A homeschooling mom of 3 boys recently asked me:
“When did you start getting more strict with your eldest about homeschooling? I just had a baby and I’m trying to adjust to life with a third child, but I’m simultaneously worried that I’m behind in homeschooling my eldest who is almost 6. He has started to read, but his level is not at the same place as other kids his age who go to public school. What did you do?”
Yes, as they get older, you will naturally start getting more strict and have more expectations. We expect more the older a child is, academically, chores-wise, and generally.
When my first son was 6 years old, I started to become more strict with homeschool generally (but it was relative to before, not really super strict). That’s when I started doing more regular Quran classes (maybe 3-4 days a week, or some weeks, 5 days a week). I taught the kids some basic rules of the classroom, like sitting more still (or at least no jumping, no fighting, etc) during class time, listening to the teacher (me), no talking during class, etc. I really started our formal education with Quran as the main anchor. Tried to establish some sort of base with that, tried to be consistent to teach them consistency, the notion of school time (as distinct from playtime), etc.
Memorizing Quran is an important foundation for learning anything, as the memory center in the brain is nurtured and expanded. Memorizing anything physically increases the size of the hippocampus, so that the more you memorize, the more you are able to memorize. It’s like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Our great scholars who had brilliant, photographic memories, like Imam Ash-Shafi`i and Imam Ahmad, started out by first memorizing Quran. Then, having strengthened their memorization skills with the Quran, they quickly moved on to other fields, which they conquered with ease mashaAllah. I love this concept of starting the learning journey with the Quran, after which comes all other learning. This not only helps with memorizing, but also establishes the primacy of the Quran at the center of our lives and as the basis for all learning. This is the very lens through which we view the world.
Some days, we’d do a bit of math, a bit of Arabic reading/ writing, a small science lesson here and there. Really minor. In that period, it was a bit chaotic and not really a meticulously designed curriculum honestly. Just whatever came to me that day that we could do, if Khalid napped that day or not, if I’d slept the previous night or not, lol. I had a four-month-old Khalid at this time, so I know about the craziness of trying homeschool older children while having a tiny breastfeeding newborn and being sleep deprived.
My kids who were in the homeschool “class” when we started were 6, 4, and 3. The 3 year old simply tagged along and I just let him play quietly and sit with us, and he’d want to recite the surah too to imitate his big bros. The 4 year old I also was easy on and let him hold a small toy to keep him quiet. Even the 6 year old, too, as long as there was no fighting or trying to play with his siblings. Sometimes kids need to hold a small toy (little car, small dinosaur, whatever) in their hand to focus better, like a fidget toy almost.
But they would whine sometimes, or sulk or complain of being bored, all of which I’d squash ruthlessly. Lol, no I’m kidding. But I’d talk to them about needing to learn to set aside a bit of time for learning, that we can’t just play all day every day, we need to learn too. This is the very beginning of the discipline, which is what we want to begin teaching them around these ages.
Then I think it was around 7 years old or so that my eldest started reading English (I can’t remember the exact date now). I think he was 7. He was reading Arabic around 6 or 6.5 years old, albeit painstakingly and quite slowly. Also writing a bit. I prioritized Arabic first because English is so easy in comparison and it’s also everywhere. Arabic is a more endangered language (as is Farsi, which my husband taught him), while English is dominant and inevitable.
Also when my eldest son was 6, I started a system of daily morning chores. Every day after breakfast, each child had a special chore to do. The 4-year-old wiped down the table. The 6-year-old swept the floor under the table. The 3-year-old, who got mad and indignant that he wasn’t assigned a chore, I told him to pick up the toys on the living room floor just to give him something to do. This introduces the concept of responsibility and works for the family, and the daily doing of something that needs to get done even if I don’t really feel like it. (They started to get a bit bored with their chores after the initial novelty wore off, haha. Too bad! They still do chores to this day, 3 years later.)
We also went outside almost daily. Outdoor free play is extremely important for young children, as research shows again and again. They need to develop their gross motor skills, fine motor skills, vestibular sense, and proprioception (balance systems). Going to the backyard or park or playground and jumping, running, twirling, skipping, etc is a vitally necessary part of sound physical, emotional, psychological, and intellectual development for young kids. This also helps their cognitive function and ability to go back home and sit down and learn. So I took them outside nearly daily. I’ve written multiple posts on free outdoor play.
I’d say don’t torture yourself by constantly comparing your kids to their public-schooled counterparts. Of course, I don’t know the details of British laws of education and homeschooling. If there are national exams that are administered at certain ages, then, by all means, make sure you find out what these tests are and begin preparing your child for them.
But if not, I’d say focus right now on starting, as they enjoy their childhood, to build good habits of discipline and consistency, nurturing their natural love of learning, feeding their God-given curiosity about their environment, and deepening their love of the Quran and Allah.
Everything else will come inshaAllah: reading, writing, math, science, art. Do those things too, but it certainly does not have to be daily or even weekly. In school, they accelerate certain things (like reading, for example) at the expense of other, more important things, like the love of learning! So a public schooled 6-year-old may be reading faster, but he doesn’t necessarily like it and his curiosity may have been squashed or at least dimmed because of it.
Boys in particular take a bit more time to read and write, as compared to girls their same age. They say there is a two-year gap between boys and girls developmentally at this stage, so basically, a 3-year-old girl is generally on par with a 5-year-old boy, from a developmental standpoint. So boys especially get harmed in many, many ways being put into public school and being pushed too early to read and write, much too soon for them because it’s using the developmental timeline of little girls and not little boys. Dr. Leonard Sax and other physicians and child psychologists have written on this topic extensively.
So, to recap: daily Quran, chores, outdoor play. Then whatever Allah makes easy for you guys to do of other subjects.
Keep going, and have tawakkul on Allah. Make constant du`a for help and guidance from Allah, as you continue your journey of teaching your children what they need to know in this life, and more importantly, the next.
For more homeschool tips, read Umm Khalid’s other articles.