Holidays in the Classroom: Ramadan

I have been working on a series this year of holidays in the classroom and how to celebrate them without overwhelming students and how to do so in a Montessori friendly manner- not always an easy thing. Today we’re going to tackle a holiday that is explicitly religious (unlike previous holidays covered in this series) and figure out how to educate rather than celebrate.

Next month is the month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and a month observed by Muslim folks across the globe as a time of sawm (fasting) to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. There are nearly 2 billion followers of the Islamic religion, and even if your particular classroom currently has no students of that faith, it is wildly important that- especially in today’s climate of fear, rising white nationalism, and misinformation- we, as educators, provide our students with authentic materials and lessons to make one of the pillars of the Islamic faith more familiar.

As a side note- the materials and books I am including in this post are all by Muslims themselves, which is so important. Representation matters- and it is incredibly important that we give priority space to #ownvoices creators. So with that in mind- let’s begin.

First up- let’s talk books. (Like always!)

The newest book on this list and my gosh, it’s phenomenal.

The newest book on this list and my gosh, it’s phenomenal.

“The Gift of Ramadan” is a new book this year (thanks to my pal Rahma Rodaah for letting me know about it!) and it’s lovely. Written by Rabiah York Lumbard, the book follows a young girl, Sophia, during the month of Ramadan as she practices fasting for the first time. Fasting is a practice done by all Muslims able to do so- pregnant folks, young children, the eldery, those with illnesses that make fasting impossible are exempt. Sophia wants to try fasting and she doesn’t quite make it through the full day. Her grandmother reminds her that there are other ways to celebrate- her mother reads the Quran, her father helps those in need, and Sophia decides she can help those who do fast by preparing iftar, the special meal at dusk to break fast. It’s a beautiful story, gorgeously illustrated, features an interracial family (especially wonderful as it is still hard to find representation of Black Muslims in children’s books), and a very child-centric celebration of the holiday.

The illustrations of this book are some of my favourite ever.

The illustrations of this book are some of my favourite ever.

This is possibly my favourite Ramadan book ever- “The White Nights of Ramadan” by Kuwaiti author Maha Addasi. According to the author’s note at the back, Muslim folks in the Gulf region (Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Kuwait), have an addition, special celebration for three nights in the middle of Ramadan called Girgian. Children wear traditional clothing, carry lanterns and collect treats from their neighbours. This book is about that specific event and it is stunning. The illustrations by Ned Gannon are lush and beautiful- I have had students who have been obsessed with the red dress Noor wears. The story is sweet, thoughtful and lovely. It’s incredibly rare to find a children’s book that takes place in the Gulf states, and this one is perfection. It’s important to show children that Muslims are not a monolith- there are different traditions to be found within the 1.8 billion members of the faith. This story is a wonderful one to include in your Ramadan libraries.

This book was a Kickstarter project last year and one I was so happy to support.

This book was a Kickstarter project last year and one I was so happy to support.

“Ramadan Around The World” by Ndaa Hassan came out last year and it’s the only book of its kind that I’ve ever seen. I have seen books about Easter and Christmas around the world- heck, I’ve seen entire classroom units built on them. But I’ve never seen anything like that for Ramadan. It follows the Ramadan moon throughout the month across the world to different families- in Australia, Palestine, Pakistan, Scotland and more. The families shown are of all different backgrounds. There’s a deaf child who signs, an autistic child, a diabetic child and more representation than I’ve nearly ever seen in a single book. Too often depictions of Muslims in children’s books are limited to only characters of Arab descent- and of course we need depictions of Arab folks in kid books, but a full quarter of American Muslims, for example, are Black- something that is rarely shown in media. The features a veritable rainbow of Muslim families across the globe and I love that this book shows them as diverse and unique as non-Muslims are allowed to be in media.

Hena Khan is one of my all time favourite authors.

Hena Khan is one of my all time favourite authors.

Hena Khan is one of my favourite authors and every book of hers I have loved. This one, “Night of the Moon” is a gem. Following Yasmeen through the month of Ramadan, it’s full of beautiful illustrations, including lovely borders, some of which are reminiscent of Arabic calligraphy and Islamic geometric art. Yasmeen watches and tracks the moon throughout the month and the story follows her and her family through various family gatherings, mosque visits and finally Eid. The book shows the South Asian tradition of henna, as well as depicts Muslim women with and without head-coverings, and a diverse cast of characters for the final Eid party. It’s lovely all around and belongs on every shelf.


And now- moving onto some physical materials to include on a Ramadan shelf in a classroom. I want to note here that I have spoken to all the makers of these materials and all of them have agreed that these materials are perfectly appropriate to have in a secular classroom and to be used by non-Muslim children. When covering cultural and religious holidays, it can be easy to cross into the realm of cultural appropriation. Our job as teachers is to educate, not indoctrinate and not celebrate (unless you’re in a religious school of course). These materials all help to educate students on Ramadan without trying to celebrate it inappropriately, and some educate on more general Muslim topics- while I firmly suggest and encourage all classrooms to incorporate Muslim representation year round, I also recognize that many teachers use the month of Ramadan to cover Islam in general. With that in mind, I’ve incorporated a couple materials in that vein as well.

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First of all- the phases of the moon. This is one of the easiest ways to introduce the concept of Ramadan to children. My friend Farah from Little Muslim Dolls makes these beautiful moon phase peg dolls that would be the perfect accompaniment to a set of moon phase cards- wouldn’t that be the sweetest matching activity? I love having objects to match for language works in my 3-6 classroom and the shimmer on these dolls would easily attract a child to the work. Phases of the moon cards are easy enough to find on TpT- and the new bundle I’m sharing shortly includes them!

Memory is a perpetual favourite in my home and in my school and this set featuring the names of Allah is absolutely gorgeous. While this can obviously be (and should be!) used by religious families for religious lessons and memorizations- learning the different names that one religion uses for God is not a religious lesson in and of itself and therefore can be used without fear of appropriation. I can easily see this as a cultural or language lesson, and I can’t wait for my own copy to arrive so that I can add it to the shelf for Noora this next month. And while this game, like the next material, are not specific to Ramadan, it is a good material to further the knowledge your students have of Islam. For older students, many of the names can be used as a jumping off point for further research, as one upper elementary guide friend of me mentioned when I brought up this game. (This game is also just straight up cute and is quickly topping my favourite versions of memory list).

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This is an awesome printable from the super talented Ndaa Hassan (who wrote the “Ramadan Around the World” book I mentioned above). A series of Montessori-style three part cards featuring adorable and charming illustrations and common Islamic phrases- assalamu alaykum, Subhanallah, and more. It’s perfect for language lessons and also while not Ramadan specific, a great supplemental material for a Ramadan unit (or during any time of the year!)

And finally- the set I am so excited to share with y’all today. One of my best friends, the inimitable Seemi Abdullah from Trillium Montessori, has finally, finally, finally created a mini Ramadan unit printable pack in the style of the other preschool packs she’s offered over the years. It includes a booklet (the top two photos are the cover and two pages) about different terms to do with Ramadan- you could bind this in so many lovely ways and display it on an easel on your shelf.

There are her usual sorting activities- this one has a super cute size sorting with different cute images all to do with Ramadan, like dates and zakat; and a categories sorting for masjids and Muslims. These are great for the youngest students and I have always had some version of this material out throughout the year. There are three part cards for the same terms covered in the booklet- also good for little ones and building vocabulary.

One of my constant favourites in Seemi’s sets are the ‘what is it’ cards and these are no exception. It’s such a fun game to play with students. The number clip cards (I have always used stones rather than clips) are constantly in use in my classroom and this version of them is adorable.

There’s lovely Islamic architecture and calligraphy art- there are so many things you can do with these. You can print two sets, as I did for the top cards to make a matching activity. You can put them by the metal insets as inspiration for geometric designs. You could put them as art on the wall for art appreciation. We all know how I feel about art in a classroom and exposing children to art they may not be familiar with, like this beautiful calligraphy work or tilework, is so important.

The set includes more- phases of the moon cards (to go with the peg dolls above!), a blackline clipart booklet of the terms covered in the booklet and three part cards for children to label and colour in themselves, shadow matching, cutting strips and more. It’s a wonderfully done set and I am so excited to share it with you all.

This mini Ramadan unit will be available the first day of Ramadan (May 5th) for purchase. If you’d like to keep track and get a reminder for it- please sign up for my newsletter here. I wouldn’t want any of you to miss out!

Finally- as always for a cultural or religious celebration- do my favourite thing. Invite parents and families in your communities who celebrate to come into the classroom and share their traditions with your students. If you don’t have a member of your school who celebrates to turn to- do the outreach yourself. Call your local mosque and ask if they have someone who can come to your classroom to talk to your students and share their customs and celebrations. It’s only in making connections and building bridges that we will make this world a more caring place.

There- a very long post about a very important celebration and holiday and one that we should be recognizing in our communities. Remember, there is so much hate and fear in the world right now. So much ignorance that we need to counteract. Those of us who have the privilege, and the burden, of raising and teaching this next generation to love harder and more inclusively have a lot of work to do. It’s a small thing, but teaching about holidays that aren’t part of the dominant culture matters. Giving children positive associations and representations of Muslim folks and of Islam in general matters. I hope that some of these materials and books (or even all of them!) are helpful to you as you consider how to educate your students about Ramadan. And please- let me know what you think of the books and materials when you check them out yourselves!

Holidays in the Classroom: Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day! As with all holidays, I prefer to keep things simple in my classroom. I add seasonal books to the library; and I change out some materials that I switch regularly anyways to reflect the day- such as 1-10 counting, category sorting, polishing works. Things like that. I think children get so much holiday excitement outside of the classroom that our spaces should remain as stable and calm as possible. So let’s talk about some of my favourite low key Valentine’s day books and activities!!

BOOKS FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

Just the sweetest illustrations.

Just the sweetest illustrations.

“Love Is” by Diane Adams is one of my favourite books. It’s about a little girl and a duckling and their year together. It’s a touching story and it has the sweetest illustrations. While not explicitly about Valentine’s Day, it’s about love and it’s one I keep out at this time of the year.

Such a fun book

Such a fun book

“Rhyme Time Valentine” by Nancy Poydar is a Valentine’s Day specific book about a little girl who adores the holiday and has big plans for the day. The illustrations are lovely, and it’s a fun read. My students have always enjoyed this book and it’s worth tracking down a used copy (it was originally published in 2002).

Anne Rockwell is pretty much always great and this doesn’t disappoint

Anne Rockwell is pretty much always great and this doesn’t disappoint

“Valentine’s Day” by Anne Rockwell is a really sweet story about a class writing Valentine’s for a classmate who has moved. It’s colourful and it’s always been a hit for a Valentine read aloud.

One of my absolute favourites

One of my absolute favourites

“Love” by Matt de la Peña was one of my favourite books of last year. A touching and gorgeously done treatise on love in its many different forms. I adore this book. It isn’t all happy- love can look like the adults in your life hiding a tv screen showing bad news- but it’s perfection.

My favourite Valentine’s book

My favourite Valentine’s book

“Secret Valentine” by Catherine Stock is another older book (this one from 1991) but it’s probably my favourite Valentine-specific book. It’s very simple, with only a few words per page, and it’s one that children who are starting to read can often begin decoding it themselves. It’s about a little girl who wants to write cards for the people in her life. I love this book and it always is a popular choice in my classroom.

CLASSROOM MATERIALS FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

Now let’s talk Valentine’s activities and low key ways to bring the holiday into the classroom.

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I love having a simple sorting activity out on the shelf for younger children. This is a fun one I’ve enjoyed in my class because the younger ones sort this very simple heart activity by sight, while older children are invited to use a blindfold and to sort it sensorially. The hearts here are felt, stone and metal work, so they are easy to discriminate by touch. (The blindfold was made by one of my favourite makers, and the lady who makes all of Noora’s bonnets- Tammy from eddie & sofia).

I found this heart box on Etsy forever ago. I know these are clip cards but I’ve always used stones to mark the number instead.

I found this heart box on Etsy forever ago. I know these are clip cards but I’ve always used stones to mark the number instead.

One of the easiest ways I’ve found to change out seasonal and holiday works are with the printable packs from Trillium Montessori. I like keeping my shelves consistent and as her preschool packs all follow the same pattern, my students enjoy seeing the changes each month. This set, the Valentine’s vehicle one, is just a delight and my students love it. The 0-10 clip cards are a perpetual favourite in my math area and these vehicle ones are one of the most popular. Each printable pack also comes with three sorting activities- colour sorting, size sorting and category sorting- you can see Noora here using the size sort. I have a preliminary language shelf with these activities on year round and they’re always in use- they are popular lessons for older children to give younger children. While I don’t have pictures of it all, the packs also include cutting strips and often other matching activities like silhouettes and pictures.

Size sorting is a great pre-language activity. I have a version of this (along with colour sorting and category sorting) on a small early language shelf all year round. And I also use them at home with Noora.

Size sorting is a great pre-language activity. I have a version of this (along with colour sorting and category sorting) on a small early language shelf all year round. And I also use them at home with Noora.

Another set of materials that Trillium makes that’s perfect for Valentine’s Day is this super cute middle vowel sorting activity. I love that includes two versions to adjust the challenge depending on your students. There’s a set of words that are printed on the same candies that fill each jar, making it easy to match up the words to the jars. For a bigger challenge, there’s image cards that don’t have the word and aren’t printed on the candy, so it’s a complete reading activity and not a visual matching one. Are they perfectly pure Montessori? Nope. But I adore these jars, and I find that bringing in lovely and fun extensions and variations helps to attract the children. They have been a wild hit every year when I put them out.

This is the simpler version, with the words printed on the corresponding sweets.

This is the simpler version, with the words printed on the corresponding sweets.

This is the more challenging version, with no pictures to match to the jars.

This is the more challenging version, with no pictures to match to the jars.

Another favourite activity I have that I switch out with regularity is my I Spy activity. I have many language objects in the classroom and several different activities that use them. For my I Spy tray, I use this lovely mat and spyglass from My Peaceful Classroom and change out the materials from time to time to reflect holidays, themes and seasons. I like to keep the objects for this particular activity limited. This set of objects was also from My Peaceful Classroom, though I use objects from all different sources throughout the year.

My absolute favourite part of this activity is the vintage wooden spool used as a spyglass. Children adore holding it up to their eye and looking through it to ‘spy’ an object on that mat. It is an absolutely magical addition to a standard classroom material.

This is how I have my ‘I Spy’ activity set up on my shelf.

This is how I have my ‘I Spy’ activity set up on my shelf.

The vintage spool ‘spyglass’

The vintage spool ‘spyglass’

There is something just magical about looking through the spyglass that makes this activity so exciting for children.

There is something just magical about looking through the spyglass that makes this activity so exciting for children.

There you have it- some of my favourite low key Valentine’s activities. There are many others you can add to your shelves, and that I have throughout the years. Pin-pushing heart and rose shapes is always fun. A collage or pasting activity with red and pink scraps and paper is always classic. I have a broken heart counting activity that I usually bring out- hot pink hearts cut in jagged halves, one with the number and one with dots on them for a quantity/symbol matching activity. It’s somewhere buried in my storage, or else I would have a photo for you. I also add Valentine’s Day stickers and phrases to our year round card making activity.

Remember that holidays don’t have to take over your classroom! They can be chill and low key and done in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your space or your students.

What are some ways you celebrate Valentine’s Day in your classrooms?

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Holidays in the Classroom: Lunar (Chinese) New Year

Lunar, or Chinese, New Year is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world. It is celebrated, in fact, by a fifth of the world’s population. And not just in China- anywhere there is large Chinese population. It is marked with parades, gatherings and celebrations across the globe. Here in Vancouver, where I live, it’s one of the big holidays for schools. Nearly thirty percent of my city’s population are ethnically Chinese, making this holiday one that pretty much all of my students- regardless of race- know.

So. With a holiday as culturally significant (and not just to Chinese folks- Lunar New Year celebrations in Korea, Vietnam and Tibet were and are strongly influenced by CNY), one would expect lots of easily accessible materials and stories that are culturally appropriate right? Well. Not so much.

So I’ve rounded up some of my favourite #ownvoices Chinese New Year books for y’all- CNY this year starts on February 5th, so you have lots of time to acquire them. And I have included links to the very few printables I have found that I love. So let’s talk about how we can bring this hugely important holiday into our classrooms.

BOOKS FOR CHINESE NEW YEAR

We know I love books. So I’m just going to post a few favourites, but my full list can be found here.

Grace Lin is one of my favourite authors ever. Her books are colourful, sweet, and I am fairly sure I own everything the woman has ever written. Her now classic “Bringing in the New Year” is a staple in my home and my classroom and has been for year

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This Next New Year” by Janet S. Wong is a wonderful book about a half Chinese, half Korean boy and how he and his family and friends celebrate. It’s great and I love that she includes that the child’s non-Chinese friends celebrate with him and their neighbours.

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This next one has some of my favourite illustrations and is a bit of a heavier story, though small children won’t necessarily pick up on that. In '“A New Year’s Reunion” by Yu-Li-Qiong and Zhu Cheng-Liang, a young girl is eagerly awaiting her father’s return- he is a migrant worker and only is able to come home once a year, for New Years. The book follows their time together back home and is a sweet and compelling story that I always enjoy. The brief note at the end of the book reminds us that there are over 100 million migrant workers in China (and more abroad) who are only able to see their families once a year. Big conversations can happen around this book. I love it.

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As I mentioned earlier- other Asian cultures also celebrate the Lunar New Year, and “New Clothes for New Year’s Day” by Hyun-Joo Bae is about a young Korean girl getting dressed in her brand new clothes and it is always, without fail, a hit with my students. It’s colourful, and fun to read. There’s an afterword with explanations of Korean Lunar New Year and traditional Korean dress, and it’s just a delight all around. And the illustrations are stunning.

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Finally- what book list for Lunar New Year would be complete without a book featuring the story of the zodiac? “The Race for the Chinese Zodiac” by Gabrielle Wang is my favourite version of this story but there are many great options. I adore the illustrations in this one and the story is simple enough for the youngest of my students without boring the older ones. It’s great.

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Check out these titles and the rest of my Lunar New Year book list in my Amazon store and please let me know what favourites of yours I’m missing!

CLASSROOM MATERIALS FOR CHINESE NEW YEAR

Now- onto classroom materials. It is super easy for teachers- especially white teachers- to fall into lessons that are culturally insensitive, inaccurate and inappropriate when it comes to non-white, non-Christian holidays. I recognize that. None of the materials I’ll be talking about in this post are created by Chinese folks- and I will update this post if and when I find Montessori-friendly materials made by people with Chinese heritage. But the materials are lovely, designed with thought and care, and can be used in a classroom appropriately. So yay!

First up- Seemi from Trillium Montessori has an adorable Chinese New Year Preschool Pack. Like nearly all of her preschool packs, it includes colour sorting, size sorting, categories sorting, as well as number clip cards, cutting strips and more. The materials here are focused on the animals of the zodiac- which is probably why it is so consistently popular in my classroom. The animal zodiac is just always fun for children.

I love that the Trillium pack focuses on the animals of the zodiac. It’s a great way to build vocabulary and my students have always love the what is it/who am I cards?

I love that the Trillium pack focuses on the animals of the zodiac. It’s a great way to build vocabulary and my students have always love the what is it/who am I cards?

The number clip cards from Trillium are a perpetual favourite in my classroom. I’ve always used stones as markers rather than clips.

The number clip cards from Trillium are a perpetual favourite in my classroom. I’ve always used stones as markers rather than clips.

Next- this isn’t a Montessori material as such. But it’s great. The Safari Chinese Zodiac Toob has larger figures than many of their sets and last year I used them in a matching activity with postcards that had images of the zodiac animals in papercut- similar to these here. These animals can be used for many different matching activities, including with several card sets from the amazing and lovely Montessori Inspired Chinese New Year Printable Pack from my pal Renae at Every Star is Different.

I love these animals.

I love these animals.

And finally- let’s go through this pack of Renae’s. Because it’s great.

The Montessori-Inspired Chinese New Year Printable Pack

It’s a big one. Ninety-two pages of activities you can use every year because it isn’t specific to this year (which will be the year of the pig, fyi.)

There are three part cards for a variety of things- including animals of the zodiac (with a set of the Chinese symbol for the animal name and a black and white graphic clipart set that I think pairs beautifully with the Safari Toob listed above); foods traditionally eaten during CNY (these cards make me very hungry, I’m not going to lie); blossoms and fruits that are symbolic and important to New Year; and more. All of these also have a separate version with definition cards- perfect for those who may not know a Chinese dish or why kumquats are important (they are a symbol of good luck and small kumquat potted trees are often given as gifts during the New Year celebrations).

The three part cards for the animals and Chinese symbols are great and just perfect for making your own mix and match set with each other, photos of animals, the Safari toob, whatever!

The three part cards for the animals and Chinese symbols are great and just perfect for making your own mix and match set with each other, photos of animals, the Safari toob, whatever!

The food cards in every set Renae makes always make me very hungry. One more reason to be grateful I live in Vancouver and can partake in delicious Chinese dishes twenty four hours a day if I wanted. The food, blossoms, symbols of CNY and fruit cards all also have definition cards to go with them or just for a teacher to research themselves before sharing with a class.

The food cards in every set Renae makes always make me very hungry. One more reason to be grateful I live in Vancouver and can partake in delicious Chinese dishes twenty four hours a day if I wanted. The food, blossoms, symbols of CNY and fruit cards all also have definition cards to go with them or just for a teacher to research themselves before sharing with a class.

I love that there are so many cards that could really be used anytime. While all of the fruits and blossoms have significance at NY in particular, you could just have them for units on plants, food, China, etc., any time of year.

I love that there are so many cards that could really be used anytime. While all of the fruits and blossoms have significance at NY in particular, you could just have them for units on plants, food, China, etc., any time of year.

One of my favourite activities in this set is a timeline of the Lunar New Year that begins with all the cleaning and prep done prior to the first day, and covers every day of the fifteen day celebration. While many folks only celebrate the first four days with time off work and major festivities, the traditions vary widely across China and in Chinese expat communities- some celebrate some of the days, some the first four, a few in the middle, and then the last, some all fifteen. When I return to the classroom, I’ll be backing this timeline on red cardstock and inviting my students to pick out the days their families celebrate.

Won’t this be fun mounted and used as a timeline for students to look at and compare family traditions?

Won’t this be fun mounted and used as a timeline for students to look at and compare family traditions?

There are half sheets near the end of the bundle that I’ll be binding into a booklet that very respectfully and thoughtfully describe the Chinese religious and spiritual beliefs that form the basis of many of the New Year celebrations. There are pages for Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism and the folk religions of ancient China, which all of the other native belief systems mentioned build upon.

Renae puts so much research into her bundles, and they are always culturally sensitive, accurate and respectful of different belief systems.

Renae puts so much research into her bundles, and they are always culturally sensitive, accurate and respectful of different belief systems.

There’s so much in this bundle and I haven't even printed half of it to show you. There are math cards and writing cards- I often use Renae’s writing strip cards in my class, if you laminate and give the children a dry erase marker, they are wonderful for writing practice and easy to switch out for various holidays and themes. It’s so much and given the very sparse offerings online for Chinese New Year materials, I was so thrilled when she announced she was making this set. And for a few more days (until Tuesday the 29th at midnight), it’s available for only $6.99. So I’d jump on it, pals. You have plenty of time to prep cards before festivities begin on February 5th.

OTHER CLASSROOM IDEAS

Last year, for a fun vocabulary lesson for the Year of the Dog, I made a set of cards of Chinese dog breeds. The shar pei, pug, pekingnese, shih Tzu, chow chow and others. It was a wild success, as kids inevitably love animal cards- and one that was easy as heck to make. This year is the year of the pig and it wouldn’t be hard to whip up a set of cards of different breeds of pigs. It’s so easy to introduce new vocabulary this way- and my students loved talking about the dogs they recognized from the neighbourhood and the ones they didn’t. (One child called the pekingnese a fluffy footstool and proceeded to beg her mother for one for the following two weeks.)

For older students, I know elementary guides who have had children do projects and research into the difference between the Lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar. Or research how different communities- within and outside of China- celebrate, as there are dozens of regional differences. One upper EL guide I know had several students who organized going outs to local Chinese community groups to experience different parts of the holiday with different families.

And finally- always my favourite. If you have students in your classroom whose families celebrate Chinese New Year, invite them in. Invite parents or grandparents or other caregivers in to share their personal family traditions, tell stories and share their culture. That is, hands down, the best way to bring other traditions and cultures into your classroom. By making it a safe and welcoming space for all.



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Queer Kids Book Club: The Boy & The Bindi

Hello, friends! It’s been a couple weeks since the last Queer Kids Book Club, and I’m going to get better at this scheduling and writing and blogging thing one day, I swear. But this book is worth the wait- it’s lovely and one of my favourites and not one I see too often.

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“The Boy & The Bindi” is a children’s book by Canadian author, musician and visual artist Vivek Shraya. And I love it for many reasons but first and foremost- let’s talk about representation. Representation matters, a phrase I use hundreds and probably thousands of times on my Facebook and Instagram and here. And while it’s amazing that we have so many children’s books today that feature LGBT children and families- we need to wrestle with the fact that the vast majority of queer kids books (like all children’s books) feature white folks.

Queer black, indigenous and people of colour (QBIPOC) exist- obviously. But looking at the media representation of queers, you wouldn’t know that. The public face of queerness skews incredibly white. Representation for any child of colour who exists anywhere on the LGBT spectrum is super hard to come by. Which is why I love this book.

Written by a trans woman of colour, “The Boy & The Bindi” is an #ownvoices book (own voices meaning that the author has lived experience of what they are writing about- ie, books about queers written by queers, books about Indian culture written by Indian authors rather than white ones, etc.) and one that features a little boy who wants to wear a bindi just like his mum.

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In the story, the child wants know what his mother’s bindi is and she tells him she wears it to stay safe, true, and to be reminded of where she’s from. When her child asks if he can wear one too, the mother reacts positively, and tells her child of course. One of the many things i like about this book is how the story doesn’t involve the gender-non-conforming child experiencing bullying or oppression. His mum is loving and kind, accepts him wanting to wear a bindi (traditionally worn by women) and the children at school are curious, rather than bullies. Too often stories involving queer children hinge on the oppression narrative- a child has to learn to be true to themselves despite the bullying and fear of the outside world. When every story about someone who is like you is centred in oppression and trauma, what message does that give?

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The child in the story puts on the bindi his mother gives him, and it makes him feel safe, connected and himself. It’s a beautiful story, and in a world where queer children of colour are nearly never represented in media, “The Boy & The Bindi” is an incredible addition to children’s literature. Children- of all colours, genders, orientations- deserve to see themselves in stories. This story provides a mirror for children who rarely get one in books.

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Above all, right now, non-binary and trans folks in the United States (and elsewhere) are under attack. Now- more than ever before- it is important to make sure any children in your homes and schools see positive representation of gender non-conformity, of trans folks, of non-binary people. While of course children who are any of those things deserve to see themselves in stories, cis children need to see stories that normalize non-cis folks. With the rhetoric of hate ramping up and up and up, it is up to us as educators and parents to teach children that all gender expressions are valid and worthy. “Boy & The Bindi” is a charming, sweet and loving story that embraces children outside of the gender binary and it should have a place on every bookshelf.

Have you read it? What were your thoughts? Let me know!

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Holiday Books: Halloween Edition

Halloween! One of the most child-centred and fun ‘holidays’ out there, Halloween season brings about so many fun stories and books to share with children. I love Halloween, I love ghost stories and I love books, so obviously this time of year is like, 100% Ashley-approved.

But. There’s always a but. Children’s books- we all know- are white as heck. The majority of children’s books feature white (usually male) protagonists. And when you’re talking about books to do with specific holidays or themes- that number goes up even more (this I base entirely on anecdotal evidence I’ve compiled over a decade of seriously looking at and collecting children’s books, as I’ve never seen a study that focuses on children’s books for specific holidays. Here’s one of the many, many studies on how white children’s literature is overall.)

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We know that representation matters. We know that it matters for black and brown children to see themselves in media. We know it matters for white children to see black and brown children in media. And we know that holidays and how we represent and talk about them in classrooms matters. So when children are seeing holiday stories- stories about days our culture has deemed important, stories about cultural touchstones we’re all supposed to related to, stories about children having fun and celebrating significant days- that feature only (or primarily) white children, that’s a problem.

In the spirit of diversifying children’s libraries and school bookshelves everywhere- here’s a list of some of my favourite Halloween books. Most of them feature children of the global majority.

“Flashlight Night” by Matt Forrest Esenwine is a fun, rollicking, spooky romp following three children traipsing around their backyard at night with a flashlight. It’s an ode to childhood imagination and while it isn’t Halloween specific- it’s one that features monsters and spookiness and fits in well with the spirit of the season.

A Tiger Called Tomás” by Charlotte Zolotow is an absolute classic for many reasons. This recently released new edition of it is gorgeous and features Spanish words and phrases sprinkled throughout. Following a little boy who is anxious about having just moved, it’s sweet, is totally relatable for any child who has ever felt like the odd one out, and is lovely.

Behind the Mask” by Yangsook Choi is one of my favourite Halloween stories. A little boy decides to be his grandfather for Halloween, and his friends all scoff at the idea- without knowing that his grandfather was a traditional Korean mask dancer. It’s a lovely story that blends two cultures- something children of immigrant parents will recognize and connect with- and it’s beautifully illustrated.

Monster Trouble” by Lane Fredrickson is hilarious and features one of the best named protagonists in children’s literature- Winifred Schnitzel. A clever little girl who tries to stop the neighbourhood monsters from keeping her up at all hours, it’s smart, funny and not so scary at all. While it isn’t Halloween specific, it definitely fits the season.

Witches” by Cheryl Christian is a colourful, rhyming romp that is an absolute joy to read aloud. It features children of all colours, and even includes children with physical disabilities- without drawing attention to that fact; the children in chairs are just there, participating in trick or treating with the rest. It’s fun, colourful and a delight with so much casual diversity in its pages that I can’t help but love it.

Finally, while these three stories have nothing specifically diverse or even human about them- “Stumpkin” by Lucy Ruth Cummins, “Pumpkin Soup” by Helen Cooper and “The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin” by Joe Troiano- they top my list of favourite pumpkin related stories and all actually feature good messages of inclusion, kindness, and respecting and embracing differences. All three are favourites in my classroom- including “Stumpkin”, which I only discovered last week!

There you have it. Some of my favourite Halloween themed picture books. All I’ve used in my class, all I love personally, and I hope you find some new favourites from this list! And if you have other inclusive Halloween books to share, I’d love to hear about them!

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Queer Kids Book Club: Julián Is A Mermaid

I’d like to get back into blogging and I thought I’d start with an easy, once a week type deal where I focus on specific books I love. And I realized that there are many weekly book blogs, which are great, and I love, but I haven’t seen one focused specifically on books that feature queer kids or families. So I’m going to start one. Welcome! Let’s jump right in, shall we?

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I hope all of you have seen this book already. Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love came out this summer and quickly joined my list of favourites- not just queer books. Any books. It’s beautiful, heartfelt, endearing and charming. Literally all of those things, on every page.

The entire book is fully of dreamy, beautiful illustrations I can’t get enough of.

The entire book is fully of dreamy, beautiful illustrations I can’t get enough of.

This perfect story follows Julián, who loves mermaids, and his abuela. He has beautiful dreams and fantasies of being a mermaid, and finally decides to take down a curtain in his abuela’s house to wrap around himself and make into a tail. Instead of being angry (though the expression on her face when she discovers him adds the absolute perfect amount of kid tension!) she takes him to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. It is one of the most wholesome books I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

See? Perfect level of kid tension.

See? Perfect level of kid tension.

So many- so, so, so many- books that feature children who are gender non-conforming focus on overcoming oppression. The child who is non-binary, trans or gender non-conforming in these stories often deals with bullying, family that is unsupportive, at least at first, and the stories usually focus on overcoming that. This one does not. This is about a little boy who wants to be a fabulous mermaid and his abuela who loves him. It is exuberant, radiates pure love and is just a total treat.

I cannot overstate how gorgeous this book is.

I cannot overstate how gorgeous this book is.

Children- no matter how they present, no matter their gender identity- deserve to see themselves in books that show their joy. Not every book for queer kids needs to be (or should be, frankly) about being true to yourself under external pressure. Cisgender and heterosexual children have a vast array of stories that reflect themselves and their joy. Queer kids deserve the same.

And the fact that this story features a Latino child makes it all the more incredible. White cis-het kids (specifically male) feature in the vast majority of children’s literature. The numbers are bleak and depressing. And while queer kids need representation in stories- not all folks who reside on the LGBTQ2SA spectrum are white. Obviously. So when you’re looking for two categories already underrepresented (queer children and children of colour) to be represented in the same space, in one child- well. It’s like finding trying to find a unicorn. Or, in this case, a mermaid.

I’d love to hear what you all thought of this book, and what it meant to you or your own gender non-conforming little ones. (And for those who are as obsessed with these boy mermaid nesting dolls- here’s the link to the store!)

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(A note about the word queer: Queer is, much like many colloquial terms, one that is slowly being reclaimed by folks on the LGBTQ2S+ spectrum, to mean a variety of different things. Some folks, particularly those of older generations who remember it being a slur, are not comfortable with it. I am a millennial, I love the word queer, and am happy to continue using it and reclaiming it to describe myself and my friends. I use the word queer because while pansexual- being attracted to folks of any or no gender- is technically the most accurate description of my sexuality, it doesn’t feel right to me. I wouldn’t use pansexual to describe myself. It doesn’t fit. Queer does. But what’s acceptable to me, may not be to another. Just like other groups of people, queer folks are not a monolith. Ask. Respect people’s identities and words for them. Words matter. )











On Our Shelves: 13 Months

Noora is fully into young toddlerhood, and so we've changed around the materials on her shelf in her playroom again to suit her needs. Her current obsession is dumping things and putting things into other things, and from what I've gathered, this is about standard for her age. So. What do we have on our shelves to allow her to do these things?  

(As mentioned before, we have one main playspace for Noora, and that's in this room, where the majority of her toys are kept. She has some toys in the living room and in her bedroom, but this where most of her playtime is spent). 

I cannot tell you how much I love the Kallax line at IKEA. 

I cannot tell you how much I love the Kallax line at IKEA. 

1) Pop Up Toy: This toy is a perennial favourite in homes and Montessori classrooms, for good reason. The best $12 you can spend- Noora loves it and is just beginning to figure out how to make the figures actually pop up and out. 

2) Tree stacker: I picked this up at the American Montessori Society conference last week to bring back for missy, and it's been a hit. She isn't close to building it in order of size, but she's been enjoying getting the pieces on and of course, taking them off. 

3) Shape sorter: This shape sorter is the most gorgeous one I've found yet, and designed by Bella Bella artist Ben Houstie. Noora loves it, and it's definitely more challenging than some of the earlier ones we had. It's important to me that Noora be exposed to different Indigenous cultures, particularly those within BC, where we live. The company Native Northwest (which only carries pieces made and designed by indigenous artists and designers of the Pacific Northwest) has amazing options on their site that make it super easy to find beautiful materials that aren't culturally appropriative and that support local artisans and authors. 

I seriously love this shape sorter. More than I can say.

I seriously love this shape sorter. More than I can say.

4) Montessori Coin Box: This was given to Noora by one of my dear friends for her 1st birthday, and it quickly became one of her favourites. She's finally figured out how to retrieve them from the drawer and that's made it even more fun- though she sometimes only wants to open and close the drawer over and over and over because, well, babies. Ha! 

5) Basket of Books: Noora has books available in basically every room of the house, and here is no exception. We aren't as strict about board books as others are- it's one place I deviate from my training. We mostly stick to Montessori ideals- real or realistic images and stories, but I don't mind the odd fairy tale, talking panda or mythology board book. And Star Wars. Of course. 

6) Pounding Toy: This was another birthday gift and a definite hit. The hammer that came with it is currently put away- Noora doesn't have quite the coordination down for that yet, and is still enthralled with putting things in and out and so using her hands to put the pegs in and push is perfect for her right now. 

7) Mirror blocks: It is no secret that I love block play, and these may be some of my all time favourites. We've only put out three for now, and Noora definitely enjoys looking at them and has even started holding them up to things and looking at them in the reflection. (See the picture at the end of the post to see her playing with them). 

And finally, 8) Music Basket: Noora has many musical instruments scattered throughout the house, including claves, shakers, a ukulele (under very careful supervision), and a glockenspiel, but this set is currently the winner. Colourful and bright, with a tambourine, maraca and castanet, Noora is totally taken with them (the tambourine is by far the most popular). 

(I can't find the entire set on Amazon for some reason -it was another birthday gift and I'm not sure where it was found originally- but the link is to a percussion set with similar pieces and other instruments she definitely enjoys!)

 

And that's what's on her shelf in her playroom for now. We have a few more peg activities to switch out when she masters some of these easier ones, and I can't wait to see how her work progresses now that she's in young toddler stage and not a little baby anymore. What are your favourite toys for a brand new toddler? 

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Her fav thing to look at in her mirror blocks is herself. <3

Her fav thing to look at in her mirror blocks is herself. <3

My Version of a Birth Story

Last year, at this time, I was (finally) asleep/unconscious after (finally) getting an epidural. It was a Tuesday morning, and I had been in the hospital since Saturday afternoon. 

That Saturday, I had been shopping for a car seat with my doula and my sister- I had had a scare that week and had almost required a c-section almost 7 weeks early. For some reason, my main concern at the hospital had been that I had no car seat and therefore no way to get a baby back to my house (obviously it's not as though my folks, sister, in-laws, best friends, whoever couldn't have picked one up. Pregnancy brain is real, y'all).

After shopping, I stopped at Starbucks and picked up a venti caramel frappucino, as all responsible diabetics who are 7.5 months pregnant and on insulin do, because I was sick and tired of not eating or drinking anything fun (I was severely sick throughout my entire, high-risk pregnancy and on a very limited diet- i.e. white bread and pasta, basically). I drank it down, went home, and felt dizzy. I assumed my sugars would be off the charts- a venti frap is basically pure sugar- but to my surprise, they were hovering just under the 2 mark and I thought I was going to pass out. 

Both my midwife and the endocrinologist told me to get to the hospital ASAP and bring a bag with clothes because I wasn't going anywhere. So, my husband and I headed out. At the hospital, it was decided I would be induced- my sugars weren't getting back up- and because of my high risk status, they kept me in the hospital. 

Day 3 in the hospital- my sister taking the time to capture the moment.&nbsp;

Day 3 in the hospital- my sister taking the time to capture the moment. 

I paced the hallways of the hospital with my doulas (I had a doula-in-training observing so I got 2 lovely women with me through basically the whole thing). Apparently, as my response to stress has traditionally been to shop, I kept that up, and during contractions, I would buy something 'for the baby'. I was fairly alarmed, after Noora's birth, to discover the vast number of emails I had from Etsy congratulating me on my recent purchases. I received hipster, organic baby things for MONTHS afterwards. 

The phone with which I purchased all of Etsy's baby department, apparently.&nbsp;

The phone with which I purchased all of Etsy's baby department, apparently. 

We had visitors- according to photos and other people telling me. I have no major memories of the four days I spent being induced, except that I was pissed off that every meal seemed to include fish, which made me sick, and that I was in pain. 

I don't have much of a traditional 'birth story' for y'all. I have some pictures, taken by my sister and my doula. I have a four day experience in the hospital that included proposing and declaring my eternal love to an anesthesiologist whose name I don't remember. I remember being grateful for the midwives from the birth program I was in- even though I had been transferred to the care of an obstetrician once admitted because of my high risk status, they didn't leave me. I remember crying and vomiting in pain and was ready to say fuck it, let's do a c-section, make this stop, when they told me I was starting to dilate and could finally get an epidural and sleep. Finally. 

I don't think birth is magical. I think it is supremely badass and powerful and kind of disgusting and scary and overwhelming and gross and hardcore and astonishing. I'm proud of myself for getting through it. I'm grateful to medical science for helping me stay alive during what was a hellish pregnancy and delivery. I'm thankful for my husband and doulas, who were nearly as tired and worn out as I was and still managed to keep my spirits up. 

In less than 6 hours, I'll have a one year old. And I will post about my girl and how my world changed and how she became the centre of it. But this time last year, I was still in labour and I wanted to talk about that for a bit. All my fellow mamas out there who did this badass, amazing thing, whether naturally, in a pool of water, with your hair mermaid perfect, or ugly crying in a hospital bed, or doped up like I was finally- so much so that the pushing was the least awful part of the whole damn thing, or by caesarean, or any other way you can think of, because this birth thing is hardcore and proof positive of female strength and power- you rock. You did the thing. And so did I. 

From Floor Bed to Crib: A Montessori Journey

One of the biggest differences between Montessori parenting and other parenting styles is that Montessorians generally advocate against having a crib. We prefer floor beds, lovely, independent spaces that our children can move in and out of at will. Pinterest is full of beautiful, serene nurseries featuring floor beds, and I spent hours planning ours. 

Our original nursery, when Noora was still in a bassinet in our bedroom and we used her bed as her movement and mobile area during the day. Pinterest worthy floor bed room.   

Our original nursery, when Noora was still in a bassinet in our bedroom and we used her bed as her movement and mobile area during the day. Pinterest worthy floor bed room.

 

I had a floor bed. A simple mattress, a fitted sheet with a cut up pool noodle along the edge so that Noora couldn’t just roll out, and a never ending supply of books, articles, and resources that kept assuring me this was the Montessori way and I couldn’t possibly go wrong.

Until we got to 11 months and Noora still didn’t sleep through the night. Ever. She woke up every 2-3.5 hours. She crawled around her room, screaming and crying, sometimes just talking but certainly not sleeping. Had she fallen asleep on the carpet regularly, I’d have been fine with that. It would have been a relief. But she didn’t. She just cried until I came in and nursed her back down.

She didn’t nap well during the day, except on day 5 of not-good napping, when she’d finally crash, sleep for 3 hours, and not go to bed until 11 or midnight. And then repeat. I was miserable. Sleep tends to exacerbate any issues one might be having, and my issues include post-partum depression. Not sleeping was killing me. 

Floor bed, nursery 2.0. Once Noora moved out of our bedroom, we moved her mirror to the playroom, added a wardrobe, and made this a baby friendly, independent space for her, so that if she crawled out of bed, she'd be able to be in here safely.&nbsp;

Floor bed, nursery 2.0. Once Noora moved out of our bedroom, we moved her mirror to the playroom, added a wardrobe, and made this a baby friendly, independent space for her, so that if she crawled out of bed, she'd be able to be in here safely. 

But how could I be wrong? How could I give up on this? My entire life revolves around the Montessori world, and here I was, considering throwing out a huge chunk of the philosophy. I was considering a crib and I was wracked with guilt.

Then- relief. Permission. I walked into our baby Montessori class- a parent participation class led by a friend and colleague- and she, my friend, looked at me in a bit of alarm and asked if the sleeping was improving. And I passed her Noora and sat in the observation chair and tried not to sob and sob and sob in front of a class full of parents and children. Not normal behavior, certainly.

And my good friend, one of the most Montessori people I know, messaged me later, making sure I was still alive and safe, and told me to just get a crib. Some babies can’t handle freedom, she said, and you’re following the child. That’s Montessori. Noora can’t handle the floor bed. Montessori is your life, she said, just like me, but this isn’t helping anyone. Get a crib. 

I was almost in tears building the crib, several times. I felt like I had failed as a Montessori parent and teacher. How could I preach this if I couldn't follow it?

I was almost in tears building the crib, several times. I felt like I had failed as a Montessori parent and teacher. How could I preach this if I couldn't follow it?

And so I did. Just to see. And my child, who had never slept through the night, not once, in 11 months, slept. She woke up once. The next night, she slept. The night after that, she slept. Apparently my child can’t handle freedom. My child needed walls to feel secure.

And I breathed a sigh of relief, and I slept. And I slept. And all of a sudden it wasn’t so overwhelming, and the world wasn’t as dark, and I enjoyed parenting again. And that was huge.

So- to all my mamas out there, struggling to commit and stay committed to a philosophy, who are trying so hard to get through and be the perfect Montessori or RIE or Waldorf or attachment or whatever parent- sometimes, letting go is the best thing you can do. It’s okay. Follow the child, and you won’t go astray.

And a huge thanks to my husband, parents, and friends who helped me take care of Noora when I hadn’t slept and wasn’t capable. And a massive, eternal thanks to my pal, Christie of Aid to Life Education, for recognizing me in a bit of a crisis and giving me the permission I felt I needed to deviate from the plan. (Seriously, any parents in the Lower Mainland area should attend her classes- she's magic). 

This happy baby sleeps through the night. Will wonders never cease?

This happy baby sleeps through the night. Will wonders never cease?

What's On Our Shelves: 11 Months

What’s On Our Shelves- 11 Months

One of the aspects of Montessori that I like the most is that we offer limited, beautiful and purposeful activities for our children even at a young age. Selfishly, this means my house doesn’t feel ‘taken over’ by toys- which, as someone who has post-partum OCD and anxiety, I deeply appreciate!

This is the tiny playroom we made out of a storage closet. Enough space for everything she needs!

Noora has a small shelf in her bedroom that I’ll show in a later post, but for now I’d like to focus on her playroom. We live in a very small townhouse, but we are blessed to have a large storage closet next to her bedroom- and as we don’t have a lot to store, we were able to repurpose it as a playroom.

On the shelf (a simple IKEA Kallax- my favourite for Montessori-friendly storage), she has only a few options for work:

1)   A basket of Schleich animals; currently farm animals, though she has other Schleich animals in other baskets around the house. These aren’t cheap, but the quality of moulding and painting is worth it to me.

The quality of Schleich animals makes them a favourite of classrooms and homeschools all over. The detail on them is astonishing.&nbsp;

The quality of Schleich animals makes them a favourite of classrooms and homeschools all over. The detail on them is astonishing. 

2)   A basket of sound blocks. Noora loves these and each features a different ‘filling’ and accompanying sound.

3)   A basket of balls- including perpetual favourite sensory balls; a knit ball; a felt ball, and more. Noora used to mostly mouth on these, and now is heavily into a dumping phase- she’ll spend long periods taking out and putting the balls away.

4)   Stacking cups. This has never diminished in excitement for her- it has been a consistent favourite since about 7 months.

All the expensive, organic, natural wooden toys and her favourite are $6 plastic cups. Obviously.&nbsp;

All the expensive, organic, natural wooden toys and her favourite are $6 plastic cups. Obviously. 

5)   A peg and cup- the next step from the egg and cup, this work helps Noora refine her grasp. It’s from one of our favourite Montessori stores on etsy!

6)   A single shape puzzle. The single shape makes for a puzzle even a young child can do with success. Currently we have the large circle puzzle out. Mine are from ebay; they were much cheaper than the most common kind and I’m very happy with the quality.

7)   A xylophone. Noora received this high quality, lovely sounding instrument for Christmas and has been in constant use since.

8)   A shelf of books. We have books in every room Noora is in. While Montessori advocates for books based solely on realism and reality at this stage, with no fantasy, this is where I deviate a bit. We definitely have Star Wars baby books and I’m not going to pretend otherwise!

 

That’s it!. We have a foam tile mat on the floor and a large wall-mounted mirror. In the back we have a toy box full of all the stuffed animals that seem to accumulate when you have a child (every other gift ever!). While she has a shelf and areas in our bedroom, the living room and her bedroom for toys, this is her primary and largest play area.