This interview was originally posted in November 2016. Shehnaz has a background in geography, professional writing as well as a teachers degree. Her eldest is currently attending Alhuda Taleemul Quran full time and she continues to homeschool her two other children.
How many kids do you have and how long have you homeschooled them for?
My kids are 10 (girl), 7 (boy) and 3 (boy). They have never been in school.
Do you follow any particular methods?
We are eclectic in our homeschooling. We take what we like from different methods and combine them to suit our personalities and learning styles.
What is your educational background and how does this affect your decision and methods in homeschooling?
I studied geography and professional writing and went on to get my teaching degree. It was while I was in teacher’s college that I was introduced to alternate forms of education and the idea of homeschooling. During my practicums I observed so many problems in the classroom (bored students, boring teachers, meaningless content, wasted time) and I became convinced that ‘school’ is not the best way kids learn.
UNDERSTANDING ISLAM ACADEMY
What is UIA?
UIA was launched in 2002 and is a project of the community organization, DawaNet. UIA’s aim is to make Islamic education accessible, affordable and relevant to the times. My husband had been volunteering for DawaNet for many years and when UIA opened its center in 2010, we had just started homeschooling. A few of us, homeschooling moms, wanted to start co-op classes for our kids so they could build friendships and socialize. We approached the UIA center and began using the space. We started off with one homeschooling class a week with maybe 10 students and are now at 12 classes a week with over 50 homeschooled kids in the center at any given time.
The UIA center has been unbelievably supportive of our co-op (despite our noisy children and talkative moms who love the center so much they never want to leave!).
How has your involvement affected your homeschooling journey?
The homeschooling co-op at UIA has been an immense blessing in my homeschooling journey. The friendships we have built over the years with other homeschooling families are invaluable. My kids have an amazing group of friends who they have grown up with. They talk on the phone, work on creative ‘ideas’, meet for playdates and share their experiences with each other. Recently the girls have started their own weekly halaqa and I’m amazed at the depth of the discussions they have with each other. Because of the co-op, I know and love who my kids’ friends are (and their moms too!). Benefiting from the skills and talents of other homeschooling moms (who are way more passionate and enthusiastic about their subjects than most school teachers) has been another amazing blessing of being part of a co-op. The kids can learn from other teachers at a reasonable cost and they get the experience of being in a ‘class’ where there is homework, group works, projects and presentations. Of course managing the co-op has come with challenges. I’m not a people-person and have always struggled and stressed over managing the needs and personalities of the homeschooling moms with the concerns of the UIA admin. I still dread talking to moms about fees or class sizes or discipline issues! Many times I’ve contemplated leaving the co-op over stressful situations and strained friendships but I have to constantly remind myself that if Allah has given me this role, I can’t give up so easily.
My daughter performing in a play about the Seerah that was performed for the community.
How do you juggle the demands of contributing to the community while running your own household and homeschooling your own children?
I never considered the two things to be in opposition to each other. Whatever little I was able to contribute, my kids would be with me while I did it and it was just another aspect of life. I have come to realize that whatever time you sacrifice from your own home and kids, for Allah’s sake, comes back to benefit your family in some way.
A PEEK INSIDE YOUR LIFE
What does a good day look like in your home?
On a good day, the kids wake up on time, get dressed, make their beds, have breakfast and get started on their work without too many reminders. We get through everything I planned by 2 pm. We have lunch and the kids go outside to play while I clean up and do some chores. Because this rarely happens, I’ve come to accept that good days are really days when I’ve managed to stay positive and the kids have picked up on that positive energy. They’ve used their time productively (even if it means we didn’t get through everything I planned) and co-operated with each other.
What does a bad day look like in your home?
On a bad day, the kids require lots of nagging to get out of bed and get dressed. They don’t feel like starting on their work. The boys are constantly bickering with each other. There’s lots of phone calls to answer, washroom runs with the younger one, spills to clean up and housework to finish so we barely get through our plans for the day. I run out of energy and patience and my frustration seeps into my kids behaviour.
What was your biggest homeschooling set back or mistake?
Not taking enough time off at stressful times like the birth of a baby, moving or illnesses.
Looking back, what would be one sentence you’d tell yourself before you began your homeschooling journey?
Focus on the relationship first, schoolwork second.
Book (for you): Too many to pick one. Book (for kids): We have too many favourites. Educational websites: Starfall for my preschooler. Don’t use any for the big kids. I love getting ideas from blogs. Place to shop for homeschooling supplies: Used book sales, Amazon. Outdoor activities: Hiking.
Jazakillah khair Shehnaz for sharing your time with us.