Onward! to that which is endless,
As it was beginningless...
To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it.
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you —
To know the universe itself as a road —
as many roads —
as roads for traveling souls. — Walt Whitman
Because ours is a creedless faith, defining what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist can be challenging. Our adults and youth often welcome such a challenge — indeed, a questioning spirit is part of our faith. Yet, our children need to learn who Unitarian Universalists are, what we believe, and how we live in faith. Faithful Journeys equips them with language and experiences to answer these questions and help them develop a strong Unitarian Universalist identity.
Participants embark on a pilgrimage of faith, exploring how Unitarian Universalism translates into life choices and everyday actions. In each session, they hear historic or contemporary examples of Unitarian Universalist faith in action. Stories about real people model how participants can activate their own personal agency — their capacity to act faithfully as Unitarian Universalists — in their own lives, and children have regular opportunities to share and affirm their own stories of faithful action. Through sessions structured around the Unitarian Universalist Principles, Faithful Journeys demonstrates that our Principles are not a dogma, but a credo that individuals can affirm with many kinds of action. Over the course of the program, children discover a unity of faith in the many different ways Unitarian Universalists, including themselves, can act on our beliefs.
In the last session, the central story will be provided by individuals in your congregation whom you will invite to share their own experiences with the group. The children will have previously heard examples of Unitarian Universalist faithful living through the centuries. Now bring it home, and share the faithful journeys of people in your own congregation.
All sessions include hands-on activities as well as guided discussion, reflection, and self-expression to engage participants with various learning styles. Sessions that rely heavily on verbal learning and expression also offer alternate activities that may better reach learners who are more active. Many core activities suggest adaptations to address different abilities as well as learning styles. Craft each session using activities you think will best suit the children in your Faithful Journeys group.
Each session of this program includes rituals: sharing opening words, a chalice-lighting, centering in silence before hearing a story, and singing. You may also choose to add a ritual of lighting candles of joys and sorrows (Session 1, Alternate Activity 1). Most young children love ritual, and these spiritual activities form an important element of the program.
Faithful Journeys will:
- Strengthen participants' Unitarian Universalist identity through exploration of people from our faith heritage and our contemporary communities whose actions have expressed their faith and our Principles and promoted positive change
- Help participants recognize and develop their capacity to be agents for positive change in the world
- Highlight ways the small and large choices we make represent our personal faith and beliefs
- Teach participants to understand our Unitarian Universalist Principles and apply them to faithful actions in their own lives
- Promote understanding of, and sense of responsibility for, the world's interconnectedness, and reinforce cooperation, nonviolence, and balance as necessary for our collective moral, ethical, and spiritual health
- Engage participants physically as well as mentally and spiritually through Move It! activities
- Foster the creation of a learning community in which everyone is respected, welcomed and honored — a community in which diversity is embraced, justice is practiced, and children learn, grow and have fun together.
A team of two or more adults should lead Faithful Journeys. Having two leaders present at all times helps ensure child safety and optimum conditions for learning. While one leader implements an activity, the other can focus on logistics and children's engagement, behavior and safety. A collaborative teaching style is preferred. It may be useful for one leader on a team to take primary responsibility for Faith in Action activities, most of which will occur outside regular session time.
Ideally, leaders will be familiar with the Unitarian Universalist Principles and how one can express one's beliefs through action. They should have experience using their own personal agency to live out their faith principles for the purpose of effecting positive change. Leaders should be able to affirm diverse beliefs and perspectives in the group; flexibility of thought and moral integrity are important.
Several sessions call for the group to participate in the life of the congregation by participating in worship or an outreach program. At least one leader should be familiar with the congregation's practices, rituals and calendar.
Finally, Faithful Journeys leaders should enjoy stories. To be comfortable telling a story, rather than reading it aloud, is desirable, though certainly not a requirement for effective learning to take place.
Faithful Journeys is designed for use with children in second and third grades. 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 from seven-, eight- and nine-year-olds can be quite helpful, especially to first-time leaders.
In Nurturing Children and Youth: A Developmental Guidebook (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2005), Tracey L. Hurd discusses developmental characteristics of school-age children. She notes that by age seven, children's learning disabilities and behavioral or psychological issues may have appeared and been identified. Individual learning styles and strengths may also be apparent. Children who need glasses often get their first pair around this age.
In a section on moral development, Hurd notes that the typical child in this age group is "passionately interested" in moral issues:
She seeks what is fair and right... By developing games with rules, playing sports, or creating or belonging to clubs, the school-age child practices figuring out what is fair... This play is practice for more generalized moral decision making.
In general, children in second or third grade are:
- Able to use gross and fine motor skills, which are almost fully developed
- Influenced by media images and messages; beginning to compare themselves to norms perceived as desirable
- Engaging in logical thinking based on "concrete operational" thinking
- Practicing cognitive skills of acquiring, storing, and retrieving information
- Developing their individual learning style, which may be auditory visual, sensory and/or kinesthetic
- Showing their domain-specific intelligence, which may be verbal/linguistic, musical/rhythmic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and/or naturalist
- Finding self-esteem in their knowledge and their student identity
- Engaging peers; learning through mutual friendships
- Able to comprehend the perspectives of others
- Likely to engage in gender-segregated play
- Interested in their own racial, ethnic and gender identity, and seeking affirmation of these identities from peers
- Learning and negotiating early understandings of social scripts about sexuality
- Aware of and able to apply the Golden Rule (treating others as they wish to be treated)
- Energized by developing rules for play or work that ensure fairness
- Interested in personal moral issues and able to wrestle with moral dilemmas in relationships
- Aware of societal moral issues
- Interested in helping to solve community and world problems
- Showing interest in concrete aspects of faith and religion
- "Doing" religion or spirituality by participating in rituals, practices and traditions.
Hurd offers a variety of strategies that speak to these developmental considerations and may help you shape your sessions effectively. You can:
- Provide for children's overall physical needs, including nutrition, exercise and rest
- Allow children to be active; avoid extended times of sitting and listening
- Provide time for play and hands-on activities
- Present challenges that promote children's use of their thinking skills
- Support different learning styles
- Encourage problem solving and discussion; allow children opportunities to experience others' perspectives through role play
- Support children's natural impulse toward rule making and peer-to-peer negotiation of what is fair
- Allow time with like-identity peers; support or facilitate mixed-peer time, as well
- Intervene appropriately against exclusion or bullying, yet affirm children's need to work out relational complexities as a part of their moral development
- Recognize the unique needs that attend the identity development of children who may be multiracial, multiethnic, transgender, and/or a "minority" in another way
- Offer children many ways to contribute to the community
- Give opportunities to "do" religion and be part of a faith community
- Welcome large spiritual questions; encourage questioning of religion
- Support self-esteem; affirm the child's developing body and identity
- Support the whole child as an individual and as a member of the group
- Provide encouragement and love.
Integrating All Participants
By adapting activities or using alternate activities, you can help make every session inclusive of children with a range of physical and cognitive abilities, learning styles, food allergies, and other needs or limitations. As you plan 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. Sessions 5 and 13 offer food activities. Make sure all the children can eat any ingredients in any food you plan to provide.
Each session mixes active and quiet, expressive and listening, and whole group and individual activities. You may substitute alternate activities for core activities if you feel they better suit a group. As you recognize different learning styles among the participants, let this information guide your design of each session.
In the Including All Participants sections, you will often find the suggestion to bring out the fidget objects basket. A basket full of manipulable objects, such as pipe cleaners or clay, can keep restless hands and minds busy. Make fidget objects available when you feel that some or all of the children may have difficulty sitting through longer periods of listening or discussion. Find more information about fidget objects in the Before You Start section of this Introduction and in Session 2, Leader Resource 2.
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. If you have questions about the accessibility or adaptability of a particular activity, please ask your director of religious education for advice.
In the Teacher Development section of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations 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 parents to shape their children's Unitarian Universalist faith and moral development. By involving parents in the Faithful Journeys program, you can deepen the experience for children and their families, preparing and encouraging them to act in the world in a way that reflects the Unitarian Universalist Principles.
Each session offers Taking It Home resources, including conversation topics and other ways for families to extend the session. These may include a family game or ritual, or links to informative and/or interactive websites. Exploring session topics further at home can help children and parents to practice the skills; personalize the concepts; and make connections among congregational life, home and family life, and life's daily challenges. These experiences deepen families' experience of Unitarian Universalism.
Adapt each session's Taking It Home section to reflect the activities the group will have engaged in and, if you like, to help families prepare for sessions yet to come. 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. You can also 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 and their religious education experience. Beginning with Session 2, 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 or 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 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 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.