Ask the Savvy Parent: Best Age to Send a Child to School

school1Dear 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?

Dear Parent,

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

Ask the Savvy Parent – Autism

autism_pic__alwaysDear Savvy Parent

I was encouraged by your reply about aggression in kids and dealing with it. I faced the same problem with my younger child who is now seven and has mild autism. He used to be aggressive as he had poor language skills and could not express himself well and did not understand what the other kids were doing and possibly felt anger that the other kids got so much attention because of their better skills. After 4 years of trying out positive behaviour techniques as mentioned by you and speech therapy, I notice a lot of change. Presently, he can play with peers for about 15-20 minutes without getting agitated or aggressive. His tolerance and respect for other kids has increased tremendously though we continue to try to increase his language and social skills.

I wish to know whether I should prefer to send my child to a special needs classroom with 7 other special needs kids or prefer to send him to the routine school and class with 20 other kids with teaching assistant supporting him. Do kids with special needs feel better around kids who have similar challenges as them? Thanks a lot.

Dear Parent,

I’m so glad to hear that the positive techniques you have been using with your son are helping. Having worked with many young kids with autism I can empathize and know how challenging and exhausting it can be. I commend you on your patience and hard work.

As you are probably well aware, children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) need lots of repetition and patience and one needs to find ways to help them deal with their social challenges. It’s so great to hear that your son is able to play with his peers for a period of time without getting agitated and aggressive. Keep up the good work!

As far as the school setting, you know your son best, so only you and your husband can ultimately make that decision for your son. Whether a special needs child should be mainstreamed in an inclusive classroom often depends on the severity. In my experience, special needs children tend to do better in an inclusive environment. Those children on the spectrum can benefit tremendously as much of their challenges are social. Not only is it helpful for the child but the classmates also learn how to interact and deal with children with special needs so that the child can feel welcome. However, it works well ONLY if the right resources are there to support your son.

There are, however, a few potential drawbacks to inclusion. Besides the school not being about to provide the necessary support and resources for a child, children who have ASD in a typical classroom may suffer from bullying and teasing.

It is for this reason that it is very important that the school is on board and that you have an IEP in place so that your child can be assisted in the best way possible. If you haven’t already, you should meet with the school. Some of the things you may want to discuss would be, Is it a 1:1 aide or the aide is for the entire classroom? Will there be an adapted curriculum in place (if this is a need for your son)? Will he need a special social group or a peer buddy to help him assimilate better? Make sure the school and classroom teacher is on board and that you as parents and the school are working together to help your son.

The only time I would advise a parent to go against inclusion would be if the needs of the child are not being met or the child’s needs are unique and severe.

Insha’Allah hope this helps and may Allah (swt) guide you to what is best for your son.

Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent

How Do My Friends Treat Me?

Vol 1-Issue 2   How do my friends treat meSomeone once quoted: “Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.” So we know that a man is known by the company he keeps.

Friendships are formed on the pretext of common interests and similar values. But at times we desperately try to grow a friendship simply to fit into a crowd we consider cool. This may even mean giving up our own identity, changing appearances, anything short of selling our soul just to be accepted. Guess what? If that is the case, we are definitely hanging out with the wrong people and probably at the wrong places too!

A simple quiz can help you assess what your friendship is truly worth. Visualize your close friends and answer the questions below honestly.

  1. Do I have to put up pretences in the presence of my friends?
  2. Can I trust my friends with secrets?
  3. Do my friends agree with everything I do without ever correcting me?
  4. Do I suspect my friends make fun of me in my absence, especially if they are habitual backbiters?
  5. In the hour of need, do they make sacrifices for me?
  6. Are they sincere enough not to misuse my money and belongings?
  7. When I have trouble with my relations, do they instigate me further?
  8. Can I reveal my weaknesses before them without becoming a laughing stock?
  9. Am I hesitant to call my friends over to my house and meet my family?
  10. Can I call my friends good practicing Muslims who fear and love Allah?

If most of your answers are in the affirmative, way to go! You are one of the lucky ones whom Allah has blessed with good companions. But if your answers are in negative, you need to seriously consider your friendships. It is not necessary that people who are the life of a party can be meaningful friends too.

Example of a True Friend 

Abu Bakr (rta) is an unrivalled example of friendship and love for Allah (swt). Our Prophet Muhammad (sa) once said: “If I was to take a Khaleel (intimate friend) in this life, it would have been Abu Bakr. But our brotherhood in faith is enough.”

Abu Bakr (rta) was blessed for being the first and foremost, in his belief, his support and his love for the Messenger (sa). For this quality he was honoured with the title of As-Siddiq (Verifier of faith).

  1. He trusted Prophet Muhammad (sa) in the most turbulent times, like the incident of Ascension (Mairaj) when the majority disbelieved.
  2. At the battle of Tabuk, Abu Baker (rta) gave away all of his wealth and possessions for Allah (swt).
  3. In the cave of Thaur, when hiding from the chasing enemies, Abu Bakr (rta) covered the holes of snakes with his feet, so they would not bite the Prophet (sa).
  4. Once, he was almost beaten to death by the polytheists of Quraish, while protecting the Messenger (sa). Upon regaining consciousness he asked, “Where is the Messenger of Allah?” and refused to eat or rest until he saw the Prophet (sa).

Potently, friendships formed with good believers are really the ones that survive trials. Mainly because of a unified goal, that is to please Allah. Allah also loves such people dearly and states: “Where are those who loved each other for my sake? I will shade them on a day when there is no shade except mine.” (Muslim)