justice (take 6)

Today’s lesson: justice.

January 20, 2019: 2 hours, 8 children, ages 4–9. Our second lesson on justice, and our busiest and fullest class yet! For the past few weeks we’ve had new children joining, but only 5 of them or so would be able to come each week. This week was the first time we had all of the kids show up, along with one more newcomer, bringing us up to eight children attending.

This week, we basically revisited the same activities as last time, with a few additions. We repeated the activity with the scales from last time, although this time we expanded our explanation a bit: To show justice, a shopkeeper will only charge customers for the true value of the goods they’re buying—no more. And of course, the shopkeeper must have accurate scales to know exactly how much the customer is buying. So this time around, the children had to be careful to get the scales exactly equal to each other—or as close to equal as possible. It was challenging, but they seemed to enjoy it.

Children sorting a number of cards with pictures on them.

We had a lot of players for the giving game, so we got to stress-test the game, as it were. It was fun and got the message across, but we noticed that it needed a lot of explanation for them to understand how to play. And to be honest, that’s happened each time that we’ve played this game. It ends up being fun, but we end up stopping play to explain what to do next. I guess we need to learn how best to explain the game, and then write everything down so that it’s clearer. That, or we need to start each game with a practice round, so that the children have a better idea of how to play with each other. Or maybe this game is just above the level of your average five-year-old, and we should reserve it for higher grades—say, Grade 2?

We also played the shark game, which everyone loved; when the paper got so small that only one child could stand on it at a time, the bigger children picked up and carried the smaller ones, which got big laughs from everyone. I feel like this is the flip side of our perennial complaints about age gaps: When you have older children in the class with the younger ones, they get to interact together in ways that you wouldn’t have happening if the class was all young kids, and that’s kind of precious. But perhaps it shows that an ideal situation would be to have multiple grades attending classes at the same time, with breaks between lessons offering all the children the chance to play and socialize together. Sounds like the building blocks of a Bahá’í school, right?

Speaking of school, the larger class size this time around meant that the issues with class discipline that we encountered last week showed up even more, and we had a harder time keeping everything under control. I guess that should be a reminder to us: Don’t forget to review the rules, especially when you have new children joining the class. (It didn’t help that we had the rules on the whiteboard and they got erased by overzealous artists, of course.) Along with having more children attending, there was another wrinkle that upset the balance of the class: Two of the children don’t get along with each other, and keep on getting each other’s nerves, which leads to more outbursts during class. Oh well… more gems to tease out from the mine of their souls, I suppose.

justice (take 5)

Today’s lesson: justice.

January 13, 2019: 2 hours, 5 children, ages 5–8. We started on our first lesson on justice this week, after a few weeks of focusing on having a pure, kindly, and radiant heart. As I mentioned before, we’ve decided to revisit each lesson in Book 3, Grade 1 a few times, so that we have enough time for the lessons to sink in. I’m writing this report well after the fact, so it’s a little shorter than usual.

When we planned this lesson, we couldn’t decide on which aspect of justice to focus on, so it was a little bit scattered. We ended up covering two different aspects: Justice as knowing what something is truly worth (i.e. justly appraising something); and justice as making sure everyone has what they need (i.e. social/economic justice). For the first, we prepared an activity with makeshift scales we built with leftover styrofoam from packages of food; and for the second, we prepared cards to play the giving game during the follow-up lesson. Both of them were well-received, although we saw that the children didn’t seem to understand the activity with the scales so well. The idea was to weigh seashells from the beach against grains of rice, to show that even though one grain of rice is very light, they become very heavy when you have a lot of them—even as heavy as a bunch of seashells. It was a good activity, but maybe it was too much for us to try and focus on two different aspects of the theme?

One big thing that we noticed this time: After three lessons so far, the children were becoming much more comfortable with the atmosphere in the class—perhaps a little too comfortable. I’ve found that this is usually about the time that the children start to test the teacher’s limits, to see what they can get away with in the class. You know, fooling around while the teacher is speaking, or laughing during prayers, poking each other, and so on. As a result, we had to do more intervention than before in order to maintain discipline in the class.

pure, kindly, and radiant hearts (take 4)

Today’s lesson: pure, kindly and radiant hearts.

December 30, 2018: 5 children, aged 5–8. We got together for a reprise of our lesson on having a pure, kindly, and radiant heart. We decided to revisit the same topic several weeks in a row, as we’ve done in the past; for the moment, we’re aiming for three weeks on each topic, and we’ll see how well that’s received. One child who attended the last session was missing this week, but we had two new children show up, bringing us to five.

The lesson plan for this week was roughly the same as last week’s, but with a few changes and additions. First, we started the class with colouring, rather than just colouring at the end; we coloured little pictures that we used in memorizing the quote, in the same way as we used pictures to make a rebus last time. Instead of erasing the words and drawing pictures on the board, though, we placed each coloured picture on top of the words that they replaced.

Next, although we used the same coffee-cup activity as last time—dropping a little bit of coffee into a cup to represent unkind actions and washing it out with water to represent kind actions—we refined it a little. Instead of pouring the coffee from one cup to the other willy-nilly, we used an eyedropper to add the coffee little by little. That way, we had the children consider the effects of just one unkind act—right away, they could see that the water in the cup was impure, and that it took them a lot of water (i.e., a lot of acts of kindness) to restore the cup to its original purity.

This week, we played a game where we had to pass a ball around without our hands, using a piece of paper instead. It was a little challenging at first, but once the children figured out how to hold the paper properly in order to hold the ball, it was a lot easier. Interestingly, we found that the game “The Burning Thirst” wasn’t really working out for us. I suspect it’s because we weren’t playing it as intended, but to be honest, I don’t know if we’ve ever played it as intended. To the children’s class teachers reading this: What’s your experience been like? Have the kids in your class enjoyed “The Burning Thirst” as a fun game? How do you approach it? Do you play it outside or inside? If inside, how do you prepare the space? Do the kids end up playing and getting wet, or are they too worried about making a mess to really enjoy it?

Anyway, we ended off the class with the colouring page for this lesson from Ruhi Book 3. To tie it in with the lesson, we explained that perhaps one of the girls in the picture had done something unkind, and, realizing what she had done, decided that she should apologize by doing something kind to make up for it. So, she gathered up a bunch of colourful flowers and gave them to her friends. And speaking of stories, I almost forgot—we told the story of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from the lesson this week, too, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá filled up the lady’s cup with pure water. (The children were pretty impressed.)

So, apart from “The Burning Thirst”, the lesson was well-received again this week, and our newcomers seemed really happy to attend. I’m not sure if we’ll have more kids again next week, but we have other things in the words that will lead to more families getting involved in activities. More on that later!

pure, kindly, and radiant hearts (take 3)

Today’s lesson: pure, kindly and radiant hearts.

December 16, 2018: 4 children, aged 5–10. It’s been a while since our last update! I’ll post a little something to tell the story of what we’ve been up to lately, but first, a class report about the first gathering of our new children’s class, using Grade 1 of the Ruhi Book 3 curriculum.

We started the class with a mix of four children: Two five-year-olds, one nine-year-old and one ten-year-old. One of the five-year-olds is from a Bahá’í family, and the rest are his friends, who we invited after speaking to their parents to explain the nature of the class. At the beginning of class, we took a few moments to explain about the expected atmosphere, and asked the children to think of some rules for us to observe during the class. We settled on the following five rules, which we felt made for a good start:

  • Listen to the teacher
  • Keep ourselves and the classroom clean
  • Sit quietly and reverently during prayers
  • No chatting/side conversations during class
  • One person speaks at a time

Next, we said a few words about prayer. We explained that when praying, we were conversing with God. We might pray for someone to get better when they’re sick, we explained, or we might pray for good results on our schoolwork, or for any number of things. The children were familiar with certain forms of prayer—all of them had visited a pagoda before, or worshipped at the family altars that are so ubiquitous in Vietnam—so it wasn’t a big stretch for them to understand. Following that, we invited the children to say prayers. The child from the Bahá’í family said a Bahá’í prayer he had learned, and one of the others said a Buddhist prayer she had learned. Afterwards, we started memorizing the prayer, “O God! Guide me…”. After writing it on the board, we recited it word by word. Then, we began erasing some of the words and replacing them with pictures, making a sort of rebus.

Once we were done going through the prayer, we wrote the quotation down on the board, looking at the words “pure”, “kindly”, “radiant”, and “heart”, and explaining what they mean together. To illustrate, we launched into an experiment: Taking some thick, black Vietnamese coffee, a cup, a pitcher of water, and a wash basin, we showed what happens when we act unkindly by pouring the coffee into the cup: We get a dark, gloomy, and radiant heart. To improve the situation, we added water, representing acts of kindness. The more water (kindness) we poured in, the clearer the contents of the cup became, until finally, we had a clear and radiant cup (heart) once more. Each of the children had a turn pouring water into the cup until all of the coffee was gone (overflowing into the wash basin).

We finished the class with some time to draw, asking each of the children to draw something that they read about in the prayer or the quotation. For example, one drew a brilliant star; another drew an umbrella (for “protect me”, as in, protect me from the rain)… We also wanted to play the game “The Burning Thirst”, but we ran out of time, and so we played it after some of the kids had started to leave.

All in all, it was a great class. The children loved it, and some of the parents told us that the message had an impact—they caught their kids saying “don’t do that, you don’t want to have a dark and gloomy heart!” After this positive start, we’re thinking that we should be able to invite more kids for the next round, perhaps even doubling the size of the class. Stay tuned!

“for the love of my beauty” (take 2)

Today’s lesson: “for the love of my beauty”.

February 21, 2016: 1.5 hours, 4 children, ages 7–9. After a few weeks’ absence, I was finally able to make it back to class 😛 Everyone seemed a little tired and out of it this week. Not surprising, since this is cold and flu season. At least one of the children was off sick, and another one attended despite feeling under the weather. Things started pretty well, but you could tell it was rough going. We had a pretty awesome drama segment planned, but when the time came around to get in our squares we got some pretty miserable expressions on people’s faces. So we opted for mercy and skipped it, going straight to drawing and colouring. The children enjoyed the story about ?ájí Mu?ammad going to Arabia—it’s a great story that gets the message across quite well (we obey God’s commandments because of our love for Him). It’s too bad we weren’t able to act it out, though, since this story is perfect for that.

We also had a visit from some local youth—two sisters—who agreed to organize the Ayyám-i-Há party that we scheduled for next week. They had already visited our neighbourhood junior youth group and asked them what kinds of things they’d like to do for the party, and today they came to see whether the children had any more ideas. Apparently it’s going to be pretty amazing, with a wide variety of activities. I was really happy to see how well these youth have things in hand, and how they’re interacting with the children and junior youth. It gives me a lot of hope for this neighbourhood. We haven’t had too much experience with reaching out to the wider community yet, but at the very least, we seem to have a core of collaborators that are helping to carry forward community-building activities.

prayer, a loving conversation with god (take 5)

Today’s lesson: prayer, a loving conversation with god.

January 31, 2016: 1.5 hours, 5 children, ages 6–9. Over the past month, we’ve worked out a new rhythm for our class that seems to be working out well so far: Three weeks of regular lessons, and then one week devoted to review and a cultural presentation. Today was our first review class according to this new rhythm, and it went about as well as we could have expected.

We began with prayers, and then went straight into some classic call-and-response memorization—i.e. “Repeat after me”. Each of the children had a chance to lead. The younger children definitely have more trouble with the longer quotes, which is a challenge for all involved. (I know we’ve talked about the problems with age gaps many times before, and really, the best way to address them is to have several classes for different age groups—we’re working on it.)

Next, we asked the children to line up along the wall, and laid out pictures in a line in front of them. We wouldn’t explain what the pictures meant at first, we told them, but they would have to figure out how to arrange the pictures in the right order. This was a challenge for them, but they rose to it, figuring out that each of the pictures represented part of the prayer and quote (e.g. a young plant, rain clouds…). With a good number of hints, they eventually put them all in the right order, and were even able to “read” the prayer and quote by following the pictures.

Once they were done, we invited them to choose their favourite drawing and colour it. We were considering giving the older children a different activity involving drawing a scene based on the prayer (the Garden of Love), but they seemed very happy with colouring, so we let them go ahead with that instead. Once they had had enough time for colouring, we had them play a game like “telephone” in which they each made a face to the next child around the table, conveying an emotion. The last child then had to guess the emotion that was being portrayed.

Finally, we had a little time for a cultural presentation about Cambodia, complete with a slideshow and little banana-nut candies as a snack. (No one had nut allergies, thankfully.) The children enjoyed learning about Cambodian culture and history, and marvelled at the Khmer language—we learned how to say “Hello” (chum reap suor), “Thank you very much” (arkoun cheraown), and a few more handy phrases. Overall, this new format seems to work well: One class at the end of each month devoted to reviewing previous lessons, with a cultural presentation at the end. Hopefully it’ll help us to stay focused on moving through the curriculum, while also allowing us to enrich our study by regularly exploring the world’s many diverse cultures.