – how slavery affected people – no lesson on how Harriet Tubman and others like her struggled for a basic right like freedom. Needless to say – we used that opportunity to watch some videos about slavery – we also got some books to learn more. Then, we had a lot of discussions about the topic. It may not be an easy topic to tackle – but I felt it necessary to teach my children about the human suffering that people cause others. I wanted my children to be more mindful how they react and interact with others. I didn’t want the lessons that could be learned from this tragedy to be politely swept away under the carpet. I personally feel that schools are so busy to teach the lesson – they are so busy to teach for a test – that they miss on the important lessons that history actually teaches us. From school, the only thing I can remember from History class is having to memorize dates and names of important people. Unfortunately – to this day I don’t remember many (except In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue) – and I have not had even ONE MOMENT in my life where knowing this information was helpful. However, what if the school system actually taught empathy – what if they actually taught the lessons that history is supposed to provide us (a lesson on what we should and should not do)? Perhaps people would be more tolerant of one another. Allah knows best – but this is how I want to approach teaching my children about History. I think it not only helps them understand the important lessons we should learn from what has happened – but it also helps them be better members of society.

(C) I want my children to receive the help they need – when they need it. From my own personal experience – teachers are busy people. They have so many students to attend to and so little time. If a student struggles with something – they just get pushed aside so the teacher can teach to the majority of those who are successful. You either get shuffled to a class where you are constantly working on worksheets or you are stuck in that class watching everyone else understand something that you struggle with. It doesn’t give you much confidence – that’s for sure – and it also delays your own growth and accomplishment. In homeschooling, I am able to meet head-on any concepts my children struggle with. IF they have a problem – I try to creatively find ways to teach the materials. I personally feel that if a child is unable to understand a topic – it is not a failing of the student – but the teacher. If you are a good cook – when you bake, your children will happily surround you and ask for a bite. If you don’t cook well (my mom didn’t) people would try to avoid your food. It’s the same with teaching. If you teach the topic properly and in an engaging manner – your students will happily soak up that knowledge and perhaps take it even farther because of their enthusiasm and your encouragement. If you do not teach well – some children will do well because they are smart – but others will struggle because you have not met them half way. In becoming a successful teacher (homeschool mom) – you sometimes have to find ways to creatively teach the materials. If the child is struggling – sometimes you even have to encourage them that not knowing is okay – that they will get it at some point (sometimes you may even be frustrated and questioning whether this is true or not). However, it works – they will finally “get it” and you will have saved your child from feeling stupid – from feeling like they aren’t good enough because they didn’t understand what everyone else knew. One thing I have definitely noticed in my children and this is (D) – is that homeschooling them has provided them the confidence and belief in themselves which I know for a fact many children that go to school lack. Whether it be peer pressure or mean teachers or just finding something that they struggle with – many children that go to school learn early on how to not have confidence in themselves. They always feel compared to someone else – they are not an individual – with individual strengths and individual needs and individual accomplishments. It’s like they are grouped with a bunch of people that they may or may not have anything in common with and instead of having their accomplishments and gifts rewarded – they learn at an early age to “go with the flow” or to do what everyone else is doing. I’ve seen students that are smart pretend that they hate school or that they don’t care about school because that is what everyone else is doing. Everyone wants to dress the same – listen to the same music – watch the same tv shows – and the list goes on and on. School is like the first experience a child has with the concept of “keeping up with the Jones’.” If someone is different – whether it is the style of their hair – or the way they dress – they are demoted out of the “popular group.” However, in our homeschool environment, each thing that makes a person unique and different is rewarded and allowed to express itself freely and without fear of reprimand. One child hated reading – but has finally learned she likes to read – but she prefers to read non-fiction and boy-type adventure books. All the other girls her age are reading girly books (her sister included) but she doesn’t have to change – to adapt or to give up what she loves because she has learned – AT AN EARLY AGE – how to love who she is. She has learned that it’s okay to like the type of books she likes. She has learned that she doesn’t have to do what everyone else is doing to fit in – it’s just not worth it. So, I can definitely say that homeschooling has given her the confidence in this and MANY, MANY other areas of her life – a confidence that I was so lacking in my early years – directly because of my school environment.

Qs) If so, do you feel that this personalized attention has set your child apart, for the better, than other children who have not been home schooled? (refer to any other children amongst family/friends) For example, do you see a difference in curiosity, imagination, and more of a willingness to ask questions?

This personalized attention has allowed my children to desire to learn and to find adventures in learning in everything they come into contact with. They start each day with such curiosity about the world and the people around them – and they go to sleep dreaming about the adventures they will have the next day. When not doing school work – they love to take out the microscope or even a simple magnifying glass and search about the house or outside for something to discover. The learning does not just end when the school day ends – they are always searching for more. When I announce that we are going to play a learning game – they don’t groan and wish they were outside. They burst with excitement and ask to play again and again. It is truly a wonder to see, masha’Allah. Even my youngest (who is only 3) is touched by this curiosity. All of my children make up their own learning games that they play together. Sometimes they will read a story about pirates and the next day they are busy making the tools of their trade (a cardboard sword, etc.) or a scarf to tie over one eye. Then they spend most of the day or several days – playing out the adventures they are having in this fantasy land. When we are at the store and they are bored – they don’t whine like many children to go home – but instead they make up a game on the spot (let’s jump on the colored squares on the store floor only or let’s pretend we are adventurers and this is the Antarctic) and absorb themselves in it. Don’t even get me started on asking questions – subhan’Allah. If they go to the dentist – you would think they were wanting to be a dentist when they grow up. “What does this do?” “Why do you use this tool?” “How does this work?” “What happens when you do this?” Then, we go to the eye doctor’s office – and many more questions are asked – again – you would think they only wanted to be an eye doctor when they grow up. Another thing I should touch on is the fact that everywhere we go they are very social. They do not know the adage “children should be seen and not heard.” They truly act as if they feel they are an equal with their adult peers. Now, let me explain that a bit – before you say they don’t respect their peers. They respect adults and children both alike – as people who deserve respect. However, they are not afraid to speak with adults and often initiate those conversations. They think of these adults – whether they are the lady who works at the supermarket or the people at the local library – as their friends. They warmly receive them when they see them and they always make every trip to anywhere at least a ½ hour longer than it should be. They are also able to quickly make friends with other children whom they meet. They are not afraid – IN THE LEAST – to start a conversation (as I was so dreadfully afraid of when I was a child). Once, my daughter saw a girl during the recent testing she attended. She said the girl was shy and sitting by herself. I asked her what happened and she said “I just walked right up to her and said hello.” She was so thrilled because it made the girl quite happy. I have had so many adults become amazed at how verbal my girls can be – they say it feels like they are talking to another adult. They are often shocked at their ability to hold a conversation.

Qs) Have you ever faced a situation where frustration or anger has made you want to not have your child heard? If so, how did you deal with it?

While it may seem as though I am anti-school, I do realize that there are good teachers out there. I have had a few teachers in my lifetime that encouraged me and helped me see my own gifts. Without their influence, I may never have been encouraged to write or to enjoy writing. However, we are all humans – whether we be teachers or parents. That should be rather obvious. However – even as a parent – we can be bad teachers too. That is something we have to keep working towards – being better each day. It is not always easy. When there were ever times (and there may have been a few) when I have been frustrated and didn’t want my child to be heard – I have made mistakes like everyone else. As I said, it is not always easy. However, one thing I always try to do is to apologize and to explain my mistake to my child. I ask them for forgiveness and I discuss how we can keep a situation like that from happening again. I don’t think anyone really – whether they be parent or teacher – can always be perfect in their teaching or in their interaction with a child. Also, as a teacher or a parent – you may sometimes see something one way but the child sees it another. So, there will always be situations where communication and mutual respect are necessary. It may come off as though I am some perfect teacher/parent – but that is not always so (seriously). We all have hopes and dreams of what we can accomplish or what we want to accomplish– but we aren’t always able to meet those goals and sometimes we make mistakes. So, as I said – respecting other’s feelings and apologizing when mistakes are made is an important part of our environment. This is true whether it is I who made the mistake – or my children.


Qs) As a homeschooling parent, what is your view on dealing with a child who is behaving wrongly? How would you deal with your child who is unwilling to listen to your point of view regarding academia under homeschooling, or even otherwise?

I don’t know exactly what you mean by behaving wrongly. I’m going to assume it means your daily problems with one child or another who is misbehaving. Usually we utilize time-out for punishment if it is necessary. Now, when a child is struggling with a subject – they can often seem as though they are acting-out but it is often not the case – they are only frustrated and don’t know how to communicate the problem. In the beginning (with my first child) I might have punished her by having her take time-out. However, over time I realized that she was just frustrated because she didn’t understand what she was asked to learn. From that experience, I have learned to (1) try to figure out what the problem is – why are they acting this way? What is the problem? (2) then I try to see if there is anything I can do about the problem they are having. If the child just needs discipline – usually time-out will work for them. However, if they are genuinely needing help but just don’t know how to ask for it – I now usually tell them to set that lesson aside and we will focus on something else until I am able to think the problem through and come to a conclusion. Sometimes they may need to focus on the topic a little more closely or we may need to teach the topic differently. Lastly, I might want to add that while I say we have time-out – I don’t want it to seem that things like this happen EVERY DAY. Usually – if we have problems – we discuss them. If the child is not acting properly or not listening – I will usually try to discuss the problem with them to see what we can do to fix it. Sometimes I might also just need to remind them how we should act/behave and that is enough. It just depends on what the problem is – as to how we will to solve it.

Well, that was “all” I wrote. Yes, I can get quite verbal about something I really have a passion for. Anyway, I hope this information in some way helps you on your own journey, insha’Allah.

Asalaam ‘Alaikum,

Sumayyah Umm SAA

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