Backyard to the Universe
RE for Small Congregations
A sample teacher's manual for a small UU congregation or group
Developed for First Church, Unitarian, in Athol, Mass. (2 children in RE program)
Manual for Sunday school teachers and other adults doing ministry with young people
Section One: The basics
A. Unitarian Universalist Principles in Simplified Language
1. that each and
every person is important;
B. The well-balanced young people's program
What kinds of activities and opportunities might a well-balanced congregationprovide? One model, suggested by the UUA's religious education department, suggests a well-balanced congregation would include five basic components:
Applying this model to the Sunday school suggests that Sunday school could have a broader range of acitivities and opportunities than we usually consider. Even though learning would probably remain the most important component, the model suggests that other kinds of activities need to be included. If we reword things slightly, here are five basic components of a well-balanced Sunday school (with specific examples in parentheses):
If you look at adult programs, you'll find we adults are careful to plan these five components into our congregational life. Adult RE, Sunday morning worship, committees, social action projects, social events—all are a part of adult congregational life, and all are just as important for young people as for adults.
Here's a suggested schedule for planning ahead and lowering stress:
On the preceding Sunday:
TheWednesday evening before you teach:
On the Sunday you teach:
Sample lesson plan:
Here's a sample lesson plan format I like to use to plan out the Sunday school sessions I lead:
I/ Opening (5 minutes)
II/ Story (5 minutes)
III/ Activity based on the story (10 minutes)
IV/ Snack and discussion (5-10 minutes)
V/ Second activity (5-10 minutes)
VI/ Game (remaining time)
VII/ Brief closing (1-2 minutes)
D. Openers: Immediately engaging the children:
What do you do in those two to five minutes as some of the children tear into your classroom, and others drift in slowly talking to their friends? Those first two to five minutes can set the tone for a wonderful, cooperative class that’s enjoyable for teacher and children alike. It is important to engage the attention of the children at the very beginning of a session. Here are some ideas to get you started:
(adapted from material by Ann Fields)
E. The sharing circle
As a suggestion, each class should begin with a sharing circle (or similar opening circle). Many other UU Sunday schools use some variation on sharing circles. Here are some good reasons to use the opening sharing circle as an important addition to your teaching toolbox:
How to lead a sharing circle
Have a the children sit in a circle -- around a table or on rug squares on the floor, depending on their ages and on the room you are in. Light a chilace in the center of the circle. As group leader, you then state the rules for the sharing circle:
You, as the group leader, should begin the sharing. It's best for the group leader to know in advance what she or he will say, because the leader sets the tone for everyone else. When one person is talking, you should make sure no one else talks -- but don't fall into the common trap of responding yourself to what someone has said. Be sure you bind yourself to the rules as well!
Class offerings should be gathered right after the sharing circle.
If you wish, after the sharing circle you can repeat the simple Sunday school affirmation below ("We are Unitarian Universalists"). Because of the hand motions, this works especially well with younger children, although most pre-adolescent children enjoy it.
If you wish, in classes of older children each child may light a candle from the lighted chalice when it is their turn to speak. If you do this, go over basic fire safety rules, and remind the children that you tip the unlit candle into the flame of the lit candle (not the other way around).
Why a closing circle?
Children, and adults, need a sense of closure. They need to know when Sunday school is over. In terms of group dynamics, each class needs to come together as a group one last time before they go off to whatever they are going to do next.
Like a sharing circle, a closing circle can be a good way to keep the religion in religious education. However, sharing circles deal mostly with group dynamics and building community. Closing circles deal much more with content. In a closing circle, you and the children take another look at what you have learned together. As such, they may vary from age group to age group, and maybe even within age groups from week to week.
Some ideas for different types of closing circles follow:
Closing sharing circle
You can have your closing circle be a simple sharing circle:
Everyone sits in a circle. Everyone has a chance to share, though anyone may pass and choose not to share. Only one person shares at a time, and everyone else should remain silent while that person is sharing. The group leader ends the circle (and the class) with some sort of closing words, or the group sings a familiar song together.
Ways children can share:
You can close with a poem or other reading, which may or may not be different each week. A suggestion for closing words from the hymnal:
You can find other appropriate closing words in the hymnal. Some of the curricula include closing words appropriate to the various lessons -- these tend to work quite well.
Also, you can use the "We are Unitarian Universalists..." affirmation that appears above.
Good closing songs from the hymnal include numbers 389, 188, or 362.
Other songs from the hymnal are also useful, and a list of songs from the hymnal suitable for use with children is included in the appendix to this manual. If you need help learning the songs or leading the songs, we have resource people who can assist you.
G. Taking care of yourself
People who do religious education with children need to remember to take care of themselves. We are role models to the children in our classes, and one of the best things we can do is show them that living your faith is a matter of joy, not of drudgery and burden.
So have fun in your classes! One thing many teachers mention when asked why they teach is that they want to get to know the kids at church. Make that one of your goals: play games together, talk together, have fun together, spend time just getting to know each other.
Seek out joy. While curriculum and content are important, it’s more important that you and your class live your faith rather than talk about your faith. If it's a gorgeous day, it may make sense to take the class outdoors -- it may mess up the lesson plan, but you will all get more joy from being outside on a beautiful day. (Having said that, if you do go outside, for safety reasons it's crucial that you let someone know exactly where you are going to go.)
Ask for help. Get another teacher to substitute if you need to. Get help with classroom discipline, or lesson planning, or whatever before it becomes a problem. If your personal life gets overwhelming, arrange a meeting with one of the ministers or with the RE Committee -- if you need to bow out gracefully, ask for help to make it happen.
Find support. Teaching can be intense at times. Talk with your fellow teachers about your common endeavor. Talk with other people in the church about what you do. Sometimes after a particularly intense class, you just need to talk — grab a fellow teacher and talk!
Meditate or sing or engage in social action: do whatever it is you do for regular spiritual practice. When you do religion yourself, it comes through to the children, for you will be calmer and close to your spiritual center. Plus you can talk about your regular spiritual practice with them—children need to know that adults actually do things like prayer, or yoga, or reading scriptures of one of the great world religions.
Above all, take care of yourself!
Section two: Safety and behavior issues
A. "Right Action": Behavior and discipline
Like the Buddhists, our philosophy on discipline includes the virtue of “right action.” Right action assumes that everyone has a role in preserving harmony.
To lower the chance of discipline problems, teachers can do the following:
As for children, they should help to develop and should agree upon a set of expectations and consequences. Ideally, the expectations will be written on a big piece of paper. Everyone (teachers and children) will sign at the bottom, and it will be posted in the classroom.
Children can be taught how to help one another to engage in "right action," by reminding one another which actions are acceptable and which are not.
Children should have a hand in setting rules for the classroom. You may develop a group consensus over time without a formal procedure. You may find that you need to spend an entire class with the children developing behavior guidelines, perhaps even inviting other teachers or a minister to sit in and assist.
There are some non-negotiable rules for everyone in any religious education program. You should make these rules clear to the children in age-appropriate ways:
If these expectations are not met, and if all else fails, you, the teacher, should use one of the following techniques. They are listed in approximate order of severity:
If you run into behavior problems and discipline problems, be sure to tell your co-teachers exactly what happened and what steps you took so that we can keep a consistent approach (you can write these on the weekly evaluation form). At the same time, remember that children, like adults, have bad days and grouchy days, and that as they grow their whole attitude can change very quickly.
Finally, remember this: if you expect children to be troublemakers, eventually they will turn into troublemakers. If you expect them to become better behaved, they will become better behaved!
B. Child and youth protection policy
The interrelated issues of child protection, child abuse, and domestic violence can be intimidating and scary. Remember that you do religious education because you care about children, because you want them to grow up safe and happy. Protecting our children from physical violence and sexual abuse is one of the most fundamental things you can do towards that end.
You need to know that ministers and Directors of Religious Education are mandated by the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to report any suspected abuse of minors to the Department of Social Services (DSS). If you report serious suspicions of child abuse to a minister or DRE, he or she must report those suspicions to DSS, even if you have no firm evidence. Note that mandated reporters are protected from prosecution for reporting suspected child abuse. Also note that if you are a mandated reporter on the job (e.g., if you are teacher or social worker), you are a mandated reporter at Sunday school, too.
Above all, the purpose of any child and youth protection policy is to protect children. But remember too that beyond this main purpose, a good child and youth protection policy can help to protect adults from untrue accusations.
Child and youth protection policy
(as developed by the Unitarian Unviersalist Association)
The role of adult leaders
Adults working with children and youth in the context of our Unitarian Universalist faith have a crucial role and a privileged one, one which may carry with it a great deal of power and influence. Whether acting as youth advisor, chaperone, child-care worker, teacher, minister, registrant at a youth-adult conference, or in any other role, the adult has a special opportunity to interact with our young people in ways which are affirming and inspiring to the young people and to the adult. Adults can be mentors to, role models for, and trusted friends of children and youth. They can be teachers, counselors, and ministers. Helping our children grow up to be caring and responsible adults can be a meaningful and joyful experience for the adult and a lifetime benefit to the young person.
While it is important that adults be capable of maintaining meaningful friendships with the young people they work with, adults must exercise good judgement and mature wisdom in wielding their influence with children and youth. They must especially refrain from using young people to fulfill their own needs. Young people are in a vulnerable position when dealing with adults and may find it difficult to speak out about inappropriate behavior by adults.
Adult leaders need to possess a special dedication to working with our young people in ways which affirm the UUA principles. Good communication skills, self awareness and understanding of others, sensitivity, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and a positive attitude are all important attributes. Additionally, adult leaders should 1) have a social network outside of their religious education responsibility in which to meet their own needs for friendship, affirmation, and self-esteem, and 2) are willing and able to seek assistance from colleagues and religious professionals when they become aware of a situation requiring expert help or intervention.
It is ultimately the responsibility of the entire church, not just those in leadership positions, to create and maintain a climate which supports the growth and welfare of children and youth.
Code of Ethics
Adults who are in leadership roles are in positions of stewardship and play a key role in fostering the spiritual development of both individuals and the community. It is, therefore, especially important that those in leadership positions be well qualified to provide the special nurture, care, and support that will enable children and youth to develop a positive sense of self and a spirit of independence and responsibility. The relationship between young people and their leaders must be one of mutual respect if the positive potential of their connection is to be realized.
There are no more important areas of growth than those of self-worth and the development of a healthy identity as a sexual being. Adults play a key role in assisting children and youth in these areas of growth. Wisdom dictates that children, youth, and adults suffer damaging effects when leaders become sexually involved with young persons in their care; therefore, leaders will refrain from engaging in sexual, seductive, or erotic behavior with children and youth. Neither shall they sexually harass or engage in behavior with children or youth which constitutes verbal, emotional, or physical abuse.
Leaders shall be informed of the Code of Ethics and agree to it before assuming their role. In cases of violation of this Code, appropriate action will be taken.
-- adapted from materials published by the UUA, 1986, 1992.
C. Further safety concerns
There are two serious, basically incurable diseases which are spread by mixing of bodily fluids: AIDS and hepatitis B. Every class supply crate comes with a first aid kit which contains a supply of latex gloves. For any activity which will bring you into contact with another person’s bodily fluids (child or adult)—changing diapers, putting on a band-aid, etc.—use those gloves. It may seem cold-blooded to wait to put on rubber gloves before you comfort a child who has cut him or herself, but you can learn to comfort children with words first, hands later. Daycare centers and preschools, and some other schools, have been using this policy for years, so you should find that children are quite accustomed to it.
Review the evacuation plans posted in your classroom so you know which door to leave from in case of emergency.
After an emergency evacuation, all religious education groups will assemble on the lawn in front of the church, where we will do a head count and take attendance. Remember, we want to be out of the way of emergency vehicles, so gather around the signs at the front of the lawn.
Now you know why you must do a head count and take attendance during the opening sharing circle of your class. You must bring your attendance record with that information on it during emergency evacuations.
Parents will be informed of the assembly point for children during evacuations.
In case of a medical emergency
In case of a medical emergency, you should fill out an "Ouch Report". If you or another adult have to administer any form of first aid, including just putting a band-aid on a child, you must fill out one of these forms. One copy of the form then goes to the parent or guardian of the child, and a second copy should get filed at church by the RE Committee. In our increasingly litigious society, we really need to do this.
Section Three: Miscellaneous
A. What our children need...
What do our children need on a Sunday morning?
They need to light a candle, and have a quiet moment to enjoy its mystery.
They need to sing a song...to hear their own voice and other voices joined together, and to feel the feelings that are stirred by music.
They need to hear a story and have a chance to share their own...remembering that we are each different and also very alike.
They need to create something. Expressing themselves, whether using words or materials , helps to bind the different parts of ourselves and life together. That's what religion is.
They need to be with an adult who is interested in the world and who feels the privilege and responsibility of their trust...one who is glad to be with them, and regards them positively.
Into this safe and encouraging context, we may weave the content of our religious traditions. The history and common threads of our identity are important to be sure, but without this essential loving embrace the education will not be religious.
B. Some people say...
Some people have said that children remember:
That's why we believe in LEARNING BY DOING.
Or, as Confucius said, "Isn't it a pleasure when you can make practical use of the things you have studied?"
Material on this page compiled by Daniel Harper. Not protected by copyright, except the UUA child and youth protection policy.