LabbaykAllah humma Labbayk: A Hajj Story Program

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Just over a month ago, millions of Muslims took to Mecca to carry out the pilgrimage that’s been going on in some way or another for thousands and thousands of years.

As someone with no firsthand knowledge of visiting Mecca, I knew I needed to learn about it and inshallah educate H in the process.

I was fortunate enough to work with ICNA Relief- Calgary’s Little Muslim’s Library to bring to life a story program for children aged 4-8 to learn about Hajj; the history, the rites and the significance of this glorious journey.

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In preparing for this session, I learned much more than I anticipated and something was awakened in my heart. It was also a great opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with H. She was so excited to do something together without Y. She actually wanted to help with the storytelling (inshallah she will have the chance to in the future) and went as far as insisting we wear our matching outfits.

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Because of time and logistical constraints, I was only able to consult resources I already had at home, including a handbook from the popular Weekend Ilm Intensive classes from a course I attended in the past. However, I did come across cool and innovative things I hope to use in the future, including Hajj-themed image files that can be purchased and downloaded online.

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And with the intention of benefitting as many people as possible (I know that many people are trying to start children’s programs in their own communities), here’s what I did:

Duration of program– The program was advertised as a 2-hour program. Even though I knew it would not take this long, I wanted to factor in for lateness and for the children to have a chance to work at their own pace and socialize with each other. I knew that for children like my daughter, this was a rare opportunity to be in a traditionally Islamic space and among this many other Muslim children.

Age of participants and maximum capacity– I was intentional about the age of participants and the limit of how many children we would accept based on past experiences and my own need for calm. The program was designed to be an unparented experience for children between the ages of 4-8 however if younger siblings were attending, a parent had to stay and supervise them. I wanted between 12-15 children so we accepted 20 because there are always last minute cancellations. This approach worked out as we had 12 children that fell into that age range, one toddler and two 9-year old volunteers. Had the program been designed for younger children, it would have been structured differently and would definitely have been shorter.

Format of program– From my experience working with children (and people in general), I know that it’s important to appeal to various learning styles. I make it a point in my story programs to not just read a book, but instead appeal to children’s visual, auditory and bodily senses. That means that in my programs, there is a good chance that children will listen, speak, chant or sing as well as move around. I also like to include opportunities for creative expression when possible.

Room set-up – The room was divided into informal areas that supported the order of the program. There was a sign-in table outside where children received a name tag and parents communicated important information (including allergies). This space was in the same area as the actual little library, piquing the children’s interest.

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Once the children entered, they were invited to pick from a variety of pre-printed activity pages that were clearly displayed at one end of the room. The children took their pages and sat at one of the three tables that were set up with chairs and colouring utensils. This gave the children something to do while we waited for everyone to arrive. The space in the middle was left open to allow for movement and an allocated space for a more intimate experience during the actual storytelling.

 

Volunteers– Even before our program formally started, I could hear the children sharing knowledge with each other as they made new friends. The addition of the two 9-year old volunteers turned out to be a great symbiotic relationship. The younger children had less-intimidating people they could connect with and look up to. It also allowed the 9-year-olds to review their own knowledge and develop their leadership abilities as well as help their self-esteem by feeling valued. The sister volunteer from ICNA Relief Calgary not only helped me organize the program, but she set up the room, took care of the registration and lead the craft. She was also on standby in case I needed an extra pair of adult hands (a few parents stayed for the program and they were able to help too).

Delivery of the program– I formally started the program by inviting everyone to sit with me. I introduced myself and invited the children to share any thoughts or ideas they had before I began our first story. I was pleased to see that H shared something that she didn’t know earn from me, but from one of the volunteers just moments before.

The first story was told orally and was essentially based on the life of Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him. I wanted the children to have a point of reference for the different rites of Hajj when we learned about them later in the program. In retelling the story, I emphasized certain aspects like how special it was that God had taken Abraham for a friend, and I had been more cautious about the idea of sacrifice, making sure to avoid words like “kill”. It’s always a challenge to present complex ideas to young, impressionable minds that are still developing and prone to fear. I didn’t go into specifics and was mindful of the direction that the volunteers may take the discussion so I did not call on them during this sensitive time.

The second story was one that I had created to introduce children to the different aspects/steps of Hajj. It was framed around a young girl who’s parents would be making the Hajj pilgrimage, her feelings about missing them and what her parents would be doing while they were gone.

I wanted this story to have visual aids and told it in an interactive style. I found images that fit the story and printed and laminated them before sticking magnets on the back. I used a dry erase marker (and big magnetic white board) to tell the story, using the marker to show the physical path that the pilgrims took and accentuating ideas like going around the Kaaba seven times (I circled the picture on the whiteboard seven times, inviting children to count out loud with me). The children also joined me at points throughout to recite the talbiyah (the prayer often made during the Hajj).

This story gave the children a pretty good overview about the steps of Hajj. To review the steps (and to get up and move around) we sang a song called “We will all go to Mecca on the Hajj” to the tune of “She’ll be Coming around the Mountain”. This is a song I found floating around online (you can find it on google), but added lyrics and amended some of the existing ones to better suit my purposes (to better match the story and so the children could learn the Arabic names of the different parts of Hajj). We added actions to all of the parts of the song. The younger children really seemed to enjoy this part of the program.

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While the children were standing, we demonstrated how to wrap an ihram.

We then talked about how Hajj is not an easy journey and how it takes a lot of planning and a sincere intention. We read a beautiful book called Yan’s Hajj: The Journey of a Lifetime by Fawzia Gilani. This book makes me tear up every time I read it. I had actually pre-ordered it from Amazon in the spring.

The next step involved the lovely volunteer from ICNA who gave children bookmarks to decorate however they chose. She laminated the bookmarks for the children to take home with them. Once the children finished, they were free to continue colouring their pages, browse the books or re-enact the stories.

On their way out, children were given a snack. It was a bag of popcorn decorated like a sheep. I had come across this cute DIY idea a few years ago and had added it to my daughter and niece’s Eid al Adha gift basket. I thought it would be a simple, nice thing to send the kids home with.

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All in all, the program felt like it was a success. We received good feedback from the kids and parents. I know I saw the themes from the program continuing in my daughter’s own play in the weeks to come.

For example, my daughter and niece were playing in their grandparent’s backyard. It has an open gutter running through it so that rainwater can drain. They were running back and forth counting out loud, pretending they were doing the sa’ee and that the water from the gutter was the spring of zam zam. I also heard them singing bits and pieces of the song and asking to play with the story magnets.

A big thank you to ICNA Relief Calgary who has been supportive of the various initiatives I have approached them with. I was so impressed by how well organized the program was- they put so much effort into the registration process, setting up the room perfectly and creating the props I envisioned (sourcing the ihram, creating the Kaaba and prepping activity pages was all them!)

I look forward to doing more story times sessions throughout the course of the year.

 

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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.

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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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Bye Bye Basket: deconstruction and loose parts

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There is lots I’ve been wanting to blog about. My phone gallery is full of photos I’ve taken over the last 6 weeks but instead, I’m here to take you on a visual journey of what happened in our house today.

We have a basket on the shelf with Y’s playthings. As those things have increased, the contents have gotten heavier and one side of the handle started coming undone and finally broke.

Today, as Y pursued some playthings, he found himself trapped.

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I decided to snap the handle off of the basket and gave it to H who I figured would find an imaginative use for it. She quickly got to work.

image.jpegIt wasn’t long before she had pulled apart the entire handle.

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“Mama, can I have a bowl for my spaghetti?” Then she found a mixing spoon.

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Perhaps some of the pieces didn’t fit in the bowl because soon she was creating a circle on the ground.

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“Look mama, I made a face!”

I brought over some twigs and pine cones with the hope that she would enhance the faces, but she had other plans. She grabbed the container full of art utensils, eyeing the highlighter and got ready (to colour all over the floor). Unfortunately, it was time for lunch and nap so I promised her that when she woke up she could continue at the table after we covered it.

So after her nap (and costume change because what fabulous 4 year old doesn’t change their clothes at least 5 times a day?) we each started colouring a piece. Notice her grip, experimentation with holding multiple markers and her rearrangement of marker lids.

After surprising her Papa with her creation, she found me and started singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (we went to go see a production of The Wizard of Oz yesterday).

imageI remember reading somewhere about how taking things apart can also be considered an aspect of creativity. After 7 years of marriage to an engineer, I’ve come to appreciate this form of creative expression and was overjoyed to see H’s process unfold over the day- how she deconstructed part of the basket, played with it in different ways and then created something new and personally meaningful. Wow.

Odds and Ends

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We’ve been doing a lot of play and exploration with light and shadow (post forthcoming) but in the meantime I thought I’d share some photos of the other things we have been up to. It’s fascinating for me to be back in the baby years and witness how quickly physical, social and cognitive skills are developing. It’s also been interesting to see changing dynamics and relationships within our house.

 

 

 

October Round Up

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October has been a busy and interesting month! We spent the last few days of September outdoors visiting the farm and exploring the neighbourhood.

 

Good thing because the beginning of October brought snow! Fortunately, it was temporary so we could enjoy fall some more.

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As we found ourselves settling into more of a routine, we started spending more time indoors.

H came across this tray and literally begged me to fill it with things for her (she remembered the last time we had used it), so in a five minute hussle, I filled it with things from my kitchen (isn’t it amazing how many different types of pasta there are?!)

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H got to work, adding in her own loose parts like bracelets.

 

This month, she spent a lot of time dressing up. Sometimes she used ready made costumes and sometimes she used her imagination.

 

I love H’s knack for symbolic play. I think she would be great at improv. Here she is with her bicycle helmet, a bunk bed she made for her dolls and putting her babies to sleep in their bassinets.

 

We voted in the municipal elections and that raised a discussion about mayors. So far the only mayors she knew about were Mayor Goodway and Mayor Humdinger. She was very curious about Mayor Nenshi.

 

H played with old loose parts, building homes and having picnics.

 

And explored new ones too.

We read. We ran up hills. We went to go see a play.

 

We did experiments and yoga.

Our car broke down and we ended up stuck at her school for a few hours. It was nice for me to have a deeper look at her preschool environment. I know I’m the keener parent- the one who is always looking at the lesson plans, remembers spirit days and peeks to see what new centres have been added to the room.

 

As Y has been growing older, it’s fascinating to see what captures his attention. Not only does he love watching his sister at play, but he has started to express his own preferences. He was really drawn to this bicycle-printed hijab of mine so we used it over his play gym and suspended from the swing. He also tried catching his shadow.

 

I spent time learning this month. I found some inspiring Facebook groups and attending virtual workshops I had signed up for last winter. This exposure to seeing Reggio in practice got my gears turning and reignited my passion for self-growth and reflection.

When I look back at some of what we did this month, I feel exhausted! But I also can’t help but smile at all of the synapses (brain connections) that must have been made. Play, is after all, the work of the child.

Mobile Adventure Playground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are so many great aspects of this playground:

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

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

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

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

Happy Playing!

 

 

 

Tools are Cool- Post #4: Cardboard Construction

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Anyone with a young child has probably learned a few things about children and play. One of these revelations is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to entertain or engage children. This moment is probably most acutely realized after you hand an infant a new toy and they spend more time playing with the box the toy came in, than the toy itself.

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Boxes hold beautiful potential and offer a world of possibility for children. Similarly, other materials like paper, cardboard and paint can often help support children’s ideas of what the box should be.

This packaging from Ikea provided weeks of play for H in the months of January and February. It was almost like a five-sided box that had natural creases on two of the sides. H instantly declared that this was her boat and began fishing. Some time later, by simply undoing the sides, it became her rocket ship.

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Her rocket ship play lead to a discussion about direction and soon she was heading east to Montreal. She transferred this knowledge to our car rides and started asking/suggesting what direction we should drive in.

Sometimes she went on solo trips and sometimes she went with friends. Sometimes only her friends went and she bid them farewell.

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I extended her play by providing paint and stickers so she could decorate her rocket ship the way she wanted. There’s nothing exciting or captivating about this. This is my way of engaging her with everyday things on short notice. That being said, I know it’s empowering for her to make things her own.

The next day, while I napped, she quietly decided to take matters into her own hands…and legs. It was another one of those magical moments where I stood frozen wondering why this always happens to me! After our last few food colouring disasters in the fall, I stored the paints and food colour in the basement (out of reach) but thought leaving them in the kitchen for less than the one hour we were home before we had to go to swimming would be no big deal. Lesson learned!

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A trip to Costco gave us another box. This one became her official boat.

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While none of these experiences required special tools, I was really excited to provide H with this cool tool set I came across online. We bought it locally from Lee Valley Tools.

I knew she would still be a little young to really make the most of it, but it was really empowering for her to use the scru-driver and actually watch the
“screws” turn into the cardboard.  She looked at the packaging and said that she wanted to make a dollhouse, so we used yet another Costco box and an old pull-ups box.

As I expected, H wasn’t fully engaged in this process because it was challenging (and she got distracted by playdough). She helped with attaching some of the pieces and provided her input, for example, when I was trying to add in stairs she said, “How about we use a string instead?” So we did. But she does enjoy playing with it. It’s currently on display in our playroom. To further extend this process (and to distract her when I needed a few minutes), I gave her stickers to decorate the house.

 

Then of course, her imagination soared. I happened upon this scene later and could only to try to guess what had happened here…image_2.jpeg

There are a variety of tools designed for various purposes and to carry out various functions. The tools we explored in this series had to do with building and construction because those are the ones H was interested in when we started, but I look forward to introducing other types of tools related to art, cooking and gardening as the year progresses since she has also grown to be quite interested in those areas. Hopefully it can help broaden her perspective and understanding of tools and provide her for more opportunities for fine motor development.