Ramadan 2016 – Post #3: Spreading Cheer

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This was the first year that many newly arrived Syrian refugees were going to be observing Ramadan in Canada, their new home. While I can’t imagine that the past few Ramadans have been particularly cheerful, I did want to do something with my daughter to help welcome this beautiful month and make it special for our new friends.

Through the wonderful and dedicated individuals that make this city so great, I came to know about a Syrian family who didn’t live too far from us at the time. While I knew of them and had even been in their home before, I still had not had the opportunity to meet them in person. This seemed like as good of a time as any.

I made a simple Ramadan Mubarak platter with cake, appetizers and cookies and added some cute pinbacks for the children. I wrapped it up and my daughter and I went for a brief visit (this was one of the activity cards I made for her calendar). She was super excited to carry and present the lantern to the very friendly children. They hung up the lantern right away. The family seemed genuinely appreciative of our gesture, even though what they were really in need of were regular and sustained friendships.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I like to bring my daughter with me when we are dropping off food to friends and family. I want her to understand what it means to be part of a community. I want feeding others to be a natural instinct for her. I want to give her the opportunity to live her faith.

It’s easy to give and share when you are blessed with so much. The hope is to build up these characteristics so that even when times are tough, we are able to have enough tawakkul (trust and reliance in God), to continue giving and sharing.

 

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Ramadan 2016 – Post #2: Setting up a Calendar

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Having a daily calendar to accompany the passing of the month can be an easy way to be more intentional and make Ramadan a more engaging time for young ones. For more information on the purpose of a Ramadan Calendar as well as different formats, please refer to this post.

Last Ramadan was the first time I toyed with the idea of a Ramadan Calendar. I built the frame (which I plan on reusing in the years to come and for other purposes as well!) but I was a little bit stuck with filling up 30 days worth of things for my then 18 month old. This year,  I found it much easier to come up with content. Not only was my daughter older, but I also started thinking about what I wanted her to get out of Ramadan before the holy month began. And while this was a step up from last year, I still found myself tempted to use a commercial sticker calendar because I was not sure I would have this ready in time. In all honesty, it didn’t quite come together until the second week of Ramadan.

I wanted the content of the calendar to be meaningful for my daughter so I thought that focusing on social welfare and community was an appropriate big idea. Alhamdulillah we had the opportunity to serve various segments of our community- some of these ideas will be expanded on in future posts as the calendar really was the inspiration behind what I did with my daughter this Ramadan.

To make the calendar more user-friendly (i.e. engaging and functional for a 2.5 year old) I drew little illustrations on one side with words on the other to promote literacy skills. For children who do not read yet, including pictures on labels helps them independently derive meaning and also helps to make and reinforce relationships. If you are not an artist (or you are a perfectionist) including clip art photos works too!

While we didn’t remember to check the calendar each day (it wasn’t as much a part of our daily routine as I would have liked), and we weren’t able to do all 30 things included in the calendar, I know that the difficult part (creating a template) is over. Some of these ideas can be reused for next year and some new ones will be added. I have complete faith that this calendar will be even more beneficial to our family next year, God Willing.

 

Ramadan 2016 – Post #1: Welcoming Ramadan

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It’s been a few months since the end of Ramadan, and I finally have some time to post about our experience this year. My daughter was 2.5 years old this Ramadan, and the next series of posts will cover what we did this year. Please use the “Ramadan” tag to find previous posts about Ramadan. I hope these posts are inspiring and practical.

The night before Ramadan started, we decorated our house. It was pretty simple (my husband does not like commercialism and fought me on having a banner…he won, this year, anyway).The minor change in decor definitely contributed to the excitement. I wanted to tangibly signify to my daughter that there was something different about this time.

We made paper lanterns using previously painted pages of paper (I often hang onto her art and re-purpose it) and by decorating new sheets of coloured paper with markers and stickers. My daughter takes a lot of pride in her lanterns, constantly making comments like “I made the yellow one and Momma made the green one.”

We hung these lanterns on a long horizontal string in our downstairs bay window and actually modified our string of lanterns at the end of the month and re-used them for Eid. We also added some curled ribbons to this lantern (sold by Discovery Dome) and hung it in our entrance. Other interesting additions to the lantern could include loose parts like beads, straws, feathers, chimes, and nuts and bolts.

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Again, pulling on the ribbons allowed my daughter to further explore concepts of “springiness” i.e. basic physics

As we decorated, I spoke to her about Ramadan and we listened to some Ramadan Nasheeds, our favourite is “We’ve Scanned the Sky” by Dawud Wharnsby Ali.

We read the book “Welcome Ramadan,” even though I’m not a huge fan of this book, it spoke to some of the differences that accompany this month. You can read a past review I’ve written about the book here.

I showed my daughter the calendar (which I will post about next) and explained how it would work.

As the years pass, I hope to have some more philosophical exchanges about the value and opportunity that is Ramadan. If you have older children, please refer to last year’s posts on Ramadan as they were written for a more general audience and include deeper content.

 

Reflections on an Indian School

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Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to India for personal reasons. It was my first time in the country, and while I had planned on visiting some local ECE settings in Vadodara, Gujarat, my busy schedule prevented me from doing so.

I did, however, have the chance to visit a government-run elementary school (roughly grades 1-6) in the small town of Devgadh Baria in Gujarat. It was an informal visit, led by a friend/city resident. The teachers were extremely cooperative and proud to tell me about the initiatives that they were taking with the children and very curious about my life in Canada. Our communication was somewhat limited because of language barriers, but they say a picture speaks 1000 words. Here are some photos from my visit. Hover or click to read the captions.

As an educator from Canada, three things stood out to me the most:

  1. The physical environment of the school: The classrooms were small. They also happened to be dark when I visited, just before classes started for the day. I assume they receive so much natural light that the classrooms heat up quickly, which is why in an attempt to keep the rooms cool, educators keep the curtains closed when not in use. They lined the perimeter of the school in a U-shape. A covered “deck” also formed a U and bordered the classrooms. This area was used for morning assembly and prayers, with the boys on one side, and the girls on the other. There was a big, sunken, unroofed courtyard in the centre. This area is used for recreation. I cannot stop thinking about this space–just a wide open space in the centre of it all. There was no play equipment or toys (although I did see a student with  ball)…oh the possibilities!
  2. The lax attitude surrounding school: Even though classes had an official start time, classes did not begin until teachers arrived, were settled and ready to teach. Children were expected to occupy themselves until this happened. In speaking to some local teachers, I learned that attendance and punctuality among the students is a common problem in government schools. Some teachers take this as permission to show up as they will and run class according to their own schedules. This may be seen as unprofessionalism to Canadians. Another thing that was very different than professional practice in Canada is the idea of photo consent. Even though I was repeatedly told it was okay for me to photograph the children’s faces, I preferred to avoid this, instead opting for different angles or using editing tools to blur any such images.
  3. Evidence of a high-quality environment: How even in such modest conditions, teachers were striving to make their classrooms more engaging and inviting. Simple concepts like including the children’s artwork, displaying artifacts or incorporating natural and found materials really peaked my curiosity. This was most evident in math and science-related “centres”. My two-year old daughter (who accompanied me) couldn’t help but reach out and explore the tactile materials.

If you are not well-travelled, please do not assume that this is what a typical Indian school looks like. Like in any country, there is a huge variance among  the quality, appearance and curriculum of schools, often tied directly to the schools revenue stream. In a country where private/tuition-based schools are popular, it was valuable to see what a government-run school looks like. I only wish I had had more time to observe the daily routine and more opportunities to visit other approaches to schooling throughout the province.

 

 

Just a Pool Noodle…

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Just a pool noodle is what one may see with an untrained eye and an uninspired heart, but for children whose hearts are full of dreams and whose minds are abundant with theories and hypotheses, this long, bendy, lime green tube is symbolic of so much more.

I bought this pool noodle last month to use as a guard rail to keep my toddler from falling out of bed. It soon found its way into my preschool classroom where children both cautiously and confidently approached it, transforming this simple item into props that suited their play. A few weeks later it found its way back into my house where it continued to take on various identities.

This pool noodle has been on the frontline of battle, used in a swordfight against a pirate;

This pool noodle has been a fairy wand, transforming classmates and teachers into frogs;

This pool noodle has been a butterfly catcher, reaching high to graze wonders usually out of reach;

This pool noodle has been a horse, straddled to gallop far and wide;

This pool noodle has been a baby, cradled tenderly and cuddled as night falls;

This pool noodle has been a tunnel through which imaginary friends escape;

This pool noodle has been a rope, used to climb to faraway places;

This pool noodle has been a slide, used to descend back to safety;

This pool noodle has been a telescope, through which perspectives have changed;

This pool noodle has been a telephone, through which not so quiet “I love you”s have been exchanged;

This pool noodle has ignited imaginations, sparked adventures and given way to many moments of learning;

This pool noodle is a reminder of the power and value of everyday, ordinary objects in children’s play.