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.

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.

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.

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 3)

Today’s lesson: cooperation and reciprocity.

June 8, 2013: Today was the day we set aside to go over the drama portion of the class. We briefly went over the story of Nettie Tobin again to remind the children, and then got them to act it out up to the point where Nettie arrived at the site of the House of Worship (stopping there, to avoid having to portray ‘Abdu’l-Bahá). The youngest of the girls (an eight-year-old) played Nettie—scouting out a stone from the nearby construction site, and carrying it from trolley to trolley in a baby carriage all the way to the site of the House of Worship—and the other two filled in different roles, such as the foreman, Nettie’s friend, and even the baby carriage that carried the rock.

Everyone got a lot of laughs and had a lot of fun with this class. I think we can say with confidence that out of everything we do in class, the children love drama the most. The older girl who was present—a ten-year-old who normally appears timid—really comes into her own when playing a role. She says she wants to be an actress, and she’d probably be a great one: she really does well at learning and delivering lines, using her voice, her face, and her body to expressing emotion. Just one of those gems we’ve found while digging through the spiritual mines!

cooperation and reciprocity (take 2)

Today’s lesson: cooperation and reciprocity.

June 1, 2013: This week, we went over the story of Nettie Tobin, who contributed the cornerstone of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, found in Lesson 12 in Ruhi Book 3, Grade 2, Set 4. They really loved this story. We printed out images to go along with the story—a construction site, a baby carriage, a trolley, and so on—and read the story along with the illustrations. I don’t know why we hadn’t thought about this before; children love to read books with lots of pictures, so it makes sense to use pictures as embellishment when telling a story.