Category Archives: Educational Resource

Brain-Based Education and Quantum Learning Core Concept 2: Atmosphere

This post is the third in a series of blogs focusing on the comprehensive model of education called “brain-based learning” and the Quantum Learning method that most effectively applies that model. It is our hope that this series will help you to learn more about both the model and the method. Utilizing this methodology in Sunday Church school lessons will enable teachers to heighten the learning ability of each student in their class.

 

In this part of our series on the brain-based learning program, Quantum Learning, we will explore the first of the five core concepts in this method of teaching. (If you missed our introduction to the program, you can find it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2020/03/13/brain-based-education-and-quantum-learning-an-introduction/. Brain-based learning is a teaching methodology based on research that helps teachers to be more effective while also helping students to learn in the best way possible.) The five core components of the Quantum Learning System are Foundation, Atmosphere, Environment, Design, and Delivery. All five of these components work together, but even if you are only able to implement one of them in your Sunday Church school class, you and your students will greatly benefit.

This post will take a closer look at the second core concept, “Atmosphere.” In this context, the “atmosphere” of a classroom is not a physical aspect of the room. It is, rather, the general feeling that everyone in the room – teacher included – senses while there. This atmosphere of a classroom is critical to quality and quantity of the learning that can happen therein.

When the atmosphere of a classroom is optimal for learning, the following happens:
The students in the class feel that they are supported and that this is a safe place for them to be. Those in the classroom feel strongly that they belong there. The teacher sets a tone that implies that work will be done, but they do so in a comfortable and motivating way. Everyone in the classroom is working to develop their character, which in turn grows respect and rapport between students and between students and the teacher. Effort is acknowledged, every time that it is put forth, and learnings and achievements are all celebrated.

In any classroom seeking to be successful, but perhaps especially in the Sunday Church school classroom, the atmosphere should be full of joy. The teachers or catechists in a joy-filled Church school class aim to create a sense of community, and koinonia, or fellowship, in their classroom. One way they do so is by showing genuine interest in each student, caring and respecting each of them, and encouraging the students to respond to everyone else in the same way. If each person in the classroom is growing in the “Eight Keys” (the virtues), their growth will help to set such mutual respect in motion. Although the room should have a relaxed atmosphere, students should still be able to pray reverently. The “opening prayer” before each lesson should set a tone of holiness for the forthcoming lesson. Each lesson should contain joy and wonder. Catechists (and students alike) in a joyful class should acknowledge every effort that is made in the classroom and celebrate all learning and achievement.

The atmosphere of your classroom includes the way that you choose to speak to and with your students. It is heavily influenced by your rapport with them. Your personal attitude about Church, Church school and even about learning itself will all contribute to (or detract from, depending on your attitude!) the atmosphere of your classroom. If you work to grow an atmosphere of joy in your Sunday Church school classroom, you will create an atmosphere of joyful learning for both you and your students!

In the future, we will be taking a closer look at the other core components of the Quantum Learning system, and offering ways to apply this method in your Church school lessons.

 

Here are some links related to the atmosphere of a classroom:

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As we wrote before, extending hospitality to our students is a very important way to work towards a healthy atmosphere in our classroom. Here’s what we wrote before, in case you missed it: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/09/20/pursuing-church-school-success-offering-hospitality-in-the-classroom/

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This Methodist-created document offers teachers a few important things to consider when planning for the atmosphere of their classroom. It suggests that students will respond best if “a friendly voice calls; everyone knows my name; there is a place for me at the table; I feel comfortable here; (and) God is in this safe place.” Read more about each of those learning-enhancing student impressions here: https://nccumc.org/christianformation/files/Classroom-Environment.pdf

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“I learned that it was up to me to be happy. It wasn’t up to my students to make me happy, or my coworkers, or anybody else. Being happy was my job. So what if this year was a little tough? I needed to roll with it, continue to love my students, and move on. I needed to CHOOSE to be happy.” Read more about teacher Teresa Kwant’s decision to face time with her class, including 5 practical ways in which a teacher can choose happiness, here: https://teresakwant.com/choose-to-be-happy-teacher/

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Check out the practical suggestions for improving the atmosphere of your classroom through classroom climate, stress reduction, and individual differences as suggested here: https://thesecondprinciple.com/optimal-learning/brain-based-education/

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Boost  your students’ achievement by focusing on two of these ten boosters which are related to the atmosphere of your classroom. Booster #3 (Connections) and #7 (Engagement) will both help toward that end: http://www.jensenlearning.com/survey/Top-10-Boosters-Student-Achievement.pdf

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“Building rapport and safety takes intention, compassion and risk on your part… The Quantum Teaching way suggests that from Day One, we get out from behind our content and policy, and just get to know our students and build rapport with them. It’s part of establishing an open, effective atmosphere…” (pp. 25-26) If you are interested in implementing the Quantum Learning Method in your classroom, you’ll find an entire chapter dedicated to the concept of Atmosphere in “Quantum Teaching: Orchestrating Student Success”  by Bobbi DePorter, Mark Reardon, and Sarah Singer-Nourie, published by Allyn and Bacon in 1999. It is available for sale here https://www.amazon.com/Quantum-Teaching-Orchestrating-Student-Success/dp/020528664X

 

A Handful of New Resources

We have recently come across a handful of new resources that can help Orthodox parents and educators as they instruct the children in their lives. We thank the authors for sharing electronic copies of these resources with us. We are sharing the resources with you in the order in which they came to our attention. We hope that you find them helpful as you instruct our young brothers and sisters in the Faith.

 

Philo and the SuperHolies VBS

 

https://www.mireillemishriky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Philo-Commercial.mp4?_=1 

Fans of Mireille Mishriky’s “Philo” books will be delighted to know that she has collaborated with Shereen Marcus (of Bridges to Orthodoxy) and they have created a SuperHolies-themed Vacation Church School program. This five-day program provides its purchasers with videos, crafts and activities, lesson plans including Bible stories, saint stories, and memory verses, and even “parent recap cards” that can further the children’s learning as parents ask additional questions about each day’s experience.

Each VCS session focuses one one or two SuperHolies each day. (If you are not familiar with them, the “SuperHolies” are the fruits of the Spirit). The session begins with a video featuring Philo and his “Super Challenge” of the day. The children are invited to help Philo to use a Fruit (or two) of the Spirit to help him overcome his challenge, and that Fruit, that SuperHoly, is the focus for the entire day’s session. Every session also contains a saint’s story and a passage or story from the Scriptures.

The program is designed to include two small group sessions for the children. In one, they’ll learn about an Orthodox saint who is struggling with a challenge similar to Philo’s. In the other, they’ll focus on a passage from the Scriptures that is also related to that struggle. There are planned activities, discussion suggestions, and even crafts that will support this learning. The goal of the day is to help Philo figure out what to do about his Super Challenge.

The program includes suggestions for each day’s opening and closing large group sessions (including the video of Philo’s Super Challenge of the day); two small group session lesson plans for K-1st, 2nd-3rd, and 4th-5th for each day; extra ideas (including game suggestions, songs, and videos) and the printable Parent Recap card for each of the 5 days.

Find more information here: https://bridgestoorthodoxy.com/collections/pathways

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Divine Liturgy Guide

Gina Govender has developed a Divine Liturgy book that can help children to follow along with key portions of the Liturgy. “The Divine Liturgy: A Guide for Orthodox Children” was illustrated by Althea Botha, and has been endorsed by Archbishop Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The intent of this book is to provide children with instructions so that they can easily follow along in the Divine Liturgy. At the beginning of the book, a section called “The Meaning of the Divine Liturgy”, talks children through the liturgy and encourages them to look for ways that each part of the liturgy points to the life of Christ. The pages that follow walk the children through the liturgy by including actual portions of the liturgical text illustrated by a colorful watercolor-and-ink picture. These portions of the liturgy are shared in the book: Commencement, Prayers for Peace, the Little Entrance, the Readings, the Great Entrance, Spiritual Prayers, the Creed, the Mystical Supper, the Invocation & Sanctification, Supplication, the Lord’s Prayer, Holy Communion, Prayer of Thanksgiving, and the Dismissal.

The acknowledgements page of the book encourages parents of the readers to bring their children to church, even if they are wiggly and noisy. After all, “The presence of children is a gift to the Church and a reminder that our community is growing. As Christ said, ‘Let the children come to me.’” This book can help to welcome the children and involve them in the liturgy.

Inquire about purchasing the book here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/SAHETI-Pre-Primary-and-Playschool-PTA-154113824686210/shop/ (Notes: the price noted is listed in South African Rands, and at the time of this post, equals slightly less than $15, not including shipping/handling. The book is a fundraiser for upgrades at a Hellenic playschool/pre-primary school in Senderwood, South Africa.)

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Super Secret TreeHouse Bible Club and the Prophet Micaiah

Author Mireille Mishriky has introduced a brand new series of children’s picture books! “The Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club” will take children on an adventure with a group of children who are struggling with the virtues. Along the way, the children in the Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club will get to know some of the lesser-known saints from the Bible. The first book, “The Super-Secret TreeHouse Bible Club and the Prophet Micaiah” walks alongside Marina, Theodore, and Marcorios as they learn why it takes courage to be honest, and how God blesses people who tell the truth.

Marina isn’t sure what to do because her friend encouraged her to lie, or she would no longer be her friend. Theo doesn’t know how to LIVE the Bible, as their priest said in his homily. Marco also doesn’t know how they can possibly “…not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”, but he suggests that they begin by praying. And so, they do.

A bird appears as they pray, and it helps them find a story in the scriptures about the prophet Michaiah, who told the truth when hundreds of others were lying. It landed him in jail. But in the end, he was right, and if the kings had listened to him and obeyed his words instead of the ones they wanted to hear, they would have been spared much heartache. Marina makes a secret wish, and the bird helps it to come true: the children get to meet the prophet Michaiah, who appears in their treehouse, and they ask him a few questions.

His wisdom helps Marina know what to do, and the book ends on a positive note as Marina and her friend Sarah come clean on what happened.

This book is available as an ebook, and you will find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Super-Secret-Treehouse-Prophet-Micaiah-ebook/dp/B085TBL5XH/

 

Brain-Based Education and Quantum Learning Core Concept 1: Foundation

This post is the second in a series of blogs focusing on the comprehensive model of education called “brain-based learning” and the Quantum Learning method that most effectively applies that model. It is our hope that this series will help you to learn more about both the model and the method. Utilizing this methodology in Sunday Church school lessons will enable teachers to heighten the learning ability of each student in their class.

In this part of our series on the brain-based learning program, Quantum Learning, we will explore the first of the five core concepts in this method of teaching. (If you missed our introduction to the program, you can find it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2020/03/13/brain-based-education-and-quantum-learning-an-introduction/. Brain-based learning is a teaching methodology based on research that helps teachers to be more effective while also helping students to learn in the best way possible.) The five core components of the Quantum Learning System include Foundation, Atmosphere, Environment, Design, and Delivery. All five of these components work best together, but even if you are only able to implement one of them in your Sunday Church school class, it will benefit both you and your students.

This post will take a closer look at the very first core concept, which the Quantum Learning Method calls “Foundation.” In this context, Foundation refers to the context or culture of the classroom. A classroom that is utilizing the Quantum Learning program has at its Foundation the aim of aligning the teacher and the students with a common goal: a learning experience that is successful and positive.

What can we do to make this happen? How can we reach this goal? The Quantum Learning System suggests that students’ and teachers’ goals align when together we create, communicate, and implement clear procedures and rules. Students in a classroom with clear procedures and rules know what is expected and can thus better function in class. This common Foundation prepares students to work towards particular values, while also making them aware of the goals that are set not just for themselves but also for their teacher. The classroom’s culture becomes one based on high expectations, and students rise to the occasion. When classroom procedures and the intentions for interactions are clear, the learning environment is greatly enhanced.

The Quantum Learning System offers several elements that guide the building of a solid Foundation in your classroom. A shared purpose will bring the classroom community together from day 1, and everything else will build on that purpose. Shared principles and values will help the community to support each other in working toward that purpose. Believing in each other’s abilities to learn strengthens the community. And finally, agreeing together on clear policies, procedures, and rules creates an environment that encourages learning and growth.

Quantum Learning recommends setting the purpose of the class with a clear statement, at the very beginning of the year. (For example, “By the end of the year, our goal is that everyone here will be able to explain why each of the major feasts of the Church year is an important part of our Orthodox Christian life.”) Teachers using the Quantum Learning System will enthusiastically transmit this purpose, and coach their students toward that end throughout their time together. Students and teachers alike are continually wondering “what’s in it for me?”, and this purpose begins to answer that recurring question.

Once the purpose of the class has been clearly communicated, it is time to build on that foundation. The 8 Keys of Excellence character principles set the tone for the classroom and act as shared standards which are essential to a successful learning environment. The Keys improve learning for everyone because both students and teachers operating under them feel cherished and respected. The Keys include: Integrity (acting in line with our values); Failure Leads to Success (learning from our mistakes); Speak with Good Purpose (speaking only honestly and kindly); This is it (maximizing our time); Commitment (taking positive steps towards making dreams happen); Ownership (accepting responsibility for our actions); Flexibility (changing the way we approach things if needed); and Balance (nurturing our whole self). These keys fit very well with the virtues which we are always aiming to live by in our Orthodox Christian life. Because of this, they should already be implemented in our Church school classroom. Let us take a moment to look closely at each key and see what we are doing to help our students (and ourselves!) live up to them, and how we can improve. It is important to incorporate the Keys into lessons whenever possible, to help students to see that they’re not just a “stand-alone lesson about a virtue”, but rather that they keep showing up all of the time, because they are actually an important part of our daily life. (Perhaps it would be helpful to create a set of physical keys out of poster board to hang on the classroom wall, as a reminder to ourselves and our students of this Foundation.)

Once our common purpose is established, and we are implementing the 8 Keys, it is important that everyone (both teachers and students) take a scrutinizing look at what we believe about learning and teaching. If we teachers come into a classroom believing that we or our students are not up to a task, we will be less successful in teaching them. If, instead, we choose to carry ourselves with confidence and to teach our students with the expectation they are able to learn what we’re teaching them, it will improve their success. This is an attitude adjustment, but not only that: it may also require physical actions, such as asides that point out to the student(s) what it is that successful students do in order to be successful (for example: “Successful students sit near the front of the room so that they can hear and see what is being taught. Because I know that you can learn this and that you want to grow towards our purpose of becoming more like Christ, I welcome you to sit in the front next Sunday.”). It is imperative that our students know that we truly believe in them and their ability to learn, and it is important that we find ways to communicate that belief to them.

The final piece that creates a successful classroom Foundation is establishing clear parameters and expectations. Clarity in agreements, policies, procedures, and rules gives everyone in the learning community a sense of security and reduces the fear that accompanies the unknown. In addition to being clearly communicated, each of these should have clear guidelines for action if they are not followed, and all should be created and agreed upon by the entire learning community.

This core concept of Foundation is an excellent way to build a classroom based on brain-based learning. But it is not simply a static event or experience: it is a continual process. Classrooms that are utilizing the Quantum Learning System will continually be pointing to their purpose; constantly building the 8 Keys in their life; daily expecting the best success from themselves and each other; and repeatedly revisiting and reclarifying their agreements, policies, procedures, and rules. A classroom with this sort of foundation at its base sets itself up for mutual encouragement and learning success.

In future weeks, we will be taking a closer look at the other four core components of the Quantum Learning system, and offering ways to apply this method in your Church school lessons.

Here are some links related to this component:

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“Foundation is the framework: the shared purpose, beliefs, agreements, policies, procedures and rules that give you and your students the guidelines for operating within your learning community.” (p. 14) If you are interested in implementing the Quantum Learning Method in your classroom, you’ll find an entire chapter dedicated to the concept of Foundation in “Quantum Teaching: Orchestrating Student Success”  by Bobbi DePorter, Mark Reardon, and Sarah Singer-Nourie, published by Allyn and Bacon in 1999. It is available for sale here https://www.amazon.com/Quantum-Teaching-Orchestrating-Student-Success/dp/020528664X

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Find more details about each of the 8 Keys of Excellence at this web page. Each key is fleshed out, including a series of introspective questions that will help students and teacher alike to consider how well they are living up to this key.  https://www.8keys.org/8keys_defined.aspx

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Read more about the 8 Keys and about working together as a class to develop classroom procedures and agreements, in order to form a better foundation for your classroom, in this blog post: http://www.quantumlearning.com/qleblog/excerpts-excellence-teaching-learning-quantum-learning-system/

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“Your students are generally terrible at making the “mental bridges” that link X behavior with Y outcomes. For example, when they put out extra effort, they don’t know that it sets the trend for a lifelong habit of persistence. Attribution, linking what they do to what they get or will get in the future turns out to have a sky-high effect…” p. 4-5 of this document speaks to building bridges by valuing goals (such as the purpose stated in a classroom’s Foundation) and daily pointing students back to that goal. This process helps students to see “what’s in it for me” and how what you are currently learning is relevant to their life. http://www.jensenlearning.com/survey/Top-10-Boosters-Student-Achievement.pdf

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“There are many ways to build grit. Create a common vocabulary for it. Tell kids what it is, and what it is not. ‘Doing THAT shows me a lot of grit!’ Reinforce it every time you see a student pushing through obstacles. ‘I love the way you’re being so gritty with that task.’ Use reflection when ‘grit drops.’ How? You help them connect their values to the task to infuse new energy and effort for success.” pp. 9-10 of this document discuss the “nitty-gritty”, and suggests ways to encourage your students to connect their values with their work. (And there is an object lesson suggestion included that, if you do it, your students will never forget the value of bouncing back and trying again when something does not go right the first time!) http://www.jensenlearning.com/survey/Top-10-Boosters-Student-Achievement.pdf

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Brain-Based Education and Quantum Learning: an Introduction

This post is the first in a series of blogs focusing on the comprehensive model of education called “brain-based learning” and the Quantum Learning method that most effectively applies that model. It is our hope that this series will help you to learn more about both the model and the method. Utilizing this methodology in Sunday Church school lessons will enable teachers to heighten the learning ability of each student in their class.

Brain-based learning is a learning model that combines many educational theories into one comprehensive package. Lozalnov’s Accelerated Learning; Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences; Grinder and Bandler’s Neuro-Linguistic Programming; Hahn’s Experiential Learning; Socratic Inquiry; Johnson and Johnson’s Cooperative Learning; and Hunter’s Elements of Effective Instruction are all blended in this learning model. Because so many different theories work together in unison in this model, students in a classroom where the model is applied find meaning and relevancy in the content that they are learning.

And it is not just the students who benefit! Teachers who apply the brain-based learning model find joy in teaching, because it creates engaging content, it increases moments of discovery, and it blends learning with life skills. All of this shapes students and teachers alike into life-long learners, and it is a joy to be around people who WANT to learn! Brain-based learning also features teaching strategies that are more likely to permanently implant the information into students’ long-term memory, so they are not just temporarily engaging with the ideas.

Quantum Learning is a program based on the brain-based learning model. This research-based educational methodology increases the effectiveness of the teacher while simultaneously enhancing student performance through the cooperation of these five core components: Foundation, Atmosphere, Environment, Design, and Delivery. This program takes everything into account: the classroom, the curriculum’s design, and how the curriculum is presented. The program embraces the intentional use of music, pays attention even to peripherals, closely scrutinizes presentations, and promotes active engagement.

Quantum Learning recognizes that the whole student must be involved in order for genuine learning to take place, so it focuses on this simple directive: “Theirs to Ours, Ours to Theirs.” In other words, we teachers need to enter our students’ world first before we can begin to teach them. Building authentic bridges between ourselves and our students is imperative, because we need to make a connection with something from their life before they will be able to learn. When we are able to connect like that in the lesson’s introduction, that connection becomes a “hook”. It allows the gap between us to be bridged, and at that point, the student is ready to learn. In the Quantum Teaching model, we teachers must at this point prepare ourselves to learn together with our students. We will know that our students are successfully learning when they grab hold of what we are learning together and begin to apply it for themselves.

There are five tenets of Quantum Learning, and all of them require intense teacher attentiveness:

  1. Everything “speaks” (including the classroom, any handouts used, each person’s body language, and – of course – the presentation itself)
  2. Everything is on purpose (the intention for the lesson, and the goal)
  3. Experience before label (complex stimulation will create a “need to know” in students)
  4. Acknowledge every effort (find positive ways to respond to every effort in the classroom)
  5. Celebrate learning (anything that is worth learning is also worth celebrating)

Quantum Learning requires intentional teaching, commanding a fair amount of prior thought and careful planning. If we really want our students to learn all that they are able to learn in Sunday Church school, it is worth the extra effort both to learn how to apply this methodology and then to actually do so.

Take a moment to think about everything that each student is learning in their life right now. Nothing is more important in the long run than what we are teaching them (and learning along with them).  Our class is not just about great ideas or lifelong skills: we are learning eternity-long skills. Because of the importance of what we’re teaching, it is imperative that we find the best way to reach each child, and to learn alongside them. Quantum Teaching will help us to build bridges between ourselves and our students, enabling us to maximize the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. We will all be better for having applied it.

 

In future weeks, we will be taking a closer look at the core components of the the Quantum Learning system, and suggesting ways to apply this method in your Church school lessons.

Here are some links related to Brain-based learning and Quantum Teaching:

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Today, more and more teachers are basing their interactions with students on the field of brain-based learning instruction, which the CogniFit article “Brain based learning: What is it and how to apply it” describes as a new educational discipline that “unites the knowledge of neuroscience, psychology, and education, with the objective to optimize the learning and teaching process.” Its effects have been powerful in classrooms all over the world.

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“Anyone working in education knows the importance of finding the most effective way to impart knowledge. Brain-based learning is an advanced teaching method that aims to increase the speed and efficiency of learning.” Read more of this article on brain-based learning, including principles that will help you to improve your students’ learning: ttps://www.classcraft.com/blog/features/what-is-brain-based-learning/
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“There have been teachers of all sorts for centuries, but until the past 20 or so years they all had something in common—their teaching wasn’t based on detailed knowledge of how brains work.” Read this article so that your teaching can be different from theirs!  https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/10-benefits-brain-based-learning-instruction

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Find the history of brain-based learning; some of its core principles, as well as implications and suggestions for optimizing learning in this article: https://thesecondprinciple.com/optimal-learning/brain-based-education-an-overview/

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A very helpful book for applying the Quantum Teaching and Learning model is “Quantum Teaching: Orchestrating Student Success”, by Bobbi DePorter, Mark Reardon, and Sarah Singer-Nourie, published by Allyn and Bacon in 1999. It can be found for sale here: https://www.amazon.com/Quantum-Teaching-Orchestrating-Student-Success/dp/020528664X

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Khouria Terry Rogers, a retired teacher, used the Quantum Learning method when she was teaching, and she has written that this method is “extremely effective and [a] positive model for presenting material to learners.” She felt so strongly about it that, in addition to teaching in a classroom, she was a trainer/facilitator for the Quantum Learning method. You can read more about the method, and about Kh. Terry’s use of Quantum Learning in her classroom in this article: http://www.qln.com/downloads/nashvilleparentqlarticle_2.pdf

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On Ideas for Lessons with a Winter Theme

Several years ago, we offered ideas for Sunday Church school lessons with wintery themes. It offers lesson ideas for a variety of ages, and includes activities, crafts, and a handful of related experiments. If you missed it, you may be glad to check out that blog post here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/on-winter-fun-and-learning/

We have found a few additional ideas that we thought perhaps would be of interest to the community, and we will share them here. They could be incorporated into a Sunday Church school lesson, or could be blended into an interesting winter retreat if your Church school has one.

What other winter-themed ideas do you have to share with the community?

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Here are a variety of suggestions of activities that you can do with young children to help them to learn that God has made them unique, like snowflakes: https://www.mrsjonescreationstation.com/god-made-me-unique-like-snowflake/
While it was written for a “mom and me” type group, some of the ideas could be used in a Church school setting.

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Did you know that snow is mentioned at least 25 times in the New King James Version of the Scriptures? Find all 25 here: https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=snow&qs_version=NKJV If you’re going to do a winter-themed lesson, you could begin by sending your Sunday Church school students on a hunt through the Bible, looking up a handful of these verses and trying to find the commonality between them…

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Here is a colorful art idea that uses bleeding tissue paper, watercolor paper, and snow. It could be used in a lesson that includes Isaiah 55:10, ““For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater…” Just like the rain and snow make the earth blossom and seed, this snowy art activity “blooms” on the watercolor paper. https://www.firefliesandmudpies.com/snowy-day-tissue-paper-art/

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These craft and game ideas for a variety of ages of children could be helpful for a winter-themed lesson or retreat: https://childrensministry.com/winter-activities/

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We have referred to this mom’s blog in a previous post, but she has since created additional winter-related, Biblically-themed object lessons, and published them here: https://cherigamble.com/2017/02/19/more-cool-and-easy-bible-object-lessons-experiments-for-cold-winter-days/

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Find winter-themed math, science, sensory, and craft ideas which could be helpful as you plan a winter themed lesson or retreat, here: https://www.parents.com/fun/activities/outdoor/snow-activities-kids/ (Note: these are not religiously-themed, but we thought they looked worthy of consideration for teachers preparing for a wintery lesson.)

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Gleanings from a Book: “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be an Orthodox Christian in the plains of the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s? “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” offers a glimpse of the life of this immigrant who lived a faithful Orthodox Christian life in the American plains before there were churches available in the region. It follows Fr. Nicola through his immigration, his adjustment to life on the plains, his ordination, his intense years of service as a missionary priest, all the way to his departing from this life. American Orthodox Christians – especially those in the Antiochian Archdiocese – will do well to read this book, to expand their knowledge of the history of Orthodox Christianity in the United States.

Readers who have marveled at the experiences of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books will see some parallels in “Apostle to the Plains.” The Yanneys also lived in a sod house for a period of time while they were homesteading. Although the Ingalls family’s experiences preceded the Yanneys’ by some 20 years, and happened largely in different states, both families suffered illnesses and loss. There were times when each family struggled to attend school or church (because there was none, or it was far away). And despite their hard times, both families endeavored to do what was right and persevered with dogged determination.

A large portion of “Apostle to the Plains” is dedicated to recounting the missionary journeys and busy life of Fr. Nicola’s years as a traveling priest, and at points these chapters feel a bit overwhelming. Even with today’s technology and travel infrastructure, his months of travel and the few weeks at home in between trips would exhaust anyone. But when the reader remembers that his travels happened more than a century ago, with much slower communication and more tedious means of transportation, what he accomplished is truly astounding. Fr. Nicola and his family clearly loved God and took their calling to be a priest (and the priest’s family) very seriously, and they embraced the reality of what that entailed.

Fr. Nicola’s life was far from easy: he left his home in Lebanon at age 19, with his brand-new bride (whom he barely knew) shortly after their wedding and moved to far away Nebraska, where they had to adjust to new language and culture, different weather, and near isolation from family; and where there was no Orthodox Church. The book goes on to share their trials in homesteading, the joys of births and occasional clergy visits, the sorrows of losses and deaths in the family. When Fr. Nicola was ordained to the priesthood, he not only was in charge of the parish in their hometown of Kearney Nebraska, but he was also charged with being the missionary priest who visited Orthodox Christians all over the American plains.

A large section of the book follows Fr. Nicola’s travels. When he traveled, Fr. would hear people’s confessions, commune them, baptize those in need of baptism, marry young couples, and do all the priestly things for the Orthodox Christians who were scattered about the many parts of the plains of the United States. He always tried to be home again with his boys for Christmas and for Pascha (and often for all of Great Lent), but his travels kept him away from them and his home parish for months at a time every year. It was not an easy life for him or for his family, nor did it provide enough financial income.

Fr. Nicola was generous to a fault. Throughout his life, he raised money to share with others back home in Lebanon, and to fund local causes. He and the family generously hosted guests for Sunday luncheons. He traveled extensively, at great cost to himself and his family – and his being away from home made him unable to work and thus make additional income. So he and the family had very little financially. In fact, they had so little that even with re-mortgaging their home multiple times, he was unable to pay $140 in damages from a lawsuit that had been brought against him and his parish! Fr. Nicola gave and gave and gave of both his money and his time, and had very little on earth to show for his generosity.

Readers may be surprised to find that this book offers a glimpse into the life of St. Raphael of Brooklyn as well. The saintly bishop ordained Fr. Nicola, and Fr. Nicola was under his jurisdiction for the rest of Bishop Raphael’s life. Fr. Nicola supported, honored, and admired Bishop Raphael and was justifiably sad when he departed this life. The saint’s passing not only removed him from his position overseeing the Syrian Orthodox churches in America, it also brought great division to those churches. “Apostle to the Plains” explains this division in a way that helps modern American Orthodox Christians to learn more about some of the struggles in the history of our Church.

Fr. Nicola continued to care for his flock right up to the very end of his life. He visited and cared for his Spanish-flu-suffering parishioners in his hometown of Kearney just hours before his collapse and death from that same illness. His sudden passing was a shock to his parishioners, the entire Kearney community, and the Orthodox Christians across the plains whom he had served so diligently.

The Afterword of the book, titled “The Legacy of Father Nicola” is a powerful ending, as it helps the reader to ponder how well the servant of God Nicola Yanney ran his race. It encourages the reader to look beyond Fr. Nicola (and the entire Yanney family)’s struggles, to see the victories, and especially to note his faithfulness. Reading this after having read the book’s account of his life, the reader cannot help but be encouraged in their own life to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings… [that they] may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (from Phil. 3:10-11)

May Fr. Nicola Yanney’s memory be eternal!

You can purchase “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” as a paperback or an ebook here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/apostle-to-the-plains-the-life-of-father-nicola-yanney/

Find additional information about Fr. Nicola Yanney, including interviews, videos, and slide shows related to his life and his gifts to the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America; a map of the states that he served; and more at St. George Orthodox Christian Church (the parish that he helped to found in Kearney, Nebraska)’s website: https://www.saintgeorgekearney.com/reverend_nicola_yanney

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“He would soon be married, and he wanted Martha and their children to live in safety and peace… In America, he could make a new home not only for himself and Martha but also for his brothers. If they all worked together, Nicola could send enough money to make sure that their father would live the rest of his days in comfort, cared for by loved ones who would remain in their village. To do this, however, Nicola himself would have to leave home.” (p. 23,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“While Martha continued to refurbish the [sod] house, Nicola turned his attention to the rest of the homestead. He only had a few months to prepare. Both he and Martha had experienced light snowfalls in the foothills of Koura, but nothing had prepared them for winter on the open plains… In the worst weather, the family would be beyond the reach of help for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Stables and pens had to be built for their animals and more supplies had to be brought from town and stored for the winter in case the roads became impassable.” (p. 51,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Even without a church of their own, the Syrians celebrated Saint Simeon’s feast day together as they had back in Fi’eh, as well as Christmas, Pascha, and other holy days. Nicola especially desired to help the newcomers, knowing how difficult it was to keep his Orthodox faith in the foreign land, especially without a church or a priest. Though their gatherings were filled with folk songs, dancing, and food, Nicola always remembered to offer prayers and lead his friends in singing hymns, knowing that it was their faith that bound the small community together more than anything else.” (pp. 58-59,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The kindly priest was… interested to hear of Nicola’s education at the monastery school. One of the reasons for his cross-country tour was to find pious men who might be ordained to serve the scattered Orthodox Syrians. Hearing this, the Syrians suggested that Father Raphael meet the Yanneys… At nine o’clock in the evening, fifteen of the Yanneys’ friends piled into four wagons to accompany Father Raphael on the eighteen-mile trip to the homestead… As they drew near the farm, their singing and shouting grew louder. Several of the men drew out their pistols and fired shots into the air to wake their unsuspecting friends. The Yanneys came running out of their small home, astonished by what was happening, and fell at Father Raphael’s feet. The priest greeted them warmly.” (pp. 72-73,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“With no other Syrian Orthodox priest living within a thousand miles of Kearney, Father Nicola had to serve his daughter’s funeral… At the conclusion of the funeral, Father Nicola placed his priestly stole on Anna’s head and said the prayer of absolution. He had arrived too late to hear her confession or to give her Holy communion.” (p. 146,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“‘My dear Elias, may you be pleasing to God. Be the best version of yourself. Avoid crude and offensive talk. Do not joke coarsely or easily give your heart to others. Be conscientious of your health before anything else… I ask God’s special blessings on you, that you take care of your brothers and your fellow countrymen. Make me proud. Keep me posted about yourself and write me often so that I always know you are fine. I kiss your cheeks thousands and millions of times…’” ~ from a letter Fr. Nicola wrote to his son Elias (pp. 183,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“Though he had been tending to his parishioners only hours earlier, Father Nicola was confined to bed—unable to rise, his strength gone. By late that night, he knew that he was dying and had little time left. Motioning weakly, he beckoned his sons to his side. He had left them on their own so many times, and now he was leaving them once more. Calling Elias, John, and Moses close, Father Nicola said goodbye as he struggled for breath. As they leaned over their father, he gave them a final word by which he himself had tried to live, whispering, ‘Keep your hands and your heart clean.’”(p. 247,  “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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“The legacy of Father Nicola Yanney continues to this day… In him we see a worthy model of the Christian life—one who was faithful in adversity, steadfast in suffering, zealous in evangelism, and selfless in serving others. Through the daily sacrifice of his priesthood, Father Nicola laid down his life for his friends in imitation of his Master.” (pp. 266-267, “Apostle to the Plains: The Life of Father Nicola Yanney” by The Saint Raphael Clergy Brotherhood)

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More On House Blessings

Several years ago we wrote a blog containing ideas of ways to help our students learn more about house blessings. If you missed that post, check it out here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/time-for-house-blessings/. The post encourages us to prepare our students for their house blessing, talking them through the experience, and discussing its importance. The post offered multiple resources to help instruct the students about this important event in their home, several related craft ideas, and a link to a printable page that can help the students to prepare for their house blessing.

This year we did a bit more research into teaching about house blessings. We found several ideas that we thought perhaps would be helpful to the community. We are sharing them as an extension to our original post. So you may want to check out the original, then take a look at these additions, in order to maximize your options!

May the Lord bless each of us, and our students, and all of our families as we prepare our hearts and our home for our house blessing!

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This short video by the Orthodox Children’s Press shows young children some of the things needed for a house blessing. It “talks” them through the process, as well. (The words are included in the video, but they are unspoken, so non-readers will need to have the script on the screen read to them as the words are shown.) This video could be a good introduction and/or review for a lesson about house blessings. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8sAG4K9wE8

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Teachers of young children may find this information and lesson about Holy Theophany (which talks a bit about house blessings) helpful as they teach the children about this wonderful event. https://orthodoxpebbles.com/new-testament/holy-theophany/

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This site offers lessons geared for children around 6 years old. Lesson 16 of this module helps them to learn about Theophany and lesson 17 about house blessings. The plan is scheduled in the Church school year, long before the actual event in the Church year. Activities include planting their own basil so that the students will have basil leaves for their house blessing. https://www.followers-orthodox.com/3-6-years-infants/age-6-click-to-reveal/term-1-module-1/

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This lesson helps students ages 6-9 learn more about Theophany. It offers a craft idea for holy water that incorporates an icon of the baptism of Christ. http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/6-9-years-old/theophany

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Draw Near Designs offered a simple guide to prepare families for their house blessing, complete with a “map” of where on their prayer table to place each item needed for the blessing. They have also included ways to incorporate children in the preparation for the blessing. It may be helpful to review some of these with the students in your class as they prepare for their house blessing. Check out the post here: https://www.drawneardesigns.com/blog/2019/1/23/house-blessings?

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Print a copy of this prayer from the early Church for each student. Read through it together, and talk about we are asking God to do when we pray these words. Encourage your students to decorate the edges of the prayer, then mount that to colorful cardstock, backed with magnets so that they can put it on their fridge at home. It can be a good prayer to pray as they prepare for their house blessing, but it also is a good one to keep in view throughout the year, between house blessings!

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If your students enjoy drawing, perhaps you will want to invite them to illustrate their own copy of this prayer, in booklet form. Print this page for the text, and then cut each section of the prayer apart, creating 8 pieces (the cover, and seven pages). Fold two sheets of paper in half. Insert one folded page inside the other and staple them together, forming a booklet. Glue each section of the prayer (beginning with the title, on the front cover) into the booklet, in the order that they’re in the prayer. Provide drawing/coloring tools so that your students can illustrate each part of the prayer on its corresponding page. Encourage them to share their finished booklets with each other so that they can see how their classmates illustrated the same words, but likely in a different way. Students can take these booklets home to share with their family and remind them to pray for God’s blessing on their home.

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