All 16 sessions in Love Connects Us follow the same structure. Between an Opening and a Closing, activities guide participants to explore what it means to be a covenanted community.
The program employs the statement of covenant by James Vila Blake, used in many Unitarian Universalist congregations, as a thematic framework. Individual sessions lift up the covenant's key themes of love, service, peace, seeking truth, and helping one another. For each theme, one session explores how a significant figure from our faith history embodies the theme, another session centers on how we can express the theme in community, and a third focuses on how we can each express the theme personally.
Rainbow Wall Hanging and Ornaments. In Session 1, after hearing the biblical story of Noah and the rainbow sign of his covenant with God, participants create a Rainbow Wall Hanging which, if possible, should remain displayed in your meeting space for the duration of the program. Starting in Session 2, each session begins with the opportunity for children to create ornaments related to a theme (e.g., love, service, peace). On cut-out ornament shapes, they each write ways they express or observe that aspect of our Unitarian Universalist covenant in their lives.
If you expect some children to arrive before the formal session begins, have these children cut out the ornament shapes (see each session's Welcoming and Entering activity). Otherwise, you will need to create the ornaments beforehand, so children can write on them in the opening activity.
In Session 16, participants are invited to cut a piece from the wall hanging so each may take some knots and ornaments along as they continue on their faith development journey.
Faith in Action. Each session offers a Faith in Action activity. These activities are optional and the time you will need for them is not calculated into a 60-minute session. Nevertheless, Faith in Action is an important element of Tapestry of Faith. Incorporate Faith in Action into regular sessions, if you have time. Or, adapt Faith in Action activities for the group to complete during additional meetings. You can open them up to multiple age groups in your religious education program, or expand them to the broader congregation. By design, Faith in Action activities often involve congregants or community members outside your group and require additional meeting times and/or places. Before you commit to a long-term Faith in Action project, make sure you obtain the support of congregational leadership and the children's families.
Alternate Activities. Every session has at least one alternate activity. You may add these to a session, or substitute one for a core activity if the alternate better fits your group or the time available. Feel free to use alternate activities outside of the Love Connects Us program for gatherings such as family retreats, wide-age span religious education programs, or multigenerational dinners.
A quote introduces each session. You may read a quote aloud to your group as an entry point to the session. However, the quotes are primarily for leaders. Co-leaders may like to discuss a quote while preparing for a session. Exploring a quote together can help you each feel grounded in the ideas and activities you will present and can help co-leaders get "on the same page." Quotes are also included in Taking It Home for families to consider.
The session Introduction orients you to the session topic, central story, and activities. It may mention any special preparations, such as arranging for visitors.
Goals provide general 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 development, spiritual development, Unitarian Universalist identity development, and faith development.
Learning Objectives are the intended outcomes for participants who do the core session activities. As you plan a session's activities, apply your knowledge of the particular group of children, the time and space you have available, and your own strengths and interests as a facilitator to determine the most important and achievable learning objectives for the session.
Session-at-a-Glance lists the session activities in a suggested order for a 60-minute session and provides an estimated time for completing each activity. The table includes all the core activities from the Opening through the Closing. The table also shows the Faith in Action activity for the session. The Session-at-a-Glance table also presents any alternate activities, with their estimated times.
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 provide the best possible learning experience. Each session offers a short Spiritual Preparation exercise to focus you on the theme of the session and help you reflect on its connection to your own life and your Unitarian Universalist faith. Calling forth your own experiences, beliefs, and spirituality will prepare you to bring the topic to the group in an authentic manner and help you experience teaching as an event in your own spiritual growth and faith development.
The session plan presents every element of the session in detail, in the sequence established in the Session-at-a-Glance table: Opening, Activities, and Faith in Action activity, Closing, and Alternate Activities. Immediately after the Closing, Taking It Home explains extension activities for families. Download Taking It Home and adapt in using your own word processing software. A set of questions for Leader Reflection and Planning, after the session, appears after Taking It Home.
Following the Alternate Activities, find all the stories, handouts, and leader resources you need to lead the session activities. Finally, a Find Out More section suggests additional sources to help you further explore the session topics. It can be useful to scan Find Out More before you lead a session.
If you are reading Love Connects Us online, you can move as you wish among sessions and their various elements (Opening, Activity 4, Story, 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 Session," you will have a user-friendly document on your computer to customize as you wish, using your own word processing software. Once you decide which activities you will use, format and print only the materials needed.
Opening: Each session begins with a chalice-lighting and 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. 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.
Activities: Generally, the sequence of activities for Love Connects Us sessions is designed to activate prior knowledge; pique interest; engage children in experiential learning, including hands-on interaction with the topic; then help them process and apply their observations and new knowledge. Activities address different learning styles you may find among participants; and, you will find guidance about alternate activities that might work better for your group. Choose according to the learning styles, developmental readiness, energy level, and other aspects of the particular children in the group.
Materials for Activity: This checklist tells you the supplies you will need for each activity.
Preparation for Activity: Review the bulleted "to do" list for each activity at least one week before 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 and 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, an Including All Participants section 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 gives 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.
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 can provide a way for children to meet, inspire, and be inspired by others in the congregation and strengthen multigenerational bonds.
Let the ideas offered in each session stimulate you to devise short- or long-term Faith in Action projects to reinforce and implement session themes for the children in your group. Take advantage of the expertise and interests of members of your congregation, opportunities for service and education in your community, and the Internet. Most Faith in Action activities will require you to make arrangements in advance. As you begin planning a Faith in Action project, you may find it useful to develop a materials checklist, a list of preparation steps, and a detailed activity description, as we have done for the core and alternate activities in this program.
Taking It Home: This section helps parents engage with and extend their children's religious education experiences. Taking It Home may include games, conversation topics, ideas for incorporating Unitarian Universalist rituals into the home, or resources families can use to further explore themes or stories. Customize Taking It Home to reflect the actual activities you have included in each session. Copy it for all the children to bring home, or send it as a group email.
Alternate Activities: You can substitute an alternate activity for a core session activity or add it to the session. Some alternate activities are simpler versions of a core activity; some require more time than a core activity; some are particularly suited to be inclusive of children with developmental or ability differences. Materials, preparation, and descriptions for alternate activities appear in the same format as they do in Openings, Closings, and Action activities.
Leader Reflection and Planning: Find guide questions to help co-leaders reflect immediately after the session.
Stories, Handouts and Leader Resources: Following any Alternate Activities, you will find the stories and other resources you will need to lead every element of the session:
- The full text of the session's central story and any other stories you will need for session activities
- Any pages you need to print out and copy for participants to use in the session (handouts)
- Any additional materials you need to plan, prepare for, and lead the session activities. These might include detailed craft or game instructions, a script for a skit, or other materials essential to leading a session.
Find Out More: Scan this section before leading a session for relevant books, DVDs, websites; audio links to music that could enhance the session; and background such as biographical information about historical or contemporary figures mentioned in the session.