Thursday, February 20, 2014

A day in our life

I've always enjoyed reading other people's "typical homeschool day" posts, and since we're now pretty settled in a happy routine, I thought I'd write one of my own. This is what happened on a day when we had no fixed commitments outside the house, but the morning portion, in any case, would be more or less the same, regardless of the day. On days when we have afternoon activities, though, we do make sure to get Quran done before we leave the house. Math happens maybe twice a week, on average.

7:30 - everyone wakes up, wanders upstairs, and the girls (Basbusa, 5.5, and Kunafa, 3) eat their Breakfast, Part 1 (toast and marmalade - it's a multi-stage meal, these days!)

8:00 - the girls head downstairs to build a fort out of cushions and blankets, and play in it with flashlights, for about an hour. (Let's call that engineering and teamwork.)

9:00 - I call them upstairs for Breakfast, Part 2 (strawberry smoothies), and then we move to our Project Room, which is where we do most of our homeschooling. Kunafa wants to "play chess," which means me following her very complicated instructions for which pieces go where, how they move, and how they can be traded from person to person. She runs off to borrow Baba's chess set, while I remind Basbusa that she mentioned yesterday that she wanted to learn a new design on her Rainbow Loom. She's all excited about it, so I get her a laptop, show her how to use Google to search for "Rainbow Loom videos," and leave her to her own explorations. Kunafa and I "play chess" for about 15 minutes, and then I read her some picture books. (So, I guess that was technology and research skills for Basbusa, and, hmmm, game design and literacy for Kunafa? I also consider all this Rainbow Looming as part of Basbusa's project work. Her interest in sewing has lately expanded to include some crochet and this rainbow-loom work, but it all seems related.)

9:30 - Basbusa has chosen a design, and gotten the elastic bands all set up, but needs some help understanding how to loop them. So I ask Kunafa to play by herself for a while (she chooses to climb in and out of our new loft a zillion times in different ways, usually using me as part of her stairs, so let's say that's P.E. and problem-solving). Then I sit with Basbusa for a full hour while she tries to figure out what the lady in the video is doing. It really is pretty complicated! But eventually, with some suggestions from me about which of the umpteen little elastic bands each step in the video might be referring to, she gets the hang of it. (So, that covered a whole bunch of fine motor skills, following complex instructions, a whole lot of perseverance, and some design and creativity).

10:30 - Basbusa still hasn't finished the bracelet, but her concentration is pretty much shot, and anyway it's time for Breakfast, Part 3 (whole-wheat crepes, this time). So she and Kunafa tidy up a bit, and they eat their crepes while I read them some chapters from our current Read-Aloud. Then I send them downstairs to get dressed to go outside, since it's a beautiful day.

11:30 - we head out for a walk, for about an hour (so, P.E. and nature study, I suppose).

12:30 - The girls go off to play in their fort again, while I make pizza for lunch.

1:30-2:30 - The girls play in the fort and in the project room for about an hour.

2:30 - I round them up for Quran (which takes 15 minutes for Basbusa, and about 5 for Kunafa. Basbusa is up to Surat el Inshira7, and Basbusa is working on Surat el Ma3oun. For Basbusa, this time includes Arabic reading as well as hifz, because I have her figure out for herself what the day's new ayah says.) Then a super-quick math lesson for Basbusa (Lesson 66 from RightStart level A, which I'm hoping to finish up before the new baby arrives in May, insha'Allah). Kunafa played with play-doh while Basbusa and I did math.

3:00 - we head out to the library, the craft store (Basbusa is almost out of those little elastic bands for the loom), and the thrift store.

4:30 - home again, and the girls are free for the rest of the day, while I get dinner. Basbusa chooses to
watch a "Signing Time" video after dinner, and although I'm usually 1000% anti-screen-time, she does seem to be interested in learning ASL lately. So she watches while I clean the dishes, and she teaches me the new signs that I "didn't have a chance" to see.

So, for Basbusa, today included engineering, teamwork, technology, research, design, fine motor skills, patience and perseverance, PE and nature outdoors, Quran, Arabic, math, and ASL. Oh, and she also read maybe ten picture books, and half of two different chapter books (I didn't mention her reading explicitly in the schedule above, because Basbusa spends so much time with her nose stuck in a book that it doesn't even cross my mind to notice it any more.) I think that sounds like a good combination of learning for a Kindergartener. Kunafa got most of the same, which is pretty good for a preschooler.

We didn't get in as many picture books as I usually do with Kunafa, and we didn't spend as much time outdoors as I would like. That's a problem I've been trying to solve for a while... hopefully it will be easier once the weather warms up a bit, insha'Allah.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Homeschool Progress: Basbusa, 5.5 years old

Last year, I wrote a post about what level Basbusa had reached when she turned four, just as we started homeschooling , covering the main academic and social areas that I cared about. I had forgotten all about that post, and when I came across it just now, I was surprised by how much my thinking has changed after only a year and a half! Nowadays, it would never cross my mind to break down her learning into such rigid segments. 

All the same, though, when I thought about what I would say now, given the same list of prompts, it was exciting to see how much Basbusa has grown. So, just for the record, here's what the new update would be, half a year into what-would-have-been-Kindergarten:
  • Favorite Interests: Reading still tops the list, for sure. She also spends hours intensely involved in fabric arts of various kinds - she's very interested in sewing, has learned how to crochet a chain, and has figured out several different patterns on her rainbow loom.
  • Quran: working on Surat al Tin, al7amdulillah. Surat al Bayyina took FOREVER - over three months, I think - but al7amdulillah we both learned a lot about how to make hifz easier for her during the process.
  • Reading: Our main difficulty now is that she's pretty much read every chapter book in the English language whose content is age-appropriate. I'm having to hunt high and low for stories that don't focus on social situations that are just way beyond the experience of a five-year-old. Al7amdulillah, it's a good problem to have, but I'm really starting to wonder what she's going to read for the next two years. It seems like most of the rest of the books on my "to be read later" list are really aimed at nine- or ten-year-olds. Recently, for example, she enjoyed Kate DiCamillo's "Tale of Despereaux," and David Elliot's "Evangeline Mudd and the Golden-Haired Apes of the Ikkinasti Jungle." What we need is a whole lot more books like the "Daisy Dawson" series and the "Iggy and Me" series, but they don't seem to exist. 
  • Writing: She can write a whole bunch of short words and names without help, but is only starting to get into the idea that she can use invented spelling to communicate. She seems to think  that a word is either one she "knows" or one she "doesn't know," and doesn't usually spontaneously take a guess at how to put it together. I think she'll get there soon, though, insha'Allah. She still uses all capital letters, so I've recently offered her one or two invitations like copying out her favorite poems, for example, just to raise her awareness that not everything is always capitalized :) 
  • Art: Interestingly, she isn't drawing anywhere near as much as she did as a toddler and preschooler. The pictures she does draw tend to be quite similar to each other (with the most frequent being a cat or a girl with pigtails). She's adding more detail each time, though, and creating backgrounds for the figures. She now cares about color, and the items she includes in her scenes are more in proportion these days. But at the same time, she has recently started copying some illustrations from book covers, capturing even the facial expressions almost perfectly. She's up for painting occasionally, but doesn't usually turn to it unless her attention is caught by seeing someone else at work. She builds very competently with the glue gun, using all sorts of materials. As I said above, though, she spends a lot of time on fiber arts.
  • Arabic: al7amdulillah, she's gotten the hang of reading in Arabic, although she goes slowly. It's been a big help to her hifz, al7amdulillah, now that she can remember what the word or ayah looks like, as well as what it sounds like.
  • Motor Skills: She's very brave in the gym these days (although still not a dare-devil!). She loves jumping from bed to bed, adored her first set of swimming lessons, very much enjoys ice skating, and loves her gymnastics class. 
  • Social Skills: She has pretty-close friendships with maybe five other girls her own age, and gets along very well with both older and younger kids in our various homeschool groups. She is steadily becoming more comfortable and confident talking to adults, whether she knows them or not, and is starting to get the hang of how to integrate herself into a game that other kids are already in the middle of. 
  • Science: Still haven't found a topic that really catches her attention. She's interested in things that impact her directly - for example, she cares about which foods do or don't have good nutritional value, since that affects whether or not I'll be likely to let her eat them; she's interested in how germs work when she has a cold, and in how teeth work when she has to go to the dentist. But she hasn't latched on to any particular topic for its own sake yet.
  • Math: We're almost finished with RightStart Level A, and I'm just delighted by how comfortable she is with numbers. Love this curriculum. 
So, al7amdulillah, things are going well! Things go most smoothly, and most satisfyingly for both of us, when I keep the morning hours protected for project work, Quran, books and occasional math lessons, and we don't head out for activities until the afternoon. There are so many fun things going on, though, that it's always a question of priority-juggling!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ramadan Plans

Less than a month left until Ramadan, insha'Allah! So I've been thinking about what to plan for the kids. Iftar will be past their bedtime this year, so I think we won't make it to the masjid very often.  So we'll have to make it all the more celebratory at home, insha'Allah!

- Decorate the house! (Yay for millions of fairy-lights picked up in the post-Christmas sales!)
- Make lanterns. I'm thinking like these (because we certainly have plenty of artwork to upcycle!) or these (scroll down a bit to see them on that link).

During Ramadan:
- Explain what Ramadan is;
- Read our favorite Ramadan picture books*;
- Encourage sadaqa - make a special little jar for Basubsa, maybe?
- Make a good-deeds tree (like this one, maybe?)
- Names of Allah: I was thinking I might try to have a little "tea time" with them each day in the afternoon, where they'd get a drink in a fancy teacup, and a nice snack. I was thinking we'd have the 99 names of Allah in a box, let them take turns to choose one. We could chat about the meaning a bit over (their) tea, and then we could add each one to a pretty ribbon, to serve as a kind of Eid count-down calculator. Maybe they're a little young for discussions about the meanings of the names of Allah... Hmmm... I guess we could try it and see how it goes?

* Our favorite Ramadan picture books, in case you were wondering, in order of increasing age-appropriateness:

 Under the Ramadan Moon

 Ramadan Moon

 Moon Watchers

 A Party in Ramadan

Monday, June 10, 2013

Qur'an progress

I wanted to update on how Basbusa's Qur'an memorization is going, just so I can keep track of our progress. (I'm saying "we" because her learning Qur'an is definitely closely related to my learning how to teach it!)

Overall, I'm really happy with it, al7amdulillah! We're definitely not setting any speed records, but a few weeks ago - almost exactly a year after we started memorizing for real - Basbusa recited the last quarter-hizb (from surat al Qari3a to the end) - without help, and with only four mistakes, al7amdulillah. That's a long time for a small number of pages, but it took us a long time to figure out how to go about memorizing! The pace picked up a lot during the last few months, when we arrived at this routine: 

  • Qur'an happens before we start any other activity. That doesn't mean I start chasing the girls as soon as they're out of bed, but once they're up and have had breakfast, we work on Qur'an before heading off to the library, or before starting project time, or before heading out to playgroup, or whatever the day's schedule might be. Al7amdulillah, we really have been doing it daily, so at least a good habit is being formed, regardless of how much Qur'an is being learned!
  • The basic routine for memorizing is that Basbusa and I recite her current "new" sura together three times, and then she recites one page of the pages she has previously memorized, just so they don't get forgotten. (The main reason the first quarter-hizb took so long was that I didn't have a good routine for review, so by the time we got to al Qari3a, we had to start over with most of the rest of it!) 
    • This takes between five and ten minutes, total. I know that's not long, and that an almost-five-year-old could probably handle more if I knew how to keep it interesting for her. But at this point, if it gets longer than that, she gets fidgety. And from then on, progress gets slower and slower, because more and more time is spent trying to retain her attention rather than actually reciting. 
    • If she has memorized most of a "new" sura, then we might just recite the troublesome bit three times rather than the whole thing (so that the sticky bit gets the maximum amount of her freshest attention).
  • Rewards: I'm still embarrassed to say it, because I still feel like I'm failing somehow if she isn't memorizing Qur'an purely for the sake of al aakhira, but she still gets a choose a piece of penny-candy each day after Qur'an. And she gets a dollar from Baba for each sura she recites for him perfectly. And she got a small gift (a long-coveted, pink-and-white jewelry box from a thrift shop) when she completed the quarter hizb. I don't know... It just makes the whole thing so much more fun for her, and the whole process is so much easier, faster and happier when she's looking forward to it. And if she memorizes the whole Qur'an for $114, that's a good deal...!
  • We've also settled on a new bedtime routine that I think is also helping. After Kunafa's two picture books and Basbusa's chapter from a chapter book, I turn out the light and recite all the Qur'an Basbusa has learned until they both fall asleep. I think that's been helping with retention.
Kunafa (currently aged 2.5) "learns Qur'an" with us - she recites Al Fati7a along with me, and then either Al Nas or Al Falaq. She can do Al Fati7a by herself now, and gets most of Al Nas, al7amdulillah. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Homeschooling life so far

Our homeschooling life so far is just blissful, al7amdulillah! It's going just as well as I had hoped and dreamed, both in terms of lifestyle and in terms of learning. Al7amdulillah :)

While everything is roses and sunshine, I want to note down a quick description of our daily and weekly rhythms. All the homeschoolers I know, whether in real life or online, seem to have ups and downs in their homeschooling experience, so I want to have something concrete to refer back to if we, too, hit some sticky patches!

This is still really a preschool year for Basbusa, since she won't be five until July insha'Allah. So even if we were planning on introducing formal academics, we wouldn't be doing much of that just yet, especially since she's picking up plenty on her own, al7amdulillah. For now, our only curriculum-based learning is RightStart math, level A.

The girls wake up around 6:30-7:30. After breakfast, saying goodbye to Grandma, and taking Baba to catch the train, Basbusa usually plunges into a pile of books while I finish  my cup of tea and tidy the kitchen. Then all three of us head toward our project-room, where we have all our books, art supplies, and project materials. (Plus lovely natural morning light, and a bird-feeder right outside the window. The other day, Kunafa, currently 2 1/4, astonished her Baba by teaching him enthusiastically how to tell the difference between a tufted titmouse and a dark-eyed junco, and how to differentiate between a "mama cardinal and a baba cardinal" and a "mama house-sparrow and a baba house-sparrow." And she was the very first one out of all four of us to identify a bird we had never seen before, as a woodpecker. She was right. It was a downy woodpecker, but I had to go check it in her favorite bird-book book before I believed her. Sub7anAllah :)

So, once we're in the project room (usually by around 8:30 or 9:00), I read stories to Kunafa until Basbusa finishes up her reading, and then read aloud to her, too, if she wants me to. Then we do Quran. And then, it's up to the girls. Would they like to do art? Project work? Math? More stories? We hang out in the project room until about 11am, with a snack in the middle. If the girls have lots of energy to burn, we head downstairs for some bed-bouncing and gymnastics, or go play in the garden. (Increasingly, as the weather gets warmer, we're doing books and Quran in the garden, too.)

On Mondays and Fridays, we have nothing scheduled in the afternoons, so our morning activities usually extend a bit longer. Then we have lunch, and then I send the girls off to entertain themselves while I do a little work on some projects of my own for an hour or so. And then we usually head to the park and the library. On Tuesdays, we head out to our playgroup, which lasts until 2:30 or 3:00. On Wednesdays, we meet another family for a playdate and some informal Arabic reading and writing lessons for the girls. On Thursdays, our schedule changes: we head out to gymnastics at 8:30am (picking up a friend along the way), and the girls spend the next three hours bouncing and jumping and running and climbing with some of their closest friends.

Al7amdulillah, this routine is simply idyllic. Al7amdulillah, the girls are happy, and are learning faster than I ever expected - even Quran, which I had been so worried about. They have many close friends of all ages, but more importantly, I can see them becoming closer friends with each other with every day that passes, al7amdulillah. They're getting plenty of playtime outside; they don't have to wake up early and rush out the door. And as for me, I get to hang out with amazing mom-friends three times a week, while our kids are playing together! So al7amdulillah, homeschooling so far is just wonderful. Al7amdulillah.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What Basbusa got from Preschool

Homeschooling is going gloriously well, al7amdulillah! But before last year fades into a distant memory, I did want to write up my notes on what Basbusa got out of preschool. She attended a delightful, play-based preschool for two mornings a week last academic year, from age 3 1/4 to (almost) 4.

Basbusa enjoyed her mornings at school very much, and still thinks back on her time there fondly. Even now, almost a year since she was last there, what she mentions most frequently is how much she loved her two teachers. I know she liked playing with her friends, and exploring the manipulatives, but those weren't the things she focused on when telling us about her day at school. No, what Basbusa liked to describe was the fascinating rhythms and routines of their daily activities. She loved the way the teachers assigned people particular "jobs" for the day (with "line leader" and "room checker" being her favorites). She liked knowing how the day was going to unfold, both in terms of daily activities and in terms of little things like the exact words the teachers would use to call them in from recess. Preschool involved many new experiences for Basbusa, who is usually somewhat cautious when she's approaching something new. I think she came to feel that new experiences were nothing to be apprehensive about, as long as they were slotted into a framework built from nice, familiar, predictable routines!

Perhaps the most valuable part of the whole experience was getting to know her first "best friend." Oh, the cuteness of three-year-old friendships! I don't think of this as part of the past, though, because luckily we're still very close to this friend and her family, and see them at least once a week, al7amdulillah.

I, too, learned a lot from Basbusa's preschool experience. For example, I had already known that Basbusa's general style was on the more reserved end of the spectrum, and that was confirmed by the way she approached preschool. She never cried when I left her, but every single time, right through the very end of the year, she would spend the first five or ten minutes standing slightly separately from the other children, observing. She wanted to find out who was where, what was happening, what was new. She wasn't distressed or afraid, but she wanted to know exactly what was going on before deciding to participate in it.

This attitude was exactly on par with what I had seen before she started preschool, but previously, I had been worried that this was something that needed "fixing." I thought that it might be a sign that she hadn't had enough exposure to other children, or hadn't had enough independence, or that she was afraid or insecure, and that I must be failing to find a way to make her feel comfortable. I'm certain that if I hadn't sent her to preschool for a year, I always have wondered whether I had hampered her ability to build social skills by not putting her in a school environment. But now, I know it's just her style. Her extra-long warm-up period isn't a sign that she needs to become more comfortable in social settings; it *is* her way of becoming comfortable in social settings!

I also learned not to let myself say, "Oh, Basbusa doesn't like ____," and give up on that particular activity. Because it turned out that according to the teachers, Basbusa doesn't like art activities, and does like building with blocks! This from the girl who - as far as I've ever seen her - is never without a pen in her hand, and who wouldn't stack two legos if there were no other toy available in the universe. So, I must remind myself that the same activity in a different context can get a totally different response, and re-introduce things every so often even if they weren't big hits previously.

And finally, and very triumphantly, I learned that I can, in fact, bi ithn illah, get us out the door on time! In an entire school-year of days starting at 8:45am, at a school 20 minutes away, we were only late a couple of times. It's not impossible. Who knew? :)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Homeschooling Progress: starting out

I wrote the draft of this post way back in August, before we started our first year of homeschooling, and never got around to editing it! I guess it's about time to make note of where Basbusa started out, since it's almost time to write about how things have gone during the first semester.

So, here's a quick summary of what Basbusa was doing as of last August, when she had just turned four.

  • Favorite Interests: Reading, being read to, pretend play, and making up stories (for hours and hours).
  • Quran: memorized up to Surat Al Nasr al7amdulillah. She's not very solid on most of it when reciting alone, but reciting quite smoothly and confidently along with me.
  • Reading: Everything, independently. Typical chapter books she reads alone are House at Pooh Corner, and Milly Molly Mandy. She's completely at ease if she already knows the plot; a bit slower if it's new to her.
  • Writing: can write her name, "Mama" and "Grandma" without thinking about it; asks for spelling for everything else. Still writing in all capitals. She mostly uses writing to label her drawings to show who they are presents for; she writes some "letters" and notes to friends.
  • Art: draws all day long, with a pen. Not very interested in coloring in her pictures, nor in exploring other art media (even markers or color pencils or crayons), although she'll sometimes paint if it crosses her mind.
  • Arabic: Knows the alphabet, more or less. (Speaks fluent Egyptian Arabic with us - al7amdulillah, it has never even occurred to her that she could try talking to her sister in English - but her language is pretty much stuck at the very-good-non-native-speaker level that she hears from me. Oh well.)
  • Motor Skills: Finally enjoying jumping off things, more willing to test her own abilities, less hesitant in playgrounds.
  • Social Skills: Getting better all the time at the art of playing with one other person (whether a new or existing friend); more willing to start up a conversation in playgrounds with children she doesn't know. Still learning how to go about joining other children's games-in-progress. 
  • Science: Hmmm.... Interested in gardening, but I think hanging out with Grandma is more of a draw than the garden itself. Not really into collecting things from outdoors; not particularly excited about nature walks etc.
  • Math: In Arabic, counts to 10. In English, all the way up to 100 if you tell her what's after 19 :) Can do simple addition and subtraction (such as, "If Grandma had 5 candies and gave you 3, how many would she have left?"). No problem with patterns like ABAB, AABAAB, ABCABC.