New growth

Assalamo ‘alaykum. YES! that time of the year is upon us… what time? clues in the picture below:

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It is almost Spring! Alhamdulillah!

A few days ago (when we had a break from the glorious British gloom) I collected a few essentials in this square plastic bowl – that around here is affectionately referred to as “the vomit box” (it does come in handy when the boys get a virus) – and headed with two very excited children to the garden. I got my seeds, lolly sticks and a pen to lable the pots, the lovely gardening gloves my husband got me last year and I never used because my khimar gets in my way and I didn’t want to get dirty (here, to all those who imagine me being a great garneder; or a gardener of any kind) and the all important baby monitor (H was napping).

We started easy by putting in the ground some lovely cyclamins my mother had given me. Then we planted some basil seeds, courgettes, chilles, aubergines and lots of tomatoes. We will need to soak the peas and fava beans to plant later and see what else we can add, in sha’Allah.

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(I feel I should clarify here that the manly hands above are not mine! AND the gloves show that I did get dirty this time, alhamdulillah)

This coming Spring as a time of new growth in many ways. After H was born in the Autumn, I sort of hybernated in that strange, busy, sleepless world of being a “3rd time new mom”. And my family with me. Each of us had to deal with the personal challanges that the great change brought into his or her life. Alhamdulillah, seeing the sun outside, the buds on the trees, the boys riding their bikes at reckless speed (…oh, wait, this is not season specific!) anyway, I feel like the whole family is rubbing their eyes, having a good stretch and starting to had towards normality again. Not to mention our expert in matters of growing:  my 4 – no, wait – nearly 5 months old, who is turning from a cuddly blob into a beautiful, playful and happy girl, Allahumma baarik.

Incidentally, we have been picking up a science book with Y and I liked the “mind map” he came up with for the first topic, so I decided we should elaborate on it and turn it into a poster. The topic was simple enought for B to participate too. Alhamdulillah.

New posters up! the first change of homeschooling decor since the baby: alhamdulillah, it feels good to be back.

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Hajj themed counting activitiy

Assalamu ‘alaykum.

Today Bilal and I finished the Hajj activity we have been working on (with Yusef’s help) over the last few days. I won’t lie it was completely my idea and the boys were interested in the decorative aspect of it and left me to do all the “structural work” of gluing the finished product on heavy card, cutting that out and work out how to hang them… (who am I kidding here – I had lots of fun alhamdulillah!!!). Here it is:

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Each number 1-10 has 3 components: a card showing the number, a smaller one with the corresponding number of dots/stickers (I am sure there is a specific way to describe numbers written like this …) and a third part at the bottom with counted items, in our case Hajj related items. I’ll tell you what they are because some are … erm… less than obvious:

1- Ka’bah    2-Hills     3-Jamaraat    4-Airplanes    5-Mawaaqeet   6-Suitcases    7-Pebbles   8-Tents     9-Sheep     10-Pilgrims

I used some A3 coloured papers, each cut in half and each strip divided into 3 (with the middle one being about half the size of the other 2). Then I glued everything on card. I didn’t laminate because I knew I wanted to stick some sensory materials and textured papers on, but I supposed you could laminate the base and then stick stuff on top of it?

I had some craft papers which I used as well as an old map, scraps of colourful paper, cotton wool, gauze (for the ihram clothing!), and magazine/crossword paper… but the fun in these kind of project is that you can just rummage in your recycling bag/cupboards and use creatively what is already there! (fun fun fun).

The 3 components are put together with paper clips (fashioned into hooks) and holes punched at the top. I’ll be honest, I put them up this morning and by noon 3 had already fallen off (taping the hooks couldn’t hold the weight of the 2 bottom bits… enters the stapler!).

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They are meant to be removable so they can be used for a matching game that will help number recognition and – when Hajj season is over – we can make different cards for counted things according to whatever theme we want insha’Allah. Exciting!

Ramadan activity plan – WEEK 2

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Assalamo ‘aleykum.

Below you will find listed the activities I picked for my boys (aged 7 and 4) for each day of Ramadan. Feel free to be inspired to pick your own favourites or just copy the whole thing. This is why homeschoolers share ideas in the first place, Alhamdulillah.

It might seem that I must have spent a lot of money on crafts, but I didn’t; I already had a few of the materials because sometimes I just buy craft materials when they are on sales and I have a couple of pounds to spare. This year I bought the kits also because I wanted to save time on planning wherever I could, Alhamdulillah.

WEEK 2

DAY 1: Windmill kit (not the exact same I bought but similar).

DAY 2: We’ll be making fattoush Insha’Allah. Chop, tear, mix: I expect  my kids will love that insha’Allah. (If you are Lebanese and completely horrified at this recipe not being authentic, accept my apology and know that I picked the first recipe with a yummy looking picture that came up on Pinterest *smile*)

DAY 3: Foam mosaics. The boys will be given some colourful self adhesive foam sheets and cut out shapes to make a Ramadan inspired design of their choice. (Or I might cut out some geometric shapes and see what they can come up with).

DAY 4: We’ll be making ice tea (I will put decaf teabags and lemons in the mailbox).

DAY 5: Pillars of Islam mobile from A Muslim Homeschool (barak Allahu feeki).

DAY 6: The Moon Seems to Change  (please note that this is not a general endorsement of this book. I didn’t receive this book at the time of this post and bought it based on a preview. Almost all children books out there – written by Muslims or not – tend to contain some haram images and might have some content that contradicts Islamic teachings. When I recommend a book on this blog, I assume a Muslim parent will go through each book before giving it to their children and apply the due rectifications to make it suitable, Insha’Allah. If the book in question turns out to be beyond rectification, it will be thrown in the recycling without hesitation).

DAY 7: Spinning tops to colour in.

Ramadan activity plan – WEEK 1

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Assalamo ‘aleykum.

Three years ago I made a “Ramadan mailbox” for Yusef out of a cardboard box. I put it at the bottom of the stairs and everyday he would enjoy finding a little note or suggestion on a good deed to perform. Now, those notes were completely random and very last minute. By last minute I mean that many of them were actually thought of and written at suhoor time on the day I needed them!

Because Yusef hasn’t stopped talking about that box since, I thought that I would do one again this year. This Ramadan I also have a different 4 year old who I hope will enjoy it as much as his big brother did, Insha’Allah. AND I am actually planning it! In fact I must have started picking activities 2 months ago and collected them in my Ramadan with the kids Pinterest board.

Each day I will put in the mailbox the relevant materials x2 (Yusef is going to want to participate Insha’Allah). Each week I tried to include cheap crafts, worksheets/things to read and a simple recipe to share with our neighbours Insha’Allah.

Insha’Allah, I am going to share my list of the activities that I picked for each day, in case someone wants to do something similar but is too short on time to think about which activities to do.

WEEK 1

DAY 1: Ramadan countdown paper plate and pegs.  We will paint the plate and decorate the pegs with craft papers and buttons (we will just remove a random one each day, no need for numbering). By the way, these pegs are great to give out as small presents to the aunties at the end of it: You always need a cute peg to close a pack of some food in the cupboard (we made some for family in Italy and they were a resounding success masha’Allah!)

DAY 2: We will be making Breakfast burrito bites (or better, “Iftar burrito bites”). Yusef will find in the mailbox the printed recipe with pictures and Bilal some of the ingredients, Insha’Allah.

DAY 3: Lanterns (if you don’t want to buy a ready made kit, you can easily find free printable patterns online Insha’Allah)

DAY 4: The boys will find in their mailbox a siwaak each with a container that they can personalise with craft papers Insha’Allah. Sunnah AND craft!

DAY 5: Braiding activity. The boys will get some colourful strings, be shown how to braid them (or plait them? I don’t know if there is a difference between the two). Insha’Allah this will result in a handy string for their siwaak holder.

DAY 6: A wonderful book (printed out and bound) by my awesome ukhtee at A Muslim Homeschool (Allahumma baarik!) The Tale of Three Israelites

DAY 7: The boys will get some Ramadan inspired images, cut to thick shreds and mixed up, to glue together as a puzzle. We will have a board above the kitchen table where they can stick their work and we can all admire it at meal times, Insha’Allah.

Suddenly, homeschooling! (or “the playdough effect”)

Assalamo ‘aleykum.

Following my recent post about wanting to do more meaningful and structured play with my 4 year old, we have started with the most obvious, versatile, easiest and universally enjoyable activity of all: playdough.

I have to admit, first of all I had to re-enter the frame of mind in which the state of the kitchen floor (and the sweeping skills of the child involved) are not all that important; you know, that sometimes forgotten place in your mind where taking out and playing playdough at any time of day is not only perfectly acceptable but desirable.

Secondly, I decided to make our own playdough. There is a wealth of playdough recipes and activity ideas online (here is my playdough board on Pinterest Insha’Allah). I used shop bought playdough all these years, but over the last year or so, I noticed it seems to make me sneeze and to dry my hands out? Not nice. In general I am very much against using food for playing. I believe it is a blessing from Allah and it should be eaten, but, after my first experiment with actual edible flour, I plan to use up the “free from” flour that sat opened and unused in my cupboard for a couple years and, in general, minimize the use of food for non eating purposes, while at the same time avoiding what seems like a mild allergic reaction, Insha’Allah.

I used the first recipe that came up when I searched  (although I do know and like this site) and I was convinced by the title Best ever no-cook playdough recipe. It was much easier and required a lot less kneading than I thought and the result was excellent. The dough is very soft and smooth, lovely to work with, masha’Allah. The only let down for ours was the food colouring we chose: the little yellow tube does not give a vibrant colour but a more pastel shade (also, only some colours from this brand are suitable for vegetarians – because I don’t know what actually makes them unsuitable and I have no idea whether that makes them haram for us, I avoid).

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On the day we made it, both boys played with it straight away, and from that day on, Bilal has been going back to it quite often. He plays in short creative bursts, then puts away. The best thing is that -Alhamdulillah, all success is from Allah – after he is done with the playdough, he feels sort of “inspired”. He usually goes, “What other job (i.e. activity) can I do now Ummi?” and he is off to the bookshelf to fetch an Arabic wooden puzzle, a geoboard or some stencils. I am now thinking that my plan for a little Montessori shelf for him might still have a chance to come into fruition, Insha’Allah.

Alhamdulillah, it is so lovely to see him busy and suddenly interested in homeschooling, when he is not riding his bike or pretending to mow the lawn that is!

Hit. Miss. Try again.

Assalamo ‘aleykum.

Having a child of formal education age, I sometimes find that I focus so much on him and getting work done, that the younger one doesn’t get the same amount of attention in this sense. Several fellow homeschoolers reassured me that it is quite normal for subsequent children not to be as academically advanced as the first was as a pre-schooler, simply because a mother would not be physically able to give him/her all of her attention and focus completely on his/her learning needs and no one else’s. However, I do feel the need to involve Bilal more Insha’Allah and do some sort of structured playing with him, rather than letting him spend the time I homeschool Yusef playing on his own. Since the good weather started and they started spending most of their playing time outside, I found Bilal’s behaviour deteriorated. It is probably partly a phase (I remember his brother going through the same at roughly the same age), but I also suspect that it might be due to him spending too much time playing on his own and basically being “left to his own devices”. Although we talk when he is outside and he is loosely supervised to make sure he doesn’t do anything too daring/silly, I feel he doesn’t spend enough time doing something with me, especially given that I cannot participate to outside playing as I do indoors.

With this in mind, I ask Allah’s help and decided to try harder to get Bilal engaged in some age appropriate homeschooling. Alhamdulillah, he already does Qur’an every morning (i.e. I recite about 2 pages of juz ‘Amma and he recites along. He can’t read and he doesn’t yet understand the whole “repeat after me” method). A few days ago I introduced writing in flour (it might have a technical name but I don’t know it). Despite my huge excitement  (I had been keeping the little wooden tray and the expired gluten free flour for months with this purpose in mind and I was so chuffed to find that that my dough scraper fitted perfectly as a surface smoother) the success was only partial.

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“Bilal, did you like writing in flour…”

“Yes”

“… or not so much?”

“hmmm…. not so much”

It still ended up like this though, so it must have been fun… at least a little!

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I think we might very well come back to it another time. But for now, time to bring in some serious playdough Insha’Allah.

High expectations

Assalamo ‘alaykum.

A week ago we were blessed to travel to Birmingham to attend the “Hereafter” conference at Masjid As-Sunnah An-Nabawiyah. Alhamdulillah, it was very beneficial (may Allah bless the speakers, organisers and everybody that helped in it).Incidentally, it also delivered an important lesson to me about what I can and cannot do and about accepting the – few and moderate – restrictions that pregnancy is imposing on me. In other words, we couldn’t stay until the end but we are slowly catching up on the talks we missed (click the image to listen to the recordings:)

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The environment at the conference was lovely masha’Allah and it really felt like a blessed sitting, but one thing stuck with me. When I took a break for some fresh air (during one of the talks… erm… see what I said above about restrictions…) I noticed there were a lot of children of various age groups playing and generally hanging out outside. It felt strange to see the sisters trying their best to keep babies quiet and toddlers entertained during the lessons, while some older children and teenagers were outside, not benefitting. I am sad when during jumu’ah or ‘Eid prayers I see sisters coming in and immediately “settling” their children – from toddlers to teenagers (some of whom look not far if at all from the age of accountability) handing out iphones, tablets and other gadgetry. Children should be taught from their very first visit to a masjid or a lesson how they should behave in that environment. Of course, they might take a while to learn, but the effort from the parent needs to be there. Encouraging them to “kill time” does not teach them to sit quietly while the khateeb is talking, not to run around during salah and not to chat with their friends but to try to listen and benefit from what is being said. If we read the biographies of some of the major scholars, we will find that they were accustomed to sit in the gathering of knowledge of adults from an early age. And they sure weren’t handed an ipad to play some “educational” game on. Let’s try not to short change our children and to have the highest possible expectation that is appropriate to have for their age.

Of course I did not expect Bilal (who is 4) to listen to the talks at the conference, but I expected him to sit still, entertain himself quietly (with colouring, tracing, stickers, washi tapes and a little notebook, books, etc. which are not the same as giving him my phone to play on, because these are real, creative, tangible, beneficial activities), to whisper if he needs to tell me something and not to bother me (and others) with continuous requests for snacks/drinks/more entertainment/unreasonably frequent trips to the toilet (I’m sure anyone who has kids can tell when they don’t actually need it, right?), because Ummi needs to take notes.

My 7 year old sits with the men  (at shorter events, such as jumu’ah, the little one does too). I don’t only expect him to sit quietly and not to be a nuisance but I expect him also to listen and benefit as much as he can, to start learning how to be a member of that congregation. Now, I know he needs help with listening and following, so I gave him a “word search” to do, with a lot more spaces to tick every time he hears one of those words in the talks. Also a couple of lists to compile (the major signs of the Day of Judgement – which he missed – and some of the different names of the Day of Judgement, which he did very well masha’Allah).

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Alhamdulillah,  we are always very excited to take part in these events, both boys have been delivering lectures since *smile* they have been Abu Fulan and Abu Fulan, they talked about whose beard was longer (masha’Allah) and how their beards will look Insha’Allah.  Yusef reads out parts of the matn of “al-Waajibaat” (by shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul-Wahhaab) in Arabic and English, and he expects me to take notes (“Where is your notebook Ummi?… you can make a spider diagram if you want…”). Well, Ummi needs to take notes, doesn’t she?