january stories

So far during the month of January, our Chinatown class has gone through four lessons on the themes of truthfulness, steadfastness, humility, and preferring others before oneself. We started off at the beginning of January (the 2nd) with a special three-hour class, which we hoped would be attended by a large number of families so that we could start off with a bang—of course, things don’t always go the way we would hope. Class size has fluctuated between three to five children each week, and due to how busy some of the families are, we’ve also run into some punctuality problems. So far, though, we’ve managed to get most of the children to memorize at least one prayer—”O God, Guide Me”—and are working on having them memorize the second one suggested in Book 3—the one that goes “I am earthly, make me heavenly”. We got together as a teaching team and discussed curriculum; the plan is to finish the lessons from Book 3, and then continue by introducing the lessons of the Furutan curriculum, given in the books Baha’i Education for Children.

The three-hour class went remarkably well; I haven’t tried to go that long with a class in a while, and was pleasantly refreshed to see that we had enough material to keep the children engaged, having fun and learning through the whole time. After praying and singing a few of our favourite songs, we plunged straight into memorizing the well-known Baha’i quote, “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues”. We tried explaining it in terms of the foundation of a building; I’m not sure whether the analogy helped them or confused them. I keep wondering about how good their command of English is, since most of them have only lived in Canada for a year, and I seem to end up explaining a lot of the words. Perhaps that’s actually normal for kids of their age (~6-7 years), and I’ve been coddled by only having gifted children to teach in the past. Well, whatever. This makes for great teaching experience.  The second half of the class, after a healthy snack, consisted of putting together a house out of wooden stir-sticks—illustrating how virtues can be a “foundation” for human spiritual life—and a dramatic presentation of the day’s story, which was a retelling of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. It was actually my first time successfully “doing” drama with the kids in a children’s class; we did it by eschewing a script and instead giving the children their roles and lines verbally, with extensive narration by one of the teachers. We had two children playing the mother and father, and one playing the titular character. The children took their cues from the narrator, acting out whatever the story said. The whole thing worked out well, I had my directorial debut, and they got a real kick from acting out the story.

The next two classes dealt with slightly more abstract themes, and I noticed that we had a tougher time getting the message across to all of the kids. During both the lesson on steadfastness and the lesson on humility, they seemed to have trouble understanding the theme, and I had to explain it a few times, leaving me wondering what they had come away with. I found that the description of Book 3 seemed to go a little over their heads, so I tried to explain humility to the children the following way: God is big and powerful, and we, on the other hand, are so small and weak by comparison. Humility is just remembering how big and powerful God is, and how small and weak we are. When we remember that we depend on God for everything, we stop thinking that we’re better than anyone else around us. It took us most of the class time to get to that point of understanding, though. I think we got it by the end, but of course, as suggested in Book 3 itself, we’ll have to repeat it later on to be sure.

Regarding steadfastness, I was pleased to see that nobody came away with nightmares from the story of Ruhu’llah and his father, which I decided to tell in its entirety, though as non-graphically as I could. I’ve heard Baha’is express misgivings about telling a story in which the main character, a young boy dedicated to teaching and spreading God’s message, watches his father die before him only to die himself after refusing to recant his faith—but, besides having to make certain disclaimers, I’ve never heard either parents or children object to the story. On one occasion, a child reacted with anxiety to think that children could be killed in such a way, at which point the parent on hand explained that, while such things may have happened in that place at that time (19th-century Persia), we don’t have to worry about it happening to us here in Canada, which seemed to bring the anxiety level down. I made sure to give the same disclaimer this time, and nobody even made a peep—which, again, made me wonder whether they had understood what I was saying… oh well.

ice skating

rideau canal skateway 11Several members of our teaching team just spent part of the afternoon on the ice at Ottawa’s Dow’s Lake, where many people, both locals and visitors from far and near, spend the winter months skating around on the world’s longest skating rink. no skates for us, though—we were accompanying two families from our Chinatown children’s classes who had never been out on the ice before. boots for all, and at least one young child snoozing comfortably in a stroller. the kids were full of energy, and dashed up and down the frozen surface of the lake at least twice, hooting and hollering, falling over and getting back up again, bumping into each other and flourishing into big hold-on-for-dear-life hugs. despite the chaos of little feet scrambling around on the ice, we managed to reinforce some of the lessons from the children’s class, such as showing kindness by helping our siblings and friends up when they fall. one of the children, a six-year-old girl, was asking lots of questions about all the big buildings she saw around us, which i attempted to answer, explaining the long words in their names. Perhaps thinking of other big complicated words, she asked me, “What about that ‘Thou art’… you know?” “You mean, ‘Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful’?” I replied, citing the prayer we had been memorizing together. “Yeah, that one. How does it go again?” she advanced. I repeated the prayer for her (making sure to be reverent and respectful), and she repeated it afterwards. We talked about what “mighty” and “powerful” meant, and discussed what it means that God is Almighty and All-powerful.  Really nice. I felt like it was a great bonding experience between us and the families; sort of like friends getting to know each other better. We walked them home feeling lots of joy at being together, knowing that we would meet again soon for another class.