February 21, 2016: 1.5 hours, 4 children, ages 7–9. After a few weeks’ absence, I was finally able to make it back to class 😛 Everyone seemed a little tired and out of it this week. Not surprising, since this is cold and flu season. At least one of the children was off sick, and another one attended despite feeling under the weather. Things started pretty well, but you could tell it was rough going. We had a pretty awesome drama segment planned, but when the time came around to get in our squares we got some pretty miserable expressions on people’s faces. So we opted for mercy and skipped it, going straight to drawing and colouring. The children enjoyed the story about ?ájí Mu?ammad going to Arabia—it’s a great story that gets the message across quite well (we obey God’s commandments because of our love for Him). It’s too bad we weren’t able to act it out, though, since this story is perfect for that.
We also had a visit from some local youth—two sisters—who agreed to organize the Ayyám-i-Há party that we scheduled for next week. They had already visited our neighbourhood junior youth group and asked them what kinds of things they’d like to do for the party, and today they came to see whether the children had any more ideas. Apparently it’s going to be pretty amazing, with a wide variety of activities. I was really happy to see how well these youth have things in hand, and how they’re interacting with the children and junior youth. It gives me a lot of hope for this neighbourhood. We haven’t had too much experience with reaching out to the wider community yet, but at the very least, we seem to have a core of collaborators that are helping to carry forward community-building activities.
January 31, 2016: 1.5 hours, 5 children, ages 6–9. Over the past month, we’ve worked out a new rhythm for our class that seems to be working out well so far: Three weeks of regular lessons, and then one week devoted to review and a cultural presentation. Today was our first review class according to this new rhythm, and it went about as well as we could have expected.
We began with prayers, and then went straight into some classic call-and-response memorization—i.e. “Repeat after me”. Each of the children had a chance to lead. The younger children definitely have more trouble with the longer quotes, which is a challenge for all involved. (I know we’ve talked about the problems with age gaps many times before, and really, the best way to address them is to have several classes for different age groups—we’re working on it.)
Next, we asked the children to line up along the wall, and laid out pictures in a line in front of them. We wouldn’t explain what the pictures meant at first, we told them, but they would have to figure out how to arrange the pictures in the right order. This was a challenge for them, but they rose to it, figuring out that each of the pictures represented part of the prayer and quote (e.g. a young plant, rain clouds…). With a good number of hints, they eventually put them all in the right order, and were even able to “read” the prayer and quote by following the pictures.
Once they were done, we invited them to choose their favourite drawing and colour it. We were considering giving the older children a different activity involving drawing a scene based on the prayer (the Garden of Love), but they seemed very happy with colouring, so we let them go ahead with that instead. Once they had had enough time for colouring, we had them play a game like “telephone” in which they each made a face to the next child around the table, conveying an emotion. The last child then had to guess the emotion that was being portrayed.
Finally, we had a little time for a cultural presentation about Cambodia, complete with a slideshow and little banana-nut candies as a snack. (No one had nut allergies, thankfully.) The children enjoyed learning about Cambodian culture and history, and marvelled at the Khmer language—we learned how to say “Hello” (chum reap suor), “Thank you very much” (arkoun cheraown), and a few more handy phrases. Overall, this new format seems to work well: One class at the end of each month devoted to reviewing previous lessons, with a cultural presentation at the end. Hopefully it’ll help us to stay focused on moving through the curriculum, while also allowing us to enrich our study by regularly exploring the world’s many diverse cultures.
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.
We 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.
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!
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.
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.)
At 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.