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, spiritual nourishment (take 2)

Today’s lesson: prayer, spiritual nourishment.

January 24, 2016: 1.5 hours, 5 children, ages 6–9 years. Started a new lesson today, based on the second lesson in Set 1, Grade 2 of the Ruhi Book 3 curriculum. As we’ve done in the past, we focused on just a few of the activities this week (song, story, and a craft), leaving the rest for the next week. I should note that our team is steadily growing; along with two main teachers, we now have two parents who assist with the class in various ways. Others have expressed interest in helping, too, which is great news. Because of this, we’re spending more time learning how to coordinate with each other as a team. For now, I’m planning the lessons (since I’m more familiar with Grade 2), making sure to divide up the different parts of the lesson such that each helper has something to contribute. When we start doing Grades 1 and 2 simultaneously, we’ll have two sets of teachers doing this concurrently. Hopefully we can build enough capacity right now so that everyone feels comfortable when the time comes to split the classes.

We started off with prayers, after which we set to work presenting the new lesson. I feel like I always talk too much when I do this on my own, so I asked my co-teacher to help with this. She prepared a nice slideshow with pictures to help the children visualize each part of the quote. We continued with the story of Lua Getsinger forgetting to say her prayers in the morning (and getting scolded for it by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá); one of our assistants took care of this part. The children seemed to get the main lesson of the story, which is that prayer is just a form of food for our souls—and, of course, that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá recommended we take our spiritual food before taking material food.

corksWe ended off the class with something we billed as a science experiment with spiritual overtones. (“We’re doing science in Bahá’í classes!?”) To illustrate the idea of being “attracted” to the Kingdom of God, we made our own miniature compasses, by magnetizing needles and sticking them through little roundels of styrofoam and/or cork. The children could easily see that once the needles were magnetized, pushed through the cork and floated in a tub of water, they pointed more or less towards magnetic north. Moreover, when we brought a magnet close to the tub, the needles floated towards the magnet. We dropped several needles into the tub and dragged the magnet around its sides, making the needles follow along like a school of hungry fish. This way, we were able to explain “attraction” in terms of a force that helps us to turn towards something and move towards it—just like prayer helps us to turn towards God and move towards Him.

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!

back to class!

Not too long ago we moved to a new area, leaving our previous class in the hands of our stalwart co-teacher. The last time we shared about that class, we were shifting gears for the summer after an attempt to start a new class in a different part of the same neighbourhood. After that attempt fell through, we were back to where we started, although we did learn a lot about team coordination, the effective use of human resources, and being part of a neighbourhood. Since then, that class has continued to evolve, and has ended up migrating towards the part of the neighbourhood where we tried starting the new class, since there seem to be more families with young children in that area. We’re still in touch, and in fact, we had a great chat together at a recent gathering for children’s class teachers based in our part of the cluster (we took notes, which I’ll try to write up and post here soonish).

mooncakes on a folderAnyway, since we moved to our new neighbourhood, we’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know our new neighbours and making connections. Our son is busy making new friends up and down the street, as well as at a local playgroup and at Bahá’í events in our new community. At the same time, another Bahá’í family in the community (though not in our neighbourhood) approached us asking if we would be interested in helping out with a children’s class in their area, with a “world citizens” theme. After a little bit of back and forth, we said sure, we’d love to help out.

We just came back from a great meeting together, where our team of three teachers (wow!) planned out the first lesson together and drew up an outline of what the class would look like—age range, venue, a basic agenda and calendar, and so on. We’ll be using the newest version of Ruhi Book 3, Grade 1, with 24 lessons for the year. It’ll be my first time using the updated Grade 1 lessons, so I’m looking forward to it. Since we’re a team, we’ve divided up the work—I’ll be focusing on teaching songs and prayers, another teacher will focus on arts, crafts and stories, and the third will focus on logistics, along with presenting the lesson itself and the quotes for memorization. We’re also hoping to incorporate presentations about different cultures every other week, so that we can explore the “world citizenship” angle.

All that being said, you can look forward to reading more frequent posts about our experience with this new class in the months to come! It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve been involved in actually teaching a children’s class, so this is a welcome return to this arena of service that’s become so dear to us over the years.

making a class calendar

If you’re teaching a Bahá’í children’s class, one thing you’ll probably find indispensable is the class calendar. At its simplest, this is a list of lesson topics or themes that will be covered during your school year. More complex calendars can also include lists of activities to be included in each lesson, prayers and quotes to be studied, and so on. Over the years, we’ve put together a calendar template that seems to work well for us. We’ve written about it before, but this time around, we’ve prepared some sample templates for you to download and use. Go ahead and download our pre-filled neighbourhood calendar template for Microsoft Excel (.xlsx) and open it in another window, and we’ll run you through the basics of it here. There’s also a blank template if you just want to dive in without having to look through a bunch of fake data.

Our calendar is actually a combination of two things: a class calendar and a class attendance sheet, all on the same worksheet. This means that you can enter the dates for each of your lessons and fill in all the related activities in one section of the sheet, and scroll to the next section to record attendance for the class after it happens.

neighbourhood calendar

Because we had a children’s class and a junior youth group going at the same time in our neighbourhood, we built space for both into our calendar. The “Type” field can be anything, but I usually use the following abbreviations for different activities: “CC” for children’s class; “JY” for junior youth group; “HV” for home visit; “RM” for reflection meeting; “DM” for devotional meeting; “SC” for study circle; and so on. There are enough columns for all the basic elements of a children’s class—quotes, prayers, songs, stories, drama and games, arts and crafts—and extra space for notes.

calendar-2

The attendance sections (one for a children’s class and one for a junior youth group, but you can always copy and paste in Excel to make more) provide space for quite a few participants, and can always be expanded by inserting new columns. As you can see in the figure above, there’s space for a first name, age, family identifier (usually the first name of a guardian), and comments to give some context and help you remember who’s who (such as where you first met them). You can put “yes” or “no” for attendance in a new row each week, and at the very end of the spreadsheet, there are a few “total” columns that will tally up the number of yeses to give you the final attendance numbers.

There are a lot of benefits to using a calendar like this. First of all, because it includes a section for attendance, keeping accurate statistics is easy. If you import the calendar to a service like Google Drive, it can make collaboration within a teaching team easier, too, since different team members can access it and update information in real time. If you’re not a computer person in the first place, you can always print it out and complete it by hand, too! And, of course, it’s a great tool for organizing and planning classes and other activities in your neighbourhood.

making an activity portfolio

A pile of books with a smartphone on topThe lessons developed by the Ruhi Institute for use in Baha’i children’s classes are simple and well-designed, and often stand just fine on their own. Still, there are times when teachers might want to augment lessons with different activities—for instance, if a class has already studied a certain lesson before and the teacher wants to add variety to keep the children engaged. If this often happens in your class, why not make yourself an activity portfolio—a collection of various activities that you’ve successfully incorporated, or that you’d like to incorporate, into your lessons?

An activity portfolio can be paper-based or electronic, depending on your preference. A paper-based portfolio could be a set of paper folders or binders that hold copies of different activities in paper form, or it could just be a notebook in which you write down a list of activities. An electronic portfolio could be a collection of PDFs and other documents organized into folders, an Evernote notebook, or a set of boards on Pinterest. Every time you come across a new activity that you’d like to use in your class, you can add it to your portfolio. The next time you’re feeling stuck trying to plan your a lesson, you can open up your portfolio to find inspiration.

Activities can be organized according to type (songs, games, art projects, crafts…), according to general themes or topics, or even according to specific lessons you often use. It helps to note down a bit of information about each activity, if it’s not already included: duration, targeted age or grade level, preparation time, required materials, and even notes about past experience you’ve had with it. Having this kind of information at your fingertips makes it easier to tell if the activity is a good fit for your lesson plan, and what you’ll need to make it happen.

Of course, collecting activities like this is one of the goals of this website, and you can find a variety of them in the activity section. Most of the activities we’ve featured here are ones we’ve had personal experience with in our classes, so you can read about how they went for us. Our Pinterest boards are another great source to go through to find new ideas for activities, too!