Drum for Fun!

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Last summer I happened upon a unique and creative gross motor program happening in my neighbourhood. It was a guided drumming and dance circle that used drumsticks and yoga balls on pails in a group setting. Due to prior commitments and the timing of Ranadan, I only attended it once with H who was 2.5 years old at the time. She loved it! But she was a toddler and lasted about 25 minutes before she wanted to play at the neighbouring park.

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H at the Drum and Dance program last summer at 2.5 years old

When I realized this program was happening again this summer, I was excited to take H, who now, at 3.5 years, would enjoy it even more. We planned for it, and when I returned after getting baby dressed (who H has now nicknamed Boomer), I found her asleep on the couch (this has literally never happened). After multiple failed attempts at waking her up, I decided to just go on a walk with baby. We walked by the park and while I wasn’t sure of the logistics of babywearing and participating, it worked out fabulously!

Baby Boomer (hahaha clearly not an intentional pun by my 3 year old) is not the best of nappers, but the one way he naps best is when I wear him. So in spite of some very loud Bhangra and Electronic music, the vibrations of the drumming and my various movements, he stayed asleep!

I love this program. It’s super family-friendly and combines basic music/dance skills like keeping time and following the beat with the opportunity to meet new people of various ages and circles and get a creative workout,  all while benefiting from spending time outdoors! The instructor is also super friendly and energetic; people drop in and out throughout the program. Best of all, this is an easy program to recreate – it can be adapted to meet the needs of daycare/preschool children, school-aged children, cultural groups and even corporate employees!

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I’m so glad I went out today, even though H wasn’t with me (she was the whole reason I was going in the first place). Being a parent (especially the mother) to a newborn can be very exhausting and isolating- this was exactly what I needed tonight!

For more info on this free program, check out the poster below!

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Tools are Cool – Post #3: Around the Community

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As H’s interest in tools grew, we sought to make connections with everyday real-life experiences. We started noticing tools being used all around us. Some of our experiences included:

  • Visiting Lee Valley Tools (a tool store) to pick something up (our awesome purchase will be explored in the next post)
  • Watching the Roof Hospital staff repair roofs in our condo complex
  • Watching repairmen fix the door to the garbage shed in our condo complex
  • Watching a man use a power saw just outside of H’s school to cut wood
  • Watching city workers dig and excavate pipes in the alley that borders her school parking lot
  • Watching repair men using ladders and tools to restore the heating system in my chiropractor’s clinic

While she is too young now to participate in children’s workshops, older children could benefit from the free monthly Home Depot’s Kids Workshops, participating in a local Habitat for Humanity initiative or contacting your local community association to see if they need volunteers to help with community maintenance (for example, painting, rink maintenance, trash collection etc.) Similarly, local community and school theatre productions, such as Storybook Theatre often need help with set building.

As I make this list, I notice that everyone we encountered in our experiences was a man. I know there are tons of women that use tools and I know that H hasn’t yet challenged this notion as she feels very comfortable donning her construction gear and playing pretend. But  as an educator it is important to expose children to balanced perspectives, especially in light of some other people’s sexist attitudes , so I will aim to introduce her to (non-sexualized) female construction professionals through books and photos. I’m curious to see if it triggers a response.

*These images have been collected from various places on the internet. 

The one construction professional I do know quite well is my brother. H has always had a special love for her uncle and when I told her that he has lots of tools, she was immediately interested. We arranged a whatsapp video date so that he could show her around his workshop, demonstrate the use of different tools and answer questions. It was a really cool virtual interactive field trip.

So just before our video call started, H fell off the couch and was in a bad mood. It took her a few moments to warm up but when she did, she was curious and excited to see my brother’s collection of real tools. She was also quite eager to show him her plastic versions excitedly commenting “I have that too!” She was especially proud when he admitted that she had one tool that he didn’t…a saw! I’m curious to see what emerges this summer when we go to visit my family and she can get a real life tour (and hopefully some more hands on experience).

If you live in the GTA, check out my brother’s newly launched facebook page for his company MADDA-WORX. He provides wonderful customer service and specializes in landscaping, interlocking and home improvements.

Ramadan 2016- Post #6: Sadaqa Jar

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Sadaqa is an Islamic concept which basically means to give charity (voluntarily).

About a year ago, I first read my daughter a book called “Jameela’s Great Idea” (review can be found here). My daughter loved this book and we’ve rotated it in a few times over the past year. When I was carefully choosing the books I wanted to add to her bookshelf during Ramadan, this book was a natural choice. The book is about a little girl who regularly goes to the Mosque with her father and upon noticing him deposit money in a “little brown box” asks him what that is all about. The book follows her as she brainstorms ways to raise money so that she can give sadaqa too.

What I decided to do with my daughter during Ramadan was give her simple art materials to create her own “sadaqa jar” (a glass jar*, paint, paint brush, glitter).  We talked about the idea of collecting money, ways she could collect money and what she would do with it after. Keep in mind she was 2.5 years old and it was a very simple process (essentially asking family if they would like to donate money to her jar so she could share it). While we’ve been toying with the idea of a piggy bank for her, I liked the idea that the first time she was going to save money, it was going to be for charity.

*Some people are weary of letting toddlers handle glass, but I believe that children should be entrusted with using authentic materials.

My daughter was excited to paint her jar. She picked two shades of blue paint. But of course, painting the jar wasn’t enough for her.I passed her some recycled materials but she shortly moved onto something more exciting; she decided to paint both her arms. I have to admit, my inner parent wanted to rush in and give her paper, but I know that sensory input is valuable for children. Besides, it wasn’t anything a good wash couldn’t take care of. So I sat back, made a video and marveled at the curiosity and focus of my little smurf.

 

She added some red and purple glitter to her jar and once it was dry, I made a simple top with a slit out of a styrofoam plate (we used a mason jar which worked really well for this). For the next few weeks, she collected coins from her Papa, grandparents and aunts.

Near the end of Ramadan, we drove to the Mosque and after some hunting (there was no donation box on the women’s side…sigh), we found one in the men’s lobby. H excitedly deposited her coins and we were on our way.

As I mentioned, this was the process we followed as part of our Ramadan Calendar, tailored to my then 2.5 year old. Below are some adjustments that can be made to better meet the developmental needs of older children.

Modifications for older children

  1. Learn about your local currency – Now that my daughter is three, she is interested and better able to differentiate between the various coins and learn about their value. Coins collected can be used not only to learn new terminology (In Canada, we have the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, loonie, toonie) but these coins can be used in other mathematical and numerical learning such as numerical value, patterning, sorting, weighing etc.
  2. Allow children to choose their own sadaqa recipient – For younger children, a generic sadaqa box at the mosque works splendidly, but with the array of charitable organizations in existence, it might be more meaningful for your child to research and pick a cause that is dear to their heart, whether it is building a well, contributing to the education of a child abroad or helping with the local pet shelter.
  3. Ask children to create a plan about how they will earn/raise money – Have children consider the materials and resources needed to raise money and critically evaluate what will be the best approach. Perhaps this will be a great opportunity for their inner entrepreneur to shine! Older children may choose to take on additional jobs or engage in classic fundraising initiatives like bake sales to help raise funds for their cause. Work with your child to adjust the plan so that it is suitable for your scope and lifestyle.
  4. Nurture their desire to help in a sustainable way – Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” Your family may choose to make this sadaqa initiative an annual tradition or better yet an ongoing project.
  5. Remind children of the other forms of sadaqa – While monetary giving is commendable, it is not always possible or what is most required. Remind children of the words of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him who told us that even a smile is sadaqa. As a family, brainstorm other ways of giving sadaqa and possibly undertake one of these ways as a family initiative. Some suggestions include volunteering time, gardening, conversing with the elderly in your community, shoveling snow for neighbours with limited mobility, sharing meals and toys and speaking what is good and true.

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 #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.

 

Ramadan 2016 – Post #2: Setting up a Calendar

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Having a daily calendar to accompany the passing of the month can be an easy way to be more intentional and make Ramadan a more engaging time for young ones. For more information on the purpose of a Ramadan Calendar as well as different formats, please refer to this post.

Last Ramadan was the first time I toyed with the idea of a Ramadan Calendar. I built the frame (which I plan on reusing in the years to come and for other purposes as well!) but I was a little bit stuck with filling up 30 days worth of things for my then 18 month old. This year,  I found it much easier to come up with content. Not only was my daughter older, but I also started thinking about what I wanted her to get out of Ramadan before the holy month began. And while this was a step up from last year, I still found myself tempted to use a commercial sticker calendar because I was not sure I would have this ready in time. In all honesty, it didn’t quite come together until the second week of Ramadan.

I wanted the content of the calendar to be meaningful for my daughter so I thought that focusing on social welfare and community was an appropriate big idea. Alhamdulillah we had the opportunity to serve various segments of our community- some of these ideas will be expanded on in future posts as the calendar really was the inspiration behind what I did with my daughter this Ramadan.

To make the calendar more user-friendly (i.e. engaging and functional for a 2.5 year old) I drew little illustrations on one side with words on the other to promote literacy skills. For children who do not read yet, including pictures on labels helps them independently derive meaning and also helps to make and reinforce relationships. If you are not an artist (or you are a perfectionist) including clip art photos works too!

While we didn’t remember to check the calendar each day (it wasn’t as much a part of our daily routine as I would have liked), and we weren’t able to do all 30 things included in the calendar, I know that the difficult part (creating a template) is over. Some of these ideas can be reused for next year and some new ones will be added. I have complete faith that this calendar will be even more beneficial to our family next year, God Willing.

 

Inspiring Giving

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As parents and educators, we are tasked with teaching our children many things, whether directly or indirectly. Often, the values we learn early in life find a way to embed themselves into our very being, so it doesn’t matter where life takes us or who we grow to become, coming back to those values feels like we’ve come home.

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Perhaps this is why giving, is such an important way of life. We can make giving central to our children’s lives, by practicing it ourselves, and by providing opportunities for them to give.

Here are six local initiatives and opportunities you may wish to pursue this season:

1. Grocery Shopping and Food Donations: Many grocery stores have food donation boxes by the exit (Real Canadian Superstores collect food for the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank). During your shopping trip with you toddler, talk to them about what you are buying for your family and their favourite things to eat:

  • You can directly involve your child by asking them to help pick out a certain number of items for a family who might also like to enjoy these things. By setting a number (“Let’s find 3 things to buy for another family”) you can help teach numeracy and also respect your own budget.
  • Don’t worry about purchasing lots of items. While it may feel good to buy a grocery cart worth of food for others during this time of year, it may be more meaningful to make a small, but consistent effort. This method may be more sustainable and will also allow it to become a habit, as opposed to a feel-good moment.
  • Make your purchasing intentional, not just an afterthought on your way out. This will teach your child to think of giving at the beginning of a process and to give from the best of what they have, instead of giving from leftovers or using giving to simply get rid of unwanted junk (a common plague in the world of donating “gently” used items.

2. Toy Drives – There are many toy drives organized by various organizations. Give your child a budget (or if they are older, you can get them to raise/save their own money) to pick out a toy for a child. Check your place of worship/workplace/community centre for a local toy drive, or consider one of these:

3. YYC Helping Homeless 2015 – Among the many things this grassroots group does to help out the homeless population is Calgary, is serve food downtown every Saturday at 6 pm (They refer to them as “fiestas”). Some ways to involve children in the fiesta:

  • Involve children in cooking, food prep and packaging. Whether you are choosing to cook a hot meal, make sandwiches or bake cookies, there are jobs that can be done with your children: washing produce, assembling sandwiches (even if it’s as simple as adding the top piece of bread), mixing, measuring, counting, placing items in ziplock bags etc. If you are unable to attend in person, a volunteer can still pick up your food to serve. A host of skills can be developed and reinforced during this process including language development, numeracy, good hygiene, problem solving, fine-motor skills and creativity.
  • If you children are school-aged, consider bringing them to a fiesta and experience the people at the other end. Not only is it a nice way to spend some family time, but it helps to build compassion and get a glimpse of the struggles that some people in our city our facing

4. The Shoebox Project – This project consists of filling a shoebox with items a woman would be happy to receive and then wrapping the shoebox into a festive gift (make sure to wrap the lid and box separately so that it can be inspected). Typically, the shoeboxes are dropped off at a local women’s shelter or centre. As your wrap your own gifts this year, you can contact this website and create a few gifts for the women who access these spaces,  or you could get together with a group of family, friends, or colleagues and make a day of it.

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Recently, Sikh Youth Calgary organized a community event allowing anyone who was interested to bring and wrap items to be donated. There were a lot of children at this event and they had a great time. Sikh Youth Calgary actually made it into a contest where people worked in small teams and at the end, had a vote to determine whose box was wrapped the nicest. A trio of pre-teen girls walked away with the prize: an awesome gift basket full of goodies. Once again, depending on the format your shoebox project takes, a variety of skills can be developed through:

  • Setting a budget – numeracy skills
  • Identifying what should be bought – using logic to deduce what is needed/wanted
  • Gift-wrapping – using numeracy skills (measurement), creativity, problem solving
  • Problem-solving – address any bumps along the way, for example, what happens if what you want to buy exceeds your budget? What happens if you run out of wrapping paper?

5. Welcoming Syrian Refugees –  As large groups of Syrian refugees start to arrive in major Canadian cities, consider going to the Airport with your family to greet a group. You may wish to do one or a few of the following things to not only give them a warm welcome, but to use this is a learning opportunity for your children:

  • Make welcome cards/banners – Allow children to use their artistic abilities to design and create their own items. For older children, you may choose to challenge them to integrate some Arabic words into their designs
  • Bring flowers – flowers seem to be a universal gift. Again, let your children choose the flowers. If they are older, challenge them to do some research to discover whether certain flowers signify certain things in a particular culture.
  • Bring coffee and snacks – It can take an average Canadian quite a bit of time to get off the flight, through the airport and into their homes. This wait is much longer and intimidating for a family of new Syrian refugees. Some coffee/tea and snacks such as cookies and sandwiches can help to tie them over.
  • Volunteer to show new arrivals around their neighbourhood. If you can spend a few hours, or a few days, offer to show new families the following places: closest grocery store, doctor’s office, library, bus stop, school as well as how to use these services. By bringing your children along, it will allow them to start engaging with people that are “different” than them (there may be linguistics and cultural differences), and show them that these differences are not barriers.  It also gives your children the chance to work on their social skills.For more information on getting involved with Syrian refugees in Calgary (including arrival dates and times, as well as ongoing calls for donations and services) please visit: 

    Calgary Welcome Syrian Refugees

    Syrian Refugees Support Group Calgary

 

6. No Crib for a Bed – Neighbourlink has placed 100 white cribs throughout Calgary with hopes of collecting supplies for families in need around the city. You simply bring your donation and drop them in the crib. This is a fantastic, visual way to involve children. As we were walking through the Genesis Centre, my two-year-old saw the crib and was immediately intrigued. Start a conversation about babies and the things babies need to stay safe and healthy. Allow your child to suggest items you can donate, whether you go out and buy new items, or pull from a stock at home. If you find that your child is suggesting things that may not be relevant, try reading a story about a new baby and discuss why the baby might need the things mentioned in the story. Or simply, take time to observe babies when you are out and about with your children. By prompting with comments like, “Oh look, that baby is hungry. What is he eating?” you may be uncover more helpful suggestions.

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Happy Giving!