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: Kids Bored at Home

im-bored-cover-e1372184590438Dear Savvy Parent,

My kids complain that I am always asking them to study. They feel bored at home and with me. What should I do?

Dear parent,

First of all, your children are all aged 10 and under. They are still very young. Why do they need to study so much? Constantly pushing them to study isn’t helpful at all. Some parents put way too much pressure on their children from an early age to succeed academically. I understand that in some countries this is considered to be a cultural norm, but as a teacher, I can tell you that pressure and constant study is NOT an effective method for learning, regardless of culture.  Education should not be just about memorization and forced learning; it should be about understanding the material. Memorizing and understanding are two completely different concepts. It is important as parents and as educators to instill a love of learning without pressure.  Learning shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be boring or tedious. Make it fun; be creative; make it into a game and most of all, be encouraging! Remember, a child is more successful when the experience is enjoyable.

Encouragement versus praise

Most parents enjoy praising their children with words like “Well done!” and “That looks great!” However, research shows that encouragement (not praise) has a more significant effect upon a child’s motivation. So what is the difference between praise and encouragement, you might ask. Though they sound like the same thing, they are not. The difference is that words of praise lead the child to rely on YOUR assessment of his or her accomplishments, while words of encouragement lead him or her to form THEIR OWN positive assessment of himself or herself. Examples of encouragement are: “Look at that drawing; I can tell you have spent lots of time on it. It must be a great feeling knowing you worked so hard on it,” or “It didn’t work out the way you planned, did it? I can tell you are upset about it, but it’s okay. I know you will try again next week. What could you do differently next time?”

Next, you say your children feel bored at home and with you. Do you spend time with your children just having fun? If not, set some time out in the day and spend some quality time with your kids, as a family. Have fun, play with them or do something with them that they enjoy. One of the best and most obvious things about spending quality time with your children is developing stronger and positive relationships with them. Be sure that both parents also spend individual time with each child. This will help build memories as well as trust. This is an integral part of having a healthy family dynamics as well as happy children. The benefits are endless, so set aside one-on-one, quality time with your kids.

Quality Time Ideas- What Does It Look Like?

  1. Cook or bake together.
  2. Play sports.
  3. What are their hobbies? Do some with them.
  4. Have a family movie or games night (age-appropriate, of course).
  5. Go on a bike ride or walk together.
  6. Read a book together; this works great for younger children.
  7. Make a craft or start a project together.

These are just seven of the hundreds of things you can do together. Start making quality time for each child. You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make!

Insha’Allah I hope this helps. Happy Parenting!

The Savvy Parent