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…

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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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Ramadan 2018: Post 6- Ramadan at Preschool

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H is in her second year of preschool. Last year, we recognized Ramadan by sending Ramadan Goody Bags for each student in her class. Along with fun things and dates, they also included a fact sheet for parents. This year, I wanted to do something different for the children.

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I had the idea to visit H’s class and share a story and activity with the children. Although we have many books about Ramadan, all of our books were in English. H attends a French preschool and so in March, I began my search for a French book about Ramadan.

I found a bunch through an Islamic bookstore based in Quebec but a few of the titles were out of stock. And to be honest, I’m picky about books and wasn’t sure what I would be getting. The bookstore’s website didn’t have a preview feature so I had to judge the illustrative style and writing styles by the cover (something I hate doing because you can’t judge a book by its cover!)

I was getting ready to order when I had the idea to check a mainstream bookstore in Montreal, so I checked Renaud-Bray online and found a few titles I was more comfortable about ordering. At least I knew they would be professionally published. I excitedly placed an order at the beginning of April and waited for them to arrive. After ordering them, I also checked Indigo and found one of the titles there.

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Once they arrived and I had a look, I spoke with H’s teacher and asked if I could come in and read a Ramadan story and do a craft with the children. She was very receptive. Since H is a part of two different preschool groups, we decided that I would come in to work with the older group (there were also less children) and her teacher would essentially copy the program for the other group. Better yet, I was able to bring Y with me so I didn’t have to figure out child care.

I asked H if there were other things about Ramadan she wanted to show her class. She wanted to show her new prayer rug and hijab as well as some of her Ramadan books in English. I also packed some dates and kufis.

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I shared the stories with her class. I say share, not read because it was more about giving them some basic information and showing photos/pictures while pointing out interesting things.  And I’ll be honest, my French is pretty rusty right now so I could explain so much. Fortunately, some of the educational aids that were in that day were able to better explain things to the children.

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I was surprised at how attentive some of the children were – it was the same children that I often see running around and “not listening”. They were intrigued and had lots of questions and wanted to do things like try dates (they aren’t allowed to because of school policy around food) and try on kufis. They sat and focused beautifully as they decorated their lanterns.

 

I wouldn’t say that they necessarily understood too much about what Ramadan is. But that was never the point. For me, it was more so that H feels a sense of belonging and confidence in sharing her life with the people she interacts with, even if it’s different. H decided to wear traditional Indian clothing to school that day to show her friends the kinds of clothes she may wear in Ramadan/for Eid.

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I left all of our Ramadan books and leftover supplies with her teacher to do the activity with Friday’s class. That class does have other Muslim children so I’m curious to see what they (and their parents) will make of it. We have something else planned for the adults at the centre later in the month.

Just a note about the books: “Ramadan” was a non-fiction book with dated photos but the text was simple and it was a good fit for her class. It provided a good overview. I just wish the photos were better quality/more recent. “Raconte-moi le Ramadan” was a fictional story but it was too advanced for her age, and I felt like it was overly religious to share in a public school setting. The illustrations were beautiful though.

Ramadan 2018: Post #5 – Community Collaboration

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One of my favourite things about Ramadan is the sense of community that can be felt. Greater than your weekly lift at Jummah but not quite as magnificent as Hajj, connecting with others during Ramadan is a beautiful annual tradition.

Enjoin Good, a local grassroots organization has been active since 2007. Their two main projects are the Orphan Sponsorship Program and the Food Hamper Project. They use the latter to provide basic food items and necessities for families in need. They run multiple drives a year and provide volunteers with the opportunity to contribute to various stages including donating money, going grocery shopping, packaging the groceries and delivering the food hampers.

Their most recent drive served roughly 180 families and took place the weekend before Ramadan started. It was a great chance for people, including families with young children, to volunteer together to help ensure that struggling local families can also break fast with hearty meals. Since many organizations require volunteers to be at least twelve years of age, this was a great avenue to do it as a family. Even Y, who was just shy of his first birthday at the time, joined us!

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Many parents opt to bring their babies and children with them in the cars during the delivery part, but the packaging step is also a great way for little leaders to get involved, assuming the children are accompanied by an adult for supervision purposes.

H had the chance to participate in this stage, and now that she’s older, she can remember the experience and also make observations. Not only did she love using her “strong muscles” to move items, but she delighted at the connections she made with older children who looked out for her and played big sister/brother roles (the organizers did a great job assigning older children to assist younger ones).

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She was mesmerized and inspired by her uncle who was one of the key organizers in making this happen. Later that night she confided in me that she wanted to be a leader, just like her uncle. She also wanted to have a laptop like him to do “very important work” although she admitted that she wasn’t quite sure what this very important work was.

Naturally, as a parent I wanted to foster this sense of self. I asked her if she wanted to be a leader during an upcoming play date we would be hosting in Ramadan, and she enthusiastically agreed.

This year, a fellow mother from a Mom’s group I’m a part of had a wonderful idea. She proposed taking turns hosting play dates during Ramadan so that our children could get excited about the month and we could get some time to engage in some remembrance and reflection. This sacred time is one that many mothers of young children are left craving, and yes, while caring for our families and helping raise the next generation also qualify as acts of worship we will be rewarded for, nothing compares to having ten uninterrupted minutes to connect with the Book of God without having to worry about everything else that needs to get done.

H is at an age now where I realize how important it is to spend time with other Muslim families since she doesn’t interact with any in her day-to-day life. Even as a Muslim, Islam and what a Muslim lifestyle looks like still needs to be normalized for her.  I want to broaden her perspective of who can be Muslim- how Muslims dress and look, what kinds of names they have and where we see them. I thought that connecting with the moms in this group would help with that.

In her capacity as leader, H decided that it could be a dress-up play date (this was an idea she had even when we were initially planning for Ramadan) but she was quick to add that “they [my friends] don’t have to dress up if they don’t want to.” Not to say that she wasn’t delighted when Batman showed up. She decided she wanted to make Ramadan cards during the play date and the night before our play date, she made an example card. She was asking me how to spell Ramadan and then quickly realized it was already written on the banner. “That’s okay mom, I can do it” she told me. I was so impressed by her resourcefulness.

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The next day our home was filled with 6 adults and 12 children (4 of which were babies). H started off her explanation by saying, “I’m the leader so make a card and ask me if you need help.”

Given that the purpose of these play dates was to give moms some downtime to reconnect with Ramadan, we made the cards an open-ended process, meaning there was no template they needed to follow. There was a variety of stickers/shapes that could be glued along with some other basic supplies so children could make unique pieces.

The results were gorgeous!

These two events were a wonderful way to welcome Ramadan in collaboration with other families. As a stay-at-home-mom who misses regular adult interactions, this was not only a great learning opportunity for my kids, but a great way for me to connect with others at the start of Ramadan. May God accept everyone’s efforts and continue to allow all of us to serve others.

For more information on the Food Hamper Project, or to get involved, check out the website or Facebook page. Donations can be made there ahead of their next drive on June 10, just in time for Eid.

Ramadan 2018: Post #2 – Ramadan Ready with the Community

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When I started Discovery Dome, it was my dream to offer activities and storytelling to the larger community. Having children and managing all of the logistics that went hand in hand with that, made me put that dream on pause, but about once a year, someone reaches out to me to do some sort of storytelling or children’s program.

This year, it was my pleasure to do some creative storytelling for the ICNA Sisters Wing  – Calgary branch at their Welcome Ramadan event.

I read one of my favourite Ramadan stories, written by Na’ima B Roberts called Ramadan Moon. The story is a piece of lyrical beauty that is wonderfully complimented by the mixed media illustrations.

 

I told the Famous Donkey Story through flannel board which I’ve done a few times in the past. This short story is always a hit with children and has a beautiful moral.

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The last story I told was something new I created. I learned about the tradition of the mosaharati (drummers who would walk through traditional villages to awaken fasters for their early morning meal) two years ago when I bought this book: The Little Green Drum.

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I wanted to have a more interactive element to my storytelling session. Initially, I wanted a gross motor experience but given the number of children (there were roughly 40), I knew that would get tricky. Instead, I added a musical component and invited the children to become a part of the story and help me narrate repetitive parts. I adapted this story to better suit the needs of this audience (many Muslims believe only in the permissibly of percussion drums) so I adapted the story to include only percussion type drums instead of the range of instruments used in the book. I also weaved in my love for natural elements like rocks and twigs to and re-purposing household items.

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The story went over really well with the children and adults who were present. Y who was eleven months at the time loved the rhythm as I practiced with him and some of the children who attended the session were repeating the chant I created when they got back home. I can’t wait to do this story again for another group!

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It was a pleasure to not only use my creative and story-telling skills at a time when I don’t get to as regularly as I would like,  but to also help energize a whole group of children (including my own) about Ramadan.

I look forward to developing more stories to share with my community!

Mobile Adventure Playground

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Since coming into the world of early childhood education and play, two of the concepts I’ve found most intriguing are loose parts and outdoor play. Calgary’s super cool Mobile Adventure Playground initiative marries these two ideas with some awesome implications.

As parents living in the modern world, when we think of parks and playgrounds, we (sadly) often think of permanent well-groomed areas covered in sprawling plastic structures meant to be played on (and not with!)

This mobile adventure playground challenges that concept. Instead of permanent fixed play structures, children (and adults) have access to a variety of parts (that would otherwise be lying in a landfill somewhere) and can use their imaginations, gross motor muscles, and cognitive skills (much of which can draw on science, engineering and math) to do with them whatever they’d like.

In my talk with one of the play facilatators, I discovered that thirty years ago, adventure parks and playgrounds could be found in Calgary and currently thrive in the UK, Denmark and other areas of Europe. Thanks to a grant from the Lawson Foundation, Calgary’s mobile adventure playground is one of three in Canada and grew out of a 2015 study on outdoor and play engagement and 2016 pilot period, when 2000+ people came out to play.

The mobile adventure playground is relatively easy to set up. Some of the items featured in this one were: tires, plastic crates, pieces of wood and cardboard, pipes, pieces of old play structures, kitchen items like bowls and colanders, scraps of fabric, logs, buckets, paper tubes, cable spindles and a wheelbarrow.

Like many great things, it’s not so much about product as it is about process. Initially, the children stood around not really knowing what to do but once they started exploring and imagining, their play really got going.

In my time there, I observed children create slides and fishing boats, obstacle courses and clubhouses, bunkers and moving vehicles.

There are so many great aspects of this playground:

  • it is mobile and will be set up in different locations throughout the summer (for a schedule, click here)
  • it is free to access
  • it reuses everyday materials in novel ways
  • there’s no one way or right way to set up the materials
  • the same materials result in different types of play depending on who is using them
  • the (big) size of many of the objects required children to work together to move them, fostering cooperative play
  • children that don’t know each other will probably interact, either by playing together or asking permission to use/share materials, helping to develop negotiating skills
  • socioemotional development: not only will children take pride in their play and creations, but they will also learn how to navigate more challenging emotions like loss (when someone might repurpose items they are no longer actively playing with as experienced by H and her friends); struggle and frustration (physically, cognitively and even emotionally) as children try to bring their visions to life;  and conflict when children may want to use the same materials or have different visions for what/how things should be done
  • the playground is set up outdoors allowing families to benefit from exposure to nature
  • the playground utilizes green spaces, temporarily transforming existing (neighbourhood) sites

This park is a break from the norm and would be a welcome change to summer play, especially in the case of children who:

  1. are very active and appreciate gross motor play
  2. love imaginative play
  3. enjoy using stem (science, technology, engineering, math) principles to bring their play into reality
  4. are bored of traditional park experiences

For more information on Calgary’s mobile adventure playground or to view the schedule/locations for the rest of the season, click here. If you’ve ever been exposed to an adventure park/playground, please comment with your experiences and location.

Happy Playing!

 

 

 

Drum for Fun!

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Last summer I happened upon a unique and creative gross motor program happening in my neighbourhood. It was a guided drumming and dance circle that used drumsticks and yoga balls on pails in a group setting. Due to prior commitments and the timing of Ranadan, I only attended it once with H who was 2.5 years old at the time. She loved it! But she was a toddler and lasted about 25 minutes before she wanted to play at the neighbouring park.

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H at the Drum and Dance program last summer at 2.5 years old

When I realized this program was happening again this summer, I was excited to take H, who now, at 3.5 years, would enjoy it even more. We planned for it, and when I returned after getting baby dressed (who H has now nicknamed Boomer), I found her asleep on the couch (this has literally never happened). After multiple failed attempts at waking her up, I decided to just go on a walk with baby. We walked by the park and while I wasn’t sure of the logistics of babywearing and participating, it worked out fabulously!

Baby Boomer (hahaha clearly not an intentional pun by my 3 year old) is not the best of nappers, but the one way he naps best is when I wear him. So in spite of some very loud Bhangra and Electronic music, the vibrations of the drumming and my various movements, he stayed asleep!

I love this program. It’s super family-friendly and combines basic music/dance skills like keeping time and following the beat with the opportunity to meet new people of various ages and circles and get a creative workout,  all while benefiting from spending time outdoors! The instructor is also super friendly and energetic; people drop in and out throughout the program. Best of all, this is an easy program to recreate – it can be adapted to meet the needs of daycare/preschool children, school-aged children, cultural groups and even corporate employees!

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I’m so glad I went out today, even though H wasn’t with me (she was the whole reason I was going in the first place). Being a parent (especially the mother) to a newborn can be very exhausting and isolating- this was exactly what I needed tonight!

For more info on this free program, check out the poster below!

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