This article examines how children can be taught to develop a love for learning based on the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and hence become self-regulating, disciplined, and time-conscious individuals. It is no secret that Islam states: “Say: Are those who know equal to the ones who do not know?” (39:9).And another verse states, “Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clinging form. Read! Your Lord is the Most Generous, Who taught by means of the pen; taught man what he did not know” (96:1-5).
With great open-ended questions and discussions, we can invite children to develop their own ideas
These verses advise mankind to seek knowledge and develop critical thinking. In another verse in the Qur’an we are told: “(This is) a Book which We have sent down to you, full of blessings that they may ponder over its verses, and that men of understanding may remember” (38:29).It is important to mention that the word “men” in the above verse refers to humankind, both men and women. The Qur’an repeatedly reminds mankind to ponder, think, and analyze in order to understand.
Children Innately Love Learning
Very early on, children begin exploring their capabilities and the world around them. Young children are not thinking to themselves, “I am learning,” but that is exactly what they are doing as they investigate everything they come in contact with. Children know how to take the smallest observation, object, or surprise and turn it into a learning experience. They employ investigative techniques without any cognitive awareness of what they are doing. They simply are curious and want to find out the what, where, how, and why of everything around them. The task of nurturing a child’s love of learning rests first with the mother and then with the teacher. A teacher must be capable of expanding and building the inquisitive nature of children when they transition to school by creating an environment that reflects the interests, learning styles, families, and cultures of the children. Teachers are responsible for creating an environment of support that allows children to develop their own ideas, express their feelings, take risks, make choices, and most of all, grow to be strong, thinking individuals.
The key, here, is to teach through role modeling, be it the love of learning, self-discipline, or time management
The first of all teachers and the best examples of such, are the Prophets (peace and blessings be upon them).All the prophets, from Prophet Adam through to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon them), comprise a chain of remarkable teachers and educators. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “He it is Who sent among the unlettered ones a Messenger from among themselves, reciting to them His Verses, purifying them and teaching them the Book and Wisdom” (62: 2). And in another verse, “And taught you that which you knew not. And ever great is the Grace of Allah unto you “(4: 113).
Investigation and Collaboration
In her presentation to the Scholastic Early Childhood Summit, renowned early childhood educator Lilian Katz spoke about the need to change the teaching emphasis from an “industrial model” of outcomes based on the standards, to “standards of experiences” that all children should have. She further pointed out that we need to look first at ourselves as teachers and then to our environment to be sure that we create a classroom climate that encourages investigation and collaboration. We foster a love of learning not so much by the special materials or activities, but through a responsive, inquisitive attitude. When we provide plenty of time for open-ended, constructive play every day, we create opportunities for children to explore the joy of learning.
At the same time, we can extend children’s learning experiences by engaging children in meaningful dialogue about their activities. With great open-ended questions and discussions, we can invite children to develop their own ideas and construct their own learning by expanding, clarifying, and developing their thinking. It is important to note that it is not just children’s engagement in activities that is important. It is our skillful and conscious interactions with children that construct knowledge and build a love of learning.
Now let us examine the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) ways of interacting and engaging constructively with children and hence developing their love for learning. The lessons we learn from the example of the Prophet are numerous. Though all of them cannot be discussed in an article as short as this one, below is a broad categorization of some of the most important ways and strategies the Prophet (pbuh) employed in guiding and nurturing children to learn.
Equal Love for All Children
The Prophet (pbuh) demonstrated deep love for children. Usamah ibn Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated: “Allah’s Messenger used to put me on [one of] his thighs and put Al-Hasan ibn `Ali on his other thigh, and then embrace us and say, ‘O Allah! Please be merciful to them, as I am merciful to them’” (Bukhari).Narrated Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him):“Allah’s Messenger kissed Al-Hasan ibn `Ali while Al-Aqra` ibn Habis At-Tamim was sitting with him. Al-Aqra` said, ‘I have ten children and have never kissed one of them.’ The Prophet cast a look at him and said, ‘Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully’” (Bukhari). Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him), the servant of the Prophet, (pbuh), had another recollection: “I never saw anyone who was more compassionate towards children than Allah’s Messenger. His son Ibrahim was in the care of a wet nurse in the hills around Madinah. He would go there, and we would go with him, and he would enter the house, pick up his son and kiss him, then come back” (Muslim).
Extensive research on parenting has been conducted and we find in all these studies that among the leading factors affecting the positive development of children are love, tolerance, and positive reinforcement. Love is the most powerful tool to infuse confidence and boost self-esteem in children. When children feel loved, first and foremost, by their parents, they experience a surge of empowerment which fuels their inquisitive and exploratory nature, thus enabling them to be eager learners. On the other hand, children who grow up in a home of neglect, often turn out to possess low self-esteem and have violent and aggressive behaviors.
Being Patient and Tolerant
Narrated Umm Khalid: “I [the daughter of Khalid ibn Said] went to Allah’s Messenger with my father and I was wearing a yellow shirt. Allah’s Messenger said, ‘Sanah, Sanah!’ (`Abdullah, the narrator, said that Sanah meant “good” in the Ethiopian language). I then started playing with the seal of prophethood [between the Prophet’s shoulders] and my father rebuked me harshly for that. Allah’s Messenger said, ‘Leave her.’ The Prophet then invoked Allah to grant her a long life thrice” (Bukhari). Another companion, recalling his childhood, said: “In my childhood I used to fell dates by throwing stones at palm trees. Somebody took me to the Prophet who advised me to pick up the dates lying on the ground but not to fell them with stones. He then patted me and blessed me” (Abu Dawud).
Narrated A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her): “The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) took a child in his lap … and then the child urinated on him, so he asked for water and poured it over the place of the urine” (Bukhari). Being tolerant of children’s behaviors within limits means that we actually role model the very trait that we desire to see in the child. Reprimanding and admonishing them hardly ever works and we see from the above hadith of the Prophet (pbuh) that he always demonstrated positive behavior even when the children displayed negative behaviors.
Ignoring Inappropriate Behaviors
Many of the inappropriate behaviors of young children can simply be ignored or disregarded. The Prophet is our best example in this regard. Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah had the best disposition among people. One day he sent me on an errand and I said, ‘By Allah, I will not go,’ but it was in my mind that I would do as the Messenger of Allah had ordered me. I went until I came upon children playing in the street. Then the Messenger of Allah arrived and he caught me by the back of my neck from behind. As I looked at him, I found him smiling, and he said, `Unays [nickname of Anas], did you go where I asked you to go’?’ I said, `O Messenger of Allah, yes, I am going’” (Bukhari).
Restitution is also important when a child does something wrong. He/she should be provided with alternatives and opportunities to do something right to make up for it, which we see was very common in the example of our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This also builds the character and decision-making ability in the children.
On Self-Discipline and Time Management
Let us now turn our focus to two very important characteristics that every individual must possess to be a successful Muslim here and in the Hereafter: self-discipline and time management. The Qur’an states: “O you who have faith! Be maintainers of justice and witnesses for the sake of God, even if it should be against yourselves or [your] parents and near relatives, and whether it be [someone] rich or poor, for God has a greater right over them. So do not follow [your] desires, lest you should be unfair, and if you distort [the testimony] or disregard [it], God is indeed well aware of what you do” (4:135).In this ayaat, the advice is two-fold; firstly, to observe Allah’s (swt) Will, to fear Him and to obey Him, and secondly, to forbid our soul from doing what is wrong and harmful to us. This is possible only when we have some degree of self-control.
Acknowledging one’s shortcomings is one of the first steps in disciplining the self. Whoever acknowledges his/her shortcomings has embarked on the path to self-discipline. A fundamental principle about change and growth is put forth in the verse: “Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change their state themselves” (13:11).So whoever tries to change for the sake of Allah (swt), Allah (swt) will help him change. Each person becomes individually responsible for his/her own self, and will be questioned individually and accordingly, as Allah (swt) says: “There is none in the heavens and the earth but comes unto the Most Gracious (Allah) as a slave. Verily, He knows each one of them, and has counted them a full counting. And every one of them will come to Him alone on the Day of Resurrection [without any helper, or protector or defender]” (19:93-95).
As to time management, a Muslim’s first source of guidance in life is the Qur’an, and so we turn to the Book of Allah (swt) for our initial inspiration about time management. The Qur’an, in several places, emphasizes the importance of time and its productive usage. Among the most powerful surahs and ayaat, pointing to the importance of time management are the ayaat of Surah Al-Asr where Allah (swt) swears by time: “By the [token of] time [through the ages]! Verily man is in a state of loss. Except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to steadfastness. ”Anything that Allah (swt) swears by in the Qur’an is a tremendous matter – such as ‘Wa al-Fajr’ (by the dawn) or ‘Wa al-Shams’ (by the sun). Beginning with an oath is a method to draw the attention of the listener and lay emphasis on the words. On the importance of time management Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The majority of humanity is at a loss as they do not recognize the value of two of Allah’s (swt) gifts: health and [discretionary] time” (Bukhari and Muslim).
From the above ayaat and ahadith, we observe that Islam is not merely a set of rules that we must adhere to regarding prayer and fasting, but also concerning our interaction with others, our use of time, and personal productivity. It is important to maintain consistency and balance in our lives, and we can look to our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) for the perfect example in how to do so. The holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated, “Humankind will remain standing on the Day of Resurrection until he is asked about four things: his life and how he spent it, his youth and how he used it up, his property and how he acquired and managed it, and his knowledge and how he utilized it” (Bukhari).This elucidates clearly that time management is of utmost importance in organizing oneself to be successful. It is important to plan our day around our five daily prayers, and not vice versa, in order to become a disciplined and diligent time manager.
Tying the importance of the above ayaat and hadith to teaching them to children, first and foremost it must be remembered that learning self-discipline is a life-long process and all children will struggle with self-discipline at various times. Parents can give children age-appropriate tools to help them practice using self-discipline throughout their childhood and teenage years. As discussed earlier in this article, there are lots of ways from the examples in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) to teach children the love of learning and hence self-discipline and time management skills. Parents must use the variety of learning rules with the Prophet’s discipline and time management strategies to help children become more responsible. The key, here, is to teach through role modeling, be it the love of learning, self-discipline, or time management.
The good news is that the more self-disciplined children become, the more positively and effectively they will be able to manage their time and will require less discipline from parents. When a child takes responsibility, for example, to brush his teeth on his own, get ready for school on time, and do his homework, it means less arguing, nagging, and negative consequences. This gives parents more time to focus on teaching new skills and building a positive relationship.