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.

back to class!

Not too long ago we moved to a new area, leaving our previous class in the hands of our stalwart co-teacher. The last time we shared about that class, we were shifting gears for the summer after an attempt to start a new class in a different part of the same neighbourhood. After that attempt fell through, we were back to where we started, although we did learn a lot about team coordination, the effective use of human resources, and being part of a neighbourhood. Since then, that class has continued to evolve, and has ended up migrating towards the part of the neighbourhood where we tried starting the new class, since there seem to be more families with young children in that area. We’re still in touch, and in fact, we had a great chat together at a recent gathering for children’s class teachers based in our part of the cluster (we took notes, which I’ll try to write up and post here soonish).

mooncakes on a folderAnyway, since we moved to our new neighbourhood, we’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know our new neighbours and making connections. Our son is busy making new friends up and down the street, as well as at a local playgroup and at Bahá’í events in our new community. At the same time, another Bahá’í family in the community (though not in our neighbourhood) approached us asking if we would be interested in helping out with a children’s class in their area, with a “world citizens” theme. After a little bit of back and forth, we said sure, we’d love to help out.

We just came back from a great meeting together, where our team of three teachers (wow!) planned out the first lesson together and drew up an outline of what the class would look like—age range, venue, a basic agenda and calendar, and so on. We’ll be using the newest version of Ruhi Book 3, Grade 1, with 24 lessons for the year. It’ll be my first time using the updated Grade 1 lessons, so I’m looking forward to it. Since we’re a team, we’ve divided up the work—I’ll be focusing on teaching songs and prayers, another teacher will focus on arts, crafts and stories, and the third will focus on logistics, along with presenting the lesson itself and the quotes for memorization. We’re also hoping to incorporate presentations about different cultures every other week, so that we can explore the “world citizenship” angle.

All that being said, you can look forward to reading more frequent posts about our experience with this new class in the months to come! It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve been involved in actually teaching a children’s class, so this is a welcome return to this arena of service that’s become so dear to us over the years.

making a class calendar

If you’re teaching a Bahá’í children’s class, one thing you’ll probably find indispensable is the class calendar. At its simplest, this is a list of lesson topics or themes that will be covered during your school year. More complex calendars can also include lists of activities to be included in each lesson, prayers and quotes to be studied, and so on. Over the years, we’ve put together a calendar template that seems to work well for us. We’ve written about it before, but this time around, we’ve prepared some sample templates for you to download and use. Go ahead and download our pre-filled neighbourhood calendar template for Microsoft Excel (.xlsx) and open it in another window, and we’ll run you through the basics of it here. There’s also a blank template if you just want to dive in without having to look through a bunch of fake data.

Our calendar is actually a combination of two things: a class calendar and a class attendance sheet, all on the same worksheet. This means that you can enter the dates for each of your lessons and fill in all the related activities in one section of the sheet, and scroll to the next section to record attendance for the class after it happens.

neighbourhood calendar

Because we had a children’s class and a junior youth group going at the same time in our neighbourhood, we built space for both into our calendar. The “Type” field can be anything, but I usually use the following abbreviations for different activities: “CC” for children’s class; “JY” for junior youth group; “HV” for home visit; “RM” for reflection meeting; “DM” for devotional meeting; “SC” for study circle; and so on. There are enough columns for all the basic elements of a children’s class—quotes, prayers, songs, stories, drama and games, arts and crafts—and extra space for notes.

calendar-2

The attendance sections (one for a children’s class and one for a junior youth group, but you can always copy and paste in Excel to make more) provide space for quite a few participants, and can always be expanded by inserting new columns. As you can see in the figure above, there’s space for a first name, age, family identifier (usually the first name of a guardian), and comments to give some context and help you remember who’s who (such as where you first met them). You can put “yes” or “no” for attendance in a new row each week, and at the very end of the spreadsheet, there are a few “total” columns that will tally up the number of yeses to give you the final attendance numbers.

There are a lot of benefits to using a calendar like this. First of all, because it includes a section for attendance, keeping accurate statistics is easy. If you import the calendar to a service like Google Drive, it can make collaboration within a teaching team easier, too, since different team members can access it and update information in real time. If you’re not a computer person in the first place, you can always print it out and complete it by hand, too! And, of course, it’s a great tool for organizing and planning classes and other activities in your neighbourhood.