Tapestry of Faith: Families: A Jr. High School Youth Program that Explores the Diversity, Commonality, and Meaning of Families

Program Structure

Part of Families

Each session is outlined with the following sections:


A quote introduces 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 the youth's level of understanding or experience,

Co-leaders may like to discuss the 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."


The introduction provides a quick sketch of the session. It is just enough information for an e-mail update to youth or to pass on to others who may be interested.


The goals identify what the session strives to achieve. They are nested in the four strands of our entire lifespan integrated curriculum: ethical development, spiritual development, Unitarian Universalist identity development, and faith development.

Learning Objectives

The learning objectives state what participants will accomplish during a session. They are tied to the work of the session. They relate to the goals by articulating the processes through which the goals will be accomplished.


The Session-at-a-Glance table lists the session activities in a suggested order and provides an estimated time for completing each activity within a sixty-minute session. The table includes all of the core activities from the Opening through the Closing. Although the table includes a Faith in Action activity, note that you will need additional time—often outside of the session itself—to complete the Faith in Action activity. Details about this follow shortly.

Session-at-a-Glance is a guide for planning. From the table, choose which elements to use and decide how to combine these to best suit your group, the meeting space, and the amount of time you have.

Keep in mind that many variables inform the actual completion time for an activity. Times listed always represent a minimum amount of time needed to complete the activity. Whole-group discussions will take longer in a large group than in a small group. Although six teams can plan their skits as quickly as two teams can, a group will need more time to watch six skits than to watch two. Remember to allow for the time it takes to relocate youth to another area of your meeting room and the time you will need if you wish to include cleanup in an art activity.

The time estimates for completing Faith in Action activities include only the work the group will do when you meet. Leader planning and preparation are not included. For most Faith in Action activities, you will need to make special arrangements for participants, their families, other congregants, and sometimes members of the wider community to undertake activities outside the group's regular meeting time.

Spiritual Preparation

Each session provides a spiritual exercise that teachers may use to prepare themselves for leading 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 participants and focus on providing the best possible learning experience. 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. Take advantage of these exercises as a way to grow spiritually as a leader.

Session Plan

The session plan presents every element of the session in detail, within the sequence established in the Session-at-a-Glance table. Additionally, the session plan presents alternate activities, a Taking It Home section with extension activities for families, and a Resources section. The Resources section includes all the stories, handouts, and other resources you need to lead all of the session activities. The Resources section also suggests additional sources to help you, the leader, further explore the session topics.

If you are reading Families online, you can move as you wish among a session's elements; for example, Opening, Closing, Faith in Action, Activity 4, Resources, and so on. Each element occupies its own web page and 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 that you can 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

Adolescents often need time to "warm up." They do so naturally by chatting and connecting with one another. Sometimes the process excludes youth who are new to the program or more reticent about social interaction. Harnessing the "entering" energy of youth and engaging them in informal but focused activities provides shared focal points and common currency for connection. The optional activities in Welcoming and Entering work well if participants do not all enter the program space together. The activities are done informally with other participants as they arrive. Late arriving participants who miss the entering activities will still be able to participate fully in the session.

The time to conduct Welcoming and Entering activities is not included in the sixty minutes allocated for each session, as the activities are considered "pre-gathering" activities. If the format for your session does not easily accommodate these activities, consider using them as alternate activities.


This marks the start of the sixty-minute session. The group gathers in a circle. As a way of marking the gathering as occurring in a religious context and claiming the time together as sacred, we light the chalice. Youth can take leadership in chalice lighting and the saying of words. Different formats are suggested and leaders/participants may develop a style that will work best for the group over time. The chalice lighting is followed by one or more activities that introduces the focus of the session and creates group cohesion.


Up to five activities form the core content of each session. The variety of activities presented within each session addresses different learning styles you may find among participants.

Presenting activities in the suggested sequence will help you provide a coherent learning experience. In general, sessions are structured to first activate youth's interest in and prior knowledge of the main topic; next, offer hands-on engagement with the topic; and finally, provide opportunities to process and apply new observations and knowledge. 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 youth stay engaged and on track. As you mix and match activities to form a session that will work well for you, keep in mind young participants' journey of learning and the benefits of a well-paced session that includes different kinds of activities.

Materials for Activity. This checklist, provided for each activity, 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.

Description of Activity. This section provides detailed directions for implementing the activity. For many activities, the description includes a rationale that 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 guide.

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 participants with limitations of mobility, sight, hearing, or cognition.

Faith in Action

An important component of the program, Faith in Action gives participants practice at being Unitarian Universalists in the world. When you lead a Faith in Action project, you create an opportunity for participants to experience the active expression of 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. Faith in Action projects usually require special arrangements to be made in advance. Like the core and alternate session activities, Faith in Action activities include a materials checklist, a list of preparations you must make ahead of time, and a detailed description of the activity.

Before your first session, decide which Faith in Action activities you will do over the course of the program. As you plan each session, make sure you allocate the time you will need to move Faith in Action project(s) forward. Sessions that present Faith in Action activities provide estimates of how much time the group will need to complete this particular stage of the project.

Plan well, but remain flexible. Be aware that inclement weather, the last-minute cancellation of a scheduled visitor, or other surprises may bump a planned Faith in Action activity to a later session.

Note: Faith in Action activities can also be used in ways independent of the Families program, such as for multigenerational groups or in a summer camp or other unique setting.


Each session closes with a brief time of re-gathering and reflection. This marks the end of the session. Sharing reflections about the activities and a benediction or blessing provides closure. Reminders to participants about upcoming events or materials are listed in this section as well.

Leader Reflection and Planning

This section provides guidance, often in the form of questions, 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 youth extend their religious education experiences by engaging in activities with their families. These resources may include games, conversation topics, ideas for incorporating Unitarian Universalist rituals into the home environment, and/or online sources for the session's themes. Download the Taking It Home section and adapt it to reflect the actual activities you have included in the session. You can print and photocopy the Taking It Home section for participants to bring home. Parents/caregivers may also be encouraged to download the section and use it to encourage their youth to share these experiences with the rest of the family.

Alternate Activities

Most sessions feature one or more alternate activities. You can substitute these for core session activities or add them to the core activities. Sometimes the alternate activities are simpler, useful if the group as a whole seems unready for the core activities or if the group includes children with vast developmental differences. Materials checklists, preparation, and descriptions for alternate activities appear in the same format as they do in Openings, Closings, core activities, and Faith in Action activities.


In a session's Resources section, you will find leader resources, handouts, and all other resources you will need to lead every element of the session.

Handouts. Here you will find any material that needs to be printed and photocopied for participants to use in the session or to take home.

Leader Resources. These are the components you need to lead the session activities. They may include a script for role playing or worksheets to help you plan a program budget.

Find Out More. This section lists books and videos, websites, and other selected resources that will help you further explore the session topics.