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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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.

 

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 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 7- Learning Arabic Rocks!

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I had an idea a while ago that I was hoping to do sometime in Ramadan to surprise H with. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ve been dabbling with the Arabic alphabet for the past few years, but this year, I’m trying to reinforce what she already knows through various different games so that she can move on to start formally learning how to read the Quran.

So far, she has seen the Arabic letters in print (books and posters), on screens (often accompanied by a song) and on these cute wooden blocks I used to sell. (Note: I still have them in a variety of languages, other than Arabic so please contact me if you’re interested- the Farsi and Hindi ones are especially beautiful!)

I love the idea of a tactile resource so a few weeks ago, I finally decided to print the Arabic alphabet on rocks! I used paint pens I had previously purchased from Michaels.

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How cute would these be to make as a gift for someone? Slip them into a canvas bag and give a child in your life a unique and functional play resource.

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And because I like open-ended items and play things that can be used in multiple ways, I decided to paint moons and stars on the back of some of the rocks. I did this so that H could play a variation of Tic-Tac-Toe, a game she discovered a few months ago and loves playing on a dry-erase board.

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Someone could just as easily paint or draw whatever might capture the interest of their child: animals, geometric designs or just leave them in their beautiful, natural state. I love the variety of colour, shape and size!

H found these photos on my phone last week (before I had a chance to add them into her Ramadan Calendar) so we decided to play with them. She was so excited!

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And she went about ordering the alphabet (though as you can see, she doesn’t yet know that Arabic is written and read from right to left).

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Y loves playing with them too. He turned ONE 10 days ago and loves filling and dumping things.

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P.S. I hope you appreciated my carefully crafted pun!

P.P.S. I confess that I ran out of rocks! I still need to complete the other half of the alphabet.

 

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 #3- Decorate!

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We don’t really have annual decorations that we use in Ramadan. So far it’s been mainly homemade items that tie into some other area of learning or craft projects. But as the kids get older, I suspect more of a theme will emerge.

Like many adults, I swoon at the beautiful colour schemes and minimalist Ramadan decor that has taken the Western Muslim world by storm. But I know that that just wont work for my family right now (given the type of space and furniture we have and our children’s ages). We very much advocate for them feeling like this is their home too so as tempting as a magazine-inspired spread is, we aren’t there yet. Everything that’s up in our house is intentionally there- there is a story, a deeper meaning, a specific learning that happened. So I take a deep breath and let go of my expectations and do what I typically do: I consult H and then we collaborate.

The Monday before Ramadan started, we began to decorate. The first thing we did was add to our calendar. I created our Ramadan calendar 3 years ago and we have been reusing it since. It’s made from foam board, felt and a glue gun. I typically use cards made out of card stock or cut up cue cards and draw pictures on one side (because visual literacy is important and helps children make connections to text when they’re ready). Typically, the cards have activities or tasks, often linked to caring for others. As the kids needs change, I will also include more specific learning like Quranic ayat and hadeeth. See how we have used it in years past here and here.

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This year, H and I decided to make a dome. I cut out the shape from cardboard for H and she painted it. She initially chose green and then changed her mind when she saw the gold paint. I said she could add glitter to her dome so she chose purple glitter.The newly minted dome definitely gave the calendar a lift.

I had a DIY banner lying around that I had previously purchased from Dollarama. H helped me punch holes. I added yarn (we didn’t have twine or rope on hand). I was getting ready to write letters when H reminded me, “I know how to do letters!” so she ended up writing the letters I dictated. The “D” is upside down because the paper was upside down when she was writing it (I was chasing after Y in that moment).

The perfectionist in me wanted to micro-manage how she drew the letters (heck, the perfectionist in me wanted to do the letters myself!) but the educator in me rose above and recognized how meaningful and empowering it would be for H to do this herself.

I cleared H’s past artwork off of the toy shelf after asking her permission and we added some lanterns. I decided to to add some prints in some new frames I had lying around the house. (I did a Google search for free images and downloads because I didn’t feel like I had the time to browse more and pick one out but I plan to do so in the future).  She chose to add the glass candle holders and flower candles.

H has been reviewing the Arabic alphabet for what feels like years. As a fun way to review her letters (and for me to seriously assess how well she knows them) I included a little chalkboard. Each night, I write one of the 28 letters on the chalkboard (in a random order). I include a corresponding block and in the morning, H can tell me what letter it is and she attempts to draw it in the small sand tray I’ve incorporated into that space. We haven’t been very serious about learning Arabic but I do feel she’s ready to take it up a notch.

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We also have a lamp that we’ve been hanging decorations off of, including some of H’s past and present creations. This is Y’s favourite section as he loves to hit the hanging decorations and watch them sway.

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Lastly, I gathered all of our Ramadan related books and put them in H’s Ramadan basket from last year so we could easily find them.

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Decoration for us is going to be an ongoing thing this Ramadan. As we create more and more things, we will integrate them into our decor. I’m curious to see how the space will look by the end of the month.