January 5, 2019

Children First
by Carol Gravelle

What if children’s education emphasized learning to think, reflect and apply spiritual laws that benefit both their life and their society? It sounds otherworldly, yet the young are our most precious treasure since the promise and guarantee of the future lie with them.

The children’s class for some 20 four-and-five-year-olds and seven-to-10-year-olds in the Albion-Heatherington neighbourhood is taught every Tuesday by volunteer teachers. At the beginning of every class they are asked to say prayers which confirm that God is a rewarding presence in their lives. The children then participate in book reading, understanding and discussion. Take for example a recently read book about disobedience. They were shown the book’s illustrations and their views were elicited, with each young voice recognized in reinforcing the learned lesson. Since the children’s class is founded on Bahá’í teachings and therefore universal in scope, learning the importance of obedience at a young age is important. The children in their own precious way respond with the understanding that the caring adults in their lives are there to guide them in their learning. The stories of Abdú’l Bahá’s life are an excellent way of illustrating in a concrete way the spiritual qualities that are being explored. As an example of sharing, a young student overheard a classmate raving about M&M toppings. The young girl then chose not to have sprinkles on her own cone, but rather to have them given to her classmate.

Behaviors that constitute essential attributes of a spiritual being include courtesy. The words please and thank you are often heard during the class. Another sign is raising one’s hands to ensure respect in the speaking order. Likewise, the children’s class also nurtures love for all people, tolerance of differences and an acute sense of justice as well as empathy for others.

Learning is also enforced through cooperative games where gentle hands, active listening, virtuous behaviors and true friendships are formed. As an example of a cooperative game, the people to people game is where students are asked to mingle until the caller commands participants to do a combination such as knee to knee or nose to back. To their delight, each child is given the opportunity to be a caller.

There is even more opportunity to reflect and be creative with crafts, which range from word challenges and assembling a unity house made of paper to drawing and painting wooden shapes. Children spend time together in a joyful atmosphere conducive to learning and strengthening spiritual bonds.

Play-acting is another way of emphasizing an important virtue learned during a lesson. Students gather in a circle and listen while they are asked to separate into smaller groups overseen by a facilitator and then illustrate their understanding by play-acting that virtue.

Ultimately, the goal for the children of Albion-Heatherington – and indeed in all the children’s classes throughout the city and beyond – is to reach a stage in which they understand and tend to their own spiritual development. Reflecting on her experience, Nura Soucy, one of the organizers of the classes, said "It is so rewarding to see young children with so much potential, developing capacities to contribute to the wellbeing of society."

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