Cooking with Kids

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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.

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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?

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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.

 

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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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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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!