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.

 

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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 #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.

Creative Storytelling using Magnets

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About 3 years ago, when I was first introduced to the world of Facebook buy and sell groups, I came across a product that essentially changed the way I thought about storytelling. I put in a bid for a math game called “Ten Little Penguins Stuck on the Fridge.” I knew there would be some time before my daughter, then about 1.5 years old would be able to play with the product in the way that it was intended, but I saw different potential for those magnets.

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « 10 little penguins stuck on the fridge »

Photo from earlygeniuses website

Around the same time, I started designing the space that would become our playroom. I opted for a blackboard wall where I saw future creativity blossoming. I wanted the wall to be magnetic so that it could be used in different ways. I thought ahead to a time where one day, my children, could stick word magnets on the wall as they learned to write and create poetry.

Because of the way the wall was made, it wasn’t as magnetic as I was hoping, but it still worked with light magnets, like the ones from the penguin game. My 2 year old was ecstatic as she started creating stories on the blackboard wall.

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Encouraged by her enthusiasm, I pulled up a Microsoft Word document and asked her what other magnets she wanted. We sat together, finding pictures and using dollar store adhesive magnet sheets to create custom magnets that she could use for play and storytelling.

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The following year, I started seeing magnets at the dollar store: bunny magnets at Easter, Cinderella dress up magnets so I started collecting them to add to our collection. I continue to keep my eye out for magnets and we still continue to create some at home.

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Our blackboard wall has been used in a number of ways.

It’s used for for decor:

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It’s used to hang posters and for planning purposes:

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It’s used for mark making, drawing and literacy:

 

It’s still used for storytelling! Now that H is 4, she uses it in a collaborative fashion, often creating stories with me as we use both chalk and the magnets to create our stories.

 

Y also loves sticking magnets onto the wall. I anticipate creating a new set of magnets for him as his language skills continue developing.

 

Even if you don’t have a magnetic wall or whiteboard in your home, fridges and dishwashers work great!! This is a great option for my kids when I’m cooking and they want to be close by.

 

 

For a more portable option, using a cookie tray works well. My daughter uses this when we travel or when she wants to play with magnets in her bedroom.

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Lemonade

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For a few months now, H has casually been dropping hints: “Remember that time we made lemonade?” …”I love lemonade”…”I wish we could make lemonade…”

Like many well-intentioned parents, I added it to my list of “Things to do with my children.” That list, by the way, includes a bunch of things that aren’t even developmentally appropriate anymore.

So earlier this month when I was making a rare trip to the grocery store (because since the induction of child #2 and the inception of click and collect, my trips have been drastically reduced), I saw a bag of lemons on sale and heard H’s voice in the back of my head. “Lemonade…” it eerily beckoned.

In the weeks to come, that quiet voice was soon replaced with my husband’s not so quiet voice, that demanded if I had plans for the bag of lemons…you know, other than using them as cushioning for our green bin (organics composting).

So on coincidentally, what was the first day of spring, we finally made lemonade.

 

There’s still tons of snow outside and given how many lemons we had to juice, we won’t be doing this regularly, but it was a special way to perk up an otherwise, dull, afternoon (and at least pretend like spring is on the horizon).

If I had planned in advance to make lemonade, I would have written out the recipe for H to help with her emerging literacy skills, but she did get to benefit from:

  • Fine motor practice – required hand and finger muscles to juice the lemons
  • Numeracy – to count and measure ingredients
  • Sensory – the aromatics and tasting were exciting, for Y too!
  • Experimenting – freezing water to make ice cubes, seeing the sugar dissolve into hot water and watching the consistency change; tasting the lemon juice become more diluted with every cup of water, and perhaps most exciting: seeing the colour of the juice change after adding strawberries
  • Creative Liberty– H asked about adding mint (we didn’t have any) so opted for strawberries. She’s already looking forward to playing around with different flavours.

 

Beads as loose parts

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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”)

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…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.”)

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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.