Monday, July 30, 2012

Preschool Arabic Alphabet Games (1)

Some friends and I are running a "Ramadan Club" for our preschoolers, meeting for two hours once a week. We do a little bit of Quran memorization (we're aiming to finish Surat al Qadr by the end of the month isA), a little bit of Ramadan-related seerah, and a little bit of Arabic ABC's. We're splitting up the "teaching" between three of the moms, and I'm in charge of the ABC's part. Just in case they're of use to anyone, here are the games we used last week, when we covered ا,  ب, ت and ث :

Jump-On-the-Letter Tag:
  • I wrote the letters ب,  ت,   and ث on separate pieces of paper, the same number of copies as we had kids. 
  • Then I stuck them all randomly to the floor, spread out a bit so the kids wouldn't be too close together. 
  • I made one copy of an ا for myself. 
  • Then I called out letters, and the kids had to run to jump on the letter I had named. 
  • But since I was the only person with an ا , when I called ا, the kids all had to run after me and try to tag me. 

Musical Mugs:
  • I put a mug on the floor for each kid, arranged in a big circle.
  • The kids each had a set of flashcards with ا,  ب, ت and ث on them.
  • I played the alphabet song in Arabic while the kids skipped around in a circle (well, more or less).
  • When the music stopped, I called out a letter, and the kids had to race to the nearest mug, find the right flashcard, put it in their mug, wave their mug in the air and call out the letter. 

Pipe-cleaner ABCs:
  • I put the kids into pairs (just so that kids who weren't too sure of their letters would have a buddy to guide them), and gave each pair a bunch of pipe-cleaners.
  • I called out a letter and they had to work together to make it out of their pipe-cleaners. 

All three games went pretty well, but the first one was probably the one they liked best.

For more in this series of posts, please see
Preschool Arabic Alphabet Games (2),
Preschool Arabic Alphabet Games (3) and
Preschool Arabic Alphabet Games (4).

Friday, July 27, 2012


I read this post on one of my favorite blogs a few days ago, and I loved Alice's point about how valuable and yet how difficult it can be to be generous with your time with your children. Oh gosh, so true. I think I do a relatively ok job, most of the time, of pretending to be patient with my kids, even when my stock of patience is running pretty low. But sometimes.... well, I guess it's inevitable that a mom of a four-year-old and a one-year-old will spend a large part of her day waiting - for someone to finish tying their shoes, for someone to finish eating their yogurt, for someone to drag their nose out of their book long enough to respond to what you're telling them... the list seems endless.

Most of the time, I truly don't mind. Other times, it drives me batty :) I usually manage to hide my impatience well enough that the kids don't realize it's there (I think), but sometimes it's all too obvious from my reactions that their pace is messing up My Schedule. I've been disappointed with myself for so long about this, because first of all, they're little kids and can't help it, and second, where do we really need to be in such a hurry? Nowhere in particular, is the answer. But I couldn't seem to convince myself to relax and just go with a little-kid-paced lifestyle.

And it's not just with the kids, either. That little bit of time after the kids are in bed is so precious to me that I kept finding myself feeling resentful when my husband needed my help with anything extra during that window of time, and obviously that kind of attitude never made for a happy end to the evening.

So, Alice's post made so much sense to me, although I wouldn't have phrased it myself in quite the same terms she used. And then that evening, at the end of that evening's juz, I got to this aya:

which, translated, would be something like, "You will never attain righteousness until you give freely of that which you love, and whatever you give, truly Allah knows it well." Well, for me, "that which I love" would be my free time, for sure. One of the rarest and most precious things I have. It's made such a difference to realize that even if nobody else does, Allah truly appreciates it when I close a long-anticipated book in order to play tigers (again), or file taxes! It's finally easier to join the game, wait for the shoe-choices, or sort through paperwork truly cheerfully. For me, that's been the biggest blessing of Ramadan so far this year. Al7amdulillah :)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's Basbusa reading?

Now that Kunafa, at one-and-three-quarters, is old enough to start enjoying picture books as well as board books, I've been especially pleased when we find a book that both girls love to hear together. Basbusa just turned four, so there's not a huge amount of overlap between their tastes most of the time, but all four of these books were big hits with both girls. You'll notice that they all involve animals, which has been a favorite topic of Kunafa's practically ever since she was born.

"The Parrot Tico Tango had a round, yellow mango / But it wasn't quite as yellow as the lemon of Marcello. / And Tico Tango knew / That he had to have it too, / So he took it!" So begins the story of the greedy parrot who steals fruit after fruit from each of his friends, much to their dismay. But in the end his greed becomes his downfall, and he ends up contrite and willing to share. We liked the tango-like rhythm of the words, and we liked the rhyme (as we always do). The repetition of the ever-lengthening list of stolen fruit was fun for both of them, but especially for Kunafa, and both girls liked scolding Tico Tango for his behavior. They both liked the justice of Tico Tango's losing all his fruit ("Now the parrot Tico Tango / Didn't even have his mango!"), and of his having to make amends ("If you teach us all to tango, you can have a piece of mango.") The one criticism that Basbusa made about this book (every. single. time. we read it) was that Elena's fig, "which was purple, sweet and big" was actually more blue than purple in the illustrations.

We've had a mixed relationship with Mem Fox. Sometimes the girls love her books,and sometimes they seem to fall flat. But Two Little Monkeys has zoomed right up to our all-time favorites list. The text is simple enough that Basbusa can read it with no effort at all, which she always finds encouraging at this stage, and the plot - the tale of two little monkeys who almost get pounced on by a leopard but escape up a tree at the last moment -  is simple enough that even Kunafa can follow the action. It has just the right amount of suspense (it's not clear initially exactly what is prowling through the bushes) an exciting escape, and a happy ending. A perfect toddler story.

One of our favorite destinations in Boston is the Children's Museum, which has, in the 3-and-under-area, a car that plays a song. Basbusa has loved that song ever since we first started going there, so when I accidentally discovered the book that goes along with it, I knew she'd like it. "Daddy's taking us to the zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow. Daddy's taking us to the zoo tomorrow, we can stay all day. We're Going to the Zoo, zoo, zoo, How about you, you, you, You can come too, too, too, we're going to the zoo, zoo, zoo." The text of the book is just the words of the song, and the illustrations are interesting, animal-filled, and full of a child's excitement at a trip to the zoo. I don't know if the girls would have enjoyed the book quite so much if we hadn't all been singing along with it (the music is included on the last page of the book, but there's no CD), but I think it would have been a good read in any case.

Me Baby, You Baby is another trip-to-the-zoo story. In a way, it's aimed at a younger audience, because the two children in the story are still very young toddlers. In terms of the length of the book, though, it's well-suited for older kids. The text and the delightful mama-and-baby-themed animal pictures work well for either age. (The words might have been a bit babyish for Basbusa, but she could read them herself, so she didn't mind.) The story covers one day in the life of two toddlers, from sunrise ("Stretch baby, yawn baby, Here comes the dawn, baby") to sunset ("Sleep baby, tight, baby, Turn out the light, baby"), and I thought it captured perfectly the pace and rhythm of life with a very young child. We renewed this one three or four times before finally giving it back.

Linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday and What My Child is Reading.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Preschooler craft: Ramadan lanterns

Kul sena wentum Tayeebeen! Just in case anyone is looking for last-minute decoration ideas, here's what Basbusa and I made last week. We always make a whole bunch of these little lanterns (so easy that even Kunafa, 20 months, can help), and although they're plain, they do look festive when you make a whole bunch of them and string them up like a garland.

The new kind for us this year was these:

(They actually don't look quite as cool as that - I think the camera is doing me some favors :) They're totally not "traditional" in appearance, but they're pretty, and they glow, so hey, they'll do.

You need:
- white paper (we just used regular computer printer paper)
- a white crayon
- watercolor paints
- tape, glue or stapler
- oil (any kind)
- an empty jam jar
- a candle

Here's how we made them:
1) Scribble randomly on the paper with a white crayon.
2) Paint over it with watercolors (because they won't adhere to the part where the crayon is). I just offered Basbusa three colors, because of the tendency for things to turn into a massive pool of brown when she has unlimited options! Basbusa thought it was pretty interesting to see the white crayon-lines "magically" appear.
3) Wait for the paint to dry.
4) Put a few drops of oil on the paper, and use your hands to spread it out all over the page (this makes the paper more translucent so that the light shows through better).
5) Roll it up so that it's just about wide enough to cover your jar (we used tape, but a stapler would probably have worked better - the tape didn't really want to stick to the oily paper)
6) Put a candle inside the jar, light it, and slip the cover over it.

Just one note about the oil - we used canola oil, which worked fine, until I noticed that it was starting to attract ants! We'll use baby oil next time instead, insha'Allah.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's Kunafa reading? (Board Books)

I've been meaning for the longest time to post a list of our all-time favorite board books, before the kids grow out of them and I begin to forget which ones we loved best. And since Kunafa (19 months) is just starting to be interested in picture books in addition to her beloved board books, I realized I should probably stop procrastinating! These are the books that both of my girls have read over and over and over again, and which I'm still enjoying myself, a million hours later. I haven't bothered to review the Eric Carle classics that every child in the western world must know and love (The Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See), and both Basbusa and Kunafa enjoyed various books which just show photos of familiar objects. Other than that, here's our top ten list, in order of darling-little-baby to heart-breakingly-grown-up-toddler:

Peek-A Who? has just six peek-a-boo surprises, each one peeking through the cut-out on one page ("Peek-A..."), to be revealed completely when baby turns the page ("Moo!", "Zoo!", "Boo!" or "Choo-Choo!"). It's just the right length for the attention-span of the youngest babies, and has clear, bold but not crude illustrations. There's a mirror at the end ("Peek-A.... YOU!"), and the rhymes chosen allow plenty of scope for sound effects, which my kids always find entertaining (my impersonations of cows, ghosts and trains have reached their current level of professionalism almost entirely thanks to this book :). Plus, the cut-out in each page makes it even easier for little baby-fingers to turn the page over.

Everybody knows babies like pictures of other babies, and there are billions of books of baby faces. Everybody knows that babies like pictures of animals, and there are billions of books of pictures of animals. But Baby's Best Friend is the only book I've come across that combines the two: there are some of the cutest babies I've ever seen in this book, along with some of the cutest animals. Each picture has a baby and a baby animal, color-coordinated in some way. The pictures are clear, appealing and varied: a baby with a mouse on his shoulder, a baby peeking over a sheep, a baby with turtle climbing up his back, a baby taking a bath with some ducklings. Plus it's longish for a board book, so you can dip into it frequently without going the whole way through each time. This means it takes longer for me to get sick of reading it :) I also like that the book does a reasonably good job of showing a multi-ethnic collection of babies. There's a very small amount of pleasantly rhyming text, which I would appreciate even more if I actually read it (I stick to Arabic at this age). There are several other books in this series, all of which we have enjoyed, although this one is the favorite. 

Mommy Hugs has mommy animals, baby animals and lots of hugs. Could there be a more interesting topic for the under-one crowd? Both of my girls have liked the clear but attractive illustrations, and I like the wide variety of vocabulary used to describe each variety of hug (nuzzle, snuggle, squeeze, nibble). Or rather, it's not exactly that I like the vocabulary itself - because I'm totally not into "vocabulary-building" for tots, and we read this in Arabic in any case - but I like that it shows that lots of different words can express variations of the same meaning. The whole book is short enough for infant attention-spans, which is another plus, but our favorite feature of this one is that we can act it out. Any excuse to nuzzle, cuddle and tickle my babies is fine with me :)

I'm sure there's no need to review any of Sandra Boynton's books, but we love Barnyard Dance so much that I can't skip it. We love the dancing animals, and we love dancing along with them. I love all the motion verbs that she uses (prance, scramble, spin, twirl, trot, strut), and we all love waving back at the animals as they promenade away on the last page. "With an OINK and a MOO and a QUACK QUACK QUACK, the dance is done but we'll be back!" Oh, yes, we will. Many many many times :)
I'm not usually a big fan of "interactive" board books. Lots of books have tabs to pull or flaps to lift, but either they tear so easily that the book doesn't last, or else they're too tough for little fingers to move independently. Even when you've gotten it open, what you see underneath the flap isn't usually particularly interesting after you've opened it the first few times and know what to expect. Furthermore, in so many "interactive" books, I often feel that the novelty-factor of the tabs or flaps themselves is the only interesting part of the book, and the plot and the rest of the illustrations are nothing particularly memorable. This book, though, is different. Bizzy Bear: Fun on the Farm (and the three others in the series,  Bizzy Bear:Off We Go!, Bizzy Bear: Let's Go and Play! and Bizzy Bear: Let's Get to Work!) would be a good read even if there was nothing interactive about them. The illustrations have appealing animal characters, with lots to talk about in the illustrations in addition to whatever Bizzy Bear himself happens to be doing. And the "interactive" bits are not only incredibly sturdy and yet super-easy to move, but the scene that is revealed or the moving part itself actually adds to the richness of the illustration. Bizzy Bear's digger actually digs, for example, and the train he only just manages to catch then leaves the station. Plus, the interactive parts all move in different ways, so rather than a long series of flaps to lift or page after page of textures to feel, there are some tabs to pull, some sliders to slide (horizontally, vertically or diagonally), plus some more unusual elements like a sailboat that rocks in the waves and a rotary that spins. 

But Not the Hippopotamus is another Sandra Boynton book, so I won't got into much detail. Animals, rhyme, and a repeating pattern of text make it appealing for youngest kiddos; and then as they get older they can start to empathize with the feelings of the left-out hippopotamus. I've actually managed to tactfully remind my older daughter to include everybody at playdates by making a sad face and saying mournfully, "but not the hippopotamus!"

Big Red Barn is another one that's too well-known to need reviewing. Suffice it to say that both my girls have loved following the animals through their day from dawn to dusk.  
For these last three books, the baby needs to be old enough to grasp at least vaguely the concept of "plot." Kunafa got to that point recently, and since then, Clip-Clop has been a huge hit. The pictures are fine but nothing extraordinary. The story, on the other hand, describing four animals who go for a ride on a horse, fall off, and get back on again, is apparently one of the glittering jewels of the world of literature :) It's too funny to watch Kunafa's reactions to this one. You can see the suspense building in her whole body as the animals get on one by one, and then start going faster and faster. What's going to happen? What's going to happen?! And then the climax: they fall into the haystack! Oh, the excitement! Then she reflects the horse's concern: Are they ok? Are they ok? And the joyful relief: Yes! They're fine! They want to do it again! As, more often than not, does Kunafa.

Silly Sally is the odd-one-out in this list, in that most of the plot is way over Kunafa's head (it's not that it's all that complicated, just that it's more suited for picture-book comprehension levels rather than that of board-book readers). However, neither she nor her sister before her seem to mind. They love the refrain, "Silly Sally went to town, walking backwards, upsidedown," and we all like trying to copy her. ("Look! I'm Silly Sally!," Kunafa exclaims, peering up at me from between her own knees.) Both girls also like looking further down the road in the illustrations, to predict which animals Sally will meet next, and we all like giggling once Neddy Buttercup shows up and turns Sally's stalled walk into a tickle-fest. 

And finally, Owl Babies, which was Basbusa's favorite board book for what seemed like her entire toddler-hood, and which Kunafa has just grown into. Three baby owls wake up to find that their mother isn't with them. They even venture out of their nest to look for her, but she's nowhere to be found. They huddle up together on a branch, eyes closed, wishing and wishing that their mother would come. And then at last, their owl mother comes gliding home to them through the trees, and the joyful owlets flap and dance. (I think kids need to have both a vague grasp of plot and a vague grasp of empathy to get the most out of this one.) Both my girls seem to have found the plot enthralling, and sympathize passionately with the littlest owl who keeps repeating pitifully, "I want my mommy!" Basbusa's love for this book caused me huge amounts of guilt when she was a baby, because I was still working at that point, and was convinced that her identification with this plot must reflect her own alarm at finding herself deserted by her mother each workday. So it's a great relief to see that Kunafa, who has never been away from me for longer than about an hour and a half, finds it just as fascinating :) 

Linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday and What My Child is Reading.