I have been asked many questions lately by many people from different backgrounds about home-schooling. It is quite time-consuming replying individually each time so I have decided to write this brief article as a response to some of the questions I am frequently asked.
Q1. I am new to home-schooling, where do I start?
First of all, you need to decided what your ultimate goal is; what you want to achieve through home-schooling. The perfect way to organise your thoughts is to plan out your aims and goals. Do this realistically and with flexibility to prevent disappointment if things don’t go quite according to plan … and believe me, things don’t often go according to plan! But for a helping hand in this area why not check out A Muslim HomeSchool’s FREE Homeschool Planner.
Think about what sort of curriculum, if any, you wish to use. Look into the laws and legal requirements on home-schooling for your county/state/region as this differs widely. For home education in the UK, the Home Education UK website has all the information you need to help you get started. It also includes templates for writing to schools and Local Education Authorities (LEA) if you are removing your child from school in order to home-school.
Decide which subjects you want your child to learn and find out which subjects you are obliged to teach (this differs according to each LEA) and then do some research into the teaching methods and study techniques. Some teaching methods include: Montessori, Child-led Learning, Unschooling, Flexi-schooling.
Q2. Do I have to follow a curriculum? Do you use a curriculum?
For myself personally, the answer to this is ‘No’. Living in England, I am not legally obliged to follow the National Curriculum. And I don’t use any alternative curriculum.
I follow, to a certain extent, the National Curriculum for England when it comes to English and Mathematics, but I don’t follow it strictly, I just use it as a guideline to ensure my children are completing the level of work as those in their same age group.
As for other subjects such as science, geography and history. I use a huge variety of books, including many Dorling Kindersley books which cover a vast range of subjects in a way that appeals to readers of all ages. We also use a lot of media such as PC games and interactive CD-Roms. I also use textbooks from Galore Park to complete, English, Maths, Science, Geography and History. And I also recommend searching the web for websites that allow you to download worksheets. One of the best sites I have ever used is Super Teacher Worksheets.
Home-schooling in the UK is a blessing because it allows us to freely interlink secular education with our religious beliefs. We can dedicate a lot of time to our relegious studies and teach secular studies in a way that doesn’t contradict our beliefs. For example, in mainstream schools, children are obliged to learn about the Evolution Theory, but home-schooling allows us to choose whether or not we cover this subject and if we choose to, we can teach it in light of our religious beliefs.
As a Muslim family, we set a dedicated amount of work a day for Islamic Studies. We don’t have a set curriculum for Islamic studies but we do use the Darussalam Islamic Studies Grade Books 1-12 as well as the SalafyInk workbooks and worksheets.
Fridays are dedicated to Islamic Studies and Family Time. We read a portion of Qur’an and its tafsir (commentary) every Friday as well as sections from books of hadith with explanations from the scholars, such as explanation of Riyad-us-Saliheen or Imam An-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith or Imam Bukhari’s Adab al-Mufrad and we discuss this together and derive benefits and understandings from it inshaa’Allah (God willing).
Q3. Do you follow a timetable? How do you plan your lessons?
I always find it hard to answer this question purely because every family is different. Many children benefit from structure and routine and would probably work well using a time table. But there are others who feel under pressure. And not only the children but the parents, especially if they have other responsibilities such as household chores, going shopping, going to work etc. This is where home-schooling is such a blessing … you can be as flexible as you like and fit studies in and around family life, after all, you are a HOME-school.
For our family, we have tried and tested just about every method and we are not a family that fits to one particular routine. Our daily routine is what I like to refer to as ‘an organised mess’. This is probably the norm for most large home-schooling families (or at least I’m hoping it’s the norm *smile*). The lack of a permanent timetable/routine in our family is probably due to the way our family grows. When a baby is born, routine usually changes dramatically for the first year, and changes again throughout the second year as you learn to fit in studies around dealing with the little ones.
While this can seem an overwhelming issue to begin with, gradually you learn to adjust and establish a routine that works for you and your children. It’s about taking the time to work as a family. If you are just starting out it is going to take at least a year to figure out how you’re home-schooling is going to progress. You will need to use that time to discover your child’s learning style, their interests and disinterests, their strengths and weaknesses and then use what you’ve discovered to assist and encourage your child to progress and grow as an individual. This is the best thing about home-schooling in my opinion; seeing your children grow as individuals, to become independent learners with a never-ending thirst for knowledge.
When it comes to planning lessons, my children are at the ages where we choose together the subjects we are going to learn. We have Monthly Themes where we take a large subject, i.e. the Rainforest, Ancient Egypt, Ramadhan and we break it down into daily segments with a set amount of work on that subject for each day which may include worksheets, notebooking, lapbooking, art & craft, posters/leaflets etc. We also have Weekly Themes which sometimes roll into fortnightly themes depending in the topics we choose. Our weekly themes include one food, one country and one animal to learn about throughout the week. Again, this includes worksheets, lapbooks, mini-notebooks, arts and crafts, poster and leaflets, oral and visual presentations.
I cannot stress enough how invaluable it is to have an Educational Library and also an Islamic Library. Currently our Educational Library consists of over 200 books on all range of subjects. Most of these books I have purchased from The Book People and The Works. Our Islamic Library consists of nearly 500 books with many of these books purchased from Sunnah Bookstore and Zam-Zam International.
My older children have a set amount of time (minimum 30 minutes) of free reading time every day in which they are allowed to choose any book on any subject of interest to them to read about and then report back later on (usually over dinner). My younger children (currently 5 & 6 years old) also have a small library of fact books to choose from which they read or are assisted in reading by myself, their father or their older siblings. They all complete a reading chart and sometimes a book report.
Q4. What is an example of a typical home-schooling day?
At the time of writing my children are aged 10, 9, 6, 5 and 1 years old. My 9 and 10 year old are independent learners and can easily get on with the tasks I set them while I work alongside my 5 and 6 year old.
We are not early birds in our house, which is another blessing of home-schooling. While the majority of children are walking to school in the cold, dark winter mornings to start by 8:30am we don’t usually start our studies until 10am when my husband is leaving for work.
We usually start off with English and Maths using Galore Park textbooks and supplementary worksheets from Super Teacher Worksheets. We also use the Dorling Kindersley CD Roms with Maths and English Activities to be completed on the computer. The children take it in turns each day to use the computer, with two using it one day and two using it the next.
Then we alternate daily with History, Geography and Science completing a section from the Galore Park Textbook, or using the Dorling Kindersley Media or books from our Educational Library.
This is followed by a chapter from the Darussalam Islamic Studies Textbooks and supplemented with worksheets and activities from SalafyInk, Talibiddeen Jr or Yemen Links. Depending on what the weekly theme entails, we may do some worksheets/lapbooking/notebooking on various subjects. This takes us up to Dhuhr (midday prayer time) followed by lunch. We usually take an hours break to pray, prepare and eat lunch and put our little one down for a nap.
The afternoon is spent working on the Weekly Themes and Monthly Theme. Again this includes, notebooking and/or lapbooking as well as poster and leaflet work. Depending on what we are learning at the time, we may spend an hour watching a documentary or video clips relevant to our unit study.
Art and Crafts are usually done on Sundays when my husband is home and able to help keep an eye on the little one.
Saturday mornings the older kids are free to work on subjects or projects of their own choice while the younger two play and then from 1pm til 4pm I hold the Saturday School for Muslim children aged 5-8 years to complete Islamic Lapbooks. My younger two children take part in the Saturday School studies and the older two are free to play.
As I mentioned before, Fridays are dedicated solely to Islamic studies, attending Jumu’ah prayer and family time. The kids start by reviewing their Arabic then if we have time before Jumu’ah we do some lessons on Qur’an/Hadith. In the warmer months we will usually go out after Jumu’ah for lunch or outdoor activities. Then we’ll continue later in the afternoon with textbook work and notebooking/lapbooking. My kids don’t currently attend Tajweed Qur’an classes. This is due to the fact that the classes are not well suited, being too expensive, or the teaching method being too aggressive. My husband and I believe that precedence needs to be given in understanding the Qur’an along with its tafsir, which is why we are choosing to teach memorisation and tafsir ourselves for the time being. We are really looking forward to the Qur’an Tracker from A Muslim Homeschool to help support and record our childrens’ progress.
Our average day lasts from 10am to 4:30pm, but of course that can all change around if we need to go out during the day. There are days when we don’t finish til 6pm, just because we are enjoying ourselves and want to finish what we started. If the day doesn’t go as planned, one or other child is in a difficult mood, doesn’t want to focus, I don’t get stressed any more. We just pick up from where we left off on the next day.
It is a habit of mine to prepare the next days work including printouts the evening before, and if I’m able to, I will print all I need at least a week in advance. During the evening I will cut out any necessary pieces for lapbooks as this saves time the next day.
I prepare a lot of notebooks. lapbooks and other materials for my children and I do most of my designing in the afternoons as the children work, in the mornings when my husband is teaching Arabic or in the very late hours of the night when everyone else is a sleep. Alhamdulillah, my Lord places a lot of barakah (blessings) in my time, and even more so since I gave up time wasting on social media such as Facebook. I no longer have a personal Facebook account and I now use Facebook purely for sharing Home-school resources.
Q5. How do you fit cooking, cleaning and shopping into your home-schooling day?
One word: ORGANISATION. You have to be organised and plan ahead. Having a supportive husband is also a HUGE help, mashaa’Allah. My husband is not afraid to push the vacuum around or to cook the dinner or do the washing up if I have my hands full.
My husband usually does the shopping on his way home from work or we do online grocery shopping so I don’t need to go out unnecessarily. I tend to plan in advance what I’m going to make for lunch and dinner. I recently started using the Weekly Menu Planner from A Muslim Homeschool which doubles as a great budget planner too, mashaaAllah.
We stop for an hour in the day to pray Dhuhr, cook and eat lunch and put my 1 year old daughter down for a nap. While the kids are working in the afternoons I prepare the dinner ready for when my husband gets home.
Other household chores simply fit in around the studies. I usually vacuum just after breakfast and wash the breakfast dishes before we start. Then in the afternoons I will do the other chores as the children work, or I’ll do them after they finish before my husband comes home. Sometimes we simply have an afternoon off and I get everything done in one go … flexibility is a blessing of home-schooling. and sometimes it’s a necessity.
Q6. How do you cope with children who are difficult, disinterested or simply don’t want to learn?
You need to have patience and perseverance, and as you move along on your home-schooling journey you will learn how to develop both.
If you have a child who lacks concentration or doesn’t show an interest in learning, review your teaching method, and the resources you are using. look at how much work you are giving your child. Perhaps they feel under pressure. Break it down into smaller sections that appear more achievable. Get your child to tell you what they want to learn about and how they want to learn. Engaging your child’s interests is a sure way of getting their attention.
Be sure to always praise your child for their efforts and never put them down. If they make a mistake, don’t make it a big deal, work alongside them to explain through and get them to tell you where they think they went wrong. Looking back at the mistakes themselves helps the child learn and remember for the future.
If you have a child who doesn’t want to work at all why not try a reward chart system or a Progress Tracker. This was something I did back in 2011 and it really had a positive effect on my kids.
Q7. How did you teach your children to read and write? Which programs do you use?
All of my children started off using the Progressive Phonics Program online with its free printable books and worksheets to work through.
Then they moved onto the Oxford Reading Tree Books with the Biff, Chip and Kipper stories. You can buy these sets at bargain prices from The Book People.
We also used the Songbirds series available from the Book People or on Amazon.
I highly recommend the Synthetic Phonics series of books by Ruth Miskin. You can also buy these from The Book People or on Amazon.
We work through all of these sets consistently and we support it with handwriting and reading and writing books from The Works, Tesco, the Poundland, the Range and B&M Home Store.
Q8. How do you produce your worksheets, lapbooks and notebook pages? What software or digital programs do you use?
Everything I produce is designed in a Microsoft Office Word Document and the completed file is then converted to PDF before being uploaded onto the blog.
To produce lapbook flaps I use ‘INSERT’ to add a shape. By placing the shapes in certain positions (side by side, one above the other, etc.) I can produce a huge range of templates that, when printed and cut out, can be folded into different shaped lapbook flaps and books.
I also use ‘INSERT’ shape to add ‘WordArt’ for titles or to insert lined text boxes or images.
The reason I insert everything into shapes is because the shapes can be moved anywhere around the page allowing for maximum space usage as well as allowing for flexible layout. The shapes can be formatted to adjust the size and content on each page.
It may sound complicated, but in actual fact, anyone can do it. You don’t have to be particularly techno-savvy. A bit of practise is all that is needed and you’ll soon be creating wonderful pages that suit your own needs. One of the added benefits of producing your own worksheets and lapbooks is that you can design them in your own language.
I know that for some this information may not be enough to explain. I think that it is much easier to show someone step by step as I find it hard to explain in words the processes I use but I hope, in the future, to produce an illustrated tutorial with screen shots to aid this explanation inshaa’Allah.