the fruits of our labours

pickin' berriesThis was one busy week for us, in a lot of ways. I mentioned before that Quynh and I are preparing for our first child to be born this fall, and that’s been taking up an increasing amount of our time: check-ups with the midwife, getting major projects finished up at work, preparing for baby showers, attending pre-natal classes, and so on. In the interest of shoring up our efforts to serve, we’re also preparing to move into an apartment that’s closer to the neighbourhood where our children’s class takes place. All of this has to be done soon, since the baby is due in October—so the stress level is starting to rise. Apart from personal preparations, though, I wanted to paint a little picture of what went on during this busy, yet joyful weekend—a picture bright with the colour of confirmations.

We received a text message just before lunch on Friday, inviting us to an “arts night” presented by a group of junior youth who had been attending a weeklong camp. “Please try ur best to come and support them,” the message read, “They are going to be sharing their reflections on what they learnt this week! It’s going to be great!” Although I felt exhausted from a long, stressful week, something told me that the best way to improve my frame of mind would be to enjoy the company of youth and junior youth. Thank goodness for that inner voice! After discussing with the rest of our teaching team, we all decided to attend together. We arrived just in time to take our seats and to enjoy a little chit-chat. A few of the junior youth we met in another neighbourhood were there, and we happily caught up with each other. They weren’t part of the camp, but were showing up to encourage one of their friends who was. The camp consisted of several groups studying two different books called Spirit of Faith and Power of the Holy Spirit, both of which cover Bahá’í principles and history in a fair bit of depth. Each group made several different presentations, singing songs, showing artwork, performing skits and dramatic readings. What was really special and heartwarming, though, was seeing several young people who were once a part of our children’s class taking centre stage, eloquently reading poems about the true nature of love, explaining the principle of progressive revelation, and more. Seeing how they had progressed from the moment we first met them, six years ago, until now reminded us how our time together was just a part of a continuing process of education that will eventually span their whole lives.

Continue reading

cooperation and reciprocity (take 4)

Today’s lesson: cooperation and reciprocity.

June 15, 2013: 5 children, 7–10 years old. For the past little while (starting this winter, in fact), our junior youth have been planning a service project: come to the children’s class and serve hot chocolate and cookies to their younger siblings and cousins. Everything finally worked out this week, and they were able to follow through. The children loved it, of course—who would turn down hot chocolate and cookies? It also gave us the opportunity to discuss the qualities we show when serving, and reinforced our lesson about the need for cooperation and reciprocity—when we all serve together, everyone benefits. Unfortunately, the junior youth were so busy with other activities (football matches, family visits, and so on) that they couldn’t stay for long, but it was nice that they were finally able to put their plans to serve into action. We learned a good lesson, too: when you make plans, whether in a children’s class or in a junior youth group, make sure that you act on them sooner rather than later, in order to avoid losing the enthusiasm to serve, which could lead to discouragement. (Not to mention the fact that we had expected to be serving hot chocolate in February, not June.)

father's day artTo finish off the class, we printed out colouring pages for Father’s Day, for the children to colour and give to their fathers. I got one, too, signed by all of them, since our own baby boy will be coming soon. (Quynh got a mother’s day card last month, too.) They’re all very excited to meet the baby; they spent a while during last week’s class thinking up and writing down names. Most of the names seem to come from boy bands and other celebrities, like Justin, Harry, Niall, Liam, Zack, Cody, and so on. Some were a little more unusual, like “Toutou” for example. This week, we challenged them to come up with some really unusual (even crazy) names, and they obliged, serving up gems such as Kratos, Tim Horton, Muscle, Goomba, Scorpion King, Benkie Barn, Crustino Ronundio, Spirit Bomb, Special Beam Cannon, Lightning Tsunami, President Of The United States, The Strongest Zeus In The World, and—probably my favourite—The Best In The World Is The Boy Who Love His Father. We shared some good laughs, and revelled in the children’s creativity. (I hope they won’t be disappointed if we choose more commonplace names!)

knowing god

Today’s lesson: knowing god.

January 26, 2013: We had a great, dynamic class. With just a few hiccups. When we arrived at our hosts’ home, we found one of the children was sick, so we poured some hot water for her and started with a healing prayer, after discussing some things she could do besides praying that would help her get better. After prayers, we reviewed the lesson and started on the story. The children loved the imagery of angels bringing raindrops to the ground; they come from a Christian background, and I guess they have a strong belief in angels. We reiterated the contradiction pointed out by the blacksmith, and we were about to ask the children what conclusions they could make about the illiterate blacksmith leaving a great scholar unable to address those contradictions, when our second hiccup arrived. The other half of our participants arrived late, due to a power outage (and a late meal) at home, so we stopped and greeted them. After starting over, we decided to keep the energy going with a few games, which we had planned anyway. We often play the detective game, so they loved playing it again; they also enjoyed charades, although some of them had trouble imagining how to express certain things with their bodies—how would you show a volcano, for example, or snow? Finally, we ended the day by making nine-pointed snowflakes with them.

snowflake modelling

such beautiful symmetry.

We actually had three teachers present, since I had to leave early for a meeting elsewhere in town. Quynh, who usually facilitates our neighbourhood junior youth group nowadays, helped out. I should also mention that the children who arrived halfway through actually came with their older sisters, who take part in the junior youth group; both of them joined in with the class and enjoyed it a lot. We’re planning to ask them to help teach the children’s class as an upcoming service project, so it was great to have them around. After the class, they even went with Quynh to talk to one of their friends—who’s come to the class before—about joining them in a new junior youth group. Apparently it went really well, and their friend is excited about joining the group! Awesome. Seeing this kind of coherence in action is so refreshing and feels like such a confirmation: both of our efforts, and of the course we’re following under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice. We’re really seeing a community being built before our eyes, slowly but surely.

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.

thoughts from counsellor scott’s ottawa talk…

This post was also blogged at doberman pizza.

Counsellor Scott’s talk went off quite well. About sixty people showed up, a mix of parents, teachers, members of institutions, children and youth. Part of the talk reprised points and ideas that were discussed at the meeting with the youth on the 5th, and that formed the conceptual framework necessary to understand the lines of action in the newest Five Year Plan. The focus at this meeting being the education of children and junior youth, we spent time discussing concepts related to the state of our education system and the state of children’s education in our community.

The talk made all of us question the sort of education we provide to our children—is it really enough to talk about virtues we “should be” manifesting, and go straight on without teaching related skills and developing in children the will to manifest those skills, or without practicing them in a safe, loving and encouraging environment? Is it enough to teach our children to be “relatively” excellent, whereas Shoghi Effendi exhorts the Bahá’ís not to “content themselves merely with relative distinction and excellence”? Are we teaching our children to be merely good citizens, or are we teaching them to be agents of change that will transform the society around them?

I’ll definitely be doing some thinking, particularly since I’m involved in a Bahá’í children’s class (recently featured on Baha’i Views. cool, huh?). Sometimes I really feel like I’m learning everything from the ground up. These questions have profound implications for the way I serve, the importance I place on these weekly classes, and the attitude I cultivate about my role in the process. Food for thought from the Writings:

Blessed is that teacher who shall arise to instruct the children…

(Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education—A Compilation, p. 9)

Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children…

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections From The
Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, #106, p. 133

According to the explicit divine Text, teaching the children is indispensable and obligatory. It followeth that teachers are servants of the Lord God, since they have arisen to perform this task, which is the same as worship. You must therefore offer praise with each breath, for you are educating your spiritual children.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Education—A Compilation, p. 33)