This is a guest post by mother, artist, author,
and children’s class teacher Sophia Wood.
In our children’s classes we try to encourage creativity through the arts and sciences. I try to facilitate (get the ball rolling) and then let them take off with their creative wings.
Here are some examples that we have done in our classes:
- We created wings of joy to fly with (after singing with the ukelele and running around with our arms out).
- We have made maps of virtues where the kids get extra large paper and create their world (Unity mountains, Truthful River, Peaceful Town, etc).
- We have built circuits to symbolize our connectivity to God (the light turned on when we prayed and were connected).
- We have played virtue Hop Scotch where the kids surrounded the board with beautiful chalk drawings of how they showed each virtue (we did a lot of drama and acting with this too).
- The built a fortress of love (God’s Love is a Fortress) with legos and then we played a game to lead us to that fortress of God’s Love.
My philosophy is to be an artist that focuses on presence. A child is only concerned with the texture, color, and sensory perception of the paint (as an example of an artistic medium). What has been painted doesn’t matter. What will be painted is of no concern. Only the paint on the canvas here and now matter, and the flow of energy. I try to practice that form of presence, awareness, and spiritual flow.
Most of the art I do starts with a blank sheet. I do not know what it will be until I have my brush on the canvas and often until I am well into it (most of the time). I also use photography as a way of capturing what God has presented to me, what I am blessed to witness.
It took me years to learn to love myself and this process. Sometimes the hardest form of gratitude is the thankfulness for our tests and difficulties. I may have never found or explored art as much had I not been tested.
This “flow” has increased and matured since I became a Baha’i. I always prayed, but as a Baha’i my spiritual awareness has sharpened and I feel more present. The only way I can describe it is there is more energy and love felt in my process. It was truly a blessing to find the Faith.
I love teaching our neighborhood children’s classes every week and the spiritual education of children is what has inspired me to write. When I started my latest book Little Muses I wanted to take concepts that can sometimes be hard to communicate and understand (like reverence or forgiveness) and put them in poetic form with artwork. I always have this energy that bubbles up inside and comes out in art.
The sciences, arts, inventions, trades, and discoveries of realities, are the results of this spiritual power. This is a power which encompasses all things, comprehends their realities, discovers all the hidden mysteries of beings, and through this knowledge controls them: it even perceives things which do not exist outwardly…
(Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 304)
The artwork in Little Muses is a product of feelings, doodles and musings. I combined the art with a similar flow of poetry. It bubbles out and is always fun to see the end product.
Rain in the mountains
Brings flowers to sky
Creating wet from dry
We get tests not rain
To grow and to sing
But the result is the same
Beauty and spring
The bottom line to me is: When we encourage creative thought, children get engaged, they become aware, the ideas of knowing and loving God, of praying, knowing we are all unified, and that we can shine become less words and more concrete action. Creativity, games, acting, science, and arts all help children (and adults) solidify and grow these concepts in our hearts.
When we learn to love this artistic process ourselves, we can share it even better with our children.
Part of facilitating creativity in a children’s class is providing the materials, but not over-directing. It is amazing when you let them be free with their creative processes to what they produce. It is important for them to feel out their styles and feelings and to learn the creative process, a cooperative approach (drama is great for this), and to be critical thinkers.
By letting them ask the questions and define as much as they can for themselves they will become more firm in their faith and love of God. If we hand it all to them, then they may not “own” it. Part of knowing and loving God is questions – children are good at this and often go about it in their creativity and exploration.
A note from the website administrators:
This post conveys a personal example of art in a children’s class, unique to an individual situation and understanding. We are not advocating any one way of art (ie. western use of visual art) and respect that each community will have its own local traditional art. As children’s class teachers we can channel creativity in whatever materials are available such as through local handicrafts or cultural artistic expressions. The most important thing is not the medium but the expression of the spirit.
Furthermore, as teachers please don’t feel pressure to do anything EXTRA unless you deem it necessary. Any extra activities should not detract attention from the spiritual enrichment of the educational process.
Here are some quotations to reflect on in regards to the thoughts above:
In light of the foregoing paragraphs, the question of educational materials specifically as they pertain to children’s classes and to junior youth groups has to be considered. With regard to the former, we explained in our Ridvan 2010 message that the lessons prepared by the Ruhi Institute would constitute the core of a programme for the spiritual education of children, around which secondary elements could be organized. Whether or not any additional elements are required to reinforce the educational process for each grade would generally be determined by teachers themselves, on the basis of specific circumstances, not infrequently in consultation with the institute coordinator at the cluster level. It is assumed that, if found to be appropriate, any additional items would be selected from resources readily available. There will seldom be cause to formalize the use of such items, whether directly through their adoption by training institutes or indirectly through their widespread systematic promotion.
12 December 2011 message, Universal House of Justice, paragraph 16
In all such matters, those serving as teachers and animators alike are called upon to exercise discretion. Education is a vast field, and educational theories abound. Surely many have considerable merit, but it should be remembered that none is free of assumptions about the nature of the human being and society. An educational process should, for example, create in a child awareness of his or her potentialities, but the glorification of self has to be scrupulously avoided. So often in the name of building confidence the ego is bolstered. Similarly, play has its place in the education of the young. Children and junior youth, however, have proven time and again their capacity to engage in discussions on abstract subjects, undertaken at a level appropriate to their age, and derive great joy from the serious pursuit of understanding. An educational process that dilutes content in a mesmerizing sea of entertainment does them no service. We trust that, in studying the institute courses, teachers and animators will find themselves increasingly equipped to make judicious decisions in selecting any materials or activities necessary, whether from traditional educational sources or from the wealth of items, such as songs, stories, and games, that are sure to be developed for the young in the Baha’i community in the years to come.
12 December 2011 message, Universal House of Justice, paragraph 18
How do you incorporate art into children’s classes?