January is done, and we’re advancing into an exciting February filled with promise for our neighbourhood. Our junior youth have finished studying Glimmerings of Hope, and we’re holding a “graduation” ceremony for them this Thursday (now there’s something we should do for the children’s class, too). That group will soon move on to study Breezes of Confirmation, hopefully doubling in size if everyone who said they were coming actually comes. Some of the new junior youth had attended a few sessions before—back when we first started with Glimmerings—but dropped out for various reasons. We think at least one of those reasons related to the more advanced language used in that book; hopefully, Breezes will help us address that issue.
In a recent post I wrote about our struggles with language and literacy levels. In the month that’s passed since then, we’ve done a few things with our children’s class that are worth reflecting on.
First off, we started offering more activities for building vocabulary. The most popular ones were our “vocabulary builders”, which you can find on the files page. These consist of two sheets of paper: one printed with a grid of pictures on one side and words on the reverse, and the other with a grid containing phrases, each missing a word. The goal is for the children to match the pictures with the phrase, and then write the corresponding word into the blank space in the phrase. For example, a picture of a report card with the word “attain” on the reverse would match up with the phrase “Because he worked hard, Jun was able to _________ high marks on his report card.”
So far, the children have responded well to these vocabulary builders, as long as we don’t use them every week (too much of the same thing becomes mundane, I guess). They use them a little differently than I’d expected: instead of taping only one side of the picture to the grid to allow them to reveal the phrase below, they prefer to glue the picture directly to the grid, meaning that both the word and phrase are hidden—only the picture is visible. To get around this, I’ll probably design the next one differently, so that, for example, each phrase has an empty space next to it where they can glue the picture. As well, the picture and the word could be on the same side of the paper, so that the word’s not hidden when they glue down the picture.
Another thing we’ve done—and this is a big one—is to start focusing on getting them to practice saying prayers every day of the week, and not just during the class. We’ve even called them up during the week to remind them to say their prayers. This has had a noticeable effect on the children and on class discipline. Now, instead of struggling with “O God, guide me”, the ones who’ve been reciting the prayers during the week are calm, present and confident during prayers. That confidence rubs off onto the other children, who see the seriousness and readiness with which their peers are approaching prayer time, and seem to clean up their own act in response. As I wrote before, sometimes it might just take a friend to set the example to inspire others to follow suit.
As we know, having the children reciting prayers outside of class isn’t just about building vocabulary; it’s about giving them regular contact with the creative Word of God. That’s why it’s a much more exciting and significant development than coming up with a clever vocabulary building activity. Reciting and memorizing prayers has the potential to kindle the children’s souls, and create within them spiritual susceptibilities. I remember calling up one of the parents recently and asking about whether her daughter was reading her prayers, and she replied in amazement that she was—that she would often find her standing in front of the refrigerator (where we posted a copy of the prayer) silently, and then walk off. Big transformations start with little changes, and I hope that before the year is out, we can report back with even greater changes—ones that may foster the growth of a profound devotional character in these families, and in the entire community.