Ramadan 2017 – Post #8: Sharing Ramadan with Classmates

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A few months after starting preschool in December, H expressed interest in wanting to invite all her school friends over, have a party, and celebrate with friends. I suspect that this desire was sparked by becoming more familiar with the idea of birthdays through cartoons and real-life experiences (attending other children’s birthday parties). Since her birthday falls in November and we have so far been pretty minimal about how we celebrate, I told her that we could do something for Ramadan. Now i knew that by the time Ramadan rolled around, I would be pretty freshly post-partum so I went from entertaining visions of healthy, beautifully-crafted fruit skewers, to rice krispy treats shaped like moon and stars to good-old-fashioned treat bags when the reality of post-partum life with two kids, my mom leaving and Ramadan hit.

While we still might get around to the first two ideas for another group of friends during Ramadan/for Eid, I realized they weren’t going to work for H’s school setting as the fruit wouldn’t preserve well and I think there’s a school policy around bringing in homemade food. So instead, we decided to make treat bags that included some store bought treats (granola bars and “fruit” snacks) and included some novelty items like bubbles and tattoos and dates of course. Since nature of goody bag didn’t scream “Ramadan” , I included a “Ramadan Fact Sheet for Parents” inside the bag as well as a simple message in English and French on the outside for the children (thanks to my dear friend Lynn for proofreading the French part!).

Creating and assembling the bags was a process for H. We divided it up into multiple steps and I heavily involved her (I believe that if my kids want to do something, they need to put in the effort!)
Step 1: We used dollar store paper treat bags left over from a past event and brown paper bags. We didn’t have enough of either type so we used both kinds. We decorated one side of the bags with stars and moons. To do this, we used a start-shaped cookie cutter and a sponge, roughly cut up in the shape of a moon, to stamp with using paint. H chose the paint colours. We let the bags dry overnight.
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Step 2: I typed up, printed and cut the message from H and she glued it to the back of each bag. This allowed her to practice using a glue stick.
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Step 3: We filled the bags one early morning while we slept over at her grandparent’s house. Since her cousins were still sleeping and I was trying to to discourage her from making noise (the whole house tends to sleep in during Ramadan). I held baby with one hand which meant it was up to H to really fill the bags.  H carefully chose a bag for each classmate and decided which colour of bubbles and which tattoos each friend should get. I was surprised at how quickly she memorized the quantity of items to put in each bag. We slipped each friend’s name tag inside their bag so that I could finish off the bags at a later time.
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Step 4: I finished off the bags and we transported them back to our house. H took the bags to school and proudly distributed them. We made a list of other friends we wanted to give Ramadan bags too. I explained it may not be possible to make bags for everyone right now but depending on how things were around Eid time, we may be able to share some more things with friends we have missed. Regardless, I was pleased to see how caring and inclusive H is!
This process, which spanned a week, not only gave H the opportunity to practice fine motor skills through stamping, gluing and filling, but also allowed her to work on numerical concepts such as collecting, sorting, sequencing and distributing and contribute to socioemotional development as she got to connect her home life to her school life. She was able to share an aspect of her life that is important to us in a setting where it isn’t discussed (public preschool). She had the chance to do something nice as she thoughtfully created the bags and selected the contents and share them with friends- this was her favourite part! I was actually not planning to add names to the bags (I figured it was more work for her teacher) and randomly select who got what, but H insisted she wanted each child’s name on a bag. This demonstrates the joy and pride children feel when something is made especially for them and the joy and pride they feel in being able to do that for others. I hope H is always this excited and secure to share her identity and experiences with others.
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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.