Rings and Things Revisited

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When we went to India on a family vacation almost three years ago, I had purchased a few boxes of child-sized bangles to distribute to H’s friends on Eid. H, who was a toddler at the time, found the boxes when she was investigating my closet one day and the beautifully arranged sets became a collection (read mess) of multicoloured, different sized metal bangles. I decided to hold on to them because I figured I would be able to use them at some point in the future.

NThis week when I was home with Y and trying to get some time to finish vacuuming, I pulled out the bangles for him. He started exploring them.

 

And then, toddler that he is, he started squeezing the metal bangles between his little fists.

 

I didn’t want to reshape all the bangles, so I decided to get him the paper towel holder I had given him to play with last year when he was eight or nine months old. You can read about his past experience playing with rings here.

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It was intriguing to see how skilled Y has become. Now a toddler, Y was able to manipulate thin, small bangles and get them on and off the holder without help. Last year, he was only able to move big rings back and forth.

 

I was curious to see how long Y would keep at this. I extended his play by showing him how to take turns: I added some and waited him to add some. Then, as I expected, he started removing bangles and eventually picked up the holder and moved it around the room, complicating his series of actions. He would add a bangle, pick up the holder set it on the edge of the bed, move the bangles up and down and then bring it back to the floor and repeat the sequence. Toddlers are famous for their desire to transport things.

 

*Mind the chaos on the bed. In my house, the price of having a clean floor is to have a disastrous bed. But check out those vacuum lines.

The next day I added another piece of “equipment.” I have a rotating spice rack in his room that we use with loose parts from time to time. I was showing him how to hang bangles on the various hooks- it reminded me of tree decorating. But Y, found his own way to play with it. He would add the bangles to the top rack and then push them through the gaps until they would fall to the bottom. The sound of such delicate metal on thicker metal was making the most beautiful sound, like windchimes.

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Giving him these two seemingly random things to play with allowed him to investigate and problem solve while working on fine motor and gross motor skills. And I finished vacuuming.

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LabbaykAllah humma Labbayk: A Hajj Story Program

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Just over a month ago, millions of Muslims took to Mecca to carry out the pilgrimage that’s been going on in some way or another for thousands and thousands of years.

As someone with no firsthand knowledge of visiting Mecca, I knew I needed to learn about it and inshallah educate H in the process.

I was fortunate enough to work with ICNA Relief- Calgary’s Little Muslim’s Library to bring to life a story program for children aged 4-8 to learn about Hajj; the history, the rites and the significance of this glorious journey.

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In preparing for this session, I learned much more than I anticipated and something was awakened in my heart. It was also a great opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with H. She was so excited to do something together without Y. She actually wanted to help with the storytelling (inshallah she will have the chance to in the future) and went as far as insisting we wear our matching outfits.

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Because of time and logistical constraints, I was only able to consult resources I already had at home, including a handbook from the popular Weekend Ilm Intensive classes from a course I attended in the past. However, I did come across cool and innovative things I hope to use in the future, including Hajj-themed image files that can be purchased and downloaded online.

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And with the intention of benefitting as many people as possible (I know that many people are trying to start children’s programs in their own communities), here’s what I did:

Duration of program– The program was advertised as a 2-hour program. Even though I knew it would not take this long, I wanted to factor in for lateness and for the children to have a chance to work at their own pace and socialize with each other. I knew that for children like my daughter, this was a rare opportunity to be in a traditionally Islamic space and among this many other Muslim children.

Age of participants and maximum capacity– I was intentional about the age of participants and the limit of how many children we would accept based on past experiences and my own need for calm. The program was designed to be an unparented experience for children between the ages of 4-8 however if younger siblings were attending, a parent had to stay and supervise them. I wanted between 12-15 children so we accepted 20 because there are always last minute cancellations. This approach worked out as we had 12 children that fell into that age range, one toddler and two 9-year old volunteers. Had the program been designed for younger children, it would have been structured differently and would definitely have been shorter.

Format of program– From my experience working with children (and people in general), I know that it’s important to appeal to various learning styles. I make it a point in my story programs to not just read a book, but instead appeal to children’s visual, auditory and bodily senses. That means that in my programs, there is a good chance that children will listen, speak, chant or sing as well as move around. I also like to include opportunities for creative expression when possible.

Room set-up – The room was divided into informal areas that supported the order of the program. There was a sign-in table outside where children received a name tag and parents communicated important information (including allergies). This space was in the same area as the actual little library, piquing the children’s interest.

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Once the children entered, they were invited to pick from a variety of pre-printed activity pages that were clearly displayed at one end of the room. The children took their pages and sat at one of the three tables that were set up with chairs and colouring utensils. This gave the children something to do while we waited for everyone to arrive. The space in the middle was left open to allow for movement and an allocated space for a more intimate experience during the actual storytelling.

 

Volunteers– Even before our program formally started, I could hear the children sharing knowledge with each other as they made new friends. The addition of the two 9-year old volunteers turned out to be a great symbiotic relationship. The younger children had less-intimidating people they could connect with and look up to. It also allowed the 9-year-olds to review their own knowledge and develop their leadership abilities as well as help their self-esteem by feeling valued. The sister volunteer from ICNA Relief Calgary not only helped me organize the program, but she set up the room, took care of the registration and lead the craft. She was also on standby in case I needed an extra pair of adult hands (a few parents stayed for the program and they were able to help too).

Delivery of the program– I formally started the program by inviting everyone to sit with me. I introduced myself and invited the children to share any thoughts or ideas they had before I began our first story. I was pleased to see that H shared something that she didn’t know earn from me, but from one of the volunteers just moments before.

The first story was told orally and was essentially based on the life of Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him. I wanted the children to have a point of reference for the different rites of Hajj when we learned about them later in the program. In retelling the story, I emphasized certain aspects like how special it was that God had taken Abraham for a friend, and I had been more cautious about the idea of sacrifice, making sure to avoid words like “kill”. It’s always a challenge to present complex ideas to young, impressionable minds that are still developing and prone to fear. I didn’t go into specifics and was mindful of the direction that the volunteers may take the discussion so I did not call on them during this sensitive time.

The second story was one that I had created to introduce children to the different aspects/steps of Hajj. It was framed around a young girl who’s parents would be making the Hajj pilgrimage, her feelings about missing them and what her parents would be doing while they were gone.

I wanted this story to have visual aids and told it in an interactive style. I found images that fit the story and printed and laminated them before sticking magnets on the back. I used a dry erase marker (and big magnetic white board) to tell the story, using the marker to show the physical path that the pilgrims took and accentuating ideas like going around the Kaaba seven times (I circled the picture on the whiteboard seven times, inviting children to count out loud with me). The children also joined me at points throughout to recite the talbiyah (the prayer often made during the Hajj).

This story gave the children a pretty good overview about the steps of Hajj. To review the steps (and to get up and move around) we sang a song called “We will all go to Mecca on the Hajj” to the tune of “She’ll be Coming around the Mountain”. This is a song I found floating around online (you can find it on google), but added lyrics and amended some of the existing ones to better suit my purposes (to better match the story and so the children could learn the Arabic names of the different parts of Hajj). We added actions to all of the parts of the song. The younger children really seemed to enjoy this part of the program.

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While the children were standing, we demonstrated how to wrap an ihram.

We then talked about how Hajj is not an easy journey and how it takes a lot of planning and a sincere intention. We read a beautiful book called Yan’s Hajj: The Journey of a Lifetime by Fawzia Gilani. This book makes me tear up every time I read it. I had actually pre-ordered it from Amazon in the spring.

The next step involved the lovely volunteer from ICNA who gave children bookmarks to decorate however they chose. She laminated the bookmarks for the children to take home with them. Once the children finished, they were free to continue colouring their pages, browse the books or re-enact the stories.

On their way out, children were given a snack. It was a bag of popcorn decorated like a sheep. I had come across this cute DIY idea a few years ago and had added it to my daughter and niece’s Eid al Adha gift basket. I thought it would be a simple, nice thing to send the kids home with.

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All in all, the program felt like it was a success. We received good feedback from the kids and parents. I know I saw the themes from the program continuing in my daughter’s own play in the weeks to come.

For example, my daughter and niece were playing in their grandparent’s backyard. It has an open gutter running through it so that rainwater can drain. They were running back and forth counting out loud, pretending they were doing the sa’ee and that the water from the gutter was the spring of zam zam. I also heard them singing bits and pieces of the song and asking to play with the story magnets.

A big thank you to ICNA Relief Calgary who has been supportive of the various initiatives I have approached them with. I was so impressed by how well organized the program was- they put so much effort into the registration process, setting up the room perfectly and creating the props I envisioned (sourcing the ihram, creating the Kaaba and prepping activity pages was all them!)

I look forward to doing more story times sessions throughout the course of the year.

 

A loose parts kind of morning – toddler edition

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This has been one of those weeks when nothing has gone as planned. The kids have been sick, no one has gotten a decent  stretch of sleep, our dishwasher and laundry machine are out of commission and it’s hitting me that H is going to be on her way to school in a few short weeks.

All that being said, it’s been a lazy day lounging around the house (finally!) This morning, I saw Y play with all sorts of toddler-friendly loose parts. It’s exciting for me to see him sit for longer and longer periods of time as he manipulates things more intentionally and brings back fond memories of H at this age.

Some of the loose parts related play he was doing this morning:

He was feeling the heaviness of rocks and how this affects the way they fall, adding to his understanding of gravity.

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He was placing balls into cups.

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He was fitting rocks and small animal figurines into an old wet wipes container.

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He was filling items into an old egg carton.

He was hiding and finding rocks.

He was playing with hair curlers.

It’s also been interesting to see how he interacts differently with the same materials he has played with earlier.

Here he is interested in nesting these hair curlers and marvelling at the sound they make when he pulls and pushes one out of another.

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Earlier, he was fascinated by how they would roll.

He’s always been drawn to H’s collection of (small-sized) loose parts. Now that he’s over the “everything must go in my mouth as soon as I see it” phase,  I have started to feel comfortable letting him play with glass pebbles and beads. I know he will try to stick them in his mouth when he gets bored or is teething but soon, I suspect I will be able to give him dedicated times to this.

 

Summer Overview

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Summer so far, has been lovely! My lack of blogging is testament to this. I’ve been trying to be more mindful of living in the moment, and so have been leaving my phone out of reach. Even so, I still managed to get photos of some of the experiences we have been having. .

Our days have been filled with enjoying the lovely variety of weather Calgary offers- hot sunny days spent at spray parks and by the water, stormy days playing in the rain and jumping in muddy puddles, early mornings visiting neighbourhood parks and quiet moments observing birds and bugs.

 

We’ve interacted with animals, learning about how to care for them, and how to use gentle hands. I’ve discovered how much Y loves animals as he insists on petting every dog that we pass. Encounters with ants, spiders, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, various types of birds and dogs, chickens, bunnies, voles, donkeys, deer, fish and so forth, have
opened our eyes and ears to new things.

 

Appreciating time together outdoors, as we benefit from the various opportunities our city has to offer: performances, festivals, and adventure playgrounds or just spending time in the mountains or on the river.

We have had messes and pieces galore.

And impromptu moments of culinary inspiration.

What a beautiful summer this is shaping up to be, alhamdulillah.

For the love of literacy: DIY gift idea for young children

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Over the course of this year, I have been observing how H and her same-aged cousin’s interest in literacy has been developing. There came a time, that whenever I saw my niece, she would be holding a pen and some sort of notepad or notebook, writing down “important” things. Like many children, she would draw squiggly lines to represent the words she wished to capture. As she got older, the squiggles started resembling letters and numbers.

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H’s writing development followed much the same path. She started by learning how to spell her name, and then moved onto “MAMA”, “PAPA,” her cousin’s name, her brother’s name and “RAMADAN.” Since I don’t believe in just making her memorize a list of pre-written words, I left her to her own devices (although one time, I did show her how to spell CAT and how that word can change into so many other words by replacing the first letter). Soon I found H copying the titles of her books and copying other things I had written. She eventually started asking me how to spell specific words and would often add written details to her pictures. She even decided to make her own hopscotch and write numbers.

To foster the girls’ interest in writing, I decided to create letter-writing kits so they could play and practice their letters before they headed to kindergarten in the fall.

To make these inexpensive kits, I included various types of paper and notepads, pencils with eraser toppers, a special pen, a sharpener, various types of envelopes, cards and some printables that would allow them to design their own postcards and stamps. I made up a custom wordlist with words that I thought would be personally relevant to H and her cousin and included a tin mailbox.

I had purchased H’s mailbox at a garage sale for 50 cents a few years ago- It’s been living among her dress-up costumes since. I found similar smaller ones at Target during Valentine’s Day when it was briefly open in Canada circa 2014. Since I genuinely enjoy gift giving and love DIY gifts, I bought a few and put them aside for the day I could make this gift idea a reality. I put the items together in a nice sturdy box (in case you haven’t been able to tell, I love re-purposing things. This red box was originally home to either a pair of gloves or a scarf and hat set). All of a sudden, I had a flashback to my childhood and remembered the book, The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters in which a postman has mixed up the mail for the residents (all fairy tale characters). The coolest part of the book is that it contains actual letters, cards and postcards that can be removed (the pages are bound together like envelopes). I remembered what joy that book had brought me- not only was it creatively bound, but in elementary school, I entered a writing contest based on the book at my school library and won a prize. I quickly ordered the book and included it with the writing kit.

I gave my niece the letter writing kit as part of her Eid gift along with a personal letter from me.  What followed was an exchange of mail between us. I could not believe how much time she must have spent writing and copying words and trying to express her ideas. It’s been so nice writing back and forth with her- a bond that I hope we can continue to develop as she starts school.

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I gave H the gift later in the summer and she got to work, drawing pictures mostly, and making cards and postcards. She seemed to care less about making letters and cards for actual people and instead used them as props in her play about mail delivery. In fact, she did create a postcard for her cousin but ended up keeping it so that she could play with it instead.

H made lots of pieces of mail (she also asked me to create some) and filled them in her mailbox. She then arranged her stuffed animals through the room and went on her rounds, delivering the mail to them. She turned one of Y’s ride-on cars into her mail delivery van.

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During the days her postal work play was unfolding, she received a special piece of mail, all the way from New Zealand! Prior to Ramadan, I had connected with some moms from different places with the hopes that our children could share their Ramadan experiences and traditions with each other.  Given H’s interest in different places (as blogged about here) I thought this would be a good connection. What arrived was a letter from a 4 year old boy about his Ramadan experience in New Zealand alongside a magnet with a map of New Zealand and stickers of the kiwi bird- what a treat! We are working on writing back to our new friend.

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Along with reading the Jolly Postman book (seriously, check this out if you haven’t heard of it before), we also read these books. H really enjoyed the fictional world of Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds and was intrigued by the real information presented in La Poste, a book from France that explains the postal system via the story of a girl who sends mail to her relatives in Nice, France and Quebec, Canada. Even if you don’t speak French, this book provides great pictures that visually demonstrate how mail is collected, sorted and delivered. It even shows historic methods and reasons for mail delivery. I was able to make a cool connection to Islamic history for H by telling her the story of letters that were sent (including the one to King Negus of Abyssinia, or modern day Ethiopia) and the importance of seals.

A few weeks later she drew this picture of two postal workers who are gasping because it started snowing while they were in their rounds.

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Both the kids love watching our mail being delivered (to a community mailbox) but I don’t think either have them have actually been to the post office with me. I suspect when we go to mail our letter to our friend in New Zealand, it will be a good field trip for H.

Ramadan 2018: Post #9- No-cook Ramadan Neighbour Gifts

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As the years pass, and I learn more and more about myself, I’ve come to understand that one of the things that makes me feel most like me, is connecting with others. I crave connection and community and I’m happy that over the years, Ramadan has become a time that allows me to feed those needs.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve also come to understand that gift-giving is one of my love languages and giving people gifts makes me happy.

Originally, I was hoping to cook/bake something with H and share it with our neighbours but the logistics involved with that while meeting the needs of a busy young toddler seemed daunting. Instead, I opted for purchasing something that I hoped would be meaningful.

I had similar intentions last year but opted for making these DIY soup jars.

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I love supporting small-businesses and local businesses, and really respect people who pursue their entrepreneurial dreams without waiting around for someone else to help them.  So this year, I was happy to think up something that could foster the intersection of these three areas.

I decided I wanted to share gifts with our neighbours, teachers and some of our non-Muslim friends and co-workers this Ramadan, not only as a way to share some information, but to sincerely show appreciation for the beautiful people that have become my village. Our family sat down together and we figured out that we needed to make 23 gifts.

I decided to include products from two Canadian-based businesses that were founded by Syrian refugees. The first was Alberta-based Aleppo Savon (who I blogged about here) and the second was Nova Scotia-based Peace by ChocolateI was intrigued by their stories and really admired their courage and contribution to Canadian society.

H and I went to the Aleppo Savon soap factory in person and bought a variety of scented soaps. I knew we would be wrapping them individually. As for the chocolate, ultimately, I decided on ordering the chocolate bars because of their clever marketing! The bars have labels that say “Peace” in various languages and include a pronunciation guide and the name of the language. Plus, there was free shipping on orders over $100!

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We did end up ordering a box of mixed chocolate for ourselves.

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H helped me decide who would receive which soap flavour and chocolate bar. She helped me punch holes in the bags, and glue on the beautiful labels that we downloaded for free from Sweet Fajr. She helped me measure and cut the twine to wrap the soaps and tie off the bags.

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Along with the soap and chocolate, we included some information about the businesses and their stories. The staff at these organizations were very open and helpful and provided us with the information in PDF versions (Aleppo Savon Story (1)   PbC Story). We also had a handout explaining Ramadan, which we modified for our purposes, from Waafia. Here is the direct link to their notecards. The header was also taken from Sweet Fajr and altered to better fit the space.

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H was very excited to distribute the gifts to her neighbours, teachers and coaches, aunties and uncles and even the mailman!

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I was excited about how this year’s gift came together- I drew on so many different people and their skills to make it possible and that reinforced the idea of community for me. If you have a moment, please check out their websites (I’ve linked them where applicable).

I wonder what we will come up with next year…

Ramadan 2018: Post 8 – Factory Field Trip

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Last weekend, I took H to the industrial part of the city so we could finally go visit Aleppo Savon, a local soap factory committed to making natural handmade soaps.

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It was established last year by a fourth-generation Syrian soap maker who had come to Canada as a refugee. Along with two of his friends (one of who was also a Syrian refugee) he established Aleppo Savon. I will explain how this ties into Ramadan in a future post.

It was a quiet Sunday morning, and when we got to the soap factory, we had the chance to look around.

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In addition to a variety of soap, the shop also carries oils, and some foodstuff.

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H quickly started walking around to smell the different soaps. She decided the white ones (jasmine) were her favourite.

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We marveled at the way they were displayed before we were joined by Walid, one of the owners and soap makers at Aleppo Savon.

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He explained that the soaps were stacked the way they were to allow for air circulation- they take 6 months to dry before they’re ready!

He showed us what the famous laurel oil soaps look like when they’re ready. It was so cool to see how much the colour changes.

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He picked up on our fascination and showed us what they look like on the inside.

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He was very kind and obliged when we asked him if we could see where the magic happens. He took us on a tour and explained the various parts of the soap making process.

We saw where the soap is cooked and got to test the famous laurel oil.

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We saw how the soap is solidified (set in wooden crates) and cut into bars.

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We saw how the soap is stamped (this was H’s favourite part!)

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And we saw where the soap is packaged.

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We even got some lavender soap to take home to try.

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The soap we purchased smells amazing. With only natural ingredients, it is a beautiful way to stay clean and a great alternative to other soaps, shampoo and shaving cream.

This was a wonderful opportunity for H (and myself!) to see how something is manufactured, not to mention, an easy way to support a local small business started by a group that is very close to our hearts. All of the staff I’ve interacted with are friendly and humble and I wish them nothing but the best in their venture as they contribute to the Canadian economy and to Canadian society.

I loved seeing how engaged H was during our visit- how she was able to use her different senses to interact with this product. She asked questions, gave input and felt important as she was taken on a personal tour. One of the best parts for me happened after the actual visit.  Later that evening while H was playing with her blocks, she turned to me and said “These as my soap towers.”

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