Thursday, August 5, 2010

UU Mamas and Papas

Calling all UU Mamas and UU Papas...

After a very successful and exciting small-scale pilot of "UU Mama," a UU parents covenant group last spring, we are excited to offer this experience broadly to all the parents of the church starting this fall! 

Covenant Groups are small groups that meet regularly to grow and deepen relationships with one another and to grow spiritually. People experience a Covenant Group as a safe place to talk about what is most important to us, as well as a wonderful context to know others, and to be known, in meaningful ways.  The UU Mama and UU Papa covenant groups, specifically, are an opportunity to talk about what is most important to us as parents raising (UU) children. 

Covenant Groups meet monthly (or more) over a period of approximately six months according to a schedule that is agreeable to all group members.  Sign up on this page:

UU Mama and Papa Sign-Up

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

An Explanation of the Spirit Play Pilot

Dear Spirit Play Parents,

I want to take a moment to thank those of you who assisted with the evaluation of our first year of the Spirit Play pilot by filling out our spring survey about your family's experiences with Spirit Play.

Making the decision to continue with the pilot for a second year in the younger age groups was fairly easy.  The feedback among families in these age groups was overwhelmingly positive, and those concerns expressed by a few folks were issues that could be addressed through tweaks in the program.  We felt that a second year trial with the Spirit Play method would be beneficial.

Please do consider that although we are extending the pilot by one year, it is still very much considered a pilot.  At the end of the coming year we will do a full evaluation of the program, including seeking additional feedback from parents and kids.

The more difficult decision was in what to do with our upcoming 2nd grade class (last year's 1st grade class).  While the impression of the teachers who taught this group last year was that the children enjoyed the class, weekly attendance averages seemed to be lower in this class than the other Spirit Play classes, and feedback on the parent survey was more mixed.

We were very much aware that this group of kids had already experienced several years of "traditional Church School," and that the transition into the Spirit Play model had not been easy for all students and their families. 

At the same time, for a variety of reasons, we knew that 2011-2012 would not be a good year to pilot a 2nd grade Spirit Play class, and that if we were going to expand our Spirit Play pilot, this upcoming year would be the best year to do it in the immediate, foreseeable future.  Additionally, we were hesitant to take a group just starting to adjust to the new model, and place them back in the old model.  We felt that this would perhaps be too much programmatic transition for them, and leave them feeling unsettled.

This dilemma was a matter of lengthy discussion in all of our spring Religious Education Committee meetings, as well as at a Curriculum Consultation team meeting this summer.  Above all else, we very much want the engaged participation of your children in our program, and we want your family to feel good about your Church School experiences.       

After much debate and after full consideration of all concerns and hesitations expressed in parent feedback, we have decided to continue with the Spirit Play pilot in the 2nd grade, with notable modification in direct response to parent concerns and hesitations

Thus, the 1st grade class will be a "semi-advanced" Spirit Play class with more advanced stories and work options, as well as some group work options.  The 2nd grade Spirit Play class will be a transition class, bridging children between the Spirit Play model and the traditional Church School model to which they will return the following year. 

This 2nd grade class will follow a Spirit Play structure to some extent, but it will also incorporate more teacher-led group activities, more group-work options, and more advanced content.  We pray that you will continue to bring your children to church on a weekly basis, and that you will be in conversation with us about how the program is being received by your children and any suggestions you have for making it a better experience.  We will be working throughout the year to be responsive to all feedback and suggestions, which will hopefully make a great experience for your children.

We have many wonderful activities planned for our Spirit Play children, especially our children in the advanced classes.  From building a paper-mâché mosque to making a timeline of the life of the Buddha, and creating prayer beads, we look forward to engaging the children in an exploration of a wide array of religious topics through fun experiences and interesting conversations.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for any reason at 508-757-2708 ext. 105 or s m ge rfa o @f ir stu nit ari an . com (remove all spaces).  I would be glad for the opportunity to chat.  Meanwhile, we look forward to seeing you and your children this September!

Warmly in Faith,
in partnership with the Religious Education Committee

Sacred Threads Reading List

The following list is of recommended reading for 7th-8th grade class participants.  Any interested student who requests a copy of any of these books, with the exception of Stranger in a Strange Land, will receive the copy free of charge within one month of the request.  Copies may also be available in the public library, at school libraries, and in bookstores. 

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples
This book is a powerful story of a modern-day Muslim girl living in the Pakistan desert. Shabanu is an independent girl who must face her duty and cultural traditions. A 1989 Newberry Honor book, among other awards. Staples also wrote a sequel to this book, titled Haveli.  This book is recommended for ages 12 and up, and parents please be aware that it does contain sensitive content.  (used books starting at $1.29 through Amazon, and a copy also available at Worcester Main Public Library)

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
Like the original Pooh stories, this book is light hearted, yet contains some thought-provoking ideas. It is also a valuable example of the many similarities between Eastern and Western thought. (used books starting at $11.45 through Amazon, and copies also available at Worcester Main Public Library)

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
Heinlein incorporates much Eastern thinking in this classic work that won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel of 1960.  However, this book is written for adults in a different time and requires a mature reader.  Should some families choose to read this, some subject matter definitely warrants discussions between youth readers and adults.  It is recommended that adults and youth interested in this book read it in tandem for discussion.  See comments on Amazon for additional information.  (used books starting at $2.98 at Amazon, and copies also available at Worcester Main Public Library)

The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic by R.K. Narayan
This version of the classic Hindu lyric poem makes the ancient work accessible to today's Western reader. Like much of today's classic literature, this work contains a cast of vivid characters who exhibit courage and greed, hatred and virtue in a backdrop of intrigue and war. (used books starting at $3.91 at Amazon, but no copies of this version seemingly available at Worcester Public Library)

How To Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook edited by Stewart Matlins and Arthur Magida
This book explores religious traditions including but not limited to some Asian religious traditions.  Middle school is a great age range in which to introduce this book, as many middle school students are increasingly visiting the houses of worship their friends attend due to sleepovers.  This book addresses practical questions about visiting unfamiliar places of worship, from what to wear to whether there will be food.  (used books starting at $6.74 at Amazon, and copies also available at Worcester Main Public Library)

In This Very Moment by James Ishmael Ford
This book is not written for a young audience, but is a valuable basic guide to Zen Buddhism from the perspective of the author, a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist, who also happens to be a Unitarian Universalist minister.  It would be an interesting book for parents and youth to read aloud and discuss together.  ($10 at the UUA bookstore but is currently out of stock; starts at $15 at Amazon and can be requested through the Worcester Main Public Library)

2010-2011 Curricula

We have a great year ahead of us.  Below is information about curriculum selections made by the curriculum consultation team and the Religious Education Committee in partnership with the Director of Religious Education.  Please do not hesitate to contact Sierra-Marie (Director) with any questions, comments, concerns, or needs:
  • PreK and Kindergarten will continue with Spirit Play.  They will have a 65/35 percentage split between stories they heard last year/new stories. Even with the "old stories," many of them will be new to many children due to attendance patterns. We will also be introducing more work options this year, including more kinesthetic and special work activities for each individual story.
  • In 1st grade the children will begin to hear more advanced Spirit Play stories, with a 45/55 percentage split between stories they heard last year/new stories. Some of the "old stories" will have extensions. We will be introducing more work options this year, including more special work activities for each individual story. The children will also be encouraged toward more group/partner work, and half way through the year we may begin "Sunday journals."
  • In 2nd grade, we will begin to transition the children back into "traditional Sunday School." This class will have more teacher-led group activities, but will still follow the Spirit Play approach in other ways. For these students, there may be a 35/65 percentage split between stories they heard last year/new stories. New stories will be advanced stories. Several of the "old stories" will have extensions. We will also introduce more work options this year, including special group-work activities for each individual story.
  • The 3rd and 4th grade curriculum, A Stepping Stone Year, is designed to dovetail with a "rite of passage" program (the UU counterpart to "first communion"). The curriculum focuses on the major religious questions people have and different ways people have answered those questions throughout the world. The reason for this focus is that children in this age group are developmentally taking their first steps in forming an individual religious identity and their first religious concepts. You can preview a select number of pages from the curriculum at Google Books.
  • The 5th and 6th grade curriculum, Bibleodeon, will be the second in a two-year look at the Bible for these kids. Last year, our curriculum took a very scholarly approach to the Christian scriptures. This year we will be looking at both the Hebrew and Christian bibles (the Christian scriptures, in some cases, will thus be review). The curriculum was inspired by Nick-Kids TV shows, and takes a very interactive approach involving 11 "playlets." More descriptive information about this curriculum can be found toward the bottom of this webpage.
  • The 7th and 8th grade curriculum, Sacred Threads, is an Asian religions curriculum.  Sacred Threads helps youth identify unique elements of modern Asian religions and recognize characteristics that these religions share with each other and with Unitarian Universalism.  While this curriculum was originally designed for high school students, we have specifically selected this curriculum for our particular group of 7th and 8th graders, as they are an advanced group that is very interested in world religions.  Further description of the curriculum is available about 1/3 of the way down the page on this website

Fall Volunteer Recruitment Update

Reply soon to ensure you get the class you want!

  • 1 Preschool Teacher (Spirit Play)
  • 2 Kindergarten Teachers (Spirit Play)
  • 3 1st Grade Teachers (Semi-Advanced Spirit Play)
  • 1 2nd Grade Teacher (Advanced Spirit Play)
  • 2 3rd-4th Grade Teachers (A Stepping Stone Year)
  • 3 5th-6th Grade Teachers (Bibleodeon)
  • 2 7th-8th Grade Teachers (Sacred Threads)
  • 4 Middle School Youth Group Advisors
  • 1 High School Youth Group Advisor
  • 3-4 Children's Choir Directors (each taking 1-2 months of the year)
  • 5 High School Coming of Age Mentors