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.

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Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice

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The holidays were a really nice time for our family this year. The break from work, preschool and other day-to-day activities afforded us the opportunity to host and entertain. Our house saw its fair share of pint-sized visitors as H’s social circle continues to grow. While each playdate was special in it’s own way, this one was particularly meaningful because it felt just like the “good old days” when these friends used to live just next door.

I can’t quite remember how H become acquainted with the Gingerbread Man. I know she’s heard of him indirectly through some of the media she has consumed, but perhaps it was the purchase of a Gingerbread Man cookie cutter that really set things in motion for us. Since then, we have read the book and continue to find other ways to bring the story to life.

I’ve never made gingerbread cookies before but followed this simple recipe that can be found here. I adapted it by cutting out the spices and just using a club house pumpkin spice blend. I made the dough just before the girls arrived because I knew time would be tight considering the energy levels of the 6, 4 and 3 year old I’d be spending the day with.

Basically, after a family-style breakfast of homemade pancakes and fruit, I called the girls, one-by-one to wash their hands and roll out the dough. My reason for doing in one-on-one was simple: my extra rolling pins were being used for playdough at Grandma’s house so we only had one. I also thought it might get chaotic trying to help all 3 of them at once so instead we took turns. While I worked independently with one child, my husband played soccer with the others. I remember how patiently and eagerly the girls waited for their turns, peeking at what was going on. They each picked cookie cutters that appealed to them and cut out some shapes. I had made sugar cookies using cookie cutters with H earlier that month and knew how much she loved using them. Fortunately, this dough was definitely easier to work with.

I was surprised by how all of the girls jumped right in – they did not wait for instruction and just started rolling and cutting. It was a bit of a learning process and I was okay with this guided learning since I knew the decorating portion would be free.

As the cookies baked and cooled, the girls engaged in dress up play. Once again, my husband’s playful nature made the experience so much fun! When the cookies were finally ready, I tried to present the various elements in a beautiful way, as to invite the children to interact with them.

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The invitation worked! I was so intrigued as they worked so quietly and carefully decorating their cookies. I looked at how they had a vision of what they wanted, which candy they prefered to use, how they held the icing tubes and their intentional design choices like patterning. Given the variation of age and developmental levels, it was valuable for me as an educator to see the different approaches and think about all of the different skills this process was helping to develop and reinforce. Also, given the open-ended nature of this part of the process, I was able to just sit back and observe- something I love to do!

Along with the differences, there were commonalities: all of the girls were so excited to make, decorate, eat and share their cookies. They were all so proud of their creations –  they were literally beaming and that moment of self-validation was so rewarding for me to see.

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The cookies were yummy. The girls had them for snack with milk and took home the leftovers. Now a little secret to share with you about children and eating (especially for picky eaters): INVOLVE THEM IN THE PROCESS! Children have an affinity towards eating something they have helped cook. For some reason, it just tastes better to them if they’ve stuck their ooey-gooey fingers in it (lol okay so that’s not the scientific reason; their desire to eat is more of a socioeomtional one because they feel ownership over the outcome). As for our the rest of our work with the Gingerbread Man, I will post updates as things shape up.

 

Ramadan 2016- Post #8: Easy Eid Gifts

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For Eid this year, we wanted to come up with a simple gift that could easily be distributed to our growing list of friends and family. We wanted something that was generic enough to be enjoyed by a wide range of children, but personal enough to make the recipient feel special. We also wanted something inclusive whereby we could involve our non-Muslim friends in the festivities.

During one of our trips to our local grocery store during Ramadan, we noticed something special. A woman had rented out the parking lot for the summer (she was living out of her RV) and had a train set up. The wheels in my head got turning.

I introduced myself to the woman and paid for a train ride for my daughter. I asked for her business card and after speaking to my husband and thinking through the logistics, I contacted her and asked her if it would be possible to make up gift vouchers that I could pay for in advance. She was supportive of the idea but was not sure how to go about it.

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I designed my own simple vouchers, printed them and brought them to her to be signed. My daughter and I came up with a list of age-appropriate friends we would like to give vouchers to. I then started getting the envelopes ready to share with our family and friends. My daughter was super excited to fill her backpack with the vouchers we would be mailing and take a walk to the mailbox to drop them off. Since our complex has a community mailbox, she assumed that’s where we would be dropping off the mail, however that mailbox is not set up to receive mail. She was surprised to learn we would be going to a farther mailbox. While I didn’t take the time to explain the postal system, for an older or more curious child, this topic could be more deeply explored. She also walked with me around our complex to hand deliver envelopes to neighbours with young children.

In the past, our Eid gifts to other children have been more elaborate, but as our circle grows, we needed an economical way to bring some joy to more children, many of whom were toddlers that were at the train-loving stage. I loved this idea because not only did it match the criteria I listed above, but I was able to support a local small business. It was also convenient because of the twenty vouchers we bought, we only saw one of those children on eid. The format of our gift allowed children to enjoy an experience (instead of add to their growing list of toys and knick knacks) and the children were able to receive their gift on time without us having to drive around all over the city.

This post concludes our Ramadan festivities for 2016. I hope our learning has inspired you to reflect on your own experience and brainstorm for future Ramadans.

Please remember my family in your prayers,

Madiha

 

Ramadan 2016 – Post #5: Baking muffins for YYC Helping Homeless

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In Ramadan it becomes especially tempting to just focus on the Muslims in our community. I wanted to be proactive about this tendency and decided it would be a great time to share some food with an important and often overlooked demographic in our community: the homeless (not that they are some monolithic entity that congregates in one place).

Last year, I came to know about a group called YYC Helping Homeless (I have mentioned them in a blog post here). I wanted to buy some food to donate as well as prepare some food for them to have at their weekly fiestas. Since I also wanted to involve my daughter, I decided to bake muffins (we made banana, banana-blueberry, and banana chocolate chip).

As discussed in past posts, baking is a great sensorimotor experience. Not only do children get to see, touch and smell different ingredients, but they get to learn about the properties of food. I know it can be daunting to let a toddler handle unboiled eggs, but I’d rather have a toddler who had a few accidents along the way and was competent and confident in the kitchen by the time they hit grade school than still be packing their lunches into university *ahem mom ahem*. It is impressive how quickly they start incorporating the language you use to describe things in their own vocabularies (just the other day my daughter was talking about “powdery flour”).

Baking also reinforces numerical skills like measuring, fractions and children’s abilities to follow directions. It can also help with instant gratification. Children will start to understand that typically, eating requires cooking. Not everything is readily available from the fridge and pantry. Sometimes, they have to wait or things to finish cooking and cooling off before they can enjoy them.

Cooking with children also does wonders for hygiene! If you have a young child who is constantly running away after using the toilet without washing hands, only to have to drag them back to the sink, try presenting an opportunity like cooking, that necessitates handwashing before they can handle new and exciting ingredients.

The method we followed was pretty generic but one thing I did find interesting when we were baking this time is as my daughter becomes older and more experienced, she can do more. While I finished off mixing the batter, she excitedly lined the muffin trays with paper cups, using fine motor skills. If you are working on counting, get your child to count as they line the muffin tray.

While my daughter was a little young to discuss social realities like homelessness in detail, talk to your preteens about it. Encourage them to reflect on their own blessings and solicit them for ideas on how things like homelessness can be resolved. Sometimes children have beautifully simple insight into the most complex problems.

Ramadan 2016 – Post #4: Operation Eid Child

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This year we came across a local effort called Operation Eid Child whereby community members could sign up to buy gifts for children of specific ages and genders and wrap them up to be delivered just before Eid. The gifts were distributed at a local masjid to refugee children and other families in need. This drive is inspired by one which operates in Pakistan (http://www.eidchild.com/operation-eid-child.html) which found in roots in similar shoebox-filling drives that happen around Christmas in many parts of the world

When I came across the group on facebook, I knew that it was a process I wanted my family to be a part of. I added it to my daughter’s Ramadan calendar and thought of ways I could stretch out the activity to create excitement and also cover more learning domains.

  1. Shopping – If you can, take your child shopping with you when you go to buy the gifts. It is wise to talk about the children you will be shopping for and the types of items they might enjoy before finding yourself in the store. Brainstorming these details with your child ahead of time and discussing other necessary elements like budget can make for a smoother shopping trip and also get their wheels turning before they become overwhelmed by rampant consumerism upon entering the store. For younger children, it might be easier for them to appropriately shop for children who match their own demographics so allow them to have some input in what you decide to purchase. My daughter is fairly young and doesn’t quite understand the concept of numbers/budgeting but for an older child, set a budget and allow the child to pick the items that will go in the gift. Allow some time for this activity and use cash to pay. Along with reinforcing numeracy and basic financial skills, this activity can also help children learn to prioritize, refine their decision making process and spark creativity.img_3350
  2. Creating Cards – If you are drawing out this project, let your children spend an afternoon creating thoughtful cards. Some children will spend hours painting, colouring, gluing and pasting. Other children, either due to age or lack of interest may only choose to spend a few minutes. What we decided to do was use pieces of paper that my daughter had previously painted as the base for our cards. She then chose stickers to decorate the cards and I wrote a simple message. Depending on your child’s level of learning, use this as an opportunity to practice not only art and fine motor skills, but also writing skills and socioemotional development: encourage them to reflect on their own blessed lives and empathize with children who may not be as fortunate. Ask your child, how might the recipient of your gift feel opening the gift that you have so carefully put together on Eid day? What else can you do to make sure the people in your community have a good eid? Why might your actions please Allah? Acknowledge any feelings your child might experience during this process including jealousy and envy. Don’t invalidate your child’s feeling or simply tell them not to feel jealous but empathize with your child and explain the implications of their actions. For example, “I know you really like that water gun that we are giving. I’m sure the little boy that receives it will love it too and be really happy that there’s someone in this world that cares about him enough to share such a cool gift with him. Allah promises that when we give something up for His sake, He will give us something better so let’s make duah that all boys and girls will get awesome gifts this Eid and be in a safe and happy place surrounded by people they love.”
  3. Packing the Gifts – This is a fun time for children. Lots of children have excitedly ripped the wrapping paper off of their own gifts, but how many children have had the opportunity to pack a gift for someone else? I included my daughter who was 2.5 years old at the time of this experience by asking her to pass me the items and help place them in the box. She then added tissue paper to cover the contents. If your child is older, have them source the correct sized box. Allow them to use concepts like estimating volume to find an appropriate box and surface area to determine how much wrapping paper is required. img_3413
  4. The Drop off – This was one of the most exciting aspects for my daughter. Because we had been talking about these Eid gifts and working with them for the week, she was thrilled when after daycare one day, I told her we were going to go to a new auntie’s house to drop off the gifts. When the auntie opened the door, her dining table was full of gifts and I explained to my daughter that there were many nice boys and girls just like her, who cared about others and were doing the same thing. I’m sure it would have been a more powerful experience had she gotten to present the gifts to the children herself, but we were busy during the distribution timeslot.

 

We did a similar process when my daughter was providing input and shopping for her cousin. Of course, the dynamics were a little different because my daughter knew about the person in question, and had a relationship with her, but the point is that if no such gift drive exists and you cannot start one, the same process and learning can occur any time of of the year when buying a gift for anyone! With Christmas right around the corner, why not look for an opportunity for your family to help brighten up another family’s day?

Ramadan 2016 – Post #3: Spreading Cheer

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This was the first year that many newly arrived Syrian refugees were going to be observing Ramadan in Canada, their new home. While I can’t imagine that the past few Ramadans have been particularly cheerful, I did want to do something with my daughter to help welcome this beautiful month and make it special for our new friends.

Through the wonderful and dedicated individuals that make this city so great, I came to know about a Syrian family who didn’t live too far from us at the time. While I knew of them and had even been in their home before, I still had not had the opportunity to meet them in person. This seemed like as good of a time as any.

I made a simple Ramadan Mubarak platter with cake, appetizers and cookies and added some cute pinbacks for the children. I wrapped it up and my daughter and I went for a brief visit (this was one of the activity cards I made for her calendar). She was super excited to carry and present the lantern to the very friendly children. They hung up the lantern right away. The family seemed genuinely appreciative of our gesture, even though what they were really in need of were regular and sustained friendships.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I like to bring my daughter with me when we are dropping off food to friends and family. I want her to understand what it means to be part of a community. I want feeding others to be a natural instinct for her. I want to give her the opportunity to live her faith.

It’s easy to give and share when you are blessed with so much. The hope is to build up these characteristics so that even when times are tough, we are able to have enough tawakkul (trust and reliance in God), to continue giving and sharing.

 

Pumpkin Mania: Part 1

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As promised, new fall content! I’m super excited about this four-part series since it was emergent curriculum in action. One outing blossomed into many experiences, providing my daughter with rich opportunities for hands-on learning. I hope our projects can inspire and encourage you to see the wonderful potential of pumpkins.

It started a few weeks ago when a dear friend asked us if we would be interested in going to a local Calgary gem: Cobb’s Corn Maze and Family Fun Park . While corn season was over, the place was full of pumpkins!

I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity, and so our learning journey began. I introduced my daughter to the following books (from my personal/professional library) and they became instant favourites. We’ve been reading about pumpkins daily for the past few weeks.

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These books were all ordered through Scholastics during my time as a preschool teacher. “This Pumpkin” is part of an excellent science-based series for young children. I will do a blog post to cover this series and its merits at a later time.

Each of these books was a non-fiction choice, full of real photographs. The language and concepts in these book prepared my almost two year-old daughter for the play that lay ahead. When we finally make it to the library, we will look for some more (fiction) books that tie into the ideas we have been contemplating.

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Our trip took place on a gorgeous day! We didn’t have a lot of time to spend, but my daughter was elated to climb and sit on pumpkins.

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We came across some smashed pumpkins and she curiously poked around. From our reading, she knew that pumpkins had seeds inside.

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There were also pumpkins for sale, so we brought one home to continue our learning. Later that week when we went grocery shopping, we saw all sorts of pumpkins for sale. I handed this one to my daughter and we talked about how small and bumpy it was. (Yes, those are bite marks. My daughter decided to take a bite while I turned around. She didn’t like the taste much).

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Our pumpkin sat on the kitchen table for a week before we got to do anymore hands on work. In the meantime, we continued exploring the books, talking about things we may be able to do with the pumpkin.