Shereen Makhanye On Why She Is Homeschooling Her Two Girls; Michelle Obama On Starting Reading Before Primary School And The Effect Of Attending Majority Black Schools
#NoSpoilers So I rushed to get my hands on Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming” and have squeezed in a read whenever I can. In the first part of the book where she details how she grew up to the years when she was a young lawyer and meeting her future husband, Barack Obama, there were some nuggets I underlined that are relevant to the questions my partner and I are wrestling with regarding the education of our children.
Firstly, Michelle relays how she had a head start because her mom taught her how to read way before primary school. And although she had this head start, there were other kids that still did better than her in spelling, they probably had the same start from their parents as she. Michelle’s mom was a stay-at-home mom until Michelle, the last born, was in high school. This raised the importance of the role parents have to play in giving their children a good foundation and not just outsourcing to schools.
Secondly, Michelle observes that when she went to Princeton University, an Ivy League college with 96% white students, it was the first time she was part of the minority, she had gone to schools where 96% of the pupils were black like herself. Experiencing this in college she says was easier to deal with because she already had confidence in her abilities and although had a few disadvantages compared to her better exposed white classmates, she quickly understood that she just had to pace herself and work hard, as she always had; her white classmates were “floating on an ancient tide of superiority,, buoyed by the fact that history have never told them any different.”
So how do we prepare our brown babies to compete and thrive in a white economy?
The world along with it the world of work and economies are changing fast. This means teaching and parenting need to change too in order to get our kids to live their best lives and reach full potential. For instance, those of us born in the 1970s most likely started learning to read when we started Grade 1 and we caught up fine. Nowadays children can already read by the time they start Grade 1 and those who can’t and go to poorly resourced schools will never catch up.
There are different methods and practices we can adopt to better prepare our children, homeschooling an option growing in popularity amongst black families. Below we speak to Shereen Makhanye on her choice to homeschool her two daughters:
1. Please introduce yourself in your own words?
My name is Shereen Makhanye, a Zulu girl from Soweto and Founder of Indie brand Nubian Nature, a manufacturer of natural hair and skincare products that have a positive impact on our health and the environment.
One of my roles in the business is that of Cosmetic Chemist, responsible for the technical science aspect of the business. My formal education is in Information and Communication Technology and I spent most of my career life working in the Telecommunications industry. I’m mother to 2 amazing girls whom we’ve decided to homeschool.
2. The reason we are chatting to you is because you are homeschooling your two kids. What is home schooling and what made you choose what is considered an alternative schooling method?
Homeschooling is education administered at home by a parent or guardian. The parents choose an educational path for their children based on each child’s personality and gifts. In a homeschooling environment the parents are the primary educators and can make use of tutors where there’s a lack in certain skills. Parents include field trips, service work, sports, and other means to add a large variety of learning opportunities and experiences to a child’s education.
Our girls were previously in private schools, and we found they always fought for recognition, academically and otherwise. Also they were at a disadvantage as we had placed them in institutions where whites held positions of power. They were starting to believe that the white opinion matters most and their sense of being , their heritage & Africanness and moral character was being diluted.
Also, we as parents by placing them in these institutions, we felt were unconsciously making them think that in order to make it they needed to be led by white folk. Most importantly being an entrepreneur and having only been exposed to entrepreneurship in my adult years, I felt it imperative to expose the girls to entrepreneurship in their early years to shape them into future leaders, job creators and successful entrepreneurs. Because homeschooling is flexible it allows for ease in entrepreneurship exposure.
3. As parents, we want to ensure our kids have the best start in life through education and nurturing their talents, in your experience, what are the pros and cons with homeschooling?
a). Having the ability to choose curriculums, which suits the girl’s learning style and interest. No one size fits all situation.
b). The girls have developed an independence and discipline in learning, they take ownership of their own education and learning.
c). They learn at their own pace. Areas in which they excel are maximized and accelerated. Where they struggles we place more focus until they really conquer that subject.
d). Their schedules allow them to also concentrate on sports, arts and other interests.
e). They experience real life skills such being physically involved in the running of my business, having confidence to communicate with all age groups, and more.
f). Can be cost effective especially in primary school years as most resources are freely available online.
a). Socialization has been our biggest challenge yet. At some point the girls didn’t have friends. It’s really important to become part of a community of Homeschoolers and that’s helped us greatly keep the social aspect of the girls’ life in somewhat of a balance.
b). Can be expensive depending on curriculum choice
4. Tells us about your kids – their ages, their personalities, the things you remember most about them
We have 2 girls they are 14 & 8 yrs old .
a. Our teen’s in grade 9 preparing for Cambridge IGCSE. She is a Grade 1&2 English, Math & Afrikaans tutor. She’s a planner of note. Has her life planned out to the age of 40. She’s a competitive swimmer and is working to one day earn an Olympic medal. She is planning to study at Oxford University to become a gynecologist, which is why we chose the Cambridge curriculum to best prepare her for Oxford entry.
She’s taken over cooking in our home and I’m super grateful for that. Didn’t expect to take a break from cooking so soon.
b. Our youngest is in grade 2 and is artistic. We chose an eclectic approach for her curriculum, which means we use a mix of curriculums for her learning. We use CAPS as a guideline to assess and measure her progress.
Though good at Math, she wants to be a super star. She sees herself singing on the America’s Got Talent stage one day. We are working on making her the star she wants to be. She gives the best hugs that bring sunshine in any cloudy day.
5. Your oldest was in high school, how did she take to the idea of leaving a traditional schooling environment and studying at home?
She sort of eased into it because her little sister was already being homeschooled. I think she was feeling FOMO. However, the first 2-3 months were a bit of a challenge for her, well for all of us, because she did nothing but read. She was in a process of deschooling. Deschooling is a letting go of the artificial learning parameters set by the school system, a way to help shed the belief that learning has to happen in a certain way.
She understood why we had to go through that process, but being a type-A personality she felt out of control and that frustrated her. She used this time to plan her life, something she wouldn’t have done had she jumped straight into her studies. This is also the time she taught herself how to cook. She spent lots of time with my mom cooking and picking her brain on recipes. This is where most of her growth happened. It was amazing to watch her doing chores without instruction and it’s been that way since. We still can’t get her to do the dishes though.
6. Has home schooling affected their social lives?
The girls only got to socialize when they went for their extra curricular activities. That proved not to be enough. We later found a group 50km away, that we met with on a weekly basis. Though the girls liked the group, they missed playing with children who looked like them.
A post on Brownsense in 2017 asking if there were homeschooling families in the group saved us. From that post a group called Pan African Homeschoolers was formed. The basis of the group is to give our children an African centered homeschooling experience.
It was amazing to see how many black families were homeschooling. Some with teenagers who’ve never set foot in traditional schools. From that group smaller location specific groups were formed to facilitate ease of meeting.
Our local group meets every Wednesday for Library day where the small kids get to choose and read books and the teens get involved in Science Spaza. We also have bi-weekly outings/meeting to go to :
a). Universities to learn subjects such as coding, engineering, robotics, etc
c). Factories such as Dairy, Bread, Sweets
The main group gathers on a quarterly basis to celebrate our Africanness. The children cook African dishes, play indigenous games, sing and play music.
We are doing our best to create a balance between the girls’ school and social lives. We’re not there yet but we’re well on our way there.
7. You run a thriving business manufacturing and retailing natural hair and body products, you are busy, what does a typical day look like?
Our schedule is mostly dependent on my oldest’s schedule. We start with school work at 6am in cold seasons because it’s swimming off-season and in warmer months we start before midday after swimming training. We dedicate 3-4 hours to school work. However recently we’ve adjusted our schedules to start at 10am in order to function according to the body’s natural clock. This process is called the Circadian Rhythm and was suggested by a homeschooling mom in our community. We are wanting to see what kind of impact this will have on the girls’ learning. On days where we have education outings, they catchup on their work in the evening.
Because their school work schedule is pre-planned, I give instruction on the day’s work and leave them to work independently. They know to call me when they get stuck. My work happens in between and continues after their school work. In days where I’m not available for the girls my husband is able to avail himself. Because we’re both entrepreneurs we’re both able to play an active role in the girls’ education.
After their work the spend some time helping in the business before heading off to their extracurricular activities.
7. Advice to parents: What resources should one have to home school their child/dren? For example, what if as a parent I never did maths, what support is there for me?
a). A computer, internet, lots of patience and a community to lean on for support.
b). It is important to be open to your child/children about not knowing because that’s an opportunity to find answers together. So when a parent is not good at a subject they can simply search the internet for answers or seek the services of a tutor. We have tutoring services within our Pan African Homeschooling Community.
8. Advice to other parents: if I want to homeschool my kids, how do I prepare? Do you think it suits certain types of parent personalities?
a). Firstly join a homeschooling group where you can iron out concerns you might have about homeschooling and get other families’ perspectives and experiences on the subject matter.
b). Read books about homeschooling.
c). Seek services of a Homeschooling Consultant who will best prepare you for the journey ahead.
d). Choose a curriculum. You can go with a curriculum provider for a more structured approach under careful consideration.
e). Prepare for a period of deschooling.
f). Any parent can homeschool their child/children irrespective of their personality. It’s important to adjust your personality and be flexible for the sake of your child’s well being. The key is ensuring that you recognize your child’s distinctive learning style and come up with lesson plans that speak to that.