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.

truthfulness (take 5)

Today’s lesson: truthfulness.

whiteboardNovember 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.

november stories

November is always a busy month for Bahá’ís. No less than three Holy Days and two Nineteen-day Feasts take place within the month, making it one of the busiest times of the year. With the recent changes to the implementation of the Bahá’í calendar, one of those holidays is now doubled—rather than celebrating only the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh during this month, that Holy Anniversary is now paired with the Birth of the Báb and celebrated as the Twin Holy Days.

We started the month off in full swing, covering two lessons from Grade 1 of the Ruhi Book 3 curriculum—one on justice and the other on love. For the next two weeks, though, we stepped out of our routine a bit to offer two “special” classes: One class devoted to the Twin Holy Birthdays, featuring stories about the childhood of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh; and another class that consisted mainly of accompanying our local junior youth group as they canvassed the neighbourhood, collecting non-perishable food for the Food Bank.

So while we started out strong this month, it still feels like things have yet to settle into a regular routine. And of course, we’re still building up the class, both in terms of the number of children attending and of our own ability to work together as a team. I have the feeling it’ll settle down eventually, and that we just have to push past this slightly busy patch. All this isn’t to say that it’s bad to have special activities, by the way—that’s fine. I think what makes it more difficult is that we haven’t yet had a chance to form our own routine for the class. The earlier that happens, the better, because it impacts the atmosphere of the class. Establishing a routine helps gives your class structure and makes it more manageable. Once you have it established, it’s easier to step outside the routine and have some fun with it.

Next steps? Well, we have to sit down and plan the next few classes. We’ve been doing it week-to-week lately, and that contributes to the feeling of a class being less manageable. Having everything prepared and set out in advance means that you don’t have to scramble each week, wondering what you’re doing for this week’s class. We’ll probably try to plan at least until the end of December, and see where things go from there. I have a feeling our next class will be fine; things aren’t as busy now that the Twin Holy Days are over, and we’ve already had the chance to discuss things and plan who’s going to do what. As usual, watch this space!

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.