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.

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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.

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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Mirror Mirror on the Wall

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When H was a new baby, I was excited to decorate her room. I wanted a beautiful space that would prove calming for both of us. Coincidentally, the colour scheme we had (soft blue, cream and taupe) also worked for Y (although we did change up the textiles).

One of the elements of her room that brought opportunity for interaction was a series of adhesive mirror wall decals I had purchased from Target (which briefly graced Canadians with its presence when H was a baby).

I chose to add the mirrors to the wall next to her change table so she could amuse at herself after changes. Not only was this pretty and practical, but it offered opportunity for socioemotional development.

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When Y was born, we moved the change table (which was essentially just a dresser, into the closet). Y enjoyed the mirrors when I carried him but when he started sitting up, I thought about purchasing a new set and sticking them lower to the ground so he could access them independently.

In the fall, we visited the library after quite a hiatus. The space had been renovated and had a new part, perfect for babies. Part of its charm were mirrors at baby’s eye level.

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This reminded me of my plan so I ordered some new mirrors from Amazon. I have to point out that these were not glass mirrors but acrylic ones, so safer for children.

They sat in my drawer as the months passed.  I was planning on incorporating them into a sensory wall project but it slowly became clear that that was not going to materialize. Waiting for things to become perfect was going to thwart my good intentions so I decided to just go for it.

Since by now, Y is able to pull himself up to standing, I decided to arrange the mirrors vertically, leaving space to add to the top as he grows taller.

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He was excited and tried to add some himself (and remove them of course!) This is why I chose not to include any that would fit into his mouth so I don’t have to worry about choking hazards if he does manage to remove any.

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Not only is it fun for him to look at himself…

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But it also offers interesting new perspectives and quite literally helps me see things in a new way.

As with when this was H’s nursery, the room is a calming place. But this time, I’m paying more attention to texture and practicality. It’s still a work in progress but I love seeing how the same space, colours and furnishings have taken on a different life.

Where in the world…

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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.

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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?

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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?”

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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.

 

Arts, Crafts and Nurturing Creative Development in the Early Years – Part 1: Mark-making

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As a parent, I’ve found that one of the most challenging things is being patient as your child’s skills and interests emerge. It’s tempting to overwhelm them with all of the things they could be doing instead of meeting them where they are at.

I wouldn’t describe myself as an artist, but expressing myself through the arts is something that I enjoy. Early on, I recognized H’s beautiful imagination and her knack for patterning and dramatic play but I noticed she never seemed very interested in drawing or colouring.

Over the years, I gave her opportunities to draw and mark make (mostly with paint) but I never really pushed it. I knew that the environment was a big factor in how she approached art, and while ideally, I’d love to have a studio space in our home, that is far from coming into fruition.

A few months before she turned 3, she spent 6 weeks in a Reggio inspired preschool setting and she absolutely loved it. She still wasn’t as “into” art experiences as some of the other children, but I did realize there was a seed there, and it just needed time and the right type of care to foster it.

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I knew that the chances were very high that any preschool/future schooling she attended would not have a good art program. In fact, traditional daycares and preschools are notorious for pushing traditional crafts on children. While there is nothing wrong with crafts in and of themselves, they do not replace art. Here is a very simplified explanation:

Art is a process. It focuses on expression and what is beautiful to the artist. Only the artist can determine if it “turns out”. It’s deeply personal and has meaning. It can only be explained by the artist. There is no right or wrong or good or bad. The same materials manifest multiple different ways. For example, a group of eight children given the same materials will probably process that material differently and an outsider will see eight distinct works. Conversations about art might include dialogue like “Can you tell me about what you are doing?” “I notice you are using…”

Crafting is often about the product. It usually does not come from the child but instead from someone in an authority position or sometimes a book who subtly or overtly dictates what is important. Children have a standard that they are trying to meet, and anything that differs from the standard is somehow deemed “bad” “imperfect” or “incomplete”. Even if an adult doesn’t explicitly comment on the craft, children may feel discouraged because their crafts don’t look like the prototype. The unspoken value of craft often become perfection, uniformity, and just following directions. Conversations focus on “what did you make?”

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H picked out an animal crafting book from the library and chose to make a family of penguins to reflect her own reality (instead of a single penguin like in the book). She made minor changes, like giving some of the penguins two different-sized eyes because she liked it better that way.

As an educator, one of the first things I do when I walk into any childhood setting is scan the walls for children’s artwork. If it all looks the same, a part of me dies. I don’t want to send the wrong message: H attends such a preschool – children often engage in crafting and making “gifts” for their parents where everything looks the same. It lets me know that at home, I need to make sure I give her the opportunity to engage in more open-ended art experiences.

Here is a look at H’s journey with drawing. Most of the past photos are inaccessible to me at the moment as they are stored in my laptop which is not working. The collection of inaccessible photos also includes process-based work from when she was younger.

EDIT: The photos below were up in our house so I took photos of photos to share with you. They were taken between 10-28 months. One of her earliest mark makings was outdoors with sidewalk chalk. The fat chalks were easy to hold and there was no mess indoors. I also wanted to highlight that mark-making can happen outdoors (here it was in the sand and snow) and often turns into a sensory experience, especially with younger children.

In October 2016, H was almost 3 years old. This is one of the first pictures I remember her drawing that was understandable. I had been drawing her attention to human features around this point of time. She drew a picture of me. I believe that circle around my head is “curly hair” (which I do not have but she did). She quite amused at drawing herself with curly hair that swirled around her face.

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These are her drawings from a few months later (you can read more about them here).

 

 

She was never one to enjoy colouring in colouring books (I never bought her any but she did have a collection she received as gifts from various people). And to be honest, she wasn’t “good” at it. I never wanted to be one of those parents that told her to colour in the lines because I didn’t want to limit her and undo her natural creativity from the onset.

Her lack of interest in mark-making may have stemmed from it not being satisfying for her. I noticed that she didn’t enjoy crayons but did enjoy paint and markers (probably because they actually left marks when she used them). *Sidenote: Using crayons is encouraged because you have to push harder and children develop muscles and control they may not with something that is “easier” like markers.

She also didn’t have the pincer grip (the correct way to hold a pen) down. I wasn’t sure if it was something I should teach her or just let her come to it on her own. So for the most part, I backed off. I’ll be honest though…I was nervous. I saw one of her same-aged peers who attended a montessori program colour exceptionally well within the lines. She had perfected the pincer grip at an early age. But I’ll never forget one day when she shared her work with me. It was a small colouring book- 8 pages of the EXACT SAME PICTURE of a bear. I was so confsued at first, and then I realized that in each page, she had coloured an isolated body part. I quickly realized that this is how the children were taught to colour in this particular program…”on page one, colour the ear; on page two, colour the arm…”  I was mortified. (EDIT: this activity was not used to teach colouring but to review previously taught/learned knowledge. I still believe that it required precise colour skills) Side note: if any of you have experience with the acquisition of colouring skills in the Montessori method, please comment with your insight!

Please understand that I’m in no way implying that traditional art doesn’t require specialized knowledge, technique or skill- it definitely does. But at three years old, I believe that our thinking around children and “art” should centre around creative development and expression.

Around the time that she was 3.5 years old, I decided to buy some oil pastels for her because they would leave marks easier than crayons, but I was hoping the new medium would be engaging. I remember that the first time I presented her with them, she resisted. So I did what we, as parents do when faced with such circumstances. I started drawing with the pastels. This peaked my daughter’s interest. I rememeber the first thing she draw. On a piece of black construction paper, she carefully selected seven different colours and drew horizontal lines then wrote her name. “This is my rainbow.” We were both proud and excited. I knew this was going to be the beginning of something.

As the year went on, I saw her more and more interested in drawing and colouring (in colouring books). Perhaps as her fine motor control improved and things started looking more the way she was intending, she became less frustrated. Perhaps it was because she befriended a girl at school who also enjoyed drawing. Perhaps it’s because she now had more of a narrative to share. Perhaps it was because now, she was developmentally ready.

Here is a family photo she drew in September or October.

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Here is one she drew in January. It’s surreal to me how much detail she has started reflecting in a span of 3-4 months.

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“Papa has buttons on his shirt. Mama is wearing a hairband. I have long hair. Y is wearing a bowtie.”

In mid-December, we went to go see a “Wizard of Oz” play.

 

 

A few weeks later, she started drawing characters from the play.

 

 

In early January, she wanted to draw together. I quickly drew a “yellow” brick road, which she soon turned into a “rainbow brick road”. She drew Dorthy and used stamps to create the field of deadly poppies.

 

 

A week later, we decided to stay home from preschool one day and H wanted to draw together. We used the packing materials from a recent furniture delivery. She wanted to draw together so we decided to draw trees.

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A few weeks later, she drew this abstract picture of a cat. This was the first time I had seen her draw a non-human form. She was working meticulously on this “cat for mama”. This also happened to be the first incident I saw her get emotional over her art. Her same-aged cousin decided to take the picture (without permission) and engage in her own creative process (use a pencil to poke holes and make shapes like circles). There was a serious emotional meltdown that followed. In the four years I’ve parented this child, I’ve never seen her so angry. She had nightmares and held a grudge for a few weeks. There was so much more going on for her than art- this was an extremely socioemotional experience for her. The two eventually made up and I know her cousin was not being malicious- she was just a child experimenting with her own creative processes and testing her limits.

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At the beginning of February, H had a “bring a toy from home” day. She brought in a stuffed Elsa doll a friend had passed on to her a few weeks before that. She came home with this drawing of Elsa.

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Earlier this month during free play, she drew a family of sunflowers and explained the details to me. “This is the Papa Sunflower, Mama Sunflower, H Sunflower and Y Sunflower. These are the stems and here are the seeds in the soil.” It wasn’t until a few days later when I learned they were growing sunflowers in their classroom (which is where this sudden interest and detailed understanding stemmed from).

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It was evident that her technical skill was definitely improving. Here are some of the things I did to help postively influence her relationship with art and drawing:

  1. When she said she couldn’t draw something and asked me to draw it, I rarely did. I didn’t want to reinforce the message that she couldn’t draw. Instead I’d ask her to think about what she wanted to draw and think about what shapes it had. If she couldn’t remember what it looked like, we looked for the object in real life, or looked up a photo.
  2. I told her I would not draw for her, but I do accept her invitations to draw together. There is something beautiful to be said about collaboration.
  3. I encourage her to think about possibility (see the post on “Beautiful Oops” here). Similarly, here is a box we were using as a tunnel for Y. To help pass time, I suggested we try to transform the original text on the box into something else. I turned the barcode into a truck. She turned another barcode into a submarine. I turned the P into a snowman’s hat and the 2 into a goldfish.

 

 

In a future post, I will share some specific exercises/games/activity ideas that can be done with young children to foster their creative development.

Allowing for more art/creative experiences is definitely something I would like to incorporate more into the kids’ lives. I think it will be my next  challenge as an educator to give some more thought to how I can do this.

Beautiful Oops

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In the fall of 2012, I was taking a class that ended up being life changing for me. The class about experiences in early childhood literacy was brought to life by my talented college instructor, Lana Kostiuk, who deeply influenced how I thought about books for children. Lana’s dynamic lessons and standards for quality not only helped inform my own passions within early childhood education, but they pulled me into the world of Reggio as I learned about provocations and rich literature.

One of the first books  Lana shared with us, was called Beautiful Oops. I remember how mesmerized I was as she read it. I remember how the wheels in my head started turning and thinking “wow!” The book invites us to look at mistakes from a different perspective, seeing opportunities disguised as faults. It has a very beautiful concrete application for young children as well as figurative one for adults. I highly recommend checking it out!

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In the spring of 2015, I bought the book for a friend who had just graduated from teacher’s college. A few years later I saw a FB post of a coffee stain on a student’s paper that she had cleverly changed into something else. A few months later, I bought a copy for my family. I knew it wasn’t yet relevant to my daughter who was 20 months at the time, but I knew that day would come.

That day came today.

H has really been into drawing for the past week. This sent me over the moon because for almost a year, she’s shown little interest in it. I’ve been marvelling at how her drawing ability has been evolving (maybe I will share some of her creations in another post) but this evening she was very frustrated with the process.

I knew there were a number of factors coming into play: our routine has evaporated during the holidays. Late wake up/sleep times, forgotten meal times and minimal regard given to what she’s eating have understandably made her more grumpy and prone to high emotions. Moreover, not having the social connections she has become accustomed to (preschool friends and attention from me) have also affected her ability to cope. So when I could overhear her frustrated, angry, scribbling furiously over pictures that were not turning out the way she wanted and tears pierced with cries for attention, pleas for playing together and the “you didn’t spend any time with me today” I knew this was an opportunity.

I promised once I got Y into bed, I would be all hers.

And somewhere in that two hours of spending time together, we read Beautiful Oops. Most of my children’s books that are not in current use are housed in the basement, but for some reason, this one has always loved in my bedroom.

H was intrigued and fascinated. We read the book together and I saw her go through it atleast three more times in the short period before bed.

 

 

 

I suggested that maybe we could revisit her “mistake” from earlier in the day- the possibility of turning it into something beautiful was an idea she loved! She also asked me to join in and beautify some of my “mistakes”.

 

 

 

I hope that powerful feeling she felt is one that stays with her. She already asked me if I could leave the book downstairs so she could read it every morning.