This interview was originally posted in December 2015. Bilqees is a co-founder of TMH and remains connected to the group. She is currently running her own business, Zuhoor designs, continues to homeschool her younger two children. Her three elder children have moved on to University and High school.
How many kids do you have and what are their ages?
I have five kids. My eldest Yaseen, is nineteen, Jibreel is seventeen, Bilal is fourteen, my daughter Maysara is eight and a half, and my youngest son Idrees is five and a half.
How long have you been homeschooling for and do you follow a particular method?
I have technically always homeschooled. My kids have never gone to school. However, last year, my eldest attended grade twelve, which was his own decision and something he felt he wanted to do. He is back to homeschooling this year.
I started off following the classical method. Soon after, someone lent me the book “A Well Trained Mind.” I read the first five pages and never touched it again. Then over time I evolved into eclectic because this suited my personality much better. I found it easier to collect my own material, dabble into different methods, and do things according to the need of the individual child.
Fast forward a few years, and we had a house fire. I was just pregnant with my youngest and we lost almost everything. Alhamdulillah, no one was hurt but it was a changing point in our lives. Prior to the fire I began looking into unschooling and after the fire, I had no choice but to leave my old methods as we were very limited with both resources and space. We moved into a condo for six months and were only able to save a few books (which still smell like smoke!). So I officially became an unschooler.
For me, academics come secondary. I prefer to have more of a relaxed approach when it comes to this aspect. I have always wanted to focus primarily on the principles of character and behaviour.
I am still evolving in my methods. Homeschooling families are always changing. The child in the family, as well as their style of learning, will also always be changing. For example, when I wanted to start unschooling, this worked with my other kids, but not my eldest so he remained more classical inclined. But for me, heavy structure does not allow me to relax, and, relaxation is longevity in homeschooling.
A PEEK INSIDE YOUR LIFE
Why does your family chose to homeschool?
At the beginning, I decided to homeschool because I did not want my kids to go to public school. Mine and my brother’s experiences in school really turned me away from the public system, so when I had my eldest I knew I wanted different. I turned to Islamic schools but there was a waiting list so I figured I’d homeschool in the meantime.
I had done ECE so I was familiar with how and where to find resources. It was when I was looking for things for my eldest that I started learning more about homeschooling. In fact, my own mother homeschooled my siblings and I when we made the move from Saudi to California. So I had some idea about homeschooling, and then met a few sisters who had also just started.
By the time I had my third child, who was again a boy, I made a conscious decision that I would not be putting my three (black) boys into the public school system where I feel my brother was very disadvantaged, and fully committed to homeschooling.
I really feel that it is important to develop a child’s character and let them have the freedom to have self esteem, regardless of skin colour and religion. I felt that the only way I could truly let this happen is if I nurtured them at home. I believe the school system does not teach children how to exist in the real world and fails to give them the individual attention they need.
At the beginning, homeschooling was a gradual transition from something that was convenient for us (due to the waiting list), to something I decided I really wanted to do, and now, it is something I am passionate about and wish that everyone could to.
What does a good day look like in your house?
It would start off with everyone waking up at a reasonable time (and I’m not specifying what time that would be since I may shock some!). It would actually go back to going to bed at a reasonable time, which leads to waking up at a reasonable time and then being productive throughout the day. And it can be productive in anything they do; it does not have to be sit down worksheets. It can be be something you’re learning or gaining from, or it could be something you are teaching someone else. Teaching one another does not always have to be in the book sense, but can be general life skills as well. My eldest has taught his younger siblings how to read, and subhanallah my youngest even knows terms from trigonometry that I don’t even know, just from hanging out with his brothers.
Since we unschool, we generally have less time with workbooks and textbooks which means more time with one another. This means our family has a heavy culture of sharing, whether it be food, life or knowledge, we’re just always sharing.
What does a bad day look like in your house?
Well it would begin with everyone not waking up at a reasonable time. And then having people be in an unproductive mood, which then leads to wanting to be dumbed down with gadgets. We have a policy in our house that we must have a productive day before any gadgets are allowed. However my eldest complains that he wishes there were no gadgets as when he was young, he was only allowed to watch the Land Before Time…now, its crazy how much kids have access to!
What are your three homeschooling essentials?
1. Sunlight – sometimes you just need to sit or lay down with your kids in the light and relax. Especially with boys.
2. Books – lots and lots of books. Not that I read a lot but I have always promoted it, and now my three eldest boys are avid readers.
3. Freedom to be yourself – Kids need to express themselves in their nature. They are so pure and innocent when they are younger. The times in which we allow our kids to be themselves, is when we really get the gems to come out.
What was your biggest homeschooling mistake or set back?
When I question myself. I used to do it more so before, but I am better now. Over the years it has been a journey of self discovery and I have become more firm and passionate in my views.
Whats the best part of homeschooling?
Being with the children and watching them grow.
When my eldest was young, he would sketch car designs a lot – he was obsessed! Recently we went to a university open house and he was looking into mechanical engineering and automotive design. Afterwards, he asked me to find his drawings, which by chance had survived the fire. We realized that one of his designs is a car that actually exists today!
I believe through homeschooling, kids can really fine tune their interests and talents to excel at certain things. Perhaps in the school system they would have lost this amazing opportunity.
Another thing I have loved about homeschooling has been watching my boys learn to harmonize their voices together, write lyrics to a song and then record it.
Whats the worst part of homeschooling?
The fears of the pressure that society puts on you. When you realize that you are in charge of your kids education it can be really scary. Especially as the kids get older the pressures begin to build. Everyone thinks it’s cute that you want to spend time with your Kindergartener at home and play, but once high school starts, the judgement comes in a lot stronger.
Facebook Pages: I actually don’t look at Homeschooling stuff on Facebook much. I feel that this has saved my sanity and given me longevity. I look up and focus on what I need, when I need it and that’s it. Otherwise, it can be anxiety-inducing because it’s just too much and very overwhelming. Trying to emulate someone else is impossible and can create a downward spiral of doubting yourself. I much rather meet someone face to face and discuss homeschooling. Meetings pump me up and give me energy. Blogs: *see above* YouTube Channels: None. Place to shop for homeschooling supplies: Scholar’s Choice ( a bit expensive but good for certain workbooks), Costco, Conferences, Christian Homeschooling Conferences, Chapters/ Indigo. Children’s book: I have restricted my kids’ reading, so I really love Muslim Authors especially for novels, such as Haji Hutchinson who wrote the Invisible Abdullah series. Book: I don’t have one. Family movie: None. But we have steered clear of Disney. (Board)Game: Puzzles! With lots of pieces, for the entire family.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to homeschool?
Persevere. It is worth it. You will reap your rewards if you stick to it, inshaAllah.
Have you ever thought about giving up? When, why, and what got you through?
No I haven’t. I made this conscious decision to homeschool so I knew I wanted to stick to it. Our lives has changed drastically over the years, but our learning styles have adapted as well to accommodate for our choice in alternative education.
Who or what is your biggest homeschooling support?
At the moment, it would be my eldest son. Whenever I begin to doubt myself or am faced with a difficult decision regarding the other children’s education, he gives me pep talks and helps me through.
Recently I was considering putting my second son into the school system as I felt perhaps it would be better for his future. However it was my eldest who told me it was just my fears speaking and that we could do this. He advised me that if his brother was to be put in school, to wait until grade eleven, not grade nine.
Alhamdulillah through him, I have seen the hard work I put into homeschooling my kids cycle back, and that is a huge pay off.
How do you manage to juggle all the demands of motherhood and housework while homeschooling?
I think of it as everything in one. I don’t compartmentalize my life. Motherhood, family, homeschooling, and housework, is all one thing. It is the lifestyle that I chose and I made the commitment to be in this for the long haul. My lifestyle is homeschooling and homeschooling is my lifestyle.
What does your family usually eat for breakfast?
It depends. Sometimes it’s cereal, we usually have a variety of unsweetened (or lesser sweetened) cereals. Or eggs, or oatmeal. One of these three.
Where was the last place your family went to enjoy some quality time together?
We don’t really go out much together just the six of us, as we usually have other family members accompanying us outside. But, we do sit on the couch together; all six of us, squished onto one couch! We talk, laugh, debate, sing, and have serious conversations. My boys like to do vocal exercises – which can kind of be like a torture chamber for me. But sometimes they do actually harmonize which is nice, and then my daughter adds in with her girly voice.
What is something you do for yourself to feel good?
After every baby I’d be sure to exercise and get down to a certain size to feel better and healthier. I try to exercise in the mornings and sometimes the kids join in. We used to love Billy Blanks videos!
Over time, I began to neglect myself (as many moms do), which led to me not realizing I had become anemic. I am now taking better care of myself, alhamdulilah.
I also have a passion for flowers and run my own florist company, Zuhoor Designs. My flowers have gotten me through my most trying times in life. Spending time with the different ones and creating designs, along with the smell, has been really therapeutic. I’m not even bothered by their thorns anymore.
Can you share a confession of something you let your kids do that others may not know or approve of?
I have self-diagnosed dyslexia. This may or may not come as a surprise to those who know me well. I was forced into reading (two different languages) at a young age and really struggled. Once I was old enough to understand the issue, I did not want to tell anyone. Because I was in the school system, my teachers missed it and I was able to hide it. If there was group reading at school I would determine what passage I would need to read and practice until I was called on. Over time it has became more and more clear; for example I will read words backwards and my kids will even catch and correct me.
Because of this experience, I never forced my kids to read. I let them learn at their own pace and would let them go if they were not interested at the time. Alhamdulillah now they love reading and books is a huge part of our family. And that doesn’t always mean reading them word for word, sometimes its just looking at the pictures and discussing them or coming up with our own stories.
Struggling with dyslexia has a child was difficult, but I hope by speaking about my experience I can perhaps motivate others to seek the help needed for them or their kids inshaAllah.
If you were an animal, what would you be:
A butterfly. Because it flutters around calmly from flower to flower and quietly hovers.