“It is not a matter of thinking a great deal but of loving a great deal, so do whatever arouses you most to love.”
—St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle (1575)
At the core of our Unitarian Universalist community are our seven Principles. The Principles encompass all the ingredients of a good and faith-filled life based on equality, freedom, peace, acceptance, truth, care, and love. This program explores all the Principles in the context of Beloved Community.
The program concentrates on the communities that are most recognizable to kindergartners and first graders—their Beloved Communities of family/home, school, neighborhood. Participants engage in activities that emphasize the love they feel in community.
Principles are introduced with opening activities and story. The processing through wonder questions is extremely important to allow children to see the Principles at work in the world. Rather than listing the ways love surrounds us when we are treated equally, participants engage in ways to identify equality by the love shown in community. By Session 16, children will be able to articulate all seven Principles.
Sessions based on the Principles allow children to articulate their faith in the world. Participants come knowing they are Unitarian Universalists, and leave knowing why, as the Principles help answer the question "Why do I belong?"
This program will:
- Teach the seven Unitarian Universalist Principles
- Develop connections among love, the Principles, and the communities of home, school, faith, and world
- Lift up Unitarian Universalism and the Principles in activities and stories
- Teach children skills for forgiveness, love, sharing, acceptance, caring, and peace in a loving community
- Explore rituals that help us focus on and celebrate UU Principles.
Leaders who can exemplify loving relationships with children are the core of Love Surrounds Us. Memorizing the seven UU Principles is a small part of this program. Leaders need to be able to recognize the Principles in story, life, and the answers of the children as they wonder. Engaging with the Principles from a multigenerational perspective will deepen understanding and faith.
Love Surrounds Us is designed for children in kindergarten and first grade. It may be helpful to think about developmental norms for this age group. Not all children arrive at each developmental stage at the same time, but knowing what to expect overall can be quite helpful, especially to first-time leaders of programs for five- and six-year-olds. In her book Nurturing Children and Youth: A Developmental Guidebook (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2005), Tracey L. Hurd discusses developmental characteristics of young school-age children (ages five through seven). Five- and six-year-old children are generally able to:
- Coordinate gross motor skills through sports and games
- Draw, write, and use tools with beginning skill
- Think about more than one thing at a time; show the start of logical thinking
- Enjoy pretend play, but learning to distinguish fantasy from reality
- Show interest in facts, numbers, letters, and words
- Learn rules, authority, and routines; may try to apply rules across different settings, such as using school rules at home
- Enjoy being correct; may apply rules too broadly or literally
- Use self as a reference point
- Learn through social interaction as well as through their individual actions
- Make rigid and/or binary statements about gender and racial identifications
- Are receptive to antiracist intervention and multicultural experiences
- Form first reciprocal friendships
- Develop increased altruism
- Are evolving from fascination with stories of wonder to a keen interest in learning and performing the concrete expressions of religion
- Start developing a sense of belonging to a faith community through the imitation of practices of adults by whom they feel accepted
Hurd offers a variety of strategies that speak to these developmental considerations and may help shape sessions effectively for this age group. Some of these include:
- Provide outlets for physical activity, room for movement during quiet activities, new physical challenges in games.
- Include small-motor challenges, such as drawing, writing, painting, or using tools such as scissors.
- Create and sustain routines, to give children a sense of control and opportunities to be "correct."
- Notice and talk about children's similarities and differences.
- Present complexities that help push children's thinking beyond simple dualisms; gently challenge children's natural moral rigidities.
- Provide opportunities for group work and group problem-solving.
- Respect children's desire to categorize.
- Support children in their beginning friendships, to help them build an emotional base for future relationships.
- Welcome the whole child and respect the child as an individual, a member of the religious education group, and a member of the faith community.
- Provide encouragement and love.
Integrating All Participants
Adapting activities or using alternate activities will help ensure that every session is inclusive of children with a range of physical and cognitive abilities and learning styles, food allergies, and other sensitivities or limitations. Below is general guidance on adapting the activities along with some resources for implementing inclusion.
While planning sessions from Love Surrounds Us, 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. Each session mixes active and quiet, expressive and listening, and whole group and individual activities, along with alternate activities that you can substitute for core activities if they better suit a group. Different learning styles among the participants will become apparent as time goes on, let this information guide selection of activities for each session.
Before, during, or after telling a story in this program, offer children the accompanying coloring sheet and some crayons. Quietly coloring can keep minds and bodies focused while reinforcing the story’s subject matter.
Some activity descriptions mention specific concerns or suggest specific adaptations under the heading Including All Participants. Feel free to devise your own adaptations to meet any special needs you perceive. You will know best how to provide a fully inclusive learning experience for the group.
The UUA offers as a PDF file, at no charge, the helpful book by Sally Patton, Welcoming Children with Special Needs (PDF) (Boston: UUA, 2005). Patton explains how we practice and deepen our faith when we work to integrate all participants in a religious education program:
Ministering to children with differences helps us be more creative in our ministry to all children and reaffirm our beliefs. Lessons of compassion, caring, and acceptance benefit us all, young and old alike... We deepen our faith when we embrace and fight for the vision of an inclusive community.
“(We) ... have much to learn from these people about compassion and forgiveness, persistence and courage, and most importantly, the wholeness of their spirit and the gifts they offer if we allow them to flourish. Listening to children's stories encourages us to see each child's uniqueness rather than their limitations... Parenting, loving, befriending, and ministering to children with special needs changes people. How we handle the change will either mire us in the prevalent belief system about disability and limitations, or it will set us free and alter our ideas about who we are and why we are here.”
Patton's book does not merely inspire, it provides a strategy for congregations to engage in, institutionalize, and internalize the spirit and justice of an inclusive faith community that deepens the faith of all participants. Consider reading this book and sharing it with congregational leadership.
Families self define. No matter who belongs in a child's family, this program gives families many opportunities to discuss the sessions. Each session has a section called Taking It Home. It provides a summary of session activities for adults and activity suggestions to engage adults and children together. Whether you hand it out at the close of each session or email it to parents, Taking It Home will foster family processing. Faith is a journey. Questions and discussions that allow children to find their own answers are strong ways to encourage faith formation.