prayer, a loving conversation with god (take 3)

Today’s lesson: prayer, a loving conversation with god.

January 10, 2016: 1.5 hours, 4 children, ages 6–9. Our first class after returning from the holiday break! First things first: After a bit of consultation, we’ve decided to switch from the Ruhi Institute’s Grade 1 curriculum to the Grade 2 curriculum. This is mainly in response to the closing of another very popular children’s class elsewhere in the city—the children were starting their study of the Grade 2 curriculum, so we figured we’d fill the hole left by its absence. One of our children came from that class, and we’re told that several more may be on their way to join us soon. She’s already brought several of her friends, too, including a new friend today—all of them around her age. That also played a big part in our decision to switch over to Grade 2. It’s hard to switch gears like this, to be sure, although right after the holiday break is probably the second best time to do it.

The class went well, all things considered. I was definitely reminded of the first time we taught this lesson a few years ago. Jumping into learning the quote “Intone, O My servant…” was easier this time around, because there isn’t so much of a language barrier. Now that we have a whiteboard available, it was super easy to do our memorization mega-challenge (i.e. erasing words a few at a time and see how many children can still read the quote from memory). I spent some time studying the story of Ruhu’lláh chanting a prayer and delivered it from memory, but I’m not really sure I did it justice. I have to get used to the higher complexity of the Grade 2 lessons again—you really have to study the stories well to be able to retell them in your own words.

Once again, the drama exercises were a real crowd-pleaser. I can tell we’re going to have fun. We actually have squares built into the patterns on the floor of our classroom, so it’s easy for the children to put themselves into their “squares”—although we’ll have to think of an optimal classroom layout to give us enough space to move around as well as a space to pray and a space to work on arts, crafts and workbooks/prayer books.

There’s a lot more to talk about, but it’s less about how this lesson went and more about getting organized as a neighbourhood team (including us in the children’s class, and the animators of the junior youth group that’s happening at the same time), and our participation in our cluster’s upcoming cycle of growth. Don’t worry, you’ll definitely be hearing more about it—suffice to say that it’s going to be a very interesting, and very active, season for us all.

an idea for virtues cards

UntitledOne of our new readers came to us with a question about using Virtues Cards (nifty cards featuring different spiritual qualities, created by The Virtues Project) in teaching groups of children. We just recently bought a deck of these cards ourselves, so we’re not experts by any means—but we’ve got plenty of ideas.

One of the ways we can help people understand abstract concepts is through the use of storytelling and role play. These put otherwise abstract virtues into a very tangible context that adults and children alike can more easily understand and learn from. In fact, this is why the lessons in Ruhi Book 3 always include stories, and dramatic activities in Grades 2 and up: they model different spiritual qualities and practices, and help children to think about how they might show those qualities in their lives.

So, as for how to use the virtues cards? Here’s the “experiment” we recommended to our friend. You can try it, too!

  • Pick one of the cards and read the virtue’s definition and some of the examples.
  • Ask the participants to think of a situation in which that virtue could be used; if nobody speaks up, you can suggest one based one the examples given.
  • Then, ask them to create a story based on that situation, and ask them to break into groups and tell each other the story.
  • Finally, bring them back together and ask them to create a short dramatic skit based on the story; practice it with them, and see how it goes.
  • At the end, get them to reflect on what they learned about that virtue, and have them share any insights they may have had about using that virtue in their lives.

The nice thing about this idea is that you don’t really need to buy a deck of cards to use it. You could just as easily write down the virtues yourself on sheets of paper, or blank index cards.

Have you had any experience incorporating virtues cards into your children’s classes, or any other insights about teaching children about spiritual qualities? Let us know in the comments!

consultation brings unity (take 1)

Today’s lesson: consultation brings unity.

May 23, 2014: 8 children, aged 6–13(!). This was a fun, and slightly crazy, class with plenty of movement. We started a new lesson today, after having spent the past few weeks introducing the topic of consultation. The class started and ended early to accommodate our host family, who had to leave to attend a family get-together. Two girls from the neighbourhood who hadn’t attended the class in a while showed up, which was great to see. After starting with prayers, we reviewed the story of the king’s elephant from Lesson 19 in Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2, and then launched into the meat of Lesson 20, beginning with some warm-up games.

After doing our regular stretches, we asked the children to pick a role to play, one that would fit well in a village: teacher, police officer, nurse, grocer, student, etc. We then explained the scenario from the lesson, in which a village ends up in the path of a hurricane, leaving the whole place a mess. The children, in their different roles, had to come together and consult on what measures they should take to deal with the crisis and help life return to normal. As you can guess, there was delightful chaos as the children pantomimed getting blown across the room by the hurricane. With some difficulty, we managed to steer them back towards the point, asking them what problems needed taking care of in the village. At first, things seemed dire. No food! Thousands of bodies littering the streets! Zombie disease everywhere! But as we calmed down from the adrenaline rush and started to consult in earnest, we realized that, hey, the grocery store still had food, and the grocer was willing to give it away to help with the disaster relief. The nurse and doctor organized volunteers to bring injured villagers to the hospital, and the police helped to maintain calm.

Overall, it was a fun class, but a crazy one. The huge disparity in ages accentuated this, as usual. The good news is that we’ve done enough outreach to begin a new class for younger children further down the street, which, if all goes as expected, will be starting in June.

year-end celebration

After seeing how well a “graduation” ceremony went for our local junior youth group, we decided it would be fun to have a similar event for our children’s class. Some time in August, we paid home visits to the kids and their families to introduce the idea of having a community celebration—something that would involve not only the families of the children in the class, but neighbours and friends as well. The kids would present some of the things they had studied during the past school year, and there could be refreshments and games too. Everyone agreed it would be a great idea, so we found a good date in early September, booked space at a nearby park, and forged ahead with our plans. As a first activity, we asked the children to create invitations to pass to their friends and family, which they did with gusto.

paper puppetsIn our teaching team, we decided on a few activities that might make for a good presentation. We settled on a couple of good songs: “The Human Race Is One” by Gina and Russ Garcia (available from the Ruhi Institute), and “This Little Light of Mine“. We also decided to make a puppet show out of one of the activities we had done during the year—specifically, the sketch about the village harvest from our lesson on justice and fairness (Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2, Set 4, Lesson 11). For the whole month of August, we practiced these with the children. Practicing the songs was simple enough, since they were already familiar with both of them. As for the puppets, we decided to go with paper stick puppets to keep things simple. We printed out a whole bunch of characters for the children to colour—a schoolteacher, villagers doing different things like harvesting vegetables or repairing the rooftop, the sun and clouds, etc. They had a lot of fun with this. After all the colouring was done, we put sticks on everything and voilà—puppets! In our spare time away from class, we had developed a script based on the sketch; when we put everything together, the puppet show began to take shape. Everyone really got into it; they each had their favourite puppets and enjoyed huddling behind our makeshift stage waiting for their cues.

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god, our true friend (take 3)

Today’s lesson: god is our true friend.

July 6, 2013: 3 children, aged 6–10. Our third class on the topic of being a true friend. Summer is a very busy time for our children, who seem to have a packed schedule of extracurricular activities this season. The big thing this week was a football (soccer) tournament, which sucked up about half of our class right off the bat, leaving us with our two girls and the six-year-old younger brother who’s been coming for the past few weeks. This week he was visibly more agitated, maybe because his brother and older cousins—who he was visibly attached to and looked up to—were gone, and he was stuck with the girls. He got through the prayers with some difficulty, restlessly moving around in his chair and muttering. We began introducing the day’s activity, in which the children would practice telling the story of the prisoners in the Siyáh-Chál on their own. Unfortunately, his patience didn’t last very long, and despite our entreaties, he got up and left, going back home (his home was in the next building over). We haven’t had many younger children showing up for class in recent months, so the whole issue of age gaps hasn’t come up as much as it once did. I’m left pondering now, though, whether it might be time to start up a new class to welcome the younger generation with a more age-appropriate curriculum.

In any case, the two girls remained and practiced the story, committing its key elements to memory with the help of the visual cue cards we had prepared. One of the girls—a ten-year-old, our resident actress—delivered the story quite well, and the younger one, an eight-year-old, also gave a good overview, albeit with a little more difficulty. I’m always reminded of the guidance given in Book 3, which states that each child has his or her own potential that needs to be discovered, developed, and put to good use—whether it’s skill in acting and eloquent storytelling, or in enthusiasm and leadership. Ours is the duty to help mine and polish these gems present in their character.

cooperation and reciprocity (take 3)

Today’s lesson: cooperation and reciprocity.

June 8, 2013: Today was the day we set aside to go over the drama portion of the class. We briefly went over the story of Nettie Tobin again to remind the children, and then got them to act it out up to the point where Nettie arrived at the site of the House of Worship (stopping there, to avoid having to portray ‘Abdu’l-Bahá). The youngest of the girls (an eight-year-old) played Nettie—scouting out a stone from the nearby construction site, and carrying it from trolley to trolley in a baby carriage all the way to the site of the House of Worship—and the other two filled in different roles, such as the foreman, Nettie’s friend, and even the baby carriage that carried the rock.

Everyone got a lot of laughs and had a lot of fun with this class. I think we can say with confidence that out of everything we do in class, the children love drama the most. The older girl who was present—a ten-year-old who normally appears timid—really comes into her own when playing a role. She says she wants to be an actress, and she’d probably be a great one: she really does well at learning and delivering lines, using her voice, her face, and her body to expressing emotion. Just one of those gems we’ve found while digging through the spiritual mines!