LabbaykAllah humma Labbayk: A Hajj Story Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

 

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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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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Super simple sensory snow set up

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I used to do a lot of sensory play with H. Because she was an early winter baby, by the time her first spring and summer rolled around, I was able to take her outside and experience our wonderful world. She felt the grass on her knees and the sand between her fingers. And I didn’t have to do a thing.

Y was born in mid-May, so he briefly experienced autumn, however he was not mobile then. He goes outside with me every day, so while he routinely feels the cold wind and the giant wet snowflakes kiss his face, he hasn’t played in the snow yet.

I’ve been dreaming about spring and summer and taking my baby out to crawl and toddle about but I woke up this morning to yet another blanket of snow (it continued to fall all day), so this afternoon I finally decided to bring some in.

It was a super easy and quick set up. I placed Y in his play yard so I could go outside and grab some fresh snow (otherwise he would’ve been up the stairs).

image I put down a table cover we use for art, and filled some snow in the baby bathtub (which is no longer used for baths). I added some kitche tools, bath toys, little people and a few sand toys that I washed off.

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Y was eager to get to the toys. He tried three times to get the pink starfish but recoiled each time, shivering. He was not liking the cold and instead opted to just collect the people.

 

 

H played intermittently, warming up her hands in between. I offered Y some snow but he touched it and decided it was not going to happen.

 

The snow was wet and excellent for packing. I used a baking spoon to make a “macaroon” and Y took it right out of my hand and decided the snow would make a  good teething biscuit.

 

If you would like to see some great ideas for snow/ice play in indoor and outdoor settings, check out this past post.

Snow Day Indoor Play

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Living in Canada, you quickly have to accept that winters are long and days are short. As great as it sounds to get outdoors with the kids everyday (it is possible!) it can be quite challenging.

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This winter, independently caring for two children who were on different nap schedules (as my partner worked long hours and took evening classes) while simultaneously trying to keep house and get dinner on the table was making us all a little crazy. We needed to find a way to get our move on while being trapped indoors.

The most challenging times were the early evening hours so here were some of the things we did at home the past few months to use up energy and share some giggles. My main focus was engaging in gross motor play (play that uses up large body muscles such as legs) since that’s what H was missing out on the most.

  1. Dancing – This is a staple in our house. When all else fails, I just put on music and we start dancing. In the early days of Y being a baby, this was a daily occurrence. He would be sleeping in the baby carrier and we would dance to songs like “Follow the Leader.”  Other times, we sing songs that have actions. Our favourites are “Penguin Song” and “Go Bananas” both of which my daughter started singing this summer  at camp. We love disney songs as well as various fast world music genres. Y loves watching and has started “dancing” along too.
  2. Races – It started as crawling races when Y started crawling, but other races we’ve had are crab walk, bear walk, slithering like a snake, potato sack (we used pillow cases) and scooting.imageAs adults, it may feel silly to be doing these things but it’s actually quite refreshing to not have to walk on your legs. Not only does it give you a new perspective and help you see things from your child’s point of view (literally and figuratively) but you have new realizations like “wow, it’s so dusty under the couch” or “that’s where all the baby toys are hiding!”
  3. Props– Add any prop and suddenly, every day movements become more exciting. One of my favourite things to do with children I work with is to tie a ribbon to a stick/twig and watch as they start to dance, and move their arms in new ways as they try to make the ribbon dance. Bonus: If you have an older child and an infant, the infant will be transfixed watching the older child and their colourful ribbon swirl about.
  4. Tape up the floor – Whether you use masking tape to tape different types of lines to the ground (straight, zig zag, giant spiral) or create a traditional hopscotch, sometimes creating a defined path for children helps invite movement.
  5. Pop! – Whether you reuse furniture packaging or buy a roll at the dollar store, bubble wrap taped to the floor can add novelty. I distinctly remember taping a roll of bubble wrap to the hallway between the kitchen and living room last month as I cooked dinner and my 4 year old and infant played happily for almost an hour.  What will start as just walking across will soon turn into running. image If your children start losing steam, ask questions like:
    1. What happens when you walk on your tip toes?
    2. How can you make a really loud popping sound?
    3. How can you make a quiet popping sound?
    4. What happens when you crawl across?
    5. What if you hop, skip, jump?
    6. Can you find ten bubbles that aren’t popped and use your finger?
    7. What if your wear your rainboots and walk across? How about your party shoes?
  6. Colours and Shapes – I cut different shapes out of different colours of construction paper and taped them to the floor. Then, we played a game where I said the name of a colour in French and my daughter jumped to it. We did the same in reverse. Then we did it with shapes. My daughter decided they should have numbers so she practiced writing numbers on the shapes and then practiced writing her name and “Mama” on the shapes. Not only was this a great gross motor activity, but it also had a cognitive component and helped with second language acquisition.imageI’m not sure how worthwhile or sustainable this would be in a home with mobile infants (it only lasted a few days in our house before Y tore them all off) but I just viewed it as an opportunity for him to practice his fine motor skills as he strengthened his finger and hand muscles by ripping up the paper. image
  7. Building – We used boxes, cushions, a play yard, dupattas/scarves, and a building toy to build a variety of tunnels and unique spaces such as forts and trains.
  8. Balloons and Bubbles – These were super easy items we had on hand that were equally fun for H and Y. As the months passed, Y went from just watching the bubbles in confusion to actively popping them. image

As Y is gaining more control with standing, I predict that he will be taking his first steps sometime this spring. I am excited to see how gross motor play between the children will change both indoors and outdoors, once that happens. I cannot wait for spring!

Round and Roll

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One of the earliest interests I noticed with my son when he became mobile, was his fascination for things that rolled and spun. He was constantly army crawling over to his stroller and spinning the wheels. He did the same with a trolley bag we had in our living room for a while. He loved balls and anything else that rolled including empty bottles and rolls of tape. I took this interest and thought about what else I could provide that would further allow him to experiment.

One afternoon, I gave him some plastic hair rollers. I had a new box of them that I bought forever ago and decided they would be much more useful as playthings for the children than they ever were for me. I liked that they could nest and gave him 3 sets to see what he would do. This was upstairs in my bedroom on a carpeted floor. Needless to say, they didn’t roll much, but that gave him the chance to explore other properties.

I laced them onto a scarf and swished them from side to side, as they disappeared, one inside the other.

Some point later, they ended up on our main level, which has laminate flooring. Here they could roll freely. I filled them in a clear container thinking Y might enjoy dumping them out, but he wasn’t yet there.

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Instead, when he threw one on the floor and it rolled away, he chased it, often pushing it forward when he went to pick it up, and then chasing it more. I saw him doing the same thing with plastic balls. I think it may have started off accidentally because he was learning how to grasp these objects but now he does it intentionally.

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A few days ago, I just added a muffin tray to the mix. Adding something with lots of compartments is a great way to enhance loose parts play. With my daughter, I often added ice cube trays and more
recently, the plastic inside part of chocolate boxes.

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But this was the first time I used a muffin tray- it had good size pockets for an
infant. I added a few curlers into the spaces and went to the kitchen. I was surprised when I came back and found he had started populating the spaces himself.

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My 4 year old daughter had done the same a few weeks ago (hair curlers with an empty egg carton) and I had actually introduced the muffin tray to Y with blocks the day before so it was interesting to see how their skills and approaches are evolving.

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I have a lot more hair curlers and have been debating adding some adhesive velcro to some of them so that the children can choose to stick them together and build with them. It would be great to find a large base with some kid me of pegs sticking out to see if Y can fit the curlers on top of the pegs (this requires more precision than placing them in pockets).