Unschooling with the 4 R’s

Muscat al Ansab Wetlands

While I love the philosophy of self-directed education, there’s a part of me that can’t totally comply. I categorize our family as unschooling because we have no interest in recreating school at home or complying with a standard curriculum. However, now that Z is seven, we’re ready to introduce more structure and order to her skill development. If school is in her future, we want her to have the tools to succeed, but we’re prepared to support other paths of education and self-development too.

Religion

The only non-negotiable features of our homeschooling life has been character development, limited media use, lots of books and reading, and the study of Qur’an. We’ve been teaching Z how to read and recite the Holy Qur’an in a very gentle, casual way since she first became interested in it. More than a lesson, it’s a part of our daily rhythm and interaction. Additionally, we’ve introduced the Ghazali Children’s Project to our homeschooling, so each week one lesson is completed with the accompanying workbook.

wRiting

For now, I write Z’s answers from her Ghazali lesson and then she copies them into her workbook for her copywriting work. We’re practicing the use of lower case letters because Z primarily writes with capital letters. Years ago, I tried to teach writing with tracing books but she never took interest. Instead, she drew her way to excellent hand control and capital letter proficiency, especially when her dad introduced the idea of comic books and character dialogue to her.

Reading

We’ve always done a lot of reading and sounded out letters as needed for artwork, Thank You and Holiday cards, and whatever signs and Welcome banners she would make around the house. I remember trying to introduce a phonics reader and though Z was capable of reading it, she had no interest. Instead she would ask, “Can you just read to me?” I considered her response a show of laziness, but when she started spontaneously reading last year, I realized that she just enjoys being read to and has been working out the mechanics and art of reading in her own mind all along. Even though she’s a strong reader on her own now, she can’t help but lean in when I read to Moulay or she’ll read a book herself and then ask me to read it to her again.

 

aRithmetic

I love math but have been wondering how to expose Z to math in a comprehensive and logical way. When a friend suggested Khan Academy for Early Math lessons, I knew the idea of having her own user account and access to the online academy would be appealing. She has been pleading to do more math on the weekends when her other lessons have been completed. We’re available to step in if she’s stumped, but for the most part she’s navigating her way independently just fine.

As for other subjects like science, geography, and history, they are learned incidentally and introduced according to interest or relevance. Having no curriculum means that her knowledge base may not be identical to that of her peers, but once the tools for acquiring knowledge are well established, I trust that the rest of the puzzle pieces will fall into place. Our weekly co-op is also a great way for introducing new topics and styles of information delivery that we haven’t covered yet.

An interesting point about homeschooling that came up in a Raising Free People webinar I attended was that the true test of self-direction in education is asking what would happen if the child did not comply. Is there punishment or loss of privileges? For us, completing the weekly checklist means earning a few hours of weekend media time. It certainly doesn’t feel like a punishment to us because media time is non-essential in our home, but the privilege can be loss for other reasons like lying or general lack of cooperation in essential matters, for example. Other than a bit of procrastination, the current approach seems to be working at the moment and we’ll continue to tweak and experiment as the need arises.

Any other homeschoolers struggling with totally self-directed education or unschooling?

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Healthy Eating Hacks for the Whole Family

Black Bean Salad

Black Bean Mango Salad (missing the Avocado Lime Date dressing)

Sometimes healthy seems unattainable. There are so many competing demands for our time, budget, and attention, that it seems easier to take the path of least resistance. For single folks with money to spare, grab and go healthy meals prepared by others are great. But if you have a family or a tighter budget, it’s hard to avoid grocery shopping, meal planning, and the best part of it all, cooking.

Our diet has evolved a lot over the last twelve years. We started out with a high-soy, low-vegetable, low-fruit, very starchy vegan diet and have slowly evolved into a low-to-no soy, high-vegetable, high-fruit, more plant-based, whole foods diet. Our experiences living and traveling abroad have humbled our palates significantly. We’ve lived in parts of the Middle East and North Africa where vegan options were so few that meal planning became a bit boring and redundant. However, there’s a spiritual discipline in being content with what you have, eating simply and avoiding indulgent foods; all of which have benefited us greatly.

Raggamuslims

Stewed Red Beans, Roasted Cauliflower, Curried Lentils, Avocado, and Stewed Plantains

Having little vegans to feed now also challenges us to be consistent in our health principles but varied in our meals. It’s a balancing act making sure our children don’t feel left out of the dining experiences others are having, but it’s also empowering to give them information about foods that will guide their own choices in our absence. So if you’re trying to make some dietary changes in your own home, here are some tips that we’ve picked up along the way.

Raggamuslims

Amaranth, Cashew Sauce, and Stewed Egpplant

Start Where You Are

Depending on what your current diet is like, the road to healthy may vary. Take a critical look at your food choices and consider what your priorities are. If you currently eat the Standard American Diet, pick three food categories to eliminate from your diet like processed foods, white sugar/flour/rice, and soda/coffee/caffeine, for example. Once you start eliminating the excess, you can more quickly get to the core of what you want your diet to be based on.

Some transition ideas might include:

White rice –> Brown rice –> Red/Black Rice, Quinoa, Amaranth, Millet

White sugar –> Cane sugar –>  Date syrup or sugar, Coconut sugar, Maple Syrup

Canned fruit/vegetables –> Frozen fruit/vegetables –> Fresh fruit/vegetables

Soy milk –> Packaged Nut/Coconut milk –> Homemade nut/seed/coconut milks

Processed soy foods –> Organic, whole soy foods –> Alternatives to soy

White flour –> Whole Grain flour (Buckwheat, oat, spelt) –> Low/No Gluten Flours (Kamut/Chickpea/Teff/Coconut)

Sweetened beverages –> 100 % Fruit Juices –> Fresh-pressed juices, herbal teas, lemon/lime water

Raggamuslims

Red Quinoa Salad on a Roasted Nori Seaweed Sheet

Buy the good stuff on sale and stretch it

Sometimes you have to shop around or shop online to find the best foods that your budget can afford. Once you find them, find ways to make it last. For example, red and black quinoa are really nutritious but pricey. Instead of preparing them as a direct substitute to rice, consider making a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs, etc. My children like Southern grits every now and again, so I’ll prepare seven-grain cereal as grits or mix regular grits with quinoa flakes or amaranth. Similar to baking, mixing flours in a muffin or pancake batter are a great way to stretch the more high-end grains. And if you like granola, try adding quinoa or amaranth puffs, sunflower seeds, or more nuts to make it last longer and give it more nutritional density.

Raggamuslims

Granola, Sunflower Seeds, and Amaranth Puffs

Prioritize Organics, Peel the Rest

Eating totally organic is our ideal, but we’re just not there yet. Instead, we prioritize conventional tropical produce or produce that can be peeled and save our organic budget for foods that tend to accumulate a lot of pesticides like leafy greens, tomatoes, apples, peaches/nectarines, berries, etc. If you have access to a good, local farmer’s market, that’s also an affordable way to get pesticide-free produce that may or may not be certified organic. Even if buying organic means eating less fresh produce, the nutrient availability is greater than conventional produce and you won’t be introducing unnecessary toxins to your body as a result.

Raggamuslims

Pizza with Kamut Crust and Cashew Sauce

Pair favorites with not-so-favorites

In our household, some meals have prerequisites like a salad or green smoothie that we all must complete before getting to the more desirable dishes like pasta or pizza. Some whine, gripe, or complain, but hey, food is food, and we try to model that we can’t always eat our favorite dishes. Furthermore, gratitude is the key prerequisite to every meal regardless of how basic or elaborate it may be.

Savory Chickpea Pancake

Chickpea Omelets

Know when to blend

Sometimes a good blender is a great ally. Raw garlic in hummus, steamed veggies in sauces, and supplements in smoothies. We don’t believe in lying to or deceiving kids. We do selectively withhold information but that’s another topic. Fact remains that we don’t expect more from our children than we expect from ourselves. So, if something is not so palatable but is beneficial, we find ways of making it easier to swallow for all of us.

What are some of the healthy eating hacks that work for your family?

Turning Seven: Significance and Celebration

Turning Seven

Our baby girl is now seven. We’ve been prepping her for this new phase by drumming up the new responsibilities and opportunities awaiting her. She initially retreated from the idea, saying she wished she could remain six but as the new privileges came to light, she could no longer wait. I casually mentioned that in the Islamic calendar she’s already seven and from there, she was resolute in her readiness for life as a seven year old.

Practically, we had been discussing what might shift in our parenting, home education, and family expectations at the age of seven. We wanted to celebrate the significance of learning to pray (great article called entitled “Planting the Seeds of Prayer in Our Young Ones” here), express our academic, household, and personal expectations in a seven-point checklist, and tag on a whole new, unprecedented incentive—staying up late for a monthly movie night, on the condition that the weekly checklist is completed week after week.

Birthdays are not a huge celebration for us. We usually have a quiet, introspective time to reflect and express gratitude for another year of life and growth. For Z (because we can no longer call our big girl Lil’ Z), we usually ask her who she wants to share her birthday with and what she wants to prepare for her guests, so service and appreciation are valued more than self-centered adoration. The first three birthdays were spent with family. Four and five were play dates with homemade snacks that she prepared. But when she started attending the birthday parties of others, she wanted one of her own. For six, we had a costume party after spending autumn in the United States piqued her curiosity about costumes, but she still helped prepare and served her guests. Leading up to seven, we told her that future parties will celebrate a milestone or accomplishment, not just the passing of another year.

Our Turning Seven party was simple. I’m not an artsy person and had little time to plan, but we managed to pull off a memorable evening for her and her girlfriends between the ages of 6 and 8. We started with a welcome and invited her friends and their moms to share what they love about prayer and any advice for Z as she begins properly learning the daily rite. Then the younger girls were assigned to match prayer times to a diagram that Urbndervish designed and write a poem about prayer. The innocent spiritual awareness that comes around this age is so refreshing. Their little poem turned out like this:

I love to pray in the day

And if I don’t fight, I can pray in the night

I love praying. It keeps you close to Allah

And I like saying “Ma sha’ Allah” (what God wills)

It helps me be close to Allah

And when you’re praying you say the words of God

I like reading Qur’an. It’s good for you

It’s the word of Allah. God’s saying the words too

Maghrib (sunset prayer) is lovely. I love it so

I like all the prayers and I’ll never let them go

I love it because it helps me grow

The older girls had to prepare a skit on how to advise a friend to pray properly. It began with one friend praying improperly and the other two gently advising her on how to focus and pray appropriately. While the formal prayer may seem rigid, it’s one form of worship that doesn’t negate the sincere overflow of supplication from the heart. Ritual is part and parcel of our spiritual experience, with sincerity being the most important prerequisite.

After gathering for snacks, I recounted the day Z was born, we sang traditional songs of praise and poetry, and wrapped up with henna applied to our hands and smiles of satisfaction in our hearts. Parenting a seven year-old is a new phase for us, but we’re looking forward to the new joys and challenges of the next seven years of childrearing.

Spelt Dumplings (Johnny Cakes)

Alkaline Spelt Dumplings

I gave up on making dumplings years ago. Mostly because I stopped buying white flour which produces the crispy and fluffy deliciousness that I grew up enjoying with my Jamaican family. Whole wheat flour doesn’t do it well and in life, sometimes you just have to let go. But recently a shift took place that brought dumplings to mind again.

Urbndervish was assigned to teach evenings this semester and if you’ve been with us a while, you might recall that he only eats one meal a day. It’s no average meal by any means and after all these years, he has stuck with it. So with his work day now starting at 1pm, we’ve shifted our family meal to brunch, as opposed to dinner, and there’s just something about brunch that merits a starchy addition like toast, boiled green bananas, chickpea flour omelets, or my new favorite, Spelt Dumplings.

Vegan Jamaican Meal

On a whim one morning, I whipped out some spelt flour and was wholly impressed. Not only were the dumplings crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, they also comply with the Electric/Alkaline Food List of Chef Ahki. Spelt does have some gluten, but less than common wheat flour and even better, spelt isn’t genetically modified or likely to be sprayed with pesticides. Another bonus I noticed when using spelt flour was that the dumplings didn’t absorb a lot of oil. Even though I used virgin coconut oil, it was great that I didn’t need to keep replenishing my cast iron skillet.

Ingredients

2 cups of wholemeal spelt flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of Himalayan pink salt

1 cup of ice cold water (yes, the water must be cold because Grandma says so)

Virgin coconut oil

Directions

1. Combine dry ingredients

2. Add the ice cold water and form a large sticky ball of dough

3. Add enough coconut oil to a heated skillet for pan frying, not deep frying

Alkaline Spelt Dumplings

4. Form small balls from one heaping tablespoon of dough and flatten before placing in heated oil

Spelt Johnny Cakes

5. Pan fry the dumplings until brown on all sides

Alkaline Spelt Dumplings

 

Let us know how your dumplings turned out and feel free to post a pic on our Facebook page.

Children’s Public Library: Muscat’s Homeschool Hub

Children's Public Library Muscat

After three years of waiting, the Children’s Public Library is finally open here in Muscat.  It’s located in Qurm, just across the street from the Children’s Museum, another great family resource.  Some moms have been complaining about the soft opening hours of weekdays from 10am to 3pm but guess what?

Children's Public Library Muscat

The hours are perfect for us homeschoolers.  So much so that we’ll be holding our weekly co-op there.  To finally have the numbers and drive to reinstate the homeschooling co-op is quite exciting.  We have committed volunteer teachers who are passionate, available, and willing to make our group thrive.

Children's Public Library Muscat

Interestingly, our current homeschool crew is comprised of about 20 families, representing 17 nationalities and speaking more than 21 languages.  Many members are first-time homeschoolers or have been homeschooling for less than five years.  Hearing the newbie anxieties and curriculum conundrums has us reflecting on our own homeschooling/unschooling philosophy.

Children's Public Library Muscat

As many of you know, Lil’ Z is not so little anymore.  She’s turning seven in December, God willing, and this milestone is significant in the Islamic ethos.  Traditionally, children were left to play for the first seven years of life and formally instructed thereafter.  Similar views are articulated in the highly successful Finnish educational system, the Waldorf philosophy as articulated by Rudolf Steiner, and others.

Children's Public Library Muscat

Some mistakenly interpret this approach to mean that children learn nothing before the age of seven, but as we know firsthand, this is just not true.  Children learn foundational life and character lessons through imitation, play, culture, and daily life.

Children's Public Library Muscat

Lil’ Z’s learning up to this point has been an extension of our family life and lifestyle.  So, now we’re introducing table work time to our daily rhythm where she can choose between copywriting, workbook exercises, or art.  Her weekly media allowance is usually conditional upon cleaning her room and being truthful.  However, we’re also planning to add a checklist of a few other completed academic and household tasks before she enjoys the privilege of watching episodes, playing educational games, or using a tablet.  All of this, supplemented with our weekly co-op classes and recreational activities affirm for us that homeschooling is offering the enriching educational experience that we hoped for and, more importantly, building moral fiber and character, which is our top priority.

Children's Public Library Muscat

If you’re interested in learning more, join our Homeschoolers in Muscat group on Facebook.  And if you’re not local, just feast on these lovely pictures of our new library and imagine you’re here.

Essential Eco Products for Life Abroad

Having shared our “econundrum” of trying to live more sustainably in Oman, we wanted to share some of our favorite green and zero-waste products that we currently use and hope to use in our household.  We still have further to go in our own journey but have committed to taking baby green steps as we go forward.

What We Currently Use

You can find many of these products on Amazon but we prefer to support Tiny Yellow Bungalow, a small business based in Georgia, USA.

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What’s On Our Wishlist

More goodies from Tiny Yellow Bungalow and a huge zero-waste essential, a Berkey Water Filtration System with reusable filters.

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Please share your favorite green products in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

Trying to Be Green in Oman

Sustainable Oman

The produce lady sees me coming. She peers from the side of her eye and begins to mumble something. She’s not looking at the color of my skin or the way I’m dressed, because in all honesty, we can pass for cousins. She’s looking at my reusable produce bags and can’t seem to figure them or me out. To me, it doesn’t seem complicated. My produce is bagged. You identify it, weigh it, put a sticker on it and we move on in peace, but no. She does a quick examination wondering if and when I wash my produce bags. Trust me, the bags don’t double as socks or underwear. I thank her and move on.

At the nuts and dried fruits counter, I hand my reusable bulk bag to the clerk and politely make my request. He’s confused but proceeds to weigh my kilo of raw cashews in a plastic bag. I point out my cloth sack again and he clumsily makes the transfer, only for his manager to wrap my cloth bag in a plastic bag stapled shut as proof of purchase.

Vegan Oman

Once I get to the register, the cashier clerk gives me the thumbs up. My eco-attempts are not totally in vain. The bag clerk has no opinion. He takes my reusable shopping bags and fills them quickly. There’s a combination of locally grown produce, imported organic goods, eco-friendly cleaners, a gallon-bottle of white vinegar, plastic bottles of coconut oil, glass jars of nut butter, boxes of almond milk, and a shameless bag of American tortilla chips. Each shopping trip is a tug-of-war between practicality, my conscience, and our budget.  No party ever truly wins, nor are they defeated.

Trying to live sustainably isn’t so easy in some parts of the world. Maybe in Berlin, I can shop at a waste-free supermarket, ride home on a bicycle, and live in a solar-powered home, but Muscat isn’t Berlin. Maybe in Oregon, I can grow my own food, build a tiny home, and barter goods with my neighbors, but Oregon isn’t in Oman. I live in an oil-producing nation with limited public transportation, a negligible recycling industry, and very little environmental awareness. However, life in Oman sustains us in many other ways. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I do have a generous wish list that I’m willing to work towards seeing fulfilled. Until then, I need to hold myself accountable to rejoining and getting involved with the Environmental Society of Oman. They do great work around animal conservation and environmental preservation, but I would love to see them usher in a new generation that will make sustainable choices more available for us all.

Vegan Oman

 

Oman Adventures: Dimaniyat Islands

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Last weekend was definitely a #iheartoman kind of weekend. July 23rd was Renaissance Day and a national holiday in Oman, so there were a number of excursion promotions being offered. What caught our attention was a three-hour glass bottom boat tour to the Dimaniyat Islands, a nature reserve about 45 minutes away from Seeb Port in Muscat. We enlisted a few friends to join us and squeezed into an 8:30am group tour.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

The sea was so clear that there was no need to stare at the boat’s glass bottom. We could see aqua-colored coral and schools of fish just as clearly by looking overboard. When we finally docked, we were a short swim from one of the coasts in shallow enough water to snorkel and swim. Regretfully, we’re not yet a family of strong swimmers, so we just bobbed along in our life vests. Lil’ Z and Moulay clung to me for dear life, so I didn’t do much snorkeling. However, for the brief moment I did give it a try, it was amazing to peak into a world beyond the surface. Especially after reading about the chronicles of a deep sea-diving traveler here, I know there’s just as much to be explored underwater as there is above ground.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Our tour hosts, Beauty of Dymaniyat, were extremely patient with our late arrivals. We set sail promptly and were given more than an hour and a half to enjoy our surroundings. Snorkeling gear, flippers, and life vests were available in several different sizes. To replenish us, bottled water, sodas, fresh fruits, croissants and pastries were offered as well. Our guides didn’t tell us much about the islands, but they were kind and helpful.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

After zipping back to Seeb Port, we relished in our time at sea and thought of all the visitors we’d like to bring along next time.  Will it be you?

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

 

Review: Farmacy Vegan Kitchen and Bakery

Farmacy Review

We’re approaching the last ten days of Ramadan, so it’s not the ideal time to talk about food but #veganramadan is real.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the growing number of Muslims who are happily hashtagging and Instagramming plant-based platters for their pre-fasting and post-fasting meals.  Some are only going veg for the month, but we still applaud the effort.  Of course, the highlight of the month is spiritual sustenance, but knowing where to get wholesome and healthy vegan meals certainly helps.

Farmacy Review

Last month, a much-needed vegan spot has surfaced in Tampa.  Located inside of Duckweed Urban Grocery downtown, Farmacy Vegan Kitchen and Bakery has tucked in and turned heads.  Three passionate entrepreneurs have combined culinary talent, business acumen, and vegan baking alchemy to create a refreshing addition to the dining scene.  A streamlined menu of smoothies, fresh juices, overnight oats, acai bowls, salads, soups, wraps, and hot entrees sit in wait for health-conscious customers, while appetizing baked goods entice any and everyone.

Farmacy Review

We tried a Spinach and Cashew Cream Cheese wrap, Orange Blossom muffin, and Cashew Mac and Cheese.

Farmacy Review

Their low-soy menu is noticeable and timely.  I’ve been weaning off of the superbean myself and didn’t have to risk temptation by tantalizing mock meats.  Most other vegan options in the city are heavily soy-based Pan-Asian cuisines, with the exception of Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, Italian, and Indian, so Farmacy’s lively and light menu is really refreshing and welcomed.

Farmacy Review

The strong sustainability focus of Farmacy really appealed to me. I swooned at the sight of compostable and biodegradable takeaway materials and the sparing use of recyclable plastics.  Duckweed Urban Grocery also has some energy-saving and recycling practices in place, so it seems that that two are a match made in Tampa.

Farmacy Review

 

 

Two Years of Nursing, One Week of Weaning

Photo Credit: Mericris Scott

Moulay is two years old now in both the lunar and solar calendar. His solar birthday found us here in New York with family. For his lunar birthday, we were still in Oman and that’s the day we started weaning our little man off of breastmilk. I had hoped that Moulay would end on his own before that point. He had been nursing exclusively at night for about nine months and never asked for milk at naptime or during the day. I assumed we could coast until he was ready to resign, but my side of the breastfeeding relationship was discontented. There was no shortage of milk or energy, just an instinctive feeling that we needed a reorientation in our relationship and that we would both benefit from uninterrupted night sleep.  I knew that Moulay’s diet was varied and robust enough to support him nutritionally without my milk and felt strongly that he was mature enough to be comforted in different ways.

Regardless of age or timing, Moulay’s attachment to night nursing was evidently strong, and I prepared myself to support him through the transition. Urbndervish tried putting Moulay to sleep on weekends but after a few weeks, our guy caught wind of our strategy and resisted. I thought of the dissuasion techniques I read about on mothering forums like applying aloe vera to the nipples or putting band-aids on them, but they seemed dishonest and I wasn’t that desperate–at least not yet. After a sleepless night of contemplation, research, and prayer, I rose the next day with a confident resolve that it was time and that I could love him through this loss.

The first night we changed rooms and I held, sang, and rocked Moulay until he slept. It was about an hour of fussing, whining and dozing until he finally succumbed to sleep. Naturally, I hated hearing him cry, but I heard frustration and disappointment in his voice more than fear or anger. I wasn’t leaving him alone or disappearing suddenly.  I was assuring and comforting him in every way I could. The next night was similar but shorter. The next night, even shorter but eventually, he stopped asking for or looking for milk. At around the seven-day mark, transitioning back into his bed next to his sister’s was a mild setback, possibly because of him associating the space with our nursing time. However, I knew we weren’t going back and so we pressed on.

I was torn about initiating weaning in Oman or during holiday, since I always notice new developmental leaps when we travel. However, for this delicate matter, I thought it best to not have the added pressure of other sleepers in the home and adjusting to time zone changes. This round of weaning wasn’t as easy as it was with Lil’ Z, but I’m learning to stop comparing the two and allow Moulay to shine and thrive in his own unique way.