There's no Such Thing as Bad Weather by Linda Akeson McGurk
I first saw this book on a facebook group that I was on and thought that it was very interesting and timely as we reflect on our lost forested areas nearby and try to spend more time in nature. Fortunately, our wonderful library stocked up on this (I actually saw it in three libraries near me- surprising considering the average childhood kids have here)and quickly soaked it up. That is, until I leave my air-conditioned room and realise I live in the tropics. How would I ever spend more time outdoors in this sweltering heat? I can't even think straight when it gets hot, am constantly irritated by the discomfort that the sweating brings and can literally feel the heat travelling to my brain.
The book describes the experience of the Scandinavian author trying to recapture the free and outdoorsy childhood she had in her native Sweden unlike the one her girls were experiencing in the States. In the six months they spent there the children had the experience of Swedish schooling that allowed a lot of time outdoors and did not encroach into their after-school hours. McGurk also had the opportunity to meet many like-minded parents and educators who share her vision of how one should spend time outdoors in different kinds of weather and the importance of spending time in nature, unlike in her adopted neighbourhood where teachers fear the repercussions of children injuring themselves during recess, resulting in much (or over-)caution when it comes to letting the children play outside.
The main vibe I get from this book is the positive attitude that glows through the chapters; not letting cold weather stop you from what you want to do, holding on to 'strange (to others)' practices despite criticism or taking action to realise and spread what you believe in. There is also a sense of trust in children that they are capable of acting responsibly even without supervision, thus allowing them to develop independence, an exploring attitude and building courage from young.
I am particularly intrigued when McGurk mentioned how nature activates all senses without overwhelming them and how "...strong sensory integration results in a higher incidence of learning." (Hanscom, 2016). Sensory education is of course a basic foundation of Montessori education and I wonder how sensory integration plays a part in helping children learn better. What are the processes or events that lead to better learning as mentioned by Hanscom? Is it like getting your messages correctly and being able to store them away neatly in your little brain wardrobe? What happens in your body when this occurs? What type of stimulation must it receive from the outer world? My inner Montessori was also happy to read about the importance of movement to build concentration, an important component of learning.
There are also other reminders such as the need to help children build a better relationship with nature so that they can continue the stewardship of caring for it as they grow and become adults. In Sweden nature conservation is a main tenet of the preschool national curriculum. I can understand how the lack of such a relationship can make you cut off from the life that nature brings and become pampered by the comfortable man-made surroundings through controlling the elements. I grew up with little contact with nature.
Each time I bring the children out to the park, all I think of is the comfort of a mall sometimes and I didn't really feel the urgency to be part of conserving as I always thought that whatever I do would not make much of a difference anyway. Having children changed me somewhat. I cannot stress enough of how, in Islam, we are considered the protectors of the earth that God has given us and I want my children to see the greatness of God in his Creation and how much He loves us by giving us all this.
I foresee challenges most in myself (mall-lover, air-condition queen, house-hugger) and I fear the children will grow up to be like me when they see that I don't enjoy being in the heat (mostly) of nature here. We do have many green spaces in Singapore, I am however saddened by how much and how fast primary forests are dissapearing to give way to development. While I would personally not go into such spaces myself, they provide an important contribution to our eco-system overall.
We are starting small, even going to the green space at the back of our block is an achievement these days and I hope to have more plants around (one of two plants I got a few months back is still surviving). Sofi is studying Biology with a Botany focus and we try to go to a nature reserve or garden once a week and have nature studies.
الَّذِي جَعَلَ لَكُمُ الأَرْضَ فِرَاشاً وَالسَّمَاء بِنَاء وَأَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاء مَاء فَأَخْرَجَ بِهِ مِنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ رِزْقاً لَّكُمْ فَلاَ تَجْعَلُواْ لِلّهِ أَندَاداً وَأَنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ Who made the earth a resting place for you and the heaven a canopy and (Who) sends down rain from the cloud then brings forth with it subsistence for you of the fruits; therefore do not set up rivals to Allah while you know (2: 22)
Principles of Montessori History Education
Principles of History Education in Montessori
Montessori focused on the development of ideas and pioneering discoveries and the daily lifestyle of common people in the teaching of History instead of great invasions and rulers as usually found in traditional schools.
By learning of the struggles of those who have come before them, the children realise how the ease of their present lives was made possible because someone before them had worked towards solutions to live’s daily problems that made satisfying Man’s fundamental needs a challenge, such as the need for food and clothing.
After learning what the basic needs of humans are, children can see how far humankind has grown through ‘vertical’ studies of how these needs were met from pre-history to present times. For example, children can learn how humans went from searching for food in the forests, to farming to creating food from laboratories.
‘Horizontal’ studies can also be done about particular civilisations, so that children can learn in depth about them. It is essential that children learn of how despite coming from different parts of the world, we all had the same needs to meet and how we responded to this challenge in our own ways.
It is hoped that by learning about how the earth was created to the coming and development of humans, students can place themselves in the Big Picture of Life and form some basis of who they are as individuals (identity) and how they should go about in their lives in continuing to contribute towards the betterment of humankind.
Children should learn that advances in our lives are not the product of one particular group of people but an accumulation of the knowledge that has been gained over time. In short, history should also teach us to not be egoistic about our achievements and that we can all learn from each other.
The diverse learning experiences would help children to realise how we are the same despite cultural and geographical differences. It imparts the importance of seeing the earth as a unity and how our actions affect those near and far.
History- A Learning Experience
I did not study history in school except for social studies in upper primary and two years in early secondary. This was also, local or regional History and mostly fact-based, sequential type learning. In short, I found no joy in history lessons, short of daydreaming and doodling away.
I quite enjoy it now though. The past decade or so, and even more these past five years, has been a steep learning curve. History teaches you of how we came to be what we are now, of how the earth has changed, how we have changed and most of all, of the Signs of God; through the artefacts, the historical sites, the fossils and the mummies, among many things. One thing schools should teach more is how we shouldn't repeat mistakes made in History.
If you want to love the subject, do not read the textbooks (ok, at least not those I have seen here). My love for History (and learning in general) through our homeschool has grown through reading narrative history told by those in the field or enthusiasts.
Some of my favourites are- The Triumph of Seeds (Thor Hanson), Darjeeling (Jeff Koehler) , The Universe Story (Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry) and The House of Wisdom (Jim al Khalili). I have to admit, I just started reading these type of books last year and my mind is just blown away and enlightened. I finally understood History. (which made me think- what other books and resources are out there that could appeal to different learners?)
To truly enjoy it, I believe that you have to start from the beginning though, from the Creation of the Universe. Most schools do not however teach 'Earth Science' or 'Natural History', which is sad, because I think we all need to understand, to different degrees, how it all started, the evolution of this world and how we have grown in leaps and bounds. How do you know yourself when you do not know where you stand in the Big Picture of Life?
It was when I got serious with History (and Science after all the decades of saying to myself that I am just that kind of person who 'can't understand science'- that leads to another topic - are there types that just cannot understand certain subjects or do how we approach learning/teaching lead to a limited scope of reach for understanding?) that all those verses about reflecting on the signs of God really struck me. I mean, how in the world did footsteps from almost 4 million years ago get preserved? Why are we still awed by mummies and pharaohs? Sometimes you get through life without noticing things even when you read about them day in and day out.
I have a lot to learn and am just starting to learn secondary level science now. Better late than never, they say.
Book Review: Project-Based Homeschooling Mentoring Self-directed Learners by Lori Pickert
The nondescript cover of the book almost made me skip from looking through it. However, I was searching for a new way to teach my tween and since she is more independent now, I was looking at her doing her own projects, that is how I ended up picking up this book despite its plain cover.
The book is alhamdulillah, surprisingly very informative and practical for me as a homeschooling mum and provides a good explanation of how project-based learning should really be like for both elementary and middle school children or even older teens. While your child may be assigned projects in schools, it is likely to receive a lot of direction from teachers and does not allow the child to choose something that comes out of his own interest.
"Real project work is work that is chosen by children and done by children with the help of attentive adults who are there to mentor, facilitate and support."
In the book, Pickert outlines what should be provided for the child to actually carry out project-based homeschooling, physically and spiritually. This comes in the form of providing the child the space and tools to carry out what he wants and allowing him the freedom to pursue his own interest without the adult pushing his ideas and opinions on the child while providing support and encouragement at the same time.
After providing the framework that parents can work with, Pickert includes practical suggestions on how to carry out the different stages of project-work, extending them and making them a part of your family culture. For example, when your child is doing field work; bring a clipboard to facilitate sketching and notetaking and have pre and post-visit discussions with your child to focus the visit and review if his goals for the visit were met.
I absolutely love how Pickert puts forward the need for the values in project-based homeschooling to be part of your own life as a parent and that of the family. For example, as adults, we should mirror putting in effort to sit down and work out a problem instead of, for example, getting frustrated and giving up. When it comes to the children, Pickert encourages parents to allow them to try to solve the problems themselves and for parents to point the children in the right directions instead of jumping in to solve the problem for their children. This is certainly a book I would recommend to all parents. It is always relevant in that it stresses on allowing the child to study something out of his own interest and working out the means to achieve his goals in a positive and encouraging environment. These are values very close to my own (although I still find them challenging) and I am always inspired by other mothers who have managed to put them into practice in real life.
Book Review: Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash
I was over the moon when I found this book at the library. "How apt!" I thought, just the thing I needed for my teenage boys in this confusing world where their identities are being put down due to their beliefs. However, after the first few chapters, I wanted to return the book to the library and forget about it. Not because it was poorly written, in fact, it was quite a novel idea of a father writing to his son letters about being Muslim in this post-modern world.
When I read about the author's experience growing up in the Middle East and England, I also felt that we came from different worlds and that this book is not relevant to us here. A case in point, the majority of Muslims here are of the same ethnicity and we are all Sunnis, as far as I knew, growing up. There were no questions then of belonging to different sects, having alternative interpretations of Islamic law (even among respected imams, what more interpreting laws yourself!) and even my non-Muslim schoolmates shared traditional values with me.
I wanted to forget about it because it made me feel uncomfortable.
I thought that maybe if I kept quiet about it and moved on, I would soon forget it; like many other things I wish I could sweep under the sofa. How uncanny that towards the end, the writer spoke about religious silence, where you don't question or speak of something because it is unheard of .
The reality is, however, incidents that reflect negatively on Muslims seem to now occur over regular periods of time that makes Islam and in turn, Muslims, look bad, no thanks to certain biased media. Despite the fact that there are more than a billion Muslims in the world, the media chooses to put us all together regardless of nationality and culture for the actions of a group of people we don't even know of. The reality is, we are more connected now than we have ever been that issues that were remote or taboo in the past, turns up on our front door. If I don't reach out to my sons and in future, my daughters, about the crisis Muslims are in now, someone else or the internet will.
I do not agree with some of the author's opinions, but who says you need to agree with everything an author says to read his book? Certain issues that he spoke about needs to be urgently addressed; such as the need for our young to have their own opinions so they won't be empty drums anyone can fill, the education of women and the need to stop being busy with waging a war of isms and taking responsibility for ourselves. To quote the author, "The only way we can raise the status of the Muslim world is by doing what all other peoples in the world do: educate ourselves, work hard, and find the answers to life's difficult questions." I would like to add, make dua.
I give this book a 3.5/5 rating and recommend it for teens 16 or older who have grounding in Islamic knowledge and someone qualified to ask questions about.