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Homeschooling in the News

Homeschooling in the United Arab Emirates…. Is it allowed, isn’t it?? Why do people do it?? What does it look like?? What happens after?? It seems like homeschooling is always a hot-topic in the news.

Homeschooling on the Rise in UAE as Educational Costs Go Up- Express, Nov 2016

Why More UAE Parents are Homeschooling Their Children- Khaleej Times, Nov 2016

World Schooling the new form of learning.- Gulf News, Sept. 2016

Registration open for homeschooling and adult education- Gulf News, Sept 2016

Homeschooling more affordable and flexible for many parents in the UAE- 7Days, Aug. 2016


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Will Solvit solved it for me.- Zainab Musa

My 11 year old son is a classic case of the fruit that fell far away from the tree. The tree here being his mother. Whilst his mother has had a life time love affair with books, he seemed to hate the very sight of them.

His aversion to books probably started, as with children like him, when school started becoming tough right after the kindergarten. He hated doing home work, hated doing school work and hated having to stare into any space that required him to scan anything into his memory for future reference. We, his parents, have bought so many books just to get him to read that we have actually bought some books twice. Sometimes when I buy a book and insist that he reads it, the book mysteriously disappears and nothing I do or say will make it appear.

Once I found a small encyclopaedic book which he became attached to for sometime until he had gone through most of the interesting facts and then we were back to square one. Other times, he gets a book which he seems to like and just when my hopes begin to rise, he looses interest. He even starts reading comic books and abandons them half way through.

Then a miracle happened about three weeks ago. While browsing through  the books section in a mall, I came across a series of books all by the same author and all starting with the words ” WILL SOLVIT…” Thinking I had nothing to loose, I picked up some of the titles that sounded better than the others. I was later to find out from him that they are numbered and I picked mine at random. His father simply asked why I bothered to buy  new ones when the rest were there unread?

We got home and I gave him the books. He collected them without any ceremony and went to his room.

The next morning, I called him to go with me on an outing and to my utter shock, he came along with a Will Solvit!

He read on the way, he read on the bus, he read when we stopped at traffic lights and read on our way back home. By the time we got back home, I was literarily shaking with excitement.  I however didn’t want to get my hopes up so I didn’t say anything to him. Then, after just two days, I saw him with a different one. The same pattern of “cant keep it down” repeated itself all over. Within two weeks, he had finished all the books. Then he picked up one of his older books and read that too. Then yesterday, we again went to the bookshop so I could get him the book due to be read at the reading group I registered him in and he went straight to the shelves and started looking for Will Solvits.  He found them and of course came with both hands laden with them asking me to buy all. He said only one was missing and he asked the store manager if he could get it for him. The man eagerly took our phone number and promised to send an order for it and to notify us upon its arrival. I asked him to pick only three and then we will get the rest later. We had earlier stopped at another shop where we found miniature versions of all my favourite classics, Huckleberry Finn, Oliver Twist, Tom Sawyer, Frankenstein, Journey to the centre of the Earth and so many others. He eagerly asked me which ones I thought were the most interesting and we ended up picking eight!

On the way back home, his face literally glowed in excitement as I told him how wonderful the adventures of the Famous Five were. I used to tell him all the time but I guess because, he had never really followed a character on a journey from the beginning of a book to the end, he didnt understand how much fun it could be. Now he wants to start the famous five series as soon as Will Solvit finds his lost parents in his very last adventure.

I guess for people who don’t know how frustrating it is to be a book lover and have a child who seemed to hate them so much, this is just making a mounting out of a mole hill. For those who know where I am coming from however, they will understand how brightly the lamp of hope is shining in my heart right now.

I intend to write a personal thank you note to Zed Storm, the author of these miracle series that have turned my son’s life around. I have never seen him this enthusiastic about any book before.

I pray that this pattern continues when we start the famous five series too. After that, I hope we can start another one of my all time favourites, The Five Find Outters by Enid Blyton. I have some of them in e form but I will just let him go with the physical ones. They are infinitely much more interesting. After all, nothing beats walking on the road and reading snatches from a favourite story right?

Teaching Arabic

Homeschooling Part 6: Teaching Arabic

By Anisa Abeytia

The Arabic language holds a special place in the hearts of Muslims around the world.  Even if they are not Arabs, parents would like to give their children the gift of Arabic, but the task seem insurmountable to the non Arab. It is a doable task, when you have the right program and the discipline to implement it and stick to it. Just like with learning any other foreign language, you have to practice, practice and practice. However, unlike other languages, Standard Arabic or Fusha, is not spoken anywhere in the world. Arabs speak dialects or corrupted versions of  Standard Arabic. This can be a real drawback to any student of Arabic because you can not go somewhere and learn by immersing yourself in the language. This would be the easiest way to learn. I took years of Spanish, but it was not until I went to a Spanish speaking country that I learned to speak. I could not do this with Arabic.

The added difficulty is when you hear a language spoken incorrectly it becomes more of a challenge to learn the language correctly.  This is why heritage speakers of a language find it more difficult to learn the proper grammar of their parent’s native language than a non-native speaker. They grew up learning all of the mistakes and it is difficult to stop making those mistakes (we will discuss this further in a bit). This is not to say that the dialects do not have their place, they just are not useful when learning Arabic. 

I have been disappointed in the willingness of native Arabic speakers to exclusively speak their dialect at home. There are very few places where Arabic is spoken, not even in schools  are children learning Standard Arabic. This is a pity and now Fusha is listed as a dying language. Many people believe that they can speak it, but most can not.  As the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” As such, it is so important for those who are interested and love the Arabic language, to use it and teach it to their children or find a way for their children to learn it.

In this article I will share with you the many ways that have and have not worked for my family and I.  We are not a completely non native Arabic speaking family, my husband is an Arab and a professor of the Arabic language. So he speaks Standard Arabic to the children. He has been our greatest resource. My one suggestion here would be, if you do not have an Arabic speaker in the family, you might want to find someone willing to answer questions. Here is an example why you might want to do that. One day I decided to look up the word plant. I wanted to say “look at all the lovely plants,” meaning green things that grow out of the ground. When my husband came home I decided to impress him with my new found vocabulary. After I said it, he look outside very confused. So I said it again, he still looked confused. Then he said ,” I don’t see any factories.”

Hear It

Believe it or not, the first step in learning a language, especially for children, is hearing it. Priming the ear for the way words are pronounced and the way sentences are put together is stage one. When a child repeatedly hears a word mispronounced (galboon for heart instead of qalboon), the child will then learn that as the propper pronunciation. As that child grows, it will be more of a challenge for him or her to pronounce words correctly. The other added hurdle is that the child does not hear the propper way a sentence is put together. Listening to people speak is a child’s first grammar lesson. This becomes very important when the child is introduced to formal grammar. They will not hear the mistakes, they will first have to unlearn their mistakes and then learn the correct way. They will have to do double work and it is a formula that is currently not working because Arab youth, world wide, are speaking more English.

This first step is the easiest. There are well made Arabic movies for children, CD’s for the computer and books on tape-not to mention the Quran. These all can be used to prepare the child’s ear.  The bookseller Noor Art (www.noorart.com) carries various sets of books on tapes and children’s songs in Arabic. We used these as well as the Jump Start series in Arabic. When purchasing videos and DVDS, the rule is, the older it is, the better the language will be. All the Disney movies are in Egyptian with the exception of Bionicle 1.  The makers of Al Jara also have wonderful movies.

We have a friend who wanted his son to learn Arabic. They are from India. My husband gave them a tape and told him to watch it as a family for 15 minutes each day. The father then bought the whole series and after five years, that little boy was speaking perfect Arabic. What is the name of the series you ask- Al Ibnu Bar. However, the important thing was the consistency. Children love to watch TV, why not make it a gateway to learning Arabic. We did not do this with our five year old daughter and as a result, she understands, but does not speak Arabic. It was a crucial step-so now we have to go back a redo it.

For those of you that can read Arabic, read to your children. Read to them for 20 minutes a day. If you have older children that read Arabic, have them read to their younger siblings. There are so many wonderful children’s Arabic books available. Even if you do not read Arabic, have those books at home for your child to look at.

Say It

When learning Arabic, this is the most difficult step for many adults, not so with children. They learn so much faster than we do.  I learned along with my children from birth, so my vocabulary was always at their level. I had to push myself to speak, but children will do this on their own if they are exposed to enough of the language. If you can find a group to do this with great, if not, do not worry. You just need to provide ways for your child’s vocabulary to expand (this is where reading comes in). You do not need a big group to learn with, as a mater of fact, it may be a hindrance.

When we were first learning Arabic, we lived on a farm in California. The Muslim community was small. We spoke Arabic at home and the children were learning very well. After seven years, we decided that it would be a good idea to move to a larger community where we could find more Arabic speakers. That way our children would have other people to speak to. Well, it did not turn out that way. There is no better way to end a conversation than to speak to someone in Fusha, it is like they are in school taking a test. We lost so much vocabulary. Then we decided to move to the Middle East and lost some more. It is sad to say that we had more opportunities to learn and speak Standard Arabic on a farm in rural America.

As your child speaks more and if you can not find a group, you may want to consider a tutor. If you have other children in the house learning, this may not be necessary.

Read It

I have found that the best age to start to teach a child to read in Arabic is between the ages of 6-7.  You can do it at a younger age, but at ages 6 or 7, it becomes so much easier. The book that I use to teach reading is out of print, unfortunately. It is similar to the book I use for English, Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I learned to read from this book, as did my children.  Fortunately, this teaching style is available on line from Al- Assas Institute (www.alassas.net).  My seven year old is using this program. I found it is the easiest and most cost effective way to teach reading and writing. I have no idea how many workbooks I have bought and never used.  Al-Assas uses a very simple approach that works.

Whatever method you select, your child will need to practice reading to get the hang of it. Make sure that they have a library of books that interest them. If you have one other family to work with, you can share a library to reduce the cost and have more books available.

Write It

Unlike English, Arabic sound like it is spelt, so if a child listened to correctly spoken Arabic, it will be much easier for them to write. The child will just need to learn how the letters are connected to make simple sentences. If you do not want to go the rout of Al Assas, then you can use workbooks or a tutor.  Noor Art carries many workbooks. Also, this homeschooling site also carries many ideas and tips on learning Arabic: http://talibiddeenjr.wordpress.com/category/arabic/worksheets/

Just like in English, learning to write in any language requires practice.


Adding Spice to Language

Once your child has mastered Standard Arabic, let them branch out into the various dialects. Dialects are the living, breathing language and add spice to a language. There are so many dialects. You might even ask your child to do a study of different regional dialects. Dialects have a place, but have your child learn them after or if that is what you speak at home, use the techniques I described in Hear It.

One family’s experience of beginning homeschooling and finding their way…

We are a family of four originally from Australia but now living in Dubai. Home Schooling our kids has been one of the biggest decisions for us. We became interested in Home Schooling when we were living in Bahrain 4 years ago and read so much information on it from every website known to mankind. It all made sense to us. However, making the decision to actually do it was a huge leap of faith. We moved back to Australia and our son started school at a Steiner School. (We have 2 children who are 7 and 4) This is a schooling system where the whole child is taken into consideration. Body, Mind and Spirit. I personally feel that the Steiner way is a good way and in theory it is. Our son was coming home exhausted every day, was frustrated at the end of the day that he didn’t get to do the things he wanted to do, and started to lose the things that made him unique to himself. I am still hearing tales from that period where he felt other children were not treating him with the respect that he and every one of us deserve. I noticed that in the 3 days that he had off for the weekend, day 1 was extremely difficult with wild mood swings and extreme tiredness. Day 2 was a little better and by the 3rd day he was finally back to himself, just in time to go back to school and start the whole process again. It just didn’t sit well with us and didn’t seem like it was a natural thing to do -this school thing, and we looked into Home Schooling again. We read copious amounts of books on the subject and thought and talked about it day and night for weeks until we were ready to take the plunge and commit to doing it. It was a huge decision for us. We then had to tell our relatives and deal with their expectations and opinions and the openly dismissive way in which they regarded us for ruining our children’s lives. This sure isn’t for the faint hearted. We have been doing it now for 2 years. We read a lot about Unschooling in the process and it made a lot of sense to us. Our days are run in an intuitive way where we don’t know what the day will bring but are surprised all of the time by what occurs during that day. Every day is different and it’s not all a bed of roses; it comes with a full set of thorns too. I read somewhere that 80% of the jobs that our children will do when they are older do not actually exist yet. How can we prepare them for that in a school system that hasn’t changed much in the past one hundred years? We have to change with the times. I believe that if we encourage them to stay connected to themselves by not filling their days for them, their natural abilities and interests come out and their natural enthusiasm for learning becomes evident. They do have moments of boredom – but usually 5 minutes later an incredible idea comes about that they will fulfill with their drive which sees the idea put into fruition. We also have days that we (as parents) wish would end so we can go to bed and rest as these projects don’t stop at 3 p.m. We have just had 3 months of staying in hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi while waiting for our house to become available. Whilst it hasn’t been easy without a home, it has shown us that you need very little to continue and sustain the learning process. We met some wonderful fellow Home Schoolers in the pool at the hotel – our 2 children and the other 2 children all get along like wildfire. They have become very competent swimmers naturally. We learned all about Ramadan during the month at the Hotel and have experienced If tar with glee. We watched and learned about the moon cycles. We have met some wonderful people all from different cultures, who we have had time to get to know as we haven’t had to rush to do things (like school) Our children have had an opportunity to develop friendships with other children and adults that would not have been possible had they gone to school. There have been so many learning opportunities in these past 3 months and they are not likely to forget them as they happened naturally through daily life. Occasionally we are met with people’s negative opinions about Home Schooling (I guess every Home Schooler is met with this) but on a whole I am often surprised by the positive way people comment on our way of life. “Yes I agree” they say (even when their kids are in school). Home Schooling is not easy, but neither is sending your kids to school and dealing with all of the negatives of that. My husband and I like who our children are, we like who they are becoming and are so pleased we jumped ship to follow this way of life.

Out and About

One of the most common questions homeschoolers get is, “Well what about socialization?”  There are many sites online that debunk this homeschooling myth that children never see the light of day and don’t know how to get along with others so I’m not commenting on that here.

Being a part of a homeschooling network in Dubai or anywhere greatly reduces the isolation factor and allows the kids to interact with peers. Over the past couple of months as a part of NEHA my children have greatly benefited from the organized activities. Although they each have extra curricular activities (ice skating, drama, gymnastics, baseball etc, they always look forward to the outings. With other homeschooling kids they’ve, played at the park, explored Dubai through walking, the metro and by abra, visited the Sharjah Wildlife Center and created and participated in clubs. Those enrolled in the k12 program also have weekly optional activities. My eldest have had the opportunity to listen to a children’s book author, explore behind the scenes of the hospitality industry, travel back in time at the Abu Dhabi Heritage village and much more.  Over the years and in various groups not affiliated  with any school they have: visited a planetarium, 2 dairies, Capri Sonne, had workshops at the Islamic Civilization Museum in Sharjah, had public speaking opportunities, participated in charity events the list goes on. But most importantly they’ve had fun learning every step of the way.  I find that homeschooling gives us the freedom to explore in ways that are different to what a traditional school has to offer. We are looking forward to what the rest of the school year has to bring, making new friends and cultivating relationships with the old.

Our Homeschooling Journey

We have just started our homeschooling journey, and guess what?

A few days ago I glanced at the calendar and realised that we have just passed the one month mark. WOW!! It has really been a rough month and the challenges are immense; yet, it’s so gratifying.

My children are at 3 very different levels although they are so close in age. My daughter is 5 and is learning to read using “Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons”. She loves being read to, and has an extra large mouth which I’m hoping to downsize soon (positively).

Then, there’s the 3 year old who seems more interested in learning through other avenues (still figuring out what that is). One day he does all that he needs to for the day, the next day he is totally zoned out and that makes life as a homeschooling mom a real challenge.

Then there’s my playful 2-year-old, always wanting more of me than I have to give! Some days (like today), he was part of the group; that made school a breeze. Other days I need to get him distracted so that I can work with the other two.

The most important part of homeschooling for us is to plan. There are tons of info on the internet to assist with planning, but bear in mind that you need to look at what works for you and your children.

Sometimes everything only gets done a day or two later, but then I know that I might need to focus on time management more seriously.

Another factor that throws me off my bearings is that as a homeschooler, you always need to explain why you choose not to send the kids to school.

I am slowly learning how to tackle my challenges, because that’s exactly what it is: A CHALLENGE. Thus far, it been difficult because it is the start of a new lifestyle altogether, and it should be expected.

The truth is I love having to share this time with my children, and I know if I had to be back home in South Africa life would be too busy to share this lovely experience.

I pray everyday that God gives me the strength to carry on. I am sure that it is a positive move to homeschool and if for any reason I need to send the kids back to school, I know that I had a heart-to-heart learning experience with them!

Multilingual homeschooling #3: More of dad

So, what do you do if you plan to teach the children both their parents’ languages, but dad’s not around enough?

This writing will suppose that mom is at home, schooling, and dad is at work most of the time. This is not true for all homeschooling families, but for the sake of clarity one scenario was selected rather than trying to cover all the bases all of the time.

If mom is at home all day with the children, speaking her language, but dad is only there a fraction of the time (evenings and weekends there are so many other things that also needs doing) to speak his language, how will the children ever pick it up?

Some of the easier things to do are the following:

  • Be consistent: dad should only converse in his language when he’s there
  • Try to get DVDs (movies and documentaries) in dad’s language rather than the obiquitous English
  • Spend dad’s time on enjoyable, but learnful, topics. For toddlers this could be picture dictionaries, nursery rhymes, things that build vocabulary. For older kids this could be discussing something they’ve learned from mom in her language, with dad in his language. This can include anything, ranging from mathematics (names of geometrical forms) through natural sciences (organs of the human body, aspects of ecology, behaviour of penguins) to technology (how escalators work, robotics, architectural challenges of Burj Dubai)

One important thing to bear in mind is that dad will probably want to see more results in a shorter period of time. Let the children write him letters or e-mail in his language, so he can see that they’re using it. Let them memorise his favourite poem, or learn a song that he likes, to encourage him that the time spent pays off. With mom around more of the time, she has more opportunity to see and hear their progress; if dad is around less, show him the progress!

The current favourite in our house is using Microsoft Powerpoint as stand-in dad. Having toddler / junior primary aged children, many of their language arts includes picture dictionaries and nursery rhymes. When we’re covering a new topic (unit study), we choose a few poems, songs, nursery rhymes, even short stories written in dad’s language to work with. In Ms Powerpoint we create a slide per verse, typing the words in a large font (for the early reader) and add colourful pictures (for everyone) so that the entire piece of literature has its own presentation. Then using the “record narration” functionality, dad reads this, and we save it as a powerpoint show.

During the day we then play some of these presentations, and the boys love it! They sometimes watch the same one over and over. The combination of good literature, eye-catching images and DAD’S VOICE is wonderful. Though it usually takes one whole evening to complete a new batch of literature, it pays off with the repeated use, and they enjoy learning.

Similarly, using images from the web, we create presentations for the vocabulary around a certain topic. One picture with the matching word per slide, using between 10 and 20 slides at a time, works well for us. This will differ for children of other ages and depend on their attention span. (Don’t let them become bored before the presentation is over; if it ends while they still want more, they’ll be enthusiastic about the next one.) Again, with a number of presentations ready, dad spends part of an evening reading (recording) the words.

For many days the children can listen to “dad reading” while he is at the office! And mom gets time to powder her nose…