“In later days, the Prophet (SAW) told his Companions that there was no Prophet who had ever lived on this earth, who had not worked as a shepherd,” I read emphatically from the Goodwords Seerah book.
“Mama!” My daughter squealed excitedly, “Even Prophet Musa Alayhisalaam?!”
My daughter is absolutely obsessed with the life of Prophet Musa Alayhisalaam. When I told her that I had named her after his adoptive-Queen mother who is also one of the women of Jannah, she was beside herself with pure joy.
“Even Prophet Musa Alayhisalaam,” I responded. I paused before reading and decided to take this precious moment of wonder and excitement to pose a question. “Why do you think that is?”
Asiya scrunched her face up for a moment before releasing her furrowed brow into a blissful stare. Adam drummed his fingers along the surface of the kitchen table in quiet thought. As usual, Asiya responded first. She always has something insightful to say during symposium. This is when I see my kids light up with wonder and express their opinions and questions in a beautiful way.
“I think because, being a shepherd takes a lot of work. And it gives you a lot of time to think about Allah’s creations, being all alone with just your peaceful animals. You have to be patient as a shepherd just like you have to be as a prophet.” Asiya’s thoughtful response was infused with confidence.
Symposium, is arguably the best, most exciting part of our homeschool day. I adopted the name from another Christian homeschooling blogger I follow (because it sounds so fancy) but quite simply it is this: It is the time of day we use to study the things that matter the most to us yet somehow keep getting shuffled to the side to make room for more “important things”. More important things… you know, like math, writing, and grammar…
The truth of the matter is, when we are entrenched in our very busy schedules, checklists, and lessons, we forget what our true aims and goals are. My number one goal to homeschool was to teach my kids about their Dīn (religion), and to be proud of their Muslim identity. Everything else should take a backseat, but often times, dunya (worldly life) can sneak in and take precedence over our akhira (the hereafter).
When we focus on teaching our children Dīn (religion) , in a loving, beautiful way, we are teaching much more than just facts about our religion. For example, through studying our beloved, beautiful Nabi (SAW) they learn about strength, about compassion, about the hardships that he endured so that we could be people of Tauheed (monotheism). They learn about moral values and they have a profound respect for what it means to be a Muslim. It isn’t just religious study. It is character development. We are no longer in an era where character development, and Khuluq (manners) just come naturally. So, this is one of the most important areas of study for our family.
I find when we do symposium early in the day, it sets the tone for the rest of the learning that’s to take place. Challenging work doesn’t seem too insurmountable after reading about the difficult struggles and life of our Beloved Prophet (SAW) or after reading a perspective-altering hadith.
We loop through a variety of Islamic subjects and other subjects and books, but the important thing to realize is that this time of the day isn’t about checking off the lesson for that day. This isn’t a subject that should culminate in quantifiable results. Don’t ruin it with worksheets or tests or essays. It’s about conversation, it’s about contemplation; a time to truly connect with what we are reading and learning. We may only read one single hadith, but we take a lot of time trying to dissect it, apply it, and see how we may use it in the future. Symposium is all about nourishing the mind and soul through the study, conversation, and engagement. It will yield results, but in a very different way. You won’t have a collection of worksheets from this allotted time at the end of the year, but you will see the results within your kids, and they will be more confident, independent, and candid thinkers, inshaAllah.
Another benefit of symposium is it helps us remember to be slow, mindful, and connected with our kids. This should be the mantra of every homeschooling mother, but because of our preconceived notions about what school is supposed to look like, we often rush through it, just itching to check items off the list so we can get on with the laundry or dinner. How we teach is just as important as what we teach. symposium directs me to place importance on going slow, going deep, and savoring the moment rather than just checking it off the list. I am reminded every day that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
School is not meant to simply get it over with. Symposium helps set the tone for the rest of the day because there are no worksheets, no tests, no essays, no way to measure your child or their process- just beautiful conversation and engagement with your kids. Over time, you will see the transformative power that this dedicated time has. Your children will make connections and have light bulb moments and connect with what they are learning in a pivotal way. It is slow, peaceful and a reminder of what the rest of our subjects and our day should feel like.
Cindy Rollins who wrote the wonderful article Morning Time Moms, explained symposium as:
“ The daily collection of little grains of time that add up to a lifetime of learning. Morning time is not about reaping a harvest of spinach or lettuce after a few cool weeks. It’s about faithfully tending an orchard over long, long years knowing the future harvest will be far more valuable than any quick crop.”
I try to incorporate this mindset into more than just our morning time, or symposium as we call it at our house. I try to incorporate it in everything we do. But there are days when I forget and want to just whiz through the day. However, through employing this mindful and very enjoyable time, you will realize that it truly sets a beautiful tone for the rest of the day.
What our Symposium looks like
When I originally read about morning time from Cindy Rollins, it was a time for her family to read scripture, sing hymns, and do memory work. We use it in the same way. We keep it faith-based, which as I stated previously, was my reason to homeschool in the first place. Unfortunately however, Islamiyaat studies simply kept getting pushed to the side. After a long arduous day of Math, English, Read-aloud, literature, history, science, etc, no one, including myself, wanted to do yet another thing. I knew the most important subjects were being severely neglected, so I stuck them right on top. An amazing thing happened when we started Islamic symposium. It gave our time barakah, and we always start off with a stronger push, subhanAllah.
Depending on the season of life we are in, our resources for morning time change.
Currently, we use a loop schedule (to keep things fresh and exciting) and this is what we are currently working through.
(The Good Word Books, three-part series)
Life of Fred
(Living Math Book)
(30 Hadith for kids by Zanib Mian)
Story of the World
(World History Book by Susan Bauer)
Tahdhib and Akhlaaq
(Islamic Tahdhib and Akhaaq by Aisha Lemu)
(The Random House Book of Poetry for Children by Jack Prelutsky)
First, we work on Islamic studies. After reading followed by a hearty discussion, we cap it off with a subject or resource that usually gets brushed to the side. We just finished our hadith book, so after careful deliberation, we will fill that spot with another beautiful Islamic book that inspires conversation and deeper thinking. I know that whatever I put into symposium time, be it an Islamic text or a different subject resource, it will be read and studied deeper and we will work on it far slower than any of our other resources, so I really must consider what we are spending this precious time on.
The Key to a Successful Symposium
Whether you want to focus solely on Islamiyaat, or use this time to investigate current events or science concepts, or use it for multiple subjects like we do, the heart of this time lies in conversation. This is a designated time to allow your kids to really comb through their thoughts about a topic and speak their minds; to build the confidence to formulate opinions and build on ideas. You will always find your kids going off into random tangents. That’s wonderful! This is a beautiful time to connect with your kids. My advice on morning time, or symposium (whatever you choose to call this time) is this: Make sure you place it somewhere where you will not rush through it. Perhaps placing it in the morning is too stressful for you. Maybe, to spend potentially hours on something that will not yield “actual work” is just not something you’re comfortable with. However, the skills that are built during this time can never be captured through a worksheet or an essay, but do what you’re comfortable with. If you can’t stomach doing it first thing, and you’d rather knock a tough subject out of the way first, then do that! Make sure you are placing this in your day when you’re comfortable with allowing it to unfurl for as long as you and your kids would like. We have gone for as long as three hours sometimes because we were truly relishing our reading and discussions. I know that when I read Story of The World during symposium, the discussions that follow hold so much more weight than when I make my daughter do a narration exercise afterward. Make a cup of chai or coffee and enjoy this time. For us, it’s the highlight of our day.
Having had a bitter taste of different educational systems growing up, Alina Jaffery came to the realization that for her children there must be a better option. She decided to put her career and work life back seat to home education. Currently in their seventh year, she has managed to weave homeschooling into their everyday life. She is committed to the belief that learning should not be limited to a classroom or to any one place. Amongst her favorite pastimes is reading aloud to her children, which has developed into a deep love of reading in her own trio. She believes in the holistic power of homeschooling not just to educate, but to strengthen the bonds of family. She is mother to three wonderful kids (ages 10,7, and 4) and her goal is to nurture a love of lifetime learning, a profound respect for the gift of knowledge, and above all, to raise strong Muslims who live a life of which their Rubb is pleased with.