A trip to the mountains

Standard

It finally happened. After years of talking about how our small family should just take an overnight trip with the kids to get a break from our daily life, we finally did! This was a first for us- we typically travel with extended family. We had a budget in mind and planned accordingly.

517CB06C-53D8-48CE-8092-A17AFDEA6279

On the cusp of the Easter Long Weekend, we headed to the rockies. H did not have school on Thursday so we planned to leave Thursday morning (was closer to 11:30 am by the time we were actually on the road), making a stop at Troll Falls, in Kananaskis on the way.

Despite the spring-like conditions in Calgary, it was windy and cold as we headed towards the mountains. Fortunately, my over-preparedness came to the rescue. The kids were outfitted in splash pants, toques and mittens and so we all had an enjoyable walk. H was quick to find a walking stick and just couldn’t understand why the rest of us didn’t want one.

That hike up was my favourite part of the whole trip. It’s not often we all get to be outdoors together (my husband has very little tolerance for the cold). I loved watching Y trudge along the trail, seeing how passionate and excited H was to be among such beauty, and then hearing her passion turn to frustration as she got tired. I saw my first Canada Jay and we marvelled at what a social and curious creature it was. We happened upon some horses from the ranch next door. And as we neared the falls, we experienced firsthand the snowy and slippery conditions that spring is a work in progress. Watching my husband navigate those slippery sides while carrying Y reminded me of when we found ourselves in a somewhat similar predicament on some off-trail slopes in Niagara when he baby-wore a then 9-month H.

On the way down, we took the path less traveled (well actually, we took a wrong turn and took a rather long way back to the parking lot). It felt like it lasted forever with two tired children who were adamant they could no longer walk. But it was beautiful. Those blue skies. Those mountains. It reminded me of why I agreed to move out here almost a decade ago.

88DFC495-FAEA-4930-A929-48567B10CB22

We got to our hotel in Banff, just after 4 pm. The room was a great size for our family and the hotel in general, was a good fit for us. It had a swimming pool (H’s favourite part), gift shop and two-three restaurants on-site. And the fact that it was at the edge of town made for an exciting bus ride to travel into the heart of downtown (Y’s favourite part). I had packed a few activities for the kids that kept them engaged while we did things like pack or nap, because let’s face it- kids will start their days bright and early.

It was nice just strolling through downtown Banff. H picked out a pair of Moose binoculars and Y decided on a moose backpack. We found a park to stop at. It was overcast and drizzly but still so beautiful.

We were fortunate enough to pray jummah in the mountains with the local Muslim community and alongside other tourist families who were from other places in Alberta, and the United States.

The rest of the day was spent between our hotel room and a trip back to downtown (literally only a few kilometers from our hotel). The next morning, we packed up and got on the road. The scenic drive was my husband’s favourite part. Y finally fell asleep so we decided not to stop in Canmore (earlier options we had talked about included Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, and Lake Minnewanka) but decided to keep on driving because Y had just fallen asleep. We opted for a detour to Cochrane (a small town west of Calgary) instead.

Here we found another beautiful park. I love the return to more natural looking playscapes. I’ve seen them popping up around Calgary and during my visits to Ontario. We did a short walk since H was ready to go get ice cream and then we drove to MacKay’s Ice Cream Shop. We had the chance to enjoy our ice cream in the sun while a senior played the piano. The kids danced and H got a brief piano lesson.

It was a lovely weekend and we hope we can do more trips (day and overnight) as a family together this year.

Advertisements

Cooking with Kids

Standard

Cooking with your children is a natural way to spend more time with them. When H was a toddler, I made an effort to include her in the kitchen from time to time. Whether it was by helping to prep and measure ingredients, stir batters or do things like line muffin trays and wash produce, it didn’t feel like too much extra work to involve her.

 

I’ve been thinking about how I haven’t really given Y those same experiences, so these days, I’m trying to be more mindful in involving him. Examples include letting him smell spices, measure rice and lentils, scrubbing them (he strongly disliked this experience) and his favourite thing – passing me eggs!

I think part of the reason I don’t involve the kids in as much cooking these days is that I don’t make as many things as I used to. I enjoy cooking but hate the clean up (as is apparent by the typical state of my kitchen). Our days are often so busy, I try to throw a meal together in that small window between afterschool snack and dinner time, diffusing tantrums and engaging with the kids as I go. But the thing is, often the things that kids enjoy force us to slow down. They may be inconvenient in the moment, but slowing down is good for people, especially us ambitious, overachiever types, so there’s benefit in it for everyone.

As I write this, I realize that it’s a good time to start getting Y to help me prep his snacks. Not only will it help engage him and give him the opportunity to have great sensorimotor experiences, but it will help him become more patient, something that will help our family dynamics as he moves into a developmental stage where tantrums are becoming more frequent and intense.

Some time a few weeks ago, H and I were talking about pickles, and I reminded her that pickles are made from cucumbers (as we both had learned during a Magic School Bus episode, albeit, two decades apart). I asked her if she would like to try and make pickles at home, to which she responded quite enthusiastically.

It worked out so that H and I made these pickles on Friday night. While we approached this more as a science experiment than as cooking, it was fun to do nevertheless. The pickles were a little salty to eat on their own (we didn’t exactly follow the recipe) but I suspect they will be just fine in burgers. We used this method.

And the kids and I made stuffed french toast roll-ups on Saturday morning since I didn’t have a class to run off to this weekend. H enjoys helping me make breakfast on the weekends or during PD days (she loves to help with French toast and pancakes) but this was the first time we involved Y.

It worked out quite well. Y passed the eggs, H mixed the batter, H flattened the bread with a rolling pin, I spread the cream cheese, Y added the strawberries, H rolled them up, Y passed them to me to dunk in the batter and fry.

They tasted pretty decent. It was our first time making them so I would make a few adjustments for next time (I cheaped out on cream cheese and bought a no name variety instead of Philadelphia. It ended up being salty and some of the strawberries were sour). Y also ate half of a roll up and decided he didn’t like the stuffed version so I made him regular french toast with the leftover batter. You can see the recipe here.

Our latest cooking experiences coincidentally lined up with this drawing H made on Friday. This month they are learning about professions so the teacher asked them to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up. H drew herself as a chef. “I’m cooking Haleem” she proudly said. Haleem is a south Asian stew that I started cooking this year. I love the way she drew her white coat and chef’s hat, but even more, I love that she’s cooking something I make. And the size of that ladle is pure awesomeness.

haleem.jpg

While cooking can be a great way for someone to make fond memories with their children, it can also be a cause for unpleasant ones. Ask any child who’s been shooed away or yelled at for not doing things right. I would suggest to set yourself up for success by:

  • Being honest with yourself – If you’re a perfectionist and will end up redoing what your children are doing, you may do more harm than good. If you are truly committed to doing this with your children, remind yourself before, during and after about your reasons. No one is going to judge your 4 year old’s cookies. Their product is not a reflection on your abilities. And if you react in a less than ideal way, forgive yourself and try again. Chances are, this is a learning experience for you too.
  • Choose a time when you are not rushed– children sense impatience. We don’t want cooking to be associated with stress or anxiety, rather joy and spending time together.
  • Choose a forgiving recipe – Simple recipes with a handful ingredients are a good place to start. Smoothies come to mind.
  • Allow time for clean up– This is something I struggle with on a personal level and have to be more mindful of in our home. Explain to your children that cleaning up is part of the cooking process and have them commit to helping you collect dirty utensils and wipe down counters.
  • Have fun! – It’s really not about the end product, but the process. If it turns out delicious, that’s great, but if it doesn’t, it’s a good place to start reflecting with your children and coming up with reasons why things may not have gone as planned- phrase it as a mystery and think of what you may want to do differently.

Most of the “cooking” I’ve done with my kids is either sparked by something we’ve read in a book or H has seen in a cartoon, or as to do with a special time or event, such as preparing food for playdates, parties or to share with friends and neighbours. I’ve also noticed that when I’m caring for other children, we often end up cooking, whether it’s chocolate chip cookies, special desserts or DIY pizza because I had nothing else for lunch when my sister-in-law visited with her kids one afternoon.

Although this was a last-minute thing, I was really pleased by how it turned out. H and my niece who were both 5 at the time, were super excited to play “pizza parlour”- a quick game I came up with so I could quickly prep ingredients without them asking me a million questions. Essentially, I used two whiteboards, listed all the possible pizza toppings we had on hand and put checkboxes next to the toppings. These were their ordering menus. Their job was to take everyone’s orders while I prepped the ingredients. Then they returned and consulted their order menus to customize each pizza. It was an excellent real-life application of literacy skills and they were so pleased to be the waitresses and chefs.

My goal as my children grow, is to shift cooking from a special experience, to a more typical one. I’ve already told them that they will be responsible for making one family meal a week in the years to come.

For an overview of some of the benefits children can derive from cooking, check out these past posts about making lemonade, apple pie, gingerbread cookies, banana pops, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin bread, and banana muffins. 

Do you cook with your kids? If so, what are some of your favourite things to cook? If not, what are some of the barriers holding you back?

Birds

Standard

At some point last spring, a few months before his first birthday, Y started noticing birds. His dad would stand him at the window and point out birds to him. At the time, I thought it would be a passing phase, but his love of birds intensified as the days went by.

Many toddlers are drawn to animals- Y loved all the animals we saw last summer but for some reason, he holds a special place in his heart for birds.

I used to find birds quite annoying. I often complained to my husband that they would be outside our window and start chirping at 3 am and how it made it so much more difficult for me to get back to sleep after a nursing session, but as Y’s love of birds grew, so did my appreciation.

C7C1D3ED-3B63-47BB-BA14-FC96FF7E5EBF

His gleeful shrieks when he would spot a little bird in our tree made me smile and I started thinking that maybe they weren’t as bad as I first thought. I decided to order him a book about birds from amazon, and the book that I ordered turned out to be one of my favourites. Have you seen birds? is simply fantastic. I can’t get over how well-written it is. It is such a joy to read aloud–I am amazed by the number of verbs used to describe birds (my brain thought they were adjectives at first)! The illustrations are done by Barbara Reid, someone who’s work I first encountered in my kindergarten class. In case you’ve never heard of her, she does wonderful lifelike illustrations, completely out of plasticine! Not only is this book “a feast for the eyes and ears” as put by a prominent book reviewer, but it also nourishes the mind. I love how the author, Joanne Oppenheim, has classified the birds into different categories.

We also enjoyed the illustrations in Lucy Cousin’s Hooray for Birds! 

We have some kind of berry tree in our backyard that attracts lots of birds. Last summer, I counted 5 species that visited our tree just to eat. You can imagine what a thrill it was for the kids (and me) to see so many different birds flying in and out. I knew that the red breasted bird was a robin, but beyond that, I was stumped. I took to google to try to identify the birds and soon discovered a few bird websites that lead me to an app called Merlin Bird ID. It’s a fantastic app to help identify birds! You fill in a bunch of criteria including where the bird was spotted, what date it was spotted, the size, the colour and what it was doing and it generates a list of possible birds. You can also hear the bird calls and songs, view a map of where that bird is typically found and see different photos (this was especially helpful because for some species, the males and females differ from each other and may also look different when they’re ready for mating).

*In case any of you are wondering, the other birds that frequented our tree are black-billed magpies (an extremely common bird in Alberta but one I never saw growing up in Ontario), sparrows, black-capped chickadees and northern flickers. Other birds we routinely see around the neighbourhood or flying above include crows, pigeons, gulls and Canada geese.

I saw this “toy” earlier this fall during one of my annual visits to the mall (I don’t like going to the mall so my trips are seldom). I decided it would be a great thing for Y to interact with. It’s essentially two-motion activated birds that start to chirp and move when they detect motion or sound. Y and H loved this and would often play with it. It’s currently out of batteries but I’m curious to see what Y would make of it now as it’s been out of commission for a while.

59CCF67A-DA75-4D83-8498-20FC3EAFFBF5.jpeg

Through one of the bird websites I found, I came to learn about a cool annual event called the Great Backyard Bird Count. Essentially, it entails you spending 15 minutes outside and counting the different types of birds you see and the number of each. We were planning on doing this over the Family Day long weekend with my neighbour and her kids (her toddler is also a huge fan of birds) but we never got the chance to. I do look forward to doing a future one though. For more information on this global annual event, check out their website The Great Backyard Bird Count.

My neighbour and I did recently end up taking our children to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, a wildlife reserve that allows people to walk trails and spot birds (among other wildlife). I’ve been wanting to go since last year and so glad I finally made it, because it was definitely a place that soothed my soul. Despite the cold and overcast day, we still managed to see/hear birds including crows, black-capped chickadees, black-billed magpies, mallard ducks, gulls, house sparrows, European starlings, Canada geese and what we suspect was a ring-necked pheasant taking flight (this was a new one for me!) We also saw some tracks on the frozen pond made by Canada geese. During our walk, we saw this poster that was essentially a checklist of common birds seen in that given month. I’m curious to see what different species may be spotted as the months change.

A natural outcome of watching birds for me has been slowing down. After Y’s intrigue piqued my own curiosity, I’ve been noticing things that for 30 years, I never really did. I now marvel at how varied those once annoying bird sounds are. I see the way their tails flare out when they take flight and the way they wings flap (or don’t). I notice how some birds soar so high above in smooth trajectories while some little birds seems to flutter haphazardly between trees and roofs. Lately, on the walks we’ve been taking, I’ve started noticing nests and how birds have been flying with twigs in their mouths, building nests to welcome their babies and feeding on various things.

Slowing down and spending time outdoors with or without my children is something that’s important to me, and along that vein, I’m so happy to see the number of forest schools and outdoor education programs that have been popping up in Calgary over the last five years. Many of these programs have been in quadrants of the city that are too far to frequent regularly but over the winter months, my neighbour did tell me about a program that I think is truly wonderful for families with young children. Urban Wild, founded by Alexandra O’Rourke, is “connecting families to the natural world, and to each other.” We were registered in the Family Winter Program and both H and Y deeply enjoyed the experience which featured walks, play-based educational activities and snacks (always a highlight for H).

C36BDD65-DC00-4B53-AC22-38298FD53328

Due to the rough winter weather we experienced, our group was not able to meet as regularly as expected but we were given a credit, which we applied to the spring session. I’m really looking forward to visiting different parks in Calgary and spotting new birds and nests. Registration is still open so check out their current programs here. Urban Wild is currently offering a weekend and weekday option, morning and afternoon option and North and South option so there is A LOT of flexibility so you can find what works for your family!

5FAE6459-B986-43A2-9AB1-08A58EEE79DD

I know there are people who check out this blog from all over the world. I would love to see some photos of birds local to your area and share them with my children. It would be lovely if you could share them in the comments.

DIY Gift Ideas for Children

Standard

One thing I can honestly say that I enjoy doing is putting together gifts for the children in my life. If time and creativity permit, one of my favourite ways of going about this is to put together gift sets/kits that revolve around a particular theme/interest. Below is a list (with pictures) of some of the ones I’ve put together in the past. Many of these have been Eid gifts but would work great for any holiday, birthday or just because 😊

1. Cooking Gift Set– the first time I made these was in 2013 for a few family friends. I was inspired by one young girl’s fascination with making apple pie. I found a good children’s cookbook (with an apple pie recipe of course!) and paired it with a children’s baking set I purchased at Real Canadian Superstore. The set included a baking tray and utensils such as a spatula, beater, cookie cutters etc. I remember how excited the little boy was when he opened it and realized they were real tools! (Not just for pretend play). To round off the gift, I added a few items from the dollar store including measuring cups, measuring spoons, cupcake liners and aprons (they were originally meant for crafting). Variations of this gift have included different main baking sets, including making a cake in the shape of a train, icing tools and other little items I found at the time. The one I’m working on now has a dress up Chef’s costume but depending on your budget, you could find a plain children’s apron and hat set and get it personalized! This has been the most popular set I’ve gifted, giving it (with some variation) five times now with a sixth in the works.

2. Writing Kit – I blogged about this earlier here so I won’t go into too much detail, but essentially I collected a bunch of stationary supplies including pretty paper, pens, pencils, sharpener , envelopes, and threw in some printables so children could design their own postcards and stamps. I included this amazing book I remember reading as a kid (The Jolly Postman) and cute metal mailboxes. I hoped the kits would support my daughter and niece’s emerging interest in writing.

 

3. Design your own Clothing– H’s interest in drawing got me thinking about new ways she could extend her passion. I thought of an idea for her which I was able to duplicate for the other kids in our circle based on it’s versality. For Eid last year, I put together simple DIY kits for children to decorate their own T-shirts. I ordered fabric markers online (one pack per family) and then bought plain white T-shirts for the 8 kids I was planning on giving this to. Since the number of kids in our family friend circle is growing, it can get pricey and challenging to buy gifts that everyone likes so these were perfect for a multi-age group. I also bought some plain canvas bags that can be used in a future activity. The kids really enjoyed designing their own shirts and it was interesting to see how H went about this activity because she was able to observe how the older children planned their designs on paper before they began. I was happy to learn that one of the boy’s loved his shirt so much that he wore in 3 days in a row and two of the girls who were best friends, made matching shirts, which they quickly made plans to wear the next time they saw each other.

4. Play Dough Kits – In my work with children, it’s been impossible not to make my own play-dough, whether it was a task assigned by H’s preschool or a fun activity to do with H or a cool idea for a DIY gift. Three years ago, I made purple glitter playdough to give to H and my niece on Eid alongside a small jar of loose parts (buttons, gems, beads etc) to add to their creations and personalized unicorn stuffies. A few years ago, I happened to be at Real Canadian Superstore a few days after Christmas and they had plastic cookie cutters on sale. I picked some up along with some cool metal tins and figured out I would give some DIY playdough sets as presents to some of our neighbours and friends. The way logistics and time constraints played out, I wasn’t able to create them right away, but I did get to put them together this year. I made “red” cinnamon scented playdough and green peppermint scented playdough with Y this year to include in the sets and added some straightforward tools (wooden popsicle sticks, plastic cutlery) and some loose parts. The sets were a hit, homemade and budget friendly! This year I happened to see cookie cutters and tins on clearance again so I bought some more because they really are a great gift for toddlers and preschoolers!

5. Magnet Sets – I’ve written in the past about using magnets for storytelling. This year, my two best friends were both expecting their second child. Each already had a toddler at home. Both the toddler’s enjoyed the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which child doesn’t?!?) so I decided to make them magnet sets to play with. Given the popularity of the book, I was able to find images online (albeit, pixelated) and printed, cut, laminated, re-cut and added magnets to them so the toddlers could start retelling the stories and hopefully give their mama’s a few minutes to tend to the new babies. Y really enjoyed playing with them too! *Please note this was done for personal use. Be mindful of copyright laws and never use someone else’s work without permission to turn a profit.

6. Detective Set H has no doubt been my inspiration for a lot my creative endeavours. Most recently, she has been intrigued by the idea of detectives. I often find her with a notepad and pen in hand trying to solve mysteries like “Where has the blue ball gone?” She interviews suspects and witnesses and scribbles something onto her pad. She’s been asking me for a magnifying glass (I found one while decluttering our basement that I had purchased during my days as a preschool teacher) and decided to put together a little kit for her. Earlier this year, I bought a cool book called Officer Panda: Fingerprint Detective  and I stowed it away. This was the perfect opportunity to present it to her, so I paired it with the magnifying glass, a stamp pad, notepad and pen to get her going. I thought it would be cool to package it in a vintage briefcase but I came across my old laptop case which would probably be easier for her to carry anyway (but I will keep my eye out for the old combination lock briefcases). I will also make up an ID card for her and come up with some activities like teaching her how to encode things (I have fond memories of sharing encoded notes with my friend Emily in grade one), using magic ink to hide messages, learning how to lift fingerprints and of course, giving her a mystery to solve. Perhaps if this sustains interest, I will do a post specifically about this. 7B77D45D-EC39-45AE-8B57-3EC78CE211DD

7. Flannel Board Set – Telling stories is something I enjoy doing. The first time I created flannel board characters was back in 2012 for a practicum placement. The Three Little Pigs story has served me well ever since, with my own children playing with it on countless occasions. I made a DIY flannel board by purchasing some flannel and hot gluing into to a foam board from the dollar store.  Three and a half years ago, I created another set for The Famous Donkey Story to perform at a children’s Eid party. I’ve since used in during volunteer storytimes in the Calgary community. Shortly before the birth of Y, H was really into fairytales (she’s been revisiting them lately, mais en français). Her favourite story at that time was Goldilocks and the Three Bears and she asked me to make her a flannel board story set so one day while her dad was playing a very long cricket game, we got to work (she gave input on colour and design) and I created this, which both kids love! It happens to be Y’s favourite story at the moment. This was particularly special, because during her second meeting with her brother, she performed this story for him (and then a few days later, for the midwife who patiently listened to her entire rendition). I’ve also created flannel board shapes, characters and activities for the children to play with in more open ended ways included food, faces, people getting dressed, snowmen etc.) I created a smaller portable flannel board by using some leftover flannel fabric and hot gluing it to the inside of a legal-sized file folder. When H was a toddler, I could send her with this folder (and the pieces inside) when she was spending the day at her grandmother’s house. I’m currently musing about a flannel board set I can make for Y given his emerging love for playing with what we already have. His current interests include animals and trains.

Every time I’ve gifted one of these, the children have loved them and the parents have appreciated the uniqueness, thought and customization that went into the gift. I love that they are gender neutral and can go in so many different directions!

For the love of literacy: DIY gift idea for young children

Standard

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.

D368241F-B359-4776-A79A-3101A4952D2F

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.

5B1E1317-6467-4F5B-AE23-30E4C1239BCF

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.

4A06156E-F7A3-4B48-8B83-B09DE17EB07D

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.

942FD97E-D8F0-4326-ACFE-B6ACAE4A59BD

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.

EF6DBC41-CC69-4346-A61D-BB833D4E3D44

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.

Where in the world…

Standard

Since H turned 4, her awareness about the world and her interest in geography, social studies and maps has steadily been growing.

It ignited with an interactive globe she received from a friend on her birthday. Suddenly she became more familiar with countries like China, Nigeria and Russia . These places became more meaningful to her when (as with anything else) we started making personal connections (“Do you know that’s where our neighbours used to live?”) The globe also features music and languages from different countries and this was a hit with my daughter who, like her momma, loves world music and languages.

image

She played with these beautiful matching cards I had bought at Costco a few years ago that featured people from various countries. She started to become more familiar with various country names: Algeria, Cuba, Finland, Turkey….

Her newfound interest quickly turned into a month-long story session. It was about a family vacation that included my side of the family. Everyday before nap or bed, I told her another part of the story, which featured different countries or places. She was captivated and each day, excitedly asked, “Can you tell the story of Nani, Nana and those guys?” We traveled everywhere: Thailand, Costa Rica, Japan, Sudan, Australia and so on. Sometimes, she asked for a specific country, and sometimes I provided it. When I didn’t know enough about a country to spin a story, I took inspiration from non-fiction books, like this one. H really enjoyed looking at the photos and asking questions.

She also became very preoccupied with understanding why I no longer live with my parents in Toronto. She shared her anxieties around separation with me and took this occasion to remind me she wanted to live with us forever and wanted to stay in our current house forever. As she became more familiar with other places and how we refer to citizens from other countries, I started hearing her use words like “Chinese” and also asking how to correctly refer to various populations…”How do you call United States?” As of late, she considers herself and her brother Canadian, her father, Indian and me, Torontonian.

She worked through a sticker activity book called the World Atlas of Animals (I had previously purchased it for $3 from  dollarama). It included a pull out map and helped her become more familiar with continents. For her, the concept that places have subsets is difficult to grasp. How can we live in Calgary…and  Alberta…and Canada…and North America all at the same time?

image.jpeg

Talk about different places peaked for her when I finally put up this giant map in Y’s room. She immediately began asking about places we had alluded to or talked about and started asking specific questions to help develop her understanding…”What’s this country between China and Russia?”

image.jpeg

It was great for her to be able to see things more concretely. She looked at the map and asked me “Where is Oz?” Above mentioned in past posts, the Wizard of Oz has been a big interest of hers this past year. I told her Oz was not on the map but did show her Kansas. A few weeks later she carefully reviewed the map and asked, “Where is jannah?” This opened the door to a positive discussion about jannah as I know the idea of death typically makes her anxious.

Pondering about place also expanded to history and thinking about time. This book was a favourite of hers as she kept returning to it, eager to learn about and review the lifestyles of children from various time periods and places.

We plan to continue learning about places in different capacities as they tie in to different aspects of our life. I can already see some upcoming tie ins as we prepare for Ramadan.

 

Beads as loose parts

Standard

Many educators and parents view using beads as a natural step towards crafting and jewelry making. While H does enjoy making bracelets and necklaces with beads, perhaps what she loves more is to play with beads as loose parts. Her collection of beads has easily grown into the hundreds.

image

Loose parts, at least as I refer to them in my blog posts, are essentially open-ended items, meaning they are objects (often a collection of objects) that can be used and played with, in a number of different ways.

Her love for beads started with sorting them. She would easily spend an hour sorting beads by different properties. For example, she might first sort them by colour, arranging them into distinct piles on the floor. Then, when I would come back to check on her, she would be arranging them by shape/form. Sometimes, she will arrange them using multiple properties or subjective categories like “beautiful,” often coming up with names for the categories based on  their attributes. Some examples of this include referring to parts of her collection as “butterfly beads,” “Christmas lights,” “keys,” “maracas,” “cactus,” and “raspberries.”

Often, she would try to house her organized beads in ice cube trays, but because she didn’t have enough compartments to reflect all the different categories, sometimes, she would combine categories (“this section is for red and green”).

One day as she was painting an empty styrofoam egg carton (it was for 18 eggs), I suggested she may be able to use that with her beads.

image

Sometimes, H uses the beads as characters, giving them voices as she treats them as characters. This was a very distinct theme for her in the fall when she would play with plastic pop arty beads (the different shaped plastic/rubber beads click together so that string isn’t required to make jewelry).

image

Building on the idea of using beads in dramatic play, she sometimes uses them as props for little figures in small world play, often acting as food, jewels etc.

image

More recently, H has started using beads in combination with sensory materials like playdough to create things (not just to process). Here she is making sprinkle ice cream and chocolate chip and sugar cookies.

Last week, in collaboration with me, H used beads as a medium to create pictures. We started by creating what looked like a minion, a bird (kind of looks like a pigeon) on a branch, and a birthday cake.

Then, H worked independently. From literal representations (here is “a garden with flowers and grass and butterflies like a real garden”)

image

…to more abstract complex ones (“I want to make a human with a silly face, a hijab, a bindi on its head over here [points to forehead], earrings and makeup on her lips.”)

image

Sidenote: when H was creating the work above, I was not with her. I was putting Y back to sleep so this piece was conceptualized and executed exclusively by her. She even documented it herself (took the photo to share her work with me). It was an empowering moment for her and a proud moment for me. One of her favourite parts about making pictures with beads is destroying it after. She takes much joy in mixing everything together.

This morning, I had an idea for another activity: using beads to “colour” in existing pictures, more specifically mandalas. This idea appealed to her. I will include a photo once we get around to it.

For more information on loose parts, you may wish to consult these books, full of inspiring ideas and beautiful photo examples. Note: they may be available through your local library as well as in e-format.

There are some cool “loose parts” groups on Facebook as well as profiles on other social media platforms. Most recently, I’ve been benefitting from this podcast series on loose parts. You can also search for other “loose part” entries on my blog as it’s a common theme for us.

I hope that this post has helped broaden your perspective on the role of beads in early childhood play.