Kids are not expected to fast during Ramadan, neither are the elderly, and other weaker or vulnerable people. But they are nevertheless excited about the month, as parents change their routine somewhat to accommodate meals, prayer, and extra charitable acts. Positive behavior is encouraged and all sorts of negative behaviors are discouraged. All the moral aspects of this special month are instilled in children from early on, so although they are not expected to endure the hardships of the physical fast, they are welcome to join in the spiritual aspects of this special month.
Many kids will attempt to join in a few hour long fast, incrementing the hours as they get older. This helps them better appreciate the lessons to be had, such as empathy for the poor and destitute, the frivolity of extras, the significance of our use of time, the importance of health and restraint in matters of behavior and food consumption, and so on and so forth.
In an attempt to break down the various aspects of the fast, many parents opt to read books, retell stories of their first experiences fasting, or arrange special activities around the theme of Ramadan.
One such mom is Fatema, who runs a number of charitable community events, many of which involve teaching kids about the meaning of Ramadan. I asked her to give me her recipe for making Ramadan engaging and fun for kids, no matter what age. She provided me with a series of pointers, and a slew of entertaining packages of activities that she presents to the families with which she works. Below follow the pointers and the jist of the various activity booklets she assembled.
The way one deals with the advent of Ramadan depends a lot on the age of the children. Older kids (teens) will join in the fast and take a lot of the responsibility for their fast, by scheduling their activities, pacing themselves during school days, and participating in food preparation. Younger kids will have half fasts, and gradually work towards full fasts on weekends, and in doing so they begin to understand the implications of the fast, and slowly learn how to pace themselves accordingly. Sometimes they can get overexcited and try to overexert themselves, so it’s up to us as parents to limit them, so they don’t harm themselves, while still asserting their active participation in a variety of aspects.
We have a lot of discussions at home about fasting and those in need around the world. They also compete with who can read more Quran. So we work together towards an ever deepening of our understanding of the purpose of fasting, and constantly reinforce these lessons through our behavior, activities, exercises, readings, and active involvement with the community and beyond.
We prepare special iftaar meals to help them appreciate Ramadhan and they enjoy being involved with meals. This also includes special meals to be taken to the mosque, as well as food drives and other charitable drives for the needy in the neighborhood.
During the last ten days they start getting excited for Eid, make lists of gifts that they wish for, and begin to organize parties with their friends.
As far as the educational and entertaining packages that she shared with me, they vary according to comprehension level, gearing each booklet towards a specific age group. What each packet has in common with the others, however, is the invitation to participate actively in a variety of ways, either by answering questions, reflecting on a particular aspect, discussing one’s own take on a variety of methods to implement some of the lessons learned, and suggesting improvement or additional ways in which to take full advantage of this special time for self improvement and active involvement in our environment.
From an educational point of view, it tackles a wide range of learning styles and fosters active learning. Expanding on this last point, it encourages the development of a close bond between parents and children, not only by bridging the knowledge gap (also by reminding parents of how children see the world), but also by creating an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual understanding that comes with sharing such a particular time.
This is not only a time for each individual to turn inward and improve oneself, but also to reach out and connect meaningfully with the people around us, both within the family and outside of it. It becomes a sort of team effort to help each other succeed and improve, by giving of time, expertise, empathy, and compassion.
Although it might look like a terrible chore and hardship from the outside, the dynamic connections that are forged during this month are uniquely harmonious and set the stage for a more united and caring family atmosphere than any other activity, which is why so many kids are not only curious, but eager to challenge themselves to participate in every way possible.
They say that a family that eats together, stays together; well, I’d like to add that a family that fasts together also not only stays together, but thrives together.
Enjoy your Ramadan with your precious ones! May it bring joy and unity to your family and its benefits carry into the rest of the year.