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.

november stories

November is always a busy month for Bahá’ís. No less than three Holy Days and two Nineteen-day Feasts take place within the month, making it one of the busiest times of the year. With the recent changes to the implementation of the Bahá’í calendar, one of those holidays is now doubled—rather than celebrating only the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh during this month, that Holy Anniversary is now paired with the Birth of the Báb and celebrated as the Twin Holy Days.

We started the month off in full swing, covering two lessons from Grade 1 of the Ruhi Book 3 curriculum—one on justice and the other on love. For the next two weeks, though, we stepped out of our routine a bit to offer two “special” classes: One class devoted to the Twin Holy Birthdays, featuring stories about the childhood of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh; and another class that consisted mainly of accompanying our local junior youth group as they canvassed the neighbourhood, collecting non-perishable food for the Food Bank.

So while we started out strong this month, it still feels like things have yet to settle into a regular routine. And of course, we’re still building up the class, both in terms of the number of children attending and of our own ability to work together as a team. I have the feeling it’ll settle down eventually, and that we just have to push past this slightly busy patch. All this isn’t to say that it’s bad to have special activities, by the way—that’s fine. I think what makes it more difficult is that we haven’t yet had a chance to form our own routine for the class. The earlier that happens, the better, because it impacts the atmosphere of the class. Establishing a routine helps gives your class structure and makes it more manageable. Once you have it established, it’s easier to step outside the routine and have some fun with it.

Next steps? Well, we have to sit down and plan the next few classes. We’ve been doing it week-to-week lately, and that contributes to the feeling of a class being less manageable. Having everything prepared and set out in advance means that you don’t have to scramble each week, wondering what you’re doing for this week’s class. We’ll probably try to plan at least until the end of December, and see where things go from there. I have a feeling our next class will be fine; things aren’t as busy now that the Twin Holy Days are over, and we’ve already had the chance to discuss things and plan who’s going to do what. As usual, watch this space!

love (take 3)

Today’s lesson: love.

November 8, 2015: ~1.5 hours, 6 children, average age 9. It was a busy week this week, so I wasn’t able to prepare quite as well as I would have liked, but since I was familiar with it already from previous years, everything went fine all the same. We had a new family of children attending class this week, bringing our total up to six: one girl from a Bahá’í family, and two of her friends, both girls. They’re a little old for a Grade 1 class; in fact, the oldest girl indicated that she might be open to joining the junior youth group that takes place in the community centre at the same time as our class. As well, the Bahá’í girl has already attended a Grade 1 class elsewhere. The idea was that they would stick with this class until we can free up enough human resources to start a Grade 2 class. Sound familiar? Let’s hope we can make it happen this time.

Two teachers were present this week (including me), and I’d have to say the class went smoothly, although we had to contend with a few logistical failures: A lack of whiteboard markers, a missing “Love” card in our deck of Virtues Cards, and a dead battery in my portable speaker. No worries, we made the best of everything with what we had. Prayers first—we helped everyone practice the “new version” of “O God! Guide me…” one more time, and invited others to contribute other prayers they may have memorized. Our agenda was a little confused (since we had no whiteboard markers to write it down with), but we continued with an overview of the lesson on love, using a tiny lamp to illustrate how the light of God’s love shines on everyone, no matter who they are. Then we practiced the song “Love, Love, Love”, which many of the children were already familiar with. To make it interesting, we threw some rhythm into the mix, asking them to listen to the rhythm (1-2-3-4) and to clap at different points as they sang (on the 1 and 3, 2 and 4, 1 and 4, etc.) We continued with the story of the unkind man, and then progressed to the game, “The Bridge”, in which children had to cross a very narrow bridge two at a time, helping each other to get across safely. Finally, we ended the regular part of the class with some colouring time, with the beautiful roses found in Ruhi Book 3.

Afterwards, some of the junior youth came upstairs to join us for a cultural presentation about Vietnam, which I gave. I explained about the Vietnamese New Year’s holiday, Tet, and tied it into the day’s lesson by explaining the importance of family in Vietnamese culture: We show our love for our family by visiting them during Tet, showing respect towards our elders, sharing gifts with them, and so on. The children showed a lot of curiosity, and asked about other holidays: Do they celebrate Christmas? Hallowe’en? (“Do they get candy??”) One of the new girls—the one who had completed Grade 1 before—was surprised to hear us talking about Vietnam during Bahá’í class, until my co-teacher explained the “world citizen” theme of the class: We had already heard about India and China, for example, and we would learn about many other cultures throughout the year. It was my first time actually attending a cultural presentation (although it was mine), so I don’t know how they usually go, but I suppose we’ll see how they’re received as time goes on.

justice (take 4)

Today’s lesson: justice.

November 1, 2015: ~1.5 hours, 3 children, average age 8. A shorter report for this week, since I couldn’t find the time to write it earlier. We repeated the class on pure, kindly and radiant hearts last week, but I was out of town and had to miss out.

This week we started a new lesson on justice, based on Lesson 3 from Grade 1 of the Ruhi Book 3 curriculum. We kept on learning “O God, Guide Me”, with a melody composed by a Bahá’í youth group from Thailand. Then we sang a new song, “A Noble Way”, which is similar to the song “Justice Is The Way” from the previous version of Book 3, but with a different, less repetitive melody and slightly different words. I like this new song, although it’s a little harder to learn than the old one. We just focused on learning the chorus, and said we would pick it up again next class. Next we learned this week’s quote, with some gestures to help us remember; we also played “hide the quote” with a quote jumble. Then we told the story of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá refusing the private carriage, which seemed to get the children thinking about what it means to be just. Then we played the shark game, in which they had to crowd onto a foam mat together (the “boat”). Finally, we ended with colouring.

So far, the class seems to be developing well. We were well-organized this week, and everyone seemed to have a good time. I’d say that all of us—children and teachers alike—are getting used to each other and to the rhythm and dynamics of the class, and so far there don’t seem to be any big issues with behaviour. Right now, I guess we really just need to focus on making sure our teaching team is working together effectively, delivering the lessons smoothly and on looking for the gems of virtue that lie hidden in our souls—children and teachers alike!

pure, kindly, and radiant hearts (take 2)

Today’s lesson: pure, kindly and radiant hearts.

October 18, 2015: 4 children, aged 6–10(?). Today was our first class as a team! After our planning meeting two weeks ago, our stalwart teaching team set out to get this class ready, with each of us taking responsibility for one or more parts of the class. I volunteered to present the prayers and songs, and to put together an agenda and some ground rules for the class. All in all, it was a good first class. We had expected four more children to attend, but apparently they all had hockey practice (or perhaps a surprise hockey game—I don’t know how these things work).

Two of the children arrived (roughly) on time, but we decided to wait until the other two arrived before starting the class. The pre-class wait wasn’t too bad, as it gave us a chance to check out our new surroundings: A children’s room in a local community centre. They even left the cabinets open for us, which meant we got to use a whiteboard and borrow other essential supplies like extra scissors for the craft. The room was big enough that we could set up different stations: one table for pre-class drawings, one table for crafts, and one area with a big mat for prayers, right next to a whiteboard for writing down prayers and quotes for people to follow along. I feel like we were spoiled by the sheer amount of stuff that we had on hand—I’ve become used to holding classes in fairly spartan rooms, and having to supply everything myself.

Anyway, about a half-hour and several paper airplanes later, we started the class. The children all knew the prayer we studied—”O God, guide me”—but they remembered the previous translation which went “…Illumine the lamp of my heart, and make me a brilliant star”. This time we taught them the new translation, set to music by a group of Bahá’í youth from Thailand. Since we were running late already, we went straight on to the lesson, which explained how our hearts are like mirrors that reflect God’s qualities. The children took turns smudging mud (standing in for anger, hatred, selfishness, etc) onto a mirror, and we observed how the mirror no longer reflected the room’s light properly. It’s neat how apt this metaphor is, and how well the children seem to grasp it. Then we played with a quote jumble, hiding the words from the quote around the room and letting the children find them. They zoomed around at light speed and finished in record time—although one child complained that he didn’t get to find any words because they were all gone too fast. (We found a way to console him afterwards.)

Afterwards, we moved to the craft table, where we listened to the story, told by one of our team members, a youth. She did a great job of asking questions afterwards, to help the children reflect on what they had heard. Then, we started the craft: cutting out and decorating paper hands and gluing them together into a long chain. As we continue with the class, we’ll get new students to do the same, making an ever-lengthening chain of multicoloured hands that we can hang on the wall each week. Finally, we ended with a game. Since the weather was cold outside, we decided to forgo “The Burning Thirst”—which tends to be a wet affair, not so well suited to cold temperatures and indoor floors—and played “Touch Telephone” instead. And of course, we ended with some wonderful snacks!

The whole class was quite enjoyable, overall. Usually there’s some shyness or reticence among the kids in a new class, but this time we didn’t see that—after the first few minutes, everyone just jumped in and had fun. Class time was compressed because we started late, which meant that the order of activities was all out of whack, but I think we did our best with the situation. We were also meant to have a presentation about a country—which I was supposed to prepare but didn’t, due to being catastrophically busy with a number of other things—but I feel like it worked out fine anyway. We started late, and we ended roughly on time. The one thing I feel we need to improve? More time for prayers, including closing prayers, which we missed this time. It’s so nice to have those prayers as bookends to the class—I think they help to mark that time as sacred for the kids.