Wonder Journal

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A few months ago when I decided to be more intentional about following H’s lead in terms of the learning we did , I started keeping a list of questions she would ask me on my phone. I also made brief notes about her areas of interest.

The original plan was to create a journal where we could start documenting her questions and thoughts. I thought of calling this a Wonder Journal, where she could essentially record things she wondered about.

We finally created the journal. It was a very simple one made out of white paper stapled together with a sheet of black construction paper. I cut out a question mark and glued a painting to the back of it that she had done with watercolour earlier that day.

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The purpose of the journal is threefold:

  1. To keep track of her learning in an inclusive format (one that is accessible to her)
  2. To encourage her to start documenting (whether through pictures or words) to promote literacy
  3. To set up the habit of reflection

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From this page, I can see that H’s thinking is becoming more complex as she notices more details. A month ago, when she drew a picture of herself, she would not have intentionally chosen colours to reflect details such as eye and hair colour. She also was not attempting to colour things in. While it just looks like scribbles right now (and actually messier than the picture below from one month ago), I can see that H tried to colour in her pants (the red) and her dress/shirt (the blue) and chose to use brown marker to more accurately reflect her eye and hair colour.

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This drawing is from one month ago (I drew the balloons). 

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H’s question today was about how computers work. I asked her to draw a picture of a computer. She asked for help and I prompted her to think about the shape of a computer. She was picturing her father’s computer and excitedly replied, “A rectangle!” I asked her what else she knew about computers and she went onto add that “It has lots of buttons.” I encouraged her to draw what it looked like. If she shows a sustained interest in computers/technical knowledge/wanting to understand how things work, this will become a topic that we delve into deeper.

While this is a very simple practice and H does not yet have the capacity to dive in deeply or independently, I hope that by occasionally doing this now, it will come more naturally to her as she gets older. Children starting in kindergarten can do this pretty effectively, so if you have a child in grade school, this might be worth a try. It’s always fascinating to take a peek inside of your child’s mind!

 

I Like Pumpkins- Post #3: Let’s Talk about Feelings

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In our family, we don’t celebrate halloween but I love the idea of using pumpkins for something beyond cooking. H doesn’t yet have the fine motor control to carve intricate designs (I’m not sure that I do either) but I feel like pumpkins make a good canvas, so to speak. On our trip to Cobb’s Corn Maze, we got a really cool no-carve decorating kit that reminded me of Mr. Potato Head. It contained different facial features that could be pierced into the pumpkin and make faces. I thought this would be a good opportunity to explore and discuss various emotions.

I complimented the opportunity by adding a mirror and asking H to look at her own face. We practiced expressions like happy, sad, angry, and scared, talking about things that made us feel that way. We sometimes replicated these feelings on her pumpkin and then experimented with Mr. Potato Head. She really enjoyed this experience but I wish I would have added a book about feelings- something that could go deeper than these four basic emotions. Having the proper comprehension and vocabulary surrounding expressing one’s self is a lifelong gift that can greatly enhance the quality of relationships.

Adding in the mirror also adds an interesting aspect – children can start to notice the way their facial features change when they experience different emotions and then eventually start reflecting these changes in visual representations, depictions and artwork. They can also start to interpret what these changes in other people’s faces signify, leading to socioemotional growth.

Years ago I had a mentor who employed a strategy that I loved and adopted. When a child does something to hurt another child (alternatively, it can be used when they have caused any emotion, including a positive one), draw the child’s attention to the other child’s face. It can be quite powerful for a child to really notice and internalize another person’s emotions.

Example:

Annie and David are playing with the blocks. David is carefully building a tower and Annie decides to knock it over. David starts to cry. Instead of telling Annie to “say sorry” to David, ask her to look at David’s face. How does his face look? Get her to notice, acknowledge and assign meaning to that facial expression. And then continue to use questions to prompt an appropriate reaction. So if Annie acknowledges that David looks sad, you can continue to ask her why David might feel sad. After she responds, ask her what she could do to make David feel better? If she says something like “say sorry,” “give him a hug,” “help him re-build his tower” ask David what he thinks about those ideas and go with a course of action that both children agree to.

This strategy puts us adults in a facilitative role while equiping children with the skills and tools they will need to grow to independently resolve their own conflicts.

 

Ramadan 2016- Post #7: Curious George and Banana Pops

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This Ramadan, H received the highly anticipated book, “It’s Ramadan, Curious George” as a gift from a lovely friend.

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Not only was it the type of high quality book our ummah is in need of, but the board book format and side tabs made it particularly accessible to young children.

The book inspired us to embark on a very easy mini cooking session…chocolate and sprinkle covered banana pops! My daughter loved making (and eating!) this creation. Since sweets and candy were not a regular part of her diet, this snack added a festive touch.

Materials used: 

  • (1) Banana (use more depending on quantity required)
  • Chopping board
  • Butter knife
  • Some melted chocolate chips (we used allergy free chocolate chips that only have 3 ingredients!) – An older child can be supervised to microwave this themselves but chocolate burns quickly and heats the bowl too so I did this step for my daughter. You could even try using nutella or another nut/seed butter for a healthier snack. How good would peanut butter dipped bananas be?!?
  • A handful of sprinkles in a little plate (I used an empty yogurt lid)
  • Popsicle sticks (I used the reuseable plastic bottoms from popsicle molds)

Steps for children to follow:

  1. Start by melting the chocolate. Use the double broil method if you’re fancy. Otherwise, microwave the chocolate chips for a a few seconds (depending on your quantity), stir and microwave again. Parents or older siblings can help with this step
  2.  Peel the banana. For young children, this fosters fine motor and self-help skills.
  3. Use the butter knife to slice the banana (again, this helps with fine motor development). In the book, George uses half bananas (they look more like moons) but I didn’t want the portion to be so big for my little one.
  4. Stick the popsicle sticks in the bananas.
  5. Hold onto the popsicle stick and dip the banana in chocolate. If you want them fully dipped, use a deep bowl/cup with lots of chocolate.
  6. Dip or roll the chocolatey bananas into the sprinkles.
  7. Additional step: To extend the activity, you can make little holders for your banana pops. We made very simple ones using styrofoam cups that H drew on with markers and added stickers to. Alternatively, if these were going to be gifts, you could use fancier cups or decorate them ahead of time with paint, gems, glitter and whatever else little hearts desire.

I am well aware this is not a pinterest-worthy creation but I honestly believe it’s far more valuable. Imagine how proud and validated your child will feel when they are independently able to create a dessert that the entire family can enjoy, or a special snack they can serve their friends during a playdate. Not only does this activity work well with a few children, but it can also be easily accommodated to playgroups, daycare and preschool settings!

Bismillah and Bon Appetit.

 

 

Reflections on an Indian School

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Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to India for personal reasons. It was my first time in the country, and while I had planned on visiting some local ECE settings in Vadodara, Gujarat, my busy schedule prevented me from doing so.

I did, however, have the chance to visit a government-run elementary school (roughly grades 1-6) in the small town of Devgadh Baria in Gujarat. It was an informal visit, led by a friend/city resident. The teachers were extremely cooperative and proud to tell me about the initiatives that they were taking with the children and very curious about my life in Canada. Our communication was somewhat limited because of language barriers, but they say a picture speaks 1000 words. Here are some photos from my visit. Hover or click to read the captions.

As an educator from Canada, three things stood out to me the most:

  1. The physical environment of the school: The classrooms were small. They also happened to be dark when I visited, just before classes started for the day. I assume they receive so much natural light that the classrooms heat up quickly, which is why in an attempt to keep the rooms cool, educators keep the curtains closed when not in use. They lined the perimeter of the school in a U-shape. A covered “deck” also formed a U and bordered the classrooms. This area was used for morning assembly and prayers, with the boys on one side, and the girls on the other. There was a big, sunken, unroofed courtyard in the centre. This area is used for recreation. I cannot stop thinking about this space–just a wide open space in the centre of it all. There was no play equipment or toys (although I did see a student with  ball)…oh the possibilities!
  2. The lax attitude surrounding school: Even though classes had an official start time, classes did not begin until teachers arrived, were settled and ready to teach. Children were expected to occupy themselves until this happened. In speaking to some local teachers, I learned that attendance and punctuality among the students is a common problem in government schools. Some teachers take this as permission to show up as they will and run class according to their own schedules. This may be seen as unprofessionalism to Canadians. Another thing that was very different than professional practice in Canada is the idea of photo consent. Even though I was repeatedly told it was okay for me to photograph the children’s faces, I preferred to avoid this, instead opting for different angles or using editing tools to blur any such images.
  3. Evidence of a high-quality environment: How even in such modest conditions, teachers were striving to make their classrooms more engaging and inviting. Simple concepts like including the children’s artwork, displaying artifacts or incorporating natural and found materials really peaked my curiosity. This was most evident in math and science-related “centres”. My two-year old daughter (who accompanied me) couldn’t help but reach out and explore the tactile materials.

If you are not well-travelled, please do not assume that this is what a typical Indian school looks like. Like in any country, there is a huge variance among  the quality, appearance and curriculum of schools, often tied directly to the schools revenue stream. In a country where private/tuition-based schools are popular, it was valuable to see what a government-run school looks like. I only wish I had had more time to observe the daily routine and more opportunities to visit other approaches to schooling throughout the province.

 

 

Inspiring Giving

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As parents and educators, we are tasked with teaching our children many things, whether directly or indirectly. Often, the values we learn early in life find a way to embed themselves into our very being, so it doesn’t matter where life takes us or who we grow to become, coming back to those values feels like we’ve come home.

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Perhaps this is why giving, is such an important way of life. We can make giving central to our children’s lives, by practicing it ourselves, and by providing opportunities for them to give.

Here are six local initiatives and opportunities you may wish to pursue this season:

1. Grocery Shopping and Food Donations: Many grocery stores have food donation boxes by the exit (Real Canadian Superstores collect food for the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank). During your shopping trip with you toddler, talk to them about what you are buying for your family and their favourite things to eat:

  • You can directly involve your child by asking them to help pick out a certain number of items for a family who might also like to enjoy these things. By setting a number (“Let’s find 3 things to buy for another family”) you can help teach numeracy and also respect your own budget.
  • Don’t worry about purchasing lots of items. While it may feel good to buy a grocery cart worth of food for others during this time of year, it may be more meaningful to make a small, but consistent effort. This method may be more sustainable and will also allow it to become a habit, as opposed to a feel-good moment.
  • Make your purchasing intentional, not just an afterthought on your way out. This will teach your child to think of giving at the beginning of a process and to give from the best of what they have, instead of giving from leftovers or using giving to simply get rid of unwanted junk (a common plague in the world of donating “gently” used items.

2. Toy Drives – There are many toy drives organized by various organizations. Give your child a budget (or if they are older, you can get them to raise/save their own money) to pick out a toy for a child. Check your place of worship/workplace/community centre for a local toy drive, or consider one of these:

3. YYC Helping Homeless 2015 – Among the many things this grassroots group does to help out the homeless population is Calgary, is serve food downtown every Saturday at 6 pm (They refer to them as “fiestas”). Some ways to involve children in the fiesta:

  • Involve children in cooking, food prep and packaging. Whether you are choosing to cook a hot meal, make sandwiches or bake cookies, there are jobs that can be done with your children: washing produce, assembling sandwiches (even if it’s as simple as adding the top piece of bread), mixing, measuring, counting, placing items in ziplock bags etc. If you are unable to attend in person, a volunteer can still pick up your food to serve. A host of skills can be developed and reinforced during this process including language development, numeracy, good hygiene, problem solving, fine-motor skills and creativity.
  • If you children are school-aged, consider bringing them to a fiesta and experience the people at the other end. Not only is it a nice way to spend some family time, but it helps to build compassion and get a glimpse of the struggles that some people in our city our facing

4. The Shoebox Project – This project consists of filling a shoebox with items a woman would be happy to receive and then wrapping the shoebox into a festive gift (make sure to wrap the lid and box separately so that it can be inspected). Typically, the shoeboxes are dropped off at a local women’s shelter or centre. As your wrap your own gifts this year, you can contact this website and create a few gifts for the women who access these spaces,  or you could get together with a group of family, friends, or colleagues and make a day of it.

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Recently, Sikh Youth Calgary organized a community event allowing anyone who was interested to bring and wrap items to be donated. There were a lot of children at this event and they had a great time. Sikh Youth Calgary actually made it into a contest where people worked in small teams and at the end, had a vote to determine whose box was wrapped the nicest. A trio of pre-teen girls walked away with the prize: an awesome gift basket full of goodies. Once again, depending on the format your shoebox project takes, a variety of skills can be developed through:

  • Setting a budget – numeracy skills
  • Identifying what should be bought – using logic to deduce what is needed/wanted
  • Gift-wrapping – using numeracy skills (measurement), creativity, problem solving
  • Problem-solving – address any bumps along the way, for example, what happens if what you want to buy exceeds your budget? What happens if you run out of wrapping paper?

5. Welcoming Syrian Refugees –  As large groups of Syrian refugees start to arrive in major Canadian cities, consider going to the Airport with your family to greet a group. You may wish to do one or a few of the following things to not only give them a warm welcome, but to use this is a learning opportunity for your children:

  • Make welcome cards/banners – Allow children to use their artistic abilities to design and create their own items. For older children, you may choose to challenge them to integrate some Arabic words into their designs
  • Bring flowers – flowers seem to be a universal gift. Again, let your children choose the flowers. If they are older, challenge them to do some research to discover whether certain flowers signify certain things in a particular culture.
  • Bring coffee and snacks – It can take an average Canadian quite a bit of time to get off the flight, through the airport and into their homes. This wait is much longer and intimidating for a family of new Syrian refugees. Some coffee/tea and snacks such as cookies and sandwiches can help to tie them over.
  • Volunteer to show new arrivals around their neighbourhood. If you can spend a few hours, or a few days, offer to show new families the following places: closest grocery store, doctor’s office, library, bus stop, school as well as how to use these services. By bringing your children along, it will allow them to start engaging with people that are “different” than them (there may be linguistics and cultural differences), and show them that these differences are not barriers.  It also gives your children the chance to work on their social skills.For more information on getting involved with Syrian refugees in Calgary (including arrival dates and times, as well as ongoing calls for donations and services) please visit: 

    Calgary Welcome Syrian Refugees

    Syrian Refugees Support Group Calgary

 

6. No Crib for a Bed – Neighbourlink has placed 100 white cribs throughout Calgary with hopes of collecting supplies for families in need around the city. You simply bring your donation and drop them in the crib. This is a fantastic, visual way to involve children. As we were walking through the Genesis Centre, my two-year-old saw the crib and was immediately intrigued. Start a conversation about babies and the things babies need to stay safe and healthy. Allow your child to suggest items you can donate, whether you go out and buy new items, or pull from a stock at home. If you find that your child is suggesting things that may not be relevant, try reading a story about a new baby and discuss why the baby might need the things mentioned in the story. Or simply, take time to observe babies when you are out and about with your children. By prompting with comments like, “Oh look, that baby is hungry. What is he eating?” you may be uncover more helpful suggestions.

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Happy Giving!

 

Pumpkin Mania: Part 4

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The last part of our guided-work with pumpkins focused on baking some allergy-friendly bread and sharing it with our neighbours.

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My daughter helps me with baking at least once a month. Not only does she get to mix the ingredients, but she’s also the official chocolate chip dropper (and yes, she usually eats a few along the way).

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While cooking and food prep is something we routinely do together (I’ve spoken about the benefits of this in previous posts), it has been a while since my daughter has come with me to share food with our neighbours.  Now that she’s older and more conscious of our lifestyle, I wanted her to experience this firsthand and lay a foundation for future learning about the rights of neighbours and community-building. It also contributes to her socioemotional development to deepen relationships with the people that make up her “village” and give her a sense of pride, ownership and responsibility towards her fellow community members.

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We used this recipe and adapted it by using a Cloud 9 Bakery’s gluten-free baking mix and using Camino fair-trade, allergen-free chocolate chips. Gluten-free breads are generally less moist and because the chocolate chips were dairy-free, they did not melt, so I was a little apprehensive about sharing it with our neighbours, but they were all super gracious about the gesture (and elated for a visit from my daughter who is growing up so fast!) In fact, one of our neighbours actually has celiac disease so she was excited this was a treat she could actually enjoy. Another neighbour sent us a very nice message about how she enjoyed the bread, which was different from conventional bread, but made for a great breakfast.

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I remade the same recipe with regular flour and semisweet milk-chocolate chips over the weekend for family, and they enjoyed it too!

We are making good headway into our supply of pumpkin puree. Just last night, I made a big batch of these pumpkin spice pancakes ( I did not make this recipe with my daughter who was already asleep but I wanted to link it since it’s a great recipe sent to me by a friend who’s always on the lookout for yummy allergy-friendly foods for our family). We will also be making some pumpkin soup next week.

Pumpkins made a great impression on our family this year (even on my husband, who last year tried to convince me that he hated pumpkins!) Buying and cooking with pumpkins is going to become an annual fall tradition for us. My biggest takeaway has been to buy multiple smaller (sugar) pumpkins since those are more conducive to cooking/baking.

I also just want to take a minute to explain that the majority of the content for the Pumpkin Mania series was based on guided-learning, and while it is valuable for children to partake in “activities”, they, by no means, should make up the majority of a child’s play. The most valuable play for children is free-play (I will write more on this subject at a later time). This series was just highlighting one aspect of our learning over the past few weeks.

Pumpkin Mania: Part 3

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The third experience in our work with pumpkins focused primarily on “cooking.”

To be honest, getting my hands on some unprocessed pumpkin seeds was a big part of my motivation to buy a pumpkin in the first place. Not only was the experience personally sentimental (because it was reminiscent of my dad toasting seeds for us as children), but it was necessary given my daughter’s nut allergies. I was looking for something beyond raisins to add variety to homemade granola. I decided we would take on the task ourselves since it was proving challenging to find uncontaminated pumpkin seeds close to home (not to mention it was way more cost-effective to do it ourselves!)

Because this was such a simple recipe, my two year-old was able to take the reigns and I was the helper.

She simply transferred all of the seeds into the bowl. I helped by adding olive oil and then she used the salt shaker to season the seeds and mixed everything together. She then transferred all of the seeds onto a baking tray and then spread them out.

*Because this was our first time doing this, we decided to play it safe but in future years we will be experimenting with different seasonings and flavours.

Like many toddlers, she prefers using her hands to utensils, so I marveled at her patience as she transferred the seeds (by hand) through the different steps.

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We then baked the seeds at 350 degrees Celsius until they were brown (next time we won’t toast them for as long). She’s been particularly excited to munch on these as a snack and share them with her Papa. Eating seeds has proven to be nice bonding time for them, since someone else has to extract the seeds for her (and I am terribly unskilled at this).

* We were also intending on bringing some for her seed-loving grandfather, but sadly after a night of Mama and Papa binge-munching, there weren’t enough left to share.

This experience was an opportunity for sensory play, fine motor development, and contributed to numerical and scientific concepts (related to measurement and transformation) and life skills (because knowing how to cook IS important). It also had great socioemotional benefits as my daughter was able to eat (and share) something that SHE had created – what a reason to be proud!

Now what happened to the rest of the pumpkin, you wonder? I roasted, puréed and stored it for the last part of our pumpkin experience.