rivka: (Rivka & kids)
Me: Can I have six of your shrimp?
Alex: If you eat six of my shrimp, then I'll have none.
Me: And that's not okay?
Alex: No. (eats two shrimp.)
Me: Can I have four of your shrimp?
Alex: (fixing me with a clear, earnest gaze.) Mom, you should treat others the way you want to be treated. Would you like it if someone asked if they could have four of your shrimp?
Me: That does it. No more Sunday School for you.
rivka: (chalice)
Yesterday was the second session of my new adult RE class. With last week's introductory stuff out of the way, this week's class felt much meatier. It was thought-provoking and fun. Read more... )
rivka: (chalice)
I decided that my plan to take a year off from Religious Education only means that I won't teach, not that I won't take anything. So this morning I got to church two hours early (!) for the first session of a class called "Parents as Resident Theologians." From the course description:
Though we do our very best to provide a comprehensive religious education to the children and youth in our congregation, the ultimate blessing and burden of religious education rests with parents and other family members. Faith development happens mostly in the home.

"Parents as Resident Theologians," led by Director of Religious Education, Becky Brooks, is a curriculum written by-and-for Unitarian Universalists. The course is designed to help parents and other adults with children in your lives explore your own theologies and philosophies so that your conversations and experiences with your children can be more comfortably grounded. Using the tools of the curriculum and the wisdom of our unique group of people, we will explore how to be better religious educators for our children and youth.


There were about ten people at the first session, all mothers (except for our DRE facilitator). It was a nice mix of people I've known for years and people who are brand new to the church. All of them seem like really interesting, engaged, thoughtful women. I was pleased to see that the class goes right up the age spectrum; Colin is the youngest child of a class parent, obviously, but the oldest is turning 18. I think having that range will lead to interesting and productive discussions.

Today was mostly introductory. We introduced ourselves, talked about what we hoped to get from the class, picked out and discussed words that describe ourselves (mine were mama-researcher-feminist-geek-writer, because I missed the first part of the exercise and somehow thought we were looking for nouns rather than adjectives), and started to talk about the values we want to pass on to our children.

Poor [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb. She had set up a lovely ritual in which each of us went up and inscribed our children's full names on a piece of cloth that lay under the chalice, and then spoke the names aloud to, I guess, bring the children's presence into the room. She discovered that it's very difficult for a group of mothers/churchwomen to sit peacefully experiencing a ritual when they could use that time to talk about six or seven other things. I suspect that she will be working to reform us on this one.

I'm really looking forward to next week, when the topic is addressing children's religious questions. God knows I'm challenged by Alex's. I broke down a couple of weeks ago and answered a question I had been avoiding ("How did Jesus die?"), only to turn around a few days later and find that she was earnestly explaining the Crucifixion to a three-year-old friend. (He hadn't asked. She just thought it was a good story.)
rivka: (chalice)
I'm on the DRE Advisory Council at my church. It's a small panel of people who provide support and feedback to our Director of Religious Education, and who are available to help sort out any difficulties or dramas that arise within the RE program. I'm counting down my last few months on the committee - I'll be replaced in the fall. I've really enjoyed the work.

Over the next six weeks, we're hosting a series of before-church breakfasts, one for the parents and other interested adults of each RE class. The primary goal is to find out how parents are feeling about RE and what their thoughts are about the future direction of the program. We're also hoping that the breakfasts will help foster a sense of community and will encourage parents to commit to bringing their kids to RE more often. (We have a problem with sporadic attendance.)

I'm facilitating the first two breakfasts. This morning's was for parents in the youth group, and next week's will be parents of babies and toddlers in the nursery. My friend Laura provided breakfast this morning - quiche, fruit, juice, and coffee - and also set a table beautifully, with tablecloth, decorative runner, china, cloth napkins, et cetera. It's amazing, what that will do to make a meal feel special and make the guests feel honored. The parents were quite obviously pleased and touched.

what we talked about )

The parents present were all highly dedicated church families. (I'm hoping some less involved families come to subsequent breakfasts.) They spontaneously mentioned making a conscious family decision that "church is what we do" - a commitment to be part of the church community and help with church activities. They all agreed that it doesn't work to make a week-by-week decision about whether to go to church, or to allow your kids to see church as optional. "We have to help parents understand that when you go all the time, it's just better. Kids get more out of it, parents get more out of it, the church gets more out of it."

I am particularly interested in this question, about what makes some families commit to church and others remain on the fringe. Back when Michael and I first started attending, we made a conscious decision to have church be our default, rather than waking up on Sunday morning and deciding whether or not we felt like going. That decision deepened our relationships within the congregation and led to us being much more involved in church activities and church governance. But we were both raised in deeply committed church families, so I think that model felt natural to us.

I'm not sure how the process works for other people. In Unitarian-Universalism there is no obligation to go to church, no sense that it's wrong or sinful to skip church, no sense that the minister has access to spiritual gifts you can't get on your own. What makes church a deep part of life for some people, and a when-it's-convenient activity for others?
rivka: (Christmas hat me)
Merry Christmas! I'm sitting here waiting for Alex to wake up. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? [Edited to add: and then she woke up, and I finished this later, after presents - about which, more later.]

Look, look, you can see our Christmas pageant!!


Christmas Pageant 2008 from Becky Brooks on Vimeo.

A million thanks to [livejournal.com profile] unodelman for taping and to [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb for getting it posted right away. It's quite hard to hear them, although basking in their cuteness is easy enough. Here's the script for reference in case you can't bear to miss a single nuance of my brilliant writing. ;-)

The pageant went beautifully last night. It's amazing how much more quickly everything goes when you're not able to stop the kids and give them directions. But they did great! As anticipated, the doves were pretty much incapable of remembering what to do, but they were so cute that it wasn't a problem. I just feel lucky that none of them cried and refused to go onstage. I'm so very proud of all the kids.

The closing words for the service were Jo's lovely poem about the diversity of animals attending the Nativity. What a perfect match for both our pageant and the principle of Universalism.

Afterward, we herded the kids into the RE rooms to get their costumes off, and [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb utterly floored me by presenting me with a gift: a gorgeous picture book with an expanded version of the Friendly Beasts carol. Signed by all the kids. I don't know how she did that without me noticing, but there inside the front cover are all these carefully printed or I-just-learned-cursive-inscripted messages and names. I cried.

Also, each family got a card with a beautiful little pageant ornament: a picture of their kid(s) from dress rehearsal night, cut to ornament size and laminated. Unbelievable. When did she find time to do that?!

It was really a perfect service. It was so lovely.
rivka: (Christmas hat me)
Alex is fast asleep, hopefully to stay that way until morning. At the NP's advice, we added some Vicks medicated stuff (camphor, I guess) to her hot-steam vaporizer in hopes of suppressing her cough. I wedged her door almost-closed with her sweater, to try to keep in more of the steam. Also at the NP's advice, we sprayed saline mist into her nose in large quantities. Poor kid. Although, man, do I ever appreciate the difference between a three-and-a-half-year-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old. She hated the saline spray, but she submitted.

Today I made three more pans of pumpkin-cranberry-pecan bars and also two pans of cornbread for Michael's work lunch tomorrow. (He's cleaning up my baking mess in return, so I consider it an equitable trade.) Tomorrow I don't have to bake anything. On Christmas Eve I am planning to make two pecan pies for the church potluck. I tried to convince myself that no one would expect me to bring anything to the potluck because I was directing the pageant, but I didn't believe me, so: pies. My compromise is using storebought crust. I can't believe how far I've fallen, except that this is the same kind of crust that I used for the baby shower quiches and they were tasty, so it's hard to bring myself to feel the proper amount of shame.

This evening was the dress rehearsal for the Christmas pageant. Read more... )
rivka: (RE)
Today was the first rehearsal for the Christmas pageant. Read more... )
rivka: (Christmas hat me)
So, I, um, I did this thing.

Last year I helped organize the early Christmas Eve service at church. It's a short service designed for families with young children who might not be able to make it through the longer 8pm service for big people. It was a lot of fun last year, and at the time I thought, "Next year, how fun would it be to have a Christmas pageant?"

So this year I, um, I wrote one.

I'm sure there are prepackaged UU Christmas pageants out there which are perfectly appropriate for religiously diverse congregations, written by people who know a lot more about what children can be gotten to perform than I do. But I was attacked by a muse. I kept thinking that the 12th century carol "The Friendly Beasts" would adapt well for children's performance, and then there was the voice of a cranky sheep in my head, and, well, suddenly there was this script, complete with a UU religious message. (Should I post the script? It's four pages.)

The idea of actually putting this thing on terrifies me.

I tried to make it simple. There are three parts with about a dozen lines each and three minimal speaking parts. There's a shared group role for kids who are very little, because I knew Alex would want to be in it and probably some of the other kids from her Sunday School class. The costumes can be very simple. The props are minimal (we need a manger and a baby doll and some fleece, and possibly some straw), and there's no need for much of a set. I made my best guesses about what will be workable for a bunch of upper-elementary kids to master in three or four rehearsals, and I think my expectations are reasonable. But honestly, I'm still terrified.

I'm going to ask one of the teens I taught last year if she'd like to be my Assistant Director. Given that I'm going to be 33 weeks pregnant on Christmas Eve, it seems wise to have a helper who can jump around and be energetic. Plus, she loves theater and she loves little kids.

I met with [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb, our Director of Religious Education, yesterday to work out the planning. Can I just say that she's phenomenal at her job? She walked me through all the organizational details: lists of likely and possible participants, how many rehearsals we'll probably need and when we should schedule them, which kids can be counted on to memorize lines, how we'll assign parts, which members of the congregation might be counted on to sew costumes or play the guitar or or help with the singing, which kids in the youth group have talents in the visual arts and might want to paint a backdrop. It was awesome. I think pageants terrify her too, but she does a good job of hiding it.

“Why didn’t you warn me about Christmas pageants?”

Why indeed? What can you say about these pageants? What should you say? Is it fair to warn a fledgling minister? They’re like war, childbirth, and one microsecond of a holy visitation.
- Carl Scovel
rivka: (RE)
Another fun RE class today. This time I benefited considerably from the capable hands and calm demeanor of [livejournal.com profile] lynsaurus as my assistant teacher. Our lesson this week was called "Differences Are Important." Read more... )

I only have one more turn as lead teacher and two turns as assistant teacher, and then I'll be done with teaching for the year. That's kind of an odd feeling. I really love teaching, and I like my kids very much, but I have to admit that even before the Niblet is born I'll probably be too big and lumbering to be a good RE teacher. Alas.
rivka: (RE)
RE was a family affair today. I taught, Alex was in the class as usual, and Michael was my classroom assistant. His first time teaching Sunday School, and he picked an incredibly chaotic day to do it. All went more-or-less well, though. Read more... )
rivka: (RE)
I was the lead teacher for preschool Religious Education again today. Today's theme: "I Can Help." It went great. Read more... )
rivka: (RE)
My RE teaching career has gone like this: preschool stories-and-crafts, ZOMG middle-school sex ed, preschool stories-and-crafts. Not sure if next year will be a ZOMG middle-school sex ed year or not, but let me just say that I find this pattern a bit... odd. Mindbending. At least it encourages mental flexibility.

When I taught preschool two years ago, our curriculum revolved around the natural world and cultivating a sense of wonder. This year our theme is home and family, including an appreciation for our church home and a sense that we belong to the human family. Once again we are using lessons cobbled together from three different curricula: Celebrating Me and My World, We Are Many, We Are One, and a modified version of a new curriculum for older kids called Creating Home.

Alex is in my class this year, and oh boy, is she proud of being a "Sunday Schooler" instead of a nursery kid. Every day last week she woke up and asked if it was a Sunday School day. It is especially exciting for her to have me be one of her teachers - I'm having to gently prepare her for the fact that I won't be teaching every week. Instead, I'm the lead teacher two weeks out of every four, and occasionally I also fill in as the assistant teacher. (For reasons of safety and practicality, all RE classes are team-taught.)

I was the lead teacher this week. )
rivka: (Rosie the riveter)
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion about disability and sexuality, and how I could present those issues to my OWL class.

I went with [livejournal.com profile] echosupernova's suggestion and came up with several short readings to replace the long, creepy one. We'll have a different kid read each quote, and then we'll have some general discussion and the Values Voting to complete the disability half of the evening's entertainment.

The readings I found are below the cut, in case anyone's interested. I gleaned these from various sources online, editing them down from longer essays. I wouldn't normally devote this much time to readings in an OWL session, but I think it's important to have diverse examples.Read more... )
rivka: (her majesty)
Not posted to the OWL filter.

I know I have some very smart, very clued-in people with disabilities on my Friends List. I'm pleading with you to help me fix the one messed-up session in OWL, the grades 7-9 sex ed class I'm teaching. Feel free to point other friends here, if you think they may have helpful comments.

Here's the problem... )

Here's where I need your help:

1. I need readings. Anyone got anything they love? I knew I'd lent out my copy of With the Power of Each Breath years ago and never gotten it back, but I foolishly assumed that our library would have it. Nope.

2. I have three "Values Voting" statements. Please critique them, fix the wording, and suggest any better, or additional, ideas:

a) Mentally retarded people shouldn't have sexual contact, because they're not really able to give consent.
b) It's fine for disabled people to have children, even if the disability might be inherited.
c) Being in a relationship with someone who is seriously disabled would just be too hard. (Possible alternate wording: "It takes someone really special to be willing to have a relationship with a disabled person.")

I want to make this a good, engaging, educational experience for the kids. But I'm a little nervous about, um, how far inside I am on this issue. It makes it hard to know exactly what's going to be appropriate and helpful.

So... help?
rivka: (sex ed)
I met with our Director of Religious Education and my OWL co-teacher on Sunday to plan out the course. We're getting a late start, unfortunately, because we won't go away for training until the weekend of October 19-21. Then we need to hold a parent orientation, to explain exactly what we'll be putting their children through. That leaves us with the choice of starting the course right before the holidays and then having a big gap, or waiting until January. We chose January.

In order to get a 27-session class to fit into the spring semester, we're planning to do two overnights at the church. Intellectually, I think it's a great idea. Most kids love overnights, and middle schoolers don't get to go along to the weekend-long cons that are the mainstay of the teen program, YRUU. So overnights will help make OWL attractive and special for the kids. They'll also give a big boost to group bonding and cohesion. (We're planning an overnight as our second class activity.) We'll do three 90-minute class sessions (one on Friday night and two on Saturday) and leave the rest of the time for games and fun stuff. So that's all good.

On the other hand: we'll be spending nearly 24 hours locked in the church with a bunch of 12-14 year olds, who will almost certainly want to stay up all night and get into as much trouble as possible. Why don't they just kill me now and spare me the hassle of organizing the course sessions?

The other thing we did at our meeting was look at the infamous OWL Slide Set. The slides are kept under lock and key, cannot be duplicated, and may never leave the church. They're sold only to churches with certified OWL leaders, never to secular organizations. Parents are required to view them before the class begins and sign a statement attesting to that fact. And, um, wow. For good reason. text below includes sexually explicit terms )
rivka: (RE)
It turns out that yesterday was Teacher Appreciation Sunday. I had no idea - it's possible that I was informed, but forgot. I settled Alex in the nursery and then walked into the sanctuary just moments before the RE Director announced that she was going to call the teachers up, class by class.

I sort of remember last year's Teacher Appreciation, which happened after the previous, quarter-time RE director had quit and the RE committee had imploded, all at the same time. It was completely half-assed; they had the kids sitting up at the front of the church and led them in a sing-song chorus of "Thank you, Miss Soandso" as each teacher came up to get a certificate or something. I doubt that many of the teachers felt particularly appreciated.

This year was very different. As each of us came up to the chancel, one of the kids handed us a surprisingly attractive tissue-paper-and-pipe-cleaner flower that the older kids had made. Becky, our RE director, gave us a little book she had made, and the president of the congregation gave us an extremely snazzy Certificate of Appreciation from the Board of Trustees. We stayed up there until all of the teachers had been called, and then the congregation gave us a hearty round of applause.

The books that Becky made... oh my gosh. They were little 4x6" photo albums. The cover said "Thank you, Rebecca, for teaching our preschool class!" and was "signed" with the names of the ten kids who were the core of our class. Inside were photos of most of the kids, a couple of pictures that I'd taken of our group with our "class tree," and - this was the coolest - shrunk-down versions of some of the artwork we made this year. I guess she either reduced them on a color copier, or scanned them, shrunk them down, and printed them. And she had to have snuck into our classroom during the week, borrowed the artwork and the class tree photos, and then put them back exactly where they were. Interspersed with the class-specific pictures were pictures she'd taken of the Tiffany stained glass windows in the sanctuary, with quotes about education superimposed on them.

This book was the most gorgeous thing. I cried. I saw teachers crying all around me. It's something I'll want to keep for always. And you bet I feel completely appreciated, and recognized, and honored as a teacher. If I had been on the fence about signing up for another year? This would totally have sold me.

Becky is an amazing person. I hope we can keep her at our church forever.
rivka: (RE)
Yesterday, all the Religious Education teachers got an e-mail outlining the curricula for next year and asking if we'd be willing to teach again. I discovered that the preschoolers will be combined with the kindergarteners next year, meaning that all of my current kids will be staying in the class. (This is a good thing. We have a great class.) And they'll be doing the "Chalice Children" curriculum, a preschool-level introduction to the symbols, people, and rituals of Unitarian-Universalism. That sounds fun to teach, and it would make an interesting change from our nature-oriented curriculum of this year.

I replied to the e-mail saying that I would be delighted to teach preschool again, and added as an afterthought that I would also be willing to teach OWL if she had trouble recruiting teachers for it. OWL stands for "Our Whole Lives;" it's the UU (and United Church of Christ) sex education curriculum. Our kids take it in middle school.

This morning I got a call from the RE director, letting me know that she wasn't going to be at church this morning. And then she said, "When I saw that you might be willing to teach OWL, I almost had a heart attack. Because you would be so good at it."

"It's pretty different from what I'm doing now," I said.

"Yeah. We should set up a time to talk about it, and see what you want to do."

So. Looks like RE is probably going to be a very, very different experience next year... unless she gets an influx of fantastic volunteers who want to teach OWL. Hm. I'm gonna need a new RE icon.
rivka: (RE)
I was lead teacher for Religious Education again this morning, for the last time this year. The RE year ends June 10; June 3, which would ordinarily be my week, is an intergenerational service, and then June 10 all three of us will jointly lead some kind of end-of-year celebration.

This week was another tree-themed lesson. Read more... )
rivka: (RE)
We had ridiculously beautiful weather today, following a long streak of cold, dismal, rainy days, so only five kids showed up for Religious Education. Our theme today: flowers and seeds. Read more... )
rivka: (RE)
I felt kind of bad, leaving Michael to solo with a sick and cranky kid while I went off to church. But this was one of my lead-teaching weeks, so I kind of had to be there. Read more... )It's funny how my perspective on this material is changing over time. At the beginning of the year, I looked at the curriculum and thought, "This will all be a lot of fun, but where's the religion?" Now I've come to believe that a sense of wonder and the joy of discovery are religious experiences in themselves.

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