Note from Dan

Evaluation session with kids

On Sunday, June 3, we did our annual evaluation session with children here at UUCPA. 14 children participated, representing all classes in grades K-8. First we brainstormed a list of everything the children could remember doing at church during the past year, and then the children voted on their favorite activities. I’ve included a lesson plan at the very end of this post, and a more complete description of the process is available here. The complete brainstormed list appears after this executive summary.

The children remembered a variety of kinds of church activities, ranging from Sunday services and Sunday school, to after-service activities and evening events. For regular Sunday services, the children remembered singing hymns. They also remembered two intergenerational services, Flower Communion and Water Communion, and one older child remembered being asked to speak in a Sunday service.

For Sunday school, the children in the grade 2-3 class remembered the most specific activities; this may well have been because there were more children from this class than from any other class. Many children remembered the giant Jenga game that the middle school class played after Sunday services; this game originated as a Sunday school activity. Quite a few children remembered activities from the Peace Experiment program, which is not surprising since that program just ended.

This year, the Children and Youth Religious Education Committee worked on improving the after-service activities, and this appeared to pay off in terms of what the children remembered. The children remembered (and said they liked) the second Sunday lunches and the fourth Sunday brunches, the ice cream social, the Maypole dance, and the Easter egg hunt. As in past years, the children remembered and liked drinking hot chocolate after the service, though this was not as popular as in previous years, perhaps because there is now more for children to do after the service.

More detailed information follows….

Note from Dan

Two new children join our class, and we play games

Earlier this week, Amy, our parish minister, said she wanted to talk with me about the worship service. “We’re going to have some dancers, and I’d like the children to see them,” Amy said, “but we’re also welcoming newcomers, too.” “Why can’t the children stay in for both?” I said. I thought it would be good for them to see the newest members of the church sign the membership book and be recognized, and I also thought they’d like to see the dancers. We both knew that the children would be getting religious education whether they were in Sunday school or in the worship service, and I assured Amy that those of us who were teaching wouldn’t mind — if we needed more time we’d run late, or some teachers might just as soon have a little less time to fill.

As it happened, the worship service started late to begin with, at about seven minutes past eleven. I always like to sit in the very back during worship services so I can observe how the children respond. The prelude, “Calm As The Night (Still Wie Die Nacht)” by composer Carl Bohm, played on cello and piano, lived up to its name: it was calming. Worship associate Wynne Furth opening the service with a very short poem “written a thousand years ago by Ono no Komachi, and translated by Jane Hirschfield who lives near here.” When she lit the flaming chalice, Wynne said she remembered the very first time she lit a match; she had waited after her parents said she was ready, until she herself felt she was ready to light a match. I thought what she said was short, matter-of-fact, and charming, and I wondered how the children perceived it.

When the new members were welcomed, I noticed that one boy in the very back row was busy coloring and one girl in the second to last row did not seem to be paying attention. This was not surprising: these were younger children, so most of what they could see was the back of the chair in front of them. I often think how much of what children see in church is the back of the chair in front of them. (a) Fortunately, the dancers made a point of extending their dance down the length of the center aisle; the boy who was coloring looked up as the dancers got closer to him, and once he looked up he didn’t go back to his coloring.

Note from Dan

We play “Zip, Zap, Zoop,” and we talk about conscience and the voice of God

Series of entries in my teaching diary about an experimental Sunday school class.

The children went to the first fifteen minutes of the worship service with the adults as usual. It took a long time for the worship service to get going this week. We started three minutes late, the announcements went on for four minutes, and we wound up taking about five minutes to greet the people around us and introduce newcomers, so it was 11:12 before the worship service really started. Fortunately, this week’s worship associate, Kay Brown, told a wonderfully effective children’s story. She started by saying that the story took place “far, far away, ten thousand miles away, in the land of India, where I was born.”

The story was about a man who made his living by selling caps (Kay put a baseball cap on her head to show the kind of cap she meant). He carried around some 50 caps in a big basket calling, Who wants to buy a nice cap? Red ones, green ones, all kinds of caps! Then the man walked under a tree in which some 50 monkeys lived. The monkeys saw the caps and wanted them. They climbed down out of the tree, and each took a cap. They liked the red caps best, said Kay, “because the red caps matched their red rear ends.” The man called to the monkeys to return his caps, for if he could not sell the caps, he would earn no money and his children would starve. He pleaded with the monkeys, but the monkeys just laughed. The man grew sad, and then angry, and when he realized the monkeys would not give his caps back no matter what he said, he grew disgusted and threw his own cap on the ground (Kay demonstrated this with the cap she was wearing. Lo and behold, all the monkeys imitated the man and threw their caps on the ground where he could pick them up. “The moral of the story, parents and children,” Kay said in conclusion, “is this: children will do what adults do, not what you say.” (I can’t remember the exact wording of Kay’s moral, but it was something like this.) I found it to be a very satisfying story — it was a familiar story told in a personal way, it was fun for children, and the moral was not simplistic. I liked that the moral was really two morals in one: it told adults that words are not enough; and it alerted children that they should pay more attention to what the adults in their lives actually do, as opposed to what those adults say. I thought to myself that I might want to take some time to talk about this story with the children in class.

We went off to our regular room. I was surprised to find that several of the things I had set up had been put away — the candle we were going to light was gone, the markers and crayons I had ready for the project were gone, the snack was gone. We found the candle and the markers had been put away in the closet in our room. I went off in search of matches and snack while Melissa said the opening words with the children. I grumbled a little bit, but there wasn’t much we could do. This is always one of the challenges of teaching Sunday school: things move around when you’re in shared space.

I got back to our room in time for check-in. There were just four children today: Dorit, Andrew, Perry, and Monty (attendance was light in most age groups at the first worship service as well). There were five adults today: Lee, Melissa, Lucy, Amy (our parish minister) and me. Lucy is Dorit’s and Andrew’s mom, and she said, “Is it OK if I come to class? I like it in here.” Of course we said it was OK for her to come to class. Amy has been wanting to visit the Sunday school for a while, and since we had a guest speaker today she was able to come.

After we had each checked in, Dorit asked if we could play “Zip, Zap, Zoop.”

Note from Dan

A day of rest

I posted teaching diary entries for the first three weeks of this Sunday school class on my personal blog: Week One, Week Two, Week Three.

It was Columbus Day weekend, and to give the volunteer teachers a break we decided that I would hold a “chapel service” this past Sunday. As a result, many families decided not to come to church at all. Attendance at the 9:30 service was 22 children, compared to 45-60 children on the previous three Sundays. And attendance at the 11:00 service was 2 children, both of whom were children of Sunday school teachers (there were also 5 teens and a couple of toddlers at this service, but they were in other programs).

The first fifteen minutes of the worship service this week were particularly welcoming to elementary age children. Susan Owicki, this week’s worship associate, made sure to mention that one of the children in the family who lit the chalice was having her fourth birthday today (the children in that family had already come to Sunday school at 9:30 and left right after they lit the chalice). The guest musician was a folksinger, and he sang a song that many children know, “A Place in the Choir” by Bill Staines. And the first hymn was an easy-to-sing “zipper song,” an African American hymn titled “There Is More Love Somewhere.” I thought to myself, Too bad only two elementary-aged children came this week!