A Tapestry of Faith Program for Children Kindergarten-1st Grade
About the Author
Jessica York is the director of the Faith Development office of the Unitarian Universalist Association. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, she previously served the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham as director of religious education for several years before joining UUA staff as the Youth Programs Director in 2007. She is an Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education trainer for the elementary level and has taught in public elementary schools with a focus on special needs and hearing impaired children. A former theater stage manager, Jessica has owned and consulted to programs providing theater arts education for children. She holds a B.A. in biology from Yale University and has done graduate work in fine arts at Tulane University. Her other Tapestry of Faith programs include Virtue Ethics and Signs of Our Faith.
Christy Olson has served Christian denominations as an education director and a children and family parish minister for 30 years. Her most recently written curricula are story-centered, workshop rotation model programs for ecumenical Christian religious education. An adjunct faculty member at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota and consultant to the Chisago Lakes Lutheran Church, Christy holds a degree in elementary education with a minor in elementary music and an M.A. in theology.
We see in the world around us many symbols that teach us the meaning of life. You could notice if you wanted to, but you are usually too busy. We Indians live in a world of symbols and images where the spiritual and the commonplace are one.
—John Fire/Lame Deer and Richard Erodes
You are about to take a journey. It is a journey you take alone and in community—a journey of inward reflections and outward actions of faith. A Unitarian Universalist journey, open to stories and beliefs from different lands and people. It is a journey from home. It is a journey to home. Welcome home.
This program helps children develop a sense of home that is grounded in faith. Together with your group you will ask questions about the purpose of having a home and the functions a home serves, for us as humans and for other animals. The program speaks of home as a place of belonging and explores the roles each of us play in the homes where we live. The program introduces the concept of a "faith home"—your congregation—which shares some characteristics with a family home. Like a family home, a faith home offers its members certain joys, protections, and responsibilities.
Creating Home is not about the outward appearance and material worth of our homes. In these sessions, children explore the deep sense of sacredness, the beauty of hospitality, and the gift of loving relationships that a home can represent. As participants actively explore the concept of home, they create a community home in your meeting space. Watch for small differences in children's respect for one another and their engagement with the wider congregation as they learn to identify their Unitarian Universalist congregation as a home.
The sessions include stories from Unitarian Universalist and other traditions, hands-on activities to make learning accessible to individuals with various learning styles, and structured opportunities for questioning, reflecting, and self-expression. The program introduces children to Unitarian Universalist heritage, including rituals, songs, and traditions of our faith, and stories about Unitarian Universalists whose words, songs, and deeds have helped to shape the faith home that participants share.
Within this program, you will find the terms "family home," "faith home," and "classroom home." Family home refers to the place where a child lives and the people with whom the child lives and/or the people a child considers part of his/her family.
Allow participants to self-define their family homes. You may find various configurations of family among the children in your group. Affirming all families and, by extension, all of their members is an explicit goal of this program. Studies show that children who accept and feel good about themselves are likely to accept and feel good about people who are different from them. As a leader, modeling respect for each child's family structure will help everyone in the program learn to identify elements of family life that are common, if not universal, and accept families that are different from their own.
In presenting your Unitarian Universalist congregation as children's faith home, Creating Home draws parallels between what happens in families and what happens in congregations. As in a family home, members of a faith home together create the type of home they want. As in a family home, members who are invisible, uninvolved, or inactive co-create the culture of their faith home by their absence. By guiding and encouraging children to be intentional in how they shape their faith home, you will help to foster adults with a strong sense of stewardship in their congregations.
Each session of this program includes spiritual activities such as chalice-lighting, exploration of a labyrinth, and structured ways for participants to practice rituals such as hospitality and saying grace. Most young children love ritual, and the use of ritual in the sessions mirrors the use of ritual in family homes, in faith homes, in the wider Unitarian Universalist community, and beyond. These spiritual activities form an important element of the program. They familiarize children with specific practices which their families or your congregation may continue after the life of this program, and they provide a common experience for the group. Practicing rituals together builds community and reminds children of their connections to something deeper and more significant than their own experiences, wants, and needs.
Many activities in this program involve stories about and observations in the natural world. Explorations of nature offer young children an accessible connection to the spiritual. Experiences in nature also stimulate children's discovery of the purposes and functions of a home. You will also find stories from the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions; familiar wisdom tales; and new stories, some of them about Unitarian Universalist heroes. You will find fun activities, humor, and new ways to play.
Creating Home will:
- Guide participants to identify the characteristics of a home and the functions a home serves
- Help participants articulate and affirm the location and the members of their individual family homes
- Provide opportunities for participants to observe homes in nature and investigate how different kinds of animal homes provide security and sustenance for their inhabitants
- Build participants’ vocabulary of faith and religious language
- Draw connections between participants’ family home experiences and the roles, responsibilities, and rewards of belonging to a “faith home”
- Help develop participants’ sense of belonging in their Creating Home group and in the larger congregation
- Introduce practices from Unitarian Universalist heritage – such as the spiritual rituals of hospitality, saying grace, lighting a chalice, and sharing stories–and invite participants and their families to consider using these on their own
- Provide multiple opportunities for participants to practice artistic self-expression and have fun.
A team of two or more adults should lead the Creating Home program. Having two leaders present at all times helps assure child safety. While one leader implements an activity, the other can focus on classroom management. Ideally, co-leaders will be individuals who consider the congregation their own faith home. At the very least, leaders must feel comfortable with the notion and desirability of a faith home. Several sessions call for the group to participate in the life of the congregation, for example, by participating in worship or in an outreach program. Your leadership must include at least one congregational member who is familiar with the rituals of the congregation.
The Creating Home program is designed for use with children in kindergarten and first grade. You may find it useful to think about the developmental norms for this age group. Not all children arrive at each developmental stage at the same time, but knowing what to expect overall can be quite helpful, especially to first-time leaders of programs for five- and six-year-olds. In her book Nurturing Children and Youth: A Developmental Guidebook (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2005), Tracey L. Hurd discusses developmental characteristics of young school-age children (ages five through seven). Here is a sampling. Five- and six-year-old children are generally able to:
- Coordinate gross motor skills through sports and games
- Draw, write, and use tools with beginning skill
- Think about more than one thing at a time; show the start of logical thinking
- Enjoy pretend play, but are learning to distinguish fantasy from reality
- Show interest in facts, numbers, letters, and words
- Learn rules, authority, and routines; may try to apply rules across different settings, such as using school rules at home
- Enjoy being correct, may apply rules too broadly or literally
- Use self as a reference point
- Learn through social interaction as well as through their individual actions
- Make rigid and/or binary statements about gender and racial identifications
- Are receptive to antiracist intervention and multicultural experiences
- Form first reciprocal friendships
- Develop increased altruism
- Are evolving from fascination with stories of wonder to a keen interest in learning and performing the concrete expressions of religion
- Start developing a sense of belonging to a faith community through the imitation of practices of adults by whom they feel accepted.
Hurd offers a variety of strategies that speak to these developmental considerations and may help you shape your sessions effectively for this age group. Some of these include:
- Provide outlets for physical activity, room for movement during quiet activities, new physical challenges in games
- Include small-motor challenges, such as drawing, writing, painting, or using tools such as scissors
- Create and sustain routines, to give children a sense of control and opportunities to be "correct"
- Notice and talk about children's similarities and differences
- Present complexities that help push children's thinking beyond simple dualisms; gently challenge children's natural moral rigidities
- Provide opportunities for group work and group problem-solving
- Respect children's desire to categorize
- Support children in their beginning friendships, to help them build an emotional base for future relationships
- Welcome the whole child and respect the child as an individual, a member of the religious education group, and a member of the faith community
- Provide encouragement and love.
Integrating All Participants
By adapting activities or using alternate activities, you can help ensure that every session is inclusive of children with a range of physical and cognitive abilities and learning styles, food allergies, and other sensitivities or limitations. Below, you will find general guidance on adapting the activities along with some resources for implementing inclusion. Within the sessions, some activities suggest specific adaptations under the heading Including All Participants.
As you plan your Creating Home sessions, be aware of activities that might pose difficulties for children who are differently abled. All spaces, indoor and outdoor, need to be accessible to anyone who might be in the group. Check the width of doorways and aisles, the height of tables, and the terrain of outdoor landscapes.
Find out about participants' medical conditions and their allergies, particularly to food. Session 3 offers a Honey Parfait activity. Make sure all of the children can eat the ingredients you plan to use, or adjust the recipe.
Each session mixes active and quiet, expressive and listening, and whole-group and individual activities, along with alternate activities that you can substitute for core activities if you feel they better suit a group. As you begin to recognize different learning styles among the participants, let this information guide your selection of activities for each session.
Some activity descriptions mention specific concerns or suggest adaptations under the heading Including All Participants. Feel free to devise your own adaptations to meet any special needs you perceive. As the leader, you will know best how to provide a fully inclusive learning experience for the group.
In the Teacher Development section of the UUA website, find descriptions of a helpful resource book, Sally Patton's Welcoming Children with Special Needs.
Families are the primary influences on the faith development of their children. As a program leader, you take on a special role: supporting families in your faith community to shape their children's Unitarian Universalist faith development. By involving parents in the Creating Home program, you can deepen the spiritual experience of family and faith homes for children and their families.
Each session offers Taking It Home resources including conversation topics and other ways for families to extend the session topics at home; these may include a family game, a family ritual, or links to informative and/or interactive websites. Adapt the Taking It Home section to reflect the activities the group has engaged in and the next stage of the Creating Home journey you have planned. If you have an email address for each family, you may wish to provide Taking It Home as a group email, either before or immediately after the session. Or, you can print, photocopy, and distribute Taking It Home at the session's closing.
Invite families into your sessions. Adult or teen volunteers can be extremely helpful when you implement arts-and-crafts activities. Parents who bring musicianship, storytelling, or artistic skills into your sessions will help foster participants' sense of connection between their family homes and their faith home. The Faith in Action activities for each session offer ideal opportunities to engage parents and other congregants. Find out who can enrich your long-term Faith in Action activities with their personal interests, professional networks, or simply their time.
The leader/parent relationship is very important and must be both welcoming and reassuring. When parents bring their children to experience Unitarian Universalist religious education, they need to feel confidence not only in the safety and enjoyment you will provide, but also in your faith leadership. Strong partnerships can foster parents' commitment to becoming strong faith leaders in their own families. As a leader, you can support and inspire parents to bring intentionality and excitement to their role in their children's faith development.