obedience (take 3)

Today’s lesson: obedience.

September 27, 2008: 1.5 hours, 3 children, average age 8-9. we’re back to one teacher again (me). got off to a bit of a rough start (wow, how many times have I written that) and had to go over the rules with the kids. now that I think of it, I totally should have expected to spend this class going over ground rules. one of the children was especially impatient, “we already know the rules!!” (yet was throwing pillows and sitting improperly, etc). so we ended up spending a fair bit of time at the beginning just trying to get ready for prayers, which is never much fun. same child also wanted to read “the longest prayer in the prayer book”; had to reason with him a little on that point (we don’t want to discourage children to say prayers!).  so I asked if the children knew people that they really loved talking to and listening to—conversing with—someone to whom they could feel comfortable telling anything.  then I explained that praying is the same, but conversing with God.  God listens to us, and we are able to tell Him anything that’s on our minds or on our hearts.  if we pick a prayer from the prayer book and recite what it says, and yet our minds are elsewhere being silly and not paying attention to what we’re saying, then God wants to hear us and listen to us, but there’s nothing to listen to.

we’ll have to revisit this concept with the children, but especially with that one child—the concept that prayer is not just parroting the words in a book, but is something you genuinely feel.  perhaps we should devote a part of one class to “how to choose a prayer”; is this an issue that others have had? how did you deal with it? is it something that becomes clearer to the children as they grow older? is it better to deal with it when they become junior youth? dunno, lol.

craft went very well; we made cards for our parents—I did a run to the new art superstore that opened up close to here, and picked up some really nice materials and stamps for the kids to use. it was genuinely fun to do for all of us—we weren’t many, of course, so that probably helped things go smoothly. kids were very excited to hear that there would be more art projects. need to fit in more games, though, especially for the one child who seems to have a lot of trouble learning without them. it almost seems like we should be taking more time for the class, that an hour and a half isn’t enough. now that our kids are older (8-9) they should have the capacity to keep their attention on the lesson as long as it is reasonably varied, and today’s experience seems to have borne that out.

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…)

service (take 3)

Today’s lesson: service.

August 18, 2007: 1.5 hours, 8 children, average age 8. Our last regular children’s class before school starts again! We had five of our usual kids and three cousins, and the group dynamic was great—although there was a little too much between-cousins tousling for the spiritual atmosphere of the children’s class. After two weeks of daily outreach classes, though, I had gotten used to playing kindergarten cop, so it was manageable. Most of the children said prayers, after which we memorized “O God, guide me” for the sake of our new students (and to refresh the memory of the kids who hadn’t been around during the summer) and then sang the same prayer in Haitian Creole (since several of our children come from Haitian families). We used the “step game” to help memorize the quote, but we noticed a couple of problems with it: 1) the game doesn’t work so well when there are lots of children (say, eight or more) in a line; 2) the game doesn’t work so well when the children can’t read well. We may adapt it for use with this class, which typically takes place indoors rather than outdoors and has fewer high-energy children than the outreach class. One nice thing is that we involved the children in snack time more than usual; for example, one set out a plate of cookies and poured juice for the others, while another helped wash dishes afterwards, and others helped to put away the colouring materials before we went outside for the end of class. The child who washed dishes—usually a rather distracted child—even thanked us for letting him serve in that way. nice 🙂

service (take 2)

Today’s lesson: service.

August 16, 2007: ~1 hour, 4 children, average age 6-7. Outreach class. Our last outdoor outreach class during the two-week pilot phase. With a week and a half’s worth of experience with these children under our belt, we were able to manage the class better than before. We used lots of movement-based activities to accommodate the uppity ones; they all enjoyed learning the “rescue carry” maneuver during the game. The entire class was basically taken straight from Lesson 5 of Ruhi Book 3, including the song (“Look At Me, Follow Me”), the quote, and the story. I think the children liked it, although there was an incident where I had to physically restrain one of the children while telling the story to avoid allowing him to fight with others. I took him aside afterwards, before we played the games, and told him firmly that he was welcome to stay in the class as long as he cooperated in the activities and respected the other children in the class—meaning no more fighting. It seems to have helped, even though we still had to monitor him very closely to curb any further outbursts.

the guardian, shoghi effendi

Today’s lesson: the guardian, shoghi effendi.

June 9, 2007: 1.5 hours, 8 children, average age 7-8. A simple, effective class; could have been better, but we did well with what we had. I wasn’t too worried about this class because the lesson was very straightforward: share the story of Shoghi Effendi. We reviewed the lesson on ‘Abdu’l-Baha before starting and launched straight into Shoghi Effendi’s story afterwards. We had examples of books he had translated (The Dawn-Breakers) or written (God Passes By) and showed the children; I had also prepared photos of the Shrines and the gardens surrounding them, but I forgot them at home (doh). We had the usual issues with discipline but were able to handle them satisfactorily and had more than enough material to last for the entire class. Shortening the class to one and a half hours has certainly given us a lot of breathing room; it’s not a lot of time to get concepts across, but we avoid a lot of breakdowns since the children’s patience and concentration naturally seems to dissipate after an hour and a half. Oh well.

naw-rúz (take 2)

Today’s lesson: naw-rúz.

March 24, 2007: 2 hours, 7 children, average age 7. We had a blast with this class—and it was mainly thanks to the help of certain blessed souls who were ready and willing to give up a day or more’s worth of time and effort in preparation to help make it a reality. The day started with prayers; like last year, we sang “Blessed is the Spot”. The kids’ conduct during prayers has greatly improved since we started focusing our efforts on that part of the class. Our main activity for the day was baking cookies—what better way to make Naw-ruz a special event? The children could scarcely believe their ears when we told them; they thought we were joking. But it was not so!

I asked my mom (of course) to come help us bake cookies. She prepared individual bags of three kinds of dough for each of the children, brought cookie cutters, rollers, trays, flour, decorations (i.e. sprinkles, different colours of icing, etc.) and so on. The children spent over an hour rolling the dough, cutting out different shapes (sometimes making up their own), and, once they were fully baked and cooled, decorating their munchable masterpieces. They took home bags of cookies to share with their parents, cousins and siblings. No joke—they were genuinely proud to have made their own cookies and were looking forward to sharing with their families. Some of the children had been so industrious in making the cookies, and had amassed such a stack of them, that they started sharing their cookies with anybody they could find. Here are some photos of the whole process:

naw-ruz cookiesnaw-ruz cookiesnaw-ruz cookiesnaw-ruz cookiesnaw-ruz cookiesnaw-ruz cookies

Room for improvement? Well, we were actually expecting some parents to show up and share the afternoon with the children; lack of logistical coordination meant that didn’t happen. We didn’t spend nearly enough time reminding the parents that they were invited to stay; written invitations (instead of the verbal invites) would have helped tremendously. I had expected to give a more adult-centred presentation of Naw-Ruz, which subsequently bombed—meaning we didn’t have much of a “lesson” per se; once I noticed that the kids were getting bored of my waffling, we jumped right into washing our hands and getting ready for the cookies (which was the right thing to do, I suppose).

Kudos? Obviously, to Mom for basically planning the entire thing in about a day; she had even planned more (including making decorative bags) but we ran out of time! Many thanks go to Dad for taking photos. Also, big ups are owed to those who helped keep the class under control during transition time. One thing that was pulled off remarkably well this time was discipline. We’ve had some discipline problems with one child in particular, and it’s really taken all of us to handle him and run the rest of the class smoothly… This time around, it really seemed to work well. Not only did we avoid a tantrum (which had happened the previous week, when there were only two teachers available), we actually applied some of the lessons of Ruhi Book 3 and gave preference to the children who were showing patience and politeness. We had to do it several times, but it worked! I’m sure we’ll have to repeat the exercise in coming weeks, but it was a genuine thrill to know that yes, when you put your heads together, the lessons we’ve learned in our training actually do bear fruit!