This is not a time for a complex faith formation program. Our children and youth need to connect, to be cared for, to care for others, and to make meaning together of this time. While these suggestions include many things that work on online zoom calls, you can connect with the children and youth in your congregation even if zoom isn't going to work for you.
Suggestions for Online Gatherings
Go simple. Let go of previous lesson plans. Focus on connecting
Take advantage of what you can do online you can’t do in person such as check in paired with show and tell or having children see each other’s houses.
Have children make art on a theme to share. They can do it ahead of time and show live or make space online for them to post pictures. The White Plains NY congregation’s first project was making chalices!
Do not shy away from expressions of sadness or grief. These are not normal times and it is okay to have these feelings. Give children and youth space to be sad or angry during check-ins or as part of Joys and Concerns. Avoid “everything will be fine” platitudes.
Pay particular attention to ritual. As we stay away from our churches, we will miss the rituals that are embedded in our time together. So, create simple rituals as part of your online gathering. Light a chalice. Do joys and sorrows. Note other natural rituals emerging and repeat them.
Spend time talking about home faith rituals. A chalice lighting time to begin or end the day can be grounding for everyone. An evening time ritual at dinner or bedtime might include lighting the chalice and sharing joys and sorrows of the day. Have families share what they do or are thinking about starting to do! Many children love a chance to share
As the time stretches on, mail a care package to families with some activities. Go for activities that are fun, includes material they may not already have at home, engaging, steer away from those that feel like school as children may have relatively boring packets of work from school.
Please do not do OWL online. It’s not designed for that.
Ways to Connect Through the Week
Check in with parents - they’ll be able to tell you if what you’re doing is working well and what their kids’ needs are.
Prioritize pastoral care of parents. They’re stuck with their children most of the time and if they retain sanity, humor, gratitude, and groundedness it will help the children immensely.
Recorded stories lets the children of the church see your face.
Help children connect with other adults in the congregation. Children also need to feel like they’re doing something to help. They can call, write, send art.
Help older children connect with younger ones. They can even connect via video chat through the week. Younger children appreciate older children being goofy, telling jokes, reading to them, listening to them!
Send parents short selections of ways to connect to UUism including videos from other UU congregations
Soul Matters has an archive of activities for families. Curate something simple that meets the emotional and spiritual needs emerging.
Full Week Faith is one way to structure week long connection. Tap into simple, easy messaging apps like GroupMe or Remind, invite your families to sign up, and then share a daily dinner blessing, prayer, meditation, story, activity, or online worship. Your families can then come together and build their spirituality and deeply connect to Unitarian Universalism, whenever it makes sense for them. This webinar and PowerPoint can be utilized to support you.
Tips for Using Zoom With Children
Tim Atkins says: “Don’t try to exactly replicate what you already do. It won’t work. Think of it like this - when you’re learning a foreign language an important moment is when you start to “think” in that language instead of translating. That goes the same for online - translating will work ok but you need to get to the point of “thinking” and designing it from the beginning for online.”
If the children know what the questions might be ahead of time, they’ll be more ready to participate. This is something parents can help them do
Older children can engage in a zoom video on their own. Younger children may need a parent helping them.
Zoom can do break out rooms. You can have a volunteer facilitate each room. They can be multiage or you can do a little sorting. (Practice this ahead of time)
What About Content?
You really do not need to find “new” topics to engage with. Faith formation is about engaging with life. And life is offering our young people a lot right now. Follow them through their emotional process and you’ll find a lot to engage with:
Taking care of each other - physically and emotionally. This could include connecting them with isolated elders. It helps children and youth to know they are making a difference in someone’s life.
Taking care of ourselves when we feel crabby, bored, stuck at home.
Getting along with each other! Expect families to have a hard time.
Spring and hope even when life seems hard
Death is a likely topic to emerge in the weeks ahead.
Keep Online Connections Safe
Unrelated adults and minors should never message one on one without a parent or religious professional copied on the message. If you set up a Facebook group to connect multigenerationally parents can help organize their children’s activities and will be aware of what their children are doing. Video calls and online are similar--parents are responsible for supervising their children just like at coffee hour. Video calls and games should happen at a place like the kitchen table rather than alone in a room. Finally, create a covenant that material shared in the online group won’t be shared. Especially pictures and videos of minors.