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Sunday, 2 February 2014

Handmade, Homemade...and Homeschooling! by Hijab Sparkle.

These articles are part of a collection
 about Muslim Home-schooling!  
For more, please go to my 

Assalamu Alaikum.
My mini 'studio' where
I can have quiet time to myself every now
and again.   Now I have moved into
a whole room and alhamdulilah I have
more space to let my imagination
go wild!

As many of my readers may already know, I am a home-schooling Muslimah.  I have chosen to stay at home
and teach my children at home, and they have never been to mainstream 'school'.  Alhamdulilah his was a happily mutual decision my husband and I made just before I became pregnant with my first child.  We have had our homeschooling 'moments' both good and bad, and it has not always easy doing something that many people will never understand and will not be happy until you are following the crowd.  However, our positive experiences have always outweighed the negative, alhamdulilah.  Difficult times are always learning experiences and we just work out how to do things better the next time, and adjust our techniques as we go.

You may be wondering what this has to do with a person who makes Muslim dolls and hijab pins.  Well, the items I design and make by hand to share with  you here are a way to keep the creative side of my mind alive, and the little workshop that I retreat to when I have time to myself is the place where I can go to and relax (when time permits) while designing new projects, away from the hustle and bustle of our busy household.  Homeschooling is very rewarding in many ways, but like anyone, we all need quiet time to ourselves to think and get our ideas and goals back on track. Making things helps me to do that.

Can't find something
appropriate for your
children? Why not
make it yourself!
I also like the idea of 'doing it yourself', and I think many home- schoolers share the same way of thinking in their own special ways.  In teaching our own children we are 'doing it ourselves'...not relying on the 'experts' so to speak.  The Muslim dolls that I make were a result of this DIY way of thinking.  I couldn't find the sort of dolls I wanted as appropriate toys for my Muslim children to play with, so I made one myself, for my daughter.  I thought other Muslim kids might enjoy playing with them too, and it would be a good way to encourage parents to teach their children Islamic manners and stories. I made some more and added them to my blog, and people liked them, and alhamdulilah, the Hijab Sparkle Muslim Doll range expanded!

Also, when I converted to Islam over 9 years ago, I couldn't find any nice
hijab pins (you need a lot of hijab pins here in Windy Wellington!) so I found out where to buy the supplies from and I made them myself.  Other sisters were interested, and I began making hijab pins for them as well, then people started asking me if I could make other jewellery, and it all took off from there.

Now to the point of this post.  Today an interesting thing happened.  A comment someone made this afternoon about our decision to home-school really made me think, and to begin putting my thoughts down here about home-schooling.  So far my husband, children and I have heard a novel's worth of reactions to our insignificant little alternative family.  We often discuss these comments with each other and try to work out why people react to us in certain ways. We try to be understanding and patient, even though at times we feel scrutinised and wonder why we need to justify or explain what we do and why.  It is important for us to discuss these things as a family, but now I think I would enjoy discussing it with a wider audience.

Here is how the conversation started...

The owners of the house we live in came to do some redecorating outside.  They are a team of husband and wife and have a small child.  The wife works in health as a nurse, working with children. She is a friendly lady and we often have small chats about this and that, usually about the kids.  Today she asked me if my children went to school, or if they were home-schooled.  Yes, I answered.  She asked how it was all going. I answered that we had our ups and downs, but overall I am very pleased with the progress my children are making so far. She then replied, sort of out of nowhere: 'I had a positive experience at school, myself'.  I thought this was an interesting thing to say.  Would I be correct in understanding that she thought that the reason people home-school is because they have had a bad experience at school themselves, and therefore they want to protect their own children from a bad experience too?

I can understand where she is coming from, and why she might assume this.  I might have said the same thing all those years ago, before I learnt about what home-schooling (or unschooling) really is.  However, I thought for a second and then answered her: 'Yes, I had an overall positive experience at school as well, in fact I became a teacher and taught for 10 years before I had children.'

Pencils Texture

Yes, I had some bad experiences as a student at school myself, as did my husband.  The usual things that all kids encounter.  Overall, though, I had some very good memories of school, especially of the teachers that really cared and did their best, putting in extra time for students, and motivating us to love learning.  My favourite subjects were Art and English, and these subjects are still a big part of my life.  I appreciate the effort those dedicated teachers made in such a difficult and stressful environment, and I wanted to be like them, therefore I became a teacher myself.  My reasons to home-school were never based solely on any bad experiences I had at school.  I will write about why I home-school in another article, however, as I want to do the subject proper justice.

Something that I also thought was interesting about her comment was an inference which I may or may not be correct about, but possibly could be going through people's minds when they think about why people home-school their children.  Perhaps there is an idea out there that people who home-school were bullied at school or didn't' achieve very well in the school system, that they were somehow inadequate, loners, too sensitive, and so on.  Maybe there is an idea that these 'sort' of home-schoolers are in constant fear for their children and want to protect them from the smallest of difficulties, that they want to shelter and molly-coddle their children.  I have often heard comments from well-meaning people to this effect, such as 'I wouldn't home-school my kids because I want them to be able to survive in the REAL world'.  To me this is an interesting thing to say.  Isn't the family a very important part of the REAL world?  Wouldn't it be more REAL for a child to grow up and learn in a natural setting such as their own family, learning alongside their parents and siblings, and being introduced to people and situations outside the house as part of learning of the world in its context?  If you think about it, the mainstream school setting is a very unnatural, artificial and UNREAL environment.  It is a human-made, constructed environment which we have been led to believe as the way it has always been, but in reality the mainstream style of education which we know today is a relatively new invention, thought up by people who thought they knew what was best for the 'general public'...that's us.

Scubadiving-safari In The Red Sea (Egypt)
Take your chances.
I discussed this conversation afterwards with my husband, and he pointed out something that I hadn't considered.  He said that even though it may be the case that some parents had a bad time at school themselves and wanted to protect their own children from these negative experiences...then...what was wrong with this anyway?  If someone were to have an experience detrimental to their happiness and development as a human being, what sort of person would they be to send their own children into this same environment?... 'Grin and bear it, son...I had to put up with that sort of thing when I was a kid, and it didn't do me any harm. It'll make a man out of you.  How are you going to survive in the REAL world?'
Wouldn't this be like throwing your kids into a pool full of sharks and thinking 'Oh well, let's just hope for the best, shall we?'.
Why are there eyebrows raised when a parent decides that they are not going to take any chances with their children's education, and take on the whole responsibility? Why do some people see this as over-protection, to keep children safe at home with their family, insha Allah, especially when they are very small and vulnerable, at a time when their personality is being formed? I'm not saying that people who send their children to school don't care about their kids, but I'm turning the light around and shining it on another point of view.

The owner's comment today has pushed me to begin something I have been meaning to do for a while.  I'm thinking of making a special page on this blog about home-schooling Muslim children. I'm no expert by any means but my children are 3, 6 and 7 now and I have a little experience now, and feel like sharing what I have learnt so far.  It is interesting that in the whole of Wellington, at the time of writing this article, we are the only Muslim family who we know of who teach their children at home.  Perhaps there are more home-schooling families here that I don't know about...great! It would be nice to connect and share our ideas and experiences. This would be another good reason to develop this section of my blog.

I have been thinking about this ever since I started home-schooling 7 years ago (and researching over 8 years ago).  I didn't feel confident enough to begin writing about my experiences then, but now I have found there are many Muslims I speak to, who would like to home school but have too many questions.  When I talk to them about it their eyes light up with possibilities and for that moment they are keen, they think it is a great idea...but after a few weeks or months have passed, the idea of home-schooling has lost its novelty, school seems so much more convenient and organised, they worry about how they will never have any time to themselves, and no one else supports them in the idea.

Mom And Kid

Many people say to me 'Oh it's easy for you, you are a teacher'.  Well, isn't the best teacher a child's parents? Why did Allah SWT bring us into the world as part of a family with a mother and a father to teach us, and siblings to play with and learn from? Why didn't we arrive straight into a classroom full of kids all our own age and one teacher who has to learn our names?   Being a teacher (or an education 'expert') can be a hindrance in many ways, because you tend to feel more comfortable turning your home into a mini school, instead of a cosy, natural learning environment. Yes, experts know many things in their chosen field, but you are the best expert on the subject of your own children.  You know them better than anyone else, including their interests and how they prefer to learn.  An expert doesn't know how much sleep they have had the night before, what makes them laugh, what they are scared of and why, what their name means and why it was chosen for them, the other members of their family, their family's religion, and how they came into this world.  Don't let anyone tell you any different.

I can totally understand how people feel, though.  Home-schooling is a big step, and challenges a big part of the way most of us grew up.   I think sharing what I have learnt so far might help people to make a decision, and even if I give someone just the inkling of the idea that they have an alternative to the mainstream and they don't HAVE to do the same as what everyone else is doing, then writing about what I know will be a good thing.

Talk Bubbles

I know that this will open my comments section to criticism from people who are really against homeschooling.  Perhaps in the back of my mind, this is one of the reasons I have not written about home-schooling.  Believe me I have heard the whole range of reactions from people, as many home-schoolers reading this also have.  Dealing with negative comments on my blog as well, will add that little bit more stress that I really don't need.  However, I think it is worth it. Our family has well and truly begun our journey on a different path, and I feel ready to share what I have learnt, connect with other homeschoolers, encourage other families who are considering homeschooling, and help people understand why we are doing this.  There are some great homeschooling moments that keep me going and motivate me to continue.  My husband and I share these things together at the end of the day over a cup of tea, and it would be selfish not to share the good stuff with you too.  The tea part is up to you of course :)

Danger Of Death!

I'm going to bite the bullet, take the plunge, and put it all on the line...and if  I can think of any more corny sayings I will throw them in as well:)

Are you a Muslim homeschooler yourself? Do you know any homeschoolers?  Perhaps you have considered homeschooling your children but you are not sure about whether it will suit your family...let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you.


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