Inside each raindrop swims the sun.
Inside each flower breathes the moon.
Inside me dwell ten million stars,
One for each of my ancestors:
The elk, the raven, the mouse, the man,
The flower, the coyote, the lion, the fish.
Ten million different stars am I,
But only one spirit, connecting all. — Nancy Wood, "Ten Million Stars," used with permission
As Unitarian Universalists, we are intentional in turning to a diversity of sources as we seek to discover truth and make meaning in our lives. Drawing on the wisdom of the ages as expressed in many different traditions and cultures, along with our own direct experiences, we engage theological questions about the origins of life, the meaning of death, and what it means to be human.
In this program, participants learn to seek guidance in life through the lens of our Unitarian Universalist Sources, with an emphasis on love. Together we ask: questions such as, "Where did we come from?" "What is our relationship to the Earth and other creatures?" "How can we respond with love, even in bad situations?" "What happens when you die?" Sessions apply wisdom from our Sources to help participants answer these questions. Participants will learn that asking questions is valued in Unitarian Universalism, even as they begin to shape their own answers.
All sessions highlight love as a central aspect of Unitarian Universalism. Using the night sky and the North Star as metaphors, participants are "guided to love." As they explore the night sky, participants learn to recognize and name the Unitarian Universalist Sources, as expressed in children's language:
- The sense of wonder we all share.
- The wise people of long ago and today whose lives remind us to be kind and fair.
- The ethical and spiritual wisdom of the world's religions.
- Jewish and Christian teachings which tell us to love all others as we love ourselves.
- The use of reason and the discoveries of science.
- The harmony of nature and the sacred circle of life.
- Our seventh Source: Examples of faithful belief and action from our Unitarian and Universalist heritage.
All sessions include guided discussion, reflection, hands-on activities, and self-expression to engage participants with various learning styles. Sessions that rely heavily on verbal learning also offer alternate activities geared toward more active learners. Many activities suggest adaptations to address different abilities and learning styles. Craft each session using activities you think will best suit the children in the group.
Ritual and repetition are important aspects of this program: sharing opening words, a chalice-lighting, centering in silence before hearing a story, and singing. You may also choose to add a ritual of sharing joys and concerns (Alternate Activity 1 in each session). Young children love ritual, and these spiritual activities form an important element of the program.
This program will:
- Strengthen participants' Unitarian Universalist identity through exploration of the seven Sources
- Emphasize love as the guiding force in Unitarian Universalist faith
- Address important theological questions in a simple yet honest way, providing participants with the opportunity and language to formulate their own ideas and beliefs
- Introduce world religions at a basic level and cultivate respect for world religions and theological diversity
- Promote a spiritual orientation of curiosity, awe, wonder and gratitude
- Teach participants to recognize and implement concrete actions grounded in love
- Foster a learning community where everyone is 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 Love Will Guide Us. 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 occur outside regular session time.
Ideally, leaders will be familiar with the Unitarian Universalist Sources, although they can certainly learn along with the group. Leaders should be able to affirm diverse beliefs and perspectives in the group. Moral integrity and flexibility of thought are important.
Several sessions call for the group to participate in the life of the congregation through worship, service or a community gathering. At least one leader should be familiar with the congregation's practices, rituals and calendar.
Finally, leaders should enjoy stories. To be comfortable telling a story, rather than reading it aloud, is desirable, though certainly not a requirement for effective leadership.
Love Will Guide Us is for children in second and third grade. 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, or transgender and/or belong to 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 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 participants and leaders. 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. Session 1 includes multiple activities that involve a variety of seeds. Make sure all the children can eat any ingredients in any food you plan to provide. An activity in Session 10 includes live animals, which may be problematic for a child with allergies.
Each session mixes active and quiet, expressive and listening, whole group and individual activities. As you recognize different learning styles among participants, let this information guide your plan of each session. Substitute alternate activities for core activities if you feel they better suit the group.
Every session references a Fidget Basket—a basket of manipulable objects, such as pipe cleaners or clay, which 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 in the Before You Start section of this Introduction and in Session 1, Leader Resource 4, Fidget Objects.
Including All Participants notes specific concerns and/or suggests adaptations to make an activity fully inclusive. You are encouraged to devise your own adaptations as needed. As the leader, you 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 religious educator for advice. A helpful resource available from the UUA is 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 this program, you can deepen the experience for children and their families.
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 at home can help children and parents practice the skills, personalize the concepts, and make connections among congregational life, home and family life, and life's daily challenges. Be sure to adapt each session's Taking It Home to reflect the activities you have chosen. If you have an email address for every family, you might provide Taking It Home as a group email, either before or immediately after the session. You can also print and photocopy Taking It Home to distribute at the session's Closing.
Invite families into your sessions. Adult or teen volunteers can be extremely helpful with arts-and-crafts activities. Parents who bring musicianship, storytelling, or artistic skills will foster participants' sense of connection between their family and their religious education. Faith in Action activities 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, 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 Unitarian Universalist faith development.
Nurturing Children and Youth A Developmental Guidebook
By Tracey L. Hurd