Extraordinary times call for extraordinary parenting – parenting which, at its core, is focused on nurturing the development of strong religiously-minded individuals and families that are the bedrock of a stable society.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it the acceleration of the collapse of the high street. It has forced retail businesses and organisations to become even more creative and move into virtual environments. Could it be argued that the pandemic is also aiding in the collapse of the school system and promotion of home education? That may be too wild a claim, but it is certainly giving parents an opportunity to trial a version of home education, and the number of parents choosing home education is increasing.
These extraordinary times extend beyond living with the changes that the pandemic has brought, with parents struggling to cope in a society and a world that is becoming increasingly devoid of faith. As Muslims, we know that we will be tested in this world, and this is exactly what the pandemic is, a test. We should therefore be more concerned with nurturing capable and Hereafter-centric children than with COVID-19 and its global impacts. The most important aspect of our lives we should focus on is how we deal with our tests, and it is this area of concern that we have control over and where we can excel in our parenting.
Grasp this opportunity and be bold in forging your own path in educating your children and their future. The following are eight thoughts you could use as a springboard to begin your quest to excel in your parenting.
Finding a silver lining to the pandemic
Could it be that the pandemic has been a blessing for your child’s education? Is it the catalyst you required to make bold decisions regarding the education of your children? Enforced lockdown can be seen as a catalyst and blessing, as it gives rise to a unique opportunity: trying out home education for your children whilst not going against a societal norm and not making any actual changes. Why not take advantage of the fact that this decision has been made for you for a short period of time? You never know – this glimpse of a possibly different lifestyle may be one that you prefer, and it may suit your family better than traditional schooling. Are you open to such an opportunity?
How to cope with trials
How you approach lockdown and this forced period of home education also presents you an opportunity to model and build resilience in your children. In your modelling, your children will see how they too should cope with trials such as the pandemic, which must seem to have no end in their young eyes. Demonstrate to them how to focus on the important things in life, and ultimately how to turn to Allāh. This will be the beginning of their home education experience. Yes, it will be more work for you than sending them away to school, and perhaps it is simply parenting with academia fitted in wherever you can. However, your children will learn from watching you interact with the world around you, as well as from the school of life. They will not miss out from this opportunity for growth, since they are not being packed off to school. The challenge for you comes twofold: do you acknowledge and accept the responsibility that Allāh bestowed upon you of being their primary role model, and do you accept that after Allāh, they will turn to you for guidance?
Take advantage before the advantage goes
How long will you be able to influence your children? Don’t just move with the masses and blindly go along with the decisions of other people. Take a moment and contemplate on how long you have a voice that your child will listen to and take from. It is important to consider just how long you really will be their primary role model. It would be fair to say that a parent’s window of opportunity to have a profound impact on influencing and guiding their children starts to erode as they enter their teenage years, and becomes greatly diminished by the time the child leaves the secondary schooling years (approximately 16 years old). Thereafter, the role of the parent changes to one of mentoring and championing. Home education enables you to take full advantage of this window of opportunity as you are uniquely placed to manage and control the countless external influences they face, including the constant barrage of secular and societal ills. You will be able to gradually prepare them to encounter and participate in the world, when they are sure of themselves and their dīn, to then become fully responsible and capable individuals.
A time for everything
In your experience of home education, you will need to focus on a few areas that are most important to ease this period of uncertainty for both parent and child. This can be done by reconnecting with them and with Allāh, and by refreshing your intentions to put first things first. Take time for the entire family to disconnect from the world at large. Slow down and enjoy spending time with your children. This is a golden opportunity to reconnect and get to know your children again. Talk to them, find out what makes them tick, let them get to know you better, open up and share your life. It’s a chance to impart your words of wisdom and simply have a good laugh with them. These days can contain joy and inspiration that they may be able to carry with them forever.
Children thrive on knowing what comes next. This requires both the order of routine and the flexibility of having some free time. Plan your day around three things: salāh, food, and energy levels. Build in time to sit with the Qur’ān and time for making du’ā. Take advantage of being home and pray all your prayers together, allowing this act to dictate the major milestones of your day. Link everything to a prayer time. For example, take a shower before Fajr and have breakfast afterwards. Remember, no one likes to work when they are tired or hungry, and a child’s ability to remain fresh and full diminishes fast, so learn when those times are and schedule accordingly.
Don’t over-plan and over-think the day
Take note that people react differently in times of stress. Some children like to eat more than they would normally, some like to sleep more, whilst others prefer to put their heads down and work even harder. These are all expected and manageable reactions. The important part is to talk and communicate with each other. Remember, it’s normal for your children to feel bored occasionally – it is in these moments that they train themselves to think and become self-directed. Your job is to create a stimulating learning environment and to permit them the freedom to interact within it.
Teaching – don’t panic about academic work
Perhaps now is a good time to talk about academic work. Don’t worry – it’s not as hard as you think! If your school has set work for your child, try to keep up by splitting it into small chunks and working at it daily. If they have not but you would like them to – or they are failing you in some way – then reach out to your school and ask for help. Should you find yourself in the position where they have not set you any work, then you should be delighted, as you can truly explore home education in the best of its forms.
Your first task will be to assess the capability and level of your children. When you start out, work just under what you think they can do as this will build confidence. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Make use of the Internet and all the school resources, plus all the resources produced by home educators. A simple Google search for a subject will bring up plenty for you to start with.
Do not forget the importance of socialisation whilst in lockdown. It is very important to find acceptable solutions for keeping in touch with family and friends. It is equally important to schedule some down-time for your children to give them space to process their thoughts and emotions. This is an opportunity to focus on the child as a whole. When you take this stance, your children will find the resilience they require to navigate the pandemic and any other trials that come their way during life, in shā’ Allāh.
Home educators be aware
For established home educators, take lockdown as an opportunity to slow down as many groups and venues close. Remember, the COVID-19 pandemic is a big event that children need to process. It is very easy to just carry on, as you already know how to educate your child and already have a plan in place. Be mindful of their mental health, and make sure you are available for those all-important conversations. Take the opportunity to read some more on home education and the various philosophies surrounding the topic so as to select the most suitable approach for now and the future. View this as a period of isolation to renew, refocus, and revive. You will be all the more ready to return to all the groups and venues, once this has all passed.
Look after yourself
Remember to be gentle on yourself. Raising children is hard work, and you do need to factor in your own self-care and rest. If you do not, you are headed for burnout and unnecessary stress for your entire family. Find this rest in your connection with Allāh; in your salāh and du’ā. If you are not studying the Qur’ān, then start now – not only will you find what you are looking for, but you will also be the best of models for your children to follow.
Approaching this enforced lockdown and closure of schools with a growth mindset may ignite your parenting skills and inspire you to strive for more with regards to your children’s education and reliance upon Allāh. A golden opportunity presents itself – the chance to address the task of raising individuals who are strong in faith while dealing with the more important crisis of living in extraordinarily faithless times; are you going to take it? Will you simply remain a parent in lockdown or be a parent on lockdown?
Umm Safwan is a mother of 5 children and has been a home Educator for over 20 years. She holds an honours degree in childhood and youth studies. Alongside running her home, she mentors and coaches Muslim women. She is also a director of a home education organisation that arranges activities and classes.