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.

moon phases.jpg

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).

arabic greetings.jpg

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!