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. 😛

unity in diversity

Today’s lesson: unity in diversity.

more masks6 kids, a few 5-yr-olds, a few 9-yr-olds. 1.5 hrs. Class was successful thanks to the quality of the help! My brother came to help with the activity, and he also helped out with maintaining order. It really makes a difference having someone in the class who actually knows how to maintain discipline. He did a fantastic job.

This week’s activity was papier-maché masks to celebrate unity and diversity week (November 9 to 15, 2008). This is one of those times where I was so engrossed with the craft that I forgot to really develop the theme, but with brother there it went well. He basically ran with what I started out with and ended up presenting the whole lesson; he was also very firm with discipline and gave the kids a structure to fit into—which he spoke to me about afterwards. Let’s just say I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’ll be doing some serious reflection on discipline in the next little while.

Other reflections? Definitely need to work on developing the class’s theme, maybe through having a better plan for the activities. If I’d thought ahead a little more, we could have had sample masks or mask designs available to inspire the kids in their designs. The whole thing took a lot longer than I had expected, too—since everything had to dry, of course—which limited what we were able to accomplish. Overall, lots of food for thought from this lesson 😛

don’t hurt people’s feelings

Today’s lesson: not hurting people’s feelings.

October 25, 2008: 9 kids(!), ages 6-9. 1.5 hrs.  Class was not too bad at all. we took the extra step this class of putting up a poster with the ground rules that we defined during last week’s class.  if nothing else, this helped the children remember the rules, and in the long term it should help the class become a little more manageable (“what’s rule #4?”)

we played a number of games today, and it worked out just as well, because I didn’t have the time to prepare the craft real well. a very bright spot was that the same parent who stayed for her children’s first class stayed again today, and indicated her desire to continue staying in the class throughout the year, in order to have some extra time with her children (being a single mother, she doesn’t have the chance to be with them all the time). having her in the class made it much more livable; otherwise, I would have been alone, and it would have been a lot more difficult to handle everyone.  the class built on the previous week’s theme of backbiting, and focused on gossip, using the “scattering feathers” story, which seemed to have an impact on the kids. (yay!) for some reason, toys seemed to start drifting into the classroom as the lesson continued; new rule required, perhaps? after we ended up with a squeaky ball on our hands (which I confiscated, along with a sort of LED taser/flashlight), we got in a circle and played a game of catch, where we had to say our name (to introduce the new children) and state a good quality (a virtue), without using the same ones more than once.  That worked well for a while, and then we switched to “telephone”, which we used to illustrate how someone’s words can be twisted during the process of gossiping.

by the time we finished the games, it was nearly time to finish, so since I didn’t have my other craft idea prepared on time (feather wreaths), we just busted out the stamps that were used for the greeting cards we made during the class on obedience to parents. the kids seemed to enjoy that; one of boys, however, figured he didn’t need to play with the stamps since he was there when we did it last time, so he busted out the legos instead. i didn’t notice this until it was too late, and soon all the other boys were following his lead.  whoops.  oh well, it happens.

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…