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«Sally Patton UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION BOSTON Copyright © 2004 by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. All rights ...»

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• Principle 5: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large With your help, we’ll eat well today. Together, we’ll decide what to make, how to make it—and who gets to eat it! We’ll see how much good food you can make and how much it costs. (Parents: This is logical/ mathematical.) STUDIO SIX: “Without Words,” with [names of guides] and friends

• Principle 6: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all What if we had no words? How would we express our feelings and thoughts? Let’s find out in this studio, where we will use our bodies to express the ideas of peace, justice, and freedom for all people on Earth. We will use movement, mime, and sign language too. This is a great workshop if you like to move and want to experiment with not using your voice. (Parents: This is bodily/kinesthetic.) STUDIO SEVEN: “What’s Manure Got to Do with It?” with [names of guides] and friends

• Principle 7: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are part What is the web of life? How are we all connected to the earth? What difference does it make? Come create a three-dimensional representation of the circle of life using lots of natural stuff and lots of hands-on fun. (Parents: This is naturalist.) STUDIO EIGHT: “With Words,” with [names of guides] and friends This studio will focus on all seven Principles, with an emphasis on the last three. You can come once to this studio or stay here for three Sundays.

Do you want to be a writer, a reporter, or a radio announcer? We will create and record a newscast that describes, talks about, tells a story, sings, and informs others about our UU Principles. (Parents: This is verbal/linguistic.)

58 59 Religious Education That Welcomes All Children

is ready, he or she enters and sits in a circle on the floor around the teacher. In a calm, quiet voice, the teacher tells a story or a parable from one of the cultural or religious traditions. While telling the story, the teacher uses manipulative play objects to help the children visualize the story.

At the end of the story, the teacher poses many wondering questions about what happened in the story. Then one by one, the children are asked what they would like to do and the teacher helps them make a choice. The room is set up with various stations containing manipulatives for acting out the story, including paints, clay, blocks, sand, dolls, and books. Many children choose to work together; some choose to work by themselves. With constructive guidance from the teacher, children may wander from one activity to the next. The teacher serves as more of a guide than a teacher, quietly interacting with the children, asking questions about what they are doing to act out the story, and listening to their insights.

At the end of the session, the chalice is lighted and there is a snack in celebration of the story and what each child has learned.

Then the children are quietly dismissed as their parents come to pick them up.

Many children with special challenges do well in this structure. The atmosphere and environment of the room are designed to encourage respect and quiet play. Most overly active children respond well to this environment. Some children may need extra support; assigning teen aides to these children usually works well.

Other strengths of the spirit play method are:

• It encompasses many learning styles and allows children to learn in the way that is most comfortable for them while engaging them in play.

• It provides structure and predictability each Sunday, so the children always know what to expect. This gives them a feeling of safeness and support. Yet there is enough flexibility and freedom within the structure to allow the children to explore and follow their own inner knowing.

60 Welcoming Children

• It treats church as a place for wonder and the sacred. Children immediately feel the difference between church and school and know that church is the place where they can explore their own sense of wonder and work through the difficulties they may be experiencing in life.

• Through storytelling, children learn to be co-creators of their own existence.

• Once trained, the teachers do not have to prepare a lot before each session. They do need to learn the story well.

• The teachers enjoy themselves, rarely feel stressed, and volunteer to continue teaching.

The spirit play curriculum poses some challenges as well:

• The religious educator will need to be trained in the method, either from Jerome Berryman’s organization or from Unitarian Universalist trainers.

• Once the religious educator has been trained, he or she will need to train the teachers.

• It takes time to make and prepare the play materials and manipulatives for the stories and the play stations.

• The room needs to be arranged by stations, which may require building shelves and dividers. This arrangement may not be possible if the religious education space is shared or rented.

• Some expense is involved in the curriculum, the training, and the materials.

Despite these challenges, the rewards of spirit play are many.

The parents are very appreciative of this program, and the children enjoy themselves as they foster their sense of wonder. (To learn more about Godly Play and how to receive training, visit www.

godlyplay.net or call 1-800-445-4390.) 61 Religious Education That Welcomes All Children Teacher Training Most religious educators have wonderful ideas and activities for teacher training, and many resources are available on this subject as well. You should assess your teachers’ knowledge and skills concerning ministry to children with special needs in order to determine what type of training is needed. Remember to start small, taking on one task at a time. Change usually happens gradually.

Completing the training exercises described below will help move your congregation slowly forward to inclusion. One effective model for teacher training is to structure the training the way the religious education program sessions are structured. The following ideas will help you get started.

Theme: Assessing Attitudes When working with parents and other adults interested in teaching, never assume that they are comfortable with the idea of including children with special needs in the religious education program. While most adults would never intentionally exclude a child because of his or her disability, many teachers’ good intentions falter after their first efforts at inclusion. A well thought out plan is needed to include a child with difficult behavior. Some of the teaching strategies already discussed in this book can help. (See pages 38–45.) Even so, teachers’ attitudes will affect whether or not they can use the teaching strategies effectively. It is helpful to understand how teachers feel about ministering to children with special needs.

The following exercise provides an opportunity for participants to think about and openly discuss these feelings.

Activity: Case Scenarios Write the following statement on a flipchart: “My church is a faith community that welcomes all children who come into the church.” Ask the teachers whether they feel this is currently true. If it is not true, ask the teachers whether they want it to be true. Ask 62 Welcoming Children what they would do if faced with the situation in which one difficult child’s behavior was causing other families to leave the church.

After a brief discussion, share the following case scenario. If the group is larger than seven, divide participants into groups of four or five to discuss the scenario. Then bring the whole group together to share ideas and feelings.

Case Scenario: Fred is ten years old. He has difficulty understanding social cues and behaving appropriately in differing circumstances. In his religious education group, he will pick out one child, cling to him or her, and demand his or her attention for the entire session. Fred also has difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next and ends up screaming if he gets too frustrated.

He constantly interrupts the teacher and the other children when they are talking. As a result, many of the other children do not feel comfortable coming to their Sunday morning group anymore.

During the discussion, you may want to ask the initial questions again. As people share their ideas, list on newsprint ways that the child could be included as well as ways to help the other families who are thinking about leaving.

Theme: Creating Moments of Transcendence Prepare the following quotation as a handout for the teacher

training activity:

Often we want to “give the ocean” to young children when splashing in the “puddle” is enough. We fall into this trap by the ways we choose to share our adult faith with our youngest children. In our hurry to communicate our faith, we often assume that words are the most effective vehicle. Yet by using only words, we may fail to engage children in those common mud-puddle experiences where God is most visible, such as sitting on a loved person’s lap and hearing a story, helping to bake bread, sharing a doughnut, or going with someone for a walk. These are the simple ways by which adults nurture and tend to the religious experiences of children.

63 Religious Education That Welcomes All Children The institutional church, unfortunately, often overlooks such participatory experience and substitutes a canned curriculum for such common, ordinary happenings. “Canned curriculum” here means a printed, generic curriculum that assumes anyone can use it. The question then becomes, Who can “fill the slots” to “teach the curriculum”? Such an approach often avoids the necessity of providing ongoing relationships and does not promote experiential interaction on the basis of the adult’s familiarity with and understanding of a child’s world.17 —Barbara Kimes Myers and William R. Myers, Engaging in Transcendence It is important to realize that so-called mud-puddle experiences cannot always be planned. Many times, they emerge from serendipitous moments. These moments are unique to each individual. That is, what will be meaningful for one child will not be meaningful to another.

As teachers, we can create a nurturing atmosphere in which moments of transcendence can emerge. The structure and environment of the spirit play program, with its emphasis on fostering a sense of wonder, is a good example of this type of atmosphere. In order for teachers to create the circumstances in which moments of transcendence happen, it is important that they examine what transcendence means to them.

Activity: Spiritual Moments Ask the teachers to think of spiritual moments they experienced as children or youth—moments when they felt completely content, connected to people, or joyful. (Sometimes people do not relate to the word spiritual, so it is best to emphasize feelings of happiness and contentment.) Invite the teachers to share their spiritual moments, if they feel comfortable doing so. If the group is large, only a few people may have time to share. Notice how many of the spiritual moments occurred in a church or other religious setting.

64 Welcoming Children Divide participants into groups of three or four. Ask each group to choose one person’s spiritual moment and create a religious education session around it. Then have each small group share with the large group the session they created. Finally, hand out the Myers and Myers quote and discuss it in light of the spiritual moments activity.

This exercise can be wonderfully freeing. The teachers begin to realize that they have the imagination to teach without relying completely on the curricula. They also get in touch with what is spiritually meaningful to them. Inevitably, the sessions they create take into account many different learning styles and tend to be very experiential.

Theme: Charismatic Teachers According to Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein in Raising Resilient Children, a charismatic adult is someone who cares and loves a child unconditionally, who advocates for the child, and from whom the child gathers strength. Charismatic adults provide opportunities that reinforce “islands of competence,” or individual strengths, and that foster self-esteem.18 (For more information on charismatic adults, refer to “Ideas for Teaching,” pages 137–139, in the chapter on mood disorders.) All of us can be charismatic adults in children’s lives. In order to feel comfortable in the role, we need to regain a sense of who was important in our lives when we were children.

Activity: Recalling Special Adults Ask the teachers to make a list of adults who were important to them when they were children and youth.

Ask “What traits, attributes, or characteristics did these adults have that made them special?” and record the teachers’ responses on newsprint. Responses might include traits such as being a good listener, being nonjudgmental, showing compassion, and demonstrating trust.

65 Religious Education That Welcomes All Children A goal of this exercise is to demonstrate that every adult has the ability to be a charismatic adult. We are not all wonderful all of the time, but we are much of the time. Moreover, we can never predict when providing a kind word or listening thoughtfully to a child’s story can change a bad day into a good day for that child.

We may never know when we have had a positive affect on a child or were instrumental in creating a moment of transcendence. But as we feel ourselves making a difference, we also change.

Theme: Seeing the Whole Child Instead of the Limitations Children with disabilities do not have the luxury of defining themselves; they have already been labeled by their disease, behavior, impairment, or limitation. We often expect the child to behave in the ways the label implies. We may actually see something that is not there, and our expectations will produce it.

Many psychology courses and workshops use pictures that can be seen as two different images, depending on what one looks for.

There is one famous picture that looks like an old woman if viewed one way but like a young woman if viewed another way.

Find some of these pictures for the following activity.

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