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Program Structure (Moral Tales)

All 16 sessions in Moral Tales follow the same structure. Between an opening and a closing ritual, participants engage in up to seven activities. The opening includes a chalice-lighting and the sharing of opening words together. If time allows, immediately after the opening would be a good time to insert candles of joys and sorrows, provided as Alternate Activity 1 in every session.

After the opening rituals, Moral Tales introduces a personal story-sharing experience for children called the Gems of Goodness Project. This regular activity is introduced in Session 2 and appears as a core activity in every subsequent session. It is discussed further in the "Activities" and "Before You Start" sections of this Introduction.

Every session revolves thematically around a central story which participants hear and explore in one or more of the activities. To ready the children for the story and to activate their interest, an activity called "story Basket and Centering" precedes storytelling in every session. The story Basket is a basket into which you will put an object or objects that relate to the story in each session. The centering exercise requires a simple sound instrument. Both the story Basket and the centering exercise are described in each session, and discussed further in the "Before You Start" section of this Introduction.

Beginning in Session 3, each session offers at least one Faith in Action activity. While these activities are optional, Faith in Action is an important element of the overall Tapestry of Faith curriculum series. Some Faith in Action activities can be completed in one meeting ("short-term"); others are longer-term and require the involvement of congregants or community members outside your group.

Most sessions offer alternate activities. Depending on your time, the group's interests, and learning styles you observe in the group, you may choose to replace one or more of the session's core activities with an alternate activity, or add an alternate activity to your session. You may also find the alternative activities useful outside of the program for gatherings such as family retreats, intergenerational dinners, or other events where some interesting child-friendly programming is needed.

As you design your program, decide whether the group needs extra meetings to incorporate additional activities or to complete a long-term Faith in Action project. Long-term Faith in Action projects usually involve meetings outside your regular meeting time and/or at another location. Before you commit to extending the Moral Tales program, make sure you obtain the support of your congregational leadership and the children's families.

Quote

A quote introduces the subject of each session. You may decide to read a quote aloud to your group as an entry point to the session. However, the quotes are intended primarily for leaders, and are not always at a child's level of understanding or experience.

Co-leaders may like to discuss the quote as part of preparation for a session. Exploring a quote together can help you each feel grounded in the ideas and activities you will present and can help a team of leaders get "on the same page." Quotes are included in the Taking It Home section for families to consider.

Introduction

The Introduction to a session gives an overview of the session concepts and explains how you can use the activities to teach the concepts. The Introduction also describes the session's thematic connection with the other sessions in the program.

Goals

The Goals section provides general participant outcomes for the session. Reviewing the goals will help you connect the session's content and methodologies with the four strands of the Tapestry of Faith religious education programs: ethical, spiritual, Unitarian Universalist identity, and faith development. As you plan a session, apply your knowledge of the particular group of children, the time and space you have available, and your own strengths and interests as a leader to determine the most important and achievable goals for the session and the activities that will serve them best.

Learning Objectives

The Learning Objectives describe specific participant outcomes which the session activities are designed to facilitate. They suggest what a participant will learn, become, or be able to do as a result of the learning activities. It may be helpful to think of learning objectives as the building blocks with which the larger, "big picture" goals of the Moral Tales program are achieved. If particular learning objectives appeal to you as important, make sure you select the activities for this session that promote these outcomes.

Session-at-a-Glance

The Session-at-a-Glance table lists the session activities in a suggested order, and provides an estimated time for completing each activity to conduct a 60-minute session. The table includes all of the core activities from the Opening through the Closing. The table also shows any Faith in Action activities provided for the session; note that you will need additional time, beyond the 60-minute session, when you include a Faith in Action activity.

Below the Closing on the Session-at-a-Glance table you will see any alternate activities provided for the session, with estimated times — again, not calculated into the basic 60-minute session.

Session-at-a-Glance is a guide for your own planning. Choose which elements to use and how to combine these to best suit the group, the meeting space, and the amount of time you have.

Keep in mind that many variables inform the actual completion time for an activity. Whole-group discussions will take longer in a large group than in a small group. While six teams can plan their skits as quickly as two teams can, the group will need more time to watch all six skits than to watch two. Remember to consider the time you will need to relocate participants to another area of your meeting room, and the time you will need to set up and clean up an art activity that requires a variety of materials.

The time estimates for Faith in Action activities include only the work the group will do when you meet together. Leader planning and preparation are not included. For most Faith in Action activities, you will need to make special arrangements for participants, their families, other congregants, and sometimes members of the wider community to undertake activities outside the group's regular meeting time.

Spiritual Preparation

Each session provides a spiritual exercise that teachers may use to prepare themselves for leading the session. Taking five or ten minutes to center yourself within the session's purpose and content will support and free you to be present with the children and focus on providing the best possible learning experience. The exercise will guide you to call forth your own life experiences, beliefs and spirituality and relate these to the session you are about to lead.

The session activities often engage the children in sharing personal stories related to concepts they are learning. If you implement the Gems of Goodness project as suggested, the children will share their own stories of goodness and justice near the beginning of the session, each time they meet. By preparing yourself to share your own personal stories with them, you will provide the children with a bridge to their own experiences and understanding.

Session Plan

The session plan presents every element of the session in detail, in the sequence established in the Session-at-a-Glance table. Additionally, the session plan presents a Taking It Home section with extension activities for families and a Resources section. The Resources section includes all the stories and other resources you need to lead all of the session activities. Under "Find Out More," the Resources section also suggests additional sources to help you, the leader, further explore the session topics. It can be useful to scan the resources in "Find Out More" before you lead a session.

If you are reading Moral Tales online, you can move as you wish among a session's elements — Opening, Closing, Faith in Action, Activity 4, Resources, etc. Each element occupies its own web page. You can click on "Print this Page" at any time. However, if you click on "Download Entire Program" or "Download Workshop" you'll have a user-friendly document on your computer that you can customize as you wish, using your own word processing program. Once you decide which activities you will use, format and print only the materials you need.

Welcoming and Entering: Guidance is provided for greeting, orienting and immediately engaging children as they arrive for each session. For Session 1 — or whichever session is the group's first — Welcoming and Entering may involve making and putting on nametags. From Session 2 forward, during the Welcoming and Entering time before the session formally begins children may go directly to a table where a pile of colorful gems have been laid out. They will choose a few gems and bring them with them to the circle where the opening ritual begins. This activity serves to remind them of the call to justice and goodness and prepares them for the regular Gems of Goodness activity, which directly follows the Opening.

Shape the Welcoming and Entering activities to suit the needs of the group and the limitations of your physical space.

Opening: Each session begins with a chalice-lighting, an optional candles of joys and sorrows ritual, and a sharing of opening words. To ensure safety, obtain an LED/battery-operated flaming chalice or use a symbolic chalice.

The Opening is a time for centering, both for individuals and the group. The shared opening words encourage the children to remember the goal of practicing justice and goodness, and committing themselves to making moral tales a place of safety, love and friendship. Take the liberty you need to shape an opening ritual that suits the group, works within space limitations, and reflects the culture and practices of your congregation. You will find alternate Openings in the Leader Resources section of Session 1.

Activities: Up to seven activities form the core content of each session. The variety of activities presented within each session addresses different learning styles you may find among participants. Generally, the sequence of activities is designed to activate prior knowledge, pique interest, engage children in experiential learning including hands-on interaction with the topic, and help them process and apply their observations and new knowledge. While you are free to re-order activities as suits the needs of the group, presenting activities in the sequence suggested will help you provide a coherent learning experience. The suggested sequence alternates listening and talking, sitting still and moving about, individual exploration and team or whole group exploration, to provide variation that will help keep seven-, eight- and nine-year-olds engaged and on track. As you mix and match activities to form a session that will work well for you, keep in mind young participants' journey of learning and the benefits of a well paced session that includes different kinds of activities.

Gems of Goodness

Starting in Session 2, the children will participate in an activity called the Gems of Goodness Project which encourages them to recognize, document and tell the group about acts of goodness and justice that they participate in between sessions. If you wish, you can allow participants to include acts of goodness and justice that they witness. You will give the children notebooks to take home in which to record acts of goodness and fairness, with their parents' help. As children describe an act of goodness to their Moral Tales peers, they will add a "gem" to a clear plastic or glass jar that is kept in the meeting space.

When the jar is full or reaches an agreed upon mark, you may wish to provide a celebration or a special treat. Session 16 suggests a culminating Gems of Goodness celebration (Alternate Activity 4: Gems of Goodness Party).

The Gems of Goodness project empowers children as agents of goodness and justice. They will learn to recognize acts of goodness and justice in many different forms and practice affirming others for discerning and implementing goodness and justice. The Gems of Goodness Project is fully introduced in Session 2 (Activity 8: Introduction to the Gems of Goodness Project). In the Session 2 Leader Resource section you will find a letter to parents describing the Gems of Goodness Project and encouraging their participation.

In each session, the activity, "story Basket and Centering," builds curiosity about and readies the group to focus on the central story that you will tell to illuminate the session theme. You will show the group a basket containing one or more objects that relate to the story. You may decide to pass the basket around the circle or to simply talk about the object(s). You can display the objects on a table or altar during the storytelling. If you have a map or globe, you can show the children where this story originates from or takes place.

The second part of the "story Basket and Centering" activity is a centering and listening exercise. You will lead the children to focus on breathing calmly and listening to a chime or other sound instrument, to prepare their bodies and minds for listening to the story. You will find complete directions for the story Basket and Centering activity in each session.

Storytelling

The story is central to the learning experience of this curriculum and will be most effective if you take the time to connect to it personally and to share it with expression and enthusiasm. You will find numerous storytelling tips throughout the curriculum. Find particular guidance for telling each story in the story activity, under "Preparation for Activity" and "Description of Activity."

These suggestions include ways to involve the children in audience participation. You will have to experiment and find how participation works for the children in the group. Most children of this age respond positively and listen attentively when given the opportunity to join in on the telling, whether they are repeating phrases or movements, singing along or playing characters' roles. It is best to practice telling or reading the story in advance so you are prepared to involve the children in the telling when appropriate. Most of these stories are folk tales which means that they have been passed down from many people over many generations, changing with each new teller. You will be most effective as a story reader or teller if you take the time to make each story and each storytelling your own.

At times it will be suggested that you utilize fidget objects during a storytelling. These can be useful if you have students who find it very difficult to sit still for any prolonged period of time. Base this decision on your particular children and on the length and nature of the story being told. You may wish to not use them if the story is short or calls for participation; the fidget objects could be distracting. See "Before you Start" in this Introduction and the information included in every session's Leader Resources section for detailed information on setting up and using fidget objects.

Materials for Activity: Provided for each activity, this checklist tells you the supplies you will need.

Preparation for Activity: Review the bulleted preparation "to do" list for each activity at least one week ahead of a session. The list provides all the advance work you need to do for the activity, from securing parent permissions for an off-site walk to downloading Leader Resources, practicing telling a story aloud and organizing art materials.

Description of Activity: This section provides detailed directions for implementing the activity. For many activities, the description includes a rationale which links the activity thematically to the rest of the session and to the entire program.

Read the activity descriptions carefully during your planning process so that you understand each activity and its purpose. Later, when you are leading the group, use the description as a step-by-step how-to manual.

Including All Participants: Adaptation to include all participants should always be part of your planning process. For certain activities, "Including All Participants" suggests specific modifications to make the activity manageable and meaningful for children with limitations of mobility, sight, hearing or cognition.

Faith in Action: An important component of the program, Faith in Action activities give children practice at being Unitarian Universalists in the world. When you lead a Faith in Action project, you create an opportunity for participants to actively express faith values.

By design, Faith in Action activities engage leaders, participants, their families, other congregants, and sometimes members of the wider community, often outside the group's regular meeting time and place. They are a place for children to meet, work with and be inspired by other members of the congregation and to strengthen bonds between the generations. Faith in Action projects usually require special arrangements to be made in advance. Like the core and alternate activities, Faith in Action activities include a materials checklist, a list of preparations you must make ahead of time, and a detailed description of the activity.

Most sessions (starting with Session 3) either introduce a new Faith in Action activity or describe a step the group will take in a long-term Faith in Action activity. However, when you get to a particular session, the group may not be ready for a new Faith in Action activity. Or, you may be "on hold" midway through a long-term Faith in Action project, perhaps waiting for supplies to arrive or for an environmental organization to schedule time to visit your religious education program. It is perfectly fine for the Faith in Action component of Moral Tales to deviate from the suggested timetable!

Before your first Moral Tales session, decide which Faith in Action activities you will do over the course of the program. As you plan each session, make sure you allocate the time you'll need to move Faith in Action project(s) forward. Sessions that present Faith in Action activities also provide estimates of how much time the group will need to complete this particular stage of the project.

Plan well, but remain flexible. Be aware that inclement weather, the last-minute cancellation of a scheduled visitor, or other surprises may bump a planned Faith in Action activity to a later session.

Note: Faith in Action activities can also be used independently of the Moral Tales program for a wide age span of children or for multigenerational groups.

Closing: Each session includes a closing ritual which reviews and honors the ways in which the children worked and practiced the session concepts together. The main focus of the session is restated and a word or phrase to represent it is added to the Moral Compass poster. (See descriptions of the Moral Compass poster in Session 2, and in the Before You Start section of this Introduction.)

Closing words are shared together in the form of a reading or song that reminds the children to carry the goodness and justice they have experienced out into the world.

The Closing signals the end of the group's time together. As you plan each session, allow plenty of time for the Closing. Avoid rushing through it. You may wish to use your Taking It Home handout to describe the sacred intent of opening and closing rituals and their importance in the Moral Tales program.

As with the Opening, repeating the same basic Closing at the end of each session will be both enjoyable and educational for children. Before the program begins, evaluate the suggested Closing ritual, alternatives you will find in Session 1 (Leader Resource, Alternate Closings) and other resources you may have, such as closing words your congregation traditionally uses. Shape a closing ritual for Moral Tales that fits the group and your congregation's culture and practices.

Leader Reflection and Planning: This section provides guidance, often in the form of questions, to help co-leaders process the session after it is concluded and use their reflections to shape future sessions.

Taking It Home: Taking It Home resources for each session are designed to help families extend their children's religious education experiences and to engage all members of the household in faith development. Taking It Home resources may include games, conversation topics, ideas for incorporating Unitarian Universalist rituals into the home environment, and/or online sources for session themes or stories. For each session, adapt the Taking It Home section to make a parent handout/email that reflects the actual activities you have included in the session. Print and photocopy the Taking It Home section for children to bring home, or send it to all parents/caregivers as a group email.

Alternate Activities: Most sessions feature one or more alternate activities. You can substitute these for core session activities or add them to the core activities. Sometimes the alternate activities are simpler, useful if the group as a whole seems unready for the core activities or if the group includes children with vast developmental differences. Materials checklists, preparation, and descriptions for alternate activities appear in the same format as they do in Openings, Closings, core activities, and Faith in Action activities.

Resources: In a session's Resources section you will find the stories, handouts, and all other resources you will need to lead every element of the session.

Under the heading "Stories," find full text of the session's central story and any other stories that you will need for session activities.

Under the heading "Handouts," find any material that needs to be printed and photocopied for participants to use in the session.

Under the heading "Leader Resources," you will find all the components you need to lead the session activities. These may include a recipe; a puzzle for you to print out and cut into pieces; or an illustration to show the group which you may print as a hard copy or display on a computer as a PowerPoint slide.

Under the heading "Find Out More," you will find book and video titles, website URLs, and other selected resources to further explore the session topics.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Sunday, November 9, 2014.

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