Category Archives: Educational Resource

On Teachers and Summer Break

It is summertime in the northern hemisphere, and for many of us, that means a break in the Sunday Church School routine. During this break, let us take time to be refreshed! Having a break gives us time to rest and to evaluate our work. How are we doing? What is working with our students? What is not? What other ideas are out there? What might we want to try that could improve the quality of our students’ education in the Sunday Church School classroom?

Here are a few resources that may help us to evaluate and recharge. (Note: not all of these are Orthodox. Each of them does, however, contain ideas that can help to refresh us and be ready for the next Sunday Church School year.)

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Ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut or just need to breathe a little? This page offers 25 hands-on ideas that people in Christian ministry can do to reset their creative juices: https://childrensministry.com/simply-refreshed/

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Here are 10 suggestions for rest/refreshment during the break from the school year. Aimed at school teachers, many of these work for Sunday Church School teachers, as well. https://www.mmersfrenchresources.com/2017/05/10-ways-to-recharge-during-summer-break.html

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Need a bit of a refresher? You’re not alone! Many teachers need to take some time to refresh themselves so they can continue to encourage and inspire others. Here are some ideas of ways to refresh yourself: https://teach4theheart.com/6-ways-teachers-can-refresh-can-give-students/

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Laughter is good medicine, and can help to refresh your soul. If you find yourself in need of a little laughter, read this article. Do you know any of these students? https://sharefaith.com/blog/2016/09/10-students-sunday-school-teachers-recognize/

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“Whether you hold a relaxed version of your regular Sunday school program or discontinue classes until fall, read on for nine refreshing ideas to help you nurture kids in the summer months too!” https://network.crcna.org/sunday-school/9-refreshing-ways-connect-kids-summer

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You may want to begin evaluating your year with something like this printable document. It asks many questions that can help you think about how things went in your classroom. http://pghpresbytery.org/disciplemaking/pdfs/Evaluation_Tool_for_Teachers.pdf

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Has your parish thought through (and made public) the details on how your Sunday Church School works? Some parents and even visitors may find information like this helpful, whether on a printed handout in the narthex, or online. Check out this parish’s example for inspiration: http://transfiguration.org/ministries/religious-education/transfiguration-sunday-school-teacher-information/

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Check out Orthodox resource lists like this one to see if there is anything out there that you were not aware of which could help you be a better teacher. http://ww1.antiochian.org/online-resource-list-parents-and-teachers

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Do you want to become a better educator? You may find both refreshment and challenge from Praxis Magazine. The Greek Archdiocese publishes this magazine three times a year, and posts many articles and even entire back issues online. (For example, Volume 14, Issue 1, “Teaching Strategies,” is available online in its entirety and you can read it immediately!)  https://goarch.org/-/praxis-magazine

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“Sophie Koulomzin, an Orthodox author and former professor on Orthodox education, tells us, ‘You can teach only that which you have made your own…’” This article challenges Sunday Church School teachers to evaluate their own embracing of the Orthodox Christian Faith, and reflects on how that will influence our students. http://myocn.net/what-is-orthodox-education/

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Take a little time this summer to rethink your classroom organization. Check out our other blogs for ideas of ways to organize your Sunday Church School room.https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/tag/classroom/

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Have you heard of using a binder method for organizing your students’ work? Here’s one suggestion of how to do so: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2012/05/21/church-school-binders/

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Teachers of teens may want to see if any part of this mindset and/or teaching “style” would help their students better connect to the Faith: https://www.youthworker.com/articles/refresh-sunday-school/

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On Pursuing Virtue: Kindness

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the 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!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter on kindness begins with the statement that spiritual people are kind, always gentle, and never cruel in any way. But kindness is more than a fruit of the Spirit evidenced in the life of humans who are following God: God Himself is kind! And He is not just kind to the good. Luke 6:35 reminds us that He is “kind to the ungrateful and selfish.” That’s pretty much everyone, at least at some point in life!

We Christians are encouraged to accompany God in kindness. This is most important when we are helping others to see an error that we have noticed in their life. Fr. Thomas mentions that we can usually put on a kind front for those we don’t know well. But the people who we are the closest to may more easily receive an unkind response or reaction from us. These people are the ones who need our kindness the most, and he encourages us to extend kind words and actions to them, as well as our more casual acquaintances. He says that there is never an excuse to be insensitive or harsh to anyone, regardless of how close we are to them.

Fr. Thomas goes on to clarify that kindness doesn’t mean glossing over or ignoring other people’s sins. Instead, he says, it means that we forgive them. He also states that kindness will not always look like “being nice” to others and going along with them in whatever they do. Sometimes a truly kind person needs to set others straight if they are doing something that is wrong. The person’s kindness will shine through by the way they convey care to the person doing wrong, even in the midst of this correction. He says that a kind person’s correction will not have any cruelty, demeaning, ridiculing, or condemning. Instead, a truly kind person will correct another with encouragement and gentle understanding.

Kindness to all others, lived in this way, is a tall order. May God help us to grow in the virtue of kindness. When we do, we will be able to truly love all others as kindly as He does! May we help our students to do so, as well!!

Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of kindness here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/kindness

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of kindness:

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Inspire your students for kindness! This blog post offers ways a classroom teacher can help to create and nurture an environment of kindness. It’s geared toward regular ed. teachers, but many of the ideas can inspire Sunday Church School teachers, as well! https://www.weareteachers.com/49-ways-to-create-a-tidal-wave-of-kindness-in-schools/
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Teachers with younger students may want to share a story or two with their class, to begin a discussion of kindness. Here are a list of secular books that may fit the bill: https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/childrens-books-about-kindness/
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Here are a handful of the many stories and people from the scriptures that could be used in a lesson on kindness:
Joseph (beginning in Genesis 37)
Rahab (beginning in Joshua 2)
Christ
The Good Samaritan
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The biblical story of Ruth is a story filled with kindness. This middle-years lesson plan focuses on various kindnesses exhibited throughout Ruth’s story, and offers a fun activity and craft idea related to kindness that could be incorporated into a lesson on this virtue. https://ministry-to-children.com/clothed-in-kindness/
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This lesson on kindness is geared towards families, but could be helpful to a teacher planning a lesson on kindness. Find Bible stories, scripture verses, and activities related to kindness here: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/kindness
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“I think giving children hands-on ways to serve others and show special acts of kindness will go a long way in teaching them to think of others and derive joy from generosity.” ~ from http://www.momentsaday.com/teaching-children-to-think-of-others-a-simple-random-act-of-kindness/
This link offers an idea of how one mom helped her children perform a random act of kindness. Talk about it with your class, and brainstorm ways that your class can do random acts of kindness, whether together, in your parish, or something that you prepare together and each carry out/deliver separately.
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This two-minute video shares the pages from a picture book about kindness. It can be a helpful addition to a lesson on kindness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5HEKWib33g
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Although this blog post is geared towards parents helping their children learn kindness, it offers ideas for a variety of age groups that Sunday Church School teachers may find helpful as they plan a lesson on kindness: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/spiritual-growth-for-kids/character-development-kindness/power-of-kindness
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This lesson for younger elementary students offers ways to learn the word kindness and what it means, based on various scriptures. https://ministry-to-children.com/kindness-bible-lesson-fruit-of-the-spirit/
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Many saints model kindness. Share the story of a kind saint with your class during a lesson on kindness.
A few ideas include:
St. Luke of Crimea (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/learning-about-the-saints-st-luke-of-crimea-commemorated-june-11/)
St. Seraphim of Sarov (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/learning-about-a-saint-st-seraphim-of-sarov-commemorated-on-january-2/)
St. Gerasimos of the Jordan (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/learning-about-a-saint-st-gerasimos-of-the-jordan-commemorated-on-march-4/)
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This very simple object lesson uses water, pepper, soap, and sugar to demonstrate the effect kindness has on others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPu7r4RdYhQ
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This object lesson uses water and objects dropped into it to demonstrate the ripple effect that kindness has, and offers the opportunity to talk about how no kindness is too small to make a difference: http://penniesoftime.com/object-lesson-on-acts-of-kindness/
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Teachers of older students may want to show their students this 3-minute video about what researchers are finding about how kindness affects us physiologically. After watching, talk about your learnings. How did we get “wired” to respond physiologically to kindness and being kind? Why do you suppose God made us that way? What can happen if we build this virtue in our life? What if we do not cultivate it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUcxoNFiomY&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQWsPsW5PQQ5gj5OBewwgUw&index=9
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Teachers of teens may find this youth lesson on kindness helpful: https://ministrytoyouth.com/youth-group-lessons-on-kindness/
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Want some ideas of ways your class can do some random acts of kindness? Check out the ones in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/try-a-little-kindness/
Or in this one: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/on-being-a-bucket-filler/

On Pursuing Virtue: Patience

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the 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!

 

Fr. Thomas Hopko begins his discussion of patience by stating that, in order for us to completely obey God in all that we do, we must have the virtue of patience. This gives us an idea of how important this virtue is! Our Lord demonstrated for us perfect obedience to God in the context of incredible patience.

Patience is one of the fruits of the spirit, and it truly needs to come to us from God, with our cooperation. The Cambridge dictionary defines patience as “the ability to accept delay, suffering, or annoyance without complaining or becoming angry.” This does not come easily to us, nor does it “just happen” in our life. Fr. Thomas writes that we begin to acquire patience when we courageously and hopefully wait on the Lord through everything that comes our way. That means putting up with other people (as well as with ourselves!), and slowly growing in the grace of God. He says it takes a daily effort on our part to follow God’s commandments and do what He wills for our life. “Only those who are patient, according to Christ, bring forth fruit from the seeds of God’s Word that are sown in their hearts.”

Patience does not come quickly. It is work to pursue godliness, and that work is hard and long. Fr. Thomas reminds his readers that we can’t become patient just by using our own willpower: it is a grace that comes to us from God, a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

He writes that patience “is the power to ‘stay on the cross’ no matter what, doing only the will of the Lord.” Patience is not a solitary virtue: it is closely tied with faith, hope, love, humility, and obedience. Fr. Thomas encourages those who want to grow in patience to work at it daily through fasting, prayer, communion, remembering God, abiding in Christ, and viewing life through the light of God’s Kingdom. Uniting ourselves to Christ and living by the Holy Spirit’s power, he writes, is what the spiritual teachers tell us is the only way to acquire the virtue of patience.

May we all grow in the virtue of patience, and help our students to do so as well!
Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of patience here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/patience
Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of patience:
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This gathering of ideas for teaching children about patience offers a variety of scriptures and Bible stories, as well as craft and activity suggestions that can be used for various ages. (It is not Orthodox, and is written for parents to use with their children, but much of it can easily be used in an Orthodox Sunday Church School setting.) http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/sites/default/files/Patience-2015.pdf
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Here is a list of picture books that could be used in conjunction with a lesson on patience. They are not Orthodox, and many are not even religious in nature, but can be helpful, nonetheless: https://meaningfulmama.com/books-patience.html
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Consider an activity such as “pass the parcel” (found here https://3boysandadog.com/patience-and-preschoolers-and-free-psalms-printable/) to help young Sunday Church School students learn about patience by practicing it!
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Here is what one teacher did to help her young Sunday School children learn about patience: http://handsonbibleteacher.blogspot.ca/2011/01/this-quarter-seems-to-be-flying-by.html
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This humorous blog post offers ideas of Bible stories on patience, as well as one on IMpatience, that could be part of a Sunday Church School lesson on the virtue. There’s also a suggested craft idea that could be used for a variety of ages! http://jeaninallhonesty.blogspot.com/2008/05/sunday-school-fruit-of-spirit-patience.html
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Find two stories (a fictional one, and a story from the life of Christ), along with a suggested Psalm to memorize, any or all of which could be incorporated into a lesson about patience here: http://childrenschapel.org/biblestories/fruit_patience.html
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These group games help children to practice patience: http://aplaceofourown.org/activity.php?id=500

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Consider an activity such as this color-mixing activity to demonstrate the value of patience. If you do this, you may want to start it at the beginning of a Sunday Church School on patience, and then go on with other parts of your lesson. You can observe the results (hopefully!) by the end of class! http://www.jojoebi-designs.com/2012/09/how-colouring-mixing-can-teach-patience.html
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Another craft that could help to teach patience is something like this http://onelittleproject.com/galaxy-in-a-bottle/2/. (We’d recommend smaller bottles for your Sunday Church School students, so that you can save a little on baby oil. Also, you will want to hot glue or superglue the lids onto the bottles after all the ingredients are inside!) The students will need to be patient with themselves, you, and each other while they create their galaxy in a bottle. Once it is made and shaken, students can experience the beautiful patience of watching it slowly return to its unshaken state!
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This video can spark a discussion on patience with elementary-aged students. The speaker demonstrates the difference between having a short fuse and having patience by using (what else?) burning fuses! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycFCnnnrubo&feature=share
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This article is aimed at parents (Christian, but not necessarily Orthodox) but offers leveled activities/discussion starters that Sunday Church School teachers may be able to adapt for use in a lesson on patience: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/spiritual-growth-for-kids/fruit-of-the-spirit/practicing-patience
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Use padlocks to help you teach patience to pre-teens as suggested in this lesson: http://preteenministry.net/youth-group-lesson-on-patience/
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Here are a few printable pages of quotes that can help older children learn more about patience. The quotes come from the scriptures and from the Church Fathers, and could be used in a lesson on patience, in conjunction with some of the other suggested activities we have mentioned.
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This “seven-minute sermon” video discusses patience, and could be a great start to a class on this virtue with older children or teens. The video is not necessarily Orthodox, but could be very useful in an Orthodox classroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOaaBqlluLY&feature=share
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Patience and diligence work well together. If you missed it before, be sure to catch this post on helping your students learn the virtue of diligence from our first round of blogs about virtues:
https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/04/21/on-pursuing-virtue-diligence/

On Pursuing Virtue: Honesty

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2017/03/03/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the 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!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter about honesty opens with the statement that “the wise man who has knowledge lives according to the truth through a totally honest life.” But what does a “totally honest life” look like? Is honesty just about speaking truth and not telling lies? Or is there more to it? He goes on to explain.

There are several ways that we can live a truly honest life. One way is to always speak the truth and never lie or speak unfairly or demeaningly about others. Another way to live an honest life is to act sincerely, not putting on airs or trying to come across as someone we are not. In other words, we live an honest life if we are not a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy, lying, and deceit are things that Christ hated the most, according to Fr. Thomas. Our Lord accused the devil of these things, for the devil constantly pretends to be what he is not and tries to make others believe that what he says is the truth, although it is definitely not the truth.

We must be mindful of the devil’s trickery and of how cunningly he tries to deceive us, sometimes through other people. Even devoted religious leaders can be part of his deceit: just look at the scribes and Pharisees in the time of Christ! Christ condemned their hypocrisy, as well He should, because of its lack of truth.

In order to live an honest life, we must first and foremost look at ourselves. Do we present ourselves to others honestly, or do we pretend to be someone we are not? An honest person comes across exactly as they are, not speaking or acting in a way that makes others think they are anyone but who they really are.

Fr. Thomas writes that a truly honest person does not just speak the truth and present themselves to others honestly. An honest person is also honest in thought and mind, forever remembering that God sees and knows our heart. In his words, a truly honest person is “utterly honest and pure in all that he things, says and does, knowing that God sees all and judges with righteousness all those who ‘walk in integrity’ (Ps. 26:1, 11).”

May we all grow in the virtue of honesty, and help our students to do so, as well!!
Read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussion of honesty here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues/faith1

Here are some ideas of ways that we can help to teach our Sunday Church School students about the virtue of Honesty:
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Want to focus on honesty in your classroom? Consider some of the ideas found on this (non-Orthodox, but creative and helpful) website: http://www.barnabasinschools.org.uk/exploring-values-with-the-bible-honesty/
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Teachers of younger students may wish to enhance a lesson on honesty with a story. Here are some secular books that may be helpful as you plan: https://talkingtreebooks.com/best-character-education-resources/books-honesty.html
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What do the scriptures say about honesty? Here is a list of verses that can help in a lesson about honesty. Sunday Church School teachers could write each reference on a slip of paper before class. Take the slips along and have each student select one reference to look up in the Bible, then read to the class. http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/honesty/memory-verses
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Teachers of young children may find some parts of this secular lesson on honesty helpful as they gather ideas for a lesson on this virtue: https://talkingtreebooks.com/lesson-plans/honesty-worksheet-kindergarten-grade-1.html
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There are so many ideas that can be gathered from this series of lessons on honesty! It was written for parents to use at home, and is not at an Orthodox site, but Sunday Church School teachers will find many scripture verses, stories from the Bible, and a myriad of different hands-on learning activities here. These ideas can easily be added to a lesson on honesty: http://www.kidsofintegrity.com/lessons/honesty
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Teachers with students of varying ages may want to take a look at the activities suggested in this object lesson containing a variety of ways to talk about the importance of honesty instead of lying. From weaving a tangled web with yarn to trying to cover a quarter with a penny, students will be interested and involved in the lesson. (The lesson is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but can still be very helpful for this topic.) http://storage.cloversites.com/yorkalliancechurch/documents/KS%20Lesson%208%20Honesty.pdf
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Middle-years or older students may find this page useful. It contains questions about honesty and answers as found in the scriptures. http://www.kidsbibleinfo.com/article/102/topics/h/honesty
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Although it has “teens” in the tagline and addresses parents, this (secular) list of ideas for helping children learn about honesty will be helpful to Sunday Church School teachers preparing to teach their students about honesty. We especially liked the obstacle course idea. (Set up two obstacle courses, one easy and one full of obstacles. Allow students to run through both. Then talk about which was easier and why. Talk about how telling lies adds additional obstacles to your life, while honesty is simpler and more straight forwards.) https://www.livestrong.com/article/559757-teaching-teens-the-importance-of-telling-the-truth/
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Teachers with students in the middle years may want to share this children’s sermon – or at least some of the true stories it contains – as part of a lesson on honesty and integrity. Follow the stories with a discussion about how honesty is a lifestyle, and a true measure of our honesty is how we act when no one is watching. https://www.sermons4kids.com/do_right_thing.htm

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Do you know why former American president Abraham Lincoln was called “Honest Abe?” You may want to print the free printable about him at this site, and use it in a lesson about honesty. http://characterfirsteducation.com/c/curriculum-detail/1951185
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Here is a secular-based (but still useful) series of lessons on honesty. We especially liked the idea of using two M&M bags (one filled with something else) to illustrate the importance of honesty and how we need to live an honest life, not just put on the appearance of what we want others to think that we are. http://materials.randomactsofkindness.org/cde/en/5-Honesty-and-Integrity.pdf
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Middle school teachers may find some useful ideas for part of their lesson on honesty, from this (secular) lesson: http://character.org/lessons/lesson-plans/middle/john-a-carusi-middle-school/
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As we prepare for confession, one thing we can do is to look at the Ten Commandments and consider how well we are keeping them. While planning a lesson on honesty, we may want to take a look at these questions about the commandment “You shall not bear false witness.” These questions can help us think about what honesty looks like in an Orthodox life. Sharing these questions with our class will give both us and our students the chance to be honest with ourselves about how well we’re keeping this commandment: “Have I given false testimony against anyone? Have I spoken evil, told lies or spread rumors about anyone? Have I disclosed to anyone the sins and faults of another? Have I made careless statements or done anything else to harm the name and reputation of another? Have I engaged in idle gossip?” (This set of questions comes from: http://greekorthodoxchurchtampa.com/church_files/lent_pascha/ten_commandments_in_preparation_for_confession.pdf)

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The holy Fathers of the Church use words to teach us about false witness and condemnation, but they also teach us by their lives. Here is one story from the book, Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Teachers of older Sunday Church School students may wish to use this story during a lesson on honesty:

“A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, ‘What is this, Father?’ The Elder said to them, ‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.”https://stjohndc.org/en/orthodoxy-foundation/thou-shalt-not-bear-false-witness-against-thy-neighbour
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Teachers of teens may want to include quotes about honesty from others, besides the scriptures and the church fathers. Share the following quotes with your students, and invite the students to discuss them. Compare them to the scriptures and the Church Fathers’ teachings on honesty, and discuss. What can be learned from these quotes, as well as the others?
Possible quotes to include:
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Take note, take note, O world, to be direct and honest is not safe.” – William Shakespeare
“I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.” – George Washington
“Make yourself an honest man, and you can be sure there is one less rascal in the world.” – Thomas Carlyle
“An honest man is believed without an oath, for his reputation swears for him.” – Eliza Cook
“It takes strength and courage to admit the truth.” – Rick Riordan
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Gleanings From a Book: “Everything Tells Us About God” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Author’s note: This book is so eye-catching! As soon as I saw it, I was excited! The illustrations are so appealing. The book’s backstory adds to its intrigue. I couldn’t wait to crack it open and read it! However, I had other writing that needed to happen, so when the book arrived, I reluctantly set it on the shelf to wait until now. It was hard to not peek, but I prefer to write about a book right after reading it, so I forced myself to wait. It was well worth the wait. This is a delightful book.

This beautiful book invites engagement at a glance. The cover sets the tone for the book: it creates an expectation for beauty, variety, and a joyful revelling in God’s generosity with His people. And then, upon opening the book, the end paper catches the reader’s eye. It is a golden, nearly-completed puzzle. But why is one piece missing? And what does this have to do with the title? Before even reading a word, the reader is curious and determined to know more!

The book begins by telling the reader that the world is like a giant puzzle. God made this puzzle to tell us about Himself. He designed each piece – each part of the world – to help us learn some of His secrets. When we really look at the pieces, we can learn about Him through them!

Page after engaging page, the book points out different things in our world and how God uses them to teach us about Himself. For example, the sun tells us we can’t live without God because His love warms our hearts and helps us to grow closer to Him. The food that we eat reminds us that God always makes sure we have what we need, and that He always takes care of us. The animals tell us about God Himself: elephants help us see how mighty God is; hens and chicks remind us of how He cares for us; doves remind us of how the Holy Spirit brings us peace; etc.

Livia Coloji’s charming illustrations simultaneously cheer the reader and invite interaction. Bright colors, playful perspectives, and soft edges all help the reader to feel the warm message of the text. Readers can savor the images as well as the words. The first time through the book, the reader looks forward to turning the page to unveil the next illustration and the next piece of the puzzle. Every reading after that, the reader anticipates the illustrations, revisiting old friends.

The book concludes by answering the initial question. The missing piece in the puzzle of God’s world is each of us! He gives us life so that we can be part of His puzzle. He wants to show the world part of Himself through us! When we love and serve God, we are able to be a puzzle piece to those around us!

The author’s note at the end of the book offers the reader a glimpse at its backstory. The concept of this book was initially presented to Ancient Faith Publishing by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory. He had written of a conversation with an elderly bishop on an airport run one day. As they drove, the bishop kept pointing things out in the world around them, and talking about how each thing pointed us to God. Katherine Hyde sent Fr. Thomas her rendition of his idea, but it got lost in the shuffle over the years. Fr. Thomas’ family has given their permission for her to publish it, so now we can read this book and marvel at God’s willingness to reveal Himself to us, one piece at a time!

The end paper at the back of the book shows a completed golden puzzle. The reader now knows why the piece was missing and can see how beautiful the puzzle is with all of its pieces in place. Glory to God for including each of us in the puzzle of His world!

Purchase a copy of this book for your Sunday Church School classroom here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/everything-tells-us-about-god/

Here are some gleanings from the book, as well as ideas of ways to use it in your classroom:
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“The sun tells us that nothing can live without God… His warmth fills our hearts, and His love shines on us every day.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“The water we drink tells us Christ is our life…” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Rocks tell us Christ is as strong as a boulder… Nothing and no one can ever defeat Him or make him stop loving us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Small things, like flowers… tell us God cares about every detail of His creation.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Animals… tell us what God is like… The mother hen tells us He cares for us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Schools… tell us Christ is our Teacher… And He Himself is the perfect student of God the Father: He always does His Father’s will.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“The people we meet… tell us Jesus became human, just like us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Some years ago, Fr. Tom Hopko submitted to Ancient Faith Publishing a story… In this story… a young Fr. Tom drove an elderly bishop to the airport, hoping to engage in some deep theological conversation along the way. Instead, the bishop humbly and simply pointed out how everything they passed had something to tell us about the nature of God.” (a bit of the back story of the book, from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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Teachers of young students may want to share “Everything Tells Us About God” and then allow the students to color this coloring page from the book: https://store.ancientfaith.com/content/everything-coloring-page.pdf
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Teachers of early elementary will want to share “Everything Tells Us About God” with their class, and then engage in a discussion. What “puzzle piece” from the book did they like, and why? How does God reveal Himself to them? If possible, take the class outside for a short walk around the Church building, stopping from time to time to notice “puzzle pieces” that God has placed around your Church, pointing you to Himself. Back in the classroom, invite the students to think of their own “puzzle piece” and draw or write about it on this printable pdf.
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Older elementary classes can begin the class with a 100-piece nature puzzle waiting for them as they arrive in the classroom. Students can work together to assemble the puzzle, then admire the scene. Talk about how each piece of that puzzle is important; how it would not be complete without any of them. Share “Everything Tells Us About God” with the class. Ask them what they think the correlation is between the book and the puzzle. How does this book change how we see the world?
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Before reading “Everything Tells Us About God” with your students, hand each of them a blank puzzle. Provide watercolor paints, markers, and/or colored pencils and invite them to write a message or create (right on the puzzle) an image that makes them happy. Share the book with them while the images dry. Then have them turn the puzzle over, and on the back of each piece, ask them to write the name of something or someone in their life that points them to God. Who/what are the pieces that God uses in their life to draw them closer to Himself?

(find blank puzzles online – for example, this one: http://www.orientaltrading.com/compoz-a-puzzle-blank-puzzles-28-a2-13646291.fltr;
or in a local craft store – for example, this one: http://www.michaels.com/design-a-puzzle-set-by-creatology/10489364.html)

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Gleanings From a Book: “Sacred Sky and How to Locate 24 Constellations” by Lois Clymer

I am mesmerized by the sky. Day, night, cloudy, sunny, it matters not: I could watch it for hours, if I allowed myself the time. As a child, I loved to lie in the grass and watch the clouds or stare at the stars. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t give myself much time to do that. (Where I live, it is difficult to see the stars at night. This is a big change from my childhood home, where the Milky Way was easily visible.) But even as a “busy adult,” I still notice the sky. There are moments when it absolutely takes my breath away. I find myself gasping, and exclaiming to whoever is nearby, “Wow! Just LOOK at the sky!”

Orthodox Christian author Lois Clymer’s book, Sacred Sky, offers older children (and sky-loving adults) the opportunity to study the sky, learn a bit of history, and see how, even from ancient times, people from all over the world have seen the stars as telling about a divine human who comes to save the world.

Each chapter of the book focuses on a different aspect of the sky. The first chapter is the most detailed. It introduces 24 different constellations and many of their named stars, and teaches the reader how to find them in the sky. The chapter also offers further information about many of the constellations, including the meanings of some of the stars’ names. Many of the meanings remind us of Christ, the conqueror, who came to crush the serpent’s head!

Chapter 2 is focused on the sun, moon, planets, and eclipses. The chapter contains very nice explanations of the solar system, planetary orbits, moon phases, and eclipses. It also offers suggestions of how to find the other planets in our solar system in the night sky.

Chapter 3 explains galaxies and explores our own galaxy, the Milky Way. (If you have never been in a place where you can see the Milky Way, try to do so with your children. It is awe-inspiring and beautiful. Pictures of the Milky Way are beautiful, but they do not do it justice!)

Chapter 4 discusses auroras, more commonly called “northern lights” in the northern hemisphere, and “southern lights” in the southern hemisphere. It offers an easy-to-understand explanation of how and why these lights appear in the sky.

The afterword sheds additional light on the parallels between the night sky and the predictions that a conqueror/redeemer would be born of a virgin in order to defeat Satan. It concludes with, “we now know that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of this prediction. May we honor Him!” (p. 21)

This book would be an interesting study for an older Sunday Church School class, perhaps in a series of “creation appreciation” lessons or just for something different from the usual lesson. It is written at a level that will be difficult for younger students to understand. However, teachers of younger students could use the book as a resource, sharing some of the pictures along with a paraphrased explanation of some of the information, at the class’ level. Students who enjoy learning about the natural world will benefit from studying this book!

Let us not just notice the sky; let us take the time to really look at it, and to marvel at God’s greatness, which is so clearly exhibited there, and let us encourage our students to do the same! Sacred Sky will help us help our students to be better able to ponder how the sky has helped people, even from ancient times, to learn about Christ. The book will help us to find some of the constellations that pointed to Him, and wonder at the fact that “the heavens declare the Glory of God,” for they have helped people to learn about Him for millenia. As we take the time to be still beneath the sky and look, it can point us to Christ, as well.

Learn more about author Lois Clymer and order her book from her website: http://www.locateconstellations.com/

Here are a few links that can also help you learn more about the sky. Some of these are found in the book Sacred Sky.
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Sunday Church School teachers who share “Sacred Sky” with their older students in a lesson on the wonder of God’s creation in the sky may want to help their students create their own star wheel. The students can then see where the stars are in the sky at any given day/time. Find a printable one at http://www.aosny.org/Starwheel.pdf
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This website may be a good resource for additional material to teach older students about the sky. Although it is not Orthodox-created, we can learn a lot from what is found here, and then share it with our students. Learn more at http://classicalastronomy.com/
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Teachers of younger Sunday Church School students who would like to use a few of the ideas from “Sacred Sky” to help their students appreciate this part of God’s creation may find suggestions of fun activities to do with your students at http://www.mykidsadventures.com/discover-astronomy-for-kids/. The page suggests additional books to read, a snack to make, and other activities that can help the students to learn more about the sky and stars.
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If your students particularly enjoy learning about constellations, you may want to recommend one or both of these books by H. A. Rey:
The Stars: A New Way to See Them (https://www.amazon.com/Stars-New-Way-See-Them/dp/0544763440/)
and/or
Find the Constellations (https://www.amazon.com/Find-Constellations-H-Rey/dp/0544763424/)
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After sharing “Sacred Sky” with your older students, invite them to respond with this simple activity: ask which of the constellations they liked learning about the most? Offer black paper, star stickers, and a piece of chalk, and invite them to draw that constellation. Then ask them to share (verbally or in writing) what they liked about the constellation, and how it points them to Christ.
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The book “Sacred Sky” can help us to better appreciate that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” (Ps. 18:1) Create a classroom art display with that theme. Post the verse on a wall in your classroom. Surround it with pictures of the sky (that you’ve taken or found in magazines), or with sky-themed artwork that your students create. Here are a few suggestions of ways to artistically represent the sky: https://www.adventure-in-a-box.com/painting-space-watercolours-kids/; https://buggyandbuddy.com/starry-night-sky-art/; or http://homeschoolingtoday.com/article/nebula-chalk-art-tutorial/

 

Several Divine Liturgy Resources for Young Children

We have previously shared the lovely board book “What Do You See at Liturgy?” by Kristina Kallas-Tartara. As we mentioned in that blog post, the book consists of a gentle rhyme paired with pictures of what a child will see when they go to the Divine Liturgy. We continue to recommend this book as a helpful tool to help little ones enter into the service when their attention needs to be redirected.

Recently, it came to our attention that Kristina has written a second beautiful board book for young children, and that she has created other useful resources as well. The second book she has written is called “What Can I Do at Liturgy?” It carefully walks a child through the liturgy, emphasizing the things that they can do. Too often, children experience the “can’ts” in church. It is easy for us adults to slip into “can’t” mode when shepherding young ones through the Liturgy. We say things like, “No, you can’t run around right now; You can’t go out for a fifth drink of water; You can’t make siren noises as you pretend to put out the fires you see;” etc. This book offers us the opportunity to find and encourage the “cans.” Every page is full of pictures and suggestions of all that children CAN do (and SHOULD do) during the Liturgy. From lighting a candle to signing themselves with the cross to communing to looking at icons to singing, praying, and sharing. This book is packed full of suggestions of things that the children can do in the liturgy! Here is an example: one spread shows a series of Orthodox children, each doing part of the sign of the cross. 26805494_10213524190090905_3951597830320811227_nThey’re ordered sequentially, and using a hand that young readers will mirror to correctly make the sign of the cross. (What a brilliant idea, to use the left hands of the children in the photos so that the readers will naturally mirror it and use their right hand!) We highly recommend this beautiful and useful book to any parent, godparent, or Sunday Church School teacher who is helping young children to more fully participate in the divine services.

The author has another fine resource which we recently discovered. She used the photos that were taken to create her two charming books to create an Orthodox “memory” game! The durable “chunky” photo cards can be utilized in a variety of ways. Parents and teachers can employ the cards for vocabulary review, to play a matching game, or to play a number of other games. Directions for 6 different games and 4 fun classroom activities are included with the card set. This little set of cards will be used again and again by families and Sunday Church School teachers. They offer a fun way to learn, and are yet another way to “bring home the faith” with children.

And last, but not least, Kristina Kallas-Tartara has a blog called “Raising Orthodox Christians”. Its byline is “Helping Children Experience the Orthodox Faith”. On this site, you will find activities, lessons, recipes, and more. Parents and teachers will find ideas for educating their children and students at this site, and may want to follow the blog so as not to miss new resources that she posts! Check out her blog site here: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/

We hope that you find these resources helpful. What other Liturgy resources for small children do you recommend to the community?

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If you missed the blog post introducing “What Do You See at Liturgy?”, find it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/a-handful-of-helpful-books-for-children/
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Find Kristina Kallas-Tartara’s book “What do You See at Liturgy?” here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/196402444/what-do-you-see-at-liturgy-orthodox .

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Kristina Tartara’s book “What Can I Do at Divine Liturgy?” is available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/466843238/what-can-i-do-at-divine-liturgy-orthodox

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In case you missed it, a few years ago we shared some thoughts on how important it is for children to be part of the Divine Liturgy in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/the-work-of-the-people-includes-children/
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In case you missed it, this blog post offers ideas of ways to help children participate in the Divine Liturgy: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/05/18/on-helping-children-to-participate-in-the-divine-liturgy/

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To purchase the Orthodox Matching Game, visit: https://www.etsy.com/listing/476655247/my-orthodox-matching-game

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