Dear Savvy Parent,
What is the best age to start school for kids – is it a good idea to send them to a playgroup from 1.5 years onwards?
Islam says that a child should not begin formal learning till age seven. This does not mean that the child should not learn at all. There are many things one can do to prepare a child for school in their formative years (under the age of 7). Keep in mind to present things in a way that is fun. People this day and age tend to focus on academics, and often pressure and push their child into rigorous educational training at an early age. Why are such parents so eager to rush their children? I know a child who learned to read at the age of 9. How does this compare with a child who learned at the age of 4(probably because their parents/schools pushed them more) for example? Has it or will it hinder him in any way? Certainly not! This 9 year old child is now 11 years old and on the honour roll. So why must we put so much pressure on sending our kids to school as early as possible? It’s the same when it comes to Islamic education. Parents push their sons at such a young age to be a Hafiz of the Quran; meanwhile their child throws tantrums and doesn’t respect or listen to his parents. What is the point of being a Hafiz, which is amazing Masha’Allah, when he hasn’t learned how to behave appropriately? We need to shift our focus on the important things first, which is to lay the foundations to prepare them for formal academic learning. Begin by focusing on the basics of our Deen in terms of personality and attributes of a good Muslim. The academic stuff will come later. Laying a good, solid foundation is much more important and WILL have an impact on them in the future.
As for sending a child to a playgroup, the important thing to remember is that a young child needs to have social interactions with their peers. It has many benefits such as learning appropriate ways to interact with others, sharing, conflict resolution, appropriate language, respect for others etc. One doesn’t necessarily have to send a child to a playgroup. You can go to weekly mother and me programmes, or plan play dates. Also, keep in mind to expose your children to families that are like-minded and people of good character. This will ensure that your child will benefit from their influence in a positive way.
Besides making sure your child has the opportunity to play and explore. Here are some things as parents one should focus on with their children at an early age, before they reach school going age:
1. Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk. Be a role model to your children in the way that you treat them and others. Be honest and fair. Treat your children kindly by showing compassion towards them. Be mindful of what you say and do. Establish good habits such as what one says before and after eating, or reciting the Dua of travelling for example. Say them out loud so your children hear it. You will be surprised how quickly children catch on.
2. Instill the love of Allah. Children should both fear and love Allah, but teach them about love first. They can learn about fear when they get older. I have noticed in some cultures people often use a negative tone and fear to get children to listen. For example telling a child if they don’t listen, Shaitan will come get them. Why must we focus on the fear and negative side? Why can’t we train our children to do something out of LOVE for Allah (swt). For example, “Let’s put these toys away. I’m going to help you because Allah loves those who help others.” Doesn’t this sound so much nicer than threatening Shaitan on a child? To be honest, in my opinion, one should not even teach a child about Shaitan till at least age 7. You can also lead by example. Practice acts of kindness such as helping other, visiting sick friends or relatives for example. Giving Sadaqah in front of your child, or better yet, involving your child in regular but small acts of Sadaqah, is another example. Explain to them in simple language why you are giving Sadaqah. You will be surprised how quickly children pick up these good habits.
3. Expose your children to the Qur`an. By this I don’t mean sit there and force them to keep reciting and repeating. Just make sure that there is recitation of the Quran in your home. Let them hear Quran being recited in beautiful voices. Read the Quran yourself regularly, and make sure you read aloud so that your children can hear. Being in an environment where one regularly listens to and recites the Quran has a strong effect on the child’s life. This also helps to create a connection between them and the Arabic language, and instill a love for it in their hearts, because it is an important key to understanding and loving Islam.
4. Develop an attachment to the mosque. Take your children (especially sons) to Jummah if/when possible. You can go as a family or you can have your husband take them. This is a great time to introduce and teach proper mosque etiquette. Encourage them to sit quietly beside you, rather than allowing them to run up and down the rows disturbing others. It may be helpful to bring a quiet activity such as a puzzle or books to keep your child busy.
5. Pray and practice your Ibadah in front of them. The Prophet (sa) has told us to teach those who reach the age of seven to pray and to make them do it; before this age they may be taught but not by way of making them do it. A child that young doesn’t have to pray, but develop a habit of having them beside you when you pray. Lay out a prayer mat for them to sit on while you pray.
Be mindful that young children absorb everything around them. Their ears and eyes are always listening and watching and taking everything in, even when you think they aren’t. Include them in your acts of Ibadah.
Insha’Allah I hope this helps! Happy Parenting!
The Savvy Parent