old challenges, new day

children's class spreadsheet

I’m back from Vietnam, newly married, and diving back into the fray of life in my home cluster—back to the Chinatown children’s class I’ve been writing about for the past few months (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…) and dealing with new challenges. Oddly enough, at our local reflection meeting, someone told a story of an individual initiative that echoed exactly what’s been happening with our class. He explained how he and his wife had reached out to their neighbours, gathering up about five families who agreed to support a children’s class in their home. “It started out well,” he explained, “but as time went on, fewer and fewer people came.” Week after week, he contacted each family, and, from one week to the next, they would give some sort of reason why they couldn’t come—too tired, too cold, late lunch, family visit, whatever. It got to the point where he was wondering whether it was worth it to continue holding the class each week; why bother holding the class if there’s only one child?

Our team has been dealing with this same issue in the past month—or so I’m told, since I’ve been away—it seems like family after family has been dropping out of their commitment to the class. It’s not like we’re going to give up, of course. I’ve been teaching children’s classes long enough to see the same kind of thing happen, and I’m determined to learn how to get past it. Still, it’s a real poser. When I first got back, we consulted and decided we had to find out why the families in question had dropped out. We investigated, and found that part of the answer might have been lack of interest in the class. The parents had never really insisted that their children come—they just left it up to the children, saying, “If they want to go, we’ll take them”. Apparently the children just didn’t want to come anymore. That sent the gears in our heads turning, thinking, how can we make the class more attractive to the children?

We identified a few strategies: first was to find better activities, and a more engaging format. We use a calendar to plan our classes (see above), so we added columns for each type of activity so we could plan several weeks in advance which craft, story, game, etc., we would feature for each class. That way, we would be better prepared for each class, and could incorporate more complex and engaging activities, ones that require more preparation than the ones listed in Ruhi Book 3. We had already decided beforehand to repeat each lesson two weeks in a row, and to use different activities each week to avoid too much repetition. We decided to increase the length of the classes from 1.5 hours to 2 hours, with a snack break in between (everyone loves snacks), splitting the class time into two portions. The first portion would be dedicated to the lesson: a few minutes of “presenting” the lesson, time to memorize a quote, and selected activities. The second portion would be devoted to arts and crafts, so that children could go home having accomplished something creative, yet still related to the lesson. Children who finish the craft quickly would be given a drawing or colouring exercise (dependent on age); drawing exercises (click for an example) would include some writing work as well.

This is a current issue for us, and in the next few months we’ll be focusing on class quality and outreach to gather more families into our community of interest. What a joy it is to make a commitment to learning about the core activities—there’s certainly not a boring moment.

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2 thoughts on “old challenges, new day

  1. Lev, you’ll be glad to know that I just read your comment out loud in a meeting of the teaching teams with our Counsellor, where he actually said the exact same thing you just said, that we’re moving away from the mindset of seeing ourselves as service providers. I’ll be posting some notes from our meeting soon enough, because we’re having a really hard-hitting and inspiring consultation.

  2. Thanks for writing about these experiences, Dan. We have also seen the attendance at our neighborhood class fluctuate, sometimes due to weather or certain community events.

    In the Arising to Serve film released after the regional conferences, one of the speakers talked about aligning our efforts for the spiritual education of children with the capacities learned in “Teaching Children’s Classes Grade 1.” We have found that the more we focus on the capacities outlined in that book (particularly Unit 3), the more we are confirmed.

    A few examples:
    1) Progress report – using the attendance sheet has focused us on who is attending, and gets us in the habit of inviting kids to class. And we notice if certain kids haven’t shown up for awhile.
    2) Home visits – when we started visiting the homes of parents more regularly, attendance seemed to increase.
    3) Focusing on the capacities of the children – in Unit 1 of Book 3, there are 1 or 2 sections on the capacities of children, and the need for teachers to pay attention to children, watch for their capacities, and work to nurture them.

    There are many other capacities that I’m forgetting – and I’m sure you and your co-teachers are already well-familiar with them.

    One other note – we are beginning to move from a mindset of offering a service to the community into a new relationship where we all – teachers, parents, children – see themselves as participants in the betterment of the neighborhood. This necessitates spending more time in the neighborhood than the 2 hours of class time each week. Monday nights visiting a family, Wednesday afternoons singing and playing games with some of the kids, etc. We begin to feel more like one community, and we start to work against this very understandable trap (for parents and teachers alike) of seeing ourselves as service providers…

    You’re right – there’s never a boring moment. It’s SO exciting to be engaged in this process of discovery.

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