The Effective Homeschool

My Plan for Giving Up Yelling

Last night, I decided to give up yelling. Firstly, let me be very clear. I didn’t do it for my kids. I am not trying to preserve their tender hearts and ears. I don’t buy into the theory that things like yelling and spanking cause emotional damage to children. I’m a firm believer in the fact that children are humans and humans are resilient by nature.


It’s fall. I just want to hear the sound of leaves under my feet. 

Come to think of it, I think I’ll add that as my 11th thing you should NOT teach your kids: resilience.


I yelled a lot as a teacher. I remember being pregnant with my son and Googling “yelling effect fetus.” Google says it’s fine. But as a homeschooler, yelling is different. There’s no retreating to the teacher’s lounge. There’s no waving to the wild kids as they ride home on the bus. There’s no weekends to restore your disciplinarian reserves. But also, as a homeschooler, I have the luxury to focus more on long-term discipline rather than focusing on putting out disciplinary fires.

That’s why I’m giving up yelling. Firstly, it’s a short term strategy and it is a little too easy for me to simply jump to that as the way to stop behaviors. Secondly, since it is so easy, I was kind of getting on my own nerves yelling at my kids. We live in a quiet, bucolic rural town where the only thing interrupting my serenity is the sound of my kids wrestling in the yard and the sound of me yelling at Khadeejah stop giving Maryam a sand shampoo.

So of course, as with everything, I’m not going into this new yell-free frontier without a plan. If you’d like to give up yelling, here’s three tips for how to do it.

1) Speak softly and carry a big stick.

One of the best lessons I learned during student teaching is that when kids get loud, you shouldn’t respond by getting louder, you should get quiet. This tactic is also very useful for spouses. When your kids are in the midst of whatever yell-worthy activity they’ve thought of, simply get their attention (if you have trouble getting your kids attention, we’ll deal with that in another post) and lay down the stick.

As I said before, I don’t think spanking is a problem, but really, the stick can be anything, time-out, cleaning up the flour all over the bathroom floor, an apology letter, natural

Writing about feelings was the worst punishment my teachers levied when I was in Ed classes. Not sure what my crimes were.

consequences. You pick. Just make sure you have a stick. If your kids are young enough, you can always try the “Don’t XYZ or you’ll be in trouble.” Then you’ll have some time to figure out what the trouble is while they figure out a way to get back to doing XYZ.


2) Be patient.

Often times, I yell when I want my kids to follow directions faster. Yelling, when done properly, provides the benefit of immediate compliance. Your children will put down the handful of sand, but it won’t stop the sand shampoos. If yelling is the only consequence for your kids, they will happily go back to their activities over and over again because kids don’t actually mind yelling.

When you stop yelling, you may find that your consequences take much longer to implement, but the results may also be more lasting.

The other side of patience is employing what I call “say and wait.” Many parents find that when they give their kids an instruction, the kids ignore the first one and perhaps even the second one. In order to show our kids we’re serious, we often then resort to yelling the third time. Instead of this, try giving your instruction and then saying nothing. For example say, “Clean up your toys.” The child may sit there for a few seconds waiting for the yell. Don’t yell. Simply wait. Don’t move, don’t get distracted, just keep your eyes on the child until she starts moving. 95% of the time, she’ll start within 60 seconds if only out of confusion. Eventually, your child will learn that you’re serious the first time.

3) Give it time.

Like everything, it will take time to stop yelling. If you actually want to stop yelling at your kids, give yourself time and know that it will take practice. If you end up yelling at your kids one day, don’t worry about it.

We’ve got errands to run today, so I’ll be in the car with the kids for hours chanting in my head: “Remember, you’re not yelling anymore.” No promises.


I was trying to find a pic of a mom in this pose, but I could only find pics of kids doing it. Sign of the times perhaps. Nevertheless, anyone who’s seen a mom do this knows there’s more than one way to show you’re serious.




Why Your Kids Aren’t Empathetic (And Why You Shouldn’t Care)


If a baby bites you, bite him back.

-My grandmother, teaching me about empathy.

Are you worried that your children aren’t empathetic? You’re not alone. In recent years, whole industry has popped up around the idea that we need to be teaching children empathy.

As a teacher, we were taught to give children plenty of exercises like “Imagine you are Anne Frank stuck in Nazi Germany, write a 2 page letter to a friend explaining your feelings.” My favorite were the ones that involved slavery. I’d stand up in front of a group of 8-year-old’s and try to get them to understand what it was like to be a part of chattel slavery. Most of the girls sat there looking sad, most of the boys responded with “WHAT?!?! I woulda…. (insert some action that they are physically incapable of and which involves weapons that didn’t exist in the 17 and 1800’s).”

As parents, we see our kids laughing at a child in a wheelchair and we say, “How would you feel if you couldn’t walk?” When they don’t eat their vegetables, we say “You know, some kids don’t have enough food to eat, you should be grateful.” Has any kid ever rushed to eat his broccoli after hearing that children in Africa don’t have food?

This is why you should stop right now if you think you’re going to teach your children empathy. You’re not. You’re probably just confusing them. You may be teaching them to have sympathy, you may be teaching them to have pity, and worst of all, you may be teaching them to simply be condescending.

Let’s take a look at empathy to better understand why we shouldn’t teach it. Here’s a full google overview with a historical look at the word usage.


Please note, empathy didn’t exist in the 1800’s.That right there proves that it’s just some new fangled mumbo-jumbo, but stick with me and I’ll further explain why you should leave it alone as a parent.

Most people look at this definition of empathy and think, yes! I want my kids to be able to understand and share the feelings of others! How could I not care if my children aren’t empathetic.

Most people look at this definition of empathy and think, yes! I want my kids to be able to understand and share the feelings of others! How could I not care if my children aren’t empathetic?

Hold on.

Wikipedia defines empathy as:  the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

To fully understand why your kids are not empathetic, re-read that highlighted part. Real empathy doesn’t come from playing with empathy beads, reading stories about the Holocaust, or even from hearing adults talk about impoverished children in distant countries. Real empathy comes from growing up, living life, and feeling what life feels like. Real empathy is an extremely difficult emotion to develop because it involves living through a vast swath of experiences.

A woman without kids can’t have empathy for a woman who is in labor. A man who is blind can’t have empathy for a man with one leg. That’s not how empathy works.

Like most subjects these days, when we try to teach our children to be empathetic, we are trying to rush a natural process. In doing so, we often create more problems. We’re not teaching our children real empathy, but we are teaching them something.

IMO, there’s three basic things we are teaching children when we try to force empathy. I call this:

The Fake Empathy Trifecta

1) Confusion. This outcome seems to be the most difficult for parents to accept. You’ve told your child over and over again that she should consider the feelings of others and yet she still punches her brother and bites his food when you’re not looking. Why? Because she has no idea what you’re talking about. Ironically, provoking her brother (and you) gives her a great opportunity to explore everyone’s feelings.

Your daughter can’t fully understand her own emotions much less those of her brother. Address the specific action and don’t expect her to have a full understanding of her behavior. Then set up an appropriate consequence for the action.

What to do instead? Say, “Don’t hit your brother.” Or, if you’re my grandmother, hit her.

Selfishness, meanness, and aggression are all natural parts of being a child. In time, your daughter will simply grow out of most of the behaviors more or less. Having extended conversations about them only draws more attention to them. I don’t personally believe that it will increase the behavior, but in my experience, it’s an unnecessary use of energy and an unnecessary point of stress.

2) Pity. You tell your child to stop teasing the girl in the wheelchair and imagine that she’s that girl in the wheelchair and she immediately looks sad. You’re excited because you can’t believe it worked and you’re even more excited when she makes a card for the girl saying she’s so sorry that she’s in the wheelchair and won’t be mean to her again. Great right? You can even post it on Facebook and get a viral video about how your child did something great for her disabled classmate. Not so fast. Your daughter isn’t in a wheelchair and still has no real connection to the feelings of the girl in the wheelchair. Instead, she only pities her.

What to do instead? First, again, address the specific issue and say “Don’t tease people.” Then set up an appropriate consequence for the action.

Secondly, avoid projecting your issues onto your children. Often, teaching empathy fails because we are trying to make our children empathetic about something that we ourselves don’t understand. (And you can’t empathize with what you don’t understand.) We pity the girl in the wheelchair, so we feel extra bad that our daughter is teasing her. Make the issue about your daughter’s behavior and not the other child’s condition.

If she does stop teasing the girl, don’t reward her physically or emotionally. Don’t ever praise her for being nice to people simply because they are different. If your daughter has actually experienced teasing, you remind her to think about how that felt.

A friend of mine recently posted this picture on Facebook. It seems like a pretty benign picture, but her caption really illustrated one of the harms of trying to teach your kid empathy.14445951_10209746067384342_7247202697761276850_n

Her caption read in part:

Sammy and a friend, chillaxing after school. What’s cool is that the school didn’t call the nondisabled child a hero for playing with Sammy. No one came to me saying their faith was restored in humanity because someone played with my child. 

In today’s world, there’s a lot of fear around children being unkind. We fear that we have to intervene with our kids in order to make sure that they’re always nice and always empathetic. But what are we saying when we congratulate our kids for being “empathetic” to a child that is different?

3) Being condescending. You are teaching your daughter about slavery and ask her to imagine she was a slave. Instead of actually imagining it accurately (which is likely impossible), she responds with all of the things that she would do in order to free herself. She’d whip out her A-K 47 and shoot up the whole plantation and then run away to the north. (Real plan from a real kid I taught.) No matter how much you explain to her that that isn’t possible, she simply can’t believe it. She’s convinced that the slaves just weren’t trying hard enough to get free (real theory from real historians).

What to do instead? Just leave it alone. Unless you’re just hoping your child will come up with a completely inaccurate yet possibly amusing story, don’t ask her to try to imagine what it’s like to be someone else. Just let her live her life and learn as she goes. She’ll have plenty of pain, heartache, and trials of her own to learn from. Just give her time.

This kind of fake empathy is pervasive. We’re taught that we have to have an opinion on everything and so we do. When we read a story about an event and immediately say “If that were me, I would have…” Really, unless you’ve actually experienced the exact situation as the exact person, you have no idea what you would do.

In short, your kids aren’t empathetic because they can’t be. Empathy is a very complicated emotion and most adults don’t have the lived experience to be truly empathetic in most situations. Stop googling “books to read your child to help with empathy”, stop planning “diverse” play dates, and stop asking your children to consider things that they actually aren’t capable of considering. Just let them grow up.

To me, it’s probably better for parents to simply forget the word empathy and instead just go back to the 1800’s style parenting and say “Stop it.” when your kids are doing things that you know they shouldn’t be doing.


10 Topics You Should STOP Trying to Teach Today


I’m not an unschooler, but I think in an age where curriculums have gotten way to broad, there’s a lot of topics that shouldn’t have been added to the formal school day in the first place.

The summer before I started teaching 3rd grade, I picked up all of the textbooks from my school and printed off the third grade curriculum so that I could get myself organized for the school year. I was a bit amazed by the wide range of topics that I was expected to teach. Sure, there were only about 8 subjects, but subjects like Health and Social Studies contained a lot of information that I honestly felt shouldn’t need to be taught in school. The health book contained everything from “How to Brush Your Teeth” to “How to Deal With Emotions” and Social Studies wasn’t just history, but also something called “Civics” which should have been renamed “How to Not Be a Jerk.”

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are some parents who may not have the time to show their kids how to brush their teeth or explain that you shouldn’t punch your friends, but as homeschoolers there is absolutely no reason why we need to spend classroom time going over these topics. When parents ask me “How do you teach….” or “Do you know any good activities to teach…” a lot of time, my answer is, you don’t need to teach that. Just live a normal, healthy life and most of these topics will get covered. Yes, they might not get covered at the speed that the official state curriculum demands, but they will get covered.

I hope to do a full post on each of these topics in the future, but for now, here’s my list of the Top 10 Things you should stop (formally) teaching your kids today.

The first 5 are all connected. The main take-away is that kids are kids. These topics shouldn’t be taught. As adults, we should simply live and model what we expect and wait for our children to mature. The vast majority of children will develop these first 5 skills on their own my simply observing the world.

1) Empathy

Add to this kindness, compassion, or any other emotion that’s a natural part of the human experience. Kids are mean. Little kids are very mean and they usually get slightly less mean as they grow up. Our current bullying epidemic has lead many parents to feel that they must take extra measures to teach their kids empathy in order to avoid them becoming bullies. The reality is, bullying at the level seen in schools isn’t something that’s likely to develop in a homeschool.

2) Sympathy

I’ve seen a lot of blog posts about how to teach empathy that are actually teaching sympathy. What’s the difference, empathy is actually feeling what another person feels. Sympathy is what we feel when we feel sorrow for what another person feels even though we don’t actually have that feeling. The difficult thing for adults to understand is that most kids are extremely sympathetic, but they are also extremely mean. Basically, kids are complicated. All the activities pages in the world aren’t going to rush the process of maturity that consistent sympathy requires.

3) Appreciation

I actually laugh out loud when I think about some of the lengths parents go to in order to teach their kids to appreciate what they have. Most of the time it involves appealing to children in ways that they aren’t emotionally or intellectually mature enough to understand. Your child doesn’t care if children in Africa don’t have food. He doesn’t even understand what the words “don’t have food” mean.


When I see emotions worksheets, I feel sad. 


4) Emotions

This is another curricular topic that was added simply because children these days are expected to display mature thought processes at an earlier and earlier age. Most of the activities for teaching kids emotions are geared towards children under the age of 6. Children at this age are naturally irrational and given to fits.

5) Self Esteem

I don’t know who the psychologist was that thought that humans who are naturally self centered need to be taught to be even more self centered. If you’re in your 20’s or 30’s you probably grew up in the era of “You are special!” Studies have actually shown that directly trying to increase children’s self esteem can actually cause them to be more self conscious and less sympathetic and empathetic.

The next 5 are essentially all life skills. None of these need to be taught formally. Ever. Instead, they should be included in the day outside of “homeschool” time.

Don’t buy a toy clock. Just buy a real clock.

6) Time

Some curriculum call for teaching about time as early as age 3. There are very few three year olds who can truly appreciate time and the passage of time, much less the actual telling of time. If you have a clock in your house, you’ve got all the tools you need to teach your kid time.

Um… You already have shoes for your kids right. Ok. Good. Don’t buy this. Don’t teach this.

7) Self Care

Someday I’ll write a full post on the unintended consequences of “Montessori” education, but for now, I’ll just say, if you’re taking time out of your school day for teaching “self care” such as tying things, washing up, or other activities that are really just a part of normal life, I give you permission to stop and just go ahead and live a normal life.

This one offends me. I have to really clean. Kids can really clean too. You can get a Dirt Devil for the price of this set.

8) Cleaning

Like number 7, this should just be a part of your life. If you clean and you make your kids clean, they will learn how to clean. Period.

I’d love to see a report on how much money has been spent on fake money. I hope no homeschooler has ever bought this.

9) Finance

This is a topic that many parents worry about too early. Like with cleaning, if you spend money responsibly, you only need to give your kids access to money in order for them to learn how to deal with money. If you’re afraid your kids will loose the money, they probably aren’t mature enough to learn about finance, so instead of using fake money, just wait.

Here’s why this is wrong. If a kid needs to write letters that big, that kid is too young to be writing letters. Stop wasting money and just wait.

10) Motor Skills

Yep. I’ll say it. You don’t need to teach motor skills. Fine nor gross. Yes, I am fully aware that the number one complaint that first grade teachers have is that kids enter school without sufficient fine motor skills to write. Well, the number one complaint I have about first grade curriculums is that they aren’t aligned to the skills that 6 year olds have. Motor skills are naturally developed through real life practice. Put down the tracing paper and go play outside.

Do I need to say it? Just buy real food. Lesson plan. Done



Why I’ve Never Pushed My Daughter on the Swing

We’re in Boston visiting family. My mother and sister-in-law just left a few weeks ago, so all the kids are still in attention-seeking mode. Abdullah, at 6, has finally learned that acting like an invalid simply isn’t fun. Khadeejah and Maryam, not so much.

Yesterday, we went to the Lego Museum with my brother and a friend of his. The kids spent half the time playing with Legos and the other half seeking aid for fake bo-bos and pretending they couldn’t reach the Legos they had just been playing with. My (childless) brother played along showing a great deal of sympathy and even asking my kids which Legos they wanted. I answered emails and pretended not to see or hear what was going on.


Today, we went to the park. My daughter climbed up on the swing, happy as a lark, and whined, “Umi, can you push me?!?!” (Insert record screech as I look up from my phone.)

I’ve never pushed my daughter on the swing. Inshaa Allaah, I never will push any of my daughters on the swing. Why? Because my daughter is strong enough to swing herself and she needs to know that.

After she asked me to push her, she started awkwardly pumping her legs like she couldn’t really get the hang of it. I’m sure the moms watching were thinking, why doesn’t she help that little girl. Mind you, Khadeejah looks like she’s all of 2 years old to most people.

After a few minutes, she started pumping like she usually does and started swinging slowly. Granted, she wasn’t wizzing through the air like all the kids whose parents were pushing them, but she was going and not only that, she had pretty much forgotten about me and she was staring into space singing.

I’ve never pushed my daughter on the swing because then she won’t have as many opportunities to get that feeling. That feeling you get when your focus on getting attention is replaced by your own, self-made joy.


If you’re wondering about Maryam, the baby, no, she’s not big enough to push herself on the swing. She’s never asked me to push her on the swing because that’s just not what we do. Right now, she just watches her brother and sister in awe. Every once in awhile, she walks up to the swing and gives it a smack to watch it fly. She watches it with all of the amazement and wonder that you might watch a space-shuttle launch and when it comes back down to her, she laughs a roaring laugh as she smacks it back.

That’s her own little way of making the world work. I’m not about to interfere.

Time: A Personality Cure-All

I’m about 2 weeks late on publishing this post. Truth is, I’m not really a good blogger. I have lots of typos, I don’t have a schedule, and frankly, I haven’t even taken the time to upgrade to a paid WordPress theme.

I don’t say all of that with any sense of remorse. I’ve been blogging rather inconsistently for all of three months now. It would be easy enough for me to click over to some other fancy website and lament the fact that their blogs are all properly edited, that they post three times a week, that they have a custom theme and a fancy header. But that would be comparing apple seeds to apples. Me, I’m just a seed. Time will tell if this blog will ever grow into a tree, if it will sprout, if the fruits will be Braeburns or Crab Apples.

What does all this have to do with routine building? (If you’ll remember, that’s what got us here in the first place).

I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 30. I used to say, “I can’t ride,” but Mr. EH wasn’t having it and forced me to ride daily until I learned. 

The vast majority of times that I speak with women about their household routines, I hear something that suggests to me that they have chosen a standard for their lives that doesn’t fit their current reality. I hear women often saying that they are “disorganized,” “unproductive,” and, perhaps the worst personal insult a woman used, “lazy.” (Her words, not mine, that’s why I used the quotes.)

This is a pretty common theme throughout home schools (and non-schooling-homes). We feel that our homes should be organized a certain way, we should be getting a certain amount of work done, we should be “off the couch” a certain amount of the day. My problem with these comments is that they aren’t really useful. What these women are actually saying is that they are more disorganized than some other woman they know, they are less productive than her, they aren’t as hard working as her. I don’t know who she is, but I do know that she probably got to be organized, productive, and hard working by practicing those skills.

Of course, there’s something to be said for natural ability, but there’s also something to be said for trying. When we describe ourselves with the adjectives I mentioned above, we are actually saying that we’ve given up on trying. To me, this seems like the easy way out. Maybe we try and fail, maybe we never get around to trying, but all the while, instead of focusing on actually planning and working the plan, we simply lament the fact that we aren’t where we want to be. Even worse, we set up expectations for others in our lives also and lament the fact that they aren’t there yet. (I’ll save that rant for another blog.)

The solution to all these disappointments is often simply giving it time. If you’ve built your routine as I suggested, you’ll have a very simple routine that only has your priorities in it. Don’t think that your routine will be easy to implement just because it’s simple. Today was the first day that I actually woke up, vacuumed, and proceeded with my normal routine since we got back from Egypt. Life happens, but that doesn’t mean that I say that I can’t and throw in the towel on our routine.

I’m always amazed by people whose beds are made every day, but I know, like most things in life, bed making isn’t a skill that requires any technical knowledge, it just requires practice.

When you first make a routine, you’ll probably fail. You won’t actually wake up every day and vacuum your house. Your homeschool actually won’t start at 9am sharp. Your kids won’t actually do their work, they won’t actually start cleaning up after themselves, and they won’t actually go to bed at 8pm. Very few things go according to plan the first time. I’d say, when it comes to routines, very few things go according to plan the first month.

So, give yourself some time. Don’t even think about changing your routine or giving up on it until you’ve tried it for at least a month. Three months would be better. Even when your kids have been up until midnight so you really feel like you can’t get up to vacuum the house, just stick to the routine as best as you can.

After awhile, things will settle down and you can then take a look and see where things need to be adjusted.

In the meantime, if you’re the type of person who says that you’re not productive, not organized, or not whatever else, your dare for the day is to simply add “yet” to all of those phrases. Commit yourself to knowing where you need to be and make a plan to get there. Then, just give your plan some time.

I’ll start. I’m not a really good blogger, yet.


Forget Strength. Parent with Endurance

Yes, this is not the post I promised, but it’s related and, I suppose, it will teach everyone reading that despite my love for planning, I also love just doing what’s important to me at the moment.

My kids are having a particularly rule-breaking day and it reminded me of a conversation that I had with a friend about being a strong parent.

I’m the type of woman that other women consider strong. Not physically, but emotionally. I don’t cry, I don’t get angry or stressed, and I never yell at my kids. I should add to the end of all of those phrases “in public.” But I’d never call myself strong. The reason is, I don’t consider those traits signs of strength.

As a woman, I feel that my generation has been falsely told that we have to be strong in order to get anywhere in life. Personally, I feel this is a result of our society’s unspoken belief that masculine traits are ideal. (I’ll spare you my rant.)

What I feel the world has forgotten is that there are other many other behavioral traits that are suitable for parents, employees, bosses, etc. For women especially, I think strength shouldn’t be the focus of our parenting.

Why? As the parent of children who are extremely strong willed, there’s no way I’d be able to match their force with force. To be honest, I’ve tried yelling at my kids, I’ve tried harshness from time to time, but I am not the type of person who can keep that up for long periods of time. What can I keep up? Calm.

I think most mom’s can relate. Anger, yelling, and threats of violence work in the moment,  but the lasting effect is often limited. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should never yell or spank, but I am saying that these can never be the foundation of your parenting strategy. Parenting is about endurance. The good thing is, endurance is easy. At least, I should say, it’s easy to write about.

For me, endurance means three things:

  1. Having strong family values and being consistent in making sure those values are upheld no matter where you are. That means at the grocery store, at grandmom’s house, and at a play-date, the values stand.
  2. Having rules that meet those values and being consistent in enforcing those rules.
  3. Being patient and knowing that your children won’t always accept your rules and values.

Actually being a parent who focuses on endurance can be very hard because, in the moment, it can seem like your children want nothing more than to challenge every value and rule that your family has established. For me, one thing that helps is remembering that parenting isn’t a sprint or a marathon, it’s a lifelong process of morphing tiny, wet squiggly things that can’t even hold up their own heads into independent adults.

When I think of parenting that way, a lot of the problems that I face on a daily basis become much easier to deal with. When my kids fight, when my daughter drinks the water from under our balcony, when my toddler bites people, I don’t worry about. I do discipline them, I do set up consequences for their actions, but I don’t spend my emotional energy on these problems. Why? That’s simply not a problem that most adults have.

For these problems, and most of the behavior problems that my kids have, I don’t worry about having a strong stance. I don’t worry about making a lasting impact on their behavior. I focus on stopping the behavior and then moving on with life. Simply setting up rules and calmly enforcing them allows me to parent with endurance.

Parenting isn’t a sprint or a marathon. It’s the rest of your life. Buckle up and focus on consistent, clear parenting.

Lessons in Failure


Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. I was supposed to have written the last post in my routine building series while we were in Egypt. Unfortunately, we moved to a new apartment and the internet wasn’t strong enough to load many websites. Inshaa Allaah, I’ll get there, but there’s something slightly more pressing that I wanted to discuss. That is, failure.

We decided to go ahead and put the kids in the school while we are here in Cairo studying. We strongly feel that it’s a good idea to wait until kids are ready to start teaching academics, but we figured, what’s the worst that can happen (priorities right!).

It all started off fine. Abdullah was put in a room with the older kids where he enjoyed pretending that he knew how to write. Everyone raved about Khadeejah and how social and cute she was.

After about a week, Abdullah’s teachers started to complain that he wasn’t keeping up with the other kids in writing. I wasn’t surprised because Abdulllah doesn’t know how to write. A former me would have been proud that he was in the higher class and would have fought to make sure he kept up with the work. The current me wondered why he was put in the higher class in the first place.

I realized after talking with his teachers every single day after school, they had assumed that he had been in school because he sits still. During week 2, Abdullah was moved to the lower class because he wasn’t keeping up. I was happy that this school is relatively unstructured. Abdullah’s move to a lower class didn’t require any fanfare. No evaluations, no interventions, and no permanent records. I realize that most schools in the US don’t have the luxury of simply placing kids in the appropriate level, but it was a reminder to us that our goal is simply to educate our kids. It’s not to make sure they are advanced.


Khadeejah’s failure was a bit more dramatic. During the third week, I went to get Khadeejah out of school early. Excited to see me, she got out of her seat and walked across the table to come greet me. This wasn’t like a stumbling, surprised walk. It was like a casual strut across the catwalk. A, “This is how I usually make my way across the classroom” walk.

Her teacher sat there, half frozen and half helping her seemingly worried that she’d fall. Mind you, she was walking as slowly and casually as she could.

We had known for about a week that Khadeejah and school just weren’t working out. The first week, her teachers said nothing at all. The second week, her teacher asked me a few times why she cried so much. I tried to explain that she cries a lot for attention and she’s pretty masterful at bringing up the tears in unwarranted situations, but I didn’t know the Arabic translation for High Drama.

Khadeejah’s tiny size and occasional fits of compliance can be deceptive. 

The third week, her teachers seemed to be consistently screaming her name throughout the day (my classroom is right next door to her’s). After school, they had very strange stories about her behavior.

We talked to her about her behavior. We asked her if she liked school, which we knew she did because after all, who doesn’t like having a dotting audience to bask in your shenanigans all day. We explained to her that in school, you have to sit and do what the teacher asks. You have to be calm and you have to be still. As she usually does, she agreed to comply. She’s a very amicable child when she wants to be. Unfortunately, she never wanted to be while in school.

So, after watching her proud march across the table and her teacher’s response, we decided to just pull her out.

There are many people who would read this story and say, “The teacher should have been stricter!” and plenty others who will comment “The school should have been more accommodating!” We disagree with both.

One of the main reasons that we homeschool is that we believe that every child is not a good fit for every environment. Also, every adult is not a good fit for every child.

In spite of her tiny size, Khadeejah is a very strong child. Her grandparents use words like “spunky” and “go-getter.” The first day of school, her teachers called her “confident” because she went up to every single person and introduced herself, even if the person came into the class in the middle of a lesson. That’s her. While Abdullah has spent the time trying to lay low and avoid his teachers’ ire, Khadeejah proudly campaigns for it at every chance that she gets.

Unfortunately for those who don’t know here, her boldness comes as a surprise. She’s always been around 15% for height and weight, so most people approach her with a “oh, aren’t you cute and tiny” attitude. What they don’t know is that she wrestles her 6 year old brother like there’s no tomorrow without tears and without mercy.

It took about two weeks for her teachers to figure out that she wasn’t actually sick or sad or suffering from a broken lung when she cried out in class. Still, they often treated her as such. One of her teachers explained that while Khadeejah was crying, she offered her a bottle of water and let her “drink like a baby.” Not my particular style of addressing attention seeking behavior, but hey, to each her own.

We both had hoped that she’d turn things around, but I realized that day, it really wasn’t to her benefit to be in school. We were focused on having her there because that was the plan, but often the first plan isn’t the best one.

We’re hopeful that this episode will serve as a reminder of why we homeschool. We’ve realized that far from being a sign of failure, we’re privileged to be able to choose the right environment for our kids, even if that environment is just hanging out with us.

Step 2: Prioritizing

An old boss once told me, “Priorities are the things you get done.” I really disliked this particular boss because he was the kind of person who would saunter over to my desk while I was working on a project and begin telling me all about 3 new ideas he had. Yes, this was the same person who taught me about priorities.

I have to admit though, to this day I think of his words when it’s 9pm and I haven’t made the kids lunch for the next day. In order to get your priorities done, you have to take the time to actually consider what you want your priorities to be. If you think everything in your life is a priority, you actually have no priorities at all.

Prioritizing is difficult for a lot of people, but homeschooling can make it even more complicated. When you have a job, there’s usually someone else who tells you what your priorities are. When your kids go to school, the school tells you what the priorities are.

As homeschoolers, there’s no relief from the constant stream of tasks that we are responsible for.

To help me focus my energies, I’ve developed a few strategies for setting priorities.

For me, not eating right has many consequences, but to keep in line with my “Doing Less” rule, I keep meals simple. Protein, veg, side. Done. 

Consider the Consequences

Make a list of everything that needs to get done in your home in a day. Think about the worst case scenario for each one. The things that have the worst worst case scenarios are your priorities.

Here in Cairo, there’s not much we could do to have a major catastrophe. Mr. EH has taken the initiative on keeping the clothes washed. (I think he realized that wearing sweat drenched clothes was probably our worst worst case scenario.) So in building our routine, I went back and looked over the things that were causing problems in our day. It was clear that for me, shoes, homework, and food were creating the biggest problems.

Having our shoes all over the living room made it difficult to walk through the house comfortably and it just seemed like it was setting a bad tone. For me, the consequence here was that the kids (and I) would get used to things being strewn about the house. I figured that there would be a pay-off in building a simple routine for where and how the kids should take their shoes off.

While I don’t personally care if my kids do their homework, they seem to like it and they would often only remember late in the evening or first thing in the morning. The consequence here was that they’d be left rushing their work, which really makes it a waste of their time. I also felt like this was a good option for adding to my priorities because, like putting the shoes away, it’s something the kids can do themselves.

The food (and water) situation got pretty sad around here last week when I ended up eating chips and a protein bar for breakfast. No good. I won’t mention what the kids ate that day. I saw that I have to make a regular schedule for cooking if I want to avoid a replay of that meal. So, I decided to make cooking a priority. Cooking good is not a priority. (More on this in another post.)

Perhaps even worse, if I don’t freeze water for everyone each night, our water bottles will be room temperature and room temperature here is about 90 degrees. Adding to that the fact that I bought the cheap-o water bottles that smell like chemical fumes when they are warm and not having frozen water becomes our worst worst case scenario.

Don’t Dramatize the Consequences

I hear a lot of moms throwing around the words “must” and “have to” when talking about their homeschool days. My first thought is usually, “Do you really HAVE to? MUST you really?”Of course, I’d never utter those thoughts aloud to a mom sharing her homeschool woes, but I do think that many of us homeschoolers would benefit from realizing that much of what we do is just because we want to, not because we have to.

There are many things that I haven’t put on my list of priorities. Rather than worrying about all the things that aren’t on there, I think it’s important to just pick somethings to focus on and get moving. Try out your routine for a few weeks. If there are any major problems, you can always go back and sub out one priority for another.

Also, once you have mastered your first routine, you can always add in more priorities later.

When setting priorities, don’t obsess over the What If’s. Just set some reasonable priorities and make a plan for getting them accomplished. You can always adjust as needed.

So, hopefully, you already wrote down your 1 thing you don’t have time for. If you didn’t, do it now. Go ahead and give that thing spot on your priority list. If you’ve already decided that there are other things that are more important, go ahead and take it off. The important things is that you make a commitment to focus your energy on setting your simple routine and don’t waste brain space thinking about all of the things that you aren’t getting done.

Up next, giving your routine time. Inshaa Allaah.


Routine Building Step 1. Do Less.



I know. Your house is a mess. You’re always tired. Your kids never finish their school work. You never have time for…. And the list goes on. We often think about our lives in terms of all the things that are wrong. We want everything in our house to be organized. Now.

The sad truth is, that’s probably not going to happen. But, the good news is, if you take your time and build a simple routine, it wont take long before your house is running more smoothly. When building a new routine for your home, keep it simple and focus on 1-3 things at a time.

Abdullah has started to get his homework out and start by himself. It’s not because he’s a great student. It’s simply because he doesn’t have much else to do.

By focusing on just a few things, you can increase your chances of having the routine stick.

As parents, doing less can help us to gain control over what may seem like an unruly life.

If you try to do too many things at once, it’s likely that your plans will go south and you’ll be back where you started.

Doing less can also help you to shift some of the responsibility onto your children. I mentioned before, one reason I wasn’t happy with our routine is that I was having to constantly remind my children of everything that they were forgetting. Now that our routine is simplified and organized, I have to do a lot less talking, nagging, and explaining.

For children, only having to focus on a few things at a time allows them to gain mastery in each one. This is the reason we don’t do many academic lessons in our homeschool. It’s also the reason that we keep our routines very very simple.

Once your children have mastered a simple routine, you will find that you don’t have to work as hard to remind them. You can add more steps to your routine and eventually allow your children more and more control over their lives.

If you’re thinking over the current state of your homeschool and you just can’t decide on 1-3 things to focus on, we need to have a talk about priorities. That’s up next.


The Effective Homeschool wasn’t built in a day. Start small. Start simple. In setting out our routine for the next month, I put not having shoes all over the place as a top priority since it’s the first thing we do when we come in.



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