This is a guest post from Julie Iraninejad.
Shortly after the birth of my first child, it became clear that there was a great opportunity to engage new mothers (and fathers) in learning how to offer spiritual education to their young children. We began by forming a spiritual playgroup in which we prayed together and discussed spiritual topics using Writings of the Baha’i Faith while our infants played on blankets with toys in front of us. After the discussion time, we would then hold a short children’s class for our infants, involving simple prayers, songs and a quotation from the Baha’i Writings on a particular virtue.
Once our little ones were mobile and talking, the discussion part of the gathering yielded to a full children’s class in which the children prayed, sang songs, danced, etc. and recited a quotation from the Baha’i Writings. Then, when my first daughter became 3, we began to add components to the lesson, like a simple art project- such as coloring- related to the virtue, as well as a cooperative game. Eventually, we also added simple stories of Abdu’l-Baha. In the 3-5 year old class, we incorporate the Baha’i Writings and prayers, as well as learning about the concept of God, while at the same time focusing the lesson on a virtue every two to three weeks. The parents sign up to share stories, cooperative games, art activities, snack, etc. so that they too are contributing to the class. It has been a true blessing- and almost all the participants are seekers. We even had to form a second 3-5 year old class on Saturdays (taught by two youth) to accommodate the demand. It has been an exciting journey!
As our vision grew, we realized how crucial it is to engage seekers and Baha’is in home visits- discussing themes of spiritual import, as well as connecting them and empowering them to participate in regular devotional gatherings and most importantly- study circles using the Ruhi Institute material-so that those interested can become confirmed in their belief in Baha’u’llah.
Regular teaching team meetings with a few devoted souls who support these activities have proven invaluable to our efforts.
When my second daughter was born, three friends and myself formed another weekly children’s class, for children ages 0-3 and their caregivers. This was done and continues to be done in the name of the Yaran- a group of dedicated Baha’is imprisoned in Iran for their beliefs. At first, it included only children that were one year of age and under, as well as one of their caregivers, and then eventually was able to encompass more children and their mothers, once the children began to move around.
The format of the lessons was similar to the ones that were offered with my first child- using the Baha’i Writings and prayer, mentioning God often, and highlighting one virtue every month. Soon our class became completely full- with close to 22 mothers and their children attending each week. We realized how important it was to help empower others to offer these neighborhood children’s classes, rather than just have people attend a class, so we created a one day training to help get some of the mothers started, as well as a regular support network of toddler teachers who meet together every 3 months to consult and reflect on challenges and progress. The first training, which was offered just recently, had 25 participants and resulted in 9 new neighborhood children’s classes (either for 0-3 or 3-5 year olds and their caregiver). Now we have a smaller neighborhood class, but with many other neighborhood children’s classes sprouting up.
Once we made the class smaller, it was easier to engage the mothers in study of the first book of the Ruhi sequence and I am happy to say that all of the mothers have decided to study Ruhi 1. We have our classes for children 0-3 from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. on Tuesdays in our home, followed by a snack. Then at 10:30, two ladies have offered to watch the children in another room or outside while the mothers engage in study of Reflections on the Life of the Spirit. We have also begun to have a different mother each month help in the planning, preparation and teaching of our smaller neighborhood children’s class, along with the usual teacher of the class, so that they begin to feel empowered and practice their skills. Eventually, the different mothers will pair up together and will be able to teach their own neighborhood children’s classes as more seekers are engaged- staying true to the vision of the children’s classes centered around the Word of God for this Day, and multiplying even further the number of children and parents engaged in this process.
I offer the lessons for 0-3 year olds and 3-5 year olds as an effort resulting from individual initiative. It is by no means an official curriculum. It is simply something we have found effective as part of a greater effort to spread the Faith of Baha’u’llah to the waiting masses. Truly, when combined with the other elements of the Plan, it has great potential! Mothers at the very beginning of their journey as parents are so eager to support and aid their children in developing spirituality and we have had 70+ seekers engaged in these classes, as well as the other core activities in our neighborhood. A key learning for us has been to not try to do it all ourselves, but rather help accompany and empower others so that it is all sustainable.
I wish you all the best with your efforts to nurture the tender hearts and minds of children, as well as to bring whole families under the sheltering shadow of the Cause of Baha’u’llah. Please think of these lesson plans as just one tool- that can be adjusted, changed, etc. according to your needs. I have often put in lots of songs, and you can just simply pick and choose the ones you want to include. Also, there is a resource list, to aid you in developing your own lesson plans for this young age group. Enjoy these and please let me know of your learning, challenges, and successes on this noble path!
To watch a video of a sample class, click here.
Download Julie’s materials here.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.enablemetogrow.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/JulieRI.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Julie Iraninejad, M.Ed. is an International Network for Children and Families (INCAF) certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior (RCB) Instructor. Julie has a Masters of Education in Montessori/early childhood education and has many years of teaching experience. She is a Virtues Project Facilitator and is also a wife and mother of two precious children. You can visit her company website at Parenting for a Better World.[/author_info] [/author]