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.

summer note

path of cloudsAs summer arrives here in the Northern hemisphere, the time is ripe for reflection on another season of our neighbourhood children’s class. While we definitely can’t say we’ve achieved some of our most cherished goals—like establishing new classes to accommodate cousins and friends with different schedules—we’ve made other kinds of progress in our path of service. Our core participants, all cousins and siblings, are well engaged with the class and seem to be scaling the language barrier with more confidence and ease than before. Although our vocabulary builders made an impact in that respect, two other decisions we made seem to have made more of a difference: choosing shorter, simpler quotes to account for the children’s reading level, and increasing the number of times we repeat each lesson (from two times in a row to three or four). Focusing on getting the children to practice prayers inside and outside class has also made a big difference in the children’s engagement. We’re starting to think of doing something like the prayer books we’ve made in the past, so that the children would have something that they could take home to help them study their prayers on their own—not a bad idea to help kick off a new school year in September.

We’ve worked a lot on our functioning as a neighbourhood teaching team this season, too: there’s a core of three of us passing the duties of junior youth animator and children’s class teacher back and forth between us, accommodating vacations and other scheduled absences without sacrificing the regularity of the class. The result is that we’ve barely missed a class in the past six months, except that one time when we all ended up sick on the same weekend. That’s a pretty good record for a neighbourhood children’s class, and it’s all because we have a dedicated teaching team. Acting together as a team really makes us stronger than we could be on our own, and keeps us from feeling too much discouragement as we persevere along our path of service—as I sometimes did when I was teaching alone.

Now that it’s summertime, we’re expecting to have more time to regroup and reflect on next steps. One of those steps will probably be to expand the team, since at least one of us (my wife) will be giving birth to a baby boy in the fall and will probably be less available. Engaging neighbourhood youth, including some of the older siblings and cousins of the children in our class, will be a priority, especially considering the focus on youth in the latest guidance from the Universal House of Justice. We’ve already asked one youth to help out with activities during the summer and floated the idea to others; beyond that, there are many more eager youth out there who we need to follow up with. Lots of home visits will be in order, as we reconnect with families who’ve dropped off our so-called radar and renew the ties of friendship and fellowship with them. As always, watch this space!

Speaking of watching this space, you may have noticed a change in the layout and design of our website; welcome to the long awaited “version 2.0”! If you’re reading this via email, then please take a moment to check out the new look and let us know what you think in the comments. Our hope is that it’ll be easier for you to find what you’re looking for, whether it be lesson plans, activities, downloadables or insights and experience.

god, our true friend (take 1)

Today’s lesson: god is our true friend.

June 22, 2013: Today was our first class on the topic of being a true friend, taken from Lesson 13 of Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2, Set 5. We attracted the younger brother of one of our students, who joined us quite enthusiastically when he heard that there were cookies in class last week. (Oh well.) We let him know that the hot chocolate was a one-time thing, and he still stayed; hopefully he wasn’t too disillusioned.

We started out by asking the children whether they could remember some of the friends they made in kindergarten. Most of them said they could. We asked them what makes someone a good friend, and we got a variety of good answers, such as spending time together, caring, kindness, and so on. We then asked whether they were still in touch with their good friends from kindergarten, and we got mixed answers. Most of the younger children were still in touch with their friends, but many of the older ones had immigrated to Canada since they were small, leaving their friends behind. When one of the younger children said he would be sad to leave friends behind, one of the older ones replied: “That’s part of life! You don’t always keep the same friends all your life.”

Taking the opportunity to segue into the day’s topic, we asked them: is there a friend that will always be with you your whole life, and beyond? They eventually came up with the answer we were looking for—God is our true friend, who will never leave our side. We moved into the memorization part of the class, presenting them with cut-up pieces of paper with the words of the quote on them: “Incline your hearts, O people of God, unto the counsels of your true, your incomparable Friend.” We challenged them to put together the quote, without having shown it to them beforehand. They enjoyed the challenge, and went at it enthusiastically, successfully putting together the whole quote on their own.

To finish off, we handed out the corresponding colouring page from Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2, using them to tell the story of how Bahá’u’lláh taught His fellow prisoners in the Siyáh-Chál to sing “God is sufficient unto me”. As is usual when we tell stories of Bahá’u’lláh’s imprisonment and exile, several children asked: How could the Sháh imprison Bahá’u’lláh even though He had done nothing wrong? We answered that lust for wealth, power and influence had blinded the eyes of the Sháh and made him fear Bahá’u’lláh rather than love Him. I wondered whether this was really a good enough answer for the children, whose tender hearts are developing such a strong love for God—we had a discussion of the concept on our Facebook page later on, which turned up a great idea for a game about the need for spiritual education.

cooperation and reciprocity (take 1)

Today’s lesson: cooperation and reciprocity.

May 25, 2013: 6 children, ages 8-11. Our first week with this lesson, based on Lesson 12 in Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2, Set 4. We spent most of the time going over the quote for the lesson: “The supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity.” The quote is actually quite simple, so once we tackled the big words—like “cooperation” and “reciprocity”—the children got it pretty well. We wrote one or two words on sheets of paper and had the children mix them up and put them back together in different ways: standing them up on a windowsill, having them hold them up above their heads and stand in the correct order, and so on.

We also briefly touched upon the story of Nettie Tobin and the founding of the Bahá’í House of Worship, although we didn’t have the time to go through it as completely as we had liked. One of our co-teachers was at the House of Worship for the annual Choral Festival this week, so we tied that into our explanation and showed them a few photos, which they really loved.

Reflecting on this class, I should note how nice it is to have a class consist of children in a narrow age range, as it really simplifies things. We can count on them to have a roughly similar reading level and attention span, for instance. The feeling of not having to work at two speeds—balancing precariously between making younger children feel overwhelmed and making older children feel bored—helps take some weight off our shoulders.

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.

break time

today was supposed to be yet another day of class, but all our usual participants had to cancel—other commitments, car trouble, or whatever—so the day just turned into a break for me instead, which is actually quite welcome.  I was scrambling this morning, rushing out of the house after sleeping in a bit—it’s been a long week, what with a public transit strike in Ottawa with a snowstorm on top. I managed to put together the bare minimum for today’s intended lesson on consulting experienced physicians when ill, and then forgot it at home when the taxi came to pick me up. 😛 oh well. so finally, I guess I became the recipient of God’s mercy—or maybe just the victim of circumstance? anyway, I figured I’d jot down a few notes while I had some time to do so. overall, the situation in the class isn’t all that different from the last time I updated—still without a co-teacher, although one of the parents has been attending the class with her children. I am beginning to wonder whether it will be realistic for the class to continue past the early spring, seeing as I will be taking time off for pioneering/travel teaching beginning in March, as I mentioned earlier. well, that’s just one of the things I have to think about, anyway. and again, like I wrote before, there’s no sense in worrying too much about it—if God wills, others will step up and take my place.  lots of things are starting to happen at the Baha’i Centre—monthly firesides being a prime example, ones that are advertised in the local papers. There’s a nice new sign for the outside, too, for people who are out walking in the street (although there are fewer of them now that the weather’s so cold).

I read up on memorization games over lunch, since that’s one thing we always seem to struggle with; apart from the usual repetition games, I found a few new ideas, including a kid-friendly version of Charades—kids are split up in teams and given a quote to act out that the others have to guess. Dialogue is permitted, but they’re not permitted to use any of the words in the quote.  Seems like it might be difficult for the younger children, but the older children should enjoy a game like that.

OK, post over for now as I catch up on more emails.  Class is still on for next week, and then another, real break (I’ll be away during the Christmas vacation period).