December 6, 2015: 1.5 hours, 3 children, ages 6–9. Pretty good class with some good teamwork this week. One of our families was away, so we had fewer children in attendance, but it was fun all the same. Instead of having them work in their workbooks, we had the children create their own personal prayer books, for storing prayers and quotes that they learn throughout the year. The point of these is to give the children something to read from when it’s time to say prayers. We picked up a book of craft paper, folded it around ten pages or so of lined paper, and punched holes in the side to allow us to bind the whole thing together with ribbon. They enjoyed the craft; let’s see how much use they get out of the books now that they’re done!
The rest of the class went pretty well. The children were a little less eager to say prayers this week, but hey, there are on and off days. Studying the prayer and practicing the song were easy; the prayer was the same as last time, and the song was easier to learn than the previous one. We included a story and a game in the day’s schedule, but as the class progressed we realized that we were running out of time; we also needed ten minutes at the end of the class for a country presentation. So after we were done preparing the lesson, we ended up moving back over to the craft table to give them time to finish up their work on their prayer books. It’s a bummer, because we didn’t spend a lot of time on activities that directly supported the lesson—only the song was directly related, really. Hopefully we can do “part two” of this lesson next week, though, and make a little more time for the extra activities.
The country presentation was about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as told by one of our Bahá’í friends who had grown up there. The older children studiously took notes as she was presenting(!), writing things like where it is, the fact that it has not only lots of jungle but also big cities (For instance, the capital Kinshasa has ten million people in it), what kinds of special foods people eat there, what language they speak, and what kinds of endangered animals live there. All in all, it was an engaging presentation that gave a good overview of the country.
I must admit that I was skeptical about adding the country presentations to the class at first, but they all turn out to be pretty interesting, even if they’re not directly related to the topic of the lesson. It’s nice to have that extra element of cultural discovery in our classes, since it helps the children discover what’s outside the bubble of their own culture. I just hope we can make sure to focus enough on the topic during the rest of the class, which I feel like we didn’t do this week—that is, we spent a lot of time talking about things other than generosity. Maybe we can work on that next week; we’ll have someone in to do a presentation on Australia, so we’ll see how that goes.
So far during the month of January, our Chinatown class has gone through four lessons on the themes of truthfulness, steadfastness, humility, and preferring others before oneself. We started off at the beginning of January (the 2nd) with a special three-hour class, which we hoped would be attended by a large number of families so that we could start off with a bang—of course, things don’t always go the way we would hope. Class size has fluctuated between three to five children each week, and due to how busy some of the families are, we’ve also run into some punctuality problems. So far, though, we’ve managed to get most of the children to memorize at least one prayer—”O God, Guide Me”—and are working on having them memorize the second one suggested in Book 3—the one that goes “I am earthly, make me heavenly”. We got together as a teaching team and discussed curriculum; the plan is to finish the lessons from Book 3, and then continue by introducing the lessons of the Furutan curriculum, given in the books Baha’i Education for Children.
The three-hour class went remarkably well; I haven’t tried to go that long with a class in a while, and was pleasantly refreshed to see that we had enough material to keep the children engaged, having fun and learning through the whole time. After praying and singing a few of our favourite songs, we plunged straight into memorizing the well-known Baha’i quote, “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues”. We tried explaining it in terms of the foundation of a building; I’m not sure whether the analogy helped them or confused them. I keep wondering about how good their command of English is, since most of them have only lived in Canada for a year, and I seem to end up explaining a lot of the words. Perhaps that’s actually normal for kids of their age (~6-7 years), and I’ve been coddled by only having gifted children to teach in the past. Well, whatever. This makes for great teaching experience. The second half of the class, after a healthy snack, consisted of putting together a house out of wooden stir-sticks—illustrating how virtues can be a “foundation” for human spiritual life—and a dramatic presentation of the day’s story, which was a retelling of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. It was actually my first time successfully “doing” drama with the kids in a children’s class; we did it by eschewing a script and instead giving the children their roles and lines verbally, with extensive narration by one of the teachers. We had two children playing the mother and father, and one playing the titular character. The children took their cues from the narrator, acting out whatever the story said. The whole thing worked out well, I had my directorial debut, and they got a real kick from acting out the story.
The next two classes dealt with slightly more abstract themes, and I noticed that we had a tougher time getting the message across to all of the kids. During both the lesson on steadfastness and the lesson on humility, they seemed to have trouble understanding the theme, and I had to explain it a few times, leaving me wondering what they had come away with. I found that the description of Book 3 seemed to go a little over their heads, so I tried to explain humility to the children the following way: God is big and powerful, and we, on the other hand, are so small and weak by comparison. Humility is just remembering how big and powerful God is, and how small and weak we are. When we remember that we depend on God for everything, we stop thinking that we’re better than anyone else around us. It took us most of the class time to get to that point of understanding, though. I think we got it by the end, but of course, as suggested in Book 3 itself, we’ll have to repeat it later on to be sure.
Regarding steadfastness, I was pleased to see that nobody came away with nightmares from the story of Ruhu’llah and his father, which I decided to tell in its entirety, though as non-graphically as I could. I’ve heard Baha’is express misgivings about telling a story in which the main character, a young boy dedicated to teaching and spreading God’s message, watches his father die before him only to die himself after refusing to recant his faith—but, besides having to make certain disclaimers, I’ve never heard either parents or children object to the story. On one occasion, a child reacted with anxiety to think that children could be killed in such a way, at which point the parent on hand explained that, while such things may have happened in that place at that time (19th-century Persia), we don’t have to worry about it happening to us here in Canada, which seemed to bring the anxiety level down. I made sure to give the same disclaimer this time, and nobody even made a peep—which, again, made me wonder whether they had understood what I was saying… oh well.