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.

truthfulness (take 4)

Today’s lesson: truthfulness.

finishing touchesJuly 3, 2010: Trying it yet again! Outreach again this time. A group of us have been doing outreach in Chinatown and met some families all living in one apartment building who showed interest in a children’s class. After meeting a few times and sharing Anna’s presentation with the families (through a significant language barrier), we finally had a class of sorts, with 4-6 boys (I’d say about 5-8 years old). We played a lot more games than usual for us, and they loved it. in fact the class was mostly games, proportion-wise. all the same, we worked on memorizing “O God, guide me” and the quote on truthfulness. The prayers were amazing, as the older children stayed in quiet meditation for a full minute after the prayers were done–I’ve never seen that in all my time doing children’s classes. My co-teacher suggested it might have been due to their Buddhist background… in any case, it was astounding and MOST welcome, and we’ll encourage them to continue doing this for sure. They loved the story about the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and they seemed to grasp all the concepts well. overall, a great summer class after a very uneventful spring season.

january stories

So far during the month of January, our Chinatown class has gone through four lessons on the themes of truthfulness, steadfastness, humility, and preferring others before oneself. We started off at the beginning of January (the 2nd) with a special three-hour class, which we hoped would be attended by a large number of families so that we could start off with a bang—of course, things don’t always go the way we would hope. Class size has fluctuated between three to five children each week, and due to how busy some of the families are, we’ve also run into some punctuality problems. So far, though, we’ve managed to get most of the children to memorize at least one prayer—”O God, Guide Me”—and are working on having them memorize the second one suggested in Book 3—the one that goes “I am earthly, make me heavenly”. We got together as a teaching team and discussed curriculum; the plan is to finish the lessons from Book 3, and then continue by introducing the lessons of the Furutan curriculum, given in the books Baha’i Education for Children.

The three-hour class went remarkably well; I haven’t tried to go that long with a class in a while, and was pleasantly refreshed to see that we had enough material to keep the children engaged, having fun and learning through the whole time. After praying and singing a few of our favourite songs, we plunged straight into memorizing the well-known Baha’i quote, “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues”. We tried explaining it in terms of the foundation of a building; I’m not sure whether the analogy helped them or confused them. I keep wondering about how good their command of English is, since most of them have only lived in Canada for a year, and I seem to end up explaining a lot of the words. Perhaps that’s actually normal for kids of their age (~6-7 years), and I’ve been coddled by only having gifted children to teach in the past. Well, whatever. This makes for great teaching experience.  The second half of the class, after a healthy snack, consisted of putting together a house out of wooden stir-sticks—illustrating how virtues can be a “foundation” for human spiritual life—and a dramatic presentation of the day’s story, which was a retelling of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. It was actually my first time successfully “doing” drama with the kids in a children’s class; we did it by eschewing a script and instead giving the children their roles and lines verbally, with extensive narration by one of the teachers. We had two children playing the mother and father, and one playing the titular character. The children took their cues from the narrator, acting out whatever the story said. The whole thing worked out well, I had my directorial debut, and they got a real kick from acting out the story.

The next two classes dealt with slightly more abstract themes, and I noticed that we had a tougher time getting the message across to all of the kids. During both the lesson on steadfastness and the lesson on humility, they seemed to have trouble understanding the theme, and I had to explain it a few times, leaving me wondering what they had come away with. I found that the description of Book 3 seemed to go a little over their heads, so I tried to explain humility to the children the following way: God is big and powerful, and we, on the other hand, are so small and weak by comparison. Humility is just remembering how big and powerful God is, and how small and weak we are. When we remember that we depend on God for everything, we stop thinking that we’re better than anyone else around us. It took us most of the class time to get to that point of understanding, though. I think we got it by the end, but of course, as suggested in Book 3 itself, we’ll have to repeat it later on to be sure.

Regarding steadfastness, I was pleased to see that nobody came away with nightmares from the story of Ruhu’llah and his father, which I decided to tell in its entirety, though as non-graphically as I could. I’ve heard Baha’is express misgivings about telling a story in which the main character, a young boy dedicated to teaching and spreading God’s message, watches his father die before him only to die himself after refusing to recant his faith—but, besides having to make certain disclaimers, I’ve never heard either parents or children object to the story. On one occasion, a child reacted with anxiety to think that children could be killed in such a way, at which point the parent on hand explained that, while such things may have happened in that place at that time (19th-century Persia), we don’t have to worry about it happening to us here in Canada, which seemed to bring the anxiety level down. I made sure to give the same disclaimer this time, and nobody even made a peep—which, again, made me wonder whether they had understood what I was saying… oh well.

truthfulness (take 3)

Today’s lesson: truthfulness.

December 5, 2007: 1 hour, 3 children, average age 8. Outreach class. wow. pretty interesting class. discipline went well even though we had some normally feisty kids in the class – things have gone better since we introduced the painting activity, which has given our more tactile/kinesthetic learners a stronger reason to engage themselves in the class. after reading prayers and singing two songs (“Tell the Truth” and “Blessed is the Spot”), we memorized the quotation (“Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues”), which brought us into a discussion about what a “foundation” means. I think we got the idea across well enough—we introduced the idea of the foundation of a house, and how a house would fall over if it didn’t have a good enough foundation; we then compared our souls to those houses, and explained that without truthfulness, our “soul houses” (as it were) would have nothing to stand on, just like a real house. We then launched into the story—which I hammed up a great deal, but which again seemed to have gotten the point across—and, to end off the class, we had about five or ten minutes to paint with the kids. usually we have more time to paint, but I guess I hammed up the story a little too much!

One of the children told me something interesting that made me think; I’ll share with you an abridged version. She said she had gotten into the habit of lying about little things, for example, making a mess in the house—and then blaming said mess on one of her younger sisters out of the fear of punishment. When guilt finally overtook her later on, she would confess the truth to her parents, at which point she would be punished—perhaps worse than if she had told the truth in the first place. We encouraged her to see that as a good reason to tell the truth up front, but instead she cited the inevitable punishments as being “why I don’t tell the truth anymore”. yikes. How do you go about helping a child to learn to love telling the truth when they come out with something like that? (comments welcome…)