February 21, 2016: 1.5 hours, 4 children, ages 7–9. After a few weeks’ absence, I was finally able to make it back to class 😛 Everyone seemed a little tired and out of it this week. Not surprising, since this is cold and flu season. At least one of the children was off sick, and another one attended despite feeling under the weather. Things started pretty well, but you could tell it was rough going. We had a pretty awesome drama segment planned, but when the time came around to get in our squares we got some pretty miserable expressions on people’s faces. So we opted for mercy and skipped it, going straight to drawing and colouring. The children enjoyed the story about ?ájí Mu?ammad going to Arabia—it’s a great story that gets the message across quite well (we obey God’s commandments because of our love for Him). It’s too bad we weren’t able to act it out, though, since this story is perfect for that.
We also had a visit from some local youth—two sisters—who agreed to organize the Ayyám-i-Há party that we scheduled for next week. They had already visited our neighbourhood junior youth group and asked them what kinds of things they’d like to do for the party, and today they came to see whether the children had any more ideas. Apparently it’s going to be pretty amazing, with a wide variety of activities. I was really happy to see how well these youth have things in hand, and how they’re interacting with the children and junior youth. It gives me a lot of hope for this neighbourhood. We haven’t had too much experience with reaching out to the wider community yet, but at the very least, we seem to have a core of collaborators that are helping to carry forward community-building activities.
December 6, 2015: 1.5 hours, 3 children, ages 6–9. Pretty good class with some good teamwork this week. One of our families was away, so we had fewer children in attendance, but it was fun all the same. Instead of having them work in their workbooks, we had the children create their own personal prayer books, for storing prayers and quotes that they learn throughout the year. The point of these is to give the children something to read from when it’s time to say prayers. We picked up a book of craft paper, folded it around ten pages or so of lined paper, and punched holes in the side to allow us to bind the whole thing together with ribbon. They enjoyed the craft; let’s see how much use they get out of the books now that they’re done!
The rest of the class went pretty well. The children were a little less eager to say prayers this week, but hey, there are on and off days. Studying the prayer and practicing the song were easy; the prayer was the same as last time, and the song was easier to learn than the previous one. We included a story and a game in the day’s schedule, but as the class progressed we realized that we were running out of time; we also needed ten minutes at the end of the class for a country presentation. So after we were done preparing the lesson, we ended up moving back over to the craft table to give them time to finish up their work on their prayer books. It’s a bummer, because we didn’t spend a lot of time on activities that directly supported the lesson—only the song was directly related, really. Hopefully we can do “part two” of this lesson next week, though, and make a little more time for the extra activities.
The country presentation was about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as told by one of our Bahá’í friends who had grown up there. The older children studiously took notes as she was presenting(!), writing things like where it is, the fact that it has not only lots of jungle but also big cities (For instance, the capital Kinshasa has ten million people in it), what kinds of special foods people eat there, what language they speak, and what kinds of endangered animals live there. All in all, it was an engaging presentation that gave a good overview of the country.
I must admit that I was skeptical about adding the country presentations to the class at first, but they all turn out to be pretty interesting, even if they’re not directly related to the topic of the lesson. It’s nice to have that extra element of cultural discovery in our classes, since it helps the children discover what’s outside the bubble of their own culture. I just hope we can make sure to focus enough on the topic during the rest of the class, which I feel like we didn’t do this week—that is, we spent a lot of time talking about things other than generosity. Maybe we can work on that next week; we’ll have someone in to do a presentation on Australia, so we’ll see how that goes.
November 29, 2015: 1.5 hours, 5 children, ages 6–9. Awesome class! I remembered to bring the markers for the classroom’s whiteboard, and I showed up early to write out all the important elements on the board: class schedule, new quote and prayer to memorize, and new song for us to sing. Things went quite smoothly and it felt like the class just flowed naturally.
We were going to start with some work in the children’s workbooks, but our helpers—who had the books—ended up running late, so we improvised: “The story for today’s lesson is The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” we explained, “so before class begins, we can spend some time drawing what we remember of the story.” Most of the children knew the story quite well (“I’ve heard it so many times!“), so they could readily identify the main characters in the story and draw a simple scene with the shepherd, the wolf, and the sheep.
Once everyone arrived, we gathered for prayers, starting off with a little deep breathing to help us relax. The younger children seemed especially eager to recite the prayers they had learned. Next, we began studying a new prayer: “O Thou Kind Lord! I am a little child…”. We went through it step by step, identifying words that might be difficult, and explaining each of them. After reading it together a couple of times, we started to erase words a few at a time, inviting some of the children to recite the prayer along with the words that were removed. Once we were done, we went on to sing the song, Truthful Words. It’s one of the new songs included with the new version of Grade 1; It sounds quite nice, and I feel as though it helps support the quote a lot better. Everyone enjoyed it. Speaking of quotes, one of our helpers, who was filling in for my regular co-teacher, gave an excellent explanation of the quote (“Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues”), with plenty of different scenarios and questions to help the children reflect. As a result, I think they got a really good idea of some of the nuances surrounding telling the truth (What if you think something is true, but it’s not? Is that a lie, or a mistake?).
Next, we stretched our legs and moved over to the table for story time. But what do you do when nearly all the children have heard the story before? Well, we turned things around a little and got the children to tell the story instead, one sentence at a time. They remembered it well—with just a little prompting, they got all the important details out of the story and told it from start to finish. Once it was over, they started to suggest improvements to the story: What if, instead of the wolf eating the sheep, the sheep beat up the wolf? What if there was a ROBOT SHEEP, with LASERS and CHAINSAWS? Obviously, these ideas had to go somewhere, so back to the colouring table they went, embellishing the drawings they made at the beginning of class with robot sheep, laser beams and who knows what else. After bringing out the snacks, we invited those children who were finished with their drawings to play a game of touch telephone on the whiteboard.
Like I said, it was an awesome class. Although it required some quick thinking to deal with unexpected circumstances (no workbooks, and everyone knowing the story already), the fact that we had the rest of the class fully prepared left us in a good frame of mind to improvise. It gets easier with experience, too: When we start teaching for the first time, having to deal with the unexpected seems daunting because we can’t say “hey, this worked in the past, let’s try it”. But once you’ve tried enough things—and made enough mistakes—improvising becomes much easier.
June 29, 2013: 5 children, aged 6–11. Today was our second class on the topic of being a true friend, taken from Lesson 13 of Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2, Set 5. Since we had told the story of the prisoners in the Siyáh-Chál last week, we planned to continue this week with the dramatic exercise, which was for the children to practice telling the story on their own. After we were done with the memorization and introduced the activity, though, the children unanimously told us they wanted to draw and colour. What could we do? We had a few extra colouring sheets, so we let them go ahead. We took the opportunity to go over the story again, since several of them were using the same colouring sheet as last time, which showed the Shah peering into the sky, listening to the heavenly chanting as it echoed from the depths of the dungeon. We had a great time and a great conversation—which shows, I suppose, that although things don’t always go the way you’d like, there’s usually a way or two to make the best of the situation.
4 children, 1 helper. This class went miraculously well, considering how little I had planned—but we had overflow activities from the past few weeks (the masks from our lesson on unity and diversity, etc). We started with prayers, skipped to a song (after hearing the kids demand a story!) and then a short game of Simon Says. I didn’t want to read a story just because they asked, because I didn’t have one planned and I was worried it would just throw me off and make us lose momentum. Note to self: need to work on flexibility—come up with a story to go with this lesson. 😛
The kids liked the topic of modesty and moderation; I introduced it by saying we would be talking about clothes and they all but exploded. (not sure why. maybe i’m out of touch.) They related easily to it and seemed to understand the point of modesty as “not trying to show off” or grab people’s attention. I prepared an activity sheet for them to work on at the end of class, which went pretty well. We talked about the different kinds of clothes people wear in different places, and what modesty meant in different cultures. To end off, we invited them to design their own (modest, moderate) clothes, which the girls especially loved.
June 24, 2006: 2 hours, 2 children, ages 6-7. This was a weird class! We were going to focus on another topic for this week, but one of the children brought his new pet hamster to the class so it seemed logical to switch topics. We had quite a lot of fun interacting with the hamster and talking about how we should treat animals with respect and do our best not to scare them. It was a bit disorganized and unfortunately, I didn’t have appropriate quotes with me to go over with the children. Should I put together a binder with materials we’ve used in the past, so we can go back to them at a moment’s notice? Or perhaps a small notebook with quotes we’ve studied? I guess I’m not really satisfied with my level of preparation for this class. Oh well, it’s done. One of our more difficult children (a 6-year-old boy) sang a prayer with the other boy who was present, of his own accord – usually we struggle to get him to say prayers. God bless these children – I can become so confused with them sometimes. Before going outside for the day, we worked on a craft we started last week – paper-people chains. OMG they loved this to pieces. One of them drew clothes and faces on his people, the other cut out pants and shirts from different-coloured paper. AWESOME activity (although not strictly in line with the topic). Another note – I was mostly alone in teaching this class today, which I found more difficult than usual. There were only two children present, so it wasn’t a major disaster or anything. I find that when I’m alone with the children, though, I get easily distracted. Me being easily distracted means that I lose control of the class easily. That’s why I prefer co-teaching to being on my own. I’m not sure what I can do to build up my ability to stay on top of things – maybe to build my own confidence, I just need more practice, more experience.