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The Program (Moral Tales)

Good stories, then, enlarge our student's minds and hearts. They help them to shed their preoccupation with self and to see what they have the potential to give or do. In other words, stories not only nourish the imagination. They nourish the soul. — Kevin Ryan and Karen Bohlin

Every day our children go forth into a complex world where they are often faced with difficult decisions and situations. Moral Tales attempts to provide children with the spiritual and ethical tools they will need to make choices and take actions reflective of their Unitarian Universalist beliefs and values. As Kevin Ryan and Karen Bohlin suggest in their book, Building Character in Schools (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999), stories such as the ones woven throughout Moral Tales can activate and inform children's learning about how to make moral choices.

The first five sessions make up the Seeking Truth/Discernment unit of Moral Tales. These sessions introduce tools for discerning truth and justice in a complex world. Participants are encouraged to draw upon inner resources such as conscience, intuition and empathy; spiritual resources such as faith, prayer and forgiveness; and external resources that include wise teachers and the larger community.

The next six sessions constitute the What Would Love Do unit of Moral Tales. These sessions focus on the ways love calls us to act in the world with humans, other living beings and the Earth. Participants are introduced to spiritual practices that are grounded in love, including generosity, welcome, and nonviolence. Relationships among the participants in the group are reinforced as all are made welcome without prejudgments and participants are encouraged and guided to honor one another, and all people, in a deep and meaningful way. Love is extended to the Earth through learning about the importance of ecological balance.

The final five sessions introduce tools and attitudes that are necessary to bring goodness and justice into the larger world. Here participants explore responsibility, courage, persistence and cooperation. The aim of Moral Tales is to help raise children who have been provided with tools that will help them to discern what is right and true, to hear and follow the call of Love, and to turn their moral beliefs and ethical concerns into concrete action.

Each session has a central story in which participants meet real and fictional heroes and heroines who have displayed moral courage and spiritual greatness. They will hear about characters who have struggled, but who have chosen justice, goodness, and love. If you implement the Gems of Goodness Project (introduced in Session 2 and continued through the remainder of the program), children will have regular opportunities to create and share their own stories, in which they are actors for justice and goodness.

The stories in Moral Tales draw upon many of our Unitarian Universalist sources, portraying moral dilemmas and paths to goodness and justice through a variety of cultural and religious lenses. Yet every story resonates with Unitarian Universalist principles and purposes, which are intentionally integrated into the sessions. In this way participants will develop awareness and understanding of other religions as they strengthen their own identity as Unitarian Universalists.

All sessions include hands-on activities to make learning accessible to individuals with various learning styles as well as structured exercises for questioning, reflecting and self-expression. In sessions that rely heavily on discussion or other modalities which emphasize verbal learning and expression, alternative activities are suggested which may work better for learners who are more active. Religious educators may feel free to craft each session using the activities that best match the learning styles of the children in their programs.

Each session of this program includes rituals such as sharing opening words, a chalice-lighting, centering in silence before hearing a story, and singing together, with the option of lighting a chalice or candles of joys and sorrows (Alternate Activity 1 in every session). Most young children love ritual, and the use of ritual in the sessions mirrors the use of ritual in family homes, in our congregations, 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.

An undertaking to teach children how to be "good" and "just" in just 16 weeks is indeed ambitious. This curriculum is not, nor could it be, absolutely inclusive or comprehensive. Infinite nuances of goodness and justice, as well as many spiritual tools for discerning and performing goodness and justice, exist beyond these sessions. However, it is our sincere hope that participants will begin to build a personal moral compass in this program. Their exploration of goodness and justice here, we hope, will ground participants in Unitarian Universalist ethical beliefs, moral values and spiritual practices that can not only transform the individual, but transform the world, as well.

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

Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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