Here are some suggestions to help you build and lead a successful program:
- Engage youth the moment they walk through the door, and help them shed outside concerns so they may focus on your program. Suggested welcoming activities will help you do that.
- Before you begin, spend some time in the company of sixth graders to refresh your memory of this age group.
- Plan tight and present loose. Know how you will fill every minute of your hour together, and how you will move from one activity to the next without leaving large gaps for youth to fill in. Have all materials ready and available. Be very familiar with the stories and discussion points, ready to present them without stumble or apology. Having planned carefully, make adjustments as you go. Be flexible. If one activity is a flop, move on to another. If another activity wins great attention and produces great ideas, consider extending it.
- Learn from your group. The better you know the youth, the greater your chances of picking the right activities and effective ways to lead them.
- Be a leader, not a buddy. You are the adult in the room. Your chances of good relations with the kids are best if you do not try to be a friend on their level. Remember that youth appreciate firm control, but not dictatorship. They want to learn and have fun, and they cannot do that in a group that is out of control.
- Offer quiet discipline. Too many side conversations? Use a talking stick or other implement, saying that only the person holding the stick may speak at any one time. Too much energy in the room? Call for a quick stretch break. Too many opinions on what to do when? Remind the group that time is limited and then gently move it forward through your agenda. Posting a written session plan can be helpful. Too little experience working with kids? Team up with somebody more experienced. Ask for suggestions and assistance from your religious educator and others.
- Group youth carefully when forming small groups. You can select the groups most simply by a random method such as counting off around the circle. Consider being more intentional. If an activity calls for specific skills—verbal, leadership, artistic or other—include somebody you think has the right skills in each group. If some youth already have good friends in the group and others are new or less connected, mix them up. If some are quiet and some are loud, mix them up, too. A little care in setting up groups can help insure spark and success for most activities.
- Be aware that discussions around why bad things happen (Session 7) or issues of right and wrong (Session 9) could lead to disclosure by a youth of a wrong they have committed or a wrong done to them. Before the program begins, discuss with your religious educator how to handle such a situation. Make sure you understand your congregation's guidelines and the laws that mandate reporting in your community. The UUA offers resources online that might be helpful.
- Most importantly be comfortable with the language of Riddle and Mystery, which offers some traditional religious vocabulary and concepts like "God," "faith" and "soul." Some Unitarian Universalist adults struggle with such terms, which may remind them of difficult periods in their own religious pasts. However, the experiences of adults are not the same as the experiences of young people in our congregations. It is good for Unitarian Universalist youth to hear and understand such traditional ideas, which remain essential to the lives of others in the community beyond the congregation. There is value in religious language we can claim as people of faith. After all, the Unitarian Universalism of today is not many decades removed from faith ancestors who engaged in spirited debate about Trinitarianism and salvation. By presenting and explaining the traditional words, you are not asking youth to give up their own ideas and understandings. You are helping them to know the larger world and the roots of our faith. Unitarian Universalists can, and do, embrace multiple Sources without embracing all the ideas of all the Sources.