prayer, a loving conversation with god (take 5)

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

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.

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.

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.

consultation brings unity (take 2)

Today’s lesson: consultation brings unity.

May 30, 2014: 7 children, aged 6–10. The weather has been really beautiful lately, so when the children asked if we could sit outside for class we gladly obliged. Normally, this also helps us to attract other children who are playing outside, but this time very few people were around—as we found out later, there was a family gathering taking place, and they only came out around the end of class.

Things started out fairly well, but we had some hiccups—probably due to a combination of things: lack of coordination between teachers before the class, the general lack of a “game plan” on discipline, and the perennial issue of age gaps. First, we (as teachers) found ourselves conferring together several times during the class to discuss next steps, which led to breaks in discipline. Second, we ended up having some disruptive behaviour involving one of our young friends who joined late—the younger sibling of one of our long-time students—which we should have expected. I’m not really happy with the way I handled the situation: Although he seemed to be the source of most of the disruption, I feel like I singled him out a little too much without acknowledging that others were also involved in distracting behaviours (like tearing grass from the ground). Our preferred course of action, of course, would be to have him attend the class aimed at younger children that’s meant to begin next week, but there’s no telling whether he’ll accept to attend it, as his older brothers (including a 13-year-old who hasn’t yet shown interest in a junior youth group) will be attending class right next door to his home. We’ll see how this plays out soon, as we’re scheduled to begin the new class for younger children next week.

The positive side? Well, this is one of those times that make us appreciate having co-teachers, as we managed to get a hold of discipline while keeping activities going for the rest of the children. Things did quiet down in the end, and I did follow up with our young friend afterwards to let him know that I appreciated his effort to restrain himself during the rest of the class. After splitting into two activity stations—one for colouring and drawing, and one for a puzzle that spelled out “unity”—we released the children to play soccer/football with their cousins who had assembled outside. We took the opportunity to mingle with the families, some of whom used to live in the neighbourhood, and whom we hadn’t seen in a long time. I hung around a little longer, and spent time talking to a very pure-hearted youth about prayer, faith, patience, and growing up.

consultation brings unity (take 1)

Today’s lesson: consultation brings unity.

May 23, 2014: 8 children, aged 6–13(!). This was a fun, and slightly crazy, class with plenty of movement. We started a new lesson today, after having spent the past few weeks introducing the topic of consultation. The class started and ended early to accommodate our host family, who had to leave to attend a family get-together. Two girls from the neighbourhood who hadn’t attended the class in a while showed up, which was great to see. After starting with prayers, we reviewed the story of the king’s elephant from Lesson 19 in Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2, and then launched into the meat of Lesson 20, beginning with some warm-up games.

After doing our regular stretches, we asked the children to pick a role to play, one that would fit well in a village: teacher, police officer, nurse, grocer, student, etc. We then explained the scenario from the lesson, in which a village ends up in the path of a hurricane, leaving the whole place a mess. The children, in their different roles, had to come together and consult on what measures they should take to deal with the crisis and help life return to normal. As you can guess, there was delightful chaos as the children pantomimed getting blown across the room by the hurricane. With some difficulty, we managed to steer them back towards the point, asking them what problems needed taking care of in the village. At first, things seemed dire. No food! Thousands of bodies littering the streets! Zombie disease everywhere! But as we calmed down from the adrenaline rush and started to consult in earnest, we realized that, hey, the grocery store still had food, and the grocer was willing to give it away to help with the disaster relief. The nurse and doctor organized volunteers to bring injured villagers to the hospital, and the police helped to maintain calm.

Overall, it was a fun class, but a crazy one. The huge disparity in ages accentuated this, as usual. The good news is that we’ve done enough outreach to begin a new class for younger children further down the street, which, if all goes as expected, will be starting in June.

god, our true friend (take 3)

Today’s lesson: god is our true friend.

July 6, 2013: 3 children, aged 6–10. Our third class on the topic of being a true friend. Summer is a very busy time for our children, who seem to have a packed schedule of extracurricular activities this season. The big thing this week was a football (soccer) tournament, which sucked up about half of our class right off the bat, leaving us with our two girls and the six-year-old younger brother who’s been coming for the past few weeks. This week he was visibly more agitated, maybe because his brother and older cousins—who he was visibly attached to and looked up to—were gone, and he was stuck with the girls. He got through the prayers with some difficulty, restlessly moving around in his chair and muttering. We began introducing the day’s activity, in which the children would practice telling the story of the prisoners in the Siyáh-Chál on their own. Unfortunately, his patience didn’t last very long, and despite our entreaties, he got up and left, going back home (his home was in the next building over). We haven’t had many younger children showing up for class in recent months, so the whole issue of age gaps hasn’t come up as much as it once did. I’m left pondering now, though, whether it might be time to start up a new class to welcome the younger generation with a more age-appropriate curriculum.

In any case, the two girls remained and practiced the story, committing its key elements to memory with the help of the visual cue cards we had prepared. One of the girls—a ten-year-old, our resident actress—delivered the story quite well, and the younger one, an eight-year-old, also gave a good overview, albeit with a little more difficulty. I’m always reminded of the guidance given in Book 3, which states that each child has his or her own potential that needs to be discovered, developed, and put to good use—whether it’s skill in acting and eloquent storytelling, or in enthusiasm and leadership. Ours is the duty to help mine and polish these gems present in their character.