That time of year.
It’s almost here. I can sense the adrenalin rushing in to get things in place, to buy gifts and groceries, to stuff freezers with samosas and kababs, to get carpets cleaned and housework completed, all so that we can focus on getting our spirits ready for the annual guest who will be here in a few days. In the focused frenzy to prepare our homes, our families and ourselves, I’ve noticed a lot of homeschooling folks decide to put education on the shelf for the whole month. Yes, this blessed month of Ramadan is a time for self reflection and remembrance of God, but our religiosity cannot be a selfish one which shields our children from its beauty for our lack of energy, creativity or time. I started thinking about this more when I heard moms talking about how they were going to try to reap the benefits of this month “in spite of” their children. Our Ibadah, Ramadan or otherwise, should not be in spite of our children, but with them. If we want to raise a generation of Muslims who will be confident in their actions of Ibadah while enjoying them, we have to include them in our own Ibadah and make it appealing to them. Tall order? Yes, but if something is not going to take much out of us now then it won’t give much back later either. So, with that in mind, here are a few thoughts and ideas, original and borrowed, to affect our homeschooling with the spirit of Ramadan.
To begin the month of Ramadan let our children marvel at the beauty of the hilal which seems easy to spot this month in California, at least. Check out crescentwatch.org and moonsighting.com to learn how to sight the moon. Take the kids out and look for the moon in the setting sky. Keep the dua of the new moon handy (see resources below). Try making this a monthly activity, but make it out especially to start and end the month of Ramadan. This activity can be lengthened to include learning the phases of the lunar cycle and the differences between the Hijri and Gregorian calendars for older kids.
Preparing our homes for Ramadan has the same special feeling as readying the home for a guest. Families have done everything from deep cleaning to gardening to changing up furniture settings to hanging up lights to decorating the house with banners and kids artwork! The idea is that Ramadan deserves the same respect and excitement that our families would display if we knew the President was coming to visit us. Barakah Life as always has beautiful ideas of craft projects for banners and house decor for Ramadan. There is no real limit to what you can do with the little ones, but for my family, we’ve always enjoyed sending out Welcome Ramadan cards to all our friends and relatives. All major card manufacturers in the US have created a Ramadan section for their e-cards. Although I still believe their selection is not as great as 123 greetings or some other sites run out of Muslim countries, it’s a start. I enjoy browsing through hallmark.com or americangreetings.com for our kids to feel that Ramadan is becoming an American holiday!
This year families in the US have an extraordinary opportunity. Ramadan falls when school is out thus affording many young students the opportunity to fast, and many families the opportunity to have more time for each other and for iftar planning as well. We should include children in the meal planning, grocery shopping, iftar making and serving process. This can also be an opportunity to teach our children about Muslim cultures worldwide by trying out various local specialty iftar offerings. To explore how Muslims worldwide open fasts, the foods they eat and the sunnah that bind them all are great lessons to teach. We must teach our children the virtues of serving others first and inculcate the Adab of setting a beautiful table setting just for iftar and doing special prayers together during this blessed time. As a child, I remember the hour before Iftar was the most exciting in our home. Our family’s iftar menu always consisted of a sweet dish, a savory dish and a special drink. We lived in a multi level apartment building in the Middle East where a lot of our neighbors were Muslims and each day just before iftar, my mom would send me with a small portion of everything she made to share with our neighbors. Reciprocally, every day I remember sittings at a table with food from at least three different families to sample. If any of us have Muslim neighbors, it’s a great idea to open fast together. In a country where we don’t necessarily live with family nearby, getting together to open fast occasionally is a beautiful experience and if nothing else the masaajid offer this opportunity. http://allrecipes.com/HowTo/Ramadan/Detail.aspx has great menus for Ramadan from around the world and there are multiple online resources for Ramadan menu planning and shopping as well.
Let our families make the most of those few precious moments before iftars when prayers are accepted, by sitting our children down and teaching our little ones adhkar that they can learn in Ramadan and practice forever after, inshaAllah. We cannot expect our toddlers to be so generous as to allow for an entire Taraweeh prayer undisturbed, but we may be able to squeeze extra prayers in during the day if we pray nafl while our young imam thinks he is praying with us in salah daily! Another thought is to have the eldest son lead the rest of the kiddos in prayers. The younger boy can call the adhan for each prayer during the day. This way they are part of the prayer routine and this feels so immensely special. Of course, this is all second best to actually going to the masjid, which we should all be striving to do more in Ramadan.
It should go without saying that Ramadan should be television and entertainment free, but if someone needs a little support to get that going in their house, then follow the Northstar School model of creating a TV-free/movie-free Ramadan. The school has children sign up and promise (signed document by the children) stating that they will refrain from television/movie watching during the month of Ramadan and spend more time reading the Quran or memorizing Surahs. Since I am away from Northstar this year, I plan on getting a few friends together to start the same program locally, where we can end the month with an ice cream social to celebrate Eid and our commitment to staying away from entertainment and going towards more Ibadah, inshaAllah. For those who may go through serious withdrawal symptoms, I suggest nasheeds or the burdah recitation instead of pop music. http://barakahlife.typepad.com/ramadan_joy/about_challenge.htm gives you a better understanding of the program. Another great way to keep kids engaged is through the National Islamic Girl Scouts Ramadan patch program. This is applicable to anyone who isn’t a scout as well. Take the ideas and implement them first. You as a family can later decide on what the rewards should be. Perhaps there need not be a reward, if just knowing that you have grown in knowledge is sufficient for your family. Don’t fear changing the rules up a bit, make it enjoyable and knowledgeable at the same time. http://www.nicgs.com/NICGS/gs_ramadhan.htm gives you requirements for different age groups so pick what your child can accomplish.
Throughout the month, my older children accompany either myself or my husband to Taraweeh prayers, but on the night of Laylatul Qadr we bring even our little ones in order to go as a family. If going to the masjid is just not possible for your family that night, then recreate the ambiance at home. Spend the day talking about, reading about, acting out, drawing or making clay models of what Laylatul Qadr is actually about. One year my kids made a cave out of large packing boxes and put a prayer rug inside and took turns going in and praying there. The recitation of the last juz with translation so that the many stories it contains can be retold and talked about is another great activity not just for this night but all the nights of this month. We also made edible tasbeehs by stringing cheerios, which they would gobble up as soon as the adhkar were finished.
Of all the activities this month, the most exciting for my kids is preparing for Eid, of course! Making goody bags for their friends, sending Eid cards to family, buying gifts for each other, to getting their outfits ready for Eid day, and participating in a henna party the night before (other than my boys who dislike the giggly girl henna party) have become a standard expectation for our family. One of my family members made an Eid Gift Palm Tree so that the children born to converts also could relate to the festivities! Each palm leaf was an envelope of money for the kids in the family for Eid day. I thought it was such a creative blend of the East meets West values for the new generation of American Muslims!
Ramadan is around the corner, and it’s a fleeting guest. Let us work to make it a wonderful time of year for our families, so our children wait for it each year. Let us remind ourselves and our children that Allah has blessed the Ummah of Muhammad sallahu alayhi wa sallam with the grandeur of fasting this month. The Quran tells us that “fasting is prescribed for us, like for those before us”, but we can all see how we are the only people left who observe it with worldwide significance. We have to train ourselves and our children to observe this month with complete sincerity. May it be an educational, enjoyable and immensely reward filled time of year for all of us, “with our children” beside us, inshaAllah.
Resources for ideas:
NOTE: Jazak Allah Khair to the sisters who brought to my attention an error in my website selection. I have corrected the error and hope that everyone benefits as I have.