Monthly Archives: May 2015

Go Out and Play! Ideas for Summertime Outdoor Fun

It is almost summertime in North America! It is the perfect time of the year to get outdoors with kids. Perhaps you have Sunday Church School all summer. Maybe your parish runs a VCS during the summer months. Or possibly your parish has an annual summer picnic. For any (or all!) of these possibilities, you will want to check into the resources we have found for outdoor summer fun. Most of the following links feature multiple ideas. We will highlight a few favorites at each of those links.

We recommend that you visit all of these sites and scroll through their offerings. It will take some time, but you will come away with so many fun ideas! Be sure to make a master list of ideas you like and/or copy and paste the links for each activity that you especially liked into a document so that you have it at your fingertips for future reference. (You may wish to visit!) for clever ideas of ways to present these activities to the children with whom you intend to do them, especially if you will be using multiple activities for a single event such as VCS or a parish picnic!)

So, here is what we found.

For group activities:

Here are a bunch of clever outdoor game ideas: We especially liked the splash-the-ping-pong-balls-off-of-the-golf-tees challenge, the put-on-a-frozen-tshirt race, the squirt-gun powered matchbox car racing, and the car-wash-sponge-on-a-paint-stick balloon boppers. What fun!

Find a pile of minute-to-win-it challenges for people of a variety of ages to try, at These would be especially fun for the whole parish, if you are hosting a parish picnic or other intergenerational event.

Hot day? Need some fun ways to cool off with a group that doesn’t mind getting wet? Check out these watery games! Ideas include using water balloons instead of balls to toss around on a parachute (or a sheet) and playing “Dry, Dry, Wet” (“Duck, Duck, Goose” with a wet sponge). Find more really fun water games (ie: batting practice with water balloons) here:!

Plan an outdoor movie night as described here: Invite the whole JOY Club, and have a fun evening together! (You could have them each bring a large box, decorate them to look like cars, and have your outdoor movie theater be a “drive through” movie theater!)

Here is a list of 50 “old fashioned but still fun” games you can play with kids of all ages! Chances are you played many of them yourself. Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten how the games go: the rules are right here for hopscotch, Red Rover, I Spy, HORSE, and so many more!!!

This blog was written by a teacher for the last day of school, but it contains a variety of fun indoor activities/challenges that kids would enjoy doing at church, as well. The activities are great for kids, but would also work intergenerationally. Check them out (and keep them “in your back pocket” for an outdoor event, in case the weather changes your plans)!

Just for fun with kids:

Find 50 links for fun activities for both outdoors and inside at this webpage: Some favorite ideas found here include directions for making a reading teepee, building your own kiddie car wash for bikes (or for kids!), making your own ladder golf game, and ice excavating.

This page lists inexpensive ideas for summer fun: Favorites include directions for a pool noodle sprinkler, kickball croquet, backyard (or beach) Olympics, busy bag ideas for indoor days, and a shower-curtain-liner giant dry-erase sheet!

Whether or not you work with boys, check out the fantastic ideas on this page:! We especially liked the clothespin catapults, the mini ice boats, and the printable playground scavenger hunt (for visiting new playgrounds)!

Many simple ideas for entertaining children are found at this page: Our blogger remembers “painting” the sidewalk (and the house!) with water when she was a kid – so simple, but it was fun to do! The soap boats are also a clever idea, and kids would have a blast with the pool noodle “water wall,” among other great ideas.

Find directions to create an obstacle course featuring pool noodles here:

For particularly curious and/or science minded kids, offers ideas from creating a marble run (to learn laws of physics) to building a paper bridge (and testing its strength with penny weights) to experimenting with the chemistry that happens in your kitchen!

Still need ideas? Check out,, or!


Many of these outdoor activities can be used to help teach a lesson or review what you have been learning. Here are some suggestions in that vein:


Make sponge “balls,” moisten them, and have a throwing-and-soaking party! Or, you could use these soggy balls for a review activity. Each person will try to hit a one-word target (the “targets”  can be written in chalk on the sidewalk or parking lot, or on slips of paper in the grass). Each word should remind the participants of something that you have studied together, or a scripture passage, or even part of the Divine Liturgy. When they hit or get close a word, they need to tell what they know about it to the rest of the group, in order to get their sponge ball back.


Cut a slice of a pool noodle, cap one end with a balloon, and end up with a pom-pom shooter!!! Great for outdoors OR inside! Decorate the pool noodle to look like a big fish, and the pompom can be Jonah… Have the students make their “big fish” swallow Jonah, and then later “spit him back out” just as it happened in the Bible (only considerably less messy!)!


Host a friendly “Olympics” with game ideas from this week’s blog for the main events. Gather food ideas from here, as well as candy “medal” prizes (also found here, as are printable other “metals” if you don’t want to use candy: Talk about St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” Challenge all in attendance to “run” the “race” of their lives in the same way – with mindfulness, diligence, and focus – that an Olympian competes.


Print copies of this photo-based outdoor scavenger hunt, gather several groups of children, and send them out to see what they can spot! After comparing findings, talk about the beauty of the world God has made. Have them sort their findings into things God made and things that people made. Which things are more beautiful? Encourage them to be responsible with their trash so that they do not ruin the beauty of the world God has created for us to enjoy.


Plan a late-night (glow, but shhh! it’s a secret) party for anyone old enough to stay up after it is dark. When you gather, talk about how you will all be doing a slip and slide, playing a version of tennis, completing a ring toss, etc., in the dark. Go outside and try to play each thing (you could split into small special interest groups and have them each try to play one game, briefly, to expedite the process). Come back inside and discuss how it went. Use this experience as an object lesson to talk about how Christ illumines our lives. As you discuss His changing power in the darkness of our lives, have some helpers outside affixing glow sticks and/or their liquid to each activity station. After the talk (and when all the now-glowing stations are ready), break up into groups again and allow the groups to rotate so that each person gets to attempt each activity which is now illumined. See for activity ideas.

On What is Truly Important

We live in an age of materialism and self-gratification. We are surrounded by stuff, and the message of society in general is “do what you want, when and how you want, as long as it feels good to you.” It is easy to begin living a lifestyle that looks much like that of our non-Orthodox counterparts, unknowingly disillusioned by the culture in which we live. Activities, busyness, money, things: all are very important to current culture. It is so easy for us to be sucked into believing that these things are necessary, that they are very important, and that pursuing them is how we should be spending our lives.

But we are Orthodox Christians. We are to be set apart from the world and living our life for Christ. So, what is truly important? On what should we be spending our time and our resources? St. Anthony the Great, considered by many to be the father of Christian monasticism, had the following to say about what is truly important in life. Although he lived on earth in the third century, his words apply just as much to us, today:

“Why do we not voluntarily abandon what must be destroyed when this life comes to an end, so that we might gain the kingdom of Heaven? Let Christians care for nothing that they cannot take away with them. We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven; namely wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality. Striving after these things, we shall prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.” – St. Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony, 17

It is important for Orthodox Christians in today’s culture to study these words and keep them in the forefront of our minds. We are also responsible to help our Sunday Church School students to think about these life-changing concepts. In order for us to understand what St. Anthony said, so we can pass it on to our students, we must study his words well and consider how to pass them on.

If we were to truly take St. Anthony’s words to heart, what would that look like? Voluntarily abandoning “what must be destroyed at the end of this life” would mean making a deliberate choice to let go of anything material, to relinquish things’ control over our time, our focus, even our desires. “Caring for nothing that [we] cannot take away with [us]” could mean not only not taking the time to nurture/acquire things, but also not even to have a desire for them. Sometimes we hear kids saying, “I don’t care about ___!” If we choose to live truly Christian lives, according to St. Anthony’s statement, we should be able to say the same about all earthly/material things! We should also challenge our students to do the same!

Releasing ourselves from the grip of earthly stuff opens our time, our hearts, even our very thoughts to the things of God. But don’t worry, St. Anthony immediately offers ways in which to fill the “gap” that worldly concerns take up! “We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven…” This declaration is thorough in and of itself, but he goes on with specifics: “wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality.” Any one of those can take a lifetime to truly acquire. Aspiring to all of them together will easily fill whatever time we may have previously been pouring into the acquisition of material things! As for teaching these to our Sunday Church School students: each could be a year’s curriculum on its own, but we do not have enough time for that, so the best we can do is lightly touch on them while encouraging our students to continue studying (and applying!) them at home.

So what is truly important? “Striving after these things” (wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, and hospitality) which lead us to heaven is what we must care about and what we must do. This is the lifestyle that we should be living and teaching to our students. This is how we ought to spend our lives. Pursuing these things is how we can truly “prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.”

Thank you, St. Anthony, for your timeless wisdom. Please intercede for our salvation!

Read about the life of St. Anthony, as well as more of his wisdom (at the end of this page): Find information on his feast day, as well as his troparion and kontakion here:

Read St. Athanasius’ book The Life of St. Anthony online here:

Screenshot 2015-05-22 at 8.56.41 AM - Edited

Print copies of this poster for your students, so they can take one home to remind them of how to spend their life:

Following are some related links for each of the specific pursuits that St. Anthony encourages us to work towards. Find ideas of a way to teach each to our students, as well as quotes/readings for further pondering.


This activity can begin a class discussion about wisdom:
Find a quote from St. John Chrysostom on wisdom here:


As a class, study the life of a chaste saint, such as Venerable Melania the Younger of Rome. (See

Read what St. Nicholas says about chastity here:

The Chastity Project, a Catholic bookstore, offers materials that may be useful in a class discussion on chastity.


Here is an activity that can be a good discussion starter for a lesson about justice:

Ponder justice by reading this blog:


Use these scenarios to help your students use real-life situations to apply the concept of virtue:

Older students can read and discuss portions of this book that talks about how virtue is implanted in the soul:

Find a quote from St. John Chrysostom on cultivating virtue in our children’s lives here:


Teens can read and discuss this book about watchfulness:

Find encouragement to maintain watchfulness in your life here:


Here is a lesson for teaching young children about caring for the poor:

Read about what St. Thomas did to care for the poor, in this story:


Challenge your grade school students to fill their lives with faith in Christ with this simple object lesson:

Find encouragement to stay strong in your faith in Christ in this blog:


Find practical suggestions for children to apply when they deal with anger here:

Read this blog on the importance of controlling one’s anger:


Here are practical ways to help children learn about hospitality, including a printable chart that they can take home for the next time their family has guests:


Find out what St. John Chrysostom says about who should participate in hospitality in this quote:

HUGS: Hands Used for God’s Service

You know about hugs, but how much do you know about HUGS? HUGS, or Hands Used for God’s Service, is a step in the direction of living out Matthew chapter 25. This hands-on program with a specific “mission” for every grade level is practical, downloadable, and easy for a Sunday Church School to implement. The HUGS program will help your Sunday Church School students learn to serve others by actually serving them!

The program was developed by Khouria Gigi Shadid, who told the story of its inception in a recent interview: “My cousin, Georgina, is known for giving great hugs. One day… she began telling me about how much she wishes she could go to the NICU at a hospital and just hug on the little babies there. I told her that her loving hugs are one of the gifts that God has given her and that she should share those hugs with as many people as she can. As we talked, Georgina expressed a desire to do more with that gift… but what? The essential question here was: What else can I do with my hands to serve God and to spread His Gospel message of love to my neighbor?

“I got to thinking and praying about it, and this HUGS idea was born. We use our hands to give hugs, and we can use our hands in many ways to serve others and give them not only physical hugs, but spiritual hugs as well. Hence, the acronym “HUGS” was born: Hands Used for God’s Service. How can we all use our hands to serve others and embody Christ’s commission in Matthew Chapter 25, focusing on those who are: hungry, thirsty, naked, prisoners, strangers, and sick?

“The mission of the HUGS program is to engage our church school children in acts of service, both small and great, to those in need. We want to instill in our children a spirit of gratitude and service, for Christ said, “Do it to the least of these my brethren and you do it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).”

She goes on to describe the goal of the program, as well as the focus for each grade level: “Each year, we would like our church school classes to participate in a service activity that we have suggested below. It might be a one-time deal, or something a class can choose to focus on throughout the school year. We must repeatedly ask the key question: ‘How are we using our hands and feet to serve God?’ When we use our hands in various ways of service to our neighbor, we are seeing the face of Christ in them.”

Grade levels and their “missions” are as follows:

Pre-K/K: Give hugs to family and friends

1st Grade: Open doors for others (stranger)

2nd Grade: Classroom canned food drive (choose a month) (hungry)

3rd Grade: Serving drinks (i.e. at home, instill spirit of hospitality) (thirsty)

4th Grade: Phone calls to shut-ins during Sunday School (periodically) (sick)

5th Grade: Write letters of encouragement to those in prison (prisoner)

6th Grade: Clothing Drive (i.e. coat drive – choose a month) (naked)

7th Grade: Cleaning the church sanctuary after services

8th Grade: Serving coffee at coffee hour (i.e. once a month) (thirsty)

9th Grade: Shoe drive, new & used (choose a month) (naked)

10th Grade: Be a Greeter once a month/mentor with ushers (stranger)

11th Grade: Food drive (choose a month) – contest with 2nd grade (hungry)

12th Grade: Visit a nursing home or shut in from church; (sick); Bring that person holy bread and the bulletin

Khouria Gigi continues, “One goal is that from the time a child enters pre-school to when they graduate high school, they will have participated in a variety of service activities addressing various needs.” The HUGS program is an excellent way to help Sunday Church Schools meet that goal. Find an overview of the HUGS program, as well as the link to every grade level at Every grade level has a printable poster describing the mission for the students, a letter to the teacher to help you know what your students’ mission is, a printable letter to parents to help them know about the mission, and a related craft or activity to complement the mission.

So, why is the HUGS program important for Sunday Church Schools? Why should Sunday Church School teachers implement this program? Khouria Gigi summarizes this well in the aforementioned interview. “Since we do not live in a country or age of persecution as many of the martyrs did, most of us will face the judgment seat of Christ answering this question: Did you love your neighbor? Education is so important, and understanding the teachings of the Church helps us to grow in our knowledge of our faith. But knowledge will not save us, love will. That is why teaching our children to have a servant’s heart and an attitude of kindness and caring is so important. We can help our children learn to be kind and caring by performing those acts as a class and by encouraging it at home and at school.”

Read the above-mentioned interview in its entirety here:

The following are links related to the HUGS program:


Listen to Kh. Gigi singing her song “The Least of These,” which perfectly accompanies the HUGS curriculum here:


The HUGS Program is a great way to begin leading our Sunday Church School students in a life of service. There are many ways to continue that service beyond the SCS years! Here is one of them:

The YES Program helps to present to youth and young adults the one true Way of life in Christ by training them to practice dying to oneself in order to serve the needs of others.


The HUGS Program is a great way to begin leading our Sunday Church School students in a life of service. Here is another way that they (and adults as well) can continue to learn as they serve:

Project Mexico & St. Innocent Orphanage builds homes for the poor in Mexico and provides a home for orphaned boys. Volunteer groups are welcomed to help with these ministries.


The HUGS Program is a great way to begin leading our Sunday Church School students in a life of service. College-aged students can participate in this way:

Real Break offers students the opportunity to understand the true meaning of seeing Christ in everyone. Real Break teams travel to another part of the world and are given opportunities to deepening their faith, serve those in need, and cultivate relationships with like-minded peers.


The HUGS Program is a great way to begin leading our Sunday Church School students in a life of service. Service opportunities “at home” can include helping with this project:

FOCUS North America is an Orthodox Christian organization whose purpose is to bring Matthew 25 to life. The organization serves the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned at centers across the United States.

Ideas for Year-End Review

Review is important to help our Sunday Church School (SCS) students reflect on what we have studied, realize how much they’ve learned, and cement those learnings in their mind. At the end of each lesson, we review what we have just learned in that lesson. In the same way, it is important that we review the whole year at the end of a Church School year. This blog will feature suggested ideas of ways to review with your class. These ideas can be used for any individual lesson or cumulatively at the end of the year.

  • Find a very thorough list of strategies for reviewing concepts on this printable pdf: Strategies are divided into “written” and “non-written” categories. This pdf can be printed and kept in your teacher notebook, for easy reference as you plan every lesson.
  • Review using the  “Quiz, Quiz, Trade” method, where everyone receives a review question on a card (you can create these question cards, or have each student carefully write their own). Students find a partner, and take turns asking/answering each other’s questions. They then trade cards, find a new partner, and repeat. After what seems an appropriate amount of time, collect all the cards and quiz the whole group together. The students should know almost all of the answers at that point! See for more information.
  • Write key words/names/concepts, graffiti-style (in a variety of colors, if possible), all over your chalkboard/whiteboard in your classroom. Students take turns selecting one of the terms, explaining it or telling what they know about it, and then erasing that word off the board. See for details on how one teacher used this activity.
  • Hand out a pile of index cards. Have the students write their own review questions, one per card, on the lined side of the index cards. They will write the answer on the blank side of the card. (This may take a at least one SCS period, depending on the age of your SCS students.) When you have a good number of cards, mix them well and place them, question (lined) side up on a pile. Use the questions for a review game. (Review Game Idea #1: Divide the class into two teams; each team takes turns pulling a card, reading the question aloud, and answering it. They can check their answer on the back of the card to see if they get a point for a correct answer or not. Review Game Idea #2: Class vs. teacher(s) if your class is not large. This version is played in the same way as idea #1, except that one team is the entire class and the other team is the teacher(s).)
  • Review game for younger children: turn your entire Sunday Church School classroom into a gameboard as suggested here: Write questions that review the concepts you have learned in class, and use those questions for the game.
  • Review game for older children: create a “Bazinga” card-and-card-pocket board and then play the review game as described here: (Note: the blog comments after the game directions on this page are full of other review game ideas, as well!)


Here are more fun review ideas for the Sunday Church School classroom:


Use an online generator to create your own printables to help your Sunday Church School students review the concepts you have studied. For example, create your own crossword here:; a word search here:; a word scramble here:; and a missing letters printable here: Or, if you’d rather, create your own BINGO review game (with up to 50 randomly-generated playing boards) here:

(*Note: the above generator is free and the printable you create can be printed with a watermark. If you wish to create and SAVE the printable and/or print without a watermark, however, you will need to become a Super Teacher member. There are other printable generators, as well.)


Use review questions on 3×5 cards to play “Concentration” as outlined in this review lesson:


Larger Sunday Church School classes could participate in these year-end-review games:


Find links to five more fun ideas of classroom review games, such as “Will the Winners Lose?” on this page:


There are 10 review game ideas (ever play “Pass the Chicken?”) here:


Gleanings from a Book: “H is for Holy” by Nika Boyd

From an early age, we begin to teach our children the alphabet. The “ABCs” are a series of building blocks which work together to create the words that we use to build sentences that share our concepts and ideas. Perfecting the use of these 26 letters takes a lifetime, but using them throws open doors to learning, enjoyment, and communication along the way. We do well to begin familiarizing our children with the alphabet from a very early age.

From an early age, we also introduce our children to the Faith. The book H is for Holy by Nika Boyd offers one way to help us introduce our children to the Faith. This book associates one piece of Orthodox Christianity with each letter of the English alphabet. Each page of this book is filled with a colorful, child-friendly illustration and a sentence explaining which part of our Faith is associated with that letter. Every page also offers more information about that piece, often also incorporating a related personal application and/or questions. These “pieces” of Orthodox Christianity become building blocks on which our children can build their faith.

Each concept presented in H is for Holy opens the door to learning more about the Faith as a whole. The book is an enjoyable way to begin this learning. It can be used with a variety of age levels. One could simply read the basic sentence at the top of each page and savor the illustrations with very young listeners. With older children, one can read all of the words on the page. Read each page in its entirety and discuss it further, perhaps by relating it to scripture, icons, divine services, or other related resources with even older children. This book is an excellent way to begin (and also build) communication with our children about what we as Orthodox Christians believe.

Perfecting our faith, God willing, lasts for our whole lifetime. Every day we make choices that can build or hinder our faith. We need all of the help we can get as we grow in godliness. H is for Holy offers a way to encourage our children to learn more about the Faith, but it also encourages us to grow in faith. The personal applications and questions throughout the book give us opportunities to further discuss each page of the book with our children. These discussions can lead us to open the scriptures, pay better attention during the Divine Liturgy, and be better observant of the Faith in our home.

We do well to begin familiarizing our children with the Faith from a very early age. H is for Holy is an excellent resource to help us accomplish this goal. This book is filled with learning opportunities on every page. A key message of the book is also its last sentence: “You may be small, but your faith can do mighty things!” H is for Holy offers building blocks with which Orthodox Christian children can build their faith.

See the trailer for the book at

H is for Holy by Nika Boyd is available from Ancient Faith Publishing here:


Here are a few suggestions of ways that Sunday Church School teachers can benefit from/ use this book:


“H is for Holy” by Nika Boyd would be an excellent springboard for a Sunday Church School class’ curriculum. Each week of the Church School year could feature one page of the book and focus on the concept being taught on that page. Every one of the 26 concepts can be further communicated through related activities, readings from scripture/the Holy Fathers/divine services texts, etc., and a lesson could easily be built for each. At the end of the year, each student in the class could receive their own copy of this book to remind them of what they had studied during the Sunday Church School year, allowing them to “review” their learnings whenever they read the book.


Read “H is for Holy” by Nika Boyd to your class. Have each student select their favorite letter/Faith concept pair and write it at the top of a piece of paper. Provide art supplies and allow the students to illustrate their page with their own idea of how it should look. (ie: John likes “L is for Lazarus” best because he loves the story of Lazarus being resurrected by Christ. John’s paper will read “L is for Lazarus” at the top and feature John’s own illustration of Lazarus coming out of the tomb.) Hang your class’ unique ABC illustrations on an “H is for Holy: our favorite Orthodox ABCs” bulletin board in your classroom or Sunday Church School hallway.


So many of the Orthodox Christian ABC concepts found in Nika Boyd’s book “H is for Holy” have a whole kids’ magazine devoted to them! Check out the back issues of “Little Falcons Magazine” here for these: Each issue contains information related to the theme of the issue, as well as supplemental stories and activities.


Have each student write an acrostic of their name, filling in the words that go along with each letter in the book “H is for Holy.” (ie: Amy would write Altar, Mary, Youths). Have them select their favorite of the letters and explain why. (ie: Amy might choose “Youths” because she wants to be brave like the youths were and do what is right even if it means she will be persecuted.)

(Teacher’s note: if you are unfamiliar with acrostics, read more here:


Purchase and listen to this song by Kh. Gigi Shadid, called “Orthodox ABCs,” for another alphabetical list of things important to our faith.


Find an older kids’/grownups’ version of an Orthodox Christian ABC book here:! This booklet has several important parts of the Faith listed for each letter of the alphabet, along with a brief description of each.


Challenge your class to collectively write your own Orthodox Christian ABC book, using a DIFFERENT part of the Faith for each letter than is used in Nika Boyd’s book “H is for Holy.” Have each student work on one page, writing what the letter is for at the top of the page, illustrating the concept, and writing more information and/or personal challenges or questions at the bottom of the page. Find a free printable alphabet book template here: