A lens into the present: elders as a resource for children ‘just waiting to be tapped’

May 27, 2020
A lens into the present: elders as a resource for children ‘just waiting to be tapped’

Cora Hays, a Baha’i in Roseville, Minnesota, offers a personal perspective on engaging elders as a valuable resource “just waiting to be tapped” to teach children’s spiritual education classes in a time of global pandemic. Most Baha’i-initiated neighborhood children’s classes are taught by parents or youth. 

By Cora Hays

Online children’s classes have many challenges. Perhaps you can relate. But I recently found that they also have some unexpected perks.

Our most recent class was an immense success — thanks to the grandparent of one of our children. We have been on lockdown for over a month now, and the opportunity for the children to interact with someone outside their immediate household was both novel and attractive. 

The grandmother who served as our teacher led four wonderful activities. They included a story, two games and an exercise for memorization of a quotation from the Baha’i writings. 

We began with prayers, of course. Each of the children has been working on memorizing prayers and quotes with their parents. They are almost always excited to share these with one another at children’s class. 

This wonderful grandmother praised them as only a loving elder can. Then she shared a story with them. Her storytelling included the children in the process by asking questions about what they thought would happen next or how the characters in the story would react. 

Wesley Hays and guest teacher Myra Couts get close to their screens while memorizing a Baha’i quotation during a teleconferenced children’s class in Roseville, Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Cora Hays

The exercise was set up so that the children were actually memorizing with the teacher a quotation their own parents had encountered in a study circle. 

The children were invited to come in close to the camera and recite the quote so that later they would be able to ask their parents if they had also memorized this quote: “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.” 

That quote is familiar to anyone who has been through the first book of the Ruhi courses, which train people to offer core activities of community building. 

Of course the parents could hear what was going on, but the rapport built between the children and their teacher was cemented by this intimate connection. 

I’m eager to try this approach with future children’s classes composed of neighbors who are just beginning to become familiar with the Ruhi courses. 

The quote set the stage for a game of “Building Foundations.” In this game the children begin with a block or Lego brick with “truthfulness” written on it. On that foundation they add other blocks with other virtues until a tall tower of spiritual qualities has been constructed. 

For our class, each family built their own tower while our loving teacher asked each of the children for qualities to add to her tower. The children had many ideas including helpfulness, love, kindness, obedience, respect and creativity, and by the time we finished she had a very tall stack of virtues built on her foundation of truthfulness. The children were very proud to be able to tell their teacher about the other virtues they had begun focusing on. 

The game included opportunities to reflect and talk about the meaning of the quote with some questions about how truthfulness makes us feel when we practice it. The children were tired at this point, but still understood the goal of the game and wanted to do well for their teacher. 

For a final game, the children set the quote to music individually and then shared their results. This kind of creative composition would not actually be possible in a class where the children shared the same physical space. 

Zoom made it possible by providing a mute function. Who knew it could be so useful to mute half the class? The children in each household produced beautiful songs — on keyboard, drums, ukulele and castanet. 

As we’ve had to hold virtual children’s classes in our community, we have passed the role of teaching around from household to household. This was the first time we had an elder who is not usually part of our class — she lives in another state — serve as the teacher. The result was one of the best classes we’ve had since all this began.  

So here’s my takeaway: Call on the elders in your life. This is the time to do it. These isolated friends, often with years of experience in teaching children’s classes, are an incredible resource just waiting to be tapped.

Wishing you all health, prosperity and the very best children’s classes! 

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