Our Summer Program Will Be MakerSpace

As we usually do, we had the children vote on what they would like to do learn about this summer in religious education at the Children’s Annual Meeting. The choice was … MakerSpace!

MakerSpace is an idea that is part of the larger makers movement, a movement that seeks to promote tinkering, inventing, creating, and hands-on learning. A makerspace is a place that has the tools, materials, and supplies for hands-on making.

In our interpretation, we will have a classroom set up with: movie making, upcycling/fashion/fiber arts, green energy and snap circuit kits, and art studio supplies. A guest from the congregation will demonstrate and show something that they make each week.

Time for some hands-on faith formation … developing the skills that can shape our world.

 

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!

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.