pure, kindly, and radiant hearts (take 4)

Today’s lesson: pure, kindly and radiant hearts.

December 30, 2018: 5 children, aged 5–8. We got together for a reprise of our lesson on having a pure, kindly, and radiant heart. We decided to revisit the same topic several weeks in a row, as we’ve done in the past; for the moment, we’re aiming for three weeks on each topic, and we’ll see how well that’s received. One child who attended the last session was missing this week, but we had two new children show up, bringing us to five.

The lesson plan for this week was roughly the same as last week’s, but with a few changes and additions. First, we started the class with colouring, rather than just colouring at the end; we coloured little pictures that we used in memorizing the quote, in the same way as we used pictures to make a rebus last time. Instead of erasing the words and drawing pictures on the board, though, we placed each coloured picture on top of the words that they replaced.

Next, although we used the same coffee-cup activity as last time—dropping a little bit of coffee into a cup to represent unkind actions and washing it out with water to represent kind actions—we refined it a little. Instead of pouring the coffee from one cup to the other willy-nilly, we used an eyedropper to add the coffee little by little. That way, we had the children consider the effects of just one unkind act—right away, they could see that the water in the cup was impure, and that it took them a lot of water (i.e., a lot of acts of kindness) to restore the cup to its original purity.

This week, we played a game where we had to pass a ball around without our hands, using a piece of paper instead. It was a little challenging at first, but once the children figured out how to hold the paper properly in order to hold the ball, it was a lot easier. Interestingly, we found that the game “The Burning Thirst” wasn’t really working out for us. I suspect it’s because we weren’t playing it as intended, but to be honest, I don’t know if we’ve ever played it as intended. To the children’s class teachers reading this: What’s your experience been like? Have the kids in your class enjoyed “The Burning Thirst” as a fun game? How do you approach it? Do you play it outside or inside? If inside, how do you prepare the space? Do the kids end up playing and getting wet, or are they too worried about making a mess to really enjoy it?

Anyway, we ended off the class with the colouring page for this lesson from Ruhi Book 3. To tie it in with the lesson, we explained that perhaps one of the girls in the picture had done something unkind, and, realizing what she had done, decided that she should apologize by doing something kind to make up for it. So, she gathered up a bunch of colourful flowers and gave them to her friends. And speaking of stories, I almost forgot—we told the story of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from the lesson this week, too, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá filled up the lady’s cup with pure water. (The children were pretty impressed.)

So, apart from “The Burning Thirst”, the lesson was well-received again this week, and our newcomers seemed really happy to attend. I’m not sure if we’ll have more kids again next week, but we have other things in the words that will lead to more families getting involved in activities. More on that later!

pure, kindly, and radiant hearts (take 3)

Today’s lesson: pure, kindly and radiant hearts.

December 16, 2018: 4 children, aged 5–10. It’s been a while since our last update! I’ll post a little something to tell the story of what we’ve been up to lately, but first, a class report about the first gathering of our new children’s class, using Grade 1 of the Ruhi Book 3 curriculum.

We started the class with a mix of four children: Two five-year-olds, one nine-year-old and one ten-year-old. One of the five-year-olds is from a Bahá’í family, and the rest are his friends, who we invited after speaking to their parents to explain the nature of the class. At the beginning of class, we took a few moments to explain about the expected atmosphere, and asked the children to think of some rules for us to observe during the class. We settled on the following five rules, which we felt made for a good start:

  • Listen to the teacher
  • Keep ourselves and the classroom clean
  • Sit quietly and reverently during prayers
  • No chatting/side conversations during class
  • One person speaks at a time

Next, we said a few words about prayer. We explained that when praying, we were conversing with God. We might pray for someone to get better when they’re sick, we explained, or we might pray for good results on our schoolwork, or for any number of things. The children were familiar with certain forms of prayer—all of them had visited a pagoda before, or worshipped at the family altars that are so ubiquitous in Vietnam—so it wasn’t a big stretch for them to understand. Following that, we invited the children to say prayers. The child from the Bahá’í family said a Bahá’í prayer he had learned, and one of the others said a Buddhist prayer she had learned. Afterwards, we started memorizing the prayer, “O God! Guide me…”. After writing it on the board, we recited it word by word. Then, we began erasing some of the words and replacing them with pictures, making a sort of rebus.

Once we were done going through the prayer, we wrote the quotation down on the board, looking at the words “pure”, “kindly”, “radiant”, and “heart”, and explaining what they mean together. To illustrate, we launched into an experiment: Taking some thick, black Vietnamese coffee, a cup, a pitcher of water, and a wash basin, we showed what happens when we act unkindly by pouring the coffee into the cup: We get a dark, gloomy, and radiant heart. To improve the situation, we added water, representing acts of kindness. The more water (kindness) we poured in, the clearer the contents of the cup became, until finally, we had a clear and radiant cup (heart) once more. Each of the children had a turn pouring water into the cup until all of the coffee was gone (overflowing into the wash basin).

We finished the class with some time to draw, asking each of the children to draw something that they read about in the prayer or the quotation. For example, one drew a brilliant star; another drew an umbrella (for “protect me”, as in, protect me from the rain)… We also wanted to play the game “The Burning Thirst”, but we ran out of time, and so we played it after some of the kids had started to leave.

All in all, it was a great class. The children loved it, and some of the parents told us that the message had an impact—they caught their kids saying “don’t do that, you don’t want to have a dark and gloomy heart!” After this positive start, we’re thinking that we should be able to invite more kids for the next round, perhaps even doubling the size of the class. Stay tuned!

prayer, a loving conversation with god (take 5)

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

January 31, 2016: 1.5 hours, 5 children, ages 6–9. Over the past month, we’ve worked out a new rhythm for our class that seems to be working out well so far: Three weeks of regular lessons, and then one week devoted to review and a cultural presentation. Today was our first review class according to this new rhythm, and it went about as well as we could have expected.

We began with prayers, and then went straight into some classic call-and-response memorization—i.e. “Repeat after me”. Each of the children had a chance to lead. The younger children definitely have more trouble with the longer quotes, which is a challenge for all involved. (I know we’ve talked about the problems with age gaps many times before, and really, the best way to address them is to have several classes for different age groups—we’re working on it.)

Next, we asked the children to line up along the wall, and laid out pictures in a line in front of them. We wouldn’t explain what the pictures meant at first, we told them, but they would have to figure out how to arrange the pictures in the right order. This was a challenge for them, but they rose to it, figuring out that each of the pictures represented part of the prayer and quote (e.g. a young plant, rain clouds…). With a good number of hints, they eventually put them all in the right order, and were even able to “read” the prayer and quote by following the pictures.

Once they were done, we invited them to choose their favourite drawing and colour it. We were considering giving the older children a different activity involving drawing a scene based on the prayer (the Garden of Love), but they seemed very happy with colouring, so we let them go ahead with that instead. Once they had had enough time for colouring, we had them play a game like “telephone” in which they each made a face to the next child around the table, conveying an emotion. The last child then had to guess the emotion that was being portrayed.

Finally, we had a little time for a cultural presentation about Cambodia, complete with a slideshow and little banana-nut candies as a snack. (No one had nut allergies, thankfully.) The children enjoyed learning about Cambodian culture and history, and marvelled at the Khmer language—we learned how to say “Hello” (chum reap suor), “Thank you very much” (arkoun cheraown), and a few more handy phrases. Overall, this new format seems to work well: One class at the end of each month devoted to reviewing previous lessons, with a cultural presentation at the end. Hopefully it’ll help us to stay focused on moving through the curriculum, while also allowing us to enrich our study by regularly exploring the world’s many diverse cultures.

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.

generosity (take 2)

Today’s lesson: generosity.

December 13, 2015: 1.5 hours, 3 children, ages 6–9. Good follow-up to last week’s class. With the work on the prayer books out of the way this week, we were able to focus more closely on the lesson. After welcoming the children, we started in the usual way with prayers. They weren’t so eager to recite prayers by heart today, so we invited them read the prayer they were working on from the whiteboard. Once they were done, we worked on memorizing it. The children seemed to be having some trouble memorizing the words alone, so we had them come up with actions to go along with the words. They seemed a lot more enthusiastic once we started doing that. I often forget how powerful gestures can be as a memorization tool, since I tend to memorize things just by repeating them! In this case, it really seemed to help the children to get into the prayer and enjoy learning it by heart.

After singing the song, we moved on to learning the quote from the lesson: “To give and be generous are attributes of mine…” We had them memorize the quote using a quote jumble, as before, by hiding the words from the quote around the room and having the children collect them all and put them together in order. It’s a pretty popular activity, and they always seem to enjoy it. This week, though, the youngest child in the group wasn’t too happy that the older kids seemed to keep picking up all the hidden words before he had the chance to find any. We ended up letting him look for the remaining two or three words on his own as the older children worked on putting the rest of the words in the right order, and that seemed to satisfy everyone. It reminded me of the age gap that exists in our class, though, and of the need for us to eventually split the class into multiple grades. We’ve already talked about doing some outreach in the neighbourhood around the class in the new year; hopefully we can make some good connections with local families, bringing in new children and junior youth—and maybe another willing teacher to help out, as well?

After we were done with the quote, we sat down again to listen to the story of ‘Abdu’l-Baha visiting the shepherds, and his generosity in giving them the sheep they were guarding. Thankfully, this story is one we study carefully when we get trained up with Ruhi Book 3, so I was familiar enough with it to tell it from memory, a little differently than usual in case the older children remembered it. (I’ve had some practice making up bedtime stories for my two-year-old son lately, so it went pretty smoothly.)

cards-afterAt the end of the story, we segued neatly into the game, a card game we call Giving, which is all about sharing what we have with others who are in need. First, we got the children to think about some of the things they need the most in life. From there, we introduced the seven different “needs” highlighted in the game: clean food and water, clean clothes, safety and shelter, friends and family, education, work or occupation, and spirituality. We explained the game in relation to “Go Fish”, where players ask for cards that they need; here, players can give a card they have several of in order to receive a card they need. In the end, everyone ends up with one of each card. And we all win!

They children really seemed to love the game, so I think we can say it was a success. We would’ve played a few more times, too, but we moved on to our country presentation afterwards, all about Australia. We heard all about kangaroos and koalas, and we sampled Milo and Vegemite. Yes, Vegemite. The verdict on that one? Only three of us—me, my wife, and one of the children—were able to stomach it. I went home with the jar.

quote jumble

quote-jumbleOne way to help children to think about quotes and memorize them is to turn them into a kind of puzzle, with jumbled-up cards. For example, let’s say that the quote to be memorized is “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”. The teacher would gather up small index cards or strips of paper, and on each of these, write one or two words of the quote. So the first card might say “The earth”, the second one, “is but”, and so on. These cards would be shuffled and presented to the children during the class; they would have to rearrange the cards in the correct order, such that they spell out the entire quote. Just like a regular jigsaw puzzle, younger children would benefit from a puzzle with fewer pieces; older children can be given a puzzle with more pieces, perhaps one for each word.

That’s only the start of it, though. There are plenty more things you can do with the cards to help the process of memorization along:

  • Ask the children to recite the quote by reading all the cards in order. Then, remove the cards one by one, each time asking them to recite the whole quote (along with the missing words). Eventually, they’ll be able to recite the whole quote even though all the words are missing.
  • Give a card to each child, and ask them to draw an object or a scene that represents the word on that card (excluding words like “the”, “a”, “and” and so forth). For example, a drawing of a globe might represent “earth”, and a group of different people circling around the globe might represent “mankind”. Words that describe concepts that are more abstract or difficult to draw can be represented by drawings of simpler, related concepts, for example, a flag for “country” and a passport for “citizens”.
  • Ask the children to close their eyes while you hide the pieces of the quote throughout the classroom. The children must then gather all the pieces and arrange them in order.
  • If you have about the same number of words in a quote as there are children in the class, you can play a ranking game based on the children’s height, age, birth date, or some other continuous quality. For example, ask the children to line up in order of the tallest to the shortest, or youngest to oldest, or the earliest birth date (e.g. Jan. 1st) to the latest (e.g. Dec. 31st). Next, distribute the cards to the children randomly, and then ask them to exchange cards until the order of the words matches the order of the line, that is: The first child in the line holds the first word, the second child in line holds the first word, and so on.

gallery

assembled quote jumble with a quote in Japanese and English

A quote jumble as used in a children’s class in Japan. (Photo: Eva S.)