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 EspaƱola” 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.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Homeschooling: Taking it to the next level

“You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you could have gotten for a $1.50 in late charges at the public library”

Matt Damon – Goodwill Hunting

My idea of homeschooling goes beyond the idea of grabbing a curriculum and educating my children up to the necessary standards of public education.  Likewise it is not just about saving them from the social ills of the public schools, or protecting their religious foundations.  To me it is a life methodology of constant learning.  Call it what you want, seeking knowledge, homeschooling, educating, or enlightening yourself, the title concerns me little.  The goal is what is important.  It is not just something I do with my children, but something that I do myself as well.  

It seems that in homeschooling many people do not stick it out all the way through, and eventually enroll their children in public or private institutions as they get older.  This may be for various reasons, some of which being the idea that one lacks the ability, knowledge, or resources to give a proper education once their child reaches the higher levels.  Some may fear the eligibility of their children entering a University or their apparent acceptability to the admissions office.  I for one see none of these as problems, and today I would like to address the issue of educating your children to be prepared for University level studies, and present just one of the many tools available that can help relieve this problem. 

I hope that this post will be beneficial to those of you who would like to skip the college experience altogether, those who would like to give your children a preview, or those of you whose children have just surpassed the high school curriculums and would like something more challenging.  If you fall into any of these three categories than I suggest you become acquainted with ITunes.   ITunes is an application from apple which is the main portal through which people with apple products such as an iPod can buy and download all sorts of things from books, videos, to music and much more. However you do not need to own any apple products to use it, not an iPad, nor an iPhone, or an iPod, just your PC will do.

The best thing about ITunes in my opinion is none of the above mentioned uses, but rather a subsection of the ITunes application called ITunesU.  The U stands for University.  ITunes University is like the Napster of college courses, only it is legit, and IT IS FREE.  Have you dream of your children studying at Yale?  Maybe you don’t want them to pay the tuition of Princeton? Or perhaps you are not interested in sending your child across the country to Stanford?   If that’s the case then with ITunes U you can have your cake and eat it too, all at your fingertips with a price tag of zero. 

There are over 300 colleges and universities from across the world, which have recorded and uploaded full semester courses onto ITunesU.  Courses range from business, history, international relations, chemistry, to entrepreneurship, and so much more. Your children can study just about anything that comes to mind.  It is a wonderful resource that parents should utilize for themselves and their children while it is still available and free.  

Most of the Universities are from but not limited to the United States.  There are institutions from over 19 countries to choose from.  Some of the many institutions include Yale, Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge, Georgetown, Berkley, Columbia, Duke, and just about any other major University or College that you can think of.      

Possible benefits

1.      If you don’t wan your child to go to University or put themselves in thousands of dollars in debt, now you don’t have to.  Especially if you’re not concerned with that piece of paper getting them a job at the end of the day. 

2.      If they do want to go to college you can prepare them with ITunesU, in fact they can even aim for a specific university, try some of the courses, and then correspond with the professors, via email and eventually make a visit which might go to help their chances of getting in.

3.      Often times young adults (including myself) with little guidance at the age of 18 are promised a good job, all you have to do is sign on the dotted line.  “Yes it looks like a big number but as soon as you graduate your new job will be paying you $30,000 a year, maybe more, and you will pay off that debt in no time.”  Reality is a lot different from that.  Four years later, in debt, without a job, and you feel like a sucker.  That’s a lot of money to blow on a degree that you might not really like in the first place.  Also guidance counselors don’t factor in things like inflation and the cost of living once you graduate, nor the potential job market or lack thereof.  ITunesU gives you a sneak peak at the subjects your child will actually study long before they do, so that they can make a more educated decision about what to study, or to even study at all.

4.      If you are like me and you are not just educating your children but you are personally taking part by also educating yourself then ITunesU is for you.  Sometimes we feel like we would like to go back to school but just cannot afford it.  Also many parents may feel like they are lacking the propper knowledge to school their children in certain subjects.  ITunesU can help you get on track.  Another excellent idea is as your children get older, instead of teaching them, you can start studying with them.  ITunesU gives you that opportunity. 

How to use it?

First you will have to download the application from here.  They may ask you for a debit or credit card and charge you a penny/ $.01 for those of you outside of the US.  (This is because most people use this service to buy movies and music and are charged via their card)  Once you’ve downloaded the application, open up ITunes on your desktop.  Look to the left hand menu as displayed in the picture and click on ITunes Store.  This will bring up a new window.  Once that new window is displayed there will be a menu bar at the top.  Click on ITunesU and then search.  When you find something you like, click on the course and then you have three options.  You can subscribe which will automatically download upcoming lectures, or get all which downloads all of the current lectures, or you can pick any of the individual lectures by clicking on the tab under the price column, that should say free.

If you are living outside of the United States, Canada, or England, you might want to scroll all the way to the bottom of the app where you will find a circular flag of the country of your location, click on this and change to the US because in some countries certain sections are not available.
 For those of you who have not beeen aware of this resource, I hope that it is a good find for you and helps you and your children in taking your homeschooling to the next level.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Singapore Math Kindergarten A & B Review

By Umm Abdurahman,

Previously I wrote about setting the foundations of mathematics for your child and about starting with a syllabus. After hearing so much about Singapore math we purchased a few levels and gave it a go. Now that my son has finished the kindergarten level, I would like to post my review for the books.   

The pros

1.      The breadth of subjects covered in the books is diverse. The first book covers numbers up to 10, shapes, patterns, length and size, weight, capacity and comparing sets. The second book covers comparing numbers, numbers up to 100, number bonds, addition, subtraction, time, and money.  I feel it is a great first step for a kindergarten level student.

2.      One of the most appealing aspects was the apparent ease of the program. I think from both a teacher and a child’s perspective working through the syllabus is a breeze. It took us around three months to finish the kindergarten books, as they were so easy and enjoyable to work through.

3.      The books were fun and exciting.

4.      The building of concepts was gradual.

5.      My son does not like to review too much, once he gets something he wants to move on. The Singapore textbooks provided just enough practice for him to do this.

6.      You do not need to buy either the activity book or the teacher’s book for this level.  The textbook is sufficient with enough practice to grasp the concepts without need of the activity book.  As for the teachers book instructions are written at the bottom of the page for each exercise within the textbook, therefore you don’t need it and can save money. 

The cons

1.      The textbooks were fairly effortless to teach save a few chapters, and even though I purchased both the activity books as well, I believe the textbooks at this level are more than sufficient.  The activity books did not add much benefit with regards to additional practice, so you can do without them.

2.      Although it was rare, some sections of the books I felt I could teach better than the approach offered.  From book A the unit teaching measurements of length and size asked the students to measure things according to cubes, e.g. the red shoe is as long as four cubes. For me I felt this was unnecessary and thought it would be much more beneficial if I taught my son to measure the relative sizes of objects using a ruler.  This worked well. 

3.      As for book B the unit on time was not very valuable. It covered telling the time by the hour, days of the week, year and some calendar work. The drills on telling the time my son liked but the other exercises I did not see much purpose to them.

4.      There is a small section which covers counting by tens and fives in the chapter “numbers up to 100’’ in book B. One of the things that I felt weakened this section is that they don’t explain the concept of multiplication, even though that is what it appeared to be.  I took some time out and decided to teach my son what multiplication was about so that if I asked him what six six’s were, he knew what it meant and could work it out. I don’t think this section was appropriate for this book.
I am extremely happy with the syllabus as a whole. The progress he has made so far is very evident. My son now applies a quantitative approach to many aspects in his daily affairs because he now understands and comprehends the relevance of mathematics in everyday life. When we started my son could barely write legible numbers, and had very little knowledge of math. Now he is able to count and write any number from one up to 100, he can carry out simple addition and subtraction equations. He understands the concept of multiplication and can answer simple equations.  I would definitely recommend the books and feel that it was a worthwhile buy.