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!

the sockpuppet who cried wolf

This video comes to us from the same children’s class teacher training in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam that showed us the “Birds of a Feather” game.

The training session, aimed mainly at youth, covered children’s classes and JY groups—I was working with the children’s class teachers. We shared strategies and spent a lot of time learning how to present the different activities that make up the classes. This segment combined crafts and drama. Participants spent the morning creating the sockpuppets out of old socks, buttons, felt and yarn, and then studied the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, presenting it with the sockpuppets (that’s the second part of the video, starting at 1:20). Sockpuppets are easy to make, and they can be a fun way for children to get involved in telling stories. They get to create their own characters, and then bring them to life with their own hands! Plus, who doesn’t love to see a good puppet show?

The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a great story to act out in this way, too. We’ve even done it with stick puppets before (see january stories); you’ll probably see photos of that craft in a future post. Also, as mentioned before, there’s an excellent retelling in Book 2 of Bahá’í Education for Children, aka the Furútan curriculum, that would be perfect for use in a puppet show.

Thanks to George Wesley Dannels of Baha’i Views for picking up on this video before I even had the chance to post about it!

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.

prayer, a loving conversation with god (take 2)

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

September 5, 2012: Week 2 of this lesson! Our first weekday evening class, and it seems to have gone off brilliantly, all told. We’re starting to get a better sense of the needs in the neighbourhood—and the evidence points to the need for a junior youth group to complement the children’s class. We had more older children than last time; out of eight children attending, five were 11 years and older. Some of the older girls said they intended to invite friends and siblings who were of their age. The two teachers present today discussed the situation and agreed that a junior youth group was needed urgently; the question, of course, is always about resources—who will teach it? Fortunately, there’s currently a big push in our city for Baha’is to complete Ruhi Book 5, which should provide a number of able-bodied animators who may be able to help out. We’ll see how things go, and in the meantime we’ll do our best to provide the junior youth with a program that adapts more to their needs, as well as meeting the needs of the younger children.

I think evening hours are more challenging for us as teachers, to be sure. Not having a car, and working 9 to 5 at a fair distance from the neighbourhood, I’m dependent on public transit to get to the class on time, and today it really failed to deliver. There are new schedules for the fall season that just came into effect, so I guess I should have taken that into account and left work earlier so that I could manage the delays in connecting between stops. Not having a car is a wonderful choice financially and ecologically, but it really seems to limit your ability to work through the logistics of a children’s class. We started late, but my co-teacher was able to spend some leisure time with the children and JYs; most of the parents were still coming home from work at that point.

Briefly, we started with prayers, and continued memorizing the quote we had started learning last time, this time reading through it in its entirety: “Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men.” We wrote it out onto a sheet of bristol board so that we could practice it together and explain difficult words, and then we tried a new strategy: using pictures to help represent words. For example, the word “intone” was represented by a picture of a person reading out loud from a book, “melody” by musical notes, and so on. We gave everyone cards with pictures printed onto them, explaining what each one represented, and asked them to glue the picture onto the bristol board.

piecing togetherOnce this was done, we read the quote again, reading the associated words whenever one of the pictures came up. Afterwards, we went through the dramatic exercises given with the original lesson in Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2: first working out and stretching inside our invisible boxes, acting out certain movements, and then pretending we were plants in a dry field praying for rain. They really seemed to enjoy this, drooping sadly when we asked them to express the desperation of plants praying for rain, waving their arms broadly and energetically as they expressed the joy of a watered plant with their bodies.

At the end of the class—which ended up lasting about an hour, by which time the sun had already started to set—we joined our friends outside, set a time for the next class (next Wednesday at 6:00) and spent time together, playing games and talking to their parents, who had arrived home by then. One of our goals this year was to get to know the families in the neighbourhood better, so that we can build stronger bonds of friendship. The time we spend with them before and after the class, and during home visits on the side, should help us move forward with this goal, and help us gain a better understanding on how a strong neighbourhood based on ties of universal love and fellowship is built.

accompaniment: a play from cambodia

children's classes play: cast

Cast of the play on “Accompaniment”, starring a group of Cambodian Baha’i youth.

On a recent trip to Cambodia (ok, not so recent), my wife and I were blessed to be able to attend a national training session for institute coordinators at the Baha’i centre in Battambang. The training was specifically for coordinators from those areas that counted more than 20 active junior youth groups. Battambang, for those who don’t know, is one of those places in the world where there’s been a lot of growth in the Baha’i community. In the mid-2000’s, it was known as “the ‘A’ cluster of all ‘A’ clusters”, because thousands of people had embraced the Faith of Baha’u’llah thanks to the dedicated efforts of the friends at that time. In some places around Battambang, entire neighbourhoods are designated “Baha’i Communities” because most of their inhabitants have accepted the Baha’i Faith. The explosive growth they experienced has slowed somewhat, of course, as the community’s focus shifted to embrace both expansion and consolidation as concurrent processes.

Anyway, while we were at the training, we watched a play about “Accompaniment” presented by some of the participants. The photos are mine, and the script included below is written by my good friend Prema Krish, of Battambang. The original play was performed in the Khmer language, of course, but this translation should be pretty accurate. I’ll let it speak for itself, but suffice to say, it provides an inspiring example of how we can approach families about establishing children’s classes, and the difference that accompaniment can make in helping people gain the confidence to arise to serve.

children's classes play 1/5

Part 1/5. Completed Ruhi Book 3.

G: Oh, i just finished my Ruhi at the Battambang Baha’i centre during the recent intensive institute training. I want to start a children’s class but i don’t know what i should do first.
B: Well, to start a children’s class, we first need to find children…hmmm…how shall we gather the children from our village?
G: Do you think the village leader might be able to help?
B: Maybe. Let’s go and find out together!

children's classes play 2/5

Part 2/5. Visiting the Village Leader.

G/B: Good afternoon, Mr. Village Leader (VL)
VL: Ah, good afternoon!
G: You look deep in thought. What is the matter?
VL: I’m just looking at the activities around our village. For the past few months, i’ve noticed that there’s been a lot of children’s classes and junior youth groups carried out by the Baha’is in our village. It’s alarming because i see our youth are so motivated to serve the community these days!
B: Mr. VL, we have here G, who just completed Book 3 in the Ruhi sequence of courses and she would also like to start a children’s class. We came to you to find out if you can suggest any families in this village whom we might approach to start one.
VL: Another one! Oh, very good, G. I’m happy for you that you completed the course. Sure, i’ll be happy to help. Let’s see…there’s the A family whose children i think are not participating in children’s classes yet. I see them loitering by the road during the evenings when others are in children’s classes.
G: The A family? Err, i don’t know if they’ll be impressed if i approach them directly. They’re always so busy..
VL: Don’t worry! Mr A is my good friend! Let me talk to him.

children's classes play 3/5

Part 3/5. The A Family.

Mr. A: Where are the kids? I hardly get to see them these days.
Mrs. A: I have no idea where they are. They leave the house early in the morning and i don’t know where they go or what they do…it’s concerning.
Mr. A: What do you mean you don’t know where they are?
Mrs. A: You know kids…they go out and play with other children. I’m sure they’re not too far away.
Mr. A: We need to watch out for them. There are many dangers all around us.
Mrs. A: I know what you mean. I heard there was a snatch thief in the neighbouring village who robbed an elderly lady in broad daylight! The nerve of these people! But having said that, I’m having trouble with the kids. They just won’t listen to me these days! All they want to do is play.

children's classes play 4/5

Part 4/5. The Visit to Family A.

VL: Hey, Mr. A! How have you been doing recently?
Mr. A: Good afternoon, Mr VL. What a pleasant surprise. Please come in.
Mrs. A: Please have a seat, Mr. VL.
Mr. A: What’s going on around our village these days?
VL: I was just going through the monthly reports and i’ve noticed a lot of classes for children and junior youth going on. I don’t know if you know G, she’s one of the youth who just finished a course…err..
G: Ruhi Book 3, sir.
VL: Ah, yes, Ruhi Book 3! And now, she wants to start another children’s class! That’ll be the 6th in our village!
Mrs. A: What is a children’s class?
B: Allow me, sir. Mr. and Mrs. A, the course G just completed is to empower her to start a class with about 10 children between the ages of 6 to 11. The classes teach children a short quotation and they learn to understand it through stories, songs, games and coloring activities and they will be able to remember this quotation well. The quotations are like “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth” or “Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself” which focuses on developing spiritual capabilities.
Mr. A: Hmmn, Mrs A and i were just discussing our concern for the children and the need to bring them up well.

The A kids, Aa and Ab, walk in with the neighbour, C…

children's classes play 5/5

Part 5/5. A Children’s Class is Formed.

Mrs A: Ah, there you are! We were just talking about you. Mr VL is here to visit, come and join us.
Aa/Ab: Good evening, Mr. VL.
Mr. A: Kids, big brother B has just been sharing with us about starting a children’s class. I think both of you should attend it.
Mrs. A: Where and when will this class be?
G: Err, i haven’t thought about it yet. You’re the first family we’re visiting…
Mr. A: Ah, good! Let’s have it here, at our house. Both Aa and Ab can join. Oh, maybe even C wants to join?
Mrs. A: C, why don’t you ask your parents about it tonight. Wouldn’t you want to learn together with Aa and Ab?
Ab: Mom, who will teaching us?
Mrs. A: Big sister G here will be teaching you.

Aa, Ab and C look at big sister G and they all smile at the same time 😀

january stories

So far during the month of January, our Chinatown class has gone through four lessons on the themes of truthfulness, steadfastness, humility, and preferring others before oneself. We started off at the beginning of January (the 2nd) with a special three-hour class, which we hoped would be attended by a large number of families so that we could start off with a bang—of course, things don’t always go the way we would hope. Class size has fluctuated between three to five children each week, and due to how busy some of the families are, we’ve also run into some punctuality problems. So far, though, we’ve managed to get most of the children to memorize at least one prayer—”O God, Guide Me”—and are working on having them memorize the second one suggested in Book 3—the one that goes “I am earthly, make me heavenly”. We got together as a teaching team and discussed curriculum; the plan is to finish the lessons from Book 3, and then continue by introducing the lessons of the Furutan curriculum, given in the books Baha’i Education for Children.

The three-hour class went remarkably well; I haven’t tried to go that long with a class in a while, and was pleasantly refreshed to see that we had enough material to keep the children engaged, having fun and learning through the whole time. After praying and singing a few of our favourite songs, we plunged straight into memorizing the well-known Baha’i quote, “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues”. We tried explaining it in terms of the foundation of a building; I’m not sure whether the analogy helped them or confused them. I keep wondering about how good their command of English is, since most of them have only lived in Canada for a year, and I seem to end up explaining a lot of the words. Perhaps that’s actually normal for kids of their age (~6-7 years), and I’ve been coddled by only having gifted children to teach in the past. Well, whatever. This makes for great teaching experience.  The second half of the class, after a healthy snack, consisted of putting together a house out of wooden stir-sticks—illustrating how virtues can be a “foundation” for human spiritual life—and a dramatic presentation of the day’s story, which was a retelling of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. It was actually my first time successfully “doing” drama with the kids in a children’s class; we did it by eschewing a script and instead giving the children their roles and lines verbally, with extensive narration by one of the teachers. We had two children playing the mother and father, and one playing the titular character. The children took their cues from the narrator, acting out whatever the story said. The whole thing worked out well, I had my directorial debut, and they got a real kick from acting out the story.

The next two classes dealt with slightly more abstract themes, and I noticed that we had a tougher time getting the message across to all of the kids. During both the lesson on steadfastness and the lesson on humility, they seemed to have trouble understanding the theme, and I had to explain it a few times, leaving me wondering what they had come away with. I found that the description of Book 3 seemed to go a little over their heads, so I tried to explain humility to the children the following way: God is big and powerful, and we, on the other hand, are so small and weak by comparison. Humility is just remembering how big and powerful God is, and how small and weak we are. When we remember that we depend on God for everything, we stop thinking that we’re better than anyone else around us. It took us most of the class time to get to that point of understanding, though. I think we got it by the end, but of course, as suggested in Book 3 itself, we’ll have to repeat it later on to be sure.

Regarding steadfastness, I was pleased to see that nobody came away with nightmares from the story of Ruhu’llah and his father, which I decided to tell in its entirety, though as non-graphically as I could. I’ve heard Baha’is express misgivings about telling a story in which the main character, a young boy dedicated to teaching and spreading God’s message, watches his father die before him only to die himself after refusing to recant his faith—but, besides having to make certain disclaimers, I’ve never heard either parents or children object to the story. On one occasion, a child reacted with anxiety to think that children could be killed in such a way, at which point the parent on hand explained that, while such things may have happened in that place at that time (19th-century Persia), we don’t have to worry about it happening to us here in Canada, which seemed to bring the anxiety level down. I made sure to give the same disclaimer this time, and nobody even made a peep—which, again, made me wonder whether they had understood what I was saying… oh well.