Our Religious Literacy Goals

At OUUC we have three major goals for our religious education program:

1.  UU Identity (includes history, heritage, and involvement in larger denomination outside our congregation)

2.  Religious Literacy

3.  Beloved Community (democratic process skills, anti-bias understanding and skills, intra- and interpersonal skills)

For September through January we were focused on UU Identity, but from here until the end of the year we will transition to a focus on Religious Literacy.  As Religious Literacy of all the world’s religions is a HUGE goal, we have developed a three year rotation that we follow:

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This year is Paganism and Indigenous Traditions.  Watch for the change in focus to begin next Sunday!

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Are We Ready? A New Church Year Begins

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Ready or not, here it comes.  “It” is of course, a new school year.  The kids in my life (even my own homeschooled kids) are all making transitions this week: new schools, new classes, new teachers, new schedules, and of course all the new stuff that they need to do all those new things.

The church year follows the school year, and so we are in a transition here as well.  My congregation is in a big transition at the moment, welcoming a new Interim Minister and going into a church year where we may do some things in new ways.  

And the Religious Education program is in a time of transition as we try a brand new experiment for our Elementary grades – a new program I am calling Labyrinth Learning.  What is Labyrinth Learning?  It is a mixed grade (1st-6th) program.  Labyrinth Learning has developed from the inspiration of the Way Cool Sunday School, Workshop Rotation, and Multiple Intelligences models of Unitarian Universalist Religious Education. It is a model that utilizes different learning styles so that children can self-select for what is best for their own learning, and generally emphasizes the experiential and relational nature of religious education and faith formation.  And it is something brand new that we are creating for ourselves – so this is bound to be a transition and a grand adventure!  

Other things will be new too: Coming of Age on Thursday evenings, a new rite-of-passage program for 6th grade, a 7 Principle program offered at our earlier worship service, and small group ministry model for high school youth group.

Are we ready?  Mostly.  The pencils are sharpened, the new bulletin board displays and posters are getting done, the volunteers are trained, the shopping list is in my purse, the registration packets are in the mail.  

The transition is both scary and exciting.  There is the unknown: how will it go?  Will I make new friends? Did I put too much on my plate/schedule or is this just right?  But there is also the satisfaction of newness: those spiffy classrooms waiting for the kids, those new backpacks, those empty binders waiting to be filled up.  I love those signs of the new year about to unfold.  I treasure that row of sharpened pencils and the potential they represent.  What we will make with them?  What will we learn?  What fun will we have?  

I cannot wait.

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!

 

Curriculum Review: Toolbox of Faith

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We have just finished up the Tapestry of Faith program Toolbox of Faith, with 3rd-4th graders. This was our second time using this program, and we will most likely use it again.  This program uses the metaphor of a “Tool of the Day” to talk about some quality of our UU Faith.  For instance, a hardhat symbolizes resiliency, a hammer symbolizes power, etc.

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A quick run-down of the pros and cons of this curriculum:

Pros:

1.  Active, boy-friendly content and so often boys seem left-out of Sunday School curricula and culture

2.  Engaging hands-on activities that the kids liked

3.  At times, the subject matter really did provoke some great discussions and deep thinking in this age group

Cons:

1.  The program, like all Tapestry of Faith programs, has too much content in each lesson plan.  They are just too long to hand them to teachers that way.  Even with editing down, the teachers still remarked that there was more material than they felt like they could get through, which left them feeling rushed and unable to just lean-in to each activity.

2.  This program is very supplies-intensive.  Every Saturday I was scrounging my garage for tools and prepping huge boxes of stuff to bring in to church.  It’s not that it’s expensive – most of this stuff was household stuff I owned and was able to lend to church for the day – but it was a lot of work to gather it all up every week.

3.  Several times we felt like the kids didn’t get the “point” of what the tool was supposed to symbolize.  Of course, that isn’t just up to the curriculum … but I think at times it is a bit of a stretch for the kids to catch the symbolic meaning when they are in the concrete-thinker stage of development.

For us, the Pros definitely outweigh the Cons for this fun, active, engaging curriculum, and we’ll do it again in a couple years!

What a Religious Educator Does During the Week

I run a “Sunday School”, so many people have asked me “what do you do the rest of the week?”

Well, there is:
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1.  Educating yourself about ministry to children, youth, and families and lifespan faith development.  Much of this is education is done through reading and through things like “webinars” (workshops done online.)

2.  Committee meetings.  This week I had two committee meetings, sometimes there are more, sometimes less.  There are a lot of committees I need to coordinate with. 🙂

3.  Emails. So …. many …. emails.  Emails to volunteers to remind them.  Weekly announcement emails to all the families in my congregation letting them know what to expect on Sunday.  Emails after Sunday to all the families with the “Taking It Home” message of things to do at home during the week.  Responding to emails.  Emailing to check in on people I haven’t seen in awhile.  Emailing with other volunteer coordinators as I try to set up a youth service project.  Lots. Of. Emails.

4.  Cleaning/Sorting/Putting Things Away.  Just managing all the supplies and 6 classrooms that need tidying and sorting.

5.  Teaching Adult classes on Weekdays.  Right now I’m teaching a discussion class based on the book Faithiest.  It’s going very well – fun!
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6.  Planning and writing lesson plans.  Every week we have about 7 different classes happen, and all of them need to have plans and stories and so forth put together and sent off to their volunteers.  And then:

7.  Prepping supplies for lessons.  As I plan lessons I keep a giant spreadsheet called “Materials List 2013-2014” which is a giant grid with what supplies are needed for what class on what date, and then I order things, go shopping, make things, do photocopying, and generally prep all those supplies and have them ready.  Which requires:

8.  Budget oversight and administration.  It may not be glamorous stuff, but if you don’t file your receipts in chronological order with the bookkeeper, track attendance numbers, and keep up with all the many, many lists and directories and spreadsheets that are required to manage volunteers, staff, money, calendars, and resources, then you will have chaos and not a successful RE program.

9.  Prepping for Sunday presentations and worship services.  Memorizing stories to tell, mostly, but sometimes other preparations are necessary (pictures slideshows or videos, props, little cards or what not needed for the worship service).

10.  And more: (supervising childcare staff, responding to requests for pastoral care or just giving folks a listening ear, writing newsletters, articles, and blog posts, attending professional development meetings, meeting with the minister, coordinating and hosting social events for the congregation, training and supporting volunteers, etc.)

Somehow, I never seem to have much trouble filling at least my full 40 hours.  It’s almost amazing how much there really is to do.

Whose Turn Is It to Light the Chalice?

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This time of year for religious educators can get very detail oriented.  All the big picture planning was done in the spring, all the procrastinating I mean “getting ready” was done in the summer, and now it’s all about registration forms, and class lists, and materials lists, and master calendars, and volunteer schedules, and name tags, and so on.

Here’s a prime example of the sort of detail-oriented stuff on my desk right now.  These pots full of tongue depressors are how we keep track of kids getting to participate in classroom rituals such as lighting the chalice.  Every registered child has their name on a stick, and every stick as a red end and a purple end.  All the sticks start with the same color up, and as a child gets a turn, their stick gets flipped over.  This way the teachers can tell from week to week who hasn’t had a turn yet.

And so this week I was writing names on tongue depressors. 🙂

It’s all in the details, sometimes.

Curriculum Review: Create a Country

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Create a Country, by John Shepard, (see UUCards website to order) is billed as a “Religious Education Simulation” for Middle School classes.  And it truly is not a complete curriculum – it is an outline with two lessons to get you started, and then you are supposed to be following the groups lead and will have to adapt as you go along based on what choices they make.

I have used it three times now: once with a middle school group just for four weeks, once with a class of 4th-6th graders for 3 months, and then most recently I adapted it to be our Mixed-Age summer program. I highly recommend getting the book How to Build Your Own Country as an accompanying resource to Create a Country.

It is really the total opposite of the direction most of our curricula, such as the whole Tapestry of Faith series, is going … instead of too much instructional text, this program gives you hardly any at all.  For that reason, it is not advisable as a program for a weak teaching team.  Whoever teaches this program will need to be comfortable improvising (and you will need to be able to trust them to improvise).

It also is best when there will be some consistency of kids attending each week, as the entire concept is to build on what you’ve done before with each subsequent session.  Walking in cold to later sessions without any of the background has been hard on visitors and intermittent attendees (I did somewhat solve that by videotaping classes and showing summary movies at the beginning of each class this summer).

And so I will say that this curricula/”simulation” is not going to be for everyone.  I know when I first ordered it and it arrived in the mail I was dismayed with how little I had actually received.  It’s a slim folder.  And yet I have been pleased with the results each time I’ve used it.  Yes, it took a lot of extra work on my part as we went along, but it’s really important stuff – the real application of democratic participation – a guiding principle for us Unitarian Universalists – so I think it’s worth it.

Teacher Training

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I’ve just done two teachers trainings for the volunteers, preparing for the new church year and fall start-up season.  This is my sixth time around this process, and as I got ready for the training I couldn’t help thinking back to the first time I ever did this.

Because of the timing of starting up as a brand-new DRE, I was only 2 weeks into the job when I had to train my teachers.  I had no idea how to run a teachers training!  I was OK fumbling through myself as a teacher, but to try and tell others how to do it – gulp!

Things feel a lot different now.  I have a better idea of what I want the volunteers to know, and I’ve developed a powerpoint and manual that I just tweak and add to each year.

In my own training to become a teacher, mentor teachers told me that the first few years as a teacher would be the hardest.  You’re making everything up from scratch in those first years, and will be just a step or two ahead of your own prep work.  After a few years, you can start to reuse the lesson plans and materials you’ve developed, and it will get easier.

The same is true for DRE’s.  The first year, I couldn’t even think about doing anything too ambitious – it took all my time just to prep for the basics.  The next year, I was able to repeat things, and improve them.  A year after that I was able to add new projects, new programs, and take on new endeavors, such as the Credentialing program.

And yet, that first year was so exciting.

So, for anyone feeling overwhelmed by anything new: it will get better.  But don’t forget to enjoy the stage you are in.  These days may feel long (and they will pass), but they are also a beautiful stage in their own right.  Enjoy them, while simultaneously knowing that this too shall pass.