All 16 sessions in Toolbox of Faith follow the same structure. Between an opening ritual and the Council Circle (which incorporates reflection, a sharing of joys and concerns, and a closing ritual), a number of activities guide participants to investigate a particular facet of Unitarian Universalist faith. Each session includes hands-on exploration of a Tool of the Day and engagement with a central story.
Each session offers at least one idea for 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 the Tapestry of Faith curriculum series. You can incorporate Faith in Action into regular sessions, if you have time. You can create Faith in Action activities for the group to complete in one, additional meeting. Longer-term Faith in Action activities may require advance planning, additional meeting times, and the involvement of congregants or community members outside your group. 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.
Core activities in Toolbox of Faith often include options. For example, an activity in which participants process a story's message by playing a game may suggest several different games. Choose the game(s) you will use according to the time you will have, the group's interests, and the learning styles you observe in the group. Let these factors also guide your use of any alternate activities suggested for a session. Optional and alternate activities may also prove useful outside of the Toolbox of Faith program. Consider using some of them at family retreats, intergenerational dinners, or other gatherings where some interesting child-friendly programming is needed.
One or two quotes introduce the subject of each session. You may decide to read a quote aloud to your group as an entry point to the session. However, the quotes are intended primarily for leaders and are not always at a child's level of understanding or experience.
Co-leaders may like to discuss a quote as part of preparation for a session. Exploring a quote together can help you each feel grounded in the ideas and activities you will present and can help a team of leaders get "on the same page." Quotes are included in the Taking It Home section for families to consider.
The Introduction gives an overview of the session concepts, explains how you can use the activities to teach the concepts, and provides tips on what to aim for and what to watch out for in planning and leading the session. In addition, the Introduction presents the Tool of the Day and the quality of Unitarian Universalist faith it represents; for example, "The mirror symbolizes reflection."
The Goals section provides general participant outcomes for the session. Reviewing the goals will help you connect a session's content and methodologies with the four strands of the Tapestry of Faith religious education programs: ethical, spiritual, Unitarian Universalist identity, and faith development. As you plan a session, apply your knowledge of the particular group of children, the time and space you have available, and your own strengths and interests as a leader to determine the most important and achievable goals for the session and the activities that will serve them best.
Each session includes Learning Objectives. These will help you see how specific activities connect to specific, intended outcomes and support the overall goals of the session; for example, "Participants will learn a song in which the hammer is used as a metaphor for justice."
The Session-at-a-Glance table lists the session activities in a suggested order, and provides an estimated time for completing each activity to conduct a 60-minute session. The table includes all of the core activities from the Opening through the Council Circle/Closing.
The table also shows Faith in Action: Ideas. Note that the time required for your Faith in Action activities depends entirely on the projects you choose to do and is not included in the calculation of a core, 60-minute session.
The Session-at-a-Glance table also presents any alternate activities, with their estimated times. Alternate activities can be substituted for core activities or added to your core session if you have time.
Spiritual Preparation for the Session
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 focus on providing the best possible learning experience.
Each session provides a short spiritual preparation exercise to help you focus on the quality of Unitarian Universalist faith being introduced, engage the issue in your own life, and get ready to bring the topic to the group in an authentic manner. The exercise will guide you to call forth your own life experiences, beliefs, and spirituality and relate these to the session you are about to lead. In this way, leaders may experience teaching as an experience in 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. The session plan also presents a Taking It Home section with extension activities for families, a Leader Reflection and Planning section, a Resources section, and all the stories, handouts, and other leader resources you need to lead all of the session activities. Finally, under "Find Out More" you will find additional sources to help you, the leader, further explore session topics. It can be useful to scan the resources in "Find Out More" before you lead a session.
If you are reading Toolbox of Faith online, you can move as you wish among a session's elements — Opening, Closing, Faith in Action, Activity 4, Resources section, the session's core 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 Workshop" you will have a user-friendly document on your computer to customize as you wish, using your own word processing program. Once you decide which activities you will use, format and print only the materials you need.
Welcoming and Entering.
Guidance is provided for greeting, orienting, and immediately engaging children as they arrive for each session. For a first or second session, Welcoming and Entering may involve making and putting on nametags. You may wish to display the Tool of the Day and the Toolbox of Our Faith poster during the Welcoming and Entering time.
Shape the Welcoming and Entering activities to suit the needs of the group and the limitations of your physical space.
Each session begins with a chalice-lighting, a sharing of opening words, and an introduction of the Tool(s) of the Day. 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.
Up to five activities form the core content of each session. While you are free to order the activities as you wish, presenting activities in the sequence suggested will help you provide a coherent learning experience. The variety of activities presented within each session addresses different learning styles you may find among participants. The suggested sequence alternates listening and talking, sitting still and moving about, individual exploration and team or whole group exploration, to provide variation that will help keep nine-, ten- and eleven-year-olds engaged and on track. Pedagogically, the sequence of activities is designed to activate prior knowledge, pique interest, engage children in experiential learning including hands-on interaction with the topic, and help them process and apply their observations and new knowledge. As you mix and match activities to form a session that will work well for you and suit the needs of the group, keep in mind the benefits of a well-paced session that includes different kinds of activities.
Welcome and Entering activities are suggested to meaningfully use the time, before a session, when individual participants "straggle in."
The Opening includes an opening ritual and introduces the Tool of the Day.
The next activity usually presents the session's core story.
Games and physical activities are offered next. In most sessions, multiple options are presented for games. Choose according to the learning styles, developmental readiness, energy level, and other aspects of the particular children in the group. Also consider whether you will have time for just one game, or more. For some games, we suggest adaptations for children with mobility, cognition, or other limitations under the heading, Including All Participants.
After participants have let off some steam, a personal expression activity involves them in music, art, crafts, or role-play.
Finally, participants gather in a Council Circle. A sharing circle is becoming central in many Unitarian Universalist religious education programs. This activity incorporates rituals of reflection, sharing joys and concerns, and a Closing. Sharing, reflecting, and listening are important religious skills to cultivate with our children. Research and observation increasingly indicate that children do not automatically share intimate thoughts with their friends. Some authors describe a "code" which makes sharing feelings, especially for boys, something that is not done easily. Disruption, teasing, and fidgeting can be manifestations of the discomfort some children feel when sharing is imposed before they are ready.
Therefore, this program engages children in active play at the beginning of the session, then provides expressive options, and finally invites reflection and sharing in Council Circle. Conclude the Council Circle, and the session, each time with a closing ritual. To be most effective, a Closing should be a standard one that the group uses each time they meet. Find options for closing words and songs in the Council Circle activities in every session. Or, create a Closing with elements that are part of your congregational culture.
Materials for Activity.
Provided for each activity, this checklist tells you the supplies you will need.
Preparation for Activity.
Review the bulleted preparation "to do" list for each activity at least one week ahead of 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. For many activities, the description includes 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 give 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.
By design, 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, work with, and be inspired by other members of the congregation and strengthen bonds between the generations.
Several ideas for Faith in Action projects are presented in each session. Let these stimulate you to devise short- or long-term Faith in Action activities that will help you make session themes come alive for the children in your group. Take advantage of the expertise and interests of members of your congregation, the opportunities for service and education available in your community, and the Internet.
Most Faith in Action activities will require special arrangements to be made in advance. As you begin planning a Faith in Action project, you may find it useful to develop a materials checklist, a list of preparations to make ahead of time, and a detailed activity description, as we have done for the core and alternate activities in this curriculum.
Leader Reflection and Planning.
This section provides guidance to help co-leaders process the session after it is concluded and use their reflections to shape future sessions.
Taking It Home.
Taking It Home resources for each session are designed to help families extend their children's religious education experiences. For each session, download the Taking It Home section and adapt it to reflect the actual activities you have included in the session.
Taking It Home resources may include games, conversation topics, ideas for incorporating Unitarian Universalist rituals into the home environment, and/or book or online sources families can use to further explore session themes or stories. After you have customized the Taking It Home section, print and photocopy it for children to bring home, or send it to all parents/caregivers as a group e-mail.
Some sessions offer alternate activities. You can substitute these for core session activities, or add them to the core activities. Some alternate activities are simpler versions of a core activity; some require more time than a core activity; some are particularly suited to adaptation for developmental or ability differences among the children in the group. Alternate activities have their own materials checklists, preparation lists, and descriptions.
In a session's Resources section you will find information you need to prepare for the session, and the resources you will need to lead any element of the session, including:
- Stories — the full text of the central story and any other stories that you will need for any session activity
- Handouts — any material that needs to be printed and photocopied for participants to use in a session activity
- Leader Resources — additional documents you may need to lead the session activities; for example, a recipe, song lyrics, a puzzle for you to print out and cut into pieces, or an illustration to show the group as a hard copy or on a computer
Under the heading "Find Out More," you will find selected resources to help you further explore session topics. These might include book or DVD titles, links to websites, or detailed biographical information about Unitarians, Universalists, or Unitarian Universalists, or other individuals mentioned in the session. You may find it useful to scan the Find Out More section before leading the session.