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? :)