Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Homeschooling for a Day



I have mixed feelings about homeschooling. On one hand I critique much of what formal schooling is about and don’t get me started about how bad schooling is in Egypt. But I also feel it’s beneficial for kids to be exposed to something other than the home environment and to experience different approaches to pedagogy (and having bad experiences just helps them question authority i think). I say this and of course it pisses me the hell off when teachers do stupid things to kids in school. I also know that much homeschooling is communal and kids get exposed to other kids and parents.

But anyway. My kid isn’t homeschooled and I love my work, so…

During Ramadan I am off work and while I wanted to enroll my kid in some camp or daycare for summer, that hasn’t started yet…so I thought I would try my hand at homeschooling for a bit. Obviously I am an educator anyway and much of what I do with my kid is intentional. We have educational toys and books and I take advantage of cooking time and play time and even watching cartoons time as much as I can to stimulate learning. But trying to do if for a day was interesting.

It was pretty spontaneous. Last night while asking about something on Facebook, the wonderful Miranda Beshara shared an article she wrote about colloquial (3ameya) Arabic resources she recommends, one of which is the Egyptian dialect Sesame street. I have known for some time that my kid can’t read the numbers in Arabic (don’t get this confused – the numbers 1,2,3 are called Arabic numerals but for some crazy reason when we write in Arabic we have a different set of numerals. See Wikipedia). She can also barely count in Arabic and I remember asking her Arabic teacher if they learn the numbers in school along with the letters and she looked at me weird and said, “would you like me to teach that?” and I was like “dude, it’s not in the curriculum? How’s she gonna learn them? From calendars?” (I said that coz her first exposure was thru calendars with English/Arabic text.

Anyway. So we had breakfast while watching the entertaining Sesame Street numbers video. It was better than I expected and she seemed animated and seemed to enjoy it after 5 mins of resistance (she resists watching Arabic shows for some reason I need to rectify). After that we ate some grapes and counted as we ate and she made up her own game mimicking one of the skits from the show where things disappear as someone eats them.

There were some colorful umbrellas on the show she liked, made of tissue paper. I was too tired to go out and buy tissue paper, so I took some kitchen paper, cut some into circles and got out the glitter paints and we started painting them and some empty toilet rolls. Then we left those to dry.

After lunch I took out some play-doh and started making the numerals with play-doh and we played around w making little balls or flowers for each number (as on 3 things for number 3, 4 for 4). She commented on how 7 looks like a V and the 8 is an upside down 7. She commented on how the 4 looks like the English 3 and the 5 like English Zero. At this point i felt this could get really confusing and felt out of my depth. When she wanted to switch to making other stuff w play-doh we went ahead and did that.

A little later it’s snack time and I get an apple and get inspired to cut it up in numberal shapes. After a disheartening “again?” we ended up having lots of fun. Matching apple numbers with play-doh numbers and noticing how eating parts of a number makes u end up with a 1 quite often. She even independently made a 10 from apples. Then we pretended the rest of the apple pieces were French fries and she ate those, halfway thru changing them into bricks (there was a boat phase too). I totally forgot during her morning bath to do any counting, but breaks are good. During lunch we read some little English books with simple word/image combos; we tried to guess the words before seeing the pictures but she got bored quickly.

Soon after it was time to go out to a family iftar and back home from that was dinner and bedtime. If I had time, my plan would have been to show Arabic numbers in authentic contexts like building numbers and prices in supermarkets. But we can do it another day. For now, I plan on getting a book with those numbers and showing the episode of Sesame Street again inshallah

I remember the first time I panicked about the numbers I played ball with her counting aloud but I didn’t reinforce it over time. I feel like it would get pretty boring to focus on one thing for a full day, but I also felt we made progress today. Only time will tell

And no. I don’t know if I can sustain this.

So tomorrow inshallah we are going out and let’s see if I can make the trip worth it. Main goal is to buy some Arabic books for her and buy clothes for me. Then to get some arts/crafts materials. I think if we madw some permanent crafty stuff about numbers and hung it in her room and if I read a book with numbers in it, they would help a lot to reinforce over time.


  1. All of our three kids were “unschooled”. I prefer that term because we were not trying to recreate the “school” ecosystem. We were trying to un-do it. Most of what we did was follow their leads or to lead them to interesting places and folk. Rarely, we tried to make them do stuff and that was usually followed by an epic fail. Mostly, it was play, glorious infinite, peaceful play. It is not for everybody, but I admire your willingness to explore in the face of the status quo. I can identify with the resistance of the status quo because we started unschooling in 1980–a time when we were confronted not only by school hierarchies but family and friends and no Internet social support and everybody who felt they knew what was best for my kids. I think unschooling was the greatest education I ever got except for owning my own business and running a farm with my wife.

    • My question is always about college – how do unschooled ppl get into and survive college if they choose to go there?

  2. Two of my kids went to college and one decided for now not to. Lark is a nurse, Nate is tech support dude at my university, and Phoebe is a photographer and whatever else she can do to support her passion. Now, it is true that your mileage may vary, but we tended to put on the front stove burner questions of passion and love of learning earlier on and the the precision of career and college later when our kids could be more viable partners and could begin to make important decisions. And there were some bad decisions. Many people ask me about homeschooling just as you do. LIke any good parent you do not want your child to suffer. And they shouldn’t. That is your job–to protect them until they can learn to protect themselves. Schooling gives parents an illusory certitude: good education=good “fill in the blank”. Your question speaks well of you in the face of that illusory certitude. Your mileage will vary.

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