Providing an education for their children is one of parents’ most crucial tasks. Muslims, in particular, have always stressed the importance of learning. Our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim” (Al-Tarmidhi) and “Whoever follows a path in pursuit of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise” (Abu Hurairah).
There are a variety of educational options these days for families around the world, including public, private, and religious institutions. Homeschooling is another avenue that appeals to a growing number of families, but it is frequently misunderstood by people who have never tried it.
What Is Homeschooling?
Simply put, homeschooling is learning outside of the public or private school environment. The term “homeschooling” can be misleading, though. While teaching and learning can certainly occur at home, lessons often take place outside of it, through classes, field trips, volunteer work, sports teams, clubs, internships, and everyday interactions.
Homeschooling parents are diverse and have unique approaches to education, but they tend to share some common threads. They often place less emphasis on the traditional trappings associated with school such as worksheets, tests, grade levels, traditional curriculum, and seat work. Instead, they often focus on hands-on projects, real-life applications, and lessons that are tailored to students’ abilities, interests, and passions. There are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschooling families, as each can customize their learning experience to fit their needs.
Some families choose to homeschool without help or input from their local school district. They declare themselves independent entities and enjoy a great deal of latitude but also forgo any government funding, supervision, or guidance. Other homeschoolers work closely with their school district or even enroll in a public charter school while orchestrating much of their own curriculum and lesson planning. In this scenario, the children are technically public-school students and therefore might receive varying levels of financial support, curriculum, supplies, and supervision from the school district, depending on the local regulations.
Different states in the U.S. have different rules for homeschooling. Depending on where they live, families will find either a fair amount of support, autonomy, and resources for homeschooling (such as in California and Alaska) or varying levels of skepticism, red tape, and stringent requirements (like the states mentioned in this article).
Worldwide, this approach to education is most common in the U.S., where around 2.5 million citizens identify as homeschoolers, but Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Canada also have significant numbers. In many countries, homeschooling is illegal.
Families choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common motivations is the ability to customize a child’s educational experience. “My son is pretty anxious and couldn’t stand school,” explains Salma (her name has been changed), who has homeschooled her two children in Maryland for four years. “He was really miserable. [Homeschooling] has really helped with his anxiety and confidence. Also, he was really struggling with some subjects, while excelling at others. With homeschooling, I was able to give extra attention to subjects when needed, without holding him back in the subjects he was advanced in.”
“Also,” she continues, “picking our own curriculum is a huge plus. We get to find things that he likes and spend more time studying topics that interest him. And with subjects like social studies, I am very particular. I don’t have to worry about him getting a white-washed history.”
Another reason families homeschool is to provide a safe environment. As Nedda, a homeschooling parent who lives in California explains, “Our family chose homeschooling for these following reasons: covert racism, bullying, and the general culture of the junior high school that one of my children was about to attend after graduating from the sixth grade.”
Many Muslims prefer for their children to grow up in a wholesome environment and to surround them with like-minded people rather than enroll them in schools where peer pressure and questionable morals are rampant.
What Are the Other Benefits?
Parents who homeschool are often very enthusiastic about their choice because they see firsthand the positive repercussions of taking their children’s education into their own hands. Ayat, a mom who has been homeschooling for five years in California, explains, “I love that homeschooling allows you to make learning a way of life and not just part of your life that has a start and end time. It removes the peer pressure and allows the kids to thrive and be who they are without thinking too much about what the friends around them would think about their actions. It allows the kids to know that learning is not about just earning a grade; it is about learning something new.”
“The ability of children to be themselves, develop their own personality, practice religion without bullying, and avoid covert racism by teachers and other students all help them focus on education and learning,” says Nedda. “A bonus benefit is traveling abroad and learning through a whole different level of field trips!”
“Being in America,” adds Salma, “Homeschooling provides relief from the constant worry of violence in schools, whether it be bullying or school shootings.”
What Are the Challenges?
While homeschooling has many benefits, like anything else, it also has its challenges. Ayat believes the biggest obstacle of homeschooling is “the time commitment.” She explains, “Homeschooling is a privilege that not everyone can do. There are single-parent families and the parent needs to go to work. They cannot afford to homeschool their kids.”
Nedda points out that parents don’t always have the expertise to teach their children certain topics. “A parent is not always able or qualified to push their children at home through a challenging subject like algebra,” she says. For this reason, many homeschoolers outsource some of their child’s subjects to tutors, online courses, or outside classes geared toward nontraditional students. This can be expensive, though, so families considering homeschooling must factor in the costs of seeking outside educational resources, if necessary.
For Salma, the biggest challenge is in her own mind. “I think my biggest struggle is self-doubt or mom guilt,” she says. “Am I doing enough? Are they thriving? Are they missing out on anything?” Ayat agrees that parents’ insecurities can be an obstacle. “I feel another challenge for the homeschooling parent is to separate between the success of their children and their own success,” she says. “Sometimes we as homeschooling parents think that for us to be successful, our kids must succeed.”
How Does Homeschooling Affect a Child’s Islamic Education?
“I think homeschooling helped shelter [my son] from common difficult behaviors and issues in his age group,” shares Salma. “He doesn’t see rebelling, disrespect, foul language, being mean to others, etc. as the norm. Teaching your kids at home and providing them with as good an environment as you can really helps, especially in a society where beliefs and ideas that don’t align with our own are being shoved down our throats, so to speak. I feel like homeschooling kind of strengthens their confidence in their beliefs and the way they were raised.”
Nedda states, “During the various development stages, it is critical that parents role model Muslim behavior.” She adds, “It is later on in life that children will have to integrate into the general culture of American society, but at the delicate phases of self-development, it is important that children are not subjected to racism, bullying, and a negative atmosphere.”
What Are Some Tips for Parents Who Are Considering Homeschooling?
The seasoned homeschoolers I interviewed had some helpful hints for those who are just embarking on the journey. “Reach out to a local homeschooling program and do not burden yourself by homeschooling independently,” advises Nedda. “For example, in my area, not only did the local school district have an independent study program, but the county department of education offered an impeccable program with paraeducators, a homeschool physical site/center, reading comprehension and literature programs, field trips with other like-minded homeschool families from other faiths, a student council/government body for junior high homeschoolers, and more.”
“Find your people,” advises Salma. “Those who will encourage you and help you and advise you. Homeschooling can be overwhelming, especially at first. Join online and/or in-person homeschooling groups and forums. There a Muslim Homeschooling Support Group on Facebook. There are county- and state-specific homeschool groups.” She adds, “And don’t worry about your kids’ social lives. There are so many wonderful resources and activities available.” Ayat offers this advice to fellow parents: “It is okay if you feel stressed sometimes, we all do. It is okay when you always doubt the outcome and you are not sure if you made the right decision or not. Just make lots of duaa. Try to learn while your kids are learning. Do something for yourself and make sure you have your own time to study, work, work out, or just anything you want to do for yourself.”
Homeschooling can be a wonderful fit for families who have the desire and ability to customize their child’s education. For Muslim families who wish to instill Islamic values and teach subjects through the lens of the Qur’an and sunnah, it can be an invaluable learning opportunity for parents and children alike. As the popularity of homeschooling grows, the resources and information for it are ever-increasing, so families who are intrigued by homeschooling have a wealth of support and inspiration at their fingertips. If done for the sake of Allah, homeschooling might be the most meaningful contribution parents can make to their child’s development.