Thursday, March 15, 2012

Teaching your child the Quran part II

The Quran holds an important place in our hearts and lives and we all hope that our children grow to love the Quran and live by it. However such an aim requires the parents to strive in order to attain it. Rather than giving you a specific “this is the way” set of instructions to memorizing the Quran I think there so many factors at hand that require a program to be changed in order to suit the individual student and teacher.  Therefore I think that you should take into consideration the following points before looking towards our program as a strict model for your child.
1.      Being honest with yourself:  What do we mean?  Read points 2, 3, and 4

2.      Knowing how much time you can give:  We are all busy. Life is as such.  Memorizing the Quran by age ten will take a lot of devotion never mind 5 or 7.   Don’t set goals of a page a day if all you can give is a half an hour. It might work in Juz Ama’ but once you get past 4 sections of the Quran and you’ve got 80 pages to review with a child who is not going to do it without supervision, 30 minutes will not cut it. 

3.      Knowing the limits of your child:  Sometimes we forget we are dealing with children.  Our high hopes for our children sometimes blinds our vision and we expect more of them than they can really give.  Especially if your child does not understand Arabic, memorizing all of these sounds that they do not understand may not be as interesting as running around and making a mess in the living room, or sneaking into the fridge.  Even if you have 5 hours a day to spend on Quran, your children don’t.

4.      Understand that this becomes cumulative:  This refers back to 1 and 2   In other words it builds up.  The first day you start memorizing you are reading one chapter that has a total of 21 words.  This may not take a lot of time, but when you get to Baqarah it will.   One of the most important things to remember when memorizing the Quran is staying consistent.  You want to set a program that you will be able to see through till the end.  A program that is too easy is not difficult to add on to.  On the other hand, a difficult program that you cannot handle normally makes people go back to the drawing board, wastes a lot of time, is frustrating and self-defeating.   Let me put it this way.  If you had memorized half a page a day yourself, you would have memorized the Quran in less than 4 years.  That is pretty embarrassing for those of us who have been at it for God knows how many years and we are still struggling with a few chapters.   This happens because we are not consistent.  One way to destroy consistency is to take on more than you can handle.
The steps
1.      Intention
You must remember that what you are doing is a form of worship and therefore you must be sincere that you are doing this for Allah’s sake and his alone.  For your child to carry in his heart the last revelation for mankind.  So that he or she can recite the words of Allah and exemplify their lessons through his or her actions. 
2.      Asking for Allah’s help
Embarking on such a test is no easy feat but it is accomplishable.  Allah chooses whom He wills to fill such a noble position and it is only befitting that we ask Him to make us and our children amongst them, that He makes it easy for us, and that He gives us the patience that it requires to complete the journey.
3.      Memorization
With everything we talk about here, there is no golden rule in terms of how much, be it in Quran or time.  This goes back to you and your child.  You can add or subtract as you need.  Our program is the following.
a.       Read each verse a couple of times for the child (2-3 times)
b.      Read the verse again and then have the child repeat after you. (3 times)
c.       Have the child read the verse by themselves without assistance (2-3 times)
d.      Move to the next verse and repeat the process
e.       Once you have completed the surah, page, or section you have decided to memorized, recite it for your child from beginning to end
f.       Have the child read it back to you from beginning to end.  Help them along the way, remind them as they forget what comes next.
g.      Repeat this until they are reciting that section or surah nearly by themselves.
We will not move on to a new chapter until the last one he memorized is perfect.  This is absolutely essential to this program.  Moving onto something new before he has mastered the previous chapters we have found to be unsuccessful and detrimental to making progress in the long run. 
4.      Review
If it were not for the fact that without memorization you would have nothing to review, than this would be the most important part of memorizing the Quran.  We absolutely will not move onto a new chapter until all previous chapters are memorized by heart and read without mistakes.  We will review all of what has been memorized previously before we move onto memorizing something new.  Each day or week this will eventually add up, so there is a need to eventually divide it in half, or thirds, or fourths, as well as adding a second time during the day that you just sit to review.  Most of your time should be spent reviewing what you have already memorized.  If you find yourself in a review to memorize ratio where memorization is more than 30 percent you are most likely going to hit a point where the child is going to forget the old memorization and when you go back to it you will have to rememorize it all over again.  This wastes precious time and is demotivating.  Just remember a 3rd of a page a day is the Quran memorized in 5 years, so don’t feel like you have to memorize too much too fast. Once your child is able to read Arabic this will add another dynamic where you can set aside time for your child to review on their own without your assistance and time for review will inevitably increase.  Here you would set an assignment based on your child’s ability to sit on their own without supervision.    

5.      Consistency
Review without consistency is no review at all.  The Prophet peace be upon him said “The most beloved actions to Allah are the most consistent even if they be small”.  365 days a year, there is no summer vacation when it comes to the Quran.  The prophet peace be upon him said "The example of the person who knows the Qur'an by heart is like the owner of tied camels. If he keeps them tied, he will control them, but if he releases them, they will run away." 

6.      Incremental strictness
This is the Fluency vs. Accuracy argument.  You don’t put a child in the pool expecting him to swim like an Olympian before he can take off his floaties.  Reciting the Quran properly is a must, but in the beginning especially with a child you need to be lenient in their learning curve.  You should not expect your son or daughter to sound like Hudhaify with perfect makharij (proper pronunciation of each letter) and tajweed (rules of recitation) for each chapter before you move onto the next.  We make certain first that our son has the words in the correct order, and we are strict with this, while we may let pronunciation, and tajweed slide.  As the memorization becomes solidified we become stricter with making sure that letter and sound is pronounced correctly.  As we move along in the review process we will slowly enforce more rules of tajweed. 

7.      Listening to the recitation of the Quran
Children are great imitators.  Allowing your children to listen to the specific chapters they are memorizing will help as they will try to imitate the reciter. As for whom to let your children listen to, we all have our favorite reciters, but this should not blind our desire to have the most correct recitation.  I have asked this question to many teachers of Quran and the one name that always comes up is Muhammad Siddiq Al-Minshawy.  You can download his recitation here.

We hope that this post is beneficial to you.  We pray that Allah makes all of your children and our children amongst those who memorize the Quran.  May Allah reward you for taking the time and having the concern to look into how to go about doing so, and may He make you successful.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bedtime Stories Review: White Fang

By Umm Abdurahman
My sons are both very energetic, active and lively boys. Honestly, sometimes it is a little hard for me to keep up with them. You would assume that most children their age that wake up at 7.30am, do not take naps and spend all day running around would be exhausted by bedtime, but this simply does not apply to them. A great way to get them to wind down and ready for bed for us has been reading a bedtime story to them.

We started with a series called classic starts, and the last book we finished was White Fang written by Kathleen Olmstead. Abdurahman really loved this story. Normally we read a chapter or two per day, however he loved this story so much that at the end of every chapter he would beg me to go on to the next and would say: “this is the last one”, so on average we were reading four to five chapters a day.

The story is about the life of a young wolf pup that is born into a harsh world, in which he faces many hardships, but finds the strength to survive. From losing his siblings, his father, his mother, living through famines, discrimination from other dogs and facing torture at the hands of humans, white fang forms a harsh reality and grows to be a stern and cold character. His life changes drastically at the hands of a new master and he learns about kindness, love, and happiness.

My son found it to be highly addictive and emotional.  There were a lot of new things that he was introduced to that I would either have to explain or show a picture of, in order for him to understand. As I read the book to him and watched him, it was amazing how engaged he was, as though he were imagining the scenes unfold before him. The more you expose your child to, the more stimulating it is for their minds. Books are a wonderful way to broaden their minds and encourage their imagination and understanding.  I am in no rush for my children to grow up, however I do feel that exposure to a broad range of ideas and materials really increases their maturity. My son’s speech, his questions and understanding all reflect this.

I think this book is great for kids starting at around 4, 5 or 6 years olds depending on your child. I think it will be especially popular amongst boys. They love animal stories and this one definitely left its mark on my child. I think it has a lot of great lessons and has nothing questionable. Naturally the next book my son chose from the series was “the call of the wild”, as he assumed the picture on the cover was of a wolf, and said he wanted to read another story about a wolf. To be honest I enjoy the bedtime time stories as much as they, especially if I had never read the books before. It is a nice way for me to relax with them at the end of the day, and enjoy their close company.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Before my son was born I had big plans. As we prepared to homeschool our children, all the grand ideas of goals and accomplishments started to come out.  I was preparing for him to be a genius before he could read.  While I still hope that my children will grow up to be exceptional Muslims, I have had some time to let experience and reality kick in, and cool down a little bit. 

One of the problems that I faced in my initial stages of homeschooling, which I think that many others my fall victim to, is allowing their hopes and aspirations for their children be the very roadblock that stops them from achieving those very hopes and aspirations.  The problem comes in when our ambitions combined with our lack of experience sometimes causes us to do too much too fast.  I would liken it to the new Muslim on his first day of Ramadan, at his first iftaar, at a 5 star buffet.  His excitement inevitably allows him to take on more than he can chew, and pays for it later.

Our experience with the Quran

Teaching Quran has been one of my more difficult experiences in learning this lesson. We started quite slow and he would initially just listen to the cd play of جز عمّ.  Once we realized that he was picking up things relatively quickly, we became too ambitious.  Over a short span of time we developed a program of memorization and review.  Our son would learn a new page a day and review six.  By age 3 he had all of جز عمّ  and تبارك memorized, or so we thought.  We later realized that his memorization was weakening, as not enough time was allocated for review. Not only did this program prove too much for him but It also became too much for us to keep up with our own schedules. Over the summer when we both began working this program fell flat on its face.

The end result was often we did not had enough time to get through a whole lesson, so we started skipping lessons completely.  Within a few months we found ourselves going back to the beginning teaching الإخلاص all over again. We thank god for having learnt this valuable lesson early on. After a long period of stagnation, we started up again and decided to go at a much slower pace. He is improving each day and his memorization is now solid. My wife goes through Quran with him in the morning, and then I review with him in the evening. We do not move onto a new chapter until the last one and all of the previous ones are memorized without any flaws.

My experience with Arabic

I’ve been using a book called قصص النبيين which has been excellent reading for my son.  The language is graded and the words repeat themselves throughout the stories slowly building up.  You can see an example of what one of the chapters looks below.  Many of are no more than a page. 

Watching my son whiz through English books with my wife I thought “we can do that”.   I didn’t think it was too much to ask to go through two chapters a day.  Again we were troubled by the inability to get my son to sit through a full lesson, and two not being able to fit the time required to do so into my daily schedule.  The result was that the book was left on the shelf for a good period of time.

My new approach

Admittedly It took a bit of time, but finally I came to the realization that one needs to be realistic about certain realities.

1.     Your child’s ability;  Out of love for our children we want to see them reach their maximum potential however every child is unique and their lesson planning should be catered to the them, and not to the idea of who you would like them to be.

2.     Your child’s patience level; Your child might be brilliant, but he or she is still a child.  Some children really love reading, but it just doesn’t compare to running around and playing.  Asking your child to sit through lessons that are past their attention span will make them dread the experience.

3.     The amount of time you can consistently give each day;  Just as you have to be realistic about the amount of time your child can handle you also have be realistic about the amount of time your schedule can afford.  Requesting too much time from yourself is a classic road to giving up.  Allocating a certain time each day that you can accomplish helps build a routine that you can keep up with.  It’s better to spend more than your allotted time and sit longer than have to cancel the day altogether because you cannot reach your stated goal. 

Now after putting these three things into perspective my lesson plans have completely changed and we’re not only sticking to the program but we’re making more progress each day than when we had bigger objectives.  Our ambitions are still high but we have instead opted to finish the marathon one step at a time.   If you looked at what I do in a day with my son it’s quite small, but it’s the consistency that works.  I teach my son for no more than an hour and a half on any given day.  Many times we can even finish in a half hour.  Using this method we are finishing chapters and it is painless.  He is memorizing Quran and it is sticking.  

The best advice that I could give to anyone who is starting out homeschooling is the advice of the Prophet peace be upon him when he said “The most beloved actions to Allah, are the most consistent, even if they are small”.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Recycling with Cardboard Projects

By Umm Abdurahman

As Muslims we all have a responsibility to take care of the earth and treat it well because God entrusted the earth to us. This is an important aspect of Islam that children should be made aware of from a young age. Educating your child about the issue of recycling is an excellent way to teach them to respect the earth, live within their means, and be resourceful.

There are a variety of ways to teach your child about recycling. One method that I am fond of is to take an item that would otherwise be thrown away and turn it into something fun that they can enjoy. This will inspire them to come up with creative ways to reuse everyday materials.  Crafts present a fun opportunity for children to practice skills like problem solving, and to think creatively. Children love crafts and let’s face it so do we!

Cardboard is a great material to start with. It is found in abundance in just about any corner of the earth, comes in all shapes and sizes and is inexpensive. In fact it is almost always thrown away in the trash. It is so flexible, enabling it to be used in so many different ways.

Where to start:

1.      First you will need to choose a project, my suggestion; the bigger the better. Maybe even choose a weekend to start on your project so that you have more time to work on a more elaborate project. Here are some projects I found that may inspire you:

2.      Once you have decided what you will build, you will have a better idea of how much cardboard you will need. Now you have to get your hands on some boxes. Large boxes like a refrigerator box make a great foundation. You can ask family members or friends who may have just bought large appliances for their boxes. Likewise any stores that receive goods in bulk always have boxes lying around that they don’t mind giving away. All you have to do is ask for them.

3.      You may find the following items helpful:

o   Paints

o   Reinforcement tape

o   A heavy duty box cutter to cut through corrugated cardboard

4.      Note: This activity is not just for the younger kids. You can set older kids a challenge to independently design, build and decorate a recycled project. This will propel them to use their initiative, and apply a wide combination of skills.

We intend to start on a cardboard project with our children and would like to invite you to join in and participate. If you do build something with your children please send us pictures of your projects and we will post them, along with our very own project. So what are you waiting for? Let the fun begin.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Difficulty in Drawing

By Umm Abdurahman

My son is a perfectionist. He takes pleasure in doing difficult tasks; however in contrast there are times where he sets himself unrealistic goals. Sometimes he is hesitant to try new things for fear that he may not meet the standards he has set for himself. When he makes mistakes he can become frustrated and lose interest. 
My son hated art and I could not understand why. I was always under the illusion that little kids loved to draw and color in and could spend hours a day doing just that. So I was extremely surprised when I found my son to be quite the opposite. Over time I realized that a few minutes into each activity his frustration would set in, and he would abandon the project. It hit me that perhaps this was a result of his perfectionism. I knew that when he drew something he wanted it to bear a close resemblance to the object he was drawing, even if his motor skills were not developed enough, so when that didn’t happen he would get frustrated and lose all interest.
I began a new approach recently that was very successful and saw the results in a matter of days. I noticed his confidence improved, and although his perfectionism was here to stay he dealt better with his mistakes. The method I used was modeling.  To start with I would choose something for us to draw. Each of us would get a piece of paper and pencil. I would start by drawing a simple stroke and have him copy onto his own piece of paper. Occasionally I would make a mistake and would say something along the lines of “it’s okay we can rub it out”. Seeing that I made mistakes and that it was okay to make mistakes and modeling how to deal with mistakes is very important. When he made a mistake I would quickly offer him the eraser, and say “we can fix it”. As I broke down each picture and modeled for him slowly how to draw what he wanted, he soon became more assertive. At the end of each day he and his brother took pleasure in showing their father our drawings.  
In the span of about 3 days my son went from hating drawing to picking up paper and pencil during his play time.  One night after being put to bed, he came into my room so I let him stay with me while I did some work on the computer. When I finished and turned to him, I found there were no less than twenty drawings laid out on my bedroom floor. Each day his skills are improving, and his artistic abilities really manifesting. This is a typical example of what he could draw before.

This is a bus

A week later, we started this method, and these are some of the drawings he did.
This is his bike with his name written in Arabic

I believe parents can use the approach of modeling to deal with many different problems and scenarios. It is a great way not only to teach them new skills but also to guide them to the behavior we want them to adopt.  I am extremely happy with his new found love of art and his increased confidence. If you have faced a similar issue then I suggest you try our approach, hopefully it will work for you as well as it did for us.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Learning a second language

I grew up with a bilingual father who did not see the importance in teaching any of his children his mother tongue. He did not see the value in me knowing a second language and saw French as all but useless in the United States. The only exposure I got was through family gatherings listening to my grandparents. Needless to say I never learned French. Had my father just spoken to me as a child I might today have another language in my pocket. Now if I would to learn it will be quite the struggle.

My next opportunity was high school where I chose to study Spanish as I saw it more relevant in America. Unfortunately, much like most of my peers, it was easy to not succeed. I had a teacher I hated, little to no practical usage, no encouragement, as a lazy and rebellious teen resulting in little to no benefit. Six years of Spanish off and on into college and “Como estas mi amigo! Estudio Española” is about as far as I go. Due to my two experiences I would like to give my children a better opportunity than I had. Although people argue as to what is the best age to learn a language, I feel as if I would have done better where my lessons private, and at an age where I had less distraction, with a parent near to supervise and encourage my progress. I hope to do that for my children.

Why second languages

Learning a second language has numerous benefits. Languages can open up employment opportunities at home and abroad. If you are looking to business in foreign markets it sure helps to know the language, mainly because you’ll never see the opportunities without it. If you want to travel be it for tourism or to make a permanent move to another country, again knowing the language can make or break the experience. The languages you know may also determine the list of places you may want to or be able to go. There is so much knowledge in the world hidden within each culture as each part of our global village has something to share. Knowing a second language can help you study in different universities across the globe. In the end you really don’t know how far you can take it until you’ve got it.

How to do it?

In order to learn a language you typically need three things. A book, a teacher, and someone to practice with. If you were going to immerse yourself in a foreign country then all you really need is a teacher and a curriculum, the country will practice with you after that. Not all of us have the ability or the money to take a 6 month vacation in Costa Rica to learn Spanish never mind pay for a teacher and living expenses once we arrive. Therefore we need to look for ways in which we can still attain these resources without emptying our pockets. So here are a few ideas.

What resources you have

The internet is great for homeschoolers and independent motivated learners. You can learn just about anything, one of which being a foreign language. There are social networking sites like LiveMocha. Livemocha is a free website which allows you to practice a language through various lessons and levels, focusing on vocabulary, listening, reading and speaking. It is a social website much like Facebook which allows for you to meet up with others who are learning the same language, or speak your language of choice but need help with yours. Options for additional lessons and materials for an additional cost are available, but quite a bit can be done through their website absolutely free of charge. Again it is a social website so supervision is highly advised.

ITunes This application is absolutely amazing. You can download it here and for an idea of how to get set up you can check out our previous review in our post Homeschooling: Taking it to the next level. For a foreign language use you want to go through the same set up and once you have the application running on your computer you want to open up ITunes Store and then go to the section called podcasts. Once you are there, type into the search bar any language you want to study and you’ll have any number of options at your fingertips. The languages available are many, from French, to Spanish, Arabic to Italian, all in free podcasts at different levels to help you get on your feet. Some of them have musical intros so be forewarned.

Textbooks: Finding a textbook can be difficult, but for the major languages of the world one is about as good as another. I don’t have a specific advice for a specific text here because it is relative to whatever language you are going to be studying, but I do know where you can get excellent text books for free, and that is your local college or university. That’s right, at the end of each year, many professors throw their old books out for the taking. I have two Spanish textbooks that are teacher’s editions with the audio CDs barely used, and it cost me nothing.

Teachers / Speaking Partners: This often seems like the most difficult part due to the fact that we automatically assume you have to pay for such a service. Nothing is free of course, but if you’re on a tight budget as most of us are then finding someone for free or for a minimal charge is going to be optimal. Here are three ideas that you can try.

1.  The elderly or recently retired. Their social lives can be pretty idle upon retiring and making the transition from the 9-5 to siting around all day can be tough. Having a cute little visitor a few times a week would brighten up their day. The best part is most likely they won’t want any compensation, but if your able it’s always good to give them what you can. Ask around and you’re sure to find someone who meets your requirements.  If you can find a relative this would obviously be the best choice as it is someone you know and can trust.

2. Doing a tradeoff.  If you’re living in a city chances are you have many people of different cultures. Many of them either need to learn English themselves and likewise their children. If you cannot afford to pay someone or are unable to find someone willing to do it for free then see if you can make some sort of trade off or mutual agreement, where you teach English in exchange for a lesson for your child.

3. College Students First because finding them is simple. You can call the language department of your local college or university, and speak to the specific language faculty you are targeting and ask them to approach their best students. Or you can just post up a few flyers. If they chose the language as their major, they most likely love it, and will be more passionate about teaching it. Also college students typically need money and will not expect too much. Grouping up with other families can also cut down the cost burden. Again this category you might want to take quite a bit of precaution and supervision.

Picking a language

What language should I pick for my child? Well this all depends on your motivation. If it is for religious reasons you might lean towards Arabic. If it’s for business you might look more towards Chinese or German. Some people look at the number of nativespeakers. For me I find it more relevant the geographical distribution of the language speakers. There are a whole lot of Chinese speakers but they are mainly located in one area of the world which I don’t plan on traveling to. French on the other hand is widely spoken on more than four continents. Maybe your spouse is from a Spanish speaking background and you want your children to be able to communicate with their grandparents. At the end of the day you have to evaluate what is most beneficial for your children.

For our situation I hope to start with my oldest son learning French within the next few weeks. I have recently found a teacher for him who happens to be my Aunt. Although she lives very far away from us, she was more than happy with the idea and agreed to teach my son over Skype. I will be looking for a textbook to use for support, and hope that with some of the additional resources listed above, we will be able to make a lot of progress even if it is at a slow but consistent rate. God willing it will also be a lot of fun, and as with most homeschooling adventures, I hope to sneak in on some of the learning as well.