Bismillah, a Fresh Start

I’ve written about homeschooling because it has been such an integral part of our lifestyle for the past few years.

The decision to homeschool meant a lot of sacrifices. Primarily we made an investment of time, energy, and effort into the kids, ensuring that they had a broad range of experiences and opportunities. I never considered learning to be how well they did on an assessment, or how many pages of the workbook they finished. I found that instead, they were mostly free to pursue their interests, and work on projects and my role as a facilitator was simply to encourage their creativity. The measure was their curiosity and interest.

However, over the past year, I have felt at more times than not that this is not enough. This is good, this is nice, this is fun, but I never felt like this was enough. I never felt that what we did was enough. This inadequacy was seeping into my body.

I met many extraordinary women who made their work, schooling, business and home life all blend together seamlessly. They have many balls in the air, and keep juggling the balls without dropping any. I respect them, and am grateful to call them my friends.

No matter how many balls I had in the air, I never really felt like what I was doing was enough.

What my kids were learning was not enough. It was random, and interesting. One child can read and write in English and Arabic, but still I felt like it was not enough. The other child can play alone for an hour or so on his own.

No matter how much Quran we memorized, or how well my kids behaved with others, I want my kids to be able to do more, learn more. The hiring and outsourcing of all the different things that I wanted them to learn exhausted me in a deeply profound way. There are long stretches of time where we did “nothing” — what I can qualitatively call nothing. They played. They played with each other. They read a lot. But that was it. We’ve been successful with a couple of subjects but some subjects I didn’t really get to. The weekly art projects were scattered around the house. The unfinished science projects. The workbooks and worksheets piled up into the bookshelves.

And then there was math.

I don’t know what trauma I experienced in math in school but I was not able to be gentle when it came to teaching math. I am extremely good at coming up with lesson plans on the spot, but I am poor at long-range mastery of mathematical skill. I was a gifted test taker, and that is the only thing I can say.

I found teaching easy, and seamless for the most part. I incorporated science and language arts into nature walks; we talked about bridges and light houses; we visited planetariums and science centers. There’s so much that we have done, and continue to do, but I never felt like what I was doing was sufficient. It all felt supplemental to what we were learning in our books. I want them to be challenged by the rigors of tests, and having to learn something simply because someone tells them it’s important to know. I want them to meet all kids of people in the world, and not only the handful of friends we have in New Jersey. I want them to expand their sense of what is possible. My friend Ruqayat an educator and author who stayed with us this week said, “You gave them an excellent foundation.”

Home is the real school, and school is the supplemental. Another friend of mine, a mother of 3 who has a tutoring business explained. This is a new way of looking at school. Eight hours each day for supplemental, and my job is to make the home base “home” again.

My husband and I have decided that we will put the kids into school.

Maybe I will be able to do more with them in school. And even if I do nothing else, I will be happy they are with other kids and teachers and adults and doing something.

What caused this change? When we were on vacation in Lakewood PA, for the Maqasid retreat, during the day the kids were in their lessons from 9 to 12 and then from 4 to 6. I know that’s not 180 days of 8 hour days for school, but I found that separation wonderful. I was curious about their time apart.

I am trading the flexibility and the unknown of homeschooling for the inflexibility and known of school.

This is a huge transition but one that I have been working towards for a long time.

I’ve always maintained the kids are up by 7:30AM and start their “table time” by 8:30AM or 9AM but now I have to be more mindful of their sleep. And then there’s the traffic, and getting to where we have to be at 7:30AM. They need to be in bed by 7:30PM. There is a whole new set of logistics to manage.

School is a trade off.

They will miss the nights in the masjid. They will get less sleep. We will decline random invitations because the kids have school. They will not get a warm, hot lunch prepared by their me at home, or eggs and paratha in the morning. It will have to be cereal. Lots of cereal and oatmeal.

We will have to set different expectations.

But I think we will swim, not sink in these new waters, with the right intention we can begin again.

Kids will have to learn to “do school” like everyone else.

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