After seeing how well a “graduation” ceremony went for our local junior youth group, we decided it would be fun to have a similar event for our children’s class. Some time in August, we paid home visits to the kids and their families to introduce the idea of having a community celebration—something that would involve not only the families of the children in the class, but neighbours and friends as well. The kids would present some of the things they had studied during the past school year, and there could be refreshments and games too. Everyone agreed it would be a great idea, so we found a good date in early September, booked space at a nearby park, and forged ahead with our plans. As a first activity, we asked the children to create invitations to pass to their friends and family, which they did with gusto.
In our teaching team, we decided on a few activities that might make for a good presentation. We settled on a couple of good songs: “The Human Race Is One” by Gina and Russ Garcia (available from the Ruhi Institute), and “This Little Light of Mine“. We also decided to make a puppet show out of one of the activities we had done during the year—specifically, the sketch about the village harvest from our lesson on justice and fairness (Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2, Set 4, Lesson 11). For the whole month of August, we practiced these with the children. Practicing the songs was simple enough, since they were already familiar with both of them. As for the puppets, we decided to go with paper stick puppets to keep things simple. We printed out a whole bunch of characters for the children to colour—a schoolteacher, villagers doing different things like harvesting vegetables or repairing the rooftop, the sun and clouds, etc. They had a lot of fun with this. After all the colouring was done, we put sticks on everything and voilà—puppets! In our spare time away from class, we had developed a script based on the sketch; when we put everything together, the puppet show began to take shape. Everyone really got into it; they each had their favourite puppets and enjoyed huddling behind our makeshift stage waiting for their cues.
On the day of the celebration, our teaching team gathered at the park a little early to start setting up. We chose a spot along a chain-link fence to allow us to hang up the backdrop for the puppet show. We used a folding plastic table on its side as a hiding place from which the children acted as puppeteers; after the show was done, we placed it back upright and used it to hold refreshments. As the set time approached, we walked back into the neighbourhood to gather the children and their parents. In the end, we had about 10 children and 5 parents show up, along with the members of the teaching team and other invited guests. Some friends from the neighbourhood came, too. It wasn’t a packed audience, but it was more than enough for a good time. Everything went quite well, without any major problems; the children all remembered the songs and their cues, and the parents were impressed by the effort their children had put into preparing for the day. There was time for socializing at the end, and we even brought out a special cake to top off the refreshments. We ended up burning off some of the extra calories in a soccer game after everything was done.
All in all, I’d say the community celebration was a success—or at least, a successful step in the evolution of our neighbourhood activities. We didn’t get the chance to meet or engage too many new people, but we did have a great time with the families we already knew, and we raised their awareness about the children’s class at least a little. We have a strong core of children which may not be growing quickly, but is growing steadily and, I hope, sustainably. The great news we’ve had since then is that, following the recent youth conferences during the summer, some of our local youth have taken it upon themselves to start their own teaching project in a neighbourhood not too far from ours, which means there may be opportunities for us to work together and support each other. And finally, this was a great learning experience for us to look back on. We’ve never tried holding a community celebration like this, and it turned out pretty well. It was small, but things that end up big tend to start small anyway. It takes sustained, dedicated effort over many years to build a community—that’s why we’re here, making effort, learning, and perservering.