Back to school blues even happen for homeschoolers

We are back at ‘school’ after almost 3 months of summer holidays, and it seems that ‘back to school blues’ even happen for homeschoolers. Funny…. this time last year the kids had to go back to real school and they were pretty much exactly like Calvin. This year we are only going back to homeschooling, but nothing much has changed!

I have to say, I feel a bit guilty taking summer holidays from what is already pretty much a holiday kind of lifestyle (despite what the kids say)… But I realised that holidays aren’t just about doing nothing… they are a punctuation mark.

Our first 8 months of homeschooling were fantastic but incredibly stressful at the same time, as we started out as curriculum- based homeschoolers, then developed our own curriculums, then we tried out unit studies, and experimented with unschooling as well. Meanwhile the kids went through every emotion possible about homeschooling… starting with elation at leaving school, followed by devastation when they realised were were still going to have to learn stuff, wild enthusiasm about the topics they loved, and outright rebellion about others they hated. (In fact there was more rebellion than anything else most of the time, and that meant me learning a whole new set of coping mechanisms). I think the only constant thing in our whole first 8 months was my driving belief that this was the best decision I had ever made.

In hindsight it was all a bit of a mess, but looking back at our books and materials as I was packing them all up before we left for Australia, I was seriously amazed at how much we had managed to do amidst such chaos.

This year is going to be more organised!! (I am pretty sure these are famous last words).

Now we know we are not much into curriculums.

We know we like unit studies.

We know we like having flexibility to do or not to do, depending on our day.

We know we want to make time for swimming, horseriding, karate and rock climbing.

We also know we want to focus on Islamic topics more.

I know that learning objectives are a big priority, to teach discipline and commitment within subjects they are really interested in.

So with all this in mind, the plan is an hour of Islam first, then an hour of formal topics (science, maths, english etc) and then an hour of personal learning objectives each day. Three hours… that’s it. Each child has started a learning blog and their personal objectives plus anything else they are interested in, are recorded here. Apart from that they have ONE exercise book each for the year, in which anything else they do will be recorded. Last year we tried an exercise book for each subject but it just felt like school, where they used to spend half the lesson writing the date in the OCD way the school prescribed.

I have joined a great science site called Supercharged Science and I, at least, am really excited about the huge range of experiments and applied learning (the kids claim they ‘hate science’ but the other day when we launched a rocket with vinegar and baking soda 50 metres into the sky, Shams didn’t seem to hate it too much). My mission this year is that they will say ‘we LOVE science now’ by the end of the year… here’s hoping Supercharged Science does the trick.

Maths will continue as before with Khan Academy and Adapted Mind and Shams will work on writing particularly through his blog and Grammaropolis.

So that’s our year in a nutshell… who knows…. this organisation may only last for a couple of weeks and we may descend back into homeschooling anarchy again, but we sure have learned a lot from last year … so onwards and upwards!





Pakistan homeschooling comes to Australia!

It’s been a week of travelling but we are finally here in Byron Bay – the most easterly point of Australia and the home of my mother.

It is a year since we were here in Australia, where all my family lives, but it has been a big year. Last October we dropped out of school and this trip has been everyone’s opportunity to question me about my latest unconventional decision.  This is my family, and they have known me long enough to think I am completely mad anyway – watching my transition over the last 40 years from farmer to greenie to yuppie to hippy to Muslim living in Pakistan (the worst phase of all and unfortunately the longest lasting!) What they are all worried about is that I have now drawn my kids into my craziness. More

If kids ran our communities…

Minecraft has become a big part of our lives, and these days since it is so hot, the kids are allowed to play with their friends in Perth online for a few hours every morning. I have been taking this opportunity to do all the things I normally don’t have time to do when we have school… which mostly involves catching up with work rather than leaving everything until the last minute.

It is a while since I had a look at what the kids have been building on Minecraft, but yesterday I sat with Diyana to check out their world. It left me in tears (which seems to happen a lot these days). What they have created in just a month is more mind blowing than I can possibly express in words. They have an airport, an animal hospital, a science lab, houses and hotels, a complex road system, an amusement park, a learning centre and a complete underground subway with stations for each of the main buildings in the world. These are not basic structures either… they are sophisticated designs with no input from outside their small group whatsoever. More

What to do when your kids don’t want to learn?

I think a lot about learning… in fact I think about learning pretty much all day every day. But one thing I have realised from my own kids and the adult learners I work with is that (GASP) not everyone loves to learn.

This was a bit confronting for me, since ‘love of learning’ has long been my theme. It was even more confronting since I took my kids out of school so that they could recapture the sense of adventure that learning brings, but every time I introduce a new project, they groan. The standard pattern is that Safiyah says “Okaaay. Just tell me what to do”. Diyana says “No. no. no. I am not doing it”. Shams says “OK – but when can we finish?” More

Helicopter Parenting vs Being the Tree – the Parenting Dilemma

My daughter Safiyah is 12 and I never realised it, but 12 is a lot like being grown up. I expected my kids to be kids until they were 18. Not so. Safiyah is incredibly talented at writing and drawing, but also extremely private about her talents. She does not let me read her writing or see her drawings. When I go into her room to ask her what she wants for lunch, (or to check she is alive), she scrambles to hide what she is doing.  I think she fears my reaction, but honestly, on the rare occasions where I am allowed to see what she is doing, I am wholly and completely blown away by her abilities, (MashAllah).

There are obviously some issues here about how she deals with her own abilities, but my more immediate concern is how I deal with her desperate need for privacy – as a mother. I used to be terrified of my mother seeing what I was doing too, but she didn’t take no for an answer… she used to find and read my diaries, no matter how well I thought I hid them. I swore I would never do that to my own kids, and am pretty pleased that even when my kids leave their diaries lying around, no matter how tempting, I never read them without permission. Never. More

The future of education

One of my favourite topics these days is the future of education. Interestingly in the last year or so just about every part of my life has become involved in some form of education…. in the morning we homeschool, in the afternoons and evenings I work as an e-learning facilitator and designer, in the spare cracks I teach my (much diminished) freelance writing team about writing, and all day every day my husband is teaching spirituality. If our kids don’t become educators of some sort I will be truly amazed…

So given my preoccupation with education and learning, and the fact that none of the learning we do could be termed as “traditional”, it is a bit of a theme of mine to be thinking of where education is heading.

I always had this dream that I would start a school here in Pakistan called “Love of Learning”, but wanted to first get to know the Pakistani education system. Unfortunately the more I got to know the Pakistani education system, the less I wanted a school like that! Sir Ken Robinson’s well known RSA video about Changing Education Paradigms is a perfect illustration of why the old system doesnt work and how the future could look:

After starting homeschooling and learning lots about better systems of education, I have been thinking about how online education could grow. It’s great to be sitting at home and doing our own system of school, but wouldn’t it be even more great if there were online learning communities where we could choose our topics, register to be part of a group that is doing that topic at the time, and interact with them throughout the course?

This is kind of what we do in our e-learning training courses at GCA. Each week there is a new module of learning, and the participants have resources and activities to do in the week. They work at their own pace, but have to submit their project or assignment to the forum before the end of the week and comment on the other participant’s posts. I absolutely LOVE this approach because it provides the freedom to work on your own, as well as have a support group to share ideas with, AND best of all, it converts the role of teacher into the role of facilitator, guiding the learning rather than directing it.

If we can incorporate self-directed learning, creativity, and all the other things we hold dear in homeschooling into this model, it could be an incredibly amazing system, and truly worthy of the name “Love of Learning”.

THIS is MY vision for education in the future.

What’s yours?

Philosophy for Kids


I love the idea of teaching kids philosophy.

It encourages them to think critically about the world around them and their place in it. It teaches them to ask the big questions. It’s great training for life and learning.

I read a great article in the TED blog about it and it was compelling enough that I started planning right away. Called ‘Why we should teach philosophy to kids’, it said:

“In a study of 105 children, all around 10 years old, teachers spent an hour a week for 16 months teaching lessons based on philosophical inquiry. The philosophy-based lessons encouraged a community approach to “inquiry” in the classroom, with children sharing their views on Socratic questions posed by the teacher.

The result? At the end of 16 months,compared with 72 control children, the philosophy children showed significant improvements on tests of their verbal, numerical and spatial abilities

And two years later, when the philosophy children were tested again, their higher scores persisted — while the lower-scoring control group were, in some cases, declining further.”

Cool hey?

So I found a brilliant site called Teaching Children Philosophy which uses common kids’ books as a basis, and we started with Rainbow Fish. It is a little kids’ book which many of you would have read about how the little fish with the shiny scales doesn’t want to share his prize possessions. Through the book he learns the value of sharing and friendship. I was stunned at the quality of discussion the guidelines from the site yielded. All three kids from Shams (7) to Safiyah (12) really enjoyed discussing the moral values of the story and what they would have done in that scenario.

Motivated by the success of our first foray into philosophy, we moved on to reading ‘The Alchemist’ over the following weeks. It was a bit of a hard slog with Shams particularly, but once again there were some great discussions that came out. Alongside our daily spiritual teachings it was a great accompaniment.

I would highly recommend philosophy for any kids and would love to hear your experiences of it…


Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: