Background Inspiration and Purpose
As promised, I am going to share with you how I made our Ramadan calendar this year. The inspiration came from three main sources: 1) my childhood Christmas advent calendar; 2) Pinterest ideas on gratitude jars, Ramadan calendars, and prayer booklets; 3) my desire to mark this month in a tangible yet meaningful way that would be relevant to the spirit of the month, have the potential of being carried over throughout the year, and be ecologically friendly.
I didn’t want to buy anything ready-made, because I find that everything has more meaning and is more deeply appreciated when it’s home-made. I stopped shopping for non-essential items, so I needed to use up whatever stash I already have in the house, and it needed to be child-friendly, so my kids could join in and actively participate in its making and use with ease and enjoyment. To read more behind my intentions for this Ramadan, you can read this March post, and/or this April one.
First and foremost I went for reusable materials, avoiding plastic as much as possible. For this I used a cork-backed placemat that my kids got me for last year’s mother’s day, and lined it with an extra layer of cork to be able to stick thumbtacks into it. I had a roll of cork that I had purchased a few months back, sure that I’d get to use it somehow. I LOVE cork, because it’s extremely versatile AND environmentally friendly, because like birch bark, it is harvested uninvasively from trees that re-grow the layer in a relatively short time, making it an easily renewable resource. It’s water-proof, and easy to clean, naturally anti-bacterial, and simply a whole lot of fun to work with. It can be a bit brittle, however, so you do need to handle it carefully, for it does tear if you tug on it. I glued the cork with a hot glue-gun onto the placemat, and secured pipe-cleaners decorated with wooden colorful beads that spell out Happy Ramadan, to affix the board to the wall.
Then I collected my chalk-board tags with twine that I had found at my local thrift store a few months back with the intention of making my tags as reusable as the bags and paper I use to wrap our gifts in. My kids learned early on not to rip their gift-wrappers, knowing we could re-use them, but tags… once you write in them, there’s no going back. Chalkboard tags are simply ideal for this purpose.
I didn’t want to spend hours cutting paper, but I had rolls and rolls of paper ribbon (also purchased at my local thrift store months ago), in many different colors. I love gift-wrapping, and always make it a point to not only make our own cards, but also wrap each gift elaborately and elegantly, preferably with recyclable materials. I often use fabric, but also all sorts of paper and other natural materials. Perhaps I’ll write another blog on gift-wrapping and card making, as this is another area that I find quite rewarding. Back on topic: paper ribbons are the perfect width and flexibility, and it’s quite easy to write on them with regular Sharpie pens. I then stapled the twine in chronological order onto the board, in lines of four (for size and ease of organization). I ended up with four columns of five lines each. Leaving the last ten days open.
I had a couple of little chalk boards (also purchased at the thrift store a while back), and figured they could work as a parallel activity to the calendar, making the whole ceremony one that involved cooperation, turn-taking, prayer, gratitude, and reward, for each one of them, every day.
As goodies (our Christmas calendars used to have little windows with chocolates hidden behind each), I thought I’d go with chocolate, as my kids enjoy it and it’s not something we routinely buy; it’s usually reserved for special occasions, and what’s more special than Ramadan? I bought a few packages of Quality Street and Merci chocolates, saving the Merci chocolates for the calendar (as they are one long bar divided in two blocks, which two kids can share), and keeping the Quality Street chocolates for the parallel activity of writing on the little chalk boards.
I have four kids, so I needed to have them feel excited each day about unwrapping the chocolate, without having to wait four days for their turn or have to make four separate calendars. This also needed to be an activity that required input, active participation, not just passive reception of goodies and prayers. It was also important that they show patience and consideration for their siblings while waiting for their turn, so to encourage cooperation, without forcing them to wait for several days before getting their chocolate, I decided to split the task in two. One activity is directly linked to the calendar, and the other goes alongside it, and they work in pairs on each activity, intercalating day by day.
How it works
I wrote a dua (supplication, or prayer) on each 10-12 cm long piece of paper ribbon, and consulted with my kids on what they would like included. Below is an example of one such prayer (buya and yumma are their paternal grandparents, and nonna is their maternal grandmother, my father has already passed on). I then wrapped each Merci chocolate into one of these paper prayer ribbons, fastened them with a tag and twine, and affixed it in order (from oldest to youngest) covering the first twenty days of Ramadan. This took some time, so I decided to stop here and get them to complete the last ten days themelves, as we approach the last third of the month (by then they’ll hopefully have a hang of it, and have a clearer idea of what they want in terms of prayer and sweet treat, so they’ll get to choose what they want and make it themselves with limited guidance from me).
Each chalkboard tag has the day of Ramadan clearly marked, along with the name of the child whose turn it is to take the chocolate from the board. I decided to split them in the pairs that they normally don’t split themselves into to help them work on getting along better with the sibling they feel less affiliation towards, and to avoid having the same person work on the same task two days in a row. So the oldest worked with the third born, and the second oldest with the youngest. I took the executive decision of going from oldest to youngest because my oldest two are now fasting, whilst the youngest two only fast half days, if that. It seemed reasonable to everyone that this is the way we should go. The team-mate would then read the paper ribbon for all to hear and internalize, then the other two would go to their respective chalkboards and write down what they feel grateful for on that day, they must write something different every time, and they can’t copy from each other. Once this task has been completed I hand a Quality Street chocolate to the two scribes, the calendar team splits their Merci chocolate in half, and they can all eat their treat, just before we get ready to pray mughrib (the sun-down prayer right after breaking our fast with milk/water and dates, and before supper).
Progress Thus Far
We’re into the second third of the month of Ramadan, and we’ve already decided that they don’t like each kind of Merci chocolates or Quality Street, so we replace them with chocolates that they do like, or they exchange amongst themselves. I think that by having each of them participate in one specific function each day, and rewarding them upon completion of the task has helped keep them motivated to continue to look forward to this activity, while also making them reflect on what is really important (what we should pray for, and what makes our lives special: family, health, serenity, etc.).
I hope that this will inspire you to start a similar activity with your kids, and if it does, please do share your own little project in the comments below!
Until next time,