old challenges, new day

children's class spreadsheet

I’m back from Vietnam, newly married, and diving back into the fray of life in my home cluster—back to the Chinatown children’s class I’ve been writing about for the past few months (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…) and dealing with new challenges. Oddly enough, at our local reflection meeting, someone told a story of an individual initiative that echoed exactly what’s been happening with our class. He explained how he and his wife had reached out to their neighbours, gathering up about five families who agreed to support a children’s class in their home. “It started out well,” he explained, “but as time went on, fewer and fewer people came.” Week after week, he contacted each family, and, from one week to the next, they would give some sort of reason why they couldn’t come—too tired, too cold, late lunch, family visit, whatever. It got to the point where he was wondering whether it was worth it to continue holding the class each week; why bother holding the class if there’s only one child?

Our team has been dealing with this same issue in the past month—or so I’m told, since I’ve been away—it seems like family after family has been dropping out of their commitment to the class. It’s not like we’re going to give up, of course. I’ve been teaching children’s classes long enough to see the same kind of thing happen, and I’m determined to learn how to get past it. Still, it’s a real poser. When I first got back, we consulted and decided we had to find out why the families in question had dropped out. We investigated, and found that part of the answer might have been lack of interest in the class. The parents had never really insisted that their children come—they just left it up to the children, saying, “If they want to go, we’ll take them”. Apparently the children just didn’t want to come anymore. That sent the gears in our heads turning, thinking, how can we make the class more attractive to the children?

We identified a few strategies: first was to find better activities, and a more engaging format. We use a calendar to plan our classes (see above), so we added columns for each type of activity so we could plan several weeks in advance which craft, story, game, etc., we would feature for each class. That way, we would be better prepared for each class, and could incorporate more complex and engaging activities, ones that require more preparation than the ones listed in Ruhi Book 3. We had already decided beforehand to repeat each lesson two weeks in a row, and to use different activities each week to avoid too much repetition. We decided to increase the length of the classes from 1.5 hours to 2 hours, with a snack break in between (everyone loves snacks), splitting the class time into two portions. The first portion would be dedicated to the lesson: a few minutes of “presenting” the lesson, time to memorize a quote, and selected activities. The second portion would be devoted to arts and crafts, so that children could go home having accomplished something creative, yet still related to the lesson. Children who finish the craft quickly would be given a drawing or colouring exercise (dependent on age); drawing exercises (click for an example) would include some writing work as well.

This is a current issue for us, and in the next few months we’ll be focusing on class quality and outreach to gather more families into our community of interest. What a joy it is to make a commitment to learning about the core activities—there’s certainly not a boring moment.

service (take 4)

Today’s lesson: service.

After our team meeting this morning, we quickly drove over to the centre to find several of the parents already waiting for us inside with their children—a total of eight kids right off the bat. Some of the newer parents stayed at the side during the class. So many kids arriving early meant we had little time to prepare before the class; we may have to re-evaluate our preparation habits to compensate… we’d love to hear your experiences with preparing for children’s classes and any tips you may have to share.

We started with a few prayers; …. and I recited one, and one of the children did too. Since we had so many new faces present, we went around and introduced ourselves by giving our name, our age and what languages we spoke. Many of the children said they spoke mainly English and Tagalog, and I told them that we were counting on them to teach us how to speak Tagalog properly. Then we practiced the prayer we began learning last week, using the step method (adding a little at a time, and repeating). Next, we taught them the song “Look At Me” and sang it together; it’s an easy song that everyone seemed to pick up rapidly. After the song, we asked them if they remembered who ‘Abdu’l-Baha was, and used that to introduce the topic of service, which led into memorizing the quote and then into the story of ‘Abdu’l-Baha sending Lua Getsinger to visit the sick man. Everyone went quiet at the end, so I’m guessing it touched them.

After the story, we played the game noted in Book 3, “Help the Sick”, which involved locking wrists together and carrying each other across the floor to the “hospital”, which they all loved. I felt we were rushing through it a little, but at least we ended up with enough time to do the colouring at the end of class. We limited the number of colouring pens again, to test how well the children could share the colours, and they all seemed to do quite well. I took some time during the colouring to pass handouts to the parents, asking them to use them to study the material from the class (the song, quote, etc) with the children to help them remember.  We ended the class by getting back together and singing “Look At Me” one more time.

Overall, it was obvious that the home visits we’ve been doing with the parents have made a big difference; our interactions with them seem to be warm and loving (if still a little unfamiliar), and they already seem to be getting comfortable with us, and with taking their children to the class. It really seems to be a boon to us to be holding the class somewhere that’s already a hub of activity for them; they know exactly where it is and are comfortable with bringing their kids over. It truly does feel like a neighbourhood class.

Thanks to all of you for walking with us and serving with us. This truly is a captivating and exciting journey to be on.

modesty and moderation in dress

Today’s lesson: modesty and moderation in dress.

4 children, 1 helper. This class went miraculously well, considering how little I had planned—but we had overflow activities from the past few weeks (the masks from our lesson on unity and diversity, etc). We started with prayers, skipped to a song (after hearing the kids demand a story!) and then a short game of Simon Says. I didn’t want to read a story just because they asked, because I didn’t have one planned and I was worried it would just throw me off and make us lose momentum. Note to self: need to work on flexibility—come up with a story to go with this lesson. 😛

The kids liked the topic of modesty and moderation; I introduced it by saying we would be talking about clothes and they all but exploded. (not sure why. maybe i’m out of touch.) They related easily to it and seemed to understand the point of modesty as “not trying to show off” or grab people’s attention. I prepared an activity sheet for them to work on at the end of class, which went pretty well. We talked about the different kinds of clothes people wear in different places, and what modesty meant in different cultures. To end off, we invited them to design their own (modest, moderate) clothes, which the girls especially loved.

avoiding gossip and backbiting (take 2)

Today’s lesson: avoiding gossip and backbiting.

October 18, 2008: 1.5 hours, 7 children, ages 5 to 9. This class went well; after an unpleasant attempt at going solo two weeks ago, I ensured we had another teacher present, and things went much more smoothly. We had two new children present, and their mother stayed for the class to help them feel more comfortable. The parents of one of our regular children also informed us that their child had been having behavioural problems at school, which was reflected in the class as well—but at least he didn’t melt down, and we found ways to encourage him (for reading a prayer beautifully, for example).  Anyway! After prayers (I suspect we really have to assign prayers rather than let everybody flip through the books), we started on the lesson, about avoiding backbiting.  Some of the kids had a tough time maintaining their focus—that’s actually pretty normal. I also have to learn not to waffle as much when I present the lessons.  More about that in a forthcoming post.

Next, we all stood up together and played Simon Says, which seemed to help them focus. Next, we presented the day’s game—a scavenger hunt of virtues.  Strips of paper were hidden throughout the Baha’i Centre with qualities written on them: some good, some bad.  The kids were instructed to ignore the strips with “bad” qualities written on them, and to bring back the ones with “good” qualities.  In that way, we demonstrated how to “overlook” the faults of others—which, itself, just happened to be one of the “good” qualities they had to find.  The game was a success, and it was different enough from a usual scavenger hunt to challenge the kids.  They couldn’t just pick up any old strip of paper; they had to read it and analyze whether it was worth bringing back!  Once all the strips (9 of them, of course) were found, we incorporated them into a textured collage, where they glued one of the virtues onto a paper backing along with several other types of material (like aluminum foil, crumpled paper, old denim, yarn, and so on) to remind them of how we should focus on the “good” qualities even if they are surrounded by not-so-good ones.

Lessons learned from this class?  Make sure all your activities support one central theme, so that the kids have the entire class to soak up the lesson (even if they’re not listening at the start!)  Also, it pays to have teaching support.  It pays big time!  That makes me think—I should start rewarding volunteers with donuts or something…

downloads

We’ve developed the following materials for our own children’s classes over the years; you might find some of them useful just as they are, or they might help inspire you to create your own materials on different themes.

Our downloadable materials are now divided by language for easier searching.

english

Materials for children's classes in English. Continue reading

français

Matériels pour les classes d'enfants en français. Continue reading

español

Materiales para las clases de los niños en español. Continue reading

tiếng việt

Vật liệu cho các lớp thiếu nhi trong tiếng Việt. Continue reading

Note: These materials are freely available for copying and sharing under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Do you have materials you’d like to share with us and the world? Get in touch with us!

 

truthfulness (take 3)

Today’s lesson: truthfulness.

December 5, 2007: 1 hour, 3 children, average age 8. Outreach class. wow. pretty interesting class. discipline went well even though we had some normally feisty kids in the class – things have gone better since we introduced the painting activity, which has given our more tactile/kinesthetic learners a stronger reason to engage themselves in the class. after reading prayers and singing two songs (“Tell the Truth” and “Blessed is the Spot”), we memorized the quotation (“Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues”), which brought us into a discussion about what a “foundation” means. I think we got the idea across well enough—we introduced the idea of the foundation of a house, and how a house would fall over if it didn’t have a good enough foundation; we then compared our souls to those houses, and explained that without truthfulness, our “soul houses” (as it were) would have nothing to stand on, just like a real house. We then launched into the story—which I hammed up a great deal, but which again seemed to have gotten the point across—and, to end off the class, we had about five or ten minutes to paint with the kids. usually we have more time to paint, but I guess I hammed up the story a little too much!

One of the children told me something interesting that made me think; I’ll share with you an abridged version. She said she had gotten into the habit of lying about little things, for example, making a mess in the house—and then blaming said mess on one of her younger sisters out of the fear of punishment. When guilt finally overtook her later on, she would confess the truth to her parents, at which point she would be punished—perhaps worse than if she had told the truth in the first place. We encouraged her to see that as a good reason to tell the truth up front, but instead she cited the inevitable punishments as being “why I don’t tell the truth anymore”. yikes. How do you go about helping a child to learn to love telling the truth when they come out with something like that? (comments welcome…)