Participants in Play; Toddler Development & Home Ed reflections

I came across this tweet yesterday:

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If you’re on Twitter you may have come across it too because it’s since had the meme treatment. Of course I scrolled down and read the comments. A lot of praise. But there were a couple others that stood out to me which I will share below:

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I feel like this tweet and its responses cleared up something that’s been bothering me for the past few weeks regarding how I approach my son’s development. 

The new mum experience

My first year of being a mum was filled with awe and a very firm resolve to not rush my son into any of the development milestones. I got the usual advice from others about working on his sleep routine, not holding him for too long, not rocking him to sleep in case he gets too attached, about how so and so month is the usual time when a toddler begins to sit, to crawl, to walk. I ignored it all. But my son, Musa, was quick with developing his gross motor skills, masha Allah. He started walking at ten months. When things like that happen you as a parent don’t have to put yourself into the category of ‘why isn’t my child doing so and so yet’. You feel happy at the seamless progression. I think where I did get a lot of opinions was on his speech development, because Musa wasn’t really talking. He said a few words, names of objects that he’d caught in conversations. Definitely no sentences. I even had a woman tell me to take him to a speech therapist. Really? Again, I ignored the concern. 

When Musa turned two he continued his thing for naming objects. He also began to pick up the alphabet from baby videos on YouTube. The alphabet song helped him to learn it pretty quickly. Along with this he picked up his numbers and shapes – all with very little input from me. And then he stopped. But in my head the ball was rolling and I took it as a sign that he’s ready to develop a bit more in formal learning. I began to count with him to twenty, began to sit him down so we could maybe start the Arabic alphabet too. I used to draw the English alphabet letters so he would familiarise himself with those and not just the recitation of the alphabet song (and maybe he might begin to try and write them?). I thought this would all be natural progression. 

But Musa wasn’t really interested. He’d learnt what he’d learnt of his own initiative and he was continuing to learn other things on his own. He didn’t want to sit passively and take in information, even when I tried to make it creative with different mediums, different activities. The reason for this was that the relationship between us in these times became solidly teacher-student. And he definitely picked up on that! Why should he be interested? If anything, my overly involved interest in what he’d learnt of numbers alphabet and shapes was making him stick firmly to them and not want to memorise anything further. I noticed that the more I tried to get him to count beyond 10, the more he kept counting everything to ten. When we went down the stairs he counted each step and when he reached 9 and there were still more steps he would keep counting 9 9 9 9 and then 10 only when he got to the last one. He counted his toys to 10. He was firmly stuck on 10 as if to subconsciously tell me that he was comfortable with that and to back off (lol). I realised that I needed to leave him be. This is a minor example, but it made me think of cases where children exhibit OCD or ADHD behaviours and I just wondered if it was because of the misdirected development pushes that we adults may be placing upon them. 

Where I’m at now with my son

I’ve completely backed off trying to encourage the kinds of learning that society would see as marks of achievement. Instead I’m trying to sync myself with my son to see what he likes doing. The relationship is now one of participants in play, not teacher-student. 

Musa’s second year has been full of loving dinosaurs – which led to learning the names and characteristics of different types (a continuation of his interest in the names of things), acting like the different types of dinosaurs he knows, role playing with dinosaur toys, organising the toys into their types etc.

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From one of his dinosaur books, Musa saw the picture of a volcano. When I told him what it was the word stuck to him. Yesterday he painted a picture of a volcano with a dinosaur underneath it. And after painting that picture he exclaimed ‘beautiful colours everywhere!’

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I realised that he’s been saying a few things in the past couple of weeks which are really significant to me as a parent who’s been watching his speech develop. For example, our fireplace stopped working a few days ago and since then he’s been pointing at it and saying ‘the fire is sleeping.’ He loves the evening time when I switch the lights on and yesterday he told me ‘the light is shining everywhere’ because he noticed that when I switched it on the light hit all parts of the room. That is really remarkable when you think about it.

It made me think of that tweet at the beginning. I don’t know the parent who wrote it. I don’t know exactly how they meant it. I’m guessing their children aren’t speech robots, but I know their approach isn’t one I would choose and it would not work for Musa. Musa was slow to pick up language when compared to the standard, and yet now that his language is forming organically he’s making sentences of his own. He expressed his observation of the movement of light. He personified the fire to explain how it isn’t working. He observed and stated the beauty of colours! 

His organic learning is a contrast to the way he reacted when I tried to teach him further counting. If I had taught him sentence structure from the beginning I think it would’ve created a similar obsession with ‘how things are meant to be’, and getting the rules right.

The importance of bonding, play and curiosity

I read an article that was posted in a homeschooling group about how toddlers and parents sync each other when playing (https://www.princeton.edu/news/2020/01/09/baby-and-adult-brains-sync-during-play-finds-princeton-baby-lab?fbclid=IwAR1D8uP6MRJ-DjX8WWZO-EJq2xfexG5Ve_SRLE2jRU3xv2tAPlj9MwdaIaw). The same parts of their brains light up and the adult even begins to follow the lead of the child. This is what I thought of when I read that comment about how mirroring the child’s language actually helps them to develop. I personally think that the foundation of this syncing is love because playing is bonding. There have also been research studies that have found that love and security go much further in helping a child’s growth than only just seeing to their physical needs.

Developing language for a child is the same as play (everything for them is play!) and so I see baby talk as communication, but I also see it as playfulness, creativity and an expression of love. They will still pick up how proper language sounds/works because they still hear it. Reading is a great example of this. So there’s no need to worry that the child won’t be able to speak properly one day just because we’re speaking in ‘baby talk’ with them now.

On education in general

The last point I want to make with all of this is our approach to education. Shaykh Hamza yusuf talked of the infantilisation of children in schools, e.g. through constant monitoring, the school’s inability to accept different ways of learning (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RF6Zskb21w8), also their killing of curiosity (as mentioned in this article: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/jan/28/schools-killing-curiosity-learn?CMP=).

At the baby to toddler stage we expect rapid gross motor skill development, rapid language acquisition. At school age we expect them to sit day after day for hours on end (we expect them to sit!) inside a classroom and take in tons of information according to a specific structure of topics which don’t make room for curiosity.

Trying to iron-press a child’s curiosity and physical energy out of them will surely have consequences for them in later life. When in the toddler stage my son responded to my push (however gentle I thought it to be) by continuously reciting 1-10, what would be the implications of me forcing him into an education system that goes against his natural development? I couldn’t with any consciousness take that kind of risk.


The Spirituality of Tidying; My thoughts as a Muslim on Marie Kondo

I was fortunate enough to watch ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’ on Netflix without having been exposed to too much of the criticism currently being posted about her on social media. I think I probably came across one meme of her with a speech bubble saying something about books. I’d seen the show come up on Netflix recommendations but never really paid attention to it till I saw her name popping up on Twitter a couple of times. I’m not big on home décor or lifestyle programmes and so it wasn’t something I considered my territory – that is, until I watched the first episode.

Marie Kondo met her first clients – a married couple with children – and asked them if she could greet their home. I thought her request would be met with amusement/cynicism/something negative (as I’ve later seen to be the case on social media), but I was pleasantly surprised when the couple said; ‘I love that!’, and she proceeded in her ritual. They even joined in with her and sat in silence, taking in the atmosphere of the house. And what’s more – they felt emotional doing it, feeling the significance of the silence. It was clear that they were visibly moved when Marie had finished.

This glimpse into Marie Kondo’s spirituality had my attention. (For more on the culture behind her spirituality/philosophy see this great Huffington Post article tackling the negativity being posted about her on social media: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/marie-kondo-white-western-audineces_us_5c47859be4b025aa26bde77c)

As I continued watching, she went on to present other aspects of her beliefs (aspects which form the basis of her philosophy of cleaning): that we should keep a hold of items that make us feel joyful, that we should hold onto what we would like to go into our future with, that we should remember the significance of the objects we possess so as much as to thank them when we do let go of them. I can well see how all these things promote a healthy outlook to living – helping one to move away from an unhealthy possessiveness, hoarding or the indifference which allows clutter to build up within our living spaces, and help one be happy with what they possess. What’s more, Marie’s spirituality is one that is accessible to people of no religion just the same way that Rumi’s translated poetry is – in that there is no mention of ‘God’ to frighten away the atheist, there is no gratitude towards a divine deity. The gratitude is posed upon the object, the house, the memory, the experience, really – upon ourselves. And I think spirituality – even in this form – benefits the person practicing it, giving them a basis upon which to feel something greater than themselves without having to give that something a name if they feel uncomfortable doing so.

This is the reason why Marie’s show really got my interest. As I watched her process of tidying, I thought about my own spiritual beliefs: to want less, to possess only the things that matter, to have a healthy relationship with everything around me (including my memories). When she tells her clients to thank their clothing, I think about how I could thank Allah for the objects I hold, how I could thank Allah for giving me the means to have them even when I am choosing to let something go.

I have heard teachers of Islam say that we should live like travellers in this life, that we should develop good habits, live with meaning and purpose, and work to clean our souls. I have heard stories of great people who have lived with very little – the objects they did possess being those of great worth to them. I have also looked at the millennial trend of minimalism and seen how this can apply to a follower of Islam who wants to rid themselves of the many material possessions which, in reality, they have no need for. And yet I never made the connection between tidying and my own spirituality as clear as I did when I watched this show. It was like the knowledge was there, but the practical means were not. And now…I’m thinking of the many things I want to donate to charity, the many things I own that I want to pick up and say alhamdulillah for before placing them respectfully into their rightful places around the house. These are not small acts, I see this also as part of dhikr.

And so, I’m grateful to Marie Kondo for fearlessly being herself and presenting her philosophy to a Western audience – even at the risk of it being ridiculed or completely misunderstood. It was a breath of fresh air which helped me to consider something seemingly mundane as tidying as having the potential to be spiritually cleansing. I would like carry a greater purpose with everything I choose to include in my life, and if I can handle objects as gently and gratefully as I see Marie teaching her clients to do, I’ll know that I have achieved a greater appreciation for what God has given me.


Book Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage

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I can see why people might like Murakami and get hooked into his stories. The book builds up curiosity, trying to understand why Tsukuru’s friends cut ties with him. The style of the story builds on the suspense, blurring the line between reality and dreams until you’re not quite sure what has actually happened and if whether or not it matters in the face of a character’s personal development, thoughts and feelings.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much payoff for all of that suspense. There were unnecessary details about things which felt like they were meant to be important to the story but at the end of the day, weren’t. Why Tsukuru even mentions some of the stories and bits of information he learns is a mystery to me since they didn’t add to the story in any way other than making it more blurry – which usually I wouldn’t have minded because it adds to the style, but in this case I did mind because I wanted answers due to the plot set up, and I didn’t get them. Say what you will about the eccentricities of a blurry story, I think when something is so plot-focused you need solid resolutions.
Aside from the plot, I found the descriptions too were making me skim over lines quickly. Other than Tsukuru’s initial description of his depression, I really stopped feeling for him and his continual woe of not having a colour and feeling like he was an ’empty vessel’. Even when small things are revealed, such as why the characters claim they cut ties, there are further mysteries related to the incident around it and the incident itself felt like a cop out as I am personally not a fan of fiction that uses *spoiler alert* rape as a critical explainer of a story and its characters’ behaviours and decisions. I think if you use such an incident it has to be done well so that it doesn’t feel like you were simply searching for the most cruel thing you could think of to happen to a character.
So yeah, I don’t know if his other novels are like this, but I found this one incoherent and was, in the end, a waste of time. Alas, onwards and upwards.


The Unwritten Woman

She Speaks We Hear

by Roszeen Afsar

@Roszeen

‘Few writers have had a direct vision into woman. Few women had vision into themselves!’ – Anais Nin (quote attributed to D. H. Lawrence in Nin’s Diary, Volume 1)

I love reading and writing, it has been my passion since a very young age. After much reflection over the past few years I have started taking it seriously. My dream is to have a book published, a novel of my own making. But I’ve thought endlessly about why this dream makes me abnormal, why loving to read and write is a strange activity in my cultural community, why women of my family do not include creativity in their day-to-day lives. To this day these questions puzzle me. It is true that we have plenty of female writers in the world, some even from Pakistan, but the vast majority of the women I associate with my cultural…

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The Feminine as the Balancing Force; Poetry & Literalism

New piece 🙂

She Speaks We Hear

by Roszeen Afsar

@Roszeen

The literalist way of thinking among certain Muslims is sad to say the least. I’ve been exposed to it many times, but the most memorable was in my university prayer room. I remember being hauled into a discussion about Sufism amongst a group of girls who carried a negative opinion of it. I mentioned Rumi to them and was surprised when they laughed, in amazement that I should bring up a poet in a discussion about theology (unaware of Rumi’s status as both poet and theologian). It was then that I realized how little is known nowadays of the history and fruitfulness of Islamic thought or more specifically, spirituality.

These girls were not new in their thinking. Their dismissiveness came from a specific disposition known as ‘Salafism’. Salafism is a literalist movement which, within its folds, narrows Islam to a dogmatic set rules, rejecting therein a…

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Dear Diary; the Words of the Beloved

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When you first start to read all you see are letters making up words,
you don’t see the words,
the page is just full of letters strung together.
Then you learn the sounds,
the way those strung-together letters should sound when you say them.
Then words start to become meanings as you learn definitions.
Sentences begin to pull together to become thoughts.
Thoughts come together, meld into each other or build up to make sense of the world,
and if you read the best of words they start to light the heart.
They’re not just letters anymore, filling up a page.
They’re inspiration, uplifting and alive.

These are the layers of worship.
You learn the rules, you see them like strung-together letters.
Even before you begin to learn their meanings, you have to content yourself in repeating them over and over again
to form the habit of memory.
To form the virtues of discipline.
Then the meanings come to light.
You build your understanding by putting them together;
by acting, by thinking, by learning more.
These actions move you, you start to see the patterns.
You always find something new, you realise you’ll never find the end,
you’ll never know it all.
But that is not what you want anyway, anymore.
You want to feel the love of those pages, behind those pages, above those pages.
Then the world releases you and you hold it in your hand, to turn over and open as you please,
like a book.
But of course that last stage is only for the fiercest lovers.
And I’m just describing what I’ve learnt is the ultimate aspiration.


The Aliens; Islam & Feminine Spirituality

She Speaks We Hear

by Roszeen Afsar 

Bird painting by Roszeen Afsar Bird painting by Roszeen Afsar

In my previous post; ‘The Smiling Sister; Paintings of Hijab’, I wrote that knowledge of spirituality today is very little, and as such female spirituality is never brought up in discussions on Islam. I was asked why that is. This is an interesting question and one I touched on in my final year at university. The answer, I found, is both because of how Islam is perceived on the outside as well as how Islam has largely continued on the inside.

Islam from Outside

In terms of religion in the present day, although many believe the developed world to be mostly secular, I found in my research that there’s been a growth of new religions and the resurgence of interest in human spirituality. This is believed to be due to a backlash against the Enlightenment and modernity. In an age of…

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