Curriculum Review: Heart Talk

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I’ve just finished a week of “Peace Camp” for 7-10 year olds for my congregation.  A co-teacher and I led this day camp for 15 kids, using the curriculum “Heart Talk” for the spine of our lessons.

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It’s a non-violent communications curriculum, set up for pre-1st grade, 2nd-4th grade, or 5th-7th grade. Conflict-management and communication skills are one of my main goals for the children and youth (part of what I’m starting to think of as our “values-based community life skills”), so I was delighted to find this curriculum.

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Overall, we were impressed with it.  The lessons were thoughtful and by building up to conflict by first talking about feelings, judgements, needs, requests, and empathy it avoids the problem I find in a lot of conflict lessons for kids – that the kids are asked to jump straight into a conflict scenario and frequently seem to just enjoy the idea of the conflict rather than work to solve it.  Those sort of “what would you do if someone did x, y, or z to you?” scenario games have never felt effective to me, although some kids do enjoy them.  Heart Talk focuses on a deeper understanding of what leads us to act the way we do, which I appreciate.

Sometimes the kids complained that the lessons were “boring”, and I did wish for a few more “fun” games, but it was easy enough to add in some drama improv games.  The books used in the curriculum were readily available (a problem with the older curricula and something that will eventually date this program as well, but it’s new enough they are all in print) and good, with the exception of The Indian in the Cupboard which we did not use because of its stereotypes of Native Americans.  Other than that one ill-chosen selection, I thought the other choices were lovely.

So, with just a few minor quibbles (and I always find something to change about anything I use as a teacher, and I know other teachers would find something to change about anything I created – it’s in the nature of teachers to tweak lesson plans to suit themselves), I heartily recommend this as a great resource for other UU religious education programs.

The Tree Protest

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This week I’m leading Chalice Camp for 7-10 year olds at my church, and it was also the week that work really got going on a new parking lot addition.  It involved trees coming down, and that was extremely upsetting to many of the kids in the camp.  They are UU kids: environmentalists who expect their voices to be heard.
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The most passionate formed a “tree protest club”, made protest signs and wanted to give speeches.  (Pictured are my children, since I know I have photo permission for those, but there were 8 kids in the club, out of 15 in the camp.)
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My co-teacher and I shelved the original plans for a bit, and we had a long discussion and then gave them the time to give us their speeches.
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It was emotional.  It was difficult.  I think it was the right thing to do.  Church community in action, again.

UU Church Camps

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This week I am busy teaching the first of two “Chalice Camps” I will do this summer for my congregation.  The theme for this week it is “All Aboard Space Ship Earth”, with 4-7 year olds.

It’s my fourth year of camps, and they really are one of the major highlights of my year.  The relationships that are built, between the adults and the kids, between the teenage helpers and the younger kids, between the teenage helpers and the adults, are all so rich and they simply don’t form with the kind of time you spend in an immersion experience such as a camp.  I also see the kids beginning to really feel at home in the church building in a way they don’t if they only attend on Sunday mornings when it’s crowded and busy.

So I’m tired, but it’s worth it!

A Hands On Faith

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Perhaps you have heard of Hands On Learning, the educational model that focuses on experiential-type activities for learning rather than on listening or reading to find out new knowledge.

We can have Hands On Religious Education.  Yes, part of that is actually Doing: doing social justice actions with kids, doing earth stewardship actions with kids, or doing church ritual with kids.  But there is also the transformative hands on action of joining hands – forming community.

In Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass says:

“Relationships lead to craft, which leads to experiential belief.  That is the path to becoming and being someone different.  The path of transformation.”

Relationships —> Craft (behavior, doing) —–> experiential belief ——–> Transformation

What relationships are we giving the children, youth, and adults who come to our congregations?

How to Communicate Now

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There is a lot of discussion about the need for Digital Ministry in UUism (or religion in general) right now, plus discussion of what sort of communication technologies will best reach younger people.

I hear from people my age or younger that email is antiquated, and that they want me to send them a text message or facebook them.

Then I hear from others (in the same age range) that they refuse to use facebook – don’t look for them there – why aren’t you on Twitter?  Or Tumblr?  Or Google Plus? (OK, those people are all nerds, but they still count! 😉

Those much older than me say they just miss the old fashioned courtesy of paper.  Why can’t we keep sending them things in the mail?  Why do we have to make them get on the computer and assault their eyes with flickering images when paper was so perfectly fine?

Other people quite candidly tell me that they are so overwhelmed by ALL forms of communication that they would prefer I not bother them with much – except what they really want to hear about.  Of course, since I can’t read their minds to know what they will care about, this is tricky.

What is a poor DRE to do?

I can’t pick the one best form of communication.  No matter what any group tells you, in my experience there is no such beast.  What it seems to me that I need to do is communicate with breadth AND depth, casting my net widely and yet also baiting it with content worth reading/watching/listening to.

I have little lists of people in my congregation, with marks next to their names for Text, Call, Email, Facebook, or Snail Mail.  I try to reach out to people in the method they prefer, even though that may mean that I have to take the same message and transmit it in all these multiple formats.

I am actively blogging and on facebook, and I write weekly and monthly emails to the families in my congregation.  I write a monthly report that I disseminate widely to the leadership of my congregation via email.  I send birthday  and thank you cards and calendars of upcoming events (hoping they will get stuck to fridges with a magnet) via snail mail.  I put up posters on the church walls and place colorful trifold brochures in strategic locations about the building.  I’m also experimenting with Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus, Ning, and YouTube.

Which is the Best way to communicate?  Until everyone is willing to all line up and choose just one, all I can see is the Best Way to Communicate with X, and then the Best Way to Communicate with Y.  A challenge for those of us in this ministry business, indeed.