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.

be united!

Quote

river

“Those who are working alone are like ants, but when they are united they will become as eagles. Those who work singly are as drops, but, when united, they will become a vast river carrying the cleansing water of life into the barren desert places of the world. Before the power of its rushing flood, neither misery, nor sorrow, nor any grief will be able to stand. Be united! It is rather dangerous to be an isolated drop. It might be spilled or blown away.”

Attributed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, p. 171

an idea for virtues cards

UntitledOne of our new readers came to us with a question about using Virtues Cards (nifty cards featuring different spiritual qualities, created by The Virtues Project) in teaching groups of children. We just recently bought a deck of these cards ourselves, so we’re not experts by any means—but we’ve got plenty of ideas.

One of the ways we can help people understand abstract concepts is through the use of storytelling and role play. These put otherwise abstract virtues into a very tangible context that adults and children alike can more easily understand and learn from. In fact, this is why the lessons in Ruhi Book 3 always include stories, and dramatic activities in Grades 2 and up: they model different spiritual qualities and practices, and help children to think about how they might show those qualities in their lives.

So, as for how to use the virtues cards? Here’s the “experiment” we recommended to our friend. You can try it, too!

  • Pick one of the cards and read the virtue’s definition and some of the examples.
  • Ask the participants to think of a situation in which that virtue could be used; if nobody speaks up, you can suggest one based one the examples given.
  • Then, ask them to create a story based on that situation, and ask them to break into groups and tell each other the story.
  • Finally, bring them back together and ask them to create a short dramatic skit based on the story; practice it with them, and see how it goes.
  • At the end, get them to reflect on what they learned about that virtue, and have them share any insights they may have had about using that virtue in their lives.

The nice thing about this idea is that you don’t really need to buy a deck of cards to use it. You could just as easily write down the virtues yourself on sheets of paper, or blank index cards.

Have you had any experience incorporating virtues cards into your children’s classes, or any other insights about teaching children about spiritual qualities? Let us know in the comments!

making an activity portfolio

A pile of books with a smartphone on topThe lessons developed by the Ruhi Institute for use in Baha’i children’s classes are simple and well-designed, and often stand just fine on their own. Still, there are times when teachers might want to augment lessons with different activities—for instance, if a class has already studied a certain lesson before and the teacher wants to add variety to keep the children engaged. If this often happens in your class, why not make yourself an activity portfolio—a collection of various activities that you’ve successfully incorporated, or that you’d like to incorporate, into your lessons?

An activity portfolio can be paper-based or electronic, depending on your preference. A paper-based portfolio could be a set of paper folders or binders that hold copies of different activities in paper form, or it could just be a notebook in which you write down a list of activities. An electronic portfolio could be a collection of PDFs and other documents organized into folders, an Evernote notebook, or a set of boards on Pinterest. Every time you come across a new activity that you’d like to use in your class, you can add it to your portfolio. The next time you’re feeling stuck trying to plan your a lesson, you can open up your portfolio to find inspiration.

Activities can be organized according to type (songs, games, art projects, crafts…), according to general themes or topics, or even according to specific lessons you often use. It helps to note down a bit of information about each activity, if it’s not already included: duration, targeted age or grade level, preparation time, required materials, and even notes about past experience you’ve had with it. Having this kind of information at your fingertips makes it easier to tell if the activity is a good fit for your lesson plan, and what you’ll need to make it happen.

Of course, collecting activities like this is one of the goals of this website, and you can find a variety of them in the activity section. Most of the activities we’ve featured here are ones we’ve had personal experience with in our classes, so you can read about how they went for us. Our Pinterest boards are another great source to go through to find new ideas for activities, too!

a few notes from the regional gathering

We had a wonderful regional gathering for teachers of Baha’i children’s classes recently, and I thought I’d jot down a few notes before I forget. Besides teachers from Ottawa, we were joined by several teachers who are serving in smaller towns just outside the city. Also present were our local and regional coordinators for children’s classes. The focus of our discussions was very practical, starting with a very brief review of some recent guidance from the Universal House of Justice to situate us, then jumping in right away to look at what that guidance meant for each of us.

Besides the systematic training of teachers for successive grades, institutes will need to learn about the formation of classes for distinct age groups in villages and neighbourhoods; the provision of teachers for various classes; the retention of students year after year, grade after grade; and the continued progress of children from a wide variety of households and backgrounds–in short, the establishment of an expanding, sustainable system for child education that will keep pace with both the growing concern among parents for their youngsters to develop sound moral structures and the rise in human resources in the community.  The task, while immense, is relatively straightforward, and we urge institutes everywhere to give it the attention which it so clearly deserves, focusing especially on the implementation of the first three grades of the programme and remembering that the quality of the teaching-learning experience depends, to a great extent, on the capabilities of the teacher.

(The Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 12 December 2011)

Among the questions we were asked to consider:

  • What does an “expanding, sustainable system for child education” look like to us?
  • With reference to the quote “…the quality of the teaching-learning experience depends, to a great extent, on the capabilities of the teacher,” what are some of the capabilities we must develop as teachers of children’s classes?
  • How would a focus on “implementation of the first three grades of the programme” look in our neighbourhoods?

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