Children's Faith Development
"We are Unitarian Universalists: a people of the open mind, the loving heart, and the helping hands." Words like these are commonly recited when a chalice is lit, at the start of a children's religious education session.
Parents and caregivers are attracted to Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations for the partnership we offer in raising children who will become kind, respectful, fair-minded, caring, and strong enough to stand up for what is right. Through religious education programs and the inclusion of children in worship, social justice work, and multigenerational gatherings, our communities reinforce what parents teach at home. We nurture truth-seeking, spirituality, and progressive moral values that will continue to shape and support our children as they grow.
UU children’s programs build resilience, offering support through life’s tough times and encouraging each child to connect with their own quest for purpose and meaning. Kids learn respect for others and respect for themselves. They experience spiritual practices and learn ways to center themselves, whether by sitting cross-legged and taking a few deep breaths, giving thanks before they eat a meal, or looking up at the stars in wonder. Our programs create peer connections that break the patterns of a school or neighborhood social scene, allowing children to build genuine friendships across differences.
For more than forty years our religious education has included sexuality education. The widely acclaimed Our Whole Lives programs for offer age-appropriate, self-affirming learning about bodies, reproduction, safety, health, gender, and sexual orientation for grades K-1 and grades 4-6. We support parents with resources to talk with their children in positive, effective ways about other tough topics like economic disparities, racism, natural disaster, and war.
Children’s programming usually occurs on Sunday mornings. Most congregations have a nursery for babies and toddlers during worship. All but our smallest congregations offer age-specific programs from preschool on up. It is common for a UU religious education program to combine story, song, art, movement, discussion, and play in order to engage children with many learning styles and activity levels. Program content varies from congregation to congregation.
UU religious education is goal-oriented in one way: We seek an outcome of respectful, responsible, life-loving kids who know they are valued for all of who they are and are ready to show others the same deep acceptance. Engage with a congregation near you. Explore the sample programs below. Come and see how it’s done.
Tapestry of Faith
- The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) provides comprehensive, adaptable, and searchable children's curricula online, for congregations to use at no charge. Each Tapestry of Faith program nurtures children in ethics, spirit, faith, and Unitarian Universalist (UU) identity through stories, activities, and social justice projects. Taking It Home and Find Out More sections extend learning for children along with their parents, families, and religious educators. Families can go online from home to explore the ideas and activities the children experience in their religious education program.
- Children's faith development resources in the Tapestry of Faith family include online chapter books about using art and music with children; a Toolkit Book series, including Stories in Faith: Exploring Our UU Principles and Sources Through Wisdom Tales by Gail Forsyth-Vail (available from the UUA Bookstore); and Families: Weave a Tapestry of Faith (the Family pages), a color pull-out in every issue of UU World magazine. Explore Tapestry of Faith resources online.
On Children's Faith Development
- Nurturing Children and Youth: A Developmental Guidebook, by Tracey L. Hurd (Toolkit Book), describes the faith journey from early childhood in terms of developmental stages. What sorts of questions do we ask, and what depth of answer do we seek, at different stages? What activities work at different stages to engage children or youth in faith exploration?
- Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UUs, by religious educator and lifelong UU Kate Covey, reports on her interviews with 82 men and women ages 25 to 87 who were raised as UUs. She identifies approaches UU congregations can use to meet the needs of their children and youth for a faith they can keep.
- The Gift of Faith: Tending the Spiritual Lives of Children, by Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar, shows that religious community is vital to addressing a child’s natural need for spiritual growth and religious grounding. It points to the crucial role of parents as their children's primary religious educators and explores ways to foster spiritual life in the home. An accessible, inspiring book.
Welcoming Children in Our UU Congregations
- Come Into the Circle: Worshiping With Children by Michelle Richards (Skinner House) offers readings, song suggestions, and ways to worship with children in your congregation.
- A Child's Book of Blessings and Prayers, collected and introduced by Eliza Blanchard, draws material from around the world to encourage giving, service, and gratitude. It includes words to bless the morning, share at bedtime, honor a birthday, even give thanks for a friend.
- Welcoming Children with Special Needs: A Guidebook for Faith Communities, by Sally Patton, advocates and offers specific ideas for congregations to welcome and meaningfully engage children with special needs and to support their families.
- What If Nobody Forgave? collected and edited by Colleen M. McDonald brings the seven UU Principles to life in 19 tales with basic messages about truth and right living. Buddha, Jesus, and the Sufi masters of Islam are among the spiritual teachers represented. Each story provides discussion questions, activities and a reading list.
- A Lamp in Every Corner, by Janeen K. Grohsmeyer brings UU-inspired stories to children, including stories about historical UUs, UU symbols and rituals, and our Principles.
Supporting Children in Crisis
- Talking about Death: A Dialogue between Parent and Child, by Earl A Grollman, is a compassionate guide for adults and children to read together, featuring a read-along story. It answers children’s questions about death and provides a list of resources and organizations that can help.
- Families Responding to Disaster lists resources for helping children deal with trauma, including Supporting Children in the Face of Disaster or Trauma, by Tracey L. Hurd, which gives families and congregations a process for using worship and learning activities to guide and support children’s response to disaster. Designed for multigenerational groups in the home or congregation, the guide offers families ways to draw strength from our faith in times of tragedy.
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