Interview with Umm Maimoonah from Umm Maimoonah’s Journey

Sister Umm Maimoonah is a mother and a dedicated home educator. She is also a blogger who shares links and resources of homeschooling with other home educators. Let’s interview her and find out more about her homeschooling routines, what motivated her to start it, and how she manages to educate her child as well as take care of other responsibilities.

1. Assalaam ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullah wa-barakatuh sister Umm Maimoonah. How are you sister?

Umm Maimoonah: Alaikum salaam warahmathullaahi wa barakaatuhu dear sister. Alhamdulillaah, I am well by the grace and mercy of Allaah alone.

2. Alhamdulillah. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your home-school?

UM: Innalhamdalillaah. Indeed all praise is due to Allaah alone. I am a slave of Allaah who is in need of His Mercy always, daughter, sister, wife, mother to an 8 year old daughter, Maimoonah who is homeschooled throughout and a blogger.  Born and brought up in Colombo, Sri Lanka, a small island in the Indian Ocean, currently living with my family in Doha, Qatar for the past 6 years Alhamdulillaah. I homeschool, conduct workshops and classes for the kids in Doha, help my husband in his business and projects by supporting him as a Content Editor, and building up an online business Inshaa Allaah that would benefit the community at large bi idhnillaah.

3. Subhanallah! That’s a lot to do all at once! Allahumma baarik laki. Very good, maa shaa Allah. How long have you been homeschooling and what teaching method do you use with your children?

UM: I have been actually homeschooling since I was pregnant with my daughter Alhamdulillaah, as we were laying the foundations of homeschooling then, with our speech, actions and reading aloud the Qur’aan and reading the books of the scholars. After giving birth I used to still read aloud, making it a habit every day, as she was growing I started reading books with her, saying all the duaas and adkhaar’s aloud so that she would hear us say at every instance and start imitating and playing with numbers and colours and so on till she was about 2 years old. I started formal homeschooling when she was 2 and our journey began formally here is Qatar, Alhamdulillaah.

My teaching methods differ according to the changing learning styles continuously. I would call myself an eclectic home educator as we use a mixture of educating methods in our homeschool.

4. Maa shaa Allah. You started a bit earlier than most people it seems. And definitely, reading is very important even as early as when the baby is in the womb. Do you have any teaching qualifications? And were you intimidated when you first thought about homeschooling or when you started?

UM: I had 10 years of teaching experience at a weekend school, and I also had 12 years of experience in managing and helping in running an Islamic school. I quit all when I gave birth and the experience and exposure helped me a lot to put things in order at my homeschool even though I must admit that I had sleepless nights browsing the various homeschooling blogs and working hard on collecting info and little did I realize then, that my structure and method of homeschooling is going to be entirely different from my 10 years of teaching experience!

5. Right, definitely. What motivated you to want to homeschool your child?

UM: We had decided to homeschool even before my daughter was born, in fact we decided this even before we married. Alhamdulillaah. Inspiration came from a dear sister who is close to me and my family who homeschooled her 8 kids Alhamdulillaah. Most of her kids are grown up and married now and Alhamdulillaah doing well. Baarakallaah Feeha.

6. Ameen. That is indeed dedication maa shaa Allah. Did you get any support and/or discouragements for your decision? What were the responses?

UM: My husband was the biggest supporter and Alhamdulillaah I did not have any problems or discouragement from family members. Honestly even if I had, it would not have affected me in any way by the grace of Allaah as I made isthikhaarah before embarking on this Journey and my intention was to please Allaah alone and not the people. Living abroad made it much easier I guess by the grace of Allaah and we were to ourselves and did not mix around till my daughter was 5 years old as we wanted her to have the right Tarbiyah (cultivation/nurturing) before she could mix with others.

7. It is VERY good that your husband was supportive. That definitely helps a lot because I strong believe that a family that comes together makes things easier and successful; only by the will of Allah of course. Do you use any particular curriculum for your homeschooling? And do you follow any particular routine or schedule?

UM: For PreSchool and Kindergarten Levels I made my own curriculum which really made things much easier for me. Both are available for downloading on my blog for free if anyone is interested in using them Inshaa Allaah. I have been using the Cambridge Curriculum for secular education since she was 5 years and currently we are close upon finishing off the PrimaryCambridge Curriculum. As for Islamic Studies I do not follow a curriculum as I believe in teaching her the books of the early scholars and that is what we have been doing.

Yes we have a routine and the workboxmethod still works well for us Alhamdulillaah.

8. That’s pretty interesting maa shaa Allah. Is the Cambridge Curriculum free and can anyone use it from anywhere around the world? Could you please give us a very brief summary about this curriculum?

UM: This is not specifically tailored for homeschoolers, rather it is solely meant for schools. According to the Cambridge website they say: “Cambridge International Examinations is the world’s largest provider of international education programs and qualifications for 5 to 19 year olds, and part of the University of Cambridge.”

Cambridge offers the following for Academic Programs and Qualifications:

Cambridge Primary (For 5 to 11 year olds)

Cambridge Secondary I (For 11 to 14 years old)

Cambridge Secondary II (14 to 16 year old – IGCSE /Cambridge O Levels)

Cambridge Advanced (AS and A Levels/ Cambridge Pre U)

For each of these levels the website provides a full curriculum framework and resource list for free download for anyone. They used to have it free but now they have it free for all levels except Primary. All of these curricula are very much in par with the UK National Curriculum but Cambridge offers this for International Students. Since many sisters have been emailing me regarding Cambridge Curriculum I wrote a post explaining all in detail with links which can be viewed here.

9. Very interesting! I definitely need to look into this in shaa Allah. Are there any requirements to cover certain subjects/topics for homeschooled students in your country? If so, could you please briefly give us an idea?

UM: There are no requirements as such here Alhamdulillah for homeschooling kids, however if you have to admit the kids to a school then the authorities require grade certifications, without it you will not get to admit the kids to schools. I am not too worried about grades and certifications right now so I just concentrate on covering the Cambridge Curriculum along with our interesting projects which are mostly done by my daughter herself.

As for how homeschooling is viewed in Qatar then here is link for a local online news portal where they featured homeschoolers in Qatar and we were included too.

10. I guess it depends on the country one lives in. What are the primary and main subjects that you cover with your daughter?

UM: English Language (includes spelling, copy writing, grammar, comprehension), Mathematics, Science, Geography, ICT (Information and Communications Technology).  As for Islaamic Studies for Aqeedah (Creed or Belief) we do Usooluth Thalaathah – The Three Fundamental Principles of Shaykh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhaab Raheemahullaah, Important Lessons for Every Muslim by Shaykh Ibn Baaz Raheemahullaah, for Seerah  we use, The Sealed Nectar and When the Moon Spilt, for the study of the Sahaabah we use the Darus Salam Golden Series and The Great Women of Islaam and we also learn about various scholars starting from the Taabieen period (the scholars after the Sahaabah).

Islaamic Studies are mostly done in a scrap book format and then revised via questions and answers and discussions. As for Arabic we use Madeenah Arabic Books and Gateway to Arabic.

We also do Hifdh which has been a struggle Alhamdulillaah. When she was three she started memorizing pretty much without any big effort only through listening and by four or five she completed Juzz Amma, then came a lagging period and she became very slow till now as the soorahs increased she was getting mixed up, plus I had family commitments and I could not stick to a  firm schedule.

So at one point I stopped making her memorize new soorahs and we concentrated in revising the old soorahs which we still do and try to go forward with new soorahs in a slow pace. It did worry me a lot, but when I read this from the Ulama it did give me insight Maashaa Allaah. I was very worried that I may force her with the Qur’aan and this may lead her to abandon it or hate it Allaah forbid, therefore I gave her a break and slowly got back to it and we are going slow Alhamdulillaah!

11. You did very well, Maa shaa Allah! I definitely agree with not pushing beyond the child’s limit. The most important part of memorizing the Qur’an is applying it in our lives.  How important is learning the Arabic language for your home-school? And on a scale of 1-10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest), how well do you think your child has and continue to pick up the language?

UM: Arabic is important to us no doubt. Picking up the language I would say may be 5. Personally I concentrate more on Aqeedah and Tawheed as I strongly feel children must be taught Aqeedah first in whatever language if we are unable to facilitate the learning of Arabic Language.

12. That’s true. And 5 sounds very good to me; especially so early on maa shaa Allah. Are you a native Arabic speaker? And how do you make sure that your daughter learns Arabic fluently and practice it?

UM: I am not a native Arab. We live in an Arab country but Qadarallaah, Arabic is seldom used with non-Arabs here as most speak English, plus it is extremely expensive to get a native Arabic tutor and to continuously take to a place to learn Arabic due to logistic issues. Therefore it is only me by the grace of Allaah who is teaching her Arabic. She can read and write now and tries very hard to talk as well Alhamdulillaah. She is not extremely fluent but Alhamdulillaah picking up.

13. You are doing a very good job sister. May Allah bless you. I find it very sad that in an Arabic speaking country, the locals actually speak to you in English instead of Arabic. The opposite would definitely not be the you in an English speaking country. But Alhamdulillah. Do you get a third party help such as other family members, a private tutor (for some subjects) or working with other homeschooling mothers?

UM: Aameen. Since last year we have started a small Co-op amongst the homeschooling kids where we meet twice a month and concentrate on project based learning and a qualified sister may conduct some regular language skill workshops too with the kids. If all goes well by the permission of Allaah we hope to continue this after summer Inshaa Allaah.

14. That sounds like a good plan. May Allah make it successful. How do you budget your classes? And do you find homeschooling more or less expensive than the conventional school cost?

UM: Aameen. Alhamdulillah I spend extremely a very small amount comparing to the conventional schools especially in Qatar as the School Fees are exorbitant. Even for the Co-ops the cost is very very minimal.

15. Alhamdulillah. Where do you get your resources and illustrations from?

UM: Most of the text books I get online and few books from the bookshops here as well as from Colombo. As for educational kits and learning fun items I get from Rainbow Resources along with another homeschooling family in Doha.

16. I definitely need to check the links you have shared with us in shaa Allah. When teaching your daughter, do you face any challenges in combining all the subjects in a day?

UM: Alhamdulillaah I have only one child. But since I work from home it does become a stressful challenge at times due to the nature of the work I do along with cooking and taking care of the household, planning the homeschool schedules and making sure the work is being done. And when things are not that great, some days could be extremely stressful. But I notice that when I really plan out my day and I am ready with everything then things are pretty smooth. Workbox method makes things easy as I prepare the work basket early in the morning after Fajr or the previous day. Alhamdulillaah she is grown now and this year seems to be much easier as she is cooperating well, baarakallaah feeha.

As for combining all the subjects, then I try to work on a flexible routine. My daughter is fine with doing most of the subjects daily as long as the duration of each subject is short. I also feel this works well for now as even done little but everyday serves the purpose. So I plan accordingly that written work would take only maximum 20 minutes or less for each subject. When it comes to project work then this is something she enjoys and she would spend time until she is tired or till she completes. So there may be days that nothing is done except for reading and there may be days only project work is done and nothing else. We are flexible and we try to do as much as we can Alhamdulillaah.

17. Great planning! Alhamdulillah. What are your favorite and least favorite subjects to teach, if any?

UM: I love Islaamic Studies and no doubt that is my favourite subject. Mathematics is a bit challenging sometimes as I need to study first before explaining certain concepts. But the books I use are pretty straight forward and most of the time I really do not have to explain too much.

18. OK, maa shaa Allah. What are your daughter’s favorite and least favorite subjects, if any?

UM: I really do not think she has anything to call her favourite as it all depends on the amount of work she has to do and the method in she is asked to do. For example she loves research and project work. She is capable of coming up with different poems at the spur of the moment. She could do a PowerPoint presentation within an hour with illustrations and notes regarding a subject matter. At the same time she can drag her feet to finish one page of copy writing.

19. Aww, may Allah bless her. Do you manage to provide your child a social life outside of the home and does she make friends?

Answer: Aameen. Alhamdulillaah I never worried about social life since day one as I strongly feel this has nothing to do with homeschooling or socializing, rather it is just the personality of each child and the personality of the household in general.  My daughter is very social and would initiate a conversation and a very social child even during her first 5 years when was not mixing with any other kids regularly. And we make sure she is taken out during weekends and she also enjoys horse riding.

There are nice Arts and Crafts and reading activities going on in the local museums and we make sure to attend those that are suitable and Maimoonah enjoys these sessions and looks forward to them, plus the staff at the museums eagerly awaits her presence too. But if you give her loads of books she is pretty satisfied to stay at home and not bother about anything else!

10. Do you know other Muslim mothers who also homeschool in your locality?

Answer: Yes Alhamdulillaah there are few sisters who homeschool and we do get together as I said before for co-ops and workshops as well as outings occasionally. We also run a TarbiyahGirls Club every other week where the girls learn Aqeedah and home making skills. We are not a very active group yet but something is initiated and we hope it would continue inshaa Allaah.

21. May Allah make it continue and make it successful even years from now. It sounds like a great initiative. Would you say that your daughter enjoys being homeschooled?

UM: Aameen. Alhamdulillaah yes, and my daughter is pretty content with homeschooling and has no interest in going to formal schools and does not fancy that idea either, may Allaah bless her.

22. Ameen. Alhamdulillah, that makes it much easier for both of you. What do you think are the benefits and challenges of homeschooling?

UM: Alhamdulillaah as for my household and me the benefits are tremendous and homeschooling is the best so far. It is helping us to achieve our goals of cultivating her upon the Sunnah and primarily educating her to know her Lord and His religion and encouraging her to act upon that knowledge. It has given us tranquility in knowing that we are in control of teaching and that un-Islamic belief and inappropriate materials are not fed in and are not forced into the mind. It has also given us the joy of witnessing every milestone with gratitude to Allaah alone.

As for challenges the main one is providing reading materials to a hungry reader. I used the GlennDoman’s method and taught my daughter to read without any phonics and she started reading fluently at the age of 3. Now she reads like an adult and we still do not have Libraries in Qatar that has a huge variety of books belonging to different levels with appropriate contents. But inshaa Allaah we hope this would change soon as the Qatar National Library is set to open its doors soon along with another private Library, Maktabah.

23. Reading fluently at 3!? Allahumma baarik laha! I need look into this reading material in shaa Allah. Jazaki Allahu khayr for sharing the link. Links are included on the blue words. What made you decide to blog about your homeschooling?

UM: Wa Iyyaaki. Honestly I was overwhelmed searching a proper guideline to start homeschooling. Even though there were many fantastic blogs that really inspired me, I could not find a set plan and guidance anywhere. I felt pretty lost and when I gradually started to do my own curricula and plans I sincerely wanted to share them with the other sisters who would be in the same boat as I was when I started this journey. Blogging also makes me accountable in a way as I have to really do something to blog about it, this way it took the laziness out of me Maashaa Allaah.

I do not maintain a print portfolio for Maimoonah and blogging is a digital portfolio for years to come I guess Inshaa Allaah. As Maimoonah says she would show the blog and read with her kids inshaa Allaah when she starts homeschooling them! And I hope that the free downloads and materials plus what I share will go as Sadaqah Jaariyah for me and my family inshaa Allaah. Finally I loved to have my own space and connect with the sisters around the world who have embarked on the same adventure. Blogging has given me the experience and the skills to actually run a business today Alhamdulillaah.

24. Alhamdulillah! And without doubt, many mothers learn from your blog (including me). Do you have any plans to teach high school as well? If so, do you have any set plans in terms of resources, tests/exams/SAT?

UM: Yes Inshaa Allaah. Since I have chosen the Cambridge Curriculum all guidelines and resources are available till Advanced Level and at any given time I find it difficult then inshaa Allaah I hope to get the help of the tutors who could come home and do a crash course for exams. I plan to make her sit for the Cambridge GCSE Ordinary Level Exams first and then may be the Advanced Level depending on her interest Inshaa Allaah at that time.

25. Do you have any plans for college/university? If so, do you think that your daughter will face challenges getting accepted in universities for being homeschooled?

UM: Living in a Muslim land has taught us that it is extremely difficult to survive here without proper qualifications if you still intend to continue living, so yes my intention is that she gets some kind of a degree Inshaa Allaah in an environment that is Islamically acceptable. Alhamdulillaah I have no fear in she being accepted to a university, firstly because Allaah is the best of planners and if she is not accepted then it has good in it, secondly Cambridge qualifications are recognized worldwide and acceptable at the Universities around the world.

Additionally I have witnessed kids in my extended family who were homeschooled and are now passing out of universities at an early age Maashaa Allaah. But Alhamdulillaah we are happy to hear Maimoonah answer very politely to the popular question “What would you want to be when you grow up”? “Ummi , I want to be a good mother to my children Inshaa Allaah”. So basically end of the day what matters is being a slave of Allaah in fulfilling the duties. Isn’t it?

26. Absolutely! What a smart young lady with her head on her shoulders! Maa shaa Allah! Do you have any advice for other Muslim mothers who want to home-educate their children or may be a bit nervous or skeptical about homeschooling?

UM: I dislike pushing anyone to homeschool and I really do not condemn people who send kids to school purely because you never know what each person’s situation is and would be subhanallaah. As for me and my household homeschooling is the best and it works well for us so far. So if you intend homeschooling and see it best for you and your family then make istikharah and just start. Do not blog hop and waste your time collecting info and materials as this procedure will frustrate you and your family. When you start, things will gradually fall into place and inshaa Allaah you will understand your child as well as your teaching style, routine and methods that would best suit you and rest assured inshaa Allaah the creativity in you would flourish amazingly. Your intention should be pleasing Allaah alone and expecting His rewards inshaa Allaah, He will make your journey easy.

27. Right, definitely. Great advice. Do you have anything else that you would like to add or would like us to know?

UM: Homeschooling is not going to be a bed of roses or a piece of cake. It has its stresses, difficulties, tests, bad days, good days, accomplishments, achievements, failures, tears, frustrations and much more. It is a noble a journey and as with all noble journeys struggle is something that would continue till the end. So if you have decided to go ahead then just do not give up, easily. Most of the time different blog posts may make you feel very low as you may see your homeschool is not doing the amount of work what others are doing. This is a big mistake. Every homeschool has its ups and downs and most do not blog about the downs.

You must always remember that each child is unique and each household is different. Be consistent in homeschooling and do not set high goals. Little at a time but done every day is much better than inconsistency. Be ready to change your routines, methods, books, tones, styles and working spaces. Have a flexible mind and get rid of a military rule! Remember homeschooling is not bringing the school home.

The problem with us is that we have gone to school and that is all we know!! So be ready for a big surprise, no matter how many routines and lesson plans you do at times you might have to flush them all and revamp everything! Finally remember that this journey NEEDS plenty of duaas. Raise your hands every moment you feel like you need help and Inshaa Allaah the best help will come your way from Allaah.

28. Very true, subhanallah. May Allah make every homeschooling parent successful. BarakAllahu feeki Umm Maimoonah for your time, kindness, and for giving us the chance to learn more about you and your homeschooling routine. May Allah fill your life, family, and your home-school with lots of barakah (blessings) and success which will benefit you in this world and in the Hereafter.

UM: Aameen. Wa feeki baarakallaah sister Oum Sumayyah for giving me an opportunity to share my journey with others. Jazzaakillaah Khayr.

29. Assalaam ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullah wa-barakatuh.

UM: Wa Alaikum salaam warahmathullaahi wa barakaatuhu.

This was an interview with Umm Maimoonah. To learn more about her homeschooling, visit her blog Umm Maimoonah’s Jouney.