Monthly Archives: August 2014

Preparing for a New School Year

For many in the northern hemisphere, it is time to prepare to go back to school for another year. It can be difficult to transition from the carefree days of summer vacation to the rigorous schedule of a school year. But with a little planning and preparation as well as a lot of love, we who work with children can help them make that transition in a healthy way!

First and foremost, we need to pray for our students, not just for when they’re with us in Sunday Church School, but also in their daily schooling. Here is an Orthodox prayer for a child’s first day at school, which we can pray for each of our Church School students:

“Dear God, here are (names), ready for their first day at school. They have been counting the days. They are so thrilled. Be with them today when they go into unfamiliar rooms, when they see new faces (make them kind faces!), when they stand in the lunch line, when they are on the playground. Keep them close to You as they learn and grow and make friends. Protect them from harm. Watch over them on the way to and from school. And as they become part of a larger world, help me to let them go and gain experience that they will need to become a responsible part of Your creations. Amen.”

Secondly, as we have opportunity to do so, let us talk with our students. Before school begins, we can ask them what they’re looking forward to, if they have any fears related to the school year, and how we can best pray for them as they begin the year. We may need to jot ourselves notes to help us remember what each child said, so we can better pray. As the school year progresses, we can check in with them on those items. We also will continue to talk with our students throughout the year about their faith: it is the nature of our Sunday Church School classes to do so! Orthodox Christian children in America are in the Christian minority, and so our job, helping them to stay strong in their faith even while they’re around others who believe very differently, is very important. Here’s a great podcast (and its transcript) to that end:http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/episode/teaching_children_about_keeping_their_faith_in_the_context_of_being_a_minor.)

We can also help our students to physically prepare for the school year. Small gifts can be excellent reminders to children that someone cares and is praying for them! Here are a few ideas:

Let us do everything possible for our Sunday Church School students’ success during this school year! Let us pray for them, talk together, and do all that we can to help them to be ready to begin the new school year with peace and an awareness of God’s presence with them! May God bless us all as we grow together towards Him throughout this school year.

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The Ecclesiastical New Year

“It is part of the goodness of God, that He, who has no beginning and no ending, the Eternal Trinity, should take such care to give us a year which begins and ends, and then begins all over again. In our human and finite state we need fresh starts, and this is one of them…” ~ Fr. Michael Harper, “The Orthodox New Year”

September 1 is rapidly approaching, and a new Church year will begin. The Ecclesiastical New Year is an important time for Orthodox Christians. Unfortunately, it is often nearly overlooked. This year let us prepare to celebrate the Ecclesiastical New Year, remembering its importance, and solemnly celebrating it as the new beginning for our Church year.

Here are a few resources to help us think about the Ecclesiastical New Year, some ideas of how to teach our Sunday Church School children about it, and a few related crafts :
Resources for background information:

Ideas:

  • Study this meditation on the Ecclesiastical New Yearhttp://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/indiction.htm, and use it as a base for a lesson on the new Church year. (Ideas for a lesson based on this meditation include: gratitude for bounty; blessings; God’s goodness; our dependence on God; Ps. 65 (64 in the Greek Septuagint); etc. So, for example, younger classes could have a lesson about blessings: what they are, and how God loves to grant them, and just what it is that we are asking God to do for our year. Or, older children could study Ps. 65 and/or discuss what God would like to do in our lives in the year ahead, etc.)
  • As a class, create a “crown of the year” poster. At the top, write “Bless the crown of the year with Thy goodness, O Lord.” Have students list, draw, or otherwise illustrate (maybe with pictures cut from magazines?) different aspects of God’s goodness with which you would like Him to bless the year ahead. (For example: kindness, illustrated by someone helping someone else; forgiveness, illustrated by a person receiving absolution after confession; love, illustrated by family members hugging; etc.) Place the poster in your classroom where you can weekly be reminded of what you have asked of the Lord from the beginning of this new year. At the end of the year, revisit the poster and list ways in which He indeed blessed your year with His goodness.

Crafts:

The Ecclesiastical New Year offers us an opportunity to be mindful of God’s presence in our lives. As we bring in the new Church year, let us be sure that this celebration is a subdued time of reflection, prayer, and committing our year to God. Let us think about the new year, ask God to bless it, and look for His presence in our lives throughout the year ahead.

O Word of the Father from before the ages, Who, being in the form of God, broughtest creation into being out of nothing; Thou Who hast put the times and seasons in Thine own power: Bless the crown of the year with Thy goodness; give peace unto Thy churches, victory unto Thy faithful hierarchs, fruitfulness unto the earth, and Great Mercy unto us. –Orthros of the Feast, Tone 3

For Lesson Planning

As a new school year approaches, it is good for us teachers to think about how to improve our teaching methods so that we can be more effective. One way in which we can become better teachers is to sharpen our preparation for each class that we teach. Thinking through our lessons ahead of time, planning them, writing them out (or at least jotting down notes), and trying out activities or crafts before we do them with students are all ways in which we can improve our preparation and thereby become better teachers.

This article will lead us through the process of planning a lesson. It will also help us to think about how to best plan ahead, how to ask questions that will make children use a variety of thinking skills, and how to organize our plans so that even another person could pick the plan up and lead the class if necessary. It all begins with this bare-bones lesson plan:http://antiochian.org/sites/default/files/lesson_plan.pdf. In the article below, the lesson plan skeleton is indicated by bold print. Notes, suggestions, and helpful links follow in italics.

Lesson Plan: It is important to have a plan: not just an idea in your head, but an actual physical plan. Having written down (even just notes for) your plan will force you as a teacher to think things through ahead of time. This can allow you to foresee errors and/or potential problems. It also allows you to be able to pass the lesson off to someone else at the last minute if for some reason you’re suddenly unable to teach your class. It takes time and work to write them out, but the more often you do so, the quicker you become at writing your lesson plans.

Lesson Title: Thinking of a title for your lesson is an exercise in summarizing the objective learning outcome; and can offer you a chance to play with words, as well. Titles can be catchy or straightforward. Either way, they should not be long: a few words will suffice.

Objective: Every lesson must have at least one objective. Many will have more than one. Some objectives may be recurring from lesson to lesson, others will be unique to the current lesson. The most important (and sometimes most difficult) thing to keep in mind as you write objectives is that they should be measurable: each objective needs to be able to be evaluated in the closing of the lesson. So, when you write your objectives, think, as you do so, “How will I know if we have met these objectives? How can I measure this objective in the closing?”

Resources: List all needed resources and materials here. If you are playing a game, doing a craft, or even using props to tell a story in your lesson, this list can be invaluable as it helps you think through exactly what you need before you begin the lesson.The resources/materials list  is also quick way to double check that you’ve got everything for the lesson; and it will make it easier for someone else (or even you, should you repeat the lesson in years to come) to prepare for the lesson.

Opening: This is the beginning part of the lesson. In a Sunday Church School class, this would be where you welcome students into your classroom, casually chat about their week, and then begin the formal opening of your class time with prayers, a song, or however you usually begin each class.

Introduction: The introduction portion of the lesson is part segue and part hook. This is the part of the lesson where you review previous learnings, and prepare the students to build on what they already know with this lesson, making a connection between prior knowledge and newly acquired information. The challenge for the teacher in this part of the lesson is to find a fun “hook” that will grab the students. This hook could perhaps be an object lesson, a riddle, a game – something that captures the students’ attention and inquisitiveness, grabs their curiosity, and makes them eager to pay attention as you continue with the lesson.

Content: The majority of the class time will be spent completing the activities in this part of the lesson plan. Once you have grabbed the students’ attention with the “hook” in the introduction, you move on to this “content” portion of the lesson. This is the meat of the lesson; the theological concept(s) you are passing on. This part of the lesson will contain some teaching, some related/building-on activities (such as games, art, crafts, writing, etc.), and many, many questions. As you write the content section of the lesson, keep in mind the objectives and how they will be measured, so that you stay on task in your planning. Plan a variety of activities: not all students learn in the same way, and you want to incorporate as many learning styles as possible. You will not be able to teach to every style, every Sunday Church School class. However, be aware of the different learning styles and if you miss one learning style in one lesson, be sure to include that learning style in the next lesson. (Think of it this way: if you are energized by hiking, you would not pay attention – in fact, you may eventually just tune out or stop coming- if every time you went to a woods, you were forced to sit and listen to someone talking about people hiking and you never got to hike! In the same way, your Sunday Church School learners are varied in what energizes them, what clicks in their minds, and they need variety to engage them and to make the lessons more effective.) Throughout each lesson, ask questions. Make the students think. Encourage them to summarize. Ask them to explain it back to you. See what connections they can make to previous learnings. As you ask questions, be sure to use questions at varying levels of questioning. (See http://antiochian.org/sites/default/files/blooms.pdf for suggested questions to use for each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.)

Response: This is the part of the lesson that will allow the students to grasp the main ideas/theological concepts for themselves, and challenges them to find ways to apply those ideas to their own lives. This part of the lesson can be oral, written, drawn, or you can have the students respond in some other way, depending on the lesson and your group of students.

Closing: This part of the lesson is part review and part evaluation. In this part of the lesson, find ways to invite the students to summarize the main points of the lesson. This is also a time to evaluate the objectives listed above. After doing so, make a final statement (it could be a one-sentence summary) of the lesson, and then close with prayer before dismissal.

As we approach the new school year, let us approach with enthusiasm for the job of helping in the spiritual formation of the children of our parish. Let us plan ahead, and make the investment of writing out those plans so that we are better prepared to teach our classes. This lesson plan format (http://antiochian.org/sites/default/files/lesson_plan.pdf) can be used for any lesson and will help us to better prepare, so that we may better teach the learners which God has entrusted to our care.

Note: to see a sample lesson plan that uses this format, check out this one:https://www.facebook.com/notes/orthodox-christian-sunday-church-school-teachers/in-the-light-of-the-son-an-object-lesson-on-being-in-christs-presence/692195384148891.

Gleanings from a book: “From God To You” by John Skinas

“The icon is a place of meeting where you and God can gaze at each other from the two sides of eternity.” ~ John Skinas, From God to You: The Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2014, forward.

John Skinas’ latest book, From God to You: The Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, by Ancient Faith Publishing, August 2014, takes young readers on a journey through the history of icons. Using icons as examples, the narrative offers a glimpse into Orthodox Christian history while explaining what icons are, and how/why they are written.

In the body of the book, each spread focuses on one icon. The spread consists of one full-color icon, its title, something specific to notice/look for in the icon, and a child-friendly explanation of the part of history which that icon was selected to represent. These descriptions not only help the readers to better understand part of Church history: but they also tie the icon back to the present, so that the reader can better understand what the icon depicts and how it applies to his/her life.

The book is geared towards children of many ages. It can be perused by very young children, who will love the beautiful icons on its pages. Slightly older children will enjoy seeking  the specific items that the “notice this” note points out in every spread. Older children will enjoy reading the descriptions for themselves and learning about icons throughout history. Sunday Church School teachers of varying grade levels could consider using the spreads in the book as a base for at least 12 individual lessons on icons, their history, and their use in the Church throughout history. The descriptions written in the spreads of the book will give Sunday Church School teachers and their students much to discuss, research, and consider, and teachers can easily find related extenders for each spread to round out the learning for a variety of learning styles. Both teachers and students will be able to benefit and grow together in their faith as they study the icons and words in this book.

“…Burned, smashed, and buried, icons have endured a great deal as they’ve made their way from God to you. They’ve reached you because He wants them in your church, in your home, and in your hands. But most of all, God wants you to keep His image in your heart…” ~ Skinas, first page

John Skinas’ book, From God to You: The Icon’s Journey to Your Heart, is available from Ancient Faith Publishing at http://store.ancientfaith.com/from-god-to-you-the-icons-journey-to-your-heart/.

Preparing for the Transfiguration of Christ (August 6)

On the mountain wast Thou transfigured, O Christ God, and Thy disciples beheld Thy glory as far as they could see it; so that when they would behold Thee crucified, they would understand that Thy suffering was voluntary, and would proclaim to the world that Thou art truly the Radiance of the Father (Kontakion).

We are approaching the celebration of one of the 12 major feasts of the church year: the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. We may already be familiar with the story found in the scriptures (in Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36). Even if we know the story well, it would be good for us to review these scripture passages and further study the significance of the event. Then we will be better prepared to celebrate, and also better ready to teach our Sunday Church School students about this feast!

Below are selections from two homilies on the Transfiguration. These homilies were written by two of the church fathers: St. Ephrem the Syrian, and St. John Chrysostom. Perhaps the insights of these saints can begin to help us to understand the underlying reasons for the Transfiguration of Christ, especially if we take a moment to ponder their words:

“And after six days he took Simon Peter and James and John his brother to a very high mountain and he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white like light’.[2] Men whom he said would not taste death until they saw the image of his coming, are those whom he took and led up the mountain and showed them how he was going to come on the last day in the glory of his divinity and in the body of his humanity…

“…He led them up the mountain to show them the glory of the godhead and to make known to them that he is the redeemer of Israel, as he had shown through the Prophets, and they should not be scandalised in him when they saw his voluntary sufferings, which as man he was about to suffer for us. For they knew him as a man, but did not know that he was God…

“And so on the mountain he showed his Apostles the glory of his divinity, concealed and hidden by his humanity. For they saw his face bright as lightning and his garments white as light. They saw two suns; one in the sky, as usual, and one unusually; one visible in the firmament and lighting the world, and one, his face, visible to them alone. His garments white as light showed that the glory of his divinity flooded from his whole body, and his light shone from all his members. For his flesh did not shine with splendour from without, like Moses, but the glory of his divinity flooded from him… And he did not display the whole depth of his glory, but only as much as the limits of their eyes could encompass…

“And while the Disciples were marvelling, out of the cloud a voice was heard from the Father, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.’ At the voice of the Father, Moses returned to his place and Elias returned to his country, and the Apostles fell on their faces to the ground, and Jesus stood alone, because the voice was fulfilled in him alone.” ~ St. Ephrem the Syrian

“Nothing then is more blessed than the apostles, and especially the three, who even in the cloud were counted worthy to be under the same roof with the Lord. But if we will, we also shall behold Christ, not as they then on the mount, but in far greater brightness. For not thus shall He come hereafter. For whereas then, to spare His disciples, He discovered so much only of His brightness as they were able to bear; hereafter He shall come in the very glory of the Father, not with Moses and Elias only, but with the infinite host of the angels, with the archangels, with the cherubim, with those infinite tribes, not having a cloud over His head, but even heaven itself being folded up.” ~ St. John Chrysostom

May these insights help us to further understand the Transfiguration, so that we can better teach our students about this great feast! This week’s daily posts will offer ideas of ways to teach children about the Transfiguration. May we meet the feast with joy, and may Christ Himself continually transfigure us to become more and more like Him!

Thou wast transfigured on the mount, O Christ God, revealing Thy glory to Thy disciples as they could bear it. Let Thine everlasting light shine upon us sinners. Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Giver of Light, glory to Thee (Troparion).

(The rest of these sermons on the Transfiguration can be found here: St. Ephrem the Syrian’s at http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/08/st-ephraim-syrian-on-transfiguration-of.html  and St. John Chrystostom’s athttp://thedivinelamp.stblogs.com/2010/02/27/st-john-chrysostom-on-the-transfiguration-feb-28-second-sunday-of-lent/.)