Gleanings from a Book: “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” By the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour”

Author’s note: Recently we became aware that the V. Rev. Fr. Michael Shanbour has finished writing his children’s catechism book, “The Good Samaritan”, and has published it with illustrations by Nicholas Malara. We inquired about the book, and Fr. Michael very kindly shared an electronic copy with us so that we could read it and share it with you. This fully-illustrated hardcover book is geared to children ages 6-12.

“The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” is an excellent resource for any parent or teacher interested in guiding the children in their care towards Christ and the Church. The book is thorough, addressing the basic beliefs of the Orthodox Christian Faith. Fr. Michael calls each of the 13 chapters a “lesson”, for they are set up as such, intended for an older Orthodox Christian to lead the discussion as the book is read together with a child or group. Each lesson focuses on a different portion of our Faith, teaching through stories from the Scriptures or the lives of the saints, as well as through questions about common experiences that we all share. The discussion leader/teacher can read straight from the book, or paraphrase, turning parts of the book into questions to facilitate the discussion. Along the way, Father Michael has included teaching tips that suggest active ways to engage with the text, as well as occasional endnotes which offer additional background information. Each chapter builds on the chapter before in a seamless manner.

At the book’s website, Fr. Michael offers a succinct glimpse at the lessons offered in the book. “In the catechism we are taken from life in Paradise (Lesson 1), through the Fall of Adam (Lesson 2) and the reality of sin (Lesson 3), and into life and redemption through Jesus Christ (Lesson 4). In the Church (Lesson 5) we then encounter Holy Tradition (Lesson 6), the dynamic “river” that runs through the midst of the Church and provides the living water for thirsty souls. The treasure of Holy Tradition then presents the Holy Mysteries of the Priesthood (Lesson 7), the Eucharist (Lesson 8), and Baptism (Lesson 9), along with Repentance and Confession (Lesson 10), all of which are essential for the health and salvation of our souls. Finally, Prayer (Lesson 11), Fasting (Lesson 12) and Almsgiving (Lesson 13) are shown to be the indispensable means of union with God and as lifegiving manifestations of faith, hope, and love.”

Fr. Michael crafted this catechism book over a period of many years. Through his work with the children in his parish (both as a youth director and as a priest) he was able to create this curriculum and test it with the children in his parish. In the author’s preface, he states “by the grace of God we present this catechism with the hope of not only enlightening our dear children with the unchanging truths revealed to the Saints but as a means of spiritual formation — that the Orthodox Christian Faith might become a living reality in their hearts and minds. We have tried to do so in a way that will engage their imaginative faculty in the most positive sense while maintaining and unbending faithfulness to the Orthodox scriptural-patristic tradition preserved in the experience of the Holy Church.“ (p.i)

The illustrations in this book are colorful and heartwarming. Nicholas Malara has a talent for creating age-appropriate and engaging illustrations that draw in the reader. His style varies greatly: we’ve admired his work before in the simple “Good Night Jesus” board book, where he uses a style perfect for toddlers; and we’ve gazed in wide-eyed admiration at his threatening dragon defeated by a mighty angel in “Sasha and the Dragon”. In “The Good Samaritan”, Malara has included a variety of children in the illustrations, and he has beautifully illustrated the Bible stories with unique perspective. His use of light encapsulates the message of the text and speaks volumes through his illustrations. He has infused the entire book with gentle reality which draws the reader in, engaging them further in each lesson. Malara’s illustrations are a joyful compliment to the text.

In its 100+ pages, this hardcover book helps parents, homeschoolers, and Sunday Church school teachers to better be able to teach their children/students about the Holy Orthodox Church and our Faith. “The Good Samaritan: a Children’s Catechism” can be purchased at https://www.wenorthodox.com/product-page/the-good-samaritan-a-children-s-catechism. (Note: funds raised from the purchase of this book will help Father Michael’s parish, Three Hierarchs Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Wenatchee, WA, to build a Church building. They are currently worshiping in a small modular building.)

Here are a few gleanings from the book, to give you a taste of it:

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“The title, ‘The Good Samaritan’, is inspired by Saint John Chrysostom and other Church fathers who, in addition to the more common moral interpretation of showing Christ-like compassion for those in need, have interpreted this parable of the Lord (Luke 10:30-35) as an icon or analogy of the entire economy of salvation. Through this lens we can perceive the Church for what she is—the ‘spiritual hospital’ for the healing of the sickness of sin, and the place where we receive the true ‘Medicine,’ Jesus Christ, through her sacramental, ascetical, and hesychastic Tradition.” (p. ii , “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Our Christian faith can seem like a puzzle… Because there are lots of different pieces. But all of those pieces together make a beautiful picture. It’s a picture, or icon, of Jesus Christ with His Holy Body, the Church .” (p. 2, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“… Everything in the church—icons, incense, vestments, the Bible, hymns, prayers, almsgiving, the Commandments and doctrines, fasting and struggling against temptation, liturgy and services, sacraments—have only one purpose: to heal us from sin and to join us to God. The cChurch is heaven on earth. Her job is to make everyone and everything holy and united to God. That is Paradise!” (p. 8, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Paradise—the place where God put Adam and Eve—was like the Church, heaven on earth. But God didn’t want Paradise to be a small place, or just for a few people. He wanted us to make the whole world Paradise. He wanted us to help make the whole world a Church; one big Church where people live with God and God with them. But Adam and Eve only lived in Paradise for a short while. God gave them the ability to make choices. He wanted them to love Him, not because they had to, because they wanted to. He allowed them to make the choice to reject Him and turn away from truth and life. That choice is called sin.” (p. 15, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Only one tree! Just one tree they could not eat from! That doesn’t sound hard, does it? It’s like when mom says, ‘You can play over here, or over there, and even way over there, but don’t go down there, close to the river!’ Why does she say that? Is it because she doesn’t want you to have fun? No. It’s because she doesn’t want you to get hurt, right?… But sometimes we’re tempted to do it anyway, aren’t we?… This is what happened to Adam and Eve.” (p. 20, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“But when Adam sinned, the icon became dark and dirty. The icon was covered over by sins, like mud or dust covers over a window or a beautiful picture. Imagine a bright and beautiful icon of Jesus Christ. Now imagine that the same icon has been buried in the ground for many years. What has happened to the icon? It has become dark and dingy, dirty and dim. Can you see the image well now? No! It needs to be cleaned. This is what happened to Adam and what happens to us because of sin.” (p. 28 , “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Have you ever put your shirt on inside-out? It looks kind of funny right? The picture on the shirt isn’t very clear and the tag is sticking out. That’s how our human nature had become because of sin. So how do you fix the shirt that’s inside out? You pull it off to make it right-side-up and put it back on. That’s sort of what God did for us. God’s Son, Jesus, put on our inside-out humanity and made it right-side-up by living a sinless life in perfect communion with God the Father.” (p. 35, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“So where do we get the spiritual medicine that the Lord Jesus has for us by His becoming man, dying, and rising again? It is similar to the doctor and the hospital. Jesus is the Doctor, the Great Physician, and the Church is the Hospital. It is in the Church that we find the medicines for our soul. The medicine is from Christ, who is the Head, but we find it in the Church, His Body..”(pp. 41-42, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Now, did you know there is a river that runs through the Church? There is a river of grace! It is what keeps the medicine flowing to all who need it. What is this river of grace? It is called the Tradition of the Church—Holy or sacred Tradition. The Holy Tradition flows from God the Father, through His Son, and by the Holy Spirit into the Church.” (p. 47, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“God has given to the Church special protectors to guard the River of Grace and keep it from getting polluted. They guard the holy teachings of the Church. They also guard the holy things of the Church. Do you know who these guards are? The first guardians where the apostles, who were selected by Jesus. But who became the protectors of Holy Tradition after the apostles? It was the bishops and priests of the Church! And it is the same today.” (p. 55, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“We have learned that Jesus Christ is the Medicine that heals us and brings us back to life with God. His body and blood is the strongest medicine of all and fills us with God’s own life. As Saint Ignatius said, it has the power to give us immortality. What is immortality? It means living forever with God and with God in us. Would you like to live like that forever? That can happen if we are in communion with Jesus, if we are with Him and in harmony with Him and His Body..”(p.66, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“And how are we born in the Church? What is the mystery that makes us into a new person, as if we are born again? (Here’s a hint: when it happens, you should probably hold your breath. Another hint: we begin our new life with a splash!) Did you get it? Yes, it is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism! .” (p.73, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“When an archer hits the target, it means his aim is good and he is shooting straight. But when he misses the target, there’s something wrong. His aim is off. The same is true for our soul. When we walk in the light of Christ, we are pointing ourselves toward God. We are hitting the target. But when we sin we are shooting in the wrong direction. We have missed the target of what God created us to be and to do.”(p.86, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“This is how we are to be with God: like best friends. Do you forget your best friend? No! And we should try not to forget God either. Do you know what it is called when we remember God? It is called prayer. Prayer is when our hearts are joined together with God.” (p.91, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“Fasting is prayer for our bodies. Because, as we said before, we are called to pray not just with our mind, but with our whole strength, with all our energy and focus, with our whole being, with our whole body.” (p. 100, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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“ Prayer and fasting are like two wings. But almsgiving is the ‘wind’ that lift our wings upward to God.” (p. 105, “The Good Samaritan: A Children’s Catechism” by  the Very Reverend Fr. Michael Shanbour, illustrated by Nicholas Malara)

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A Handful of Orthodox Gift Ideas for Christmas

We have recently come across a variety of wonderful Orthodox books and resources (mostly for children) that would be lovely Christmas gifts. We found them noteworthy enough to gather them into a little collection, so that we could share them with you, in the event that you were not aware of them.

Some of these we have shared before, but are sharing again, in case you missed them the first time. Others are brand new (or new to us, or newly re-published). Our intent is to offer gift suggestions that could double as useful tools in the growth of a young Orthodox Christian’s life. Perhaps you will find one or more of these suggestions helpful as you select gifts for your loved ones.

We know that there are many more ideas than we are able to share here, so we have missed quite a few. What child-friendly, Orthodox-faith related gift ideas do you recommend? If you are (or know!) an artisan who crafts (and sells) beautiful gifts for Orthodox Christian children, please share them below!

Here are a few Orthodox Christmas gift ideas that we encountered:

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Ancient Faith Publishing’s brand new Nativity coloring book, “Beautiful Christmas: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children” was created with children ages 5-12 in mind. Meagan Elizabeth Gilbert’s 59 lovely illustrations include a mix of both coloring and activity pages. Check it out, and purchase your gift copy(s) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-christmas-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/

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Families with very small children may be interested in this set of Nativity blocks, safe for children to hold and play with. The back of each block contains a verse of a song or prayer from the traditions of the Church, written in language that is young-child friendly. https://store.ancientfaith.com/little-saints-nativity-playset-a/

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This learning cube transforms from one icon-style image to another, and each image includes a shortened version of the Nativity story. https://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodox-learning-cube-the-nativity/

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Four-year-old Anthony will teach anyone who reads this book how to handle the challenges that come their way, with grace, and with God’s help. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/gleanings-from-a-book-anthony-the-great-by-john-sarantakis-illustrated-by-misha-pjawka/

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Young children will resonate with Philo in this book, or any of the other books featuring his adventures with the SuperHolies! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/07/10/gleanings-from-a-book-philo-and-the-faithfulness-superholy-by-mireille-mishriky-illustrated-by-s-violette-palumbo/

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As they read this book, elementary-aged children will be drawn right into young Spyros’ life as he learns from St. Spyridon – without even knowing he’s interacting with a saint! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/05/08/gleanings-from-a-book-spyridons-shoes-by-christine-rogers/

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Teens and adults will benefit from the wisdom and example of St. Anthony, as shared in this graphic novel: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/gleanings-from-a-book-a-forest-in-the-desert-the-life-of-st-john-the-short-by-creative-orthodox/

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Late elementary-aged children and adults alike will learn from the life of St. Eustathios in the engagingly-written and beautifully illustrated graphic novel, “The Cross and the Stag,” which we wrote about here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/08/28/gleanings-from-a-book-the-cross-and-the-stag-by-gabriel-wilson/

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Author and illustrator Grace Brooks has done it again! She has written yet another mesmerizing book about an Orthodox girl facing real-life problems and choosing to solve them with the help of her priest and the friends from her parish who are part of the “Every Tuesday Club”. The girls in this club are aging as time goes by between the publishing dates of Ms. Brooks’ books, which is a beautiful way for the series’ fans to have age-appropriate books along the way. “Xenia the Warm-Hearted” follows 14-year-old Xenia as she tries to improve the way that she interacts with others, even without the use of internet on her phone (a privilege she lost when she was online, gaming outside of her family’s rules). This book is appropriate for early teens (or older), and contains its fair share of age-appropriate struggles in the context of some mystery and suspense. Purchase your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Xenia-Warm-hearted-Every-Tuesday-Club/dp/1698351038

Here are a few quotes (and a teaser!) from the book, to give you a taste:

“Xenia regarded him woefully. ‘I wanted to make such a change, but I’m having trouble figuring this out. I mean, it’s good to want to be a better person. But I still don’t understand people very much and… I don’t always seem to like them. I did all this research, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ …[Father Andrew answered,] ‘I think that this isn’t something that you can research by just reading about it — not even by reading the lives of the saints, though that’s an excellent place to start. You’re not going to get anywhere with a list or a guide that tells you what to do and what not to do. I can’t say enough good things about prayer, but even that is just a start.’ Father smiled at her kindly. ‘You may have to find out by doing.’” (p. 117)

“Her eyes had drifted out the window as she spoke, where the gusting wind was blowing a pillowcase on the clothesline. Energy encounters matter. Mobility and immobility. Wind resistance, oscillation, flexibility. ‘It’s very beautiful,’ she finished dreamily. ‘Not to me,’ he [Charlie] sniped, bringing her back to reality. ‘If there is a God, then why is the world such a mess?’ Xenia was used to this question as well. ‘Because there’s evil in it, too. And sometimes we are — all of us are — carriers of that, like a mosquito carries a disease. But that’s not how it was supposed to be…’” (p. 293)

“…and that’s how they found them: two frightened young people huddled together in a ruined living room with broken glass and squirting pipes. That was the sight that greeted Mr. Murphy and Jake when they pulled up a minute later, in the mistaken belief that they were coming to the rescue…” (p. 415)

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Readers who are fans of fantasy and/or symbolism will thoroughly enjoy “The Dome Singer of Falenda” by Katherine Hyde. It has been a really long time since we read such a delightful fantasy. Originally published in 2016, and just re-published, this book filled with music and beauty, fraught with gripping adventure, and causes the reader to re-think the power of their thoughts. Themes include the power of familial love, the importance of discerning (and valuing) good over evil, and the importance of focus. The protagonist is a boy of 13, and his Falendian sidekick is a girl of 14. People of a variety of ages and genders will be entranced by their journey and uplifted by this beautiful read. Find your copy here:

https://www.amazon.com/Dome-Singer-Falenda-Katherine-Bolger-Hyde/dp/1732087326/

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of it:

“Anyway, I’d read enough books to know that when it comes to adventures, the only way out is through.” (p. 23)

“I gasped for air. ‘What—me? You’re having me on. I’m no deliverer. I’m not brave, or strong, or clever. All I know how to do is sing.’ ‘But singing is precisely what is required. That is how we will break the Dome—by singing. The elúndina chose you for your gifts of singing and thought-speech. And also, of course, because you are your mother’s son.’” (p. 36)

“I’d been thinking of nothing in particular, but as soon as I tried to wipe my mind clear of thoughts, it filled with a whole crowd of questions…This wouldn’t do. I shook my head and tried to focus on my surroundings. I peered at the rough, ridged texture of the malacána bark, listened to the clear, musical cry of a bird, inhaled the sharp, fresh smell of the trees, like cedar mixed with peppermint and cinnamon. I felt the chafing of Vali’s thick, soft coat beneath my legs, the still, cooling air against my cheeks. When was the last time I’d stopped to pay attention to things like that? At home I was either buried in memories or planning how to cope with the next calamity. I’d forgotten how to just be.” (pp. 57-58)

“The Tower had no windows or doors that I could see, but at the center of the side facing us the ranks of guards angled outward. The door must be hidden there. It looked like my mother was right: it was impossible. The din in my head took on a new undertone: ‘You have failed, you must fly. You have failed, you must fly.’ Maybe the bad guys really were going to win. Meli’s thought-voice broke through. ‘I hear it too, Danny. But you must resist these thoughts. You must shout them down with truth. Everything that babble says is a lie, for lies are all the Enemy knows. We have not failed until we give up, and we must not give up.’ ‘I don’t want to give up. But how can we succeed? How could we ever get in there to rescue your parents, or get to the top from outside? I’m afraid I left my Spiderman gear at home.’ Meli ignored that. ‘Our parents did it seven years ago. Somehow they reached the top.’ And now they were inside.” (p. 149)

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Homemakers in your family may enjoy this read! “Searching for the Sacred” by Lois Clymer is a book filled with the memories and musings of an Orthodox Christian wife and mother. It tells the story of her (and her husband‘s) dream for a little homestead, and how they have realized that dream in a variety of locations, over the years. Anecdotes include adventures that they’ve had with their family, and a variety of things that she has learned along the way. In addition to living on a homestead and growing much of their own food, Mrs. Clymer addresses other experiences they’ve had, including some experiences in the world of politics; finding ways to enjoy small homesteads away from home; her foray into owning and operating a CSA; and adventures and lessons learned while building two tiny houses. Throughout the book, readers will find encouragement to search for God in the world that He has created. Pick up a copy here: https://www.westbowpress.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/778125-searching-for-the-sacred

Here are a few of our favorite quotes, a handful of Lois’ learnings, that she shares in the book, scattered amidst the stories from her life:

“Hard work is the secret to success. I soon found that it helped to be organized and to prioritize. When I did the most important thing first in the day, the rest of the day flowed more smoothly…” (p. 4)

“Most of us find that life doesn’t always go the way we wanted it to. What do we do when pain and disappointments and grief enter our lives? As a young person, I struggled with how to be happy… I came across some wise counsel regarding happiness. If I am unhappy… it is not because of my environment, but because of the way I am evaluating my environment.” (p. 14)

“I have certainly not always been perfect, and I have held on to bitterness from time to time. But I have noticed that when I can release that bitterness and let it go completely, something good happens in my body. My creativity and my joy returns. The antidote to the poison of bitterness is forgiveness and gratefulness.” (p. 23)

“Most of us don’t know much about simplicity. We have more possessions than we know what to do with. One time I heard a motivational speaker say that every possession you have uses up valuable brain space. You think about it, you catalog it, you think about cleaning and repairing it, you organize it. To lighten your brain load, think about how to live with only half of the possessions you have and then DO IT.” (p. 81)

“Wherever you live, maybe this book will motivate you to enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life: grow a plant or vegetable, take a walk through a woods, or enjoy the antics of a chicken or a goat.” (p. 86)

Pursuing Church School Success: a Handful of Resources for Welcoming Students with Special Needs and Handicaps

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

Every student who steps into our classroom is unique, and has needs that are individual to them. It is a great challenge for a teacher to teach such a great variety of individuals and lead them together through a lesson or learning time. It is a challenge, yes, but it is also a great honor and blessing.

From time to time, God gives a teacher the gift of a student whose needs are so unique that the teacher has the opportunity to seek new ways to teach. The student may have physical limitations, social struggles, or mental challenges that require special accommodations in a classroom setting. At first, it may be tempting for the teacher to greet those challenges with fear or dread, simply because they are new and different. However, it is our duty as Christians to love our fellow humans so much that we will help them in any way that we can. It is our honor as servants of God to extend mercy as completely as we are able. And it is our job as teachers to rise above our hesitance and learn all that we can about our students’ needs, then make the necessary adjustments in our classroom space, our teaching style, and our expectations of our students. When we take the time and effort to do so, we will not only do a better job of welcoming our students, but we will also be better able to receive from them the gifts that God intends to bestow.

In this series on pursuing Church school success, we would be remiss to not share a few resources that help Sunday Church school teachers to prepare to meet the needs of their students with handicaps or other special needs. We have encountered a few materials that can help teachers to teach such students. There are so many different kinds of handicaps and special needs that we will neither be able to include all of them, nor thoroughly address any of them. However, we will share a handful of assets which we thought may be of help to the community in this regard. We will begin by sharing general resources as well as some which focus on physical challenges and limitations. It is our hope that these will be a helpful starting place for us all as we seek to better love and help our students with extraordinary challenges.

May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students, as we learn how to learn together!

 

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you work with students with special needs and/or handicaps. Do you have any related resources that you would recommend to the community? Please share them below!

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This article may be a decade old, but the thoughts it contains and the questions that follow would be a valuable basis of a discussion amongst any group of Sunday Church school workers who desire to better welcome students of all abilities and needs. https://www.oca.org/parish-ministry/parishdevelopment/disability-and-communion

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Summer Kinard’s book, “Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability” is a wonderful Orthodox resource that helps parishioners to embrace each other, whatever their challenges may be. If you have not yet read it, we encourage you to do so, as it will bolster your love for Christ by helping you to better value and love everyone around you. We wrote about this book here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/10/25/gleanings-from-a-book-of-such-is-the-kingdom-a-practical-theology-of-disability-by-summer-kinnard/

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Summer Kinard’s website offers so many resources (many listed here: https://summerkinard.com/special-needs-resources/). Check out her free month of hands-on Sunday Church school lessons (which offers a glimpse into a teaching style that reaches a variety of needs of the students in your class) here: https://summerkinard.com/2019/08/11/free-month-of-hands-on-Sunday-school-curriculum/

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Those among us who “thought we had the advantages in life… find that on a spiritual level we can be severely disabled compared to our brothers and sisters who lack those intellectual giftings, but whose spiritual life can be marked by abilities and giftings we never suspected.” Read this perspective in this reflection on what the scriptures have to say about those in our midst with special needs: https://www.bethinking.org/human-life/a-biblical-view-of-disability

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“Church, we have a great opportunity to show love! The need is great. Kids are hurting. Adults are too. Families are struggling. The first step in being able to help is understanding the need. Jesus met people where they were, and so can we.” So concludes this presentation of the findings of one study on disability and the church. Read the findings here: https://church4everychild.org/2016/02/09/what-are-the-stats-on-disability-and-church/#_edn1

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This webinar can be a helpful starting point for Sunday Church school teachers and/or parishes desiring to better embrace the parishioners in their midst who face disabilities and other special needs:

https://www.goarch.org/en/-/the-church-and-families-of-children-with-special-needs-webinar

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Check out this list of resources: https://www.goarch.org/-/families-of-children-with-special-needs-resource-list

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This article offers suggestions of ways to make a church building more accessible for those with physical challenges. The article is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but many of the accessibility suggestions can be helpful as we plan (or alter) our physical space, to make it more accomodating. https://churchesbydaniels.com/four-ways-accommodate-special-needs-church-design/

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Something as seemingly innocuous as food can be very dangerous to someone who is allergic to certain ingredients. Summer Kinard’s free printable is a quick and easy way for parish members to communicate what is in the foods that they bring, so that people with allergies can be aware as they choose what to eat at coffee hour or in the Sunday school hall. It is so important that we take steps like this to show every member that their parish cares enough about them to ensure their safety. https://summerkinard.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/allergen-check-list-free-printable.pdf

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In Russia and Greece, parishes are including their deaf members by signing the liturgy. It is beautiful to behold, as evidenced in the video clips found here. https://orthocath.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/orthodox-christians-who-are-deaf-and-blind/
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In addition to Byzantine music, you will find some liturgical texts in braille at this page: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/music/BrailleByzantineMusic.html#Links

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In this article, a mom of a child with a genetic skin disorder expresses her wishes with regard to what happens when other children notice her daughter and her challenges. She says, “What I wish you would do? I wish you would leave this conversation with your children open to me and my family, so it could become with us, instead of about us…When your child points and tells you to look, I wish you would respond clearly, ‘Yes, look at that sweet little girl. It looks like she’s having so much fun playing, just like you are!’” Read the article in its entirety here: https://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/dear-parents-what-i-wish-you-would-do-when-your-child-comments-on-my-daughters-special-needs

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Here are helpful tips for those in our community who do not have a child with a disability, for awareness: https://www.facebook.com/ellenstumbowriter/videos/371339980392324/

 

Pursuing Church School Success: Working with Difficult Students

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

Have you ever experienced something like this: right in the middle of a Sunday Church school lesson, one student attempts to derail the class by creating unrelated noise, making faces, and/or answering questions with sass or inappropriate answers. What do you do in this scenario? How can you best care for and help this student, while also continuing to teach the rest of the class?

We set out to find some ideas for how to handle difficult students (or students having a difficult moment), and found quite a wide range of ideas. We will share a few of them with you, in the event that any of them will be helpful. Should you ever find yourself in a situation similar to the one described above, perhaps having read several of these ideas will help.

As always, we would really love to hear what you do. How do YOU handle difficult students or difficult moments in the classroom? Please share your wisdom with the community, so that we can all benefit and better lead our Sunday Church school students to Christ and His Church!

Here are the links that we found, in no particular order:

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Have you found any of the 10 “tricks of the trade” mentioned here to be helpful as you face a student that’s disrupting the class? https://ministry-to-children.com/manage-behavior-problems/?
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The author of this article suggests that teachers pretend that their most difficult students are well behaved, explaining why this suggestion works, and how to carry it out. “Practically, you’re going to smile and joke with them like you do those students who are near perfectly behaved. You’re going to make eye contact with them. You’re going to believe in them and have the expectation that they will follow rules and behave as you desire.

Although you’ll never stop being a vigilant observer of all your students, you’ll find yourself quite naturally refraining from hovering and micromanaging, warning and reminding, and glaring and glowering around them… Your stress level will drop a few notches and a sea of tension will drain from your classroom… But the real benefit resides within the heart, mind, and self-worth of the difficult students themselves.When you treat them like everyone else, they begin to feel like a valued member of the class.”

Though the article is not specifically Orthodox, showing this degree of acceptance and mercy to all is certainly how we Orthodox Christians should be treating our fellow humans! Read the article in its entirety here:
https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2017/01/07/why-you-should-pretend-your-most-difficult-students-are-perfectly-well-behaved/

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Many of the ideas offered here for working with difficult students (and/or a challenging class) are for a regular classroom with all-day classes. However, a handful of them can certainly apply to a Sunday Church school class. The tenth suggestion is particularly important, regardless of class size or length:

http://dragonsdencurriculum.blogspot.com/2015/08/ive-lost-control-now-what.html

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The author of this article offers four strategies for working with students who are disrupting a lesson. The  strategy of addressing sensory needs is not an oft-considered strategy, but it should be!

https://educationtothecore.com/2015/11/strategies-for-disruptive-behavior/

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The writers of this article emphasize again and again the importance of communication: whether while setting up, justifying, or enforcing expectations, communication will need to be clear in any classroom, especially one which includes difficult students. https://www.thoughtco.com/tips-on-handling-difficult-students-2081545

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What about older students with rude or disrespectful attitudes? This transcripted podcast offers some helpful suggestions, including the following twist in our way of thinking: “A discipline problem is anything that disrupts instruction. Anything. Which means that a child can be a discipline problem, but it also means that a teacher can be a discipline problem. When you choose not to escalate the situation as a teacher, you choose not to become a discipline problem, because the moment that you start getting in the last word with that student, you now are playing that student’s game. What you’re trying to do is get the student on your page, not get on the student’s page.” Read more (or listen to the podcast) here:

https://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/truth-for-teachers-podcast/respond-rude-disrespectful-student-attitudes/

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What if a “difficult” student is in truth genuinely upset about something, and not just trying to disrupt the class? This article encourages teachers to think about themselves and how they would react to an upset student, long before they experience something like this, so that they are able to better react in the moment. The author encourages teachers to think through what pushes their buttons, how they feel when their buttons are pushed, and how it impacts their relationship with the students. (The article also includes 5 ways to deescalate an upset student.) Read the article in its entirety here: http://friendofreading.blogspot.com/2015/08/5-ways-to-deescalate-upset-students-in_15.html

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What if you don’t have just one difficult student in class? In this article, a classroom management expert addresses the concern of a reader who had not one or two, but SIX difficult, intentionally disruptive students in class.

https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2016/03/12/how-to-handle-six-disrespectful-students-in-one-class/

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A Handful of New Resources for Nativity Lent

Nativity Lent is almost upon us! Very soon we will enter this season designed by the Church to help us prepare our hearts and our homes for the birth of our Lord. The Nativity fast offers us the opportunity to attend services more frequently. We are encouraged to pray, to fast, and to give alms. Those of us with children in our care may find it helpful to have a few resources to help us prepare their hearts as well. A few such resources recently caught our attention, so we are sharing them in the event that you have not yet encountered them, and will find them helpful as you prepare your hearts for the Nativity of our Lord.

These blog posts of ideas from years gone by may also be helpful to you:
https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/preparing-for-the-nativity/, https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/on-preparing-our-hearts-anticipating-the-birth-of-christ-each-day-of-the-nativity-fast/, and https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

 

Check out these resources for the Nativity Lent:

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The folks at Orthodox Pebbles have pulled their Nativity resources (including resources related to the Nativity Fast, such as St. Nicholas Day) together in this collection: https://orthodoxpebbles.com/2018/12/18/the-nativity-of-christ-our-full-resource-collection/

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Color Your Way Through The Nativity Fast

Fans of Sparks for Orthodox Kids, rejoice! Illustrator Casey Newman has created a coloring book for very young Orthodox Christians to utilize throughout the Nativity Fast. “Color Your Way Through the Nativity Fast” begins on November 15 and offers a variety of coloring pages, nearly one per day, all the way through Theophany. Its 60 pages are mostly illustrations, many of them featuring a saint of the day or something related to the Nativity. The saints pages also have a brief story about the saint being featured, and often include some information about how the saint’s clothing is colored in the icons, and why it is that color. There are a few pages of word art, featuring prayers or songs. Children can cut out the last few pages of this 60-page book, for they are intended to be made into Christmas cards! Purchase your copy of the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Color-Your-Through-Nativity-Fast/dp/1698389531/

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If you would like a small coloring book to tuck into your purse or backpack, check out this 5”x8” 30-page mini Nativity Fast coloring book! Each page features an icon, a prayer, or a song for a young child to color. A few pages are even included at the end of the book, which could be removed for use as Christmas cards! Purchase your mini-book here: https://www.amazon.com/Color-Your-Through-Nativity-Mini/dp/1698864515/

(If you’re not familiar with Sparks for Orthodox Kids, check out their website here: https://sites.google.com/view/sparks-for-orthodox-kids/home.. Their homepage says, “Church can be so serious, we want to make sure there are fun things for the kids to help foster positive attitudes for God, Church, and prayer.” At their site you will find some craft ideas and a lot of coloring pages, grouped by month, in the form of reproducible line art icons. These coloring pages can be printed and will enhance young children’s learning about/participating in the life of the Church. Follow “Sparks” on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.)

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Ancient Faith Publishing recently published a lovely coloring book for the Nativity season. “Beautiful Christmas: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children”, created for children ages 5-12, is illustrated by Meagan Elizabeth Gilbert. The book contains 59 beautiful coloring and activity pages with themes related to the Nativity fast (including St. Lucia and St. Nicholas) and many pages dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lord. If a child were to color one page a day, this book will last through the entire fast as well as all twelve days of Christmas, with a few pages to spare! Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-christmas-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/

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Draw Near Designs has just released a beautifully decorated felt Nativity Lent calendar. The calendar has 40 numbered pockets, and comes with a felt star that can be moved from pocket to pocket each day of the Nativity fast. (They offer 7 other suggestions of things that could also be put into the pockets – ideas such as including a scripture verse for each day, or an act of kindness to perform that day.) Read more about the beautiful calendar here: https://www.drawneardesigns.com/blog/2019/9/30/advent-calendar-ideas
Order your own pocket calendar, either small or large, here: https://www.drawneardesigns.com/shop/advent-calendar-sew-it-yourself-kit

 

(Note: the large pocket calendars are large enough to hold the ornaments that go with Elissa Bjeletich’s beautiful Nativity Lent book, “Welcoming the Christ Child”, which we wrote about here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/gleanings-from-a-book-welcoming-the-christ-child-family-readings-for-the-nativity-lent-by-elissa-bjeletich/
Those ornaments and book are available together, here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/welcoming-the-christ-child-gift-set/)

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Ancient Faith’s podcast “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” will be offering episodes related to the Nativity fast and stories of some of the saints commemorated during the fast. Give it a listen here: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden

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To keep your Nativity fast focused on Christ, adults and/or families with older children may find these weekly studies helpful. Each week’s study follows the Church’s liturgical readings and offers ideas of ways to live the Faith during the busy Nativity season. http://stgeorgegreenville.org/our-faith/advent

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Pursuing Church School Success: Utilizing Effective Classroom Consequences

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

Unfortunately, not every Sunday Church school student is delighted to be in class, or is enthralled with learning in the Sunday Church school setting. This truth is evidenced by the fact that there are times when students willfully act out, disrespect the teacher, and/or break classroom rules. What is a Church school teacher to do when that happens? How can the teacher best respond? What consequences are the most effective in a classroom?

We have gathered a few resources that address this issue. They are primarily geared towards regular education classrooms, but contain information and ideas that we deemed helpful to the Church School community, as well. We hope that if you are struggling to find appropriate and effective consequences for behaviors in your class, you will find encouragement and help in one or more of these sources.

Across the board, we noticed a few themes. First, effective consequences reflect a teacher’s love for and respect of the student. (Orthodox Christians should be able to excel in this loving response to our students, since we are commanded to love everyone, anyway!) Another theme is the importance of consistency: that is, fairly metering out consequences and sticking to them without waffling, wavering, or bargaining. A third theme suggests that consequences should be logical results of the behavior, a “you break it, you fix it” type of mentality in lieu of a random, disconnected result. These are just a few themes we encountered as we read about this topic.

May we each do what we can to set in place – and then enforce – the best possible consequences in our classroom. Some forethought, clear communication with our students, and consistent follow-through will go a long way in helping our Sunday Church school students know what consequences to expect. Then, if they should one day choose to require those consequences, they will not be surprised.

Here are some links on classroom consequences that you may find helpful. What has worked for you? What related resources would you recommend to the community? Please share them below!

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“Effective classroom managers expect good behavior and follow through with consequences equitably when it is not displayed.” Consistency in consequences is the fourth of five characteristics of an effective classroom manager, as suggested here: https://minds-in-bloom.com/effective-classroom-managers-do-these-5/

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We do not do our students any favors when we offer them choices instead of consequences. According to this article, “our job is to teach our students how to overcome obstacles, not avoid them with excuses and manipulation… When you offer choices in exchange for not disrupting the class, when you lighten the workload and remove responsibility, you are in every sense giving up on them. You are in every sense telling them that they’re not worth holding accountable.” Read more about this here: https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2015/02/07/why-you-should-never-give-choices-instead-of-consequences/

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This article brings to light three mistakes teachers often make when enforcing consequences. It also offers the words you can say when doing so: https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2015/08/01/3-big-mistakes-teachers-make-when-enforcing-consequences/

(The end of the article links to this related article, in which teachers are given details on how to let students know what their consequences will be: https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2012/03/17/how-best-to-inform-students-of-a-consequence/)

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This blog post offers five consequences to misbehavior. Each consequence will teach correct behavior: https://www.heidisongs.com/blogs/heidi-songs/consequences-that-teach-better-behavior-instead-of-punish

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Here’s an article that was written in response to one teacher’s inquiry: The teacher was struggling because there were 6 students in the class who were disrupting things for everyone else, and the teacher needed help to know how to handle those students. Read the excellent response to the teacher’s questions, here: https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2016/03/12/how-to-handle-six-disrespectful-students-in-one-class/

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Find suggestions for logical consequences to misbehavior here: https://www.weareteachers.com/logical-consequences-in-the-classroom-2/

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Among other useful things, this blog post contains a helpful chart which pits consequences vs. punishments, clarifying the difference between the two. It also offers useful criteria for creating consequences. http://www.cuppacocoa.com/how-to-use-consequences-effectively/

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This blog post suggests ways to create and enforce logical consequences in a way that communicates love and respect to the students who choose to need them. The post is geared towards teens, but teachers of students of other ages will benefit from reading it, as well. https://www.mathgiraffe.com/blog/logical-consequences-for-teens

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Pursuing Church School Success: Classroom Management Ideas

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

The phrase “classroom management” covers a multitude of teaching challenges. From setting up the classroom itself to how a teacher interacts with students to handling class time: all fall under this general umbrella. For this post, we have gathered a variety of management strategies that touch on all of the above, and can be applied to classes with students of various ages.

Every group of students is different. How you manage this year’s class of Sunday Church school students will likely be different from how you managed your classroom last year or will manage next year’s. Thus, it is important that you continually seek ideas for improved classroom management, even if you’ve been teaching for many years. It is our hope that some of the ideas we’ve found will be helpful as you work on managing your Church school class to the best of your ability.

Here the classroom management links that we found. What classroom management strategies have worked for you? Do you have any additional resources to recommend to the community? Please share them below!

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Here are 8 tips for Church school management that may be helpful: https://youtu.be/SMWBMU6-Tis

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The author of this article encourages her readers to set expectations, create structure, use humor, address misbehavior, and keep a healthy perspective as they manage their Sunday Church school class. https://buildfaith.org/managing-behavior-sunday-school/

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Find articles teaching you to set up a classroom management plan, how to implement and teach the plan, and the benefits of having it, here: https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/category/classroom-management-strategies/classroom-management-plan-classroom-management-strategies/
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Here are 24 classroom management ideas for teachers of various ages. Some of these are geared to a regular classroom, but many could be helpful in a Sunday Church school class, as well. https://www.boredteachers.com/classroom-management/24-awesome-teacher-hacks-to-keep-your-classroom-under-control

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This article offers ideas for classroom management. Most of the ideas contain a link to more information on that particular idea/strategy! https://teach4theheart.com/classroom-management-strategies/

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There are a variety of ideas for primary classroom management at this link. Find strategies for group work; visual strategies; verbal strategies; nonverbal strategies; classroom management games; brain break ideas; prize ideas; and parent communication recommendations that will be an asset to your Church School class. https://proudtobeprimary.com/classroom-management-strategies/

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The tips on this page are aimed at new primary-aged teachers, but many of them are good ideas for any teacher to have in the back of their mind for when they’re needed. We especially liked the write-and-erase suggestion for regaining student attention! http://studentsavvyontpt.blogspot.com/2015/01/tips-for-new-teachers-about-behavior.html?m=1

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Here you will find some ideas for classroom management in a secondary classroom. We especially liked the ideas for pursuing a restored relationship with a student after a fallout: https://applesandbananaseducation.com/classroom-management-in-the-secondary-classroom/

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Here are 27 short reminders for teachers to keep in mind as they work toward effective classroom management: https://elearninginfographics.com/27-tips-for-effective-classroom-management-infographic/

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Are you utilizing all of these ways to manage your class while teaching? If not, would any of these suggestions be worth trying with this year’s students? https://ministry-to-children.com/classroom-management-tricks/

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What if you’re trying your best, and your class just refuses to be manageable? Has this ever happened to you? If others have experienced this, what did they do? Here’s one teacher’s experience that may inspire you to know what to do for a difficult class: http://www.teachermom101.com/2018/04/how-i-turned-around-most-difficult.html?m=1

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A regular-ed high school teacher offers his tips for classroom management in this blog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3fr4tm_mkE (Spoiler alerts: his biggest goal is to let kids know that he cares about them. Also, he’s not afraid to use humor in his classroom.)

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