I Like Pumpkins – Post #1 : Field Trip

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I have to start by explaining the the title of this series. “I Like Pumpkins” is the name of a book we must have read at least 15 times in the past few months. As any parent with a young child knows, sometimes children develop strong preferences that are then imposed on you. I have to admit, I have hidden this book twice  (not that it’s not a good book, but I am so bored of reading it!) but every time my daughter finds it, she brings it to me to read. She knows the story so well that sometimes, I ask her to “read” it to me.

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Our work with pumpkins this year started off with a visit to Cobb’s Corn Maze. This is the same place we went to last year, however, because H was a year older, she was able to participate in many more of the activities. There were lots of opportunities for gross motor  (large muscle/full body) play that were included in the admission ticket. These play opportunities were appealing to both adults and children!

There was an element of biology/natural learning that happened as well. We saw a pig eating a pumpkin which prompted questions on H’s end about eating raw pumpkins and animal diets. We could also see and smell pumpkins being roasted. The intense smell and display of black and white scorched pumpkins was definitely intriguing.I wish there was some more information/exhibits on how pumpkins grow or an opportunity to see pumpkins on the vine, however this is an area that can be explored afterwards if it is of interest to the child.

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While we had initially planned to go near the beginning of October, snowy weather and other commitments kept us away until the end of the month. The hot food served on-site was particularly welcome on this chilly day. H had her first taste of poutine and used a porter potty for the first time.

Before leaving, we stopped in the pumpkin field to take photos,check out the tractors and pick out two pumpkins to bring home. Of course H picked out pumpkins bigger than I could carry so our dear friends helped us transport them back to our car.

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For a lot of educators, it seems to make sense to have a field trip at the end of a unit once children have become well-versed in various concepts, but another approach is to go on a field trip before project work begins due to its ability to spark inquiry and curiosity. Field trips can also lend themselves to symbolic play and representations, making them a rich source of inspiration and a perfect starting point for projects.

While the work we did with pumkins is still more traditional activity-based than Reggio-inspired project work, it was beneficial for me as a parent and educator to gain a better understanding of H’s interests, skills and needs.

Cobb’s Corn Maze was a great field trip experience that I think could have been enhanced by going in a group with other children and parents. Perhaps I will try to organize a field trip group to go back in the spring/summer for one of their other festivals!

Fall Fun

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Fall is one of my favourite seasons. I love watching the leaves change colour. I love the warm days and cool crisp breezes. I love hearing the leaves crunch below my feet as a I walk and smelling hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin that seem to linger in the air. After becoming a mother, it gives me so much joy to be able to share in these experiences with my daughter.

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Throwback to H’s first fall – 2014

Here are some photos of my daughter and niece enjoying the season.

While the brevity of fall reminds of the ephemeral nature of this life, this year, it seemed to go by particularly quickly. I was dealing morning sickness and a new job that zapped a lot of my energy, so we had a late start to our work with pumpkins this year. But here it finally is!

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I have to admit that a huge part of my family’s motivation to work with pumpkins again was to have lots more pumpkin puree. Last year, it lasted us into the spring, and the delicious breads and pancakes became a staple in our house. It was a sad day when I used up the last of our puree to make pancakes as a surprise for my brother when I visited Toronto last April. He had gotten a taste when he visited me in January and fell in love.

Some of our experiences are similar to last year’s but the majority are new. Thank you for following us on our learning journey.

Enjoy!

 

 

Treasured Moments

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Much of the content featured in this blog might seem intimidating to some. A lot of what I’ve posted about necessitates some kind of planning or forethought, but I also wanted to share the other side. Most of life is not made up of pre-planned curriculum. Instead, many of the most beautiful learning moments happen naturally while children play.

What dictates how much value your children receive in these moments and how much they will be able to thrive as curious and independent learners has to do with your attitude. If you dismiss and limit these moments (example: “Don’t touch that, it’s dirty!” “Don’t be silly, there’s not really a pink three-headed monster hiding behind that bush,” “It’s too __________ to go outside”) you pass on your biases and limitations to your children. You are creating the very box that you will demand they learn to think outside of as they grow.

Alternatively, cherish those small moments. While they may seem insignificant at the time, they are not only setting the course of your relationship with your child (possibly the single biggest predictor of later success), but they are going to act as a trove for future inspiration.

Here are some photos from a walk we took in September, just as summer was getting ready to melt into Autumn bliss. We didn’t know where we were going or what lay ahead. We had a lunch bag full of snacks, and an adventurous spirit one afternoon while visiting H’s grandparents and decided we needed to get outside.

One of the reasons that this was such a memorable excursion for us was that it was spontaneous. This removed a lot of the stress and work from it. We had no expectations other than to go outside. Another big reason that this was one of my favourite outings was that the natural environment provides so many deep and valuable opportunities for learning. Here are some of the concepts/play that emerged that day:

  • Bridges – we crossed a bridge and while we didn’t spend time making explicit observations, things that can be extracted (either right then or in the future when photos and memories are revisited) are that bridges usually join two things, in this case, two different types of terrain. This bridge signaled that we were leaving behind the pavement and traffic of the city and about to slip into a natural escape.
  • Shadows – not only are shadows fun, but if a child spends enough time playing with shadows, he learns that the size and position of shadows are linked to something greater, in this case, the sun. My daughter’s most frequent observation about shadows, is “Look! I’m big!” as she excitedly imagines herself much taller than she actually is.  There’s a lot of cool stuff that can be done with shadows, some of which I hope to explore in a future post.
  • Bugs – My guess is that most children are not inherently afraid of bugs. It is a learned behaviour, so try to control your squirms. My daughter marveled at discovering multiple ladybugs on the slide and we talked about how many spots they had and how they had wings hidden under their shells (she was elated to see them fly away). My summers were filled with trying to catch grasshoppers in my backyard and enumerating the variety of bugs my brother and I could find.
  • Pebbles/Sand – Some of the newer playgrounds now have this rubber type of floor but as an educator, I love the pebble/sand-filled playgrounds. The volume of loose parts this provides and the potential for open-ended play makes them significant.  Through the pictures, you can see my daughter using an empty Starbucks bottle she found on the playground to fill and pour pebbles and then later using these pebbles as “money” to for the ice cream she ordered.
  • Natural found items – At one point, I asked my daughter to find anything she thought was beautiful and place it on the platform where I was sitting. I joined her in this task and at the end we admired our collection. The park is filled with so many varying and rich materials – drawing children’s attention to their properties can help create an eye for detail.
  • Dandelion Puffs– On our walk back home, we stopped to rest in a field where dandelion puffs blossomed in abundance. H was intrigued by these and I showed her how we can make a wish/duah and blow them away. It’s truly a magical moment for children to witness the dandelion seeds blowing into the wind.

We didn’t bring any toys or special equipment on this trip. All we had was time and a sense of peace that filled the space. So if you’re at a loss about what to do with your child, take a deep breath and head outside. Let go of your expectations and follow your child’s lead.

Ramadan 2016- Post #8: Easy Eid Gifts

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For Eid this year, we wanted to come up with a simple gift that could easily be distributed to our growing list of friends and family. We wanted something that was generic enough to be enjoyed by a wide range of children, but personal enough to make the recipient feel special. We also wanted something inclusive whereby we could involve our non-Muslim friends in the festivities.

During one of our trips to our local grocery store during Ramadan, we noticed something special. A woman had rented out the parking lot for the summer (she was living out of her RV) and had a train set up. The wheels in my head got turning.

I introduced myself to the woman and paid for a train ride for my daughter. I asked for her business card and after speaking to my husband and thinking through the logistics, I contacted her and asked her if it would be possible to make up gift vouchers that I could pay for in advance. She was supportive of the idea but was not sure how to go about it.

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I designed my own simple vouchers, printed them and brought them to her to be signed. My daughter and I came up with a list of age-appropriate friends we would like to give vouchers to. I then started getting the envelopes ready to share with our family and friends. My daughter was super excited to fill her backpack with the vouchers we would be mailing and take a walk to the mailbox to drop them off. Since our complex has a community mailbox, she assumed that’s where we would be dropping off the mail, however that mailbox is not set up to receive mail. She was surprised to learn we would be going to a farther mailbox. While I didn’t take the time to explain the postal system, for an older or more curious child, this topic could be more deeply explored. She also walked with me around our complex to hand deliver envelopes to neighbours with young children.

In the past, our Eid gifts to other children have been more elaborate, but as our circle grows, we needed an economical way to bring some joy to more children, many of whom were toddlers that were at the train-loving stage. I loved this idea because not only did it match the criteria I listed above, but I was able to support a local small business. It was also convenient because of the twenty vouchers we bought, we only saw one of those children on eid. The format of our gift allowed children to enjoy an experience (instead of add to their growing list of toys and knick knacks) and the children were able to receive their gift on time without us having to drive around all over the city.

This post concludes our Ramadan festivities for 2016. I hope our learning has inspired you to reflect on your own experience and brainstorm for future Ramadans.

Please remember my family in your prayers,

Madiha

 

Ramadan 2016- Post #7: Curious George and Banana Pops

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This Ramadan, H received the highly anticipated book, “It’s Ramadan, Curious George” as a gift from a lovely friend.

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Not only was it the type of high quality book our ummah is in need of, but the board book format and side tabs made it particularly accessible to young children.

The book inspired us to embark on a very easy mini cooking session…chocolate and sprinkle covered banana pops! My daughter loved making (and eating!) this creation. Since sweets and candy were not a regular part of her diet, this snack added a festive touch.

Materials used: 

  • (1) Banana (use more depending on quantity required)
  • Chopping board
  • Butter knife
  • Some melted chocolate chips (we used allergy free chocolate chips that only have 3 ingredients!) – An older child can be supervised to microwave this themselves but chocolate burns quickly and heats the bowl too so I did this step for my daughter. You could even try using nutella or another nut/seed butter for a healthier snack. How good would peanut butter dipped bananas be?!?
  • A handful of sprinkles in a little plate (I used an empty yogurt lid)
  • Popsicle sticks (I used the reuseable plastic bottoms from popsicle molds)

Steps for children to follow:

  1. Start by melting the chocolate. Use the double broil method if you’re fancy. Otherwise, microwave the chocolate chips for a a few seconds (depending on your quantity), stir and microwave again. Parents or older siblings can help with this step
  2.  Peel the banana. For young children, this fosters fine motor and self-help skills.
  3. Use the butter knife to slice the banana (again, this helps with fine motor development). In the book, George uses half bananas (they look more like moons) but I didn’t want the portion to be so big for my little one.
  4. Stick the popsicle sticks in the bananas.
  5. Hold onto the popsicle stick and dip the banana in chocolate. If you want them fully dipped, use a deep bowl/cup with lots of chocolate.
  6. Dip or roll the chocolatey bananas into the sprinkles.
  7. Additional step: To extend the activity, you can make little holders for your banana pops. We made very simple ones using styrofoam cups that H drew on with markers and added stickers to. Alternatively, if these were going to be gifts, you could use fancier cups or decorate them ahead of time with paint, gems, glitter and whatever else little hearts desire.

I am well aware this is not a pinterest-worthy creation but I honestly believe it’s far more valuable. Imagine how proud and validated your child will feel when they are independently able to create a dessert that the entire family can enjoy, or a special snack they can serve their friends during a playdate. Not only does this activity work well with a few children, but it can also be easily accommodated to playgroups, daycare and preschool settings!

Bismillah and Bon Appetit.

 

 

Ramadan 2016- Post #6: Sadaqa Jar

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Sadaqa is an Islamic concept which basically means to give charity (voluntarily).

About a year ago, I first read my daughter a book called “Jameela’s Great Idea” (review can be found here). My daughter loved this book and we’ve rotated it in a few times over the past year. When I was carefully choosing the books I wanted to add to her bookshelf during Ramadan, this book was a natural choice. The book is about a little girl who regularly goes to the Mosque with her father and upon noticing him deposit money in a “little brown box” asks him what that is all about. The book follows her as she brainstorms ways to raise money so that she can give sadaqa too.

What I decided to do with my daughter during Ramadan was give her simple art materials to create her own “sadaqa jar” (a glass jar*, paint, paint brush, glitter).  We talked about the idea of collecting money, ways she could collect money and what she would do with it after. Keep in mind she was 2.5 years old and it was a very simple process (essentially asking family if they would like to donate money to her jar so she could share it). While we’ve been toying with the idea of a piggy bank for her, I liked the idea that the first time she was going to save money, it was going to be for charity.

*Some people are weary of letting toddlers handle glass, but I believe that children should be entrusted with using authentic materials.

My daughter was excited to paint her jar. She picked two shades of blue paint. But of course, painting the jar wasn’t enough for her.I passed her some recycled materials but she shortly moved onto something more exciting; she decided to paint both her arms. I have to admit, my inner parent wanted to rush in and give her paper, but I know that sensory input is valuable for children. Besides, it wasn’t anything a good wash couldn’t take care of. So I sat back, made a video and marveled at the curiosity and focus of my little smurf.

 

She added some red and purple glitter to her jar and once it was dry, I made a simple top with a slit out of a styrofoam plate (we used a mason jar which worked really well for this). For the next few weeks, she collected coins from her Papa, grandparents and aunts.

Near the end of Ramadan, we drove to the Mosque and after some hunting (there was no donation box on the women’s side…sigh), we found one in the men’s lobby. H excitedly deposited her coins and we were on our way.

As I mentioned, this was the process we followed as part of our Ramadan Calendar, tailored to my then 2.5 year old. Below are some adjustments that can be made to better meet the developmental needs of older children.

Modifications for older children

  1. Learn about your local currency – Now that my daughter is three, she is interested and better able to differentiate between the various coins and learn about their value. Coins collected can be used not only to learn new terminology (In Canada, we have the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, loonie, toonie) but these coins can be used in other mathematical and numerical learning such as numerical value, patterning, sorting, weighing etc.
  2. Allow children to choose their own sadaqa recipient – For younger children, a generic sadaqa box at the mosque works splendidly, but with the array of charitable organizations in existence, it might be more meaningful for your child to research and pick a cause that is dear to their heart, whether it is building a well, contributing to the education of a child abroad or helping with the local pet shelter.
  3. Ask children to create a plan about how they will earn/raise money – Have children consider the materials and resources needed to raise money and critically evaluate what will be the best approach. Perhaps this will be a great opportunity for their inner entrepreneur to shine! Older children may choose to take on additional jobs or engage in classic fundraising initiatives like bake sales to help raise funds for their cause. Work with your child to adjust the plan so that it is suitable for your scope and lifestyle.
  4. Nurture their desire to help in a sustainable way – Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” Your family may choose to make this sadaqa initiative an annual tradition or better yet an ongoing project.
  5. Remind children of the other forms of sadaqa – While monetary giving is commendable, it is not always possible or what is most required. Remind children of the words of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him who told us that even a smile is sadaqa. As a family, brainstorm other ways of giving sadaqa and possibly undertake one of these ways as a family initiative. Some suggestions include volunteering time, gardening, conversing with the elderly in your community, shoveling snow for neighbours with limited mobility, sharing meals and toys and speaking what is good and true.

Ramadan 2016 – Post #5: Baking muffins for YYC Helping Homeless

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In Ramadan it becomes especially tempting to just focus on the Muslims in our community. I wanted to be proactive about this tendency and decided it would be a great time to share some food with an important and often overlooked demographic in our community: the homeless (not that they are some monolithic entity that congregates in one place).

Last year, I came to know about a group called YYC Helping Homeless (I have mentioned them in a blog post here). I wanted to buy some food to donate as well as prepare some food for them to have at their weekly fiestas. Since I also wanted to involve my daughter, I decided to bake muffins (we made banana, banana-blueberry, and banana chocolate chip).

As discussed in past posts, baking is a great sensorimotor experience. Not only do children get to see, touch and smell different ingredients, but they get to learn about the properties of food. I know it can be daunting to let a toddler handle unboiled eggs, but I’d rather have a toddler who had a few accidents along the way and was competent and confident in the kitchen by the time they hit grade school than still be packing their lunches into university *ahem mom ahem*. It is impressive how quickly they start incorporating the language you use to describe things in their own vocabularies (just the other day my daughter was talking about “powdery flour”).

Baking also reinforces numerical skills like measuring, fractions and children’s abilities to follow directions. It can also help with instant gratification. Children will start to understand that typically, eating requires cooking. Not everything is readily available from the fridge and pantry. Sometimes, they have to wait or things to finish cooking and cooling off before they can enjoy them.

Cooking with children also does wonders for hygiene! If you have a young child who is constantly running away after using the toilet without washing hands, only to have to drag them back to the sink, try presenting an opportunity like cooking, that necessitates handwashing before they can handle new and exciting ingredients.

The method we followed was pretty generic but one thing I did find interesting when we were baking this time is as my daughter becomes older and more experienced, she can do more. While I finished off mixing the batter, she excitedly lined the muffin trays with paper cups, using fine motor skills. If you are working on counting, get your child to count as they line the muffin tray.

While my daughter was a little young to discuss social realities like homelessness in detail, talk to your preteens about it. Encourage them to reflect on their own blessings and solicit them for ideas on how things like homelessness can be resolved. Sometimes children have beautifully simple insight into the most complex problems.