Ramadan 2018: Post 6- Ramadan at Preschool

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H is in her second year of preschool. Last year, we recognized Ramadan by sending Ramadan Goody Bags for each student in her class. Along with fun things and dates, they also included a fact sheet for parents. This year, I wanted to do something different for the children.

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I had the idea to visit H’s class and share a story and activity with the children. Although we have many books about Ramadan, all of our books were in English. H attends a French preschool and so in March, I began my search for a French book about Ramadan.

I found a bunch through an Islamic bookstore based in Quebec but a few of the titles were out of stock. And to be honest, I’m picky about books and wasn’t sure what I would be getting. The bookstore’s website didn’t have a preview feature so I had to judge the illustrative style and writing styles by the cover (something I hate doing because you can’t judge a book by its cover!)

I was getting ready to order when I had the idea to check a mainstream bookstore in Montreal, so I checked Renaud-Bray online and found a few titles I was more comfortable about ordering. At least I knew they would be professionally published. I excitedly placed an order at the beginning of April and waited for them to arrive. After ordering them, I also checked Indigo and found one of the titles there.

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Once they arrived and I had a look, I spoke with H’s teacher and asked if I could come in and read a Ramadan story and do a craft with the children. She was very receptive. Since H is a part of two different preschool groups, we decided that I would come in to work with the older group (there were also less children) and her teacher would essentially copy the program for the other group. Better yet, I was able to bring Y with me so I didn’t have to figure out child care.

I asked H if there were other things about Ramadan she wanted to show her class. She wanted to show her new prayer rug and hijab as well as some of her Ramadan books in English. I also packed some dates and kufis.

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I shared the stories with her class. I say share, not read because it was more about giving them some basic information and showing photos/pictures while pointing out interesting things.  And I’ll be honest, my French is pretty rusty right now so I could explain so much. Fortunately, some of the educational aids that were in that day were able to better explain things to the children.

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I was surprised at how attentive some of the children were – it was the same children that I often see running around and “not listening”. They were intrigued and had lots of questions and wanted to do things like try dates (they aren’t allowed to because of school policy around food) and try on kufis. They sat and focused beautifully as they decorated their lanterns.

 

I wouldn’t say that they necessarily understood too much about what Ramadan is. But that was never the point. For me, it was more so that H feels a sense of belonging and confidence in sharing her life with the people she interacts with, even if it’s different. H decided to wear traditional Indian clothing to school that day to show her friends the kinds of clothes she may wear in Ramadan/for Eid.

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I left all of our Ramadan books and leftover supplies with her teacher to do the activity with Friday’s class. That class does have other Muslim children so I’m curious to see what they (and their parents) will make of it. We have something else planned for the adults at the centre later in the month.

Just a note about the books: “Ramadan” was a non-fiction book with dated photos but the text was simple and it was a good fit for her class. It provided a good overview. I just wish the photos were better quality/more recent. “Raconte-moi le Ramadan” was a fictional story but it was too advanced for her age, and I felt like it was overly religious to share in a public school setting. The illustrations were beautiful though.

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Lemonade

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For a few months now, H has casually been dropping hints: “Remember that time we made lemonade?” …”I love lemonade”…”I wish we could make lemonade…”

Like many well-intentioned parents, I added it to my list of “Things to do with my children.” That list, by the way, includes a bunch of things that aren’t even developmentally appropriate anymore.

So earlier this month when I was making a rare trip to the grocery store (because since the induction of child #2 and the inception of click and collect, my trips have been drastically reduced), I saw a bag of lemons on sale and heard H’s voice in the back of my head. “Lemonade…” it eerily beckoned.

In the weeks to come, that quiet voice was soon replaced with my husband’s not so quiet voice, that demanded if I had plans for the bag of lemons…you know, other than using them as cushioning for our green bin (organics composting).

So on coincidentally, what was the first day of spring, we finally made lemonade.

 

There’s still tons of snow outside and given how many lemons we had to juice, we won’t be doing this regularly, but it was a special way to perk up an otherwise, dull, afternoon (and at least pretend like spring is on the horizon).

If I had planned in advance to make lemonade, I would have written out the recipe for H to help with her emerging literacy skills, but she did get to benefit from:

  • Fine motor practice – required hand and finger muscles to juice the lemons
  • Numeracy – to count and measure ingredients
  • Sensory – the aromatics and tasting were exciting, for Y too!
  • Experimenting – freezing water to make ice cubes, seeing the sugar dissolve into hot water and watching the consistency change; tasting the lemon juice become more diluted with every cup of water, and perhaps most exciting: seeing the colour of the juice change after adding strawberries
  • Creative Liberty– H asked about adding mint (we didn’t have any) so opted for strawberries. She’s already looking forward to playing around with different flavours.

 

October Round Up

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October has been a busy and interesting month! We spent the last few days of September outdoors visiting the farm and exploring the neighbourhood.

 

Good thing because the beginning of October brought snow! Fortunately, it was temporary so we could enjoy fall some more.

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As we found ourselves settling into more of a routine, we started spending more time indoors.

H came across this tray and literally begged me to fill it with things for her (she remembered the last time we had used it), so in a five minute hussle, I filled it with things from my kitchen (isn’t it amazing how many different types of pasta there are?!)

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H got to work, adding in her own loose parts like bracelets.

 

This month, she spent a lot of time dressing up. Sometimes she used ready made costumes and sometimes she used her imagination.

 

I love H’s knack for symbolic play. I think she would be great at improv. Here she is with her bicycle helmet, a bunk bed she made for her dolls and putting her babies to sleep in their bassinets.

 

We voted in the municipal elections and that raised a discussion about mayors. So far the only mayors she knew about were Mayor Goodway and Mayor Humdinger. She was very curious about Mayor Nenshi.

 

H played with old loose parts, building homes and having picnics.

 

And explored new ones too.

We read. We ran up hills. We went to go see a play.

 

We did experiments and yoga.

Our car broke down and we ended up stuck at her school for a few hours. It was nice for me to have a deeper look at her preschool environment. I know I’m the keener parent- the one who is always looking at the lesson plans, remembers spirit days and peeks to see what new centres have been added to the room.

 

As Y has been growing older, it’s fascinating to see what captures his attention. Not only does he love watching his sister at play, but he has started to express his own preferences. He was really drawn to this bicycle-printed hijab of mine so we used it over his play gym and suspended from the swing. He also tried catching his shadow.

 

I spent time learning this month. I found some inspiring Facebook groups and attending virtual workshops I had signed up for last winter. This exposure to seeing Reggio in practice got my gears turning and reignited my passion for self-growth and reflection.

When I look back at some of what we did this month, I feel exhausted! But I also can’t help but smile at all of the synapses (brain connections) that must have been made. Play, is after all, the work of the child.

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.

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.