love (take 3)

Today’s lesson: love.

November 8, 2015: ~1.5 hours, 6 children, average age 9. It was a busy week this week, so I wasn’t able to prepare quite as well as I would have liked, but since I was familiar with it already from previous years, everything went fine all the same. We had a new family of children attending class this week, bringing our total up to six: one girl from a Bahá’í family, and two of her friends, both girls. They’re a little old for a Grade 1 class; in fact, the oldest girl indicated that she might be open to joining the junior youth group that takes place in the community centre at the same time as our class. As well, the Bahá’í girl has already attended a Grade 1 class elsewhere. The idea was that they would stick with this class until we can free up enough human resources to start a Grade 2 class. Sound familiar? Let’s hope we can make it happen this time.

Two teachers were present this week (including me), and I’d have to say the class went smoothly, although we had to contend with a few logistical failures: A lack of whiteboard markers, a missing “Love” card in our deck of Virtues Cards, and a dead battery in my portable speaker. No worries, we made the best of everything with what we had. Prayers first—we helped everyone practice the “new version” of “O God! Guide me…” one more time, and invited others to contribute other prayers they may have memorized. Our agenda was a little confused (since we had no whiteboard markers to write it down with), but we continued with an overview of the lesson on love, using a tiny lamp to illustrate how the light of God’s love shines on everyone, no matter who they are. Then we practiced the song “Love, Love, Love”, which many of the children were already familiar with. To make it interesting, we threw some rhythm into the mix, asking them to listen to the rhythm (1-2-3-4) and to clap at different points as they sang (on the 1 and 3, 2 and 4, 1 and 4, etc.) We continued with the story of the unkind man, and then progressed to the game, “The Bridge”, in which children had to cross a very narrow bridge two at a time, helping each other to get across safely. Finally, we ended the regular part of the class with some colouring time, with the beautiful roses found in Ruhi Book 3.

Afterwards, some of the junior youth came upstairs to join us for a cultural presentation about Vietnam, which I gave. I explained about the Vietnamese New Year’s holiday, Tet, and tied it into the day’s lesson by explaining the importance of family in Vietnamese culture: We show our love for our family by visiting them during Tet, showing respect towards our elders, sharing gifts with them, and so on. The children showed a lot of curiosity, and asked about other holidays: Do they celebrate Christmas? Hallowe’en? (“Do they get candy??”) One of the new girls—the one who had completed Grade 1 before—was surprised to hear us talking about Vietnam during Bahá’í class, until my co-teacher explained the “world citizen” theme of the class: We had already heard about India and China, for example, and we would learn about many other cultures throughout the year. It was my first time actually attending a cultural presentation (although it was mine), so I don’t know how they usually go, but I suppose we’ll see how they’re received as time goes on.

pure, kindly, and radiant hearts (take 2)

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

October 18, 2015: 4 children, aged 6–10(?). Today was our first class as a team! After our planning meeting two weeks ago, our stalwart teaching team set out to get this class ready, with each of us taking responsibility for one or more parts of the class. I volunteered to present the prayers and songs, and to put together an agenda and some ground rules for the class. All in all, it was a good first class. We had expected four more children to attend, but apparently they all had hockey practice (or perhaps a surprise hockey game—I don’t know how these things work).

Two of the children arrived (roughly) on time, but we decided to wait until the other two arrived before starting the class. The pre-class wait wasn’t too bad, as it gave us a chance to check out our new surroundings: A children’s room in a local community centre. They even left the cabinets open for us, which meant we got to use a whiteboard and borrow other essential supplies like extra scissors for the craft. The room was big enough that we could set up different stations: one table for pre-class drawings, one table for crafts, and one area with a big mat for prayers, right next to a whiteboard for writing down prayers and quotes for people to follow along. I feel like we were spoiled by the sheer amount of stuff that we had on hand—I’ve become used to holding classes in fairly spartan rooms, and having to supply everything myself.

Anyway, about a half-hour and several paper airplanes later, we started the class. The children all knew the prayer we studied—”O God, guide me”—but they remembered the previous translation which went “…Illumine the lamp of my heart, and make me a brilliant star”. This time we taught them the new translation, set to music by a group of Bahá’í youth from Thailand. Since we were running late already, we went straight on to the lesson, which explained how our hearts are like mirrors that reflect God’s qualities. The children took turns smudging mud (standing in for anger, hatred, selfishness, etc) onto a mirror, and we observed how the mirror no longer reflected the room’s light properly. It’s neat how apt this metaphor is, and how well the children seem to grasp it. Then we played with a quote jumble, hiding the words from the quote around the room and letting the children find them. They zoomed around at light speed and finished in record time—although one child complained that he didn’t get to find any words because they were all gone too fast. (We found a way to console him afterwards.)

Afterwards, we moved to the craft table, where we listened to the story, told by one of our team members, a youth. She did a great job of asking questions afterwards, to help the children reflect on what they had heard. Then, we started the craft: cutting out and decorating paper hands and gluing them together into a long chain. As we continue with the class, we’ll get new students to do the same, making an ever-lengthening chain of multicoloured hands that we can hang on the wall each week. Finally, we ended with a game. Since the weather was cold outside, we decided to forgo “The Burning Thirst”—which tends to be a wet affair, not so well suited to cold temperatures and indoor floors—and played “Touch Telephone” instead. And of course, we ended with some wonderful snacks!

The whole class was quite enjoyable, overall. Usually there’s some shyness or reticence among the kids in a new class, but this time we didn’t see that—after the first few minutes, everyone just jumped in and had fun. Class time was compressed because we started late, which meant that the order of activities was all out of whack, but I think we did our best with the situation. We were also meant to have a presentation about a country—which I was supposed to prepare but didn’t, due to being catastrophically busy with a number of other things—but I feel like it worked out fine anyway. We started late, and we ended roughly on time. The one thing I feel we need to improve? More time for prayers, including closing prayers, which we missed this time. It’s so nice to have those prayers as bookends to the class—I think they help to mark that time as sacred for the kids.

an afternoon at the park (first try)

some nice shade to sit inIt’s late and I’m exhausted! but I thought I’d jot down a few notes about today before bed. A few weeks ago, we did some outreach in a park at the other end of our neighbourhood, and made connections with families who might be interested in having their children attend a class for 6- to 8-year-olds, studying the lessons from Ruhi Book 3, Grade 1. Today was the day we arranged to start the new class, at the same time as our regular Grade 2 class.

We ended up just having the two younger girls who had already been coming to that class, which was great, but not what we had hoped for—despite having called ahead of time and gotten a confirmation for two more children, they never showed up. Oh well. We still had a great time together, even though all we ended up doing was playing together in the park. The girls introduced us to a friend of theirs who lives right across from the park, a 10-year-old. Although she was a little old for this new class, she expressed an interest in joining us anyway, so we went to meet her mother to get permission. There, we learned that she has an older sister who’d turned out to be interested in joining a junior youth group. Woohoo! Things ended up better than we expected.

The main point of sharing all this, beyond keeping you all up to date, is to show that there are always ups and downs when you’re a teacher of children’s classes. These tend to be pronounced when we take on more difficult projects such as gathering support for a new class. Things like no-shows may happen a lot when a class is first starting out, before a strong relationship is built with families. We have to try hard, show steadfastness and perseverance, and eventually, progress will happen. Sometimes the same challenges keep coming back, and it takes us a while to get things right. Sometimes, like that class in Toronto from the Frontiers of Learning video, it takes years for a neighbourhood children’s class to fully mature and come into its own. I sometimes wonder whether the main limitation we experience is really ourselves—our own willingness to do whatever’s needed to apply what we’ve learned from our training with the Ruhi Institute. In that light, I’m trying to work on my capacity to nurture relationships with families and parents, as well as to effectively engage youth. Hopefully, that’ll make a big difference with our new class—so that, with the support of our team, we can rise above these challenges and transform our neighbourhood into a wonderful, vibrant and united community.

old challenges, new day

children's class spreadsheet

I’m back from Vietnam, newly married, and diving back into the fray of life in my home cluster—back to the Chinatown children’s class I’ve been writing about for the past few months (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…) and dealing with new challenges. Oddly enough, at our local reflection meeting, someone told a story of an individual initiative that echoed exactly what’s been happening with our class. He explained how he and his wife had reached out to their neighbours, gathering up about five families who agreed to support a children’s class in their home. “It started out well,” he explained, “but as time went on, fewer and fewer people came.” Week after week, he contacted each family, and, from one week to the next, they would give some sort of reason why they couldn’t come—too tired, too cold, late lunch, family visit, whatever. It got to the point where he was wondering whether it was worth it to continue holding the class each week; why bother holding the class if there’s only one child?

Our team has been dealing with this same issue in the past month—or so I’m told, since I’ve been away—it seems like family after family has been dropping out of their commitment to the class. It’s not like we’re going to give up, of course. I’ve been teaching children’s classes long enough to see the same kind of thing happen, and I’m determined to learn how to get past it. Still, it’s a real poser. When I first got back, we consulted and decided we had to find out why the families in question had dropped out. We investigated, and found that part of the answer might have been lack of interest in the class. The parents had never really insisted that their children come—they just left it up to the children, saying, “If they want to go, we’ll take them”. Apparently the children just didn’t want to come anymore. That sent the gears in our heads turning, thinking, how can we make the class more attractive to the children?

We identified a few strategies: first was to find better activities, and a more engaging format. We use a calendar to plan our classes (see above), so we added columns for each type of activity so we could plan several weeks in advance which craft, story, game, etc., we would feature for each class. That way, we would be better prepared for each class, and could incorporate more complex and engaging activities, ones that require more preparation than the ones listed in Ruhi Book 3. We had already decided beforehand to repeat each lesson two weeks in a row, and to use different activities each week to avoid too much repetition. We decided to increase the length of the classes from 1.5 hours to 2 hours, with a snack break in between (everyone loves snacks), splitting the class time into two portions. The first portion would be dedicated to the lesson: a few minutes of “presenting” the lesson, time to memorize a quote, and selected activities. The second portion would be devoted to arts and crafts, so that children could go home having accomplished something creative, yet still related to the lesson. Children who finish the craft quickly would be given a drawing or colouring exercise (dependent on age); drawing exercises (click for an example) would include some writing work as well.

This is a current issue for us, and in the next few months we’ll be focusing on class quality and outreach to gather more families into our community of interest. What a joy it is to make a commitment to learning about the core activities—there’s certainly not a boring moment.

chinatown class (first try)

Saturday’s class was nice and quiet, mainly due to a lack of children showing up (d’oh). We will try to get it going again next weekend. we had a nice chat with …, the director of the Vietnamese centre, who showed up just after 2:00 despite us getting his cell number wrong and being unable to reach him. One good learning is that the apartment above the centre (I.e. the door to the left) is unrelated to the centre, so it’s pointless to knock on it when we’re locked out.

We stayed at the centre for a while; halfway through, a very nice elderly Vietnamese gentleman stopped in because he had seen people coming in and out of the Centre and wondered what was going on. We explained to him what we were doing there and a little about the Faith too. he seemed to be happy to see us, and stayed to chat for a while (and he kept on asking, “where are all the children?”). we asked him to let people know that the children’s class was happening at the centre, in case he knew people who had children nearby.

that’s it for now. thanks be to the Almighty for allowing us to serve in this way.

back again

many thanks to those of you who’ve left comments in the past few weeks and months with so many encouraging words. it really makes a difference! just about to head off to bed right now, with a children’s class tomorrow morning, about how “God knows the secrets of our hearts”. I’ll have to blog this lesson since I don’t think I’ve added it yet. We were slated to do that one on the first weekend of January, but nobody showed up that week. the next weekend (last weekend), everyone was off to Toronto for the regional conference (which was amazing). So the lesson’s left over for this week.  Later in the day, I’ll be helping run the children’s program for our local reflection meeting. I have an idea of what I’m going to do for that one; since our city’s World Religion Day celebration is the next day, we’ll be doing a related art project from our oneness of religion lesson to decorate the Baha’i Centre. busy day huh? I’ll let you all know how it goes.