justice (take 6)

Today’s lesson: justice.

January 20, 2019: 2 hours, 8 children, ages 4–9. Our second lesson on justice, and our busiest and fullest class yet! For the past few weeks we’ve had new children joining, but only 5 of them or so would be able to come each week. This week was the first time we had all of the kids show up, along with one more newcomer, bringing us up to eight children attending.

This week, we basically revisited the same activities as last time, with a few additions. We repeated the activity with the scales from last time, although this time we expanded our explanation a bit: To show justice, a shopkeeper will only charge customers for the true value of the goods they’re buying—no more. And of course, the shopkeeper must have accurate scales to know exactly how much the customer is buying. So this time around, the children had to be careful to get the scales exactly equal to each other—or as close to equal as possible. It was challenging, but they seemed to enjoy it.

Children sorting a number of cards with pictures on them.

We had a lot of players for the giving game, so we got to stress-test the game, as it were. It was fun and got the message across, but we noticed that it needed a lot of explanation for them to understand how to play. And to be honest, that’s happened each time that we’ve played this game. It ends up being fun, but we end up stopping play to explain what to do next. I guess we need to learn how best to explain the game, and then write everything down so that it’s clearer. That, or we need to start each game with a practice round, so that the children have a better idea of how to play with each other. Or maybe this game is just above the level of your average five-year-old, and we should reserve it for higher grades—say, Grade 2?

We also played the shark game, which everyone loved; when the paper got so small that only one child could stand on it at a time, the bigger children picked up and carried the smaller ones, which got big laughs from everyone. I feel like this is the flip side of our perennial complaints about age gaps: When you have older children in the class with the younger ones, they get to interact together in ways that you wouldn’t have happening if the class was all young kids, and that’s kind of precious. But perhaps it shows that an ideal situation would be to have multiple grades attending classes at the same time, with breaks between lessons offering all the children the chance to play and socialize together. Sounds like the building blocks of a Bahá’í school, right?

Speaking of school, the larger class size this time around meant that the issues with class discipline that we encountered last week showed up even more, and we had a harder time keeping everything under control. I guess that should be a reminder to us: Don’t forget to review the rules, especially when you have new children joining the class. (It didn’t help that we had the rules on the whiteboard and they got erased by overzealous artists, of course.) Along with having more children attending, there was another wrinkle that upset the balance of the class: Two of the children don’t get along with each other, and keep on getting each other’s nerves, which leads to more outbursts during class. Oh well… more gems to tease out from the mine of their souls, I suppose.

justice (take 5)

Today’s lesson: justice.

January 13, 2019: 2 hours, 5 children, ages 5–8. We started on our first lesson on justice this week, after a few weeks of focusing on having a pure, kindly, and radiant heart. As I mentioned before, we’ve decided to revisit each lesson in Book 3, Grade 1 a few times, so that we have enough time for the lessons to sink in. I’m writing this report well after the fact, so it’s a little shorter than usual.

When we planned this lesson, we couldn’t decide on which aspect of justice to focus on, so it was a little bit scattered. We ended up covering two different aspects: Justice as knowing what something is truly worth (i.e. justly appraising something); and justice as making sure everyone has what they need (i.e. social/economic justice). For the first, we prepared an activity with makeshift scales we built with leftover styrofoam from packages of food; and for the second, we prepared cards to play the giving game during the follow-up lesson. Both of them were well-received, although we saw that the children didn’t seem to understand the activity with the scales so well. The idea was to weigh seashells from the beach against grains of rice, to show that even though one grain of rice is very light, they become very heavy when you have a lot of them—even as heavy as a bunch of seashells. It was a good activity, but maybe it was too much for us to try and focus on two different aspects of the theme?

One big thing that we noticed this time: After three lessons so far, the children were becoming much more comfortable with the atmosphere in the class—perhaps a little too comfortable. I’ve found that this is usually about the time that the children start to test the teacher’s limits, to see what they can get away with in the class. You know, fooling around while the teacher is speaking, or laughing during prayers, poking each other, and so on. As a result, we had to do more intervention than before in order to maintain discipline in the class.

pure, kindly, and radiant hearts (take 3)

Today’s lesson: pure, kindly and radiant hearts.

December 16, 2018: 4 children, aged 5–10. It’s been a while since our last update! I’ll post a little something to tell the story of what we’ve been up to lately, but first, a class report about the first gathering of our new children’s class, using Grade 1 of the Ruhi Book 3 curriculum.

We started the class with a mix of four children: Two five-year-olds, one nine-year-old and one ten-year-old. One of the five-year-olds is from a Bahá’í family, and the rest are his friends, who we invited after speaking to their parents to explain the nature of the class. At the beginning of class, we took a few moments to explain about the expected atmosphere, and asked the children to think of some rules for us to observe during the class. We settled on the following five rules, which we felt made for a good start:

  • Listen to the teacher
  • Keep ourselves and the classroom clean
  • Sit quietly and reverently during prayers
  • No chatting/side conversations during class
  • One person speaks at a time

Next, we said a few words about prayer. We explained that when praying, we were conversing with God. We might pray for someone to get better when they’re sick, we explained, or we might pray for good results on our schoolwork, or for any number of things. The children were familiar with certain forms of prayer—all of them had visited a pagoda before, or worshipped at the family altars that are so ubiquitous in Vietnam—so it wasn’t a big stretch for them to understand. Following that, we invited the children to say prayers. The child from the Bahá’í family said a Bahá’í prayer he had learned, and one of the others said a Buddhist prayer she had learned. Afterwards, we started memorizing the prayer, “O God! Guide me…”. After writing it on the board, we recited it word by word. Then, we began erasing some of the words and replacing them with pictures, making a sort of rebus.

Once we were done going through the prayer, we wrote the quotation down on the board, looking at the words “pure”, “kindly”, “radiant”, and “heart”, and explaining what they mean together. To illustrate, we launched into an experiment: Taking some thick, black Vietnamese coffee, a cup, a pitcher of water, and a wash basin, we showed what happens when we act unkindly by pouring the coffee into the cup: We get a dark, gloomy, and radiant heart. To improve the situation, we added water, representing acts of kindness. The more water (kindness) we poured in, the clearer the contents of the cup became, until finally, we had a clear and radiant cup (heart) once more. Each of the children had a turn pouring water into the cup until all of the coffee was gone (overflowing into the wash basin).

We finished the class with some time to draw, asking each of the children to draw something that they read about in the prayer or the quotation. For example, one drew a brilliant star; another drew an umbrella (for “protect me”, as in, protect me from the rain)… We also wanted to play the game “The Burning Thirst”, but we ran out of time, and so we played it after some of the kids had started to leave.

All in all, it was a great class. The children loved it, and some of the parents told us that the message had an impact—they caught their kids saying “don’t do that, you don’t want to have a dark and gloomy heart!” After this positive start, we’re thinking that we should be able to invite more kids for the next round, perhaps even doubling the size of the class. Stay tuned!

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?