prayer, spiritual nourishment (take 2)

Today’s lesson: prayer, spiritual nourishment.

January 24, 2016: 1.5 hours, 5 children, ages 6–9 years. Started a new lesson today, based on the second lesson in Set 1, Grade 2 of the Ruhi Book 3 curriculum. As we’ve done in the past, we focused on just a few of the activities this week (song, story, and a craft), leaving the rest for the next week. I should note that our team is steadily growing; along with two main teachers, we now have two parents who assist with the class in various ways. Others have expressed interest in helping, too, which is great news. Because of this, we’re spending more time learning how to coordinate with each other as a team. For now, I’m planning the lessons (since I’m more familiar with Grade 2), making sure to divide up the different parts of the lesson such that each helper has something to contribute. When we start doing Grades 1 and 2 simultaneously, we’ll have two sets of teachers doing this concurrently. Hopefully we can build enough capacity right now so that everyone feels comfortable when the time comes to split the classes.

We started off with prayers, after which we set to work presenting the new lesson. I feel like I always talk too much when I do this on my own, so I asked my co-teacher to help with this. She prepared a nice slideshow with pictures to help the children visualize each part of the quote. We continued with the story of Lua Getsinger forgetting to say her prayers in the morning (and getting scolded for it by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá); one of our assistants took care of this part. The children seemed to get the main lesson of the story, which is that prayer is just a form of food for our souls—and, of course, that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá recommended we take our spiritual food before taking material food.

corksWe ended off the class with something we billed as a science experiment with spiritual overtones. (“We’re doing science in Bahá’í classes!?”) To illustrate the idea of being “attracted” to the Kingdom of God, we made our own miniature compasses, by magnetizing needles and sticking them through little roundels of styrofoam and/or cork. The children could easily see that once the needles were magnetized, pushed through the cork and floated in a tub of water, they pointed more or less towards magnetic north. Moreover, when we brought a magnet close to the tub, the needles floated towards the magnet. We dropped several needles into the tub and dragged the magnet around its sides, making the needles follow along like a school of hungry fish. This way, we were able to explain “attraction” in terms of a force that helps us to turn towards something and move towards it—just like prayer helps us to turn towards God and move towards Him.

prayer, a loving conversation with god (take 4)

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

January 17, 2016: 1.5 hours, 6 children, ages 6–9. Our second week of teaching this lesson. My regular co-teacher wasn’t there this week, but the rest of our team (including parents of some of the children) redistributed the work among us. It went fairly well, with a few hiccups: First, most of the material was the same as last week, so the older children got visibly bored and were less engaged; second, we ended up having too much material to cover, and we went overtime—which wouldn’t normally be such a big problem, but apparently other groups have our venue booked after we leave now, so we have to finish on time.

The first was entirely my fault—I should have planned different activities each week to keep the lessons fresh and engaging. The second would have been easily avoidable by simply dropping one of the activities once we saw that we were going overtime, although I also think we weren’t all on the same page regarding the booking constraints. Lesson learned: Even if your main job is planning lessons and teaching the class, make sure you communicate with the other members of your team and stay informed about logistical issues.

Other than that, there wasn’t too much to say about this class, since it was about the same as last week. We had more children attending, which made for a nicer atmosphere. I really love how eager they all are to memorize quotes. Not everyone is at the same level due to the age difference, but that’s unavoidable—unless you make a class for each grade. God willing we’ll be able to achieve this soon!

prayer, a loving conversation with god (take 3)

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

January 10, 2016: 1.5 hours, 4 children, ages 6–9. Our first class after returning from the holiday break! First things first: After a bit of consultation, we’ve decided to switch from the Ruhi Institute’s Grade 1 curriculum to the Grade 2 curriculum. This is mainly in response to the closing of another very popular children’s class elsewhere in the city—the children were starting their study of the Grade 2 curriculum, so we figured we’d fill the hole left by its absence. One of our children came from that class, and we’re told that several more may be on their way to join us soon. She’s already brought several of her friends, too, including a new friend today—all of them around her age. That also played a big part in our decision to switch over to Grade 2. It’s hard to switch gears like this, to be sure, although right after the holiday break is probably the second best time to do it.

The class went well, all things considered. I was definitely reminded of the first time we taught this lesson a few years ago. Jumping into learning the quote “Intone, O My servant…” was easier this time around, because there isn’t so much of a language barrier. Now that we have a whiteboard available, it was super easy to do our memorization mega-challenge (i.e. erasing words a few at a time and see how many children can still read the quote from memory). I spent some time studying the story of Ruhu’lláh chanting a prayer and delivered it from memory, but I’m not really sure I did it justice. I have to get used to the higher complexity of the Grade 2 lessons again—you really have to study the stories well to be able to retell them in your own words.

Once again, the drama exercises were a real crowd-pleaser. I can tell we’re going to have fun. We actually have squares built into the patterns on the floor of our classroom, so it’s easy for the children to put themselves into their “squares”—although we’ll have to think of an optimal classroom layout to give us enough space to move around as well as a space to pray and a space to work on arts, crafts and workbooks/prayer books.

There’s a lot more to talk about, but it’s less about how this lesson went and more about getting organized as a neighbourhood team (including us in the children’s class, and the animators of the junior youth group that’s happening at the same time), and our participation in our cluster’s upcoming cycle of growth. Don’t worry, you’ll definitely be hearing more about it—suffice to say that it’s going to be a very interesting, and very active, season for us all.

generosity (take 2)

Today’s lesson: generosity.

December 13, 2015: 1.5 hours, 3 children, ages 6–9. Good follow-up to last week’s class. With the work on the prayer books out of the way this week, we were able to focus more closely on the lesson. After welcoming the children, we started in the usual way with prayers. They weren’t so eager to recite prayers by heart today, so we invited them read the prayer they were working on from the whiteboard. Once they were done, we worked on memorizing it. The children seemed to be having some trouble memorizing the words alone, so we had them come up with actions to go along with the words. They seemed a lot more enthusiastic once we started doing that. I often forget how powerful gestures can be as a memorization tool, since I tend to memorize things just by repeating them! In this case, it really seemed to help the children to get into the prayer and enjoy learning it by heart.

After singing the song, we moved on to learning the quote from the lesson: “To give and be generous are attributes of mine…” We had them memorize the quote using a quote jumble, as before, by hiding the words from the quote around the room and having the children collect them all and put them together in order. It’s a pretty popular activity, and they always seem to enjoy it. This week, though, the youngest child in the group wasn’t too happy that the older kids seemed to keep picking up all the hidden words before he had the chance to find any. We ended up letting him look for the remaining two or three words on his own as the older children worked on putting the rest of the words in the right order, and that seemed to satisfy everyone. It reminded me of the age gap that exists in our class, though, and of the need for us to eventually split the class into multiple grades. We’ve already talked about doing some outreach in the neighbourhood around the class in the new year; hopefully we can make some good connections with local families, bringing in new children and junior youth—and maybe another willing teacher to help out, as well?

After we were done with the quote, we sat down again to listen to the story of ‘Abdu’l-Baha visiting the shepherds, and his generosity in giving them the sheep they were guarding. Thankfully, this story is one we study carefully when we get trained up with Ruhi Book 3, so I was familiar enough with it to tell it from memory, a little differently than usual in case the older children remembered it. (I’ve had some practice making up bedtime stories for my two-year-old son lately, so it went pretty smoothly.)

cards-afterAt the end of the story, we segued neatly into the game, a card game we call Giving, which is all about sharing what we have with others who are in need. First, we got the children to think about some of the things they need the most in life. From there, we introduced the seven different “needs” highlighted in the game: clean food and water, clean clothes, safety and shelter, friends and family, education, work or occupation, and spirituality. We explained the game in relation to “Go Fish”, where players ask for cards that they need; here, players can give a card they have several of in order to receive a card they need. In the end, everyone ends up with one of each card. And we all win!

They children really seemed to love the game, so I think we can say it was a success. We would’ve played a few more times, too, but we moved on to our country presentation afterwards, all about Australia. We heard all about kangaroos and koalas, and we sampled Milo and Vegemite. Yes, Vegemite. The verdict on that one? Only three of us—me, my wife, and one of the children—were able to stomach it. I went home with the jar.

generosity (take 1)

Today’s lesson: generosity.

prayerbooks-dec2015December 6, 2015: 1.5 hours, 3 children, ages 6–9. Pretty good class with some good teamwork this week. One of our families was away, so we had fewer children in attendance, but it was fun all the same. Instead of having them work in their workbooks, we had the children create their own personal prayer books, for storing prayers and quotes that they learn throughout the year. The point of these is to give the children something to read from when it’s time to say prayers. We picked up a book of craft paper, folded it around ten pages or so of lined paper, and punched holes in the side to allow us to bind the whole thing together with ribbon. They enjoyed the craft; let’s see how much use they get out of the books now that they’re done!

The rest of the class went pretty well. The children were a little less eager to say prayers this week, but hey, there are on and off days. Studying the prayer and practicing the song were easy; the prayer was the same as last time, and the song was easier to learn than the previous one. We included a story and a game in the day’s schedule, but as the class progressed we realized that we were running out of time; we also needed ten minutes at the end of the class for a country presentation. So after we were done preparing the lesson, we ended up moving back over to the craft table to give them time to finish up their work on their prayer books. It’s a bummer, because we didn’t spend a lot of time on activities that directly supported the lesson—only the song was directly related, really. Hopefully we can do “part two” of this lesson next week, though, and make a little more time for the extra activities.

The country presentation was about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as told by one of our Bahá’í friends who had grown up there. The older children studiously took notes as she was presenting(!), writing things like where it is, the fact that it has not only lots of jungle but also big cities (For instance, the capital Kinshasa has ten million people in it), what kinds of special foods people eat there, what language they speak, and what kinds of endangered animals live there. All in all, it was an engaging presentation that gave a good overview of the country.

I must admit that I was skeptical about adding the country presentations to the class at first, but they all turn out to be pretty interesting, even if they’re not directly related to the topic of the lesson. It’s nice to have that extra element of cultural discovery in our classes, since it helps the children discover what’s outside the bubble of their own culture. I just hope we can make sure to focus enough on the topic during the rest of the class, which I feel like we didn’t do this week—that is, we spent a lot of time talking about things other than generosity. Maybe we can work on that next week; we’ll have someone in to do a presentation on Australia, so we’ll see how that goes.

truthfulness (take 5)

Today’s lesson: truthfulness.

whiteboardNovember 29, 2015: 1.5 hours, 5 children, ages 6–9. Awesome class! I remembered to bring the markers for the classroom’s whiteboard, and I showed up early to write out all the important elements on the board: class schedule, new quote and prayer to memorize, and new song for us to sing. Things went quite smoothly and it felt like the class just flowed naturally.

We were going to start with some work in the children’s workbooks, but our helpers—who had the books—ended up running late, so we improvised: “The story for today’s lesson is The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” we explained, “so before class begins, we can spend some time drawing what we remember of the story.” Most of the children knew the story quite well (“I’ve heard it so many times!“), so they could readily identify the main characters in the story and draw a simple scene with the shepherd, the wolf, and the sheep.

Once everyone arrived, we gathered for prayers, starting off with a little deep breathing to help us relax. The younger children seemed especially eager to recite the prayers they had learned. Next, we began studying a new prayer: “O Thou Kind Lord! I am a little child…”. We went through it step by step, identifying words that might be difficult, and explaining each of them. After reading it together a couple of times, we started to erase words a few at a time, inviting some of the children to recite the prayer along with the words that were removed. Once we were done, we went on to sing the song, Truthful Words. It’s one of the new songs included with the new version of Grade 1; It sounds quite nice, and I feel as though it helps support the quote a lot better. Everyone enjoyed it. Speaking of quotes, one of our helpers, who was filling in for my regular co-teacher, gave an excellent explanation of the quote (“Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues”), with plenty of different scenarios and questions to help the children reflect. As a result, I think they got a really good idea of some of the nuances surrounding telling the truth (What if you think something is true, but it’s not? Is that a lie, or a mistake?).

Next, we stretched our legs and moved over to the table for story time. But what do you do when nearly all the children have heard the story before? Well, we turned things around a little and got the children to tell the story instead, one sentence at a time. They remembered it well—with just a little prompting, they got all the important details out of the story and told it from start to finish. Once it was over, they started to suggest improvements to the story: What if, instead of the wolf eating the sheep, the sheep beat up the wolf? What if there was a ROBOT SHEEP, with LASERS and CHAINSAWS? Obviously, these ideas had to go somewhere, so back to the colouring table they went, embellishing the drawings they made at the beginning of class with robot sheep, laser beams and who knows what else. After bringing out the snacks, we invited those children who were finished with their drawings to play a game of touch telephone on the whiteboard.

Like I said, it was an awesome class. Although it required some quick thinking to deal with unexpected circumstances (no workbooks, and everyone knowing the story already), the fact that we had the rest of the class fully prepared left us in a good frame of mind to improvise. It gets easier with experience, too: When we start teaching for the first time, having to deal with the unexpected seems daunting because we can’t say “hey, this worked in the past, let’s try it”. But once you’ve tried enough things—and made enough mistakes—improvising becomes much easier.