Ramadan 2019- Post #4: Week 2 Recap

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Day 8: 

  • H started memorizing surah falaq. She worked on the first two ayaat.
  • For Arabic today, we played Arabic Bingo, an activity we found in the “Allah to Z Activity Book”. The kids also wanted to play one round of the matching card game.
  • Given the interest in nature and our focus on finding bugs during Sunday’s Urban Wild Nature Program along with H’s themes at school this month, I thought it would be a good time to incorporate some more books about bugs and trees. We briefly looked at some pages about different types of trees and leaves and settled on this page, which talked about different animals that trees house and nourish. I also showed them the page about counting rings on a tree to determine its age (something I had told H about the day before). We practiced by counting rings on a tree cookie magnet we have. I alluded to the idea of sadaqah jaariyah and this is something we will explore further in a future circle.

 

Day 9:

  • H memorized the third verse of surah falaq.
  • We read “My First Ramadan” by Karen Katz. I told the kids a story about my first camel ride as a child visiting Pakistan.
  • Activity: We smelled and appreciated some beautiful flowers that we were planning on giving to some special people this week. The kids each made a card for the recipient of their flowers. It was great to see how excited Y was about making the card and how he attempted to demonstrate his understanding of the process of giving the card to someone else. H brought her flowers to give to the janitor at her school the following day and Y reminded me he would give his flowers to the library on Thursday. I was the one who picked the recipients of the flowers (perhaps I will expand on why in a future post).

 

Day 10:

  • H worked on the fourth ayah of surah falaq.
  • To practice Arabic, I had H pull an Arabic block out of the bag. She would identify the letter and then Y was tasked with using the block to build a tower. I constantly have to come up with ways to involve Y and modify any activities so that he also has a meaningful (but developmentally appropriate) experience.
  • Craft: We made paper chains today. H cut out a few strips and then I cut out the rest. She developed a pattern and would ask Y for the next colour. His job was to add glue to the strip and her job was to make links for the chain. Alhamdulilah I love when they are able to work together on things. H did this two years ago so it’s so meaningful for me to reflect on what’s changed since then. At the time, I remember Y, who was just a few weeks old, was laying on the couch while I helped H.

Day 11: We didn’t do a circle today. I ran out of time and energy. On a positive note, it was Y’s second birthday alhamdulillah. I can’t believe it’s been two years with this kid already. His speech has taken off in the past few days. I say this as he yells “mo hoomus and nun plis” (More hummus and naan please) from the kitchen.

Day 12: H was off of school today so the kids had some time to play at home. It was interesting to see how the themes of their play are influenced by our current reality. They were pretending to eat suhoor and iftaar, pray, read Quran and of course save the day in their superhero personas.

  • H memorized the last ayah of surah falaq.
  • We played the matching card game as per the children’s request. I was super surprised when Y recognized “zwa” as I’m making no formal effort to teach him the alphabet in any language. I also used the cards as flashcards in a fast game to identify which letters H still gets confused.
  • Since it was Friday, we read a book called “It’s Jummah!” by 2curioushearts. It’s a really simple board book that Y enjoyed as he tried to copy some of the actions. While young children are by no means required to know the etiquettes at such a young age, I think reading the book on Fridays is a lovely little tradition to establish with young children. I’ve had this book since December but haven’t shared it with the kids until now. **I just checked out their website and the books are only $5cdn!!
  • We also did page out of a fantastic activity book by Ruqaya’s Bookshelf called “The Adventures of Malik and Ameerah.” The page we did was related to healthy eating since that’s something H has been talking about since she is exploring it at school right now.
  • We did the sunnan mentioned in the board book like bathing, cutting nails, wearing nice clothes etc. I was planning on taking H to the mosque for jummah but something came up so we planned to go as a family for asr instead. H expressed that she just didn’t want to go so we let it be. I took the kids to a new park instead.

 

Day 13: We did the learning circle at my inlaws’ place today. It was late so I shortened it.

  • We started Surah fatihah and worked on the first three ayaat.
  • Activity: We read the book “Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.” After reading the book, I fanned out some paint samples and had the kids pick a card without looking. They had to find something in the house that was the same colour as the sample. While I designed this activity more for Y (he just turned 2), H really enjoyed it as well.

 

Day 14: We were at my inlaws’ again but since it was earlier in the day, we were able to do the full circle.

  • We reviewed the first 4 verses of Surah fatihah.
  • We played Arabic bingo. We used small ripped-up pieces of paper as our bingo markers since I didn’t bring anything with me.
  • We talked about gratitude and used the activity book to record a list of things we are grateful for. I appreciated hearing H’s rationale, for example “The big tree in our backyard to climb.” I was also touched to see that both of my children included their sibling in their list of things to be grateful for ❤ Since I believe that learning should be an integrated approach, I love how this experience allowed not only for reflection and gratitude, but also literacy, discussion and classifying information- I suggested that H put stars next to Y’s answers. She took the liberty of putting clouds next to my answers. Then, H started colouring in a thank you card on the adjacent page.
  • Activity: when I was consolidating all of my past Ramadan posts before starting this series, I came across one of the first activities I did with H when she was just 18 months old- it was a dua bucket (or prayer pail) and I felt sad that I hadn’t thought of doing anything similar for Y, who was turning 2 shortly. I decided I wanted to have him create a prayer bucket too, which at his age will essentially just be a collection of photos representing things he likes. The goal is to go through the bucket every day (I’m thinking before nap) so we can practicing thanking God for our blessings. This is what the process looked like for H when she was a toddler. For Y, I will just refer to it as his thank you bucket. I started with Y by allowing him to pick out the style of alphabet stickers he wanted to use to spell his name on the bucket. Then, I had the kids go through flyers to find things they were thankful for. They are also able to draw items or include photos. We may modge podge some photos onto rocks or lids for a more tactile experience or if H chooses, she can write the names of things onto popsicle sticks. The prayer buckets are personally very meaningful for me because we did do this with H as her speech was emerging and alhamdulillah, it became a habit, even as she outgrew the bucket. Every night before bed, she continues to thank God for specific things from her day.
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Ramadan 2019: Post #3 – Week 1 recap

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Alhamdulillah our learning circles are going well. H has told me many times she enjoys doing them and Y pops in and out depending on what we are doing. On the 3rd day of Ramadan (after only two circles), H brought home this picture that she drew at school of us having our learning circle and learning Quran (she told me her favourite part is memorizing surahs and the fun surprise).

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This is what our learning circles included this week:

Day 1 (we were at my in-laws but alhamdulillah still managed to do the circle):

  • Memorized the first 2 verses of surah ikhlaas. While H is familiar with a few different surahs, we haven’t formally taught her any until now. I am focusing on pronunciation and tajweed.
  • Practiced the Arabic alphabet in a qaida that my husband bought from India. Maybe it’s because of my Pakistani background, but I do prefer the Pakistani ones. The paper pages are non-glossy, making them easier to mark up and they seem to progress through the level of difficulty at a slower rate. I saw some at a meat/grocery store last week so plan to buy it the next time I’m in the area.
  • Learned about the sunnan around meeting Muslims – I’ve been thinking about how to introduce the importance of greeting others to H given her more reserved temperament around adults she is unfamiliar with.
  • Craft: stained-glass shapes – I did this with H two years ago and really loved how it turned out. I decided to do it again this year and open it up to both kids. Once again, I just free-handed the cutouts instead of using a stencil. The children really enjoyed doing this and I was surprised by how engaged Y was! He’s taken such pride in his art which is now hanging on the window in our home and is really trying to string words together to communicate what happened…”teetee star. Glue…more glue…more glue. Press! Dadi house. Aapi moon.”

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Day 2:

  • Memorized the 3rd verse of surah ikhlaas
  • Practiced the Arabic alphabet through a poster
  • Learned about some sunnan regarding eating
  • Activity: made stuffed dates – we looked at this terrific book and used cream cheese and mini chocolate chips (nut allergies). Special thanks and duahs for my Mushtaq Mamoo who ordered, shipped and ultimately gifted me this book along with its companion from the States back in 2014 because it wasn’t available in Canada)

Day 3:

  • Memorized the 4th verse of surah ikhlaas; added her first sticker to Juz Amma Tree Chart
  • Practiced the Arabic alphabet through a poster; I involved Y by asking him to point to letters that H then had to identify
  • Learned about some sunnan regarding drinking and then gave the children each a cup of water to help reinforce the lesson
  • Activity: H coloured in a Ramadan card she was gifted by her aunt; I gave Y a colouring sheet from a Ramadan colouring book my husband printed off for H last year

Day 4: H came home from school very tired. I offered rescheduling the circle but she insisted on continuing. Given her state, I shortened my plans.

  • We discussed the meaning of surah ikhlaas. There were a lot of (challenging) questions and I was reminded that it’s hard for children to grasp abstract concepts until around the age of 7.
  • Practiced the Arabic alphabet with a memory matching game. I made these cards using stickers, construction paper and then laminating them. Although it was a little tedious and time-consuming to make these, I was motivated by the potential hassanat of my kids learning it from me and inshaAllah passing it on to their own families. Besides, I was able to listen to a live stream of tarweeh from the East coast while I put them together. Playing a memory matching game with all 28 letters was taking a long time so I adapted the game. The children really enjoyed it and asked to play it again tomorrow.
  • Activity: I shared my family’s Ramadan tradition of making and drinking Rooh-Afza. I ultimately decided to put aside my reservations around the red food colour and sugar-laced syrup in the name of tradition. I did add a smaller quantity than I typically would for myself. (Un)fortunately for my kids, it won’t be a daily Ramadan tradition for us.

Day 5: This was also a challenging day. This time, H took me up on my offer to reschedule the circle and we decided to do it much later in the evening, between dinner and bedtime.

  • We reviewed surah ikhlaas and worked on surah nas. H was familiar with the surah so we mainly worked on tajweed.
  • As per the children’s request, we practiced the Arabic alphabet through the matching card game, this time, using 30 cards instead of 56. It was actually quite fun for all three of us- I was grateful for the laughs that had replaced the cries and tantrums from earlier in the day. They have requested it again for tomorrow.
  • We talked about the sunnah related to putting on shoes. While this wasn’t something I realized would become part of our daily circle, the children really seem to enjoy learning sunnan related to everyday life. I have been sourcing them from the book in the photos below which I “borrowed” from my mother-in-law years ago.
  • Craft: H worked on this DIY lantern kit she got from her aunt at the beginning of Ramadan. I think it is such a cool concept. Of course, Y also wanted in on the action, so I cut him some sheets of wax paper from the kitchen (although in hindsight, I think parchment paper would have been a better option) for him to draw on.

Day 6: Considering it was a weekend, I found it more challenging to find the right time to do the circle. Instead of sitting down and doing everything at once, it was spread through three different parts of the day in a different order than usual.

  • Activity: we read the book Bismillah Soup and made the recipe provided on the website. I made a few adjustments (you can read about them below). Y was too busy eating and playing to help but H helped by washing the vegetables and tasting the soup (and telling me it needed more salt). Alhamdulillah the soup turned out quite flavourful. Both the kids enjoyed the soup and H went with her dad to drop some off at her grandparents’ house.
  • We played the Arabic alphabet memory game again and once again, it was a hit.
  • We finished reviewing surah nas and H got to add another sticker to her chart. I’m so proud of how well she is catching onto the rules mashaAllah.

To make the soup, I sautéed onions and garlic in EVOO. I added the cut-up (and skinned) chicken and added a teaspoon of salt, two heaping teaspoons (they were probably 10 ml spoons) of the xawaash spice mix and a few bay leaves. Then I added 4 cups of homemade chicken stock and 2 cups of water, covered and cooked. After some time, I added the vegetables and then reduced the heat as I took the kids to the park.

Day 7: We spent quite a bit of time outdoors today- 3 hours in the morning at the Urban Wild Nature Program (including travel time) and another 2.5 hours in the early evening at the park and doing some gardening. To be honest, I didn’t think we would get around to the circle but H remembered during dinner and insisted.

  • We revised surah Nas and surah ikhlaas and learned the first ayah of surah falaq
  • We had a lovely discussion about the importance and role of trees in our lives. Given how much time we spent outside today, I thought it would be a good time to talk about Islam’s view on caring for the natural environment. I led the discussion by asking the children questions like, “Why are trees important?”  We talked about ideas like trees can provide food for humans and animals, trees can help clean the air we need to breathe, trees can provide shelter or places to rest, trees can be homes to animals like birds, bugs and squirrels, trees provide beauty, trees provide ways to play (climbing and swinging) and trees can be used to make paper and wood products.  I also spoke to them about how future generations can reap the benefits of the trees we plant today. I definitely want to take this further and have some resources in mind that I will implement and share.
  • We played the Arabic card memory match game.
  • Activity: We did this Ramadan scavenger hunt that I made a few years ago that the kids really enjoyed. Since it had photos of objects, it was perfect for a toddler like Y to do as well. You can download your own free copy here.

This first week of Ramadan, we did more than I originally anticipated. I was planning on taking it easy with the children’s programming and focusing on my own ibadah this year, but it turns out that as a mother, my worship is directly linked to their upbringing. I consider it such a blessing and honour to raise these kids and over the past 9 years of having my life tied to others, I realized the mercy of Allah and the beauty of this deen where almost anything is considered an act of worship if that is the intention. I’ve done what I can to set myself up for success this Ramadan, including hiring a babysitter to come in so I can have dedicated time to read Quran along with whatever I’m doing with the children. In full disclosure, I wasn’t fasting this past week. We’ll see what I have the patience and energy to follow through on in the subsequent weeks. I’ve already given my kids a heads up that we will not be going to the park tomorrow as I take some time to adjust.

 

Ramadan Roundup – 30 posts!

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There’s only a handful of days left before the most beautiful time of year returns for many around the world. All year, we wait for the blessed days and nights of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Alhamdulillah, I’ve been documenting and sharing what I’ve been doing with H for the past four years, and now, there is quite a list. As we think ahead to this Ramadan, I thought I’d generate a post with brief descriptions and direct links so that things are easier to find 🙂

  1. Thinking critically about our role as parents and educators re. Ramadan
  2. Encouraging Dua in Ramadan – provides suggestions on how to engage children with various learning styles to make dua
  3. Different styles of Ramadan Calendars – provides photos and ideas to help mark Ramadan with your children; see the follow-up posts in subsequent years
  4.  Journaling in Ramadan – why journaling can be beneficial and some ideas about what journaling can look like
  5. Welcoming Ramadan in simple ways (toddler edition) – why I chose to decorate and how we welcomed Ramadan on a budget in DIY style
  6. Functional and meaningful calendars for toddlers – includes photos of the calendar that my 2.5 year old used
  7. Sharing Ramadan with new refugees – extending efforts and outreach to vulnerable populations, in this case, a newly arrived Syrian family that we brought food and decorations for
  8. Eid Gift Drives – how to meaningfully involve your children in buying, packing and delivering gifts for others
  9. Reaching out to vulnerable non-Muslim populations – baking and packing food to give local volunteers who help the homeless
  10. Creating a sadaqah jar (toddler edition) – includes the process we used and extension ideas to make it more meaningful for older children
  11. It’s Ramadan, Curious George – our reaction to the book and an easy and related banana pop recipe for young children to make
  12. Easy and unconventional Eid Gift idea – we bought tickets for train rides and mailed them to H’s other toddler friends
  13. Thinking ahead to Ramadan with a newborn baby – what that means for how activities will look for H
  14.  Our learning and activity plan for Ramadan – includes my personal notes on activity ideas and is divided into categories
  15. Setting the mood– stained “glass” crafts, Ramadan youtube playlists and starting to gather books; why I’m shifting some emphasis from Eid to Ramadan
  16. Treasure hunt and Ramadan baskets – I created a treasure hunt (free download of clues in post) and show you what I purchased to put in Ramadan baskets for my kids, nieces and nephew. Look at #20 to see photos of the kids actually doing the Treasure Hunt.
  17. Ramadan visual scavenger hunt – free printable showcases ramadan related objects (words and pictures) to buy you some time; recommended ages 18m – 6 years
  18. Paper Chains – how my 3.5 made paper chains as a Ramadan decoration and how we used the process to strengthen numeracy and math skills and second language learning
  19. Welcoming Ramadan – child-led cupcake and photos of the children doing the treasure hunt
  20. Ramadan Goody-bags for pre-school class – how my 3.5 year old made goodybags, how I supported her 10 days post-partum, and the skills that were reinforced through this process
  21. Gift for neighbours – Soup Jars – To coincide with Calgary’s official Neighbour Day, we made soup jars for our neighbours. in lieu of baking or cooking (I had a baby just before Ramadan started). All the ingredients were included. They just had to add water and cook on the stove. Recipe in post.
  22. Planning for Ramadan – how I involved my 4.5 year old in planning for Ramadan.
  23. Ramadan storytelling event – I recap some of the stories I shared during a children’s Ramadan event I was invited to participate in. I developed a story based on the increasingly famous story about a girl who takes over her father’s drumming duties. I will be working on polishing this story this year so that I can share it with more audiences.
  24. Easy DIY decorations – we share our homemade decorations from last year (the kids were 4.5 and 1 year old)
  25. Ramadan basket ideas – Some photos and thoughts around what I put into baskets for last year
  26. Connecting with the community to start off Ramadan on a positive note – read about our first Ramadan-themed play date and a community initiative that aims to bring food staples to families in need and how to involve the kids
  27. Ramadan at Preschool– story and craft – You can read about what I did to share Ramadan with the young children in H’s preschool class (it was a French school so there are some French titles as well)
  28. Cute DIY learning resource/gift idea – see how to use rocks to make this easy way to review the Arabic alphabet. It makes a great gift and the rocks can be used in a number of ways.
  29. Ramadan Field Trip to a soap factory – There’s a famous soap made in Aleppo, Syria. As Syrian refugees made Calgary their home, a few founded this successful business where they make soap. H and I went there to buy gifts for a project and we got to see how the soaps were made. You have to check out the photos!
  30. No-cook Ramadan gift ideas for neighbours (or colleagues or teachers) – We featured two companies founded by Syrian refugees who have made Canada their home (Aleppo Savon and Peace by Chocolate). They have some great products and it was a functional gift because once again, I did not want to share cooked food.

Bonus post: To make some creative Eid gifts for the special children in your life, check this out

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?

DIY Gift Ideas for Children

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One thing I can honestly say that I enjoy doing is putting together gifts for the children in my life. If time and creativity permit, one of my favourite ways of going about this is to put together gift sets/kits that revolve around a particular theme/interest. Below is a list (with pictures) of some of the ones I’ve put together in the past. Many of these have been Eid gifts but would work great for any holiday, birthday or just because 😊

1. Cooking Gift Set– the first time I made these was in 2013 for a few family friends. I was inspired by one young girl’s fascination with making apple pie. I found a good children’s cookbook (with an apple pie recipe of course!) and paired it with a children’s baking set I purchased at Real Canadian Superstore. The set included a baking tray and utensils such as a spatula, beater, cookie cutters etc. I remember how excited the little boy was when he opened it and realized they were real tools! (Not just for pretend play). To round off the gift, I added a few items from the dollar store including measuring cups, measuring spoons, cupcake liners and aprons (they were originally meant for crafting). Variations of this gift have included different main baking sets, including making a cake in the shape of a train, icing tools and other little items I found at the time. The one I’m working on now has a dress up Chef’s costume but depending on your budget, you could find a plain children’s apron and hat set and get it personalized! This has been the most popular set I’ve gifted, giving it (with some variation) five times now with a sixth in the works.

2. Writing Kit – I blogged about this earlier here so I won’t go into too much detail, but essentially I collected a bunch of stationary supplies including pretty paper, pens, pencils, sharpener , envelopes, and threw in some printables so children could design their own postcards and stamps. I included this amazing book I remember reading as a kid (The Jolly Postman) and cute metal mailboxes. I hoped the kits would support my daughter and niece’s emerging interest in writing.

 

3. Design your own Clothing– H’s interest in drawing got me thinking about new ways she could extend her passion. I thought of an idea for her which I was able to duplicate for the other kids in our circle based on it’s versality. For Eid last year, I put together simple DIY kits for children to decorate their own T-shirts. I ordered fabric markers online (one pack per family) and then bought plain white T-shirts for the 8 kids I was planning on giving this to. Since the number of kids in our family friend circle is growing, it can get pricey and challenging to buy gifts that everyone likes so these were perfect for a multi-age group. I also bought some plain canvas bags that can be used in a future activity. The kids really enjoyed designing their own shirts and it was interesting to see how H went about this activity because she was able to observe how the older children planned their designs on paper before they began. I was happy to learn that one of the boy’s loved his shirt so much that he wore in 3 days in a row and two of the girls who were best friends, made matching shirts, which they quickly made plans to wear the next time they saw each other.

4. Play Dough Kits – In my work with children, it’s been impossible not to make my own play-dough, whether it was a task assigned by H’s preschool or a fun activity to do with H or a cool idea for a DIY gift. Three years ago, I made purple glitter playdough to give to H and my niece on Eid alongside a small jar of loose parts (buttons, gems, beads etc) to add to their creations and personalized unicorn stuffies. A few years ago, I happened to be at Real Canadian Superstore a few days after Christmas and they had plastic cookie cutters on sale. I picked some up along with some cool metal tins and figured out I would give some DIY playdough sets as presents to some of our neighbours and friends. The way logistics and time constraints played out, I wasn’t able to create them right away, but I did get to put them together this year. I made “red” cinnamon scented playdough and green peppermint scented playdough with Y this year to include in the sets and added some straightforward tools (wooden popsicle sticks, plastic cutlery) and some loose parts. The sets were a hit, homemade and budget friendly! This year I happened to see cookie cutters and tins on clearance again so I bought some more because they really are a great gift for toddlers and preschoolers!

5. Magnet Sets – I’ve written in the past about using magnets for storytelling. This year, my two best friends were both expecting their second child. Each already had a toddler at home. Both the toddler’s enjoyed the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which child doesn’t?!?) so I decided to make them magnet sets to play with. Given the popularity of the book, I was able to find images online (albeit, pixelated) and printed, cut, laminated, re-cut and added magnets to them so the toddlers could start retelling the stories and hopefully give their mama’s a few minutes to tend to the new babies. Y really enjoyed playing with them too! *Please note this was done for personal use. Be mindful of copyright laws and never use someone else’s work without permission to turn a profit.

6. Detective Set H has no doubt been my inspiration for a lot my creative endeavours. Most recently, she has been intrigued by the idea of detectives. I often find her with a notepad and pen in hand trying to solve mysteries like “Where has the blue ball gone?” She interviews suspects and witnesses and scribbles something onto her pad. She’s been asking me for a magnifying glass (I found one while decluttering our basement that I had purchased during my days as a preschool teacher) and decided to put together a little kit for her. Earlier this year, I bought a cool book called Officer Panda: Fingerprint Detective  and I stowed it away. This was the perfect opportunity to present it to her, so I paired it with the magnifying glass, a stamp pad, notepad and pen to get her going. I thought it would be cool to package it in a vintage briefcase but I came across my old laptop case which would probably be easier for her to carry anyway (but I will keep my eye out for the old combination lock briefcases). I will also make up an ID card for her and come up with some activities like teaching her how to encode things (I have fond memories of sharing encoded notes with my friend Emily in grade one), using magic ink to hide messages, learning how to lift fingerprints and of course, giving her a mystery to solve. Perhaps if this sustains interest, I will do a post specifically about this. 7B77D45D-EC39-45AE-8B57-3EC78CE211DD

7. Flannel Board Set – Telling stories is something I enjoy doing. The first time I created flannel board characters was back in 2012 for a practicum placement. The Three Little Pigs story has served me well ever since, with my own children playing with it on countless occasions. I made a DIY flannel board by purchasing some flannel and hot gluing into to a foam board from the dollar store.  Three and a half years ago, I created another set for The Famous Donkey Story to perform at a children’s Eid party. I’ve since used in during volunteer storytimes in the Calgary community. Shortly before the birth of Y, H was really into fairytales (she’s been revisiting them lately, mais en français). Her favourite story at that time was Goldilocks and the Three Bears and she asked me to make her a flannel board story set so one day while her dad was playing a very long cricket game, we got to work (she gave input on colour and design) and I created this, which both kids love! It happens to be Y’s favourite story at the moment. This was particularly special, because during her second meeting with her brother, she performed this story for him (and then a few days later, for the midwife who patiently listened to her entire rendition). I’ve also created flannel board shapes, characters and activities for the children to play with in more open ended ways included food, faces, people getting dressed, snowmen etc.) I created a smaller portable flannel board by using some leftover flannel fabric and hot gluing it to the inside of a legal-sized file folder. When H was a toddler, I could send her with this folder (and the pieces inside) when she was spending the day at her grandmother’s house. I’m currently musing about a flannel board set I can make for Y given his emerging love for playing with what we already have. His current interests include animals and trains.

Every time I’ve gifted one of these, the children have loved them and the parents have appreciated the uniqueness, thought and customization that went into the gift. I love that they are gender neutral and can go in so many different directions!

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.

 

Ramadan 2018: Post 7- Learning Arabic Rocks!

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I had an idea a while ago that I was hoping to do sometime in Ramadan to surprise H with. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ve been dabbling with the Arabic alphabet for the past few years, but this year, I’m trying to reinforce what she already knows through various different games so that she can move on to start formally learning how to read the Quran.

So far, she has seen the Arabic letters in print (books and posters), on screens (often accompanied by a song) and on these cute wooden blocks I used to sell. (Note: I still have them in a variety of languages, other than Arabic so please contact me if you’re interested- the Farsi and Hindi ones are especially beautiful!)

I love the idea of a tactile resource so a few weeks ago, I finally decided to print the Arabic alphabet on rocks! I used paint pens I had previously purchased from Michaels.

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How cute would these be to make as a gift for someone? Slip them into a canvas bag and give a child in your life a unique and functional play resource.

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And because I like open-ended items and play things that can be used in multiple ways, I decided to paint moons and stars on the back of some of the rocks. I did this so that H could play a variation of Tic-Tac-Toe, a game she discovered a few months ago and loves playing on a dry-erase board.

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Someone could just as easily paint or draw whatever might capture the interest of their child: animals, geometric designs or just leave them in their beautiful, natural state. I love the variety of colour, shape and size!

H found these photos on my phone last week (before I had a chance to add them into her Ramadan Calendar) so we decided to play with them. She was so excited!

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And she went about ordering the alphabet (though as you can see, she doesn’t yet know that Arabic is written and read from right to left).

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Y loves playing with them too. He turned ONE 10 days ago and loves filling and dumping things.

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P.S. I hope you appreciated my carefully crafted pun!

P.P.S. I confess that I ran out of rocks! I still need to complete the other half of the alphabet.