Baha’is see the young as the most precious treasure a community can possess. In them are the promise and guarantee of the future. Yet, in order for this promise to be realised, children need to receive spiritual nourishment, such as can be found in the children’s classes happening all around the world.
As Baha’is, we know that education is of three kinds: material, human and spiritual. As a mother, I have always found the first two kinds relatively easy to manage. When it comes to their spiritual education however, I tend to feel a little more uneasy, especially since Abdu’l-Baha refers to this kind of education as the “true” kind when he says:
Divine education is that of the Kingdom of God: it consists in acquiring divine perfections, and this is true education…
Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, US Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1990 reprint of pocket-size edition, p.7
The pressure is mounted with the following quote:
Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning. A child that is cleanly, agreeable, of good character, well-behaved – even though he be ignorant – is preferable to a child that is rude, unwashed, ill-natured, and yet becoming deeply versed in all the science and arts. The reason for this is that the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned. If, however, the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light.
Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Centre, 1982, p. 320
A few of the mothers in our community recently decided to start a children’s class specifically for those aged between zero and five. These preschool classes aim to encourage the development of morals and good conduct in our young ones, with each lesson based on a different virtue and featuring prayer, singing, stories and crafts.
Below are the 10 main steps we took when starting up the preschool classes:
This step might seem pretty obvious, but cannot be overlooked. It’s imperative that we pray for guidance and confirmation as we undertake this path of service. As Baha’u’llah says:
Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul.
Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, revised edition, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1984, pp. 294 – 295
2. Source Support
When starting your class, it is important to source support. Whether it’s your friends, family, members of the community or the institutions of the Faith – it’s always a good idea to be accompanied so you don’t feel overwhelmed. In our community, because a group of us formed the class, we each felt reassured knowing we had one another to provide encouragement, guidance and help when needed.
3. Determine Logistics
Again this may seem like an obvious step, but it needs to be thought out. Where will you hold the classes – in the neighbourhood or in a central location? How regularly will they happen – weekly, fortnightly or monthly? What time suits the participants best – in the morning or after school? Who will plan the lessons? Do the teachers have their necessary accreditations allowing them to swork with children?
4. Find Resources
There are loads of resources online and in print that can be used for preschool classes. Below are four great resources that include lesson plans as well as ideas for themes, prayers, songs, stories and crafts. The plans can be used as is or adapted and used as inspiration.
This recent Baha’i Blog post also has some books that are perfect for the storytelling component of the lesson.
5. Plan Lessons
Using the same format as Ruhi Book 3, we make sure all our lessons are based on one theme or virtue and include the following components (in this order): prayer, singing and memorization, stories and craft. Of course, preschoolers don’t have as long an attention span as older children, so we condense each lesson plan to about 20 minutes.
6. Start Small
If you don’t want to run the risk of getting overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to start small. When we first started the classes, it was the three of us mothers and our three preschoolers. As we gained confidence in ourselves and in the program, we felt more comfortable inviting others along.
7. Music is the key!
We not only find that music is a great way to involve the children and parents, but it’s a great method of memorisation. Singing the same quotes and prayers week after week will provide a sense of familiarity for the children and also allow them to learn prayers by heart. Encouraging the children to bring instruments along also adds to the joy of each lesson.
8. Promote the Class
Once the classes have reached a point where you feel comfortable enough with the content and the quality, it’s a good idea to open them up to more people. We found that most parents are receptive to the idea of bringing their children along to a group that is inclusive and that offers their preschoolers something more than just the “free play” typically offered at playgroups.
Creating a Facebook page like this one, promoting the group through local media and asking friends with children to come along are some effective ways of getting the word out.
9. Forge Friendships
There is not much point thinking of these groups as one-off events that are held on an ad-hoc basis. We are working towards an ever-advancing civilisation, so the stronger the bonds of friendship formed, the more comfortable people will feel to engage in a process of community building alongside us.
We have found that many of the parents in our classes are now willing to teach the lessons, with some also attending devotional gatherings and study circles. It is heartwarming to see them harness their desire to assist with the spiritual transformation of their children and their communities.
It is imperative to reflect with one another on a regular basis. What are we learning? What isn’t quite working? What do we need to improve on? As we reflect, so too do our endeavours strengthen and with that comes further confirmation.
Abdu’l-Baha talks about the importance of educating children from infancy when he says:
From his infancy, the child must be nursed at the breast of God’s love, and nurtured in the embrace of His knowledge, that he may radiate light, grow in spirituality, be filled with wisdom and learning, and take on the characteristics of the angelic host.
Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, Bahá’í World Centre, 1982, pp. 130 – 131
With this in mind, let us all take the first step and pray for Baha’u’llah to guide us as we do what we can to assist with the spiritual growth of all the little treasures in our community. After all, it takes a village to raise a child!
Dellaram is a Baha'i, wife, and mother of three, who works as a freelance journalist and copywriter in her hometown of Ballarat, Australia. She is passionate about building community and loves the thrill that comes with op-shopping!