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Good Islamic Books for Kids – A Concise Children’s Encyclopedia of Islam

26 Sep

A thing that I admire about living here in Saudi Arabia is that I have access to Islamic books by Darussalam (at good prices). I am not sure if Darussalam books are sold at higher prices in the US or not but here in KSA, the prices are quite nominal at an average of SAR50 (which is about $15) or less for an illustrated hardcover book. Alhumdulillah! I will be showcasing some books that I use, while homeschooling, for providing information about Islamic topics in a fun and less tedious manner, Insha’Allah. Here is one book, A Concise Children’s Encyclopedia of Islam, by Darussalam that I use a lot masha’Allah. Here is a link to this book on the publisher’s website and some pictures of the book.

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Practicing the Dictionary Checking Skill

22 Sep
TJ practices the 30-second dictionary game

TJ practices the 30-second dictionary game

Insha’Allah, as our family homeschools 9-year old TJ and 5-year old M4, I will exhibit bits and pieces of our journey. I do have a laptop handy for checking out the meaning of a word but I feel it’s useful for TJ to find out the meaning of a word, the old-fashioned way i.e. through a dictionary. Alhumdulillah! To spike up TJ’s interest in the dictionary, we did the 30-second game of locating a word. 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000……

My long absence and what’s happening next

5 Sep

This year has been a little hectic travel-wise. So far, we have travelled thrice to US and once to Pakistan. There were conferences, a college graduation and personal travel – masha’Allah. I recently arrived from the US and due to this new authentication process for WordPress, wasn’t able to access or approve comments for my account. I apologize for all the unanswered questions sent to my email or posted on the comments section. I haven’t had a chance to respond to them. I apologize for that. I will try to answer one by one some of the many questions but I may not be able to answer them all. I realize that a lot of people are recently moving to KSA (and wanting details) and in future, I may not be able to answer all questions because of the time issue. I don’t have much of it.

Although, I have left my job, I will insha’Allah be homeschooling the younger ones for the coming year. I have withdrawn TJ from AISR. Paying 70k SAR plus for a secular elementary education is not my cup of tea. For the older ones, 11th grader and 12th grader, I don’t have another option. I would term AISR’s elementary education to be mediocre at best. There is a lot of ooohh and aahhh with all the variety of extracurricular activities but the basics remain lousy except perhaps English and you never know what your children learn. Plus, what matters the most to me – Hifz, Islamic education and an organic connection to a simple life – is missing. Plus, this year they introduced iPads for 4th grade and so – hello to hyperactive and distracted kids playing games while the teacher thinks they study. I will stop myself from getting too pompous with my look down attitude towards kids using iPads in class rooms but the fact is that it introduces distraction and hyperactivity in the classroom. In the summer, I did purchase a mini-iPad for TJ thinking he might need to use it in the classroom but Alhumdulillah, we should be saved from it.

May Allah guide us all. Ameen.

The best part of homeschooling is….

3 Feb

..that you can incorporate your own tales into every lesson that you are teaching your child. For example, today for TJ’s second grade Health and Fitness class, we were discussing swimming safety. We also discussed the importance of wearing life jackets when riding in a boat. I was reminded of the news from three days ago where three prison inmates, Jon Fowler, Nelson Pettis and Larry Bohn from Larch Corrections Centers, who were working near the Salmon Creek in a Washington State Park, saved the lives of three brothers aged 16, 10 and 8 whose boat overturned in the creek. I was able to discuss with TJ not only the importance of wearing a life jacket but also the religious aspect of this story where this crew from Larch, which in fact was a replacement crew for someone else who was supposed to work at the creek that day, were sent as guardian angels by God to help these boys. The family of these three brothers is real lucky that these men were working near the creek or otherwise this could have been a big tragedy for this family. May God bless Fowler, Pettis and Bohn for their extremely selfless and brave deed. Amin!

Not everyone gets lucky in water. I told TJ about the news from nearly two years ago where six teens drowned in front of their helpless families in the Red River in Shreveport, Louisiana while trying to save each other. Neither the kids nor their families knew how to swim. This was a very sad event and had the teens known swimming and about the dangers of undercurrents in seemingly static rivers, they wouldn’t have drowned. It’s also important to know to not jump to save another individual when you don’t know swimming yourself. Many important points about the rules of safety while swimming or while riding a boat or a canoe were highlighted while telling these stories to TJ.

Yesterday, while discussing 2nd Grade Islamic Education, we were studying how our dear Prophet (PBUH) built his mosque with only palm leaves as the roof top. I told TJ how this was a big contrast to how mile long palaces are being built in Saudi Arabia today or how excessive gold gets incorporated into some of the mosques today. Our Prophet (PBUH) didn’t aim for grandiose and extravagance when he built his mosque and his living quarters. One of the children pointed out that perhaps in that day and age, the rich stuff didn’t exist. I reminded the kids about the Pharaohs, their extremely indulgent way of life (and even death) and the fact that they existed much before our Prophet (PBUH) but still had access to all the richness in the world. Our Prophet (PBUH) was the leader of the Muslims but barely spent anything on him.

That is the best part of homeschooling where a simple line in a text book just doesn’t stay a simple line. It turns into a complete story by itself and the kids love hearing stories. Masha’Allah.

How my son is memorizing the Quran

19 Jan

I wanted to share how my 7 and a half year-old son, TJ, is memorizing the Quran. There are many Muslim parents that wish that their sons will become a Hafiz (a person that has completely memorized the Quran) but very few might have the resources, or perhaps more accurately, very few might think that they have the resources for their sons to memorize the Quran. So I wanted to share my model with you. This might not work for everyone but masha’Allah, by the grace of God, it has been working for our family.

This is the daily routine of TJ. Currently, he is having vacations so we are sleeping in and his morning Qari Sahib ( a term of respect in Urdu for someone who recites/teaches the Quran) comes later on in the day but when the schools are open, here is how TJ’s day is.

TJ is enrolled in the Manarat school system but he only goes there for exams. So for all purposes, he is home-schooled. If your son is enrolled in a homeschool program, it will be very close to TJ’s model.

TJ gets up at 8:30 am. He does his wudhu (ablution for getting ready to read the Quran). Some people might not do wudhu before touching the Quran but we, Pakistanis, do it so it might be more of a cultural aspect than a religious aspect – I am not sure about that. Anyway, TJ comes downstairs and gets ready for Qari Sahib. TJ has two people helping him memorize the Quran. We call the first one Qari Sahib 1 (let’s for this article refer to him as Q1) and we call the second person, Qari Sahib 2 (Q2 for brevity).

Q1 comes at around 8:40 am. He and TJ will usually memorize about 10 – 15 new verses and sometimes more and sometimes less. It depends upon how TJ has retained the verses taught to him the previous day. If he has retained them, Q1 will do more – if not, he might do less. As TJ grows up insha’Allah, his lesson size will increase.

Now, memorization always begins from the end of the Quran and keeps on moving to the beginning of it. The reason is that towards the end of the Quran, the Chapters (or Surahs) are smaller and easier to memorize and as we move to the beginning, the Surahs start becoming longer. Quran is divided into 30 equal parts and has a total of 114 Surahs.

TJ started in June of last year and at this moment he has masha’Allah memorized the 30th part of the Quran and is working on the second last Surah of Part 29. Now every day, when Q1 comes in, he teaches TJ the new verses but then also, listens to the Surahs of Part 30 – going from front of Part 30 to back of Part 30, listening to about 5-6 Surahs. Q1 also just lets TJ plain read the verses that TJ will be memorizing for the next day – that’s called Nazara whereas the revision of the Surahs from the previous Part (currently 30) is called Murajiya.

Once Q1 is done, we write in a note book, name of the Surah and the verse numbers that TJ memorized for the day, what he revised from the Part 30 (Murajiya) and what he read in preparation for the next day (Nazara).

Now Q1 will leave some homework which is usually listening to the verses that TJ has memorized during the current day and also preparing him for the Murajiya for the next day. This is the part where Q2 comes in. Currently, we have Q2 hired on the Internet. He lives physically in Badin, Sindh, Pakistan but we connect on Skype and he will revise the stuff that Q1 wants listened to or revised.

Now we are following a specific model. We have a primary Hifz teacher (Q1) and a secondary one (Q2). Q1 will be the person doing the actual memorization but Q2 helps retain it and check it. Now there have been situations where Q1 was not available on weekdays and then Q2 would initiate new memorization lessons as well and Q1 and Q2 were both advancing each other. But at this time, Q1 is the leader and Q2 is the follower so thus TJ will be emulating Q1’s accent and Tajweed (pronunciation of Arabic letters) style.

I think, you don’t have to live in a Muslim centric area to do do Hifz. If you are able to perhaps find one person who can do the main Hifz and this person has the good accent and Hifz technique, you can always have another backup Qari Sahib from places like Quran Reading or Muslim Academy or another online Hifz teacher, for revision. Or perhaps you could have both teachers online or perhaps you could just have one teacher in the primary role and you could help your kid with the revision. There are parents who do both roles of the primary teacher and the revision one. I just wanted to share my model to give an idea to anyone who wanted to know where to start.

Here is the rest of TJ’s routine. Q1 leaves at about 10:20am. TJ has had a full cup of honey milk while he sat with Q1. The sugar in the drink keeps his brain energy going, masha’Allah. After memorization, TJ will have breakfast and then his regular school time happens between 11am – 2pm. During his study time, he has 1-2 breaks. After study, TJ will have lunch and play outside until Maghrib. At Maghrib (currently happening at 5:15 pm), after he has come back from the mosque, he will take a shower and then sit down for Q2. He has another glass of honey milk. The lesson with Q2 is about an hour-long. I try to get him in bed by 10pm on school days. Q2’s timings might fluctuate from month to month depending upon prayer timings.

Remember, keep it simple and keep your goals practical. In the end, if the child has memorized the Quran, it doesn’t matter if he/she did it in 3 years or 7 years or more. Masha’Allah! Keeping the main memorization in the beginning of the day makes it easier to remember. Also giving the child a shower before revision makes him relaxed and the drink keeps him hydrated and strong. You don’t want the revision too close to the actual memorization  –  let the actual sink in before you hear it. Keep in mind, that Q1 is revising it as well. Q2 is just additional help.

May Allah make it easy for all of us who are trying to memorize the Quran. Amin.

Manarat, Homeschooling, Taxis, Women and Driving

11 Dec

I have taken my son out of Manarat. Well, he is not really out – he will still be enrolled in there, insh’Allah, for the rest of 2nd Grade but he will be studying at home. He will periodically go to school to take his exams and quizzes. The reasons for which I made this decision are manifold. He suffers from asthma and the environment in the school triggers his allergy – that is the official reason why he is staying home. The other reason why he will be studying from home is that he is doing Hifz (memorization of the Quran), mash’Allah, and this arrangement will reduce the time wasted at school. But I think the first and foremost reason is that Manarat is spoiling my son. My son, a year ago, did not lie, did not mock adults when they talked, did not beat other kids up and did not use curse words. After less than a year at Manarat (he got enrolled in there in February of this year), he has started doing all that. There is no discipline at Manarat and for this very reason, my son insh’Allah will not continue there. I don’t want my son to become a gunda (an Urdu term for a hoodlum) so I am not really interested in him learning how to beat other people up. Thus, I have decided to teach him at home, insh’Allah.

Does my decision mean that I would like him to continue in another school that doesn’t teach him about Islam such as Multinational, British or American? No. Does my decision mean that I would have liked him to continue in a public or private school in America? No. Just because an Islamic school is not doing it right by not teaching their kids about discipline doesn’t mean that I would want my son to be at a school where there is no value for morality – where there is no teaching about why kids should abstain from girlfriends/boyfriends and sex, why it is important to cover your body and wear modest clothing and why we need to live Islam in order to be the best people around. So homeschooling, our family’s staple for the past four years (and currently the fifth year) for the girls, will be passed on to our son as well, insh’Allah, at least for now. Does that mean I don’t have belief in organized schooling? I do but unless I find a school that holds and cherishes the values that our family does – my kids will continue studying at home, insh’Allah.

I am teaching my son for now, mash’Allah, but I am looking for a tutor as well. I have been offered a research in science position by the Grace of God and I could start any time once all my papers get processed. I would need a female tutor to come to my home for a few hours. Thanks to King Abdullah, a more than generous pay of SAR 2000/month would not be sufficient for a female tutor, as it would be for a male tutor, for coming to my home for a couple of hours. The reason is that a round trip to my home from most parts of the city will cost about SAR 60 coming to a total of SAR 1320/month. The gasoline here costs about SAR 0.60 (or about 15 cents) per liter. So you can imagine how trivial the gas cost to my home is. But if the government doesn’t let you drive your car and you have to hire one of the expensive taxis around, all of your pay goes to the taxi drivers rather than into your pockets.

King Abdullah, do you realize how your decision about not letting women drive affects us who are trying to manage our lives in Saudi Arabia?

Why Manarat International for girls didn’t work for us

28 Sep

This year, after a 4 year period of homeschooling that our family started in fall of 2008, we had our 15 year old (M2) and 13 year old (and insha’Allah soon to be 14 – M3) enrolled in Manarat International for Girls Senior. The primary reason for doing this was that M3 was bored. She had been a little bored in Charlottesville as well but after coming to Saudi Arabia and realizing that all kids went to brick and mortar schools made M3 want nothing to do with another year of distance learning at home. Being tired of her continuous whining, I decided that M2 and M3 should both go to Manarat. Well, they both attended the school for one week, hated it and they are back to distance learning, mash’Allah. M3 wanted to try AISR which I am not a big fan of – yet.

First of all, AISR has raised their tuition to about SAR 73, 000 annually which is about USD 20,000 per year. Not bad for a private school in the USA but for a person living and earning in Saudi Arabia, it is a relatively higher tuition. Now my primary reservations with the school are not just related to the fee. I don’t like the facts that:

  1. The school doesn’t have a uniform
  2. The super-rich people go there. I don’t want my kids to feel privileged or arrogant.
  3. Boys and girls are together.
  4. I find the concept of going to a school in an abaya (because of the Saudi regulations of wearing it publicly) and then later on taking it off in the school (where there are still males present), a very bad lesson for girls. It’s like telling your daughters that you wear the abaya for the mutawwas (religious police) and not because you need to wear modest clothing.
  5. It’s far from our home.
  6. It’s expensive. Our family primarily moved to Saudi Arabia for Islam, to be close to our family in Pakistan and for money. No if we are spending all our extra income that we get in Saudi Arabia on high school education, it doesn’t make any sense.

So it’s not AISR for us – yet but perhaps later. M2 has enrolled in a private online school which costs about $7000 annually while M3 is taking distance learning courses from an online high school affiliated with an American university (a big trend these days for homeschoolers).

Why did the girls, especially M3, hate Manarat? Well first of all, it was the first week and there were no studies except a few classes. The teachers were okay but M3 didn’t like the students in her classes. She felt that they didn’t understand basic concepts of (for example) the Physics subject. I think the final straw was the fact the both M2 and M3 had studied 3-4 of the core subjects in their previous grade, mash’Allah. I didn’t like many of the girls – there is not a strong discipline in school and some girls defy basic codes of uniform such as not keeping their hair in a ponytail and not wearing their uniform shirts. I would rather the school does away with the strict requirements of a specific color shoe or hair style rather than keep that part of the handbook and then let the students defy it. I also realize that the Principal is not big on disciplining Saudi students – perhaps she and the other teachers are afraid. If it were me, I would have kicked the rude ones out of the school the first day.

So we are back to homeschooling with the exception of our 7 year old son. We are trying a dual strategy with him. His primary section is way better (mash’Allah) than the senior girls section. But we also let him stay for a few days at home (he suffers sometimes from cold or cough related to perhaps an allergy so we have an excuse for absence) so that I am able to teach him the Manarat books at home. Why I do that? Because I like homeschooling and I find that he is able to do more at home than in school, mash’Allah. We are struggling with Arabic whose teachers are the worst at Manarat. By studying at home, there is no getting up at 6am for the kids! They are more rested and their brains work better, mash’Allah!

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