Quality Time: Putting HOME back into homeschool

“The struggles of today will one day be a distant memory, but your children are only children once. Enjoy them.”

Jamerill Stewart

Now that we’ve had almost seven weeks of lockdown and no school, those of us who are trying to home educate are probably still trying to figure things out. You might be more relaxed some days and pulling your hair out on others, but I’m here to remind you to take it easy! Here’s a little article I wrote a few years back for FITRA Journal to help you put HOME back into homeschool and just enjoy some quality time with your kids.

Once upon a time

It’s 2pm and my boys are jumping up and down out of sheer joy, looking at each other in excitement and disbelief. You’d be forgiven for thinking I had just surprised them with an impromptu holiday or given permission to eat jelly and ice cream for the rest of the week, but the truth is far more plain: I had merely proposed some time out to do a jigsaw together.

This unexpected reaction finally caused the penny to drop…

Quality not quantity

Having moved to Saudi Arabia, my husband and I agreed it would be best for our children to go to a Qur’an school every morning to study hifdh and the Arabic language. As it would only run from 7am to 1pm, I would have ample time to cover other subjects at home and still see and spend good time with the kids outside of academia, hurrah!

Alas, well into the fourth year of part-time homeschooling, I had unintentionally slipped into a methodical (almost mechanical) way of dealing with my children after lunch – we did our Qur’an revision, English, maths and had some time out for reading and outdoor play.

And therein lies the problem: When homeschooling, whether full-time or not, it’s easy to assume we are spending plenty of time together as a family simply because the children are at home; we are their prime educators and the one’s they are mostly around. But the real question is how much of that time is filled with genuine attention and meaning?

I like to think I make learning fun, but despite spending the majority of their waking hours with me, it was evident my boys needed me to stop being their “teacher” and start spending QUALITY time with them as their mother.

Reconnecting

It was time for me to pause and reflect on why I had chosen this journey to begin with. I wasn’t quite sure if my children were happy with their busy schooling lifestyle and I most certainly was not convinced that family life itself had improved. With a rigid structure in place and self-inflicted pressure for the kids to keep up with secular subjects, I had stopped enjoying our progress and was inadvertently living the opposite of what I wanted to achieve.

There are several reasons why families may choose to homeschool, but at the forefront of these for many is the advantage of being able to spend more time together. However, amidst the typical days of planning, teaching and running between one activity to the next (not to mention completing chores!) it is easy to forget to appreciate one another’s presence and to connect; simply spending time getting to know one another.

Benefits of spending time together

With varying agendas for the day, it can be difficult to find a set time where everyone is available, but incorporating ‘”quality time” is essential for the holistic well being of both the parents and their children. Even the smallest of moments together can make a great difference to everyday life and beyond:

Strengthened bonds and relationships

Meaningful interaction is the first step to truly connecting and appreciating every individual. It draws one another closer emotionally and builds on trust in a relationship. Creating this strong bond in the younger years of a child’s life will have a positive impact on their psychological and social advancement.

Less behavioral problems

Children love attention from their parents and it is vital to their development.  When they don’t get enough, many tend to misbehave and cause disruption. Engaging regularly with our kids promotes healthy communication and is proven to counteract negative behaviour. Studies have also shown that teenagers who have open communication with their parents are less likely to be involved with violence and abusive actions in general.

Improved academic performance

Fostering a healthy relationship with our children shows them that they are valued and loved. This enhances self-esteem, which has been associated with greater academic achievement.

Motivation

Spending purposeful time together immediately fills a child with enthusiasm and this actually makes teaching easier and more effective!

What does quality time look like?

My ‘jigsaw incident’ forced me to pay more attention to how our family was utilizing time together. I was determined to incorporate some quality time into our day and found it’s a lot easier to practice than I thought!

Defining quality time and what it looks like varies with every household. While weekends away and regular outings are recognised as clear family bonding time, opportunities to connect are readily available in even mundane tasks, such as housework, as long as we are perceptive and open to them.

I decided to ask some seasoned homeschoolers for their suggestions on simple ideas everyone can weave into their homeschooling to ensure they’re staying connected as a family. The following ten points are just an example of what quality time can look like…

1.Make use of Dinnertime

“Dinnertime as a family is essential! We always eat together and TALKI About life, their day, dreams and memories. I never had ‘family meal time’ growing up and this, for me, is so important to the growth of the family.  – Umm Raiyaan

2. Have physical contact

“My kids always complain I don’t cuddle enough so I try my best to have some close physical contact with each of them everyday. I also recently started staying in bed for half an hour in the morning with the kids watching cooking videos or news I saved from Facebook or Whatsapp.” – Zainab. Q

3. Read and learn together

“Our quality time is sitting on the sofa just reading a book out loud or sitting round the table learning to draw new things together. It’s usually simple, nothing planned. Consciously making an effort to be present and enjoying each other’s company is important; just being happy together and smiling, where nothing distracts us. “ – Mariya

4. Let your children choose an activity

“I’ve recently started playing things with them that they like. Having 2 boys means a lot of football and lego…not really my thing but definitely theirs! They like to do this everyday and I join in – just kicking the ball around together, passing, learning new tricks, standing in goal. It’s only 10/15 minutes, but it makes them SO happy!” – Umm Abdullah

5. Just play!

“I try to grab the moment when it comes. It could be watching a movie, having breakfast in bed or building a den. Now that we have a baby, I just put a blanket on the floor and lay there as we all play.” – Emmanuelle

“Just playing with the kids and being funny keeps us bonded. My older ones still like being tickled! We look at old pictures and videos on the laptop and have a laugh at old memories or reminisce. We also have lego evenings that my husband gets involved in.”– Umm Zakiyyah

6. Go one on one

“My kids really enjoy some alone time with me, so I stay up with one while the others sleep.  Each child likes to talk about different things and I let them lead the conversation. I’ve learnt a lot about them like this and also ways on how they’d like me to improve myself!” – Bazigha

7. Party nights

“Mine are getting bigger now and aren’t as interested in spending time with us so we have to make a conscious effort. We have a short halaqa followed by a “party” every night.” – Umm Salam

8. Watch TV/a film together

“On Friday nights we watch something together, usually a series. Hubby takes the older three bike riding every Sunday. There are opportunities all the time; it’s about being mindful.” – Saffia

9. Keep up communication and listen

“We talk a lot about our goals as a family, which I feel really helps in keeping us unified. My older ones are girls and they love to just have a chat.” – Umm Zakiyyah

10.  Share one another’s interests

“As they’ve got older, my boys just want me to be interested in what interests them, so I try to talk to them about the football league, favourite players, fast cars and sports etc. Hopefully, if they talk to me about the things that are important to them now, they will still talk to me about the ‘real’ important things when they are teenagers. “ Umm Abdur-Rahman

Being mindful

The concept of quality time is something so glaringly obvious, yet it is not given due priority and becomes the first thing we lose in our busy timetables. It’s important to remind ourselves to SLOW DOWN and welcome the shared experience of homeschooling.  Cultivating a close relationship with our families helps us bring out the best in each other and creates a loving and nurturing home environment.

Whatever our style is, whether it’s following a planned schedule for the day or whether we choose to go more free-style, we all need the time to connect. This doesn’t necessarily mean taking extra time out to do something together, but focusing on opportunities that are already present in the day. Quality time can happen anytime and anywhere, we just need to be more mindful and aware of our interactions. I can now say on good authority that these precious moments equate jelly and ice cream everyday!

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