Homeschool Chat with Gentle Art of Learning

Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. It incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught. However, most of what we learn before, during, and after attending schools is learned without being taught to us…. Most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much of what is remembered , is irrelevant. ” Russell Ackoff

Today’s homeschool chat brings you the lovely Janine Kellar-Vasiliou, a Muslim homeschooling mother of four children from the UK. Janine follows currently an eclectic method of home education, following the teachings of Charlotte Mason , Montessori and incorporating a peaceful parenting approach to learning. She can be found on Instagram @gentle.art_of_learning ,where she shares snippets of their homeschool journey and she also has her own blog http://gentleartoflearning.co.uk/ .

1.Tell us a bit about your family and your child/ children.

Salaam alaykum. I’m Janine, aged 33 and a UK home educating mother of four.  I’m passionate about all things creative, Islamic parenting, and self- improvement books. I love educational wooden toys, organising spaces, home decor, and trying to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.

I’m a British born Revert to Islam, born in Kent raised between Kent and South East London.

Born to a British mother and British, half Greek and Italian father. From a fairly non religious background, and now Gratefully Muslim, Alhamdulillah, for the last 9 years. Married to a British, mixed raced, half Trinidadian Muslim revert. My husband is a big support for me and the sole provider in our home. 

Once I got married, I Left my current job, to travel across the world to Saudi, Jeddah, where we experienced 4 memorable years together, both working as teachers and where I gave birth to two of my now four children. After my second child was born, we arranged to return home as we realised the UK offered a-lot more opportunities for raising our children how we envisioned. The main reasons being surrounded by family and nature, two things that lacked abroad. We also wanted to be able to share the love of the deen, give dawah and lead by example to those we love. . I now have Four beautiful children, 2 boys and two girls. Oldest boy being 6.5yrs, youngest boy being 14months. My girls are 4.5 and 3.5 years old.

I Never grew up ever considering home education as an option. I Was schooled, all the way up from daycare to uni and enjoyed it for the best part, apart from anxiety over exams and maths. My husband went to a Grammar school, and felt he wasted a lot of time. We both naturally agreed pretty soon after becoming parents that homeschooling was best for our lifestyles and the children’s future. We haven’t looked back since. However, I do say we are always open minded to change.

2.What was your main reason for choosing to home educate your children ?

The key reasons behind our decisions were;

* freedom to parent and teach how we wanted without answering to anyone and having the freedom to get up and go on holiday or travel whenever we saw fit.

* Being able to raise our children on the Deen, to put Allah first in all we do, and to create a stable, loving home for them where they are lead by example. 

* to give them the opportunity to express themselves as born persons, to have child led experiences that are natural and not forced upon them, to nurture and develop their independence in a safe environment. 

* to not have them confide to a school sit down, don’t speak, setting, where we couldn’t monitor what they were subjected to and to nurture a love of learning in a homely, safe, environment. 

* to allow them to interact with all ages and peers and have the confidence to speak, relate and find common ground. To be able to up-stand a good moral character and give back to the community.

Theres many more reasons but these stand out and were the main important core values for our family.

3.What does a “typical” home school day look like for your family ?

A typical day, well most days aren’t the same with young children and so I have to be flexible in this and also take into account any appointments, trips, outside activities etc.

Usually our days start off with my morning routine at 6am but it often changes with time. 

Currently I workout at home, two days doing something simple like planks and 3 days I Follow a workout plan. Shower and dress, then pray fajr and read Qur’an, check my planner and usually make a cuppa, unless it’s a real struggle then I hit the coffee. If I have time I’ll also add in a quick wash down of the sinks and clean toilets. ( As I hate cleaning bathrooms so try to stay on top of it). The kids are usually awake then anytime between 7-7.30am and are demanding breakfast. We have habits in place for our morning routines and the chores where the kids will check their tokens for the day and follow them. (I hope to have a blogpost out on this very soon inshAllah, since habits are something I have been working on with the children and myself.)

Once the kids are all dressed and done with their age appropriate chores (ie. making beds) then we sit down together for breakfast.

Our breakfast usually consists of either porridge, fruits and yogurt, Alpen, homemade bread, or Eggs, avocado, salad, and I rotate this out. We try to start our day as healthy as possible. We are also working on adding in more green juices, since I now have a ninja blender and since the kids have gone fussy again at dinner times.

Somewhere between this, I’ll load the dishwasher and put the washing machine on.

We usually start schooling around 9, 9.30 God-willing, after a quick breakfast clean up. It’s easier to do it straight after breakfast because I then don’t have to rally them all together. I stick on our nasheed playlist or Qur’an, sometimes we light a candle, burn oils etc and set the scene for the day. I will get the kids setup with some maths work or Phonics/handwriting etc depending, but it’s always the core subjects first. So if nothing else gets achieved that day, I don’t feel so overwhelmed. Meanwhile, my 3year old is always happy to join in, but if she’s been playing I won’t interrupt her or may just give her colouring or wipeable boards to do, which she loves. Then I will go and feed the baby and get him down for his nap. I can then come back and give my full attention. This is where we do our bulk of our studies, stopping in-between for brunch and lunch. ( Because my kids always want to eat and we study in the kitchen). Usually I’ll add in our morning Basket, where we do Qur’an memorisation, flashcards and read aloud’s mainly. This way I get to read to them and eat snacks aswel and everyone is happy.

We then stop for free – play, if my son still needs to read to me, I’ll do this with him on the sofa (though he’s starting to do this independently now that he’s older) and then I tell them I have chores to do, calls to make, and that I need my quiet time. Afternoons are then free for outdoors activities, or taken up by cooking, if I haven’t done it the day before which my eldest loves to help me with. We also do themed projects and crafts on the days when I have less of my own chores to do, otherwise I’ll set them up with an activity to play with. We then have a manic tidy around and my husband is usually home around 5pm, where we will have dinner altogether at the table. My husband will usually finish of his work in the office, then will play with the kids. We all wind down together before I get them ready for our bedtime routine. 

We read to them every night, my husband will usually read to my eldest some Islamic story of the battles or something with a good moral or positive mindset, at the moment I think it’s called A warrior Child and so my son does a workout routine in his room before bed (not my choice). I then bath and put the baby down to sleep and then give the kitchen a once over before I can get a cuppa and chill around 8pm. I’m usually shattered and in bed by 10.30/11pm.

4. What type of a home educator are you ( structured , semi structured , unschooling , classical , Charlotte Mason , Steiner , Montessori etc ) ?

Being fairly new to homeschooling, I have a lot to learn. You may be a fly on the wall looking in and see days that appear to be more ‘Montessori’ based learning as I love introducing practical life skills whenever I can. We may have an ‘unschooled’ approach one day if we’ve all woke up late and are feeling poorly. Routine may of gone out the window and so we might be having a non- structured learning day, sometimes it’s just nice to just go with the flow. But reading through Charlotte Mason’s book’s have taught me that is it best to have a philosophy and a method that backs up how we live out our educational life. Something that ‘Karen Andreola’ goes on to talk about in her book ‘A Charlotte Mason’s companion.’ This book helped me immensely when starting out and I often refer back to it. Charlotte Mason’s teaching resonates with me, my families values, spiritually and non spiritually. We have gone as far as adapting our own school Motto based on Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, because I believe in her teachings so much. Of course, our Deen comes first in all we do, and the ways of the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammed SAW. I still adapt things to our surroundings and input an eclectic approach at times, as we never stop learning and changing as our children grow, we grow too. In homeschooling we have to be flexible and I think that goes for how we teach, what we teach and when we teach. But for now, I can happily say we use Charlotte Mason’s teachings. I’ve learnt the meaning of habits, routine and consistency. It’s a continuous battle, mind you, but the days when everything flows and the atmosphere is right and the children are engaged and everyone is relaxed and vibing of off my energy. Those are the days I love, and those are the days of homeschooling that I remember why we are doing it and why I choose Charlotte Mason’s methods. 

5.What do you love the most about home schooling ?

I Feel immensely blessed to wake up and seeing the smiles on my children’s faces and knowing that I don’t have to rush to go to work or take them to school.That we can just get up and go and pack our bags for a trip pretty much whenever we feel like it and don’t have to answer to anyone. 

I love those little moments ‘aha moments’ when the kids tell you about something they have learnt or seek interest in, and I love witnessing the wonder and owe that children possess. 

I love being around them and witnessing them grow and not have that guilt feeling like I’m not there for them as much as I’d like. Those moments when you can teach life skills and watch habits form. Cooking together or just reading on the sofa when were all feeling poorly.

I love the freedom it brings, when being in control of what we teach and often switching it up, adapting to our changing life, whether that be at home or on the road. Allowing the children to have an input and choose child lead interests to study. Most of all, I love the fact home education allows children to be children and that I get to enjoy those life experiences alongside them.

6. Do you do morning time/ symposium / circle time ? 

Yes, having young children and different ages, I’ve always wanted to make life easier for myself by having everyone together in one space and to create that close net family unit, I really feel it’s what homeschooling is all  about. So for me, Morning time/ circle time has always been a big part of how I teach, whether one child engages more, or takes something different from it or is doing something totally different to what I’m reading, by being together they are take in something and gaining and benefiting by being exposed to it. 

I’ve done circle times in the past, where I’d love to do sing songs, hand gestures, finger puppets, nursery rhythms, read alouds, somewhat nursery like , but since I have a baby lately we have gone back to the table as it’s easier. At one stage, I stopped morning baskets In the mornings for awhile, I cut it out completely, because I felt we were taking too much time over it and not getting the core work done which was giving me anxiety, so I stopped, then I missed it too much. I think we have found a balance that works for us now, where we do our core subjects first, then with the morning basket we will cover any flashcards memorisation, Nasheeds, Qur’an, date/weather, poetry, read alouds and character building.  The kids really enjoy it and they can learn so much in this time period, by doing a little, but consistently. I love to switch it up and add in maps, flag work, Arabic and other things to memorise. I tend to switch it up every 12weeks.( Blogpost coming soon on this for more details)

7.What is your favourite subject to teach and what is your least one ? 

I’ve always been a visual learner and creative person from a young age, I studied in Graphic Design, so anything arty, crafting projects, handicrafts, I love it all. I think it’s important to incorporate art and design into most subjects as it makes for more fun to be had. I also love nature studies, because it’s my children’s favourite. They enjoy drawing and colouring and exploring nature outdoors and studying creepy crawlers. I also love the fact I get to do nature and seasonal displays for them to enjoy at home and bring some nature inside.

History and Geography might have been one of my most anxious subjects to start, just because I thought they were so vast and I didn’t learn anything in school myself, so have very little knowledge on them but I actually love the fact I get to learn alongside with my children. The older I get the more I love learning about history and find It fascinating. Maths and languages are not my speciality, so that’s where my husband comes in, he’s great in these areas. I’m not put off by a challenge but I would get a tutor if need be. Funny enough English,I’m not too good at either, (you might be able to tell) plus I’m such a slow reader, always have been, but I do enjoy it, and love read aloud time with the children. I’ve also really enjoyed teaching them to read and seeing the progression in them.

In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn’ Phil Collins

I can’t believe it was Phil Collins that quoted this but I love it because whatever your strengths and weaknesses, you learn alongside your children and most importantly, your children teach you some of the greatest life lessons  there are to learn.

8.What do you find challenging when it comes to home schooling your children?

Honestly, there are many challenges. Lack of confidence, lack of patience, that self doubt within, is a constant battle, especially to be consistent, I use that word a lot because, being disciplined within ourself is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to overcome but having the ‘Will’ and ‘why’ I am doing this, helps push through the day and strive instead of just to‘ get by’. Usually I wonder if they went to school would I have a cleaner, tidier home, with less in it and plenty more free time for self care and valuable personal space, but these concerns and doubts outweigh all the blessings that raising my children bring, in these formative years. I constantly remind myself on the blessings we have been given and I try to tell myself that everything I do, is firstly to seek the reward of my Lord and second to create a loving home and calm atmosphere, to nature that love of learning.

My son loves to do hands of activities, stem work, maths, experiments and finding stuff out but he gets distracted easily and doesn’t enjoy handwriting and copy-work much. It can be hard at times also when your trying to teach more than one child and he gets involved and try to tell them the answers, but all these things I see as very minor obstacles and things I need to overcome gradually.

I guess the biggest challenge which most home educators would agree is never quite feeling that balance of being on top of chores and homeschool it’s a constant battle and one I’m still working at. I feel I’m often a great homeschooler and parent or a great housewife doing both definitely isn’t easy, it’s often a struggle. However, any time it gets to a point when I’m not enjoying it or giving them my best self, I take a break and re -evaluate everything. Overall , I’m very passionate about home education otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it and give my children the best of me. When I’m learning with them and see them happy, I Come alive and we feed of that energy, it really is a beautiful thing.

9.How do you find time for yourself/ self care etc?

Since I have a 14month old that I breastfeed still,  I don’t get the best nights sleep always but I try my best to make time for a morning routine. I’ve realised the important of these quiet moments alone before the kids rise. This usually starts at 6 am. I Admit since my kids are still young, I don’t really have any hobbies or outside activities I do on a regular, just for me, but evening and weekends are sacred time for me. My kids are in bed, lights out by 7.30 pm every night without fail. Usually by then I am too tired to hoover, clean the kitchen etc but I try to have a 15 min power through room tidy, do the dishwasher, bf and put the baby down for the night, pray Isha and then chill. That could mean study time with the hubby, an early night and a book in bed, or a cuppa and Ertugrul.lol. Weekends, we enjoy time as a family and Sunday morning is when we take a family stroll with the kids outdoors, then I get meal prepping and planning done for the week ahead. Sundays and Friday nights are the only times we allow kids to watch tv, (unless its HS related) My husband and I, take this hour on Sunday to either get some individual tasks done or plan the week together and re- evaluate. Although this isn’t self- care time it’s valuable time for me to re-charge for a new week ahead, without the kids distracting me. We try to make time for regular monthly date nights out and if I Ask my husband he will usually take the kids out for a couple of hours to give me a break. Nevertheless these times are usually taken up by seeing to the baby, doing chores mainly folding laundry whilst drinking a cuppa and watching some home renovation program, Qur’an lecture, self help video or audible. I love spending time in nature like most people. It has an amazing calming effect, I also find this for when I’m in a creative place, doing some type of handicraft, or planning homeschooling and shopping for resources. haha. I love to take hot showers and find I get most my creative ideas flowing either in the morning or last thing at night (the later can drive my husband potty, with my overflowing mind). I am planning on getting some more independence and me time once i’m driving though. I plan to take a Qur’an class for myself InshAllah this new year.

I think it’s important to add, If I feel like I’m gonna burst at times,(which happens) I always reach out for help, whether it be outside help, my husband taking more responsibilities to take some load off, family taking the kids for a night, It’s important as a homeschooling mum to find those breaks in-between and make time for yourself, if you need a day off homeschooling to re-charge, I take it and I don’t feel guilty about it. I’d rather come back fresh and ready to start as my children feed of off my energy and I set the tone for the family. When I’m stressed out, I have to take a break.

10.Book list

Here are some treasured books, that I often refer to and that make up the bulk of our homeschool;

I am the seed that grew the tree – National Trust – poems collection

A child’s Garden of Verses – Robert Louis Stevenson 

A Picnic of Poems In Allahs Green Garden – Dawud Wharnsby

Map book by Alexandria Mizielinska

99 Names of Allah – Chickpea press

Safar – Islamic Studies Textbooks and workbooks

The Moral Compass – William J. Bennett

Nature Anatomy – Julia Rothman

Handbook of Nature Study

Some other books I’d recommend include; 

Nurturing Eeman in children. Dr Aisha Hamdan. 

The whole Brain Child and Parenting from the inside out – Dr. Daniel J.Siegel

Current audible reading – Authentic Happiness – Martin Seligman and 

Invaluable laws of Growth – John C Maxwell.

11.How do you deal with unsupportive family , relatives and friends ?

Thankfully, I come from a loving supportive family, Alhamdulillah. On both mine and my husbands side. We don’t have a strong support network in the sense we are the only current Muslims in our family, and my mother lives far from us, which can be hard at times but we do have the support and that’s the main thing. They may not understand all we do, but they are eager to learn more. My mother is a teacher herself so she often shares her experiences with me and offers her advice. Sure I’ve had many different opinions thrown at me, from a schooling perspective and the famous ‘socialising’ questions. I’ve had many debated conversations and lovely question sessions on why we choose to homeschool, but like I said I’m passionate about it so I’m always happy to talk about it and also try to be respectful of others who can’t or choose not to homeschool.If anything I have found it’s only brought a good interest into home education and a different perspective. 

12.Where do you see your home schooling journey in 5 years time ?

My husband and I, have taken the time to write in detail all our core values, Moto’s, rules, expectations and how to implement them. I really recommend this to anyone home educating, to have a clear vision of where your going and what you expect together, so you know your both on the same page. Of course Allah is the best of planners. But like the saying goes, ‘Trust Allah and tie your camel.’ 

We have many personal visions for the future, some of the main ones being as self sustainable as possible. Giving the children as many life experiences as possible with as much travelling as we can. Hopefully on the road around Europe. God-willing. I want them to see the world and have hands on experiences, write books, do charitable events, climb mountains, work on character building and implementing the sunnah of our Beloved Prophet SAW in our everyday life. I see us still home educating in which my children will then be almost 12, 9, 8, and 6 and able to attend a lot more outdoor classes and activities. I would pray that in 5 years time my husband’s business would allow for more time to work online or from home where he could have more of an active role in joint educating and more freedom to travel.

13.What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start home educating their children ?

It would be hard to home educate without both of you in agreement on schooling and parenting, so work out your core values and goals before you start. Of course this doesn’t mean that single parents can’t do this just as well on their own. I know many that excel and are super mums, nowadays, you can get helpful government aid and support. Currently in the UK, you don’t have to register but if you choose to, I have heard they have offer extra support and some people don’t find this invasive. I choose not to, but at least the option is available to us, so research what would work best for your family. 

Many people often worry about the costs of homeschooling, but to be honest I believe truly anyone can homeschool, it’s about being smart. You can get so many resources online nowadays, books from libraries or can be ordered in, amazon and eBay sell second hand, charity stores, Facebook etc for resources. Yes it may take more effort on your part, but if your someone that mainly wants to ‘unschool’ say, instead of following set curriculum, then this may be a cheaper option to consider. 

I would suggest to anyone considering home education to do your research. I watched a few good homeschooling documentaries on YouTube at the start and read some books by the likes of John Holt, and John Taylor Gatholt to name a few. I looked into many different philosophies, their history and took note on what resonated with me and what didn’t. So I had a clear idea and vision of what I wanted and what I didn’t want for my family. Of course too much information can also be overwhelming, the best thing to not overthink it and just start. Via simple trial and error. 

‘We all fail- it’s how we get back up that determines our success.’

I really found help with the likes of ‘Ourmuslimhomeschool’, ‘Jady A’ on YouTube, ‘Simply Charlotte Mason’ and ‘Missmodernmason’ to name a few. Take a few pointers and resources from people that inspire you, use their methods if it helps until you get on your own feet, then adapt it to your own personal, family’s needs, as in home education you must to be flexible and no home or home school will look exactly the same. 

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said,

 “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.”

Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 4240

This applies with home education too, things will not always be prefect, start implementing a few things regularly and add to it slowly as you grow in confidence and as your family adapts. InshAllah

And lastly, don’t doubt yourself, I mean we all do it, myself included but don’t let that be the reason to hold you back!

Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No Excuses.” Kobe Bryant

14.Imagine your children 20 years into the future , what do you want them to say about their homeschool experience ?

This a great question, one that isn’t easy to answer. 

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, Involve me and I learn’ Benjamin Franklin

This quote struck me when I was thinking about this question and visualising. As a parent, if I could only give my children a few life skills in life that they could remember me by, it would be firstly, to Put Allah first in all they do. 

To see us parents, as the role models and to embody Taqwah ( fear of Allah) and Tawakkal of Allah ( Trust in Allah) in all they do. Secondly, I want them to master self- control and to be confident, Optimistic and positive beings. We believe as parents, in today’s ever fast changing society, that character and strong ethics are the most important life skill and wisdom, we can teach our children. Above any facts in learning, if they are able to have inner strength and be in touch with their emotions, then they can be adaptable to any life situations and hopefully thrive. God-willing. 

My vision for them would be, to have them look back, and say that they respect and appreciate all we did for them. That they embody Iman and a strong moral character. That they see myself and my husband as role models and look up to us and would want similar for their children. That they didn’t feel like they missed out on any life experiences and have lifelong friends and a love of the Deen.  

That they had many great happy memories of their childhood and places they have visited. 

That have developed worldly knowledge through experiencing many different life challenges from a young age, and because of their confidence and knowledge they are able to apply it in any situation and therefore play an active role in the Muslim community, with charitable work.

I Would love for them to say their childhood was full of the outdoors, literature, fun and an overall love of learning. That they were able to make clear choices in life and are confident assertive individuals. I Hope that they will be proud of me as a mother and see me as a happy, loving and nurturing parent and Muslim role model, and feel that they are able to confide in us for anything. I want to be remembered as a mother that could have fun, laugh and joke with them and not be remembered as a constant nag or helicopter parent. I hope that they would say I was just, respectful of them as born persons and that we as parents gave them independence yet they still had firm boundaries, rules and routines in place to guide them.

Lastly, I’d like to thank Eva for arranging this home ed network and for inviting me to be a part of it, I have enjoyed answering these questions and pray they will be of benefit to some and an encouragement that with baby steps and consistency, we can raise our children with confidence and ease. Insh Allah. 

“Upon death, man’s deeds will stop except for three deeds, namely: a continuous charitable fund, endowment or goodwill; knowledge left for people to benefit from; and a pious righteous and God-fearing child who continuously prays to Allah, for the souls of his parents” (Muslim).

May Allah make our intentions pure, and good deeds, the best of deeds and may our children be a source of continuous rewards for us in the hereafter. Ameen.

Published by ivushka1985

I am a Bulgarian Muslim Home schooling Mama of 5, married to a a British Bangladeshi , residing in the South West of England. I blog about our home schooling adventures, travels, the ups and downs of motherhood , parenting books and children's book reviews.

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