Developmentally Appropriate Teachings for Earth Day Month

In teaching our 7th Principle (respect the interdependent Web of Life, of which we are a part) to children, I strongly advocate for focusing first on a love of nature before you present the environmental “doom and gloom” aspect of the green movement. Many environmental education advocates, such as Richard Louv, have pointed out the danger of making the environment a scary thing when children also have no sense of attachment to nature, even coining the term “ecophobia” for this phenomenon. I believe that it is absolutely vital for the primary focus of children’s environmental education to emphasize our connection with nature and to simply get kids outdoors and seeing and observing the natural world around them.

Step One: Love Nature and Get Outside! Emphasize pure pleasure, wonder and awe.

Step Two: Recognize the interconnectedness of all life, know about systems and cycles, and see how what happens to one part of the web effects other parts. Emphasize curiosity, fascination, and respect for the amazing system.

But, once you have done that, there are some next steps.

Step Three: Increasingly recognize and understand the dangers and damages to the environment, know their causes, and how humans contribute to those environmental dangers and damages.

Step Four: Demonstrate empowerment to act, alone or with others, to be good stewards of the web of life and to counter environmental dangers and damages.

If you have already done Steps One and Two with your kids, it is time to move on and incorporate Steps Three and Four as well. This month, for Earth Day, consider learning more about Climate Change as a family:

(For Pre-school age kids, I would still stick with Steps One and Two)

Elementary-Age Kids:
1. Read together Why Are the Ice Caps Melting: The Dangers of Global Warming by Anne Rockwell and The Magic School Bus and the Climate Change by Joanna Cole. Your kids may have (probably have!) already heard much of this information, so ask them what they already know or think they know about climate change. Be sure to leave time to discuss any feelings or concerns that come up, too. Many children are very sad for the polar bears, for instance. Others may feel a sort of existential dread that the world is changing and the future could be awful, but not have words to use to express this so just say “it’s scary and sad”.

2. Learn about kids who are making a difference, and talk about them as role-models. Read together Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet by Janet Wilson.

3. Make a family-pledge to make a difference. Pick one, easy enough that you will succeed at it, action that your family can take to either reduce your carbon footprint, advocate for larger societal changes, or make another positive impact of some kind. (Bike to school, plant a tree, etc.)

4. Let other people know about what you’ve done! Write letters to grandparents about it, or post a sign in your front yard, or talk about it on social media such as Facebook.

Middle-School Age Kids:
1. Read together This is My Planet: The Kids’ Guide to Global Warming by Jan Thornhill or The Down-to Earth Guide to Global Warming by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. Leave time to discuss any feelings or concerns that come up. For instance, it is quite normal for kids this age to feel more indignant with people who made choices that got us here or with people who don’t believe in climate change. Or, alternatively, kids this age may feel apathetic and despairing that anything can be done.

2. Learn about kids who are making a difference, and talk about them as role-models. Read together Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet by Janet Wilson.

3. Set a challenge or a goal for making a difference. For instance, set a goal of riding bikes for a certain number of your regular trips instead of driving, or of reducing your trash generation to one tiny bag a week. Let others know (especially friends!) about your challenge and see if they will do it too. This can become a fun, gentle, competition and motivate everyone to have fun while making a difference!

High School Age Kids:

1. Watch a climate change documentary together for family movie night. Talk about the ways some people try to deny climate change exists, and what techniques they use for convincing/confusing people. This can be a very useful exercise in critical thinking (for you all).

2. Learn about young people making a difference: The Next Eco Warriors by Emily Hunter profiles 22 young men and women who are saving the planet. Some of their actions may seem drastic, and you may not always agree with their tactics. Discuss that!

3. Take action. Consider the personal/peer challenge as described for Middle School age kids, or look for a way to take on a big project (organizing an “Earth Hour” at school, for instance).

 

These are just some ways you can explore, celebrate, and advocate our 7th Principle this month!

The Fallacy of “You Can Believe Whatever You Want”

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I recently allowed my daughter to choose a hair color and dye her hair.  This is one of the things she can choose because I want her to have as much freedom as is reasonable for her age and maturity.  But it got me thinking about what we can change and what we can’t, and how much of our identity is a choice and how much is something deeper from within us.

When children and youth describe Unitarian Universalism, they often say “we get to believe whatever we want to believe”.  This is not true.  Within Unitarian Universalism, you cannot choose to believe in the superiority of one group of people over another group of people.  You cannot choose to believe that you have a right to treat other people poorly.  You cannot choose to believe that the people have a right to exploit or abuse, or that some people are destined for horrible eternal punishment.

And the kids know that.  It’s not really like a silly UU joke I’ve heard:

The children have all been in their Religious Education class and when they come out to coffee hour their parents ask them: “What did you do today?”.  “Oh, nothing … we talked about cannibals.”  The parents are taken aback.  “Cannibals?  What did you learn about cannibals?”  The kids say breezily “Oh, we learned that we have to make up our own minds about cannibals.”

This is the parody, the misconception that I have to work against.

The problem is, I think, a confusion between two types of freedom:

Freedom to be authentic, versus Freedom to choose

We can choose our hair color, our style, and so many other things.  But then there are things we cannot always choose:

  • We cannot always choose who and how we love
  • We cannot always choose who we will truly feel friendship or kinship with
  • We cannot always choose our passions, our callings
  • We cannot choose the belief or faith that comes from deep within us

We have to have the freedom to discover or discern these things about ourselves, not the freedom to choose them.  I explain this to kids and youth like this sometimes:

I used to think, many years ago when I was your age, that I would like to be a really cool and tough woman.  I wanted to ride a motorcycle and kick butt (they like it when I say butt).  I thought I could just choose to be like that.  But it turned out that I didn’t like to ride motorcycles – I didn’t even like to go fast down hill on my bicycle.  I also found that I was happier reading a book in a coffee shop than I was running around being tough.  So, I thought I could make a choice about how to be, but really I found out I actually needed to be true to who I really was, inside.  I needed to be my authentic self.  And what we believe in can be like that.  We can really, really want to believe in a God.  We can try, but discover that we just can’t.  Or we can really, really want to believe there is no God, but keep finding one in our heart anyway.  When I was growing up I had the freedom to either be a tough motorcycle babe or a geeky coffee-loving reader, whichever one I truly was.  And, as UU’s we also have the freedom to believe what we must believe in our hearts of hearts, but it’s not just an idle choice.  It’s the freedom to be our authentic selves, not to make idle choices.

 

This is why (as is noted in the curriculum Articulating Your Faith) it is not that UU’s believe whatever they want to believe, but rather believe what they must.  We are a tradition of free-minds, hearts, and souls, seeking to grow into our own authentic faith in a community of love, hope, and freedom.

To be true to oneself is a far more challenging proposition than the phrase “believe what you want” can ever represent.

 

April’s Faith Development Calendar

April 1st is April Fool’s Day! Although no one agrees on the historical origin of this day of foolishness, it is widely celebrated around the world as a day to play practical jokes on each other and celebrate fun and silliness.

April 7th is World Health Day. This would be a good time to talk about healthcare, world health concerns, and the work of those, such as Doctors without Borders, who bring healthcare to those who need it wherever they live. You could also learn more about UU’s who have been medical heroes: Albert Schweitzer and Clara Barton.

April 13th is Palm Sunday. In many Christian churches there will be branches and a procession, symbolic of the palms the crowd scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. This is also the beginning of Holy Week, which includes Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper Jesus celebrated with the Twelve Apostles, and Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Christ and is observed as a fast day by many Christians.

Passover begins on April 15th at sundown. On this night many Jewish families will be celebrating a special dinner, called a seder, and remembering the passage of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt to freedom. Although it is only loosely related to the holiday, I have recently enjoyed the charming picture book The Passover Lamb by Linda Elovitz Marshall

April 20th is Easter. For Christians this holiday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the holiday as it is celebrated by many at home, and the parts kids love (the Easter Bunny, the egg hunt) is more reminiscent of the pagan sabbat Ostara, which falls on the Vernal Equinox and so was celebrated in March. For many UU families, Easter can present some interesting challenges and questions, but I see this as an opportunity – a chance for us to create meanings and rituals around this holiday that are right for us. Michelle Richards wrote a good article about UU Families and Easter.

April 22nd is Earth Day. See my suggestions above, or look for a local earth stewardship event.

April 25th is Arbor Day. There is a whole new curriculum from the UUA called Circle of Trees that is free and available, and so you could go pretty in depth about trees as a family. Or you could just take a stroll around your neighborhood to notice the trees! And of course, it’s a great day to plant a tree if you can.

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You can have it as a PDF: Bringing the Sacred Homecalendarapril14

And if you find this useful, please consider making a small donation to The Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation, who make this work possible.

A Shout Out to LREDA

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At LREDA business meetings, we get creative with things like “Spin the Wheel of the Agenda”!

When I was a baby DRE, after only a few weeks of work, I attended my first LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association) meeting.  This is a monthly gathering of other fabulous and amazing people (mostly women but we can’t forget the awesome men who do this work too) who have listened, advised, studied, supported, shared, laughed and cried together through the years.  The individual people come and go, but the intent of the group remains the same:

We are here to support one another in this important work, which is so often done in isolation.  These are the people who understand what I do, because they do it too.  And at the larger (District, continental) level these are the people who volunteer their time to serve on Boards and Committees in order to make sure there are trainings and services to support us all in this work.

If you are a professional religious educator and you have not joined LREDA, what are you waiting for?  The dues are pretty reasonable, and the rewards are priceless.

Happy Spring!

Happy (almost) Spring!  How do you plan to celebrate the first day of the new season tomorrow?
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Get Out in Nature, Perhaps?
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Enjoy the Magic of a Camp Fire?

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Dig in the Dirt?

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Or Have Some Fun with Silly Holiday Candy?

Other Ideas include:

  • A Picnic
  • Looking for Flowers/flowering trees
  • Making a birdhouse or setting out a hummingbird feeder
  • Spring Cleaning
  • Putting out a mesh bag full of colorful yarn for birds to make nests with
  • Reading a book about the Spring Equinox

 

However you celebrate, I hope you have a truly blessed new beginning in the season.

A Few Awesome UU Women

In honor of International Women’s Day (March 8th), here are a few awesome Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist women you should tell your kids about:

1.  Susan B. Anthony (Unitarian and Quaker)

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2.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton

3.  Judith Sargent Murray

4.  Julia Ward Howe

5.  Lydia Maria Child

6.  Olympia Brown

7.  Margaret Fuller

These were all women who were born before women could vote in this country.  They were born in an era that did not respect women’s independence and intelligence, but they did not accept that as the way things had to be.  Many of the rights and opportunities that we enjoy now as women and girls owe much to the efforts of these women who came before us.

For a more kid-friendly version of this story, you could read this story from Tapestry of Faith to your children tomorrow.  And then you could also discuss some of these current women’s equality issues as well.

Happy Women’s Day!

March Faith Formation Calendar

Happy March!  I’ve been having fun putting together a little faith formation calendar for March.

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March is an interesting balance of partying and praying, of preparing and renewal.  Of course, it is the month that sees us turning the corner into Spring, and as such it is always a balance between the introspection of winter and the outward growth of spring.

March 2nd is Dr. Seuss’s Birthday.  Celebrate with green eggs and ham, read your favorite Dr. Seuss book, and talk about the lessons you have learned from Dr. Seuss.  Whether it is those Sneetches being snooty, or the Lorax speaking for the trees, Dr. Seuss’s stories have been a teaching tool for generations of children.
March 4th is Mardi Gras.  This is part of the “partying” theme of this month that I referenced above.  Mardi Gras is french for “Fat Tuesday”, and refers to the practice of making the most of the last day before the fasting of the lenten season begins the next day on Ash Wednesday.  Mardi Gras can be a fun time for all ages.  The following day you may observe some people with ashes on their foreheads.  This is primarily a Catholic practice, for Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent.  Many, including some UU’s, find the practice of lenten fasting (“giving something up for Lent”) to be a rewarding spiritual practice, either with the purpose of reminding one of the sacrifice made by Christ, or of bringing one closer to relationship with God, or of just clearing space in your life for an experience of seasonal renewal.
March 8th is International Womens Day.  Reflect on women’s rights around the world, learn more about a remarkable historical or contemporary woman (March is also Women’s History month!), and learn how you can support women’s equality.
March 16th is Purim.  This Jewish holiday commemorates the events related in The Book Of Esther, and there are some good picture books about Esther, such as Queen Esther Saves Her People by Rita Golden Gelman.  It is also another of those parties in March, as the holiday frequently involves putting on masks and having a big party.
March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day.  Another big party day, but as one of the most prominent “saints days” in our American culture, this could be a good time to talk to your kids about just what is a “saint”?  Saints and devotion to saints is part of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. There are a lot of saints (more than 10,000!) – learn more about an interesting saint today. Of course, the obvious one for the day is St. Patrick, and I am quite fond of Tomie dePaola’s book Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland for learning more about him.
March 20th is the Spring Equinoxor the pagan sabbat Ostara.  Great ways to mark the first day of spring with kids include planting flowers, having the first picnic of the year, or other outdoor activities.  With the arrival of spring, get out in the garden more with your kids with ideas from books such as Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots.
March 22nd is World Water Day.  You could spend all month exploring water issues and water stewardship as a family using the Gather the Spirit curriculum from the UUA, visit the Wet Science Center to learn more about water, or you can just research and support one of the good water organizations around the world.

Download your own pdf of the calendar here: bringingthesacredcalendarMarch 2014

Or as a Word Doc, with hyperlinks: bringingthesacredcalendarMarch 2014

If you find this useful or fun, please let me know.  Enjoy!

Seuss’s Birthday is March 2nd

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Our 1st-2nd graders spent September through January with Dr. Seuss this year.  Matching a wonderful Dr. Seuss story to each of our 7 Principles is not a difficult task, and the stories still delight students (and teachers!).

Our Dr. Seuss curriculum didn’t line up with celebrating his birthday, but we still finished with cupcakes and silly hats on the last day (can we ever go wrong finishing up with cupcakes and silly hats?)

So this weekend, if you are wondering what to do as a family, may I suggest:

Green Eggs and Ham –  try something you’ve never tried before

Facepaint a star on your cheek, or not - however we look, stars or no stars, we’re all worthy 

Do something good for nature - unless someone like you cares, things won’t get better

And Read your favorite Dr. Seuss together as a family!

 

Sabbaticals for Religious Educators

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I am slowing down, as I ease into a 13 week Sabbatical.  “Sabbatical” comes from the same root as “sabbath”, and it’s the same idea – every seven years you should rest, reflect, renew.

While I am away, my congregation is moving forward with the religious education program that I had helped them plan and prepare.  Other staff members are picking up more hours to cover the administration tasks, and the members of the Family Ministry Team are all taking on portfolios.  I handed my story books off to the Worship Arts Committee, so the celebrants can tell the story for all ages.

I’m only just into the second week of the sabbatical, but already I see these important reasons why congregations should offer this to their professional religious educator:

1.  It requires cross-training to prepare for it, and you will end up with a greater depth on the bench with folks ready to step up to bat if your religious educator ever becomes unavailable (illnesses and accidents do happen to even the best of us!)

2.  It is almost like a mini-interim year, because it is different enough that it confronts us with the question “why are we doing things this way?”  Is it because it’s the right way to do it, or is it because that’s just the way we’ve always done it?  Here is a chance to try doing things a different way, and maybe you’ll discover you like it.

For instance, I was always doing all the materials prep for classes during the week between each Sunday.  To prepare for the sabbatical, I did all the supply purchasing at once (epic shopping!), and then we had a work party to sort it all into pre-prepared lesson-packs with the dates they will be used written on them.  Although this was A Lot of work, it felt more efficient than spreading the work out over the whole session.  I plan to do this again in the future, even when I’m back to regular scheduling.

3.  Ideally, a religious educator (like a minister) is bringing inspiration, information, and general awesomeness to their role in the congregation.  After a while, though, you’ve heard all their stories, they’ve already told you their ideas, and then what?  Study, retreats, service trips, conferences, classes, personal spiritual practice, adventures, and sabbaticals are all tools for keeping your religious educator fresh and interesting.  Each experience will be brought back to the congregation in one form or another.

4.  Some projects are so big they can’t get done in the midst of the normal grind.  Whether it is writing a book, finishing up religious credentialing, creating a new curriculum or a resource website, it’s going to take time and focus.  Supporting your religious educator with the gift of that time can benefit the entire denomination (or world?) when those projects can be birthed.

5.  Religious Educators are also in a caring profession, and spend a great deal of energy thinking of and caring for others.  I’m already finding that a sabbatical forces me to spend more time thinking about myself than I am used to.  This is important work, to get to know myself better and to give the same gifts of healing and teaching to myself that I constantly offer to others.  Once again, the benefit to the congregation will be a stronger religious educator will walk back through the door.

And I thank my congregation for having the vision to see all of this as important!

Curriculum Review: Amazing Grace

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For our 5th-6th graders in the fall, to meet our goal of UU Identity work, we used the curriculum Amazing GraceThis is another Tapestry of Faith program from the UUA, this one by Richard Kimball.  Kimball is also the author of several Shelter Rock curricula, including one I’ve used before, Bibleodeon. 

Amazing Grace worked out pretty well for us.  It is an engaging look at ethics and some concepts we UU’s usually avoid, namely Sin and Grace and so forth.  Different religious ideas about sin and grace and right and wrong are discussed, and the kids are encouraged to wrestle with their own solutions to age-appropriate ethical dilemmas.

Pros of the Program:

  • “Meaty” material with a lot of depth to it
  • Even with the depth of content, it is still creatively active and has the kids up and moving as much as possible

Cons of the Program:

  • Like all the Tapestry of Faith programs, there is too much material here for an hour long class, much less the 45 minute classes we do.  It’s hard to edit it down to the right size and not overwhelm the teachers.
  • At times the kids and teachers complained that it was dry and boring.

I think the pros outweigh the cons, and we will be doing this program again in the future!