This interview was originally posted in June 2016. Ambareen put her four eldest into public school (grade 6, 8 , 11 and 12). Her two youngest are in a private homeschooling co-op. Her eldest is graduating from highschool this year and just got accepted into McMaster University, alhamdulilah.
She went back to school shortly after this interview, graduated and has been working part-time for various organizations over the past few years. She resigned from a full-time job as Director of Fund Development for a non-profit this past February (she needed a break!), and is back home with the kids during this quarantine time. It is bringing back wonderful memories of their homeschooling time and giving them a chance to reconnect as a family. They are loving every minute of it Alhamdullilah wa Shukrillah!
Also, she did finish the last book of Henrietta Gee; I'm debating whether or not to write the fourth!
How many kids do you have and what are their genders/ages?
I have 6 kids: girl 14, girl 12, girl 9, girl 7, boy 5, girl 2.
How long have you been homeschooling for?
I homeschooled for the last twelve years, and just put my eldest two into school this January (eeek!).
What method would you say you follow?
We’re mostly eclectic and unschooling, kid-driven completely. If the kids requested or liked using workbooks for some subjects, I would buy them, but we never used textbooks. Instead, we used tons of games (board/card, manipulative, videos/websites, field trips, etc. Also, when I say we didn’t use textbooks, that doesn’t mean we didn’t use books. Over the years, we’ve collected hundreds of books on every subject (buying them for around 50 cents each from Goodwill!), and we’ve also had different magazine subscriptions over the years (National Geo Jr, Sisters, OWL magazine, etc.). We are big on reading, as a family. There are books everywhere, but no pressure to read them. I also read to them out loud most nights (to the younger ones). We last finished Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat – great book, by the way!
The middle three kids just started going to a private co-op homeschool this year, and they are certainly more structured there. Also, we do follow more structure for Quran reading and memorization.
In one sentence, why did your family choose to homeschool?
To preserve the character of my kids, to instil love of learning, and for family scheduling flexibility.
A PEEK INSIDE YOUR LIFE
In a nutshell, describe what a good day in your home looks like.
A good day is always when everyone makes it to the end of the day alive and well. Alhamdullilah. However, for survey purposes, if at least 40% of the following occurs, then it’s a “good” day: Everyone gets up at a decent time, nobody’s asked me any questions before I’ve had a nice cup of coffee, everyone’s fed adequately, we have groceries in the house, minimal whining is going on, plentiful playing and learning is occurring, I’ve prayed all my prayers on time, weather’s nice, I’ve had a chance to shower and comb my hair, nobody’s thrown up, kids are being nice to each other, we’ve done something outdoors-y, I have plenty of chocolate mints in the cupboard, and I’ve only used my nice mommy voice and haven’t yelled like a lumberjack.
If 100% of above, then it is an absolutely miraculous day, one that may occur once in a decade (last one occurred in 2012-2013, I think).
In a nutshell, describe what a bad day in your home looks like.
The worst would be the exact opposite of everything above. In which case, I simply crawl into bed and call it a day – at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. And everyone’s watching Netflix.
What are your three homeschooling essentials?
Chocolate, coffee and remembrance of God.
If you mean, for homeschooling, then I would say: -a good breakfast -a working van -and opportunities for meaningful conversations with the kids (usually after we’ve had a good breakfast, and are driving around in the van).
How do you manage juggling kids of different ages?
I have a strict rule for my kids: NOBODY is allowed to interrupt me while I am talking to or working with another child. Also no interruptions by the phone either. The only time I would accept interruptions would be either from my baby, guests, or my in-laws, (who live downstairs); if either one calls, cries or wants attention, our homeschooling is done for the time being. As a general rule, we didn’t get much done for at least 6 months after the birth of each child. But I don’t mind: that’s part of the learning process, the kids have to know that the world does not revolve around them.
How do you promote peace and calmness in your home?
Umm….what do you mean, “peace and calmness?” The only time there is peace and calmness is when they’re sleeping. Otherwise, we have loud, busy, noisy, and happy kids, Alhamdullilah :).
For your own peace and calmness, I highly recommend every mom with more than four children to invest in a pair of Bose Noise-cancelling headphones. I know they are expensive (around $100-$200), but THEY WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE, SANITY AND HEARING. Save up your money, skip buying some curriculum materials, and get a pair!! I’m not joking – after a certain amount of kids, the group effect takes over, and there is never a quiet moment in the house (quiet in the house means something wrong is going on anyways), so having a good pair of earplugs/earphones is wonderful to take the edge off the noise (don’t worry, you’ll still be able to hear them!)
However, other than that point: playing the Quran out loud, having buckets of Lego and markers, and having healthy snacks to keep everyone’s blood sugars stable definitely helps to keep everyone in a good state of mind.
What gets you through the tough days?
Crying and beseeching to Allah, crying generally, chocolate, going for a walk, watching a good episode of Netflix. Preferably in that order.
Looking back, what would you tell your younger self before you began homeschooling?
Well, I wouldn’t tell myself anything. Otherwise I might scare myself to death and completely discourage myself. So, instead, I would leave two cryptic quotes, written on my bedroom mirror:
“Is the reward for good anything but good?” (Quran, 55:60) “Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!” (Mr. Shaikhspeare)
How do you manage to write your books while being a homeschooling mother and what advice would you give to those who want to pursue passions while homeschooling/ raising young kids?
If you want to pursue your passions while homeschooling, do not expect to take it out of your family’s time (unless you have someone who can watch the kids for you). Homeschooling is a full time job, and then some. So, the only way I got anything done was after the kids were asleep. I think I only got 3-4 hours of sleep a night for at least a decade. I’m getting older now, so passions slow down, and we have to start taking better care of our bodies. So now I take an occasional few hours off on some weekends to get some typing done.
Book (kids): I’ll assume you mean, what I loved reading as a kid: No Coins Please (Gordon Korman), Bruno and Boots series by Gordon Korman, anything by Farley Mowat, Encyclopedia Brown series, Choose Your Own Adventure series, and anything sci-fiction or fantasy-fiction (Lord of the Rings et al). Book (adult): Can’t pick only one, sorry: Our Master Muhammad (Imam Abdullah Sirajuddin al-Husayni), The Book of Assisstance (Imam Haddad), The Travels of Ibn Battuta (HAR Gibb translation), Purification of the Heart (by Sh. Hamza Yusuf), Treasury of Muslim Literature (Dr. Freda Shamma), Keys to Discipline (Ronald Morrish), To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Color of Magic (Terry Pratchett), The Lotus Book of English Verse, anything by Farley Mowat, gardening books in general, most classics. Place to go as a family: Ontario Science Centre, or the Centennial Park greenhouse. Place to go to escape the chaos: Second Cup, with my laptop, typing Henrietta Gee 3! Website: www.henriettagee.com Jazakillah khair for your time Ambareen!