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.

the fortress of god’s love (take 1)

Today’s lesson: the fortress of god’s love.

October 24, 2012: Our first lesson from the set on obedience! We started off by reviewing what we had learned about prayer, and segued into the lesson on the love of God as a stronghold. To be honest, it was difficult to keep things rolling smoothly this time, as the children were nice and distracted. We tried to mitigate it by starting off with a name game (since we had a new teacher helping out this week) but I think the cards may have been stacked against us from the start. Anyway, we did our best to present the lesson as quickly and smoothly as possible, but found ourselves swimming upstream through a torrent of hands-up-for-unrelated-stories-about-the-latest-movie-I-saw instead of answering the questions that were being asked. should we have given the children more time to decompress before launching into the class? I don’t know. They did well with the prayers, and showed reverence, courtesy and respect, so we expected the rest to go well. And to be honest, things didn’t go that badly—we just had to switch over to doing stretches in our squares and playing a game sooner than we would have liked, which meant less time for memorizing the quote. We did try our best to explain the quote in our own words, though. Oh well—we’ll have another chance next week. Sometimes up, sometimes down. The children were happy to see the finished poster from last time, and we posted it up on the wall of our hosts’ home, with the mother’s permission. We had a long drawing session too, giving out two things for them to work on: a copy of an imagination worksheet I found on Pinterest recently, and a copy of the drawing for this lesson.

my love is my stronghold

“My love is my stronghold…”

We also discussed with them a painting project for next week’s class: to create a large banner to post up in our host’s home—again with the mother’s permission, and based on our lesson. After some consultation, we figured that the banner would likely feature the following: large letters reading “We love God” or something to that effect; a fortress; a moat; a bridge leading into the fortress; a queen in a carriage; lovely flowers; and sharks with lasers (???) We also plan to copy the quote from this lesson onto the banner, to explain the context (at least, I hope). Wish us lots of luck and confirmations!

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?

prayer, spiritual nourishment

Today’s lesson: prayer, spiritual nourishment.

September 26, 2012: First things first: Class went really well. We had a group of a good size—six children, most of whom participated pretty actively in the lesson. We told everyone we would have a short class because we had to leave for Feast, but we ended up having enough time to cover what we had intended anyway. We started with prayers, and everyone made a really good effort to show reverence. Next we explained the lesson: We asked them how they would feel if they hadn’t eaten during a whole day, and then explained that our soul feels the same way when we go a day without praying. The children seemed to get the idea, which helps to illustrate the idea of spiritual nourishment as compared to material nourishment. We then tackled about half of the quote, explaining difficult words as we went along. Since we’re doubling up the classes (doing the same class two weeks in a row), we generally have enough time to study the entire quote at a slightly more relaxed pace, which helps since many of our students are only learning English as a second (or third) language. And when I say we tackled it, we really tackled it. We sometimes play word games or write words on index cards or add movements to make memorization easier, but this time we just repeated it until we got it—after splitting it into manageable chunks, of course. Next, we got everyone to stand up for the drama exercise, or what we called the Superhero Olympics. Building on what we had discussed earlier, we asked the children to pretend they were performing in certain imaginary “events”, using their bodies and actions to show their strength: jumping into and out of a tall tree, picking up a car (!!!), and completing a sprinting race. Next, we asked them to imagine that they hadn’t eaten in two days (apparently one day wasn’t long enough), and to repeat the “events”, this time pretending to be weak from hunger and exhaustion. We had some pretty good acting going on. This is starting to be my favourite part of the lessons, and I suspect it’s becoming theirs as well. Finally, we had them repeat the events after having an imaginary rest and hearty meal, once again showing their strength. Afterwards, we played a game of “I Spy” (to my surprise—that’s what they came up with), and, to our great delight, we were able to close with prayers that were just as reverent as the opening prayers.

Having worked with earlier versions of the Ruhi curriculum in the past, I really appreciate the way the lessons of Grade 2 are organized, especially the fact that we start off our year with a set of lessons on prayer. I feel as though the focus on prayers is helping the children to get a sense of the importance of that part of our daily routine, by allowing us to discuss it openly with them and explain why we pray. The fact that the children are sitting down for prayers and are showing disciplined reverence indicates that they are getting it, to varying degrees. And they help each other get it, too. One of the children has had a history of being a little scattered and hard to keep engaged in the class, which I always chalked up to the class taking place at her home. She also seemed disinterested in committing quotes to memory and reading prayers. But when one of her schoolmates joined the class and told her that she had put the prayer that we’re learning on her fridge so she could read it every day, it seemed to have an effect on her, as if she was surprised her friend was working on memorization at home. We had a talk with her right afterwards, and she confided that she often felt shy to memorize quotes and prayers because there were too many big, complicated words in them, and she had trouble remembering them all the way through. So we encouraged her to try little bits at a time, and assured her that a prayer is still a prayer even if you only read a few words. Since then, she’s been much more involved in memorizing, and has even offered to read prayers during class. So heartening! It gives me joy just to think about it.

On a related note, most of you probably remember that we’ve identified the need for a junior youth group in the neighbourhood, and we took action to make that happen this week. Quynh, my co-teacher (also my wife), decided to volunteer to animate a junior youth group, bringing them through the book Glimmerings of Hope. Why Glimmerings? Many of the families we’re dealing were living in refugee camps for many years before arriving in Canada, having escaped violent conflict in their native country. Some of the older children and junior youth have witnessed the horrors of this conflict first-hand, and are old enough to remember. Glimmerings follows the story of Kibomi, a 12-year-old boy whose parents are killed in an ethnic conflict, and of the choices he makes as he struggles to make sense of what has happened and meets new friends who show him new possibilities. Suffice to say that it’s a powerful book that speaks to those who have lived through conflict and felt its consequences, and from our conversations with the junior youth, we think it may provide not only a much needed outlet for their questions, but a constructive place for them to exercise positive choices in their lives and the life of their community. Hmmm… we may just have to open up a new blog soon.

truthfulness (take 4)

Today’s lesson: truthfulness.

finishing touchesJuly 3, 2010: Trying it yet again! Outreach again this time. A group of us have been doing outreach in Chinatown and met some families all living in one apartment building who showed interest in a children’s class. After meeting a few times and sharing Anna’s presentation with the families (through a significant language barrier), we finally had a class of sorts, with 4-6 boys (I’d say about 5-8 years old). We played a lot more games than usual for us, and they loved it. in fact the class was mostly games, proportion-wise. all the same, we worked on memorizing “O God, guide me” and the quote on truthfulness. The prayers were amazing, as the older children stayed in quiet meditation for a full minute after the prayers were done–I’ve never seen that in all my time doing children’s classes. My co-teacher suggested it might have been due to their Buddhist background… in any case, it was astounding and MOST welcome, and we’ll encourage them to continue doing this for sure. They loved the story about the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and they seemed to grasp all the concepts well. overall, a great summer class after a very uneventful spring season.

the báb: the gate to bahá’u’lláh

January 24, 2009: 4 kids (three ~9 yr olds; 1 ~5 yr old); 1.5 hr class. Class went surprisingly well, considering. I started out the day by creating a written activity (word search, to go along with the other written activity); went to print things out and my printer wasn’t working. So I figured, OK, I’ll print them at the Baha’i centre. Took a taxi to the Baha’i centre, since class was starting soon. Got there, and the internet was down (it’s been down since last week!?!!?) Gaaaaaaaaah. So I had to come up with everything on the fly. Miraculously, things went ok. We started with prayers right away, without waiting for latecomers. I found that this helped some of our more unruly kids concentrate on the prayers and not lose too much of their attention. One boy came in late though, and this did provide a bit of distraction, but overall everyone was well-behaved during prayers. It was afterwards that everyone got crazy. I gave them too much leeway i think, and allowed them to carry on too long with disruption, and so i lost control of the class. At a few points i managed to stop the distractions with a very firm “No.”, which actually impressed me. Two of the kids had to have a time out while we played simon says, because they were being too unruly and not listening to directions. I’m still not great at discipline, but I think (hope?) I may be learning a little. 😛