Friday, April 1st, marked the first night of Ramadan. On Saturday, April 2nd, we began our daily fasting ritual that will last for the entire month. Beyond fasting, Ramadan is a time of spiritual renewal and working to improve ourselves and our community.
My 6yo daughter, S, has more reverence for Ramadan with each year. She wants to share our entire Ramadan-themed book collection with her class. She talks about how special it is to fast and then break the fast with with iftar, the meal we eat after sundown (Maghrib prayer time). This year, she will get to choose one charity that we will donate to.
My 4yo son, N, mostly walks to talk about the holiday that commemorates the end of Ramadan: Eid al-Fitr. (He hears there will be gifts and food.)
“Is it Eid? Is it Eid now? How about now?”
Patience is critical, especially during Ramadan. I remind myself of this every time he repeats these questions, which occurs at 30 minute intervals on the weekend.
“Is it Eid? Is it Eid now?”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my answer is infused with math.
Tracking the Days
When S was younger, I made a Ramadan counting board. Every day, we added another moon to the 5×6 array, marking the 30 days of Ramadan.
I organized the array to emphasize the mathematical structure of 5s and 10s. However, I made this when S was two years old, so I think we barely had conversations about counting. It was more about developing a general sense of quantity “look, we’ve had more days! Wow, the board is almost full! That means we are close to Eid!”
We did, of course, count, and adding one moon each day emphasized several principles of counting. Adding one each day allows us to explore one-to-one correspondence while counting, as well as the idea of stable order (we always start 1, 2, 3, 4…) and cardinality (that the last number we count is the total amount).
This year, I decided we would integrate our Ramadan count onto a Western-style calendar. We have been using the calendar more and more to mark special events, and to discuss family routines.
Making The New Ramadan Calendar
On March 31, S numbered all of the days for April on our dry erase calendar. We would then use cut out crescent moons to record the days of Ramadan.
S selected three colors of glitter paper to use for the moons: green, blue, and purple. She decided she would make a repeating pattern of green-purple-blue-green-purple-blue, and labeled each moon with a number accordingly. She made a green 1, a purple 2, a blue 3, a green 4, etc.
There was a lot of math in this process! We could discuss sequencing, and part-whole relationships, and multiples…
What number will you write on the next purple moon? What about the purple moon after that?
S enjoyed predicting what number she would write on different colors. “I’m writing 17 on this purple one, so the next one will be… 18-blue, 19-green, 20! Twenty will be purple!” After doing this a few times, she started to recognize that she could count on three no matter which color she was trying to predict.
I need to cut out more moons for you. We have 20 moons so far. How many more moons do I need to cut if we need 30 in all?
S counted on: 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30! She realized that she’d forgotten to keep track of how many numbers she had counted, so she repeated it with her fingers.
What color will the 30th moon be?
This involved S thinking deeper about how to extend the pattern beyond the next color. We already had a purple 20 moon. I watched her keep track on her fingers: “21, 22, 23… 24, 25, 26… 27, 28, 29… 30! So the 30th one will be green!”
She had been extending the pattern in triplets because she knew that every three counts completes the Green-Purple-Blue pattern. However, this is slightly off because the next moon wasn’t starting the pattern over again, it was finishing a chunk. I considered giving her one more blue moon to see if that changed her thinking, but instead just gave her moons and let her be surprised. We made 30 moons, and, with a repeating pattern of three colors, our string of moons will terminate on the last color in the pattern, since 3 is a factor of 30.
I cut the moons out in layers, so that every time I cut out around one moon, I end up with three: one of each color. We need 9 more moons. How many more cuts do I need to make?
She looked at me bewildered. “You know, this isn’t school, mama.” Touché.
Instead of stressing the matter, I let her watch me as I cut around a moon, yielding three moons for every one template. It felt magical to her. “Now you don’t have to cut many more!”
How many green moons will we have after we’ve made all the moons?
I did not expect 6yo S to answer this question, either. It’s similar to the types of questions we asked third grade students recently when they were working with colored cube trains.
But they were interesting for S to think about. What would make sense for the total number of green moons out of the 30 moons: 100? 5? Once she discovered it was 10, she said: “10, 20, 30! Oh! That makes sense!” Why? “Because ten green and ten purple and ten blue… 10, 20, 30!”
Counting The Days of Ramadan
Every morning, as the kids eat breakfast — my husband and I are fasting, so no breakfast for us! — S tapes another moon to the calendar.
4yo N watches eagerly. “We’re getting closer to Eid! Now we just have to do this day, and this day, and this day, and this day, and this day…” he announces, tapping on all 25 days remaining.
The numbered moons help reinforce the idea of cardinality: when we count that today is day 5, we count 5 moons, and the last moon tells us exactly how many there are in all.
There are more patterns to notice now that the April calendar and the Ramadan calendar are juxtaposed, too. S was concerned, at first, that the days of April and the days of Ramadan didn’t align perfectly. “Why is there a 1 for April but no moon, and then a 2 for April and a 1 moon, and a 3 for April and a 2 moon…”
“Ohhh, and when there is a 4 for April, there will be a 3 moon. April 5th is a 4 moon. April 6th is a 5 moon.”
What number moon will be on April 9?
“The 8 moon!”
What day will we put the 17 moon on?
S paused. She had first observed this pattern as a “one less” pattern. The number on the moon is one less than the number of the date in April. It was harder for her to see the inverse. It was as if we had to go back to the beginning and redefine the pattern.
Just as S started to fatigue, N came back over to the calendar. “I know when Eid starts. First there’s this day, and this day, and this day, and this day…”
“It’s so many days until Eid!” S told him.
“But I want Eid nowwwww!” N wailed. “But I need to do this day, and this day, and this day…”
Well, tomorrow, we add another moon to our calendar. Another day of fasting. Another day of working to be more patient, and loving, and charitable, and humble, and honest. It’s a beautiful journey, and hopefully it does not end with Eid.