Journaling the Journey

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Journaling can be a very meaningful and practical routine. Some people journal regularly and it is easy for them to fill pages upon pages with their thoughts and reflections. For others, it is extremely difficult or doesn’t seem to hold much value.

I believe that part of the hesitation for people to journal comes from a misinformed idea of what journaling entails. Journaling, as I see it, is to document experiences and then reflect on them. Experiences can be recorded with illustrations, photos, tangible objects and words of course.

Ramadan is a wonderful time to journal, even if someone only does it for the 30 days. It can be especially valuable for children since it can help promote emotional health, literacy skills and knowledge of self. It can also serve other purposes, such as second language acquisition if your child chooses to journal in a second language, or interpersonal skills if they share their experiences with others. Children can start to keep a Ramadan Journal from the time they are 3 years old. You can also keep a Family Ramadan Journal (more on that below).

How to start:

1. Find/buy/reuse/make a book. It can be as simple as using an exercise workbook, buying a special journal from a bookstore or taking a pile of loose paper and stapling it together. Children can decorate their journals if they wish. Some ideas are to use wrapping paper, stickers or paint squeezed out of tubes to make designs reminiscent of henna. Again, do what works for your situation. I would recommend that the book has at least 30 pages. Also consider the value of blank (unlined) pages.

*Note: The journal does not need to take form of a traditional book. A scrapbook, sketch pad or even a private online blog account for the more tech-savvy out there serves the same purpose!

journals 1

Some things I repurposed to make Ramadan Journals: loose sheets of paper, an exercise notebook, a duotang and an old store-bought journal.

After repurposing the above materials. Items used: doily, marker, stickers, beads, foam, paint, cookie cutter, scrapbook paper, aluminum foil, construction paper, gel pen.

After repurposing the above materials. Items used: doily, marker, stickers, beads, foam, paint, cookie cutter, scrapbook paper, aluminum foil, construction paper, gel pen.

2. Depending on the development and abilities of your child, you may choose to include headings or prompts on each page. It could be as simple as putting down the date (ex. Thursday, June 18, 2015: Day 1) or you could form specific questions (ex. What was the most challenging part of my day?) Alternatively, you may wish to include a list of GUIDING questions on the inside cover. Children can refer to this list if they feel stuck. Otherwise, if they already know what they want to journal about, take a backseat.

3. Talk to your child about expectations: why do you want them to engage in this practice? Does this sound like something they even want to do? Is there a minimum or maximum amount of space that needs to be filled (ideally not!) Is this something the child wants the parents to be involved in? Maybe an older sibling?

Tips for Success

– Journaling does NOT have to happen in words. Especially for younger children, give them a box of crayons and step back. Allow them to document experiences and then ask them what is happening in their picture. If your child agrees, you can write a brief sentence right on the page, capturing what they have said (this will be beneficial in the years to come for them to see how their concepts/understandings/experience of Ramadan has changed and evolved).

– As children grow, the content of what they journal about will change. For example, a four year old might journal EVERYDAY about what he ate at iftaar. A seven year old may express she enjoys going to the masjid because she gets to play with her friends. A 16 year old (assuming she is willing to share with you) may express doubts about the wisdom behind having to keep an 18 hour fast while she is studying for exams. There is no right or wrong way to journal. This is merely a tool for us to record our experience so that we can more meaningfully reflect on Ramadan and our relationship with Allah inshaAllah.

– As a parent, understand that the journal is a SAFE place. In theory, it is meant only for the child’s consumption and the child should feel free to write and reflect, question, make connections and plan without the fear of being punished, ostracized or having to defend himself. Respecting privacy is a part of our way of life. Unless there are safety concerns, we should demonstrate trust.

– Like most consistent habits, journaling will work best if your child identifies a consistent time of day when they will journal (ex. Every night before bed, every morning after fajr, each day sitting at the kitchen table while parents prep iftaar etc.)

In terms of a Family Ramadan Journal, you may choose to create one space together as a family. It might be a blackboard/corkboard where members can come display thoughts and reflections as relevant or you may choose to do a scrapbook style book whereby everyone collects their thoughts separately and comes together to collaborate. Another option is for everyone to take photos of their experiences through the month and put them together for a family slide show that can be enjoyed together on Eid.

Examples of Guiding Questions

  • What was the best part of today?
  • What was something I found challenging today?
  • What is an ongoing struggle for me? Why is it so hard?
  • What is something I did well today? Why did I do it?
  • What is something I would like to improve on before next Ramadan? What will I do to improve?
  • Today, I ready the following ayaat _______ and here’s what I thought.
  • Today, I learning the following du’a(s) _________. I chose to learn them because _________________
  • Today, I gave charity by __________________.
  • Today, I benefited my hereafter by ___________________.
  • Today, I benefited the ummah/the world by _____________.

*Note: You can definitely use the journal for deep reflection, but you can also use it as a place to track progress with regards to specific practices. This may make it more relevant to the busy ones among us.

Wishing you all a beautiful and beneficial Ramadan.

– Madiha

Thank you!

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Just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who came out to the first Story Circle Time ❤ The children had lots to share and were so well-mannered, mashaAllah! We had 30+ people by the time everyone was settled.

Discovery Dome's first official story circle program.

Discovery Dome’s first official story circle program.

My takeaway from the session was sparked by something a little girl said in response to the question “What do we do when guests come to visit?”

“We greet them,” she said. Our guest here is Ramadan and now its time to greet her in the most warm and welcoming way. Let’s invite her into our homes and hearts and prepare ourselves to be transformed inshaAllah.

30 Days of…

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Ramadan is either 29 or 30 days long depending on the moon. Doing something consistently for 30 days can go a long way towards building a habit.

I’ve been toying with the idea of a Ramadan Calendar for our family. Some people see this as a countdown to Eid and start their calendar backwards (30, 29, 28…) but for us, Eid is just the icing on the cake. Ramadan is remarkable on its own.

Ramadan Calendars can take many forms and have many purposes. Often, it has one place dedicated to each day of Ramadan (30 days). Of course, there’s a typical large chart with pockets, but one can also fashion a “calendar” out of balloons or baby food jars for example. It depends on what will work well with the ages of children in your families as well as how much time and creative talent you (and your children) have.

As for the purpose of the Ramadan Calendar, it works just as any calendar does; it visually signals the passing of a day. In some families, it is used to make Ramadan more fun and each day has a goodie for the child – candy, stickers, little toys and so on. In other families, there may be 30 acts of kindness (30 different nice things that the child will complete during the month). The calendar could also be learning learning-based and may contain 30 different provocations related to the Quran and Sunnah, that the children can study together as a family, and ideally present what they have learned at iftaar time.

For our family, I’ve decided to do create a simple calendar, one with small pockets that can be accessed by little hands, and one that is durable enough to be used for a few more Ramadans and other activities I may choose to use it for. In terms of content, our calendar will have a variety of things to promote learning and action in different domains. These activities are geared towards my 18 month old and where she is at in her development, but please modify the content based on the interests, abilities, and needs of your own children and family. You can also leave requests for specific ideas in the comments section.

ramadan calendar logo

Some of the items in H’s calendar (H stands for my daughter):

  •  Date – Since she will be asleep during sahoor (3:45 am) at iftaar (10:00 pm), she can contribute to our fasting by counting out dates and leaving them in a bowl for us to enjoy. InshaAllah this will be an ongoing task for her to practice during Ramadan.
  • Toy Camel Figurine – Lately, she has been getting very excited by camels. H used to think that camels were horses, but since her phopoo (aunt) explained to her that camels have humps, she’s been pointing them out. I will tell her the story of how the first mosque in Madina was established (it was the place where the Prophet peace be upon him’s camel decided to rest after his migration to Madina)
  •  Flower – we will bring some flowers for our new neighbours since H is always very eager to visit “Auntie” and “Onko”
  • Plastic Banana – I will let H slice a banana with a plastic knife and help me make a fruit salad or banana milkshake for iftaar
  • Mirror – We will learn the du’a to be recited when one looks in the mirror since this is something she really enjoys doing these days (*I do not expect her to recite the du’a yet but she will become familiar with it by hearing it repeated and in the process, I will also learn it and start reciting it insha’Allah)
  • “Alhamdulillah I have good adaab” badge – We are working on saying “please” and “thank you”. I will use this badge to reinforce those behaviours. *This badge along with others are available for sale through Discovery Dome.
  • Small fork – H loves to help me unload the dishwasher. On this day, I will make an explicit connection for her (“Mommy feels happy when you help her. Allah feels happy when you help people too. Thank you H. I love you.”)
  • While H is too young now, I look forward to the day when we have a bigger family and come up with content for the calendar together. Then, we can check the pocket in the morning at sahoor, and “report back” to the family before iftaar.

Some Tips for Success

  • Think about why you want to create this calendar: is it the process of actually spending time making it together, the activities/rewards within the calendar, using it as a decoration or maybe a combination of the above? This rationale will help you decide how to divide your time and what calendar type best suits your needs.
  • Plan first: Before you start physically putting your calendar together, put together a list of what you want it to include.
  • Set a budget: You can be as frugal or as lavish as you’d like to create this calendar. To give you an idea, I used a foam board from the dollar store ($1.25) because it is thicker than Bristol board and felt sheets (also from the dollar store) to create simple pockets that I hot glued to the board. Some of the content for the calendar was purchased while other things were repurposed from what we already have.
  • Let the children take charge: let them help decorate and even generate content (especially if you have multiple children), unless of course you are planning on surprising them with the calendar.
  • Use it to bring the family together: Pick a consistent time each day to visit the calendar and invite discussion and ideas. As I mentioned earlier, in the future (when my children are old enough to fast), I will have it set up at sahoor and so if the content for that day is “Do something kind for a neighbour”, each person in the family will be responsible for doing something individually, and we will share what we did at iftaar time. Similarly, if the topic is “what is an ayah from the Quran that you connected with today?” there can be sharing and discussion around this between Asr and Maghrib.
  • Remember that YOU have the most to benefit: While it may seem time-consuming or even frivolous, by taking time out of your busy life to think ahead and prepare a Ramadan calendar, you will directly benefit in the following ways:
  1. As you research what to include, you will also learn.
  2. Any good habits or manners that are formed by your children as a result of learning done through this process will be attributed back to you and be a source of sadaqah jaariyah.
  3. The time that you spend with your family while preparing/participating in this will inshaAllah benefit your social, emotional and mental health.

Encouraging Du’a in Ramadan

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Making du’a is an intimate experience that when engaged in regularly, profoundly connects us to Our Creator.

It is extremely empowering and humbling to know that in the Quran, Allah says,

“And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near (to them by My Knowledge). I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me (without any mediator or intercessor). So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright.” (Surah Baqarah Verse 186)

Ramadan presents many opportunities where our du’as are readily accepted by Allah. The best way to prepare for these special times is to know what we want to pray for and then be reminded to pray for those things.

For some, a written list suffices. We may write in on a scrap of paper, or organize our thoughts in a special notebook. For others, simply relying on our memory is good enough.

When we want to encourage our children to increase their commitment to making du’a during Ramadan, we must remember that their age and learning style will contribute to how best they can be reminded.

The Visual Learner

Some children (and adults) are best triggered by looking at things, especially images. If your child is visually prompted, you can ask them to make a book with pictures of the various things they want to make du’a for during Ramadan. Each day, as they flip through the book, they can make du’a for the item on the page. The pictures can be hand-drawn, or in the case of young children, having photographs is particularly helpful.

The books can be made at home by binding loose sheets of paper together, or your child can use a blank journal and draw pictures inside. If you are using photos, an inexpensive photo album from the dollar store will also work quite well.

This notebook is available for sale through Discovery Dome.

This notebook is available for sale through Discovery Dome.

If your child is old enough to understand the concept of collaging, making a Du’a Board that they can hang in their room will also work well. Here, all of the things they want to pray for are represented on one large sheet. Children can use a bristol board to paste images, words and objects, or they can pin these things to a bulletin board or use magnets to stick them to a white board.

A Du'a Board I've made for myself; just putting it together was a reflective process.

A Du’a Board I’ve made for myself; just putting it together was a reflective process.

Essentially, look at what you already have and make it work for you!

The Sensory Learner:

Some children (especially children under the age of three and those with certain developmental delays) like to touch and feel things. For them to take in information and meaningfully make sense of their world, they must be able to manipulate things. In this case, a Prayer Pail (or Du’a Bucket)  would work well!

To make a Du’a Bucket, use a small bucket, mug or container and fill it with things that you/your child want to remember to pray for. They can decorate the bucket if they wish. Children who can read may do well by writing the names of items on popsicle sticks. Other children may do better with little images being posted on popsicle sticks.

A Du'a Bucket for my 18 month old. It includes faces of relatives, parts of the body and some of her favourite foods.

A Du’a Bucket for my 18 month old. It includes faces of relatives, parts of the body and some of her favourite foods.

Instead of popsicle sticks, you can use rocks, glass beads, bottle caps or anything else that you find around your home. You can also use a mix of items, such as photographs of family members, or little toys to represent house, school, and so forth.

Please remember to keep the concept of du’a age appropriate. Start your children young. If a child understands the concept of “Thank You”, as do most toddlers, make an effort to make du’a with them daily with the simple concept, “Thank you Allah for_____”.

With my 18 month old, it’s a very simple process, that usually looks like this:

“Thank you Allah for Mama, Papa, Dada, Phopoo…”

“Thank you Allah for my eyes, ears, nose, fingers….”

“Thank you Allah for our home, food, toys, bed…”

(Yes, I also use this time to review other concepts, such as body parts, with my child).

With older children, introduce concepts like praising Allah (with His beautiful names), and asking for forgiveness. Explain to your children that du’a is a beautiful, private conversation between them and their Lord. They can ask for anything of benefit, and their first starting point when asking for anything, should be with Allah, even before asking their own parents.

If your child is old enough to prepare their du’as on their own, respect their privacy, however, if they are willing to share with you, I highly encourage you to take them up on the offer – it can be an incredibly emotional experience to know what your child prioritizes and wishes for.

I hope that you and your families are able to make more du’a this Ramadan. If this post was of benefit, please remember me and my family in your prayers.