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.

cooperation and reciprocity (take 1)

Today’s lesson: cooperation and reciprocity.

May 25, 2013: 6 children, ages 8-11. Our first week with this lesson, based on Lesson 12 in Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2, Set 4. We spent most of the time going over the quote for the lesson: “The supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity.” The quote is actually quite simple, so once we tackled the big words—like “cooperation” and “reciprocity”—the children got it pretty well. We wrote one or two words on sheets of paper and had the children mix them up and put them back together in different ways: standing them up on a windowsill, having them hold them up above their heads and stand in the correct order, and so on.

We also briefly touched upon the story of Nettie Tobin and the founding of the Bahá’í House of Worship, although we didn’t have the time to go through it as completely as we had liked. One of our co-teachers was at the House of Worship for the annual Choral Festival this week, so we tied that into our explanation and showed them a few photos, which they really loved.

Reflecting on this class, I should note how nice it is to have a class consist of children in a narrow age range, as it really simplifies things. We can count on them to have a roughly similar reading level and attention span, for instance. The feeling of not having to work at two speeds—balancing precariously between making younger children feel overwhelmed and making older children feel bored—helps take some weight off our shoulders.

how do we pray?

Today’s lesson: how do we pray?

October 17, 2012: It’s been about a month and a half that our neighbourhood children’s class has been focusing on prayer, as part of the lessons given in Grade 2 of the Ruhi Institute’s curriculum. This week we had a class of six children—three boys and three girls, ranging in age from five to nine—and one junior youth who just turned twelve. Of course, we’ve been working to establish a regular junior youth group in the neighbourhood to engage the many young people in that age group; it’s been slow going, but as we work at it and get to know the people in the neighbourhood and explore their networks, we strengthen the foundations of the group. We’ll have more news on it as that comes.

A word about the topic: I must say that thanks in no small part to the past few lessons, the quality of our prayer time is markedly different from previous classes I’ve had the pleasure to teach. I mentioned before that I really appreciate the way Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2 is laid out in sets, with the first set giving us three whole lessons on the topic of prayer at the very start of the curriculum, which we’ve split up into six whole weeks of reinforcement on the subtle art of praying. This week’s lesson deals with the mechanics of prayer, and we talked about what we do with all the parts of us when we pray: close our eyes, put our hands together or cross our arms, and clear our minds of the things of the world, so we can show humility and reverence in the presence of God. One idea we had was to create a poster with one of the drawings from Ruhi Book 3 that features children praying, and to use it to show the children what sort of posture we can take with our bodies when we pray.

four part poster

A pretty prayerful poster.

The children had a better time with the quote for this lesson, since it’s a little shorter than some of the others in this set. This being Grade 2, the readings we study tend to be longer with more complicated words, which is fine for native speakers but a bit of a test for people (such as many of the children in our class) who are only just learning English. We’ve noticed some progress, though—at least one of the children has been with the class since Grade 1, and her capacity—and engagement with the class—have grown steadily since, to the point where we can consider her to be one of the key participants. The issue of language is still a sticking point for everyone, and it seems to be especially discouraging for the boys, who often end up distracted during the memorization section of the class, going off to sit on the couch and read picture books or play computer games, which is always a black hole that sucks the attention away from the rest of the class. How do we deal with it? By doing our best to make our activities, well, active. Our best memorization happens when we present it with a dynamic attitude, incorporating movement, music, rhythm—anything that brings it out of a purely verbal mode to a mixed mode of learning. An example would be the step game we came up with during one of our very first neighbourhood “outreach” classes. We’ve been trying out ways of using images and pictures to represent words, too—for example, in this lesson, the children took pictures representing certain complicated words and glued them in the order they appeared in the quote, and we used these to recite the quote without looking at the words. Lesson learned: It’s not easy to find a picture that represents the word “essence”. As well, we’ve started creating worksheets that the children can work on in class, for example, drawing lines between the pictures and the words they represent, as well as their definitions. The parents, who are also learning English in city language schools, jumped on the chance and filled out their sheets too. Is this what one might call potential for social action?

intense week

This post was also blogged at doberman pizza.

well it’s been an intense week for sure. the Ottawa Baha’i community held another reflection meeting last Saturday, launching the eighth cycle of its intensive program of growth.

JARGON WATCH: basically what this means is that a bunch of people got together to reflect on and discuss the growth, vitality and vision of the Baha’i community, to share their best practices and to set goals. An “intensive program of growth”, which is composed of many “cycles” marked by these “reflection meetings”, is basically a way for Baha’is (and those who throw their lot in with them) to manage the growth of the Baha’i community and channel their efforts to bring the Message of Bahá’u’lláh to those who are out there waiting for it.

it was a blast, as usual; there were lots of young people there, junior youth (12-14 yrs) and youth (15+ yrs) alike. That was awesome and really encouraging. we put someone on a table and lifted them up with only our fingers. apart from that, of course, we had time to knock heads together and make plans for the next few months: how we would help the core activities grow and evolve, etc.

MORE JARGON WATCH: there are four generally recognized “core activities” of Baha’i community life, all of which are, in essence, open to all people no matter what their faith: (1) “devotional meetings”, which consist of shared prayer and readings that bring a group closer to God / a Higher Power; (2) “study circles”, in which groups use the study of principles found in the Baha’i Writings to understand how they apply in real-world situations of service; (3) “children’s classes”, which are classes for the moral and spiritual education of children; (4) “junior youth groups”, in which 12- to 14-year-old youth use spiritual principles to understand the world around them and to bridge the gap between childhood and adolescence.

I spent a bit of time sharing the plan for our children’s class… it’s a complicated animal. So far it looks like we will be moving towards splitting the class into two groups: one for older children (say, 9-11) and one for younger children (~5-8). We’ve also discussed holding a devotional meeting open to parents, family and friends – we’re looking for ways that parents and family can naturally become more involved in the children’s spiritual education, and sharing prayer time with them in the format of a devotional meeting may just be the thing. also on the map are home visits with parents and family to follow up on the parents’ meeting we had last October – they haven’t had much regular communication from us and it’d be about time to bring them each up to speed no?

age gaps

just a few words about the difficulties inherent in teaching a class with a wide age spread. we’ve always advertised our class as open to kids from around five to ten years of age. for the first little while, that wasn’t a big problem; most of our kids ended up being around the same age—five to seven—with only a few outliers. Lately, however, we’ve been seeing a more diverse range of ages. At one of our latest classes, we had three distinct clumps of ages: 5-6, 7-8, and 10-11. Any teacher worth his or her salt knows (or so I’m told) that the needs and capacities of each of these groups is vastly different. When we plan a class, we plan specific activities that appeal mainly to our core group, which is, let’s say, around age seven. Unfortunately, we often see the older children sitting off to the side and getting bored because the material is too simple for them, while the younger children stare blankly and get bored because the material is too complicated for them. There doesn’t seem to be a simple solution to this problem besides splitting the class into different age groups. We’ve often raised this possibility for our class, but we’ve never done it simply because of logistical reasons (do we feel ready to run two or more classes simultaneously?)

I don’t have a conclusion to this post, since we’re still living with and dealing with this situation. Any comments or from experienced children’s class teachers out there would be greatly appreciated.

kindness to animals (take 1)

Today’s lesson: kindness to animals.

June 3, 2006: 2 hours, 5 children, average age 6-7. Apparently, the class went quite well – I was out of town for the weekend, so I wasn’t there to take part. We had two versions of the story available to read (our class operates in French, so we had to find translations). The versions we found used language that was a bit difficult for the children to understand, so the story was read once more in paraphrase to make sure everybody got it.

Once the story was done, we made time for drama – we started by miming animals and having the rest of the kids guess what animal was being mimed. Afterwards, the children broke into groups and performed the skits as described above. It seems like they did well with these – I was afraid that there might have been problems with the kids being too rough, but that doesn’t seem to have been an issue. Once the skits were done, it was colouring time – we had prepared two drawings, one of a lion and one of a mouse, to go along with the story. Everyone in our class seems to love drawing and colouring time. They love getting their hands on the pens and colouring in different images.

There seemed to have been two main problems during this class: first was that the materials we prepared didn’t last long enough, leaving us with jumping and screaming kids rampaging around inside at the end of the class (it was raining, so we couldn’t take them outside); second was the uncooperative attitude that some of the younger members of the class displayed. The first is relatively easy to take care of – we just have to be able to come up with more activities to have on hand during the class (potentially crafts, which are popular because of the hands-on aspect). The second isn’t so easy to resolve and has been a challenge with our class from the get-go. To be honest, it’s difficult to conduct a class for a wide age range (our oldest member is going on 11 (almost a junior youth!), and our youngest member is still 4 years old). Perhaps we need to split into several groups at some point in our class, so that each group can take part in age-appropriate activities that may better stimulate them and allow them to develop the capacities they’re struggling to develop. But what’s the difference? That’s what I’m wondering. I’ve become comfortable dealing with the older children (say, 7 to 10), but I admit that I still have a lot to learn about dealing with the younger children (4 to 6) in ways that really support their development. Any comments from readers?