Category Archives: Classroom Activities

On Pursuing Virtue: Gratitude

Author’s note: Although we have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), we will continue this series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

We will begin this conversation where we often end other ones: with gratitude. We teach our children to say “thank you,” but gratitude is much more than remembering to say these words after receiving a gift or eating a meal! True gratitude is a lifestyle. Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality, says, “The spiritual person is the one who is grateful for everything. He is the one who receives everything with thanksgiving, and who knows that he has nothing except what he has received from God.”

St. Nikolai Velimirovich agrees, and elaborates in his Prologue from Ochrid: “For as long as you are on earth, consider yourself a guest in the Household of Christ. If you are at the table, it is He who treats you. If you breathe air, it is His air you breathe. If you bathe, it is in His water you are bathing. If you are traveling, it is over His land that you are traveling. If you are amassing goods, it is His goods you are amassing. If you are squandering, it is His goods that you are squandering. If you are powerful, it is by His permission that you are strong. If you are in the company of men, you and the others are His guests. If you are out in nature, you are in His garden. If you are alone, He is present. If you set out or turn anywhere, He sees you. If you do anything, He remembers. He is the most considerate Householder by Whom you were ever hosted. Be careful then toward Him. In a good household, the guest is required to behave. These are all simple words but they convey to you a great truth. All the saints knew this truth and they governed their lives by it. That is why the Eternal Householder rewarded them with eternal life in heaven and glory on earth.” This type of mindset – really remembering that everything, EVERYTHING, is God’s and we are simply His guests, staying in His home and borrowing His linens – completely changes our possessive assumptions and multiplies our gratitude.

Fr. Hopko continues his discussion on gratitude by pointing out that from the time of the Old Testament, thanksgiving has been central to life for the people of God. In the Old Testament times, sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered in the temple, and the Psalms sang thanks to God. This attitude continued in the New Testament times! The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, so from that time to this day, our worship centers around being grateful: we lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord!

Fr. Hopko points out that the Scriptures and the lives of the saints are full of thanksgiving to God, not just for the “good” things, but for everything! The saints have shown their complete trust in God’s provision and care. They have modeled gratitude for us in their deeds and words. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that even things that may look bad to us can be used to bring spiritual growth and salvation by God’s grace! (And he did not just say this. He lived it. He was in the process of being exiled in old age when he died, and yet his last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”)

Fr. Hopko states that the opposite of gratitude is bitterness and complaining. If we are proud and covetous, we will complain about our life. Complaining shows that we are lacking a humble trust in God, and thereby we do not thank Him for everything! When we trust Him absolutely, we will be at peace.

Fr. Hopko closes his chapter on gratitude with this statement: “A person is grateful to the extent that he trusts in the Lord and has love for God and man.”

 

Read more of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s wise words about the virtues, as written in his book, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues

Here are some scriptures about gratitude, how children benefit from living a life of gratitude, and a few ideas of ways to help our students learn about this virtue:

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Scriptures related to gratitude (let your class read them, let each student select one to artistically copy/decorate, and/or assign each verse to a small group of students who work together to dramatically present their verse to the rest of the class):
And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1.16).
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His Holy Name.
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Thy Name, O Most High; to declare Thy steadfast love in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever! (Pss 30.4, 95.2, 92.1, 107.1).
Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving . . . always and for ­everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5.4, 20).
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5.16–18).
Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, Rejoice! Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.4–7).
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“…researchers are now turning their attention to how gratitude can better the lives of children, too. They’re finding that the experience of high levels of gratitude in the adolescent years can set a child up to thrive.” Read about some of the research and findings in this excellent article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-raise-more-grateful-children-1519398748
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“Children who learn gratitude become more sensitive to the feelings of others. As gratitude becomes a way of life, empathy takes root and weeds out selfishness as grateful kids look outside themselves to the wide world beyond.” Read more here: http://www.shelivesfree.com/2014/03/raising-grateful-kids-in-an-entitled-world.html
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Share this practical article (seven things parents can do to raise grateful children) with the parents of your students, after studying gratitude as a class: https://thehumbledhomemaker.com/raise-grateful-kids/
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Need some ideas of ways to walk in gratitude? Check out this blog post:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/
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“…a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent… other studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.” Read more about why it is important to cultivate gratitude in our children, as well as 11 practical ways to do so, in this article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrea-reiser/11-tips-for-instilling-true-gratitude-in-your-kids_b_4708019.html
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Here is a very simple-to-prepare object lesson on gratitude. All you need is a box full of old/recyclable items and some imaginative thought! https://www.futureflyingsaucers.com/thankfulness-in-a-box/
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Consider sharing a story (or two!) with your class to help them think about gratitude and thankfulness. These sites offer ideas of books that could be useful:
http://investinginchildren.on.ca/blog/2015/1/14/19-childrens-books-about-gratitude
https://preschoolinspirations.com/books-about-gratitude-thankfulness/
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Find a variety of ideas of ways to teach gratitude, leveled by the children’s ages, here: https://www.today.com/news/get-grateful-20-ways-teach-kids-gratitude-tots-teens-1D80297963
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Gratitude craft idea:
Use recycled jars to create “gratitude jars.” Invite each student to create their own “gratitude jar” label on cardstock. Use packing tape to affix the label to a jar. Fill the jar with gratitude discussion starters on slips of paper (a few examples can be found here: https://creativefamilyfun.net/gratitude-conversation-starters/ or here: https://modernparentsmessykids.com/free-printable-thanksgiving-gratitude-conversation-starters-2/, and your students can write their own on slips of paper). Or send a stack of small sticky-note paper with each student so they can write one thing they’re thankful for each day on a sticky note, fold it together so that the sticky side seals it shut, and add it to the jar. At the end of a month (or a year!), they can open each note to once again be grateful for all of those things!
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Find a few gratitude-themed activities at this page. They are geared to Thanksgiving, but most of them could be used anytime you are teaching about the virtue of gratitude! http://www.dvo.com/newsletter/monthly/2012/november/funtimes.html
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If your students have cell phones with cameras, or if you can round up enough digital cameras, divide the class into a few small groups, give each group a camera, and send them on a gratitude scavenger hunt. This activity (https://lets-get-together.com/2014/10/18/gratitude-photo-scavenger-hunt/) will help each participant to take a moment and realize how much is right around them that they are grateful for! (Note: if you take them outside to do this, round up a few teen or parent volunteers beforehand so that each group has an older supervisor.) You could also give this as a “homework” assignment at the end of a class discussion on gratitude. If you do it this way, invite the students to send you the pictures that they take, and you can compile the pictures into a presentation to share with the class or with your parish!
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With older students, discuss the Akathist of Thanksgiving (https://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Prayers/Akathist-of-Thanksgiving.pdf). Challenge them each to write a verse of their own.

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On Winter Fun and Learning

It is winter in the northern hemisphere. For some of us, that means it is very cold outside! In an effort to lift our chilled spirits, we have done some research and found a few snowy lesson ideas that we hope will be helpful to the community. Keep reading to find some links that offer ideas of ways that snow can challenge us spiritually, help us to encourage and challenge our students, and further everyone’s growth towards the Kingdom of Heaven! We will also include a few fun wintry activities that can be used in conjunction with the class discussions.

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With younger students: Cut a paper snowflake as you lead (an Orthodox version of) this discussion. http://freebiblelessons.net/object-lessons/whiter-than-snow

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Find a variety of winter-themed Bible lessons here. The site is not Orthodox, but these lessons can easily be used in an Orthodox Sunday Church School classroom. https://cherigamble.com/2015/01/08/10-cool-and-easy-bible-object-lessons-experiments-for-cold-winter-days/

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Find more winter-themed Bible lessons on this page. The site is not Orthodox, but these lessons can easily be used in an Orthodox Sunday Church School classroom. Many of these lessons include a recipe that can be made in class. https://cherigamble.com/2017/02/19/more-cool-and-easy-bible-object-lessons-experiments-for-cold-winter-days/

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This lesson plan, although not Orthodox, can be easily adapted to be used in an Orthodox classroom. It includes a simple coffee-filter-snowflake craft that is part of the lesson. http://www.aboutthechildrensdepartment.com/2011/02/free-snowy-lesson-for-children-whiter.html

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With middle year students: Talk with your students about this verse: “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). How white IS snow? Most often, it appears to be super white, especially when the sun shines on it. However, in reality, the snow is millions of translucent ice crystals, all reflecting the light. Since they reflect all of the light (every color in the light spectrum), they appear to be white. If we live lives of repentance and virtue, as Christians should, our hearts will be clean and our consciences clear. Then we will reflect the Light of Christ, radiating His purity to all. Before class, you may want to read the science behind snow’s “whiteness”, here: https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/atmospheric/question524.htm

The “God’s Fingerprint In Creation” section of this page (this magazine is not Orthodox, but this particular article could be used in an Orthodox setting) explains it very well for your students: http://archives.kidsviewmag.org/article/94/view-previous-issues/december-2009/why-is-snow-white.

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With older students: Read Isaiah 1:18 together. Ask the students what they think it could mean. Then discuss the following words of St. Nikolai Velimirovich, with regard to this verse:
“O, the boundless mercy of God! In His greatest wrath upon the faithless and ungrateful people, upon the people “laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters” (Isaiah 1:4), as “princes [rulers] of Sodom” (Isaiah 1:10) and upon the people who have become as the “people of Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:10) – in such wrath, the Lord does not abandon mercy but rather calls them to repentance. Just as after terrible lightnings, a gentle rain falls. Such is the Lord long-suffering [patient] and full of mercy and “neither will He keep His anger forever” [Psalm 102:9 (103:9)]. Only if sinners cease to commit evil and learn to do good and turn to God with humility and repentance they will become “white as snow.” The Lord is mighty and willing. No one, except Him, is able to cleanse the sinful soul of man from sin and, by cleansing, to whiten it. No matter how often linen is washed in water with ashes and soap, no matter how often it is washed and re-washed, it cannot receive whiteness until it is spread under the light of the sun. Thus, our soul cannot become white, no matter how often we cleanse it by our own effort and labor even with the help of all legal means of the law until we, at last, bring it beneath the feet of God, spread out and opened wide so that the light of God illumines it and whitens it. The Lord condones and even commends all of our labor and effort, i.e., He wants us to bathe our soul in tears, by repentance to constrain it by the pangs of the conscience to press it, to clothe it with good deeds and in the end of ends, He calls us to Him: “Come now,” says the Lord, “and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). That is, I will look at you and I will see if there is Me in you and you will look upon Me as in a mirror and you will see what kind of person you are. O Lord, slow to anger, have mercy on us before the last wrath of that Dreadful Day.” ~ St. Nikolai Velimirovich, The Prologue of Ochrid, Book 2

How does this apply to our life today? What will each member of the class do, or how will we live “so that the light of God illumines… and whitens…” us?!?

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There are so many winter/snow/ice-related science experiments that can be done to help our students learn. Some of these can be used in conjunction with aforementioned lesson ideas. Others may inspire you to create your own wintry object lesson! http://lemonlimeadventures.com/must-try-winter-science-experiments-for-kids/ (Many of these do not require actual snow.)

https://igamemom.com/fun-snow-science-for-kids/ (These require snow.)

https://igamemom.com/winter-science-activities-for-kids/ (200 winter science activities for those of us whose students really love science!)

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Some of these snow-related indoor games could be used in conjunction with wintry object lessons. Check out https://www.momooze.com/indoor-activities-winter/ or https://confidencemeetsparenting.com/indoor-snowball-activities/.

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Some of the craft ideas here (for example, some of the snowflake or snow globe craft suggestions) would blend nicely with a wintery object lesson. http://www.kidactivities.net/category/Seasonal-Winter-ArtsCrafts.aspx

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Create your own super-white snow for each student to play in and take home. They’ll each need one part white hair conditioner to 6 parts baking soda (½ C conditioner to 3 C baking soda is suggested in this video). If your students mix their own, they’ll need a bowl to mix it into, a baking tray to play on, and a sealable container to take it home. See this for details: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZbjrYcNpPs

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Help your students to create a “snowflake cross” as illustrated here: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2017/12/07/finding-christ-amidst-the-snowstorms-of-life/#more-158161

Back Pocket Ideas for Sunday Church School Games

If your Sunday Church School continues to meet year ‘round and you want some fun ideas for summer classes, this blog post is for you. If you are taking a break from teaching for the summer, but are thinking ahead to next year and how you want to switch things up a bit in your classroom, this blog post is for you. If you just love to collect fun ideas and keep them in your “back pocket” so that you can pull them out and use them with your Sunday Church School class at a moment’s notice, this blog post is for you! (Does that cover everyone? We hope so! We think this blog post can be helpful for you!)

We have collected some great Sunday Church School game ideas, and want to share them with you. If you find any that you like, jot them down on note cards. You can keep them in a recipe card box, or punch a hole in the corner of each card and clip them together on a binder ring that can be hung up somewhere. Either way, place the cards in your classroom for easy access. That way you can find them at a moment’s notice, and can play them with your students either as part of a lesson or if you end up with a few extra minutes at the end of a class one day.

Here are a few “back pocket” ideas for Sunday Church School games that we found (in the order in which we found them). Whether you want to do something different because it’s summer or you are planning ahead for next year, consider these fun ideas! What ideas do you have to share with the community?
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Find ideas for “quick, on-the-go Orthodox fun” here: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2016/10/orthodox-games-on-go.html

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Find games for outdoor activities (like a Church picnic, VCS, or the occasional summer outdoor Church School class) here: https://oca.org/the-hub/games/various-games

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These indoor games are listed by age group, and vary between “quiet” and “running” games. Some could work in a classroom setting, while others would be great for VCS, JOY Club, or other large-group activity times: https://oca.org/the-hub/20-something/game-ideas

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These ideas for games range from games to introduce yourselves to each other to fun ways to learn from the Bible. While the source is not Orthodox, many of the ideas can be easily adapted and used in a Sunday Church School setting. https://disciplr.com/49-best-sunday-school-games/

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Find ideas of games that you can use to review what you’ve been learning in Sunday Church School here: http://paththroughthenarrowgate.com/sunday-school-games/

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Preschool teachers may want to adapt some of these (non-Orthodox) learning games for use with their students: http://classroom.synonym.com/sunday-school-games-preschoolers-8394712.html

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Find a variety of (not Orthodox, but easily used in an Orthodox setting) games for introductions, review, or just for fun, here: http://www.greatgroupgames.com/sunday-school-games.htm

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Download and use these fun icebreaker games from Orthodox Christian camps: http://orthodoxcamps.org/resources/games

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