Category Archives: Resources

Brain-Based Education and Quantum Learning Core Concept 4: Lesson Design

This post is the fifth 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 fourth of the five core concepts in this method of teaching. (If you missed our introduction to the program, you can find it here: 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 takes a quick look at the fourth core concept of the system, “Design.” The Quantum Learning method of teaching seeks to design dynamic lessons. That is to say, lessons that keep the brain in mind, gleans from its resources, and makes purposeful connections. Lessons designed in such a way make it possible for everyone in the room to learn to the very best of their ability. Teachers whose classrooms embrace Brain-Based Education design their lessons to increase student buy-in/interest while also tapping into students’ prior knowledge. A lesson designed with these goals in mind will greatly increase the students’ ability to understand and retain the information that comes their way. Developing conceptual understanding helps the students to then transfer their learning to real life, and apply it to actual situations which they encounter. Teachers also design their lessons in a way that invites their students to participate in activities that show their knowledge, which allows them to accurately assess their students’ progress.

In the Quantum Learning classroom, the lessons are carefully designed with these goals in mind:

  1. Create student buy-in, which makes the student more receptive to learning.
  2. Find ways to access the students’ understanding of the world, in order to make lessons relevant and personally meaningful to them.
  3. Instruct in different ways by varying both the content structure and the way it is presented.
  4. Find ways to facilitate reinforcements and reviews of what is learned, checking the students’ understanding of what is being taught.
  5. Continually put a positive spin on learning.

When we design lessons that invite our students to call to mind their own experience before we offer them new information and/or labels for things, we are properly using the “design” core concept of the Quantum Learning method. Khouriya Terry Rogers once wrote about this teaching methodology, and related this core concept to our Orthodox Christian life. She said, “Think about [it] even as babes, we experience worship long before we can put a name to it!” Welcoming our students to settle new information into an understandable, relevant context attaches that information to the student’s schema (the way they see and make sense of the world). At the same time, instruction designed in this way encourages positive states of learning and inquiry, and connects the student’s world to what they are learning.

The Quantum Learning teaching method incorporates the following into lesson design: the brain-considering elements: EEL DR C, or Enroll, Experience, Label, Demonstrate, Review, and Celebrate. We will take a closer look at these elements at a later time. Even just at a glance, however, it is evident that there is an invitation for students to access what they already know in order to make room for new information. One can also see an implied expectation that teachers make the learning memorable and fun. (The Quantum Learning model suggests that if something is worth learning, it is worth celebrating!)

In the remaining posts about Brain-Based Education, we will be taking a closer look at the fifth core component of the Quantum Learning system, then offering ways to apply this method in your Church school lessons.


Here are some links related to Lesson Design:


This article offers suggestions of ways to optimize learning by using Brain-Based Education. Some of the suggestions can and should be incorporated into lesson design. For example, “Whenever possible, make what you teach relevant to the lives of your students.” (from suggestion #7, “Accessing Prior Knowledge”) and “If you want students to remember something, make it memorable.” (from suggestion #16, “Memory-Enhancing Activities”) Read more about each here:


“Many students walk into a class asking the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ While that question may seem a bit selfish and even harsh, put yourself in their shoes. A survey was done with over 81,000 kids. Over half of them said that the only reason they were in school was that 1) it’s the law, and 2) their friends are there Yazzie-Mintz, 2007). This speaks quite loudly to the challenges we all have as educators to make our curriculum relevant…” from booster #9, titled “Relevance”, found in this article of 10 boosters for student achievement:


“The prime directive of Quantum Teaching lies in your ability to close the gap between our world and theirs. This enables you to strengthen rapport, accomplish material faster, make learning more permanent, and ensure transfer… A gap exists between our world and theirs. With this gap in place, students can’t relate to us or see a WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) in our teaching… “ (p. 84), “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


“Our brains are meaning-making machines, searching for matches to previous experiences. ‘Most of our normal conceptual system is metaphorically structured; that is, most concepts are partially understood in terms of other concepts; (“Metaphors We Live By”, Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, p. 56).” (p. 102), “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

(The chapter goes on to encourage the use of metaphors, imagery, and suggestion to help make the necessary connections to previous experiences in our students’ brains.)


“No matter how we orchestrate the design of the learning, we always set students up – for something. Maybe we intend to do this, maybe we don’t, but the design always sets up the learning, risk, success, or failure that results. As you know, everything is on purpose, so in this case, how can your lesson design ensure their success?” (p. 86), “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


“With student success as your goal, remember these elements. First, when you introduce the content (the most difficult point for a learner), make sure you ALWAYS present it in a way that is

  • multi-sensory – use visual, auditory and kinesthetic elements
  • chunked down – break information into chunks of three to four ‘infobytes’ at a time, and
  • contains frequent review – throughout learning use review to ensure the brain’s storage of information. Then add a simple progression to the learning.”

(p. 87), “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


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: 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:


“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


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.


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:


“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.


“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!)



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:


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.


“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://

“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!


Find the history of brain-based learning; some of its core principles, as well as implications and suggestions for optimizing learning in this article:


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:


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:



Gleanings from a Book: “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker

“50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker is a general-education resource full of ideas and suggestions that will be helpful to any teacher, including Sunday Church school teachers. It is not a religiously-oriented book, but many of the suggestions of ways that teachers can better connect with their students honor those students (even the “difficult” ones) in a very godly, loving manner. Teachers who read this book will be challenged to be the best that they can, and will likely re-read it over the years, in order to continue improving.

The book offers simple suggestions of ways that teachers can improve the environment and interactions that take place within their classroom. The book is based on the premise that “you have to reach a student before you can teach him” (preface), and suggests 50 ways that teachers can best reach their students. The underlying premise is that students are more likely to behave and be engaged in a classroom where they are welcomed, their presence is desired, and they feel valued.

Ideas include: writing to students (and their parents) before the year even begins; greeting every student as they come into your classroom each day; learning about your students’ individual interests; being enthusiastic about what you are presenting in order to breed enthusiasm for learning; being humble enough to admit mistakes rather than covering them up; bragging on your students to others instead of using guilt trips to modify behavior; and much more. Each of the 50 ideas is presented in a bite-sized mini-chapter, including the reasoning behind the idea, how/why it works, points to ponder related to the idea, and classroom strategy(ies) for successful application of the concept.

Orthodox Christians reading this book will see the love of Christ shining through the suggestions that it offers. Teachers who read and implement this book will be honoring and loving their students in an even better, more godly way. Although it’s not “preachy” or religious, it engenders the application of the virtues within a classroom setting. Teachers who read this book from a Christian perspective will feel encouraged to become a more caring teacher, and thus better follow the loving, caring example of Christ.

“50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker can be found here:

Here are a few “gleanings” from the book, to give you a taste of the ideas therein:

“In a classroom where teachers separate themselves physically from their students, behavior suffers. Want a simple solution? Get out from behind your desk or podium and get right in the middle of your students and teach away! This simple act, on your part will send a message that you are ‘right in there’ with them.” (p. 14,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)


“When students think they have gotten you, you lose every time. When they begin pushing your buttons, there’s no stopping them. But wait a minute. Who showed them your buttons? You did… Students have to think that you are one of those teachers who just does not have any buttons… So what do you do when a student really aggravates you? …You maintain a calm, composed demeanor and deal with the misbehavior in a rational, controlled way.” (p. 45,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)


“In the classroom, we tend to see more of what we encourage… The very best teachers always ‘catch’ their students behaving, thus discouraging the students who are misbehaving. They know what to ignore and what to notice.” (p. 59,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)


“…take note of your actions and ask yourself if you are ever prone to intentionally embarrassing students in front of others. Do you single out students who are not paying attention so that everyone else can be made aware of that student’s lack of attention? …Do you ask for public apologies when a student has misbehaved in front of his peers? The list is endless, but we believe we have made our point… There simply is no justification for humiliation… We have yet to meet a truly effective teacher who uses humiliation as a form of behavior management.” (p. 67,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)


“…students like and need to feel that their teachers find them interesting. Convince a student that you like her and find her interesting, and you’ve forged a connection. When students feel connected to their teachers, they achieve more and behave better.” (p. 84,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)


“If one of your goals is that you aspire to be the perfect teacher, we advise you to run away from teaching… there is no perfect teacher. Even the very best teachers make mistakes. But one trait that separates the best from the rest is that the best teachers are not afraid to admit their mistakes, even (and especially) in front of their students… part of being a positive role model involves teaching students, through example, how to admit mistakes and how to use them as stepping stones to achievement.” (p. 89,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)


“Success comes from taking small, consistent steps toward a goal. Effective teachers make their students successful on a daily basis by making everything doable and chewable. Just as, in eating, small bites are better for digestion, in learning, small bites are better for success!” (p. 101,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)


“…a simple strategy is to get to know your students and find out who they are as people. Do you know your students’ dreams? …Do they know you care? Do you make a concerted effort to show them that you value them as real people with real dreams?” (p. 111,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)


“We have all experienced the phenomenon of telling a problem to someone who listens intently, only to realize that in sharing the problem we were able to devise our own solution. We often leave that person saying, ‘Thanks for all of your help.’ He often replies, ‘But I didn’t do anything.’ Oh, but he did. He listened… sometimes that is exactly what we need—for someone to simply listen to what we have to say. So listen, lisen, listen to your students.” (p. 124,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)



A Handful of Orthodox Gift Ideas for Christmas

We have recently come across a variety of wonderful Orthodox books and resources (mostly for children) that would be lovely Christmas gifts. We found them noteworthy enough to gather them into a little collection, so that we could share them with you, in the event that you were not aware of them.

Some of these we have shared before, but are sharing again, in case you missed them the first time. Others are brand new (or new to us, or newly re-published). Our intent is to offer gift suggestions that could double as useful tools in the growth of a young Orthodox Christian’s life. Perhaps you will find one or more of these suggestions helpful as you select gifts for your loved ones.

We know that there are many more ideas than we are able to share here, so we have missed quite a few. What child-friendly, Orthodox-faith related gift ideas do you recommend? If you are (or know!) an artisan who crafts (and sells) beautiful gifts for Orthodox Christian children, please share them below!

Here are a few Orthodox Christmas gift ideas that we encountered:


Ancient Faith Publishing’s brand new Nativity coloring book, “Beautiful Christmas: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children” was created with children ages 5-12 in mind. Meagan Elizabeth Gilbert’s 59 lovely illustrations include a mix of both coloring and activity pages. Check it out, and purchase your gift copy(s) here:


Families with very small children may be interested in this set of Nativity blocks, safe for children to hold and play with. The back of each block contains a verse of a song or prayer from the traditions of the Church, written in language that is young-child friendly.


This learning cube transforms from one icon-style image to another, and each image includes a shortened version of the Nativity story.


Four-year-old Anthony will teach anyone who reads this book how to handle the challenges that come their way, with grace, and with God’s help.


Young children will resonate with Philo in this book, or any of the other books featuring his adventures with the SuperHolies!


As they read this book, elementary-aged children will be drawn right into young Spyros’ life as he learns from St. Spyridon – without even knowing he’s interacting with a saint!


Teens and adults will benefit from the wisdom and example of St. Anthony, as shared in this graphic novel:


Late elementary-aged children and adults alike will learn from the life of St. Eustathios in the engagingly-written and beautifully illustrated graphic novel, “The Cross and the Stag,” which we wrote about here:


Author and illustrator Grace Brooks has done it again! She has written yet another mesmerizing book about an Orthodox girl facing real-life problems and choosing to solve them with the help of her priest and the friends from her parish who are part of the “Every Tuesday Club”. The girls in this club are aging as time goes by between the publishing dates of Ms. Brooks’ books, which is a beautiful way for the series’ fans to have age-appropriate books along the way. “Xenia the Warm-Hearted” follows 14-year-old Xenia as she tries to improve the way that she interacts with others, even without the use of internet on her phone (a privilege she lost when she was online, gaming outside of her family’s rules). This book is appropriate for early teens (or older), and contains its fair share of age-appropriate struggles in the context of some mystery and suspense. Purchase your copy here:

Here are a few quotes (and a teaser!) from the book, to give you a taste:

“Xenia regarded him woefully. ‘I wanted to make such a change, but I’m having trouble figuring this out. I mean, it’s good to want to be a better person. But I still don’t understand people very much and… I don’t always seem to like them. I did all this research, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ …[Father Andrew answered,] ‘I think that this isn’t something that you can research by just reading about it — not even by reading the lives of the saints, though that’s an excellent place to start. You’re not going to get anywhere with a list or a guide that tells you what to do and what not to do. I can’t say enough good things about prayer, but even that is just a start.’ Father smiled at her kindly. ‘You may have to find out by doing.’” (p. 117)

“Her eyes had drifted out the window as she spoke, where the gusting wind was blowing a pillowcase on the clothesline. Energy encounters matter. Mobility and immobility. Wind resistance, oscillation, flexibility. ‘It’s very beautiful,’ she finished dreamily. ‘Not to me,’ he [Charlie] sniped, bringing her back to reality. ‘If there is a God, then why is the world such a mess?’ Xenia was used to this question as well. ‘Because there’s evil in it, too. And sometimes we are — all of us are — carriers of that, like a mosquito carries a disease. But that’s not how it was supposed to be…’” (p. 293)

“…and that’s how they found them: two frightened young people huddled together in a ruined living room with broken glass and squirting pipes. That was the sight that greeted Mr. Murphy and Jake when they pulled up a minute later, in the mistaken belief that they were coming to the rescue…” (p. 415)


Readers who are fans of fantasy and/or symbolism will thoroughly enjoy “The Dome Singer of Falenda” by Katherine Hyde. It has been a really long time since we read such a delightful fantasy. Originally published in 2016, and just re-published, this book filled with music and beauty, fraught with gripping adventure, and causes the reader to re-think the power of their thoughts. Themes include the power of familial love, the importance of discerning (and valuing) good over evil, and the importance of focus. The protagonist is a boy of 13, and his Falendian sidekick is a girl of 14. People of a variety of ages and genders will be entranced by their journey and uplifted by this beautiful read. Find your copy here:

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of it:

“Anyway, I’d read enough books to know that when it comes to adventures, the only way out is through.” (p. 23)

“I gasped for air. ‘What—me? You’re having me on. I’m no deliverer. I’m not brave, or strong, or clever. All I know how to do is sing.’ ‘But singing is precisely what is required. That is how we will break the Dome—by singing. The elúndina chose you for your gifts of singing and thought-speech. And also, of course, because you are your mother’s son.’” (p. 36)

“I’d been thinking of nothing in particular, but as soon as I tried to wipe my mind clear of thoughts, it filled with a whole crowd of questions…This wouldn’t do. I shook my head and tried to focus on my surroundings. I peered at the rough, ridged texture of the malacána bark, listened to the clear, musical cry of a bird, inhaled the sharp, fresh smell of the trees, like cedar mixed with peppermint and cinnamon. I felt the chafing of Vali’s thick, soft coat beneath my legs, the still, cooling air against my cheeks. When was the last time I’d stopped to pay attention to things like that? At home I was either buried in memories or planning how to cope with the next calamity. I’d forgotten how to just be.” (pp. 57-58)

“The Tower had no windows or doors that I could see, but at the center of the side facing us the ranks of guards angled outward. The door must be hidden there. It looked like my mother was right: it was impossible. The din in my head took on a new undertone: ‘You have failed, you must fly. You have failed, you must fly.’ Maybe the bad guys really were going to win. Meli’s thought-voice broke through. ‘I hear it too, Danny. But you must resist these thoughts. You must shout them down with truth. Everything that babble says is a lie, for lies are all the Enemy knows. We have not failed until we give up, and we must not give up.’ ‘I don’t want to give up. But how can we succeed? How could we ever get in there to rescue your parents, or get to the top from outside? I’m afraid I left my Spiderman gear at home.’ Meli ignored that. ‘Our parents did it seven years ago. Somehow they reached the top.’ And now they were inside.” (p. 149)


Homemakers in your family may enjoy this read! “Searching for the Sacred” by Lois Clymer is a book filled with the memories and musings of an Orthodox Christian wife and mother. It tells the story of her (and her husband‘s) dream for a little homestead, and how they have realized that dream in a variety of locations, over the years. Anecdotes include adventures that they’ve had with their family, and a variety of things that she has learned along the way. In addition to living on a homestead and growing much of their own food, Mrs. Clymer addresses other experiences they’ve had, including some experiences in the world of politics; finding ways to enjoy small homesteads away from home; her foray into owning and operating a CSA; and adventures and lessons learned while building two tiny houses. Throughout the book, readers will find encouragement to search for God in the world that He has created. Pick up a copy here:

Here are a few of our favorite quotes, a handful of Lois’ learnings, that she shares in the book, scattered amidst the stories from her life:

“Hard work is the secret to success. I soon found that it helped to be organized and to prioritize. When I did the most important thing first in the day, the rest of the day flowed more smoothly…” (p. 4)

“Most of us find that life doesn’t always go the way we wanted it to. What do we do when pain and disappointments and grief enter our lives? As a young person, I struggled with how to be happy… I came across some wise counsel regarding happiness. If I am unhappy… it is not because of my environment, but because of the way I am evaluating my environment.” (p. 14)

“I have certainly not always been perfect, and I have held on to bitterness from time to time. But I have noticed that when I can release that bitterness and let it go completely, something good happens in my body. My creativity and my joy returns. The antidote to the poison of bitterness is forgiveness and gratefulness.” (p. 23)

“Most of us don’t know much about simplicity. We have more possessions than we know what to do with. One time I heard a motivational speaker say that every possession you have uses up valuable brain space. You think about it, you catalog it, you think about cleaning and repairing it, you organize it. To lighten your brain load, think about how to live with only half of the possessions you have and then DO IT.” (p. 81)

“Wherever you live, maybe this book will motivate you to enjoy some of the simple pleasures in life: grow a plant or vegetable, take a walk through a woods, or enjoy the antics of a chicken or a goat.” (p. 86)

Pursuing Church School Success: Attending to Classroom Noise


In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

Different types of teachers allow different levels of noise in their classroom. Some teachers expect silence, and there are times when silence is necessary in a class! Most teachers expect chatter and interaction, which generates some degree of noise, but that is necessary for optimal learning. A few teachers may allow a seeming cacophony of sound to come from their students during class. Perhaps it sounds chaotic, but depending on the reason for the noise, this may actually be an extremely effective classroom.

These three levels of noise tolerance are very different from each other. This begs the question, which of these classroom noise levels is successful? We propose that all of them are successful, especially if they all happen in the same classroom at different parts of the class period.

It is impossible to completely avoid noise in a classroom setting. Noise happens because there are people in classrooms, and people make noise! Whether the sounds are shuffling or body noises, or vocal/verbal, noise is always present. Teachers who prepare to embrace the noise, encourage it at varying levels, and properly redirect it when it is “too much” will be most successful in guiding their classes. These teachers’ students will feel heard, find themselves fully engaged in the lessons, and they will therefore respond respectfully to the teacher.

It is impractical for a Sunday Church school teacher (especially one whose class gathers right after the Divine Liturgy) to expect silent stillness from their students at all times. These children/young people have just been very quiet for a long time in Church, and silence does not come naturally to them. It is up to the teacher to determine what classroom noise is good and “useable”, and what is unnecessary. Once the teacher determines the type of noise going on in their classroom, they’ll better know how to utilize/direct it.

Noise in a classroom is not always a bad thing. In fact, if it is noise that is being generated by interaction with the study or focus at hand, it is actually very good, and a desired outcome of the learning process! Teachers who offer their students opportunities to move around a bit and express themselves; but who also redirect inappropriate/unnecessary noise will find their job easier and more effective. Therefore, it is important that we teachers constantly evaluate the noise happening in our classroom, so that we can encourage the good noise, and redirect the rest.

So the next time you hear a very noisy classroom, take a deep breath and evaluate the situation. It may not be out of control! Rather, that cacophony might just mean that a great deal of learning is going on!


Here are a few links related to classroom noise which you may find helpful. What has worked for you? What resources would you recommend to the community? Please share them below!


“If you came here looking for a few tricks to end excessive talking, the bad news is that you won’t find anything clever or earth-shattering. The good news is that the solution is pretty simple, and it requires no behavior charts, tokens, or Jolly Ranchers.” Listen to this podcast (or read the transcript) to learn the solution to excessive talking:


Here are several helpful suggestions of ways to encourage whole-class involvement in a discussion, without everyone speaking at once. We especially liked the short segments on “Silent Signals” and “Talk Moves.”


With some explanation and practice (wherein a student is the teacher and you are a student modeling what to/not to do), this article suggests that it is not difficult to train your students to give you their attention in a short amount of time.


Some teachers have found call out/answer back options to be very effective in recovering their students’ attention when the classroom gets unnecessarily noisy. This page offers ideas of ways to make these call/response attention-getters personal to your own class, and also offers 50 “ready to use” options:

(One possible Orthodox call/response could be:
Teacher: Wisdom! Students: Let us attend!)


Find fifteen great ways to quiet a class (some ways have multiple tips from a variety of teachers) at this page:


If yours is a chatty Sunday Church school class, you may find some of the ideas here helpful. Would Blurt Beans be effective in your class? Does your classroom have a quiet turtle? Have you tried the Singing Trick? Do you allow your students to socialize (around related activities) for a few minutes before beginning class?


When it comes to classroom noise, it is very important that we teachers are not part of the problem. When our students become unusually loud, how can we recapture their attention or give directions? Here are ten great ideas of ways to do so without yelling:



Pursuing Church School Success: Including Brain Breaks in Lessons

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 


We are all well aware of the importance of maintaining our students’ full attention during class. We also know that they retain and remember information that is learned while their brain is engaged. But it is not easy to maintain an entire class’ full attention at every moment: keeping their complete attention is a struggle. This is why “brain breaks” exist.

“What is a brain break?” you may ask. It is an activity that allows students to physically move and release some of the pent-up energy associated with being still and focused for a long period of time. If you take some time to read about these breaks, you will find that it is really important for us to incorporate them into our lessons. Brain breaks change things up, giving both us and our students a “breather” from concentration, and thereby creating a window for better focus and understanding.

At first glance, brain breaks may look like a waste of important time. But think back to the last time you were working diligently on a project. Did you not, after a period of time, take a quick walk, or grab a mug of coffee, or even just run to the bathroom for a few minutes? When you came back to your project, did you feel refreshed and ready to get back at it? Or was that break a complete waste of time? Of course it wasn’t! (Unless, of course, during the break you also got sucked into Facebook and lost track of time, but that’s a whole other issue, unrelated to the physical break that you took!) We adults often take brain breaks of our own, whether or not we know the terminology.

Brain breaks in a classroom work similarly: they offer a brief period of movement to allow for regrouping and better focus. Brain breaks can be simple actions or more complex games. They can incorporate thinking or simply be a dance-off. Different types of brain breaks reach different types of students, so it is important that we incorporate a variety of them into our teaching.

For our students’ benefit, we should always include some type of brain break(s) into each lesson. They will boost morale, add a touch of fun to our class, and (best of all) open our students’ minds so they can better interact with and remember what we’re studying. And chances are, they’ll help us to learn more, as well!

Here are several links on brain breaks that you may find helpful. Do you regularly use them in your Sunday Church school class? If so, what have you done? Please share your brain break ideas below!


This article offers links to some of the research that has been done on brain breaks. It strongly states that brain breaks should be considered a class NEED, not an “extra activity”. That is how big an impact physical breaks have on students’ ability to learn!


A printable chart such as this one offers brain break ideas that will be performed in a way that is unique to each student. Each would need their own dice to roll five times, and then some space (and freedom) to perform the five actions they’d rolled.

You could create your own chart like this, including your own ideas of things your students can do in the space you have.


While this is written to a home school audience, there is information here that will be helpful to a Sunday Church school teacher. Especially one with students who are easily distracted:


“After a successful brain break, your kids should feel more focused, less prone to daydreaming and therefore in a better mental space to work or complete and finish activities. Furthermore, brain breaks have also shown to significantly reduce stress levels in kids, providing organic improvements to learning and higher engagement levels.” Read the rest of the article, as well as the baker’s dozen brain break ideas suggested here:


The indoor and outdoor brain break ideas listed here are written for parents to utilize with their children at home, but many can be helpful to Sunday Church school teachers as well. (We do not condone the yoga idea, but the others are worth considering!)


The 20 brain breaks here can offer students of varying ages the opportunity to move and do something completely different for a bit so that they are free to once again focus and learn.


Here is another collection of 20 brain break ideas for you to consider using in your classroom. Some you can use as they are. Others are aimed at a regular school setting but can be adapted for use in a Sunday Church school class.


For more creative brain break ideas, check out this blog:


Drawing is not necessarily a “brain break”, but it is a physical activity that boosts learning. It is actually a very effective means of learning, because it taps into so many learning styles and requires a variety of thought processes. Check out this 2-minute video explaining the value of incorporating drawing into your lessons:

A Gathering of Ideas for Preparing for a New School Year

It is nearly the beginning of a new Sunday Church school year for many of our community who live in the northern hemisphere. We have come across some interesting ideas that we thought could perhaps be helpful to you, and have compiled them to share here. We hope that you will find something useful and helpful for your classroom and for beginning the year with your students.

As you begin a new Church school year, may the Lord bless your transition! May He provide for, guide, and strengthen both you and your students as you learn. May this school year be a year of growth and great learning for everyone!

Here are some of the links that we found. What additional ideas do you have? What have you found helpful at the beginning of a school year? Please share it with the community!


If your Sunday Church school year does not begin for a few more weeks, there’s still plenty to do to prepare yourself and your classroom for the new Church school year. If you have not yet read Gerry Clonaris’ article “Getting Ready for Your Best Classes Ever”, you’ll want to check out the excerpts we shared here, and then link through to the article itself:


Planning for a new school year should include making a plan in the event of the unlikely chance that you will not be able to teach some Sunday. If you have not yet prepared a substitute teacher folder for your classroom, we encourage you to do so! It is better for children to have some continuity in their learning experience, and anyone filling in for you at the last minute will be grateful for this detailed description of how your class works, as well as your having planned ahead. Read more about preparing a sub folder here:


You’ll find a few simple suggestions of ways to prepare yourself and your classroom for a good Sunday Church school year in this blog:


There are a host of ideas for beginning the school year here, which could be easily adapted for use in a Sunday Church school classroom. Older students will enjoy these getting-to-know-you activities, and you as a teacher will find some helpful ideas of ways to help communicate your expectations of the class.


The two fun “getting to know you” activities in this post will help your students get to know each other better, while also helping you to learn more about each of them:


If you’re really interested in learning to know your students, consider inviting them to write you a letter titled “I wish my teacher knew…” They’ll include three things they’d like you to know about them, and you’ll read the letter privately, not share it with the class. Knowing three things you wouldn’t otherwise know about your students, right from the start of the Sunday Church school year, will help you know how to pray for them and how to best plan lessons that they will enjoy and understand.

Gleanings from a Book: “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky, Illustrated by S. Violette Palumbo

Author’s note: Most Sundays, a young friend from church comes to sit with me during coffee hour. He wants to tell about his week, what dinosaurs he learned about, what he and his brothers built with Legos, what games they invented, etc. A few months ago, when he discovered that I have Ms. Mishriky’s “Philo” books loaded into my phone, he (and sometimes a brother or two) began to also ask for a story. I happily comply whenever I can. Imagine my joy when I learned that a new “Philo” book was coming out! I looked forward to reading it myself, but I especially looked forward to reading it to my young friend! On Sunday I finally had a chance to read it to him, and we both enjoyed the story and were challenged to faithfulness through it. I was glad to share this book with him, and now I get to share it with you as well!

“Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky is an enjoyable story, just as I anticipated that it would be. But it is more than just a nice picture book. As she did in the other books in the “Philo” series, Ms. Mishriky braces her story with underlying truth, which she presents in a child-friendly and clearly understandable package: that is, in the story of a young Coptic Orthodox boy trying to learn how to juggle his Faith and his daily life.

Philo is an ordinary modern-day boy who meets common modern-day struggles head-on, and learns how to face them in a godly way, with the help of the “SuperHolies” (the fruit of the Spirit, each embodied as a superhero). In “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly”, Philo finds himself at boy scout camp for the first time. He struggles to live out the Faith while in such close proximity to other boys who are not Orthodox Christians. The Faithfulness SuperHoly helps Philo choose to continue to live the Faith, even in a tent with other boys.

Violette Palumbo’s illustrations visually bring Philo to life for the young reader. They are appropriately detailed without overwhelming the eyes. Previous friends of Philo will recognize him right away and anticipate “meeting” another of the SuperHolies, “up close up and personal”. Palumbo adds appropriate touches of humor to the story, as well (i.e.: have a look at Philo’s dad’s face as he helps Philo pack; or the illustration of Philo imagining himself as an old man, telling his grandchildren of his experience). The illustrations add to the story, strengthening it.

Children who read “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” will find themselves mirrored in Philo in some way or another. They will understand his hesitancy to pray and read scripture in the presence of others who do not believe what they believe. They will be challenged to make the sign of the cross to activate the SuperHolies in their own life when they run into such difficulties. God willing, they will also begin to listen to the Spirit whispering in their ear as He tells them what is right to do, just as Philo “hears” the SuperHolies; and hopefully they will act accordingly. And if the adults in the room are truly listening to the story, they will find themselves beginning to be mindful of these things, as well.

I hope my young friend wants to hear “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” again. Chances are, he will. And when he asks, I’ll gladly read it to him, not just for the story: but also for the Faithfulness it will inspire in each of us.
The AODCE thanks author Mireille Mishriky for allowing us to see an advanced electronic copy of “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” so that we could write this review.

To purchase your own copy of “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky (or any of the previous Philo books, some of which are available in French and Spanish), you will find it here:

Here are a few gleanings from “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly”, as well as a few related resources that can help you and your students grow in faithfulness:


“‘Always remember to activate your SuperHolies, Philo, not only when you are scared, but also when you can’t make a decision. Always let the Holy Spirit guide you, especially during your camping trip next week,’ advised grandpa.” (p. 7, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)


“‘I won’t need my Bible, Daddy. I won’t have time to read it at night…’ said Philo.
‘There is always time to pray and read your Bible, Philo. Jesus comes first. Everything else comes second,’ said Philo’s father as he placed the Bible inside the bag.” (p. 10, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)


“Philo felt sad. He remembered what his mother often told him. ‘Not everyone loves Jesus, but Jesus loves everyone. Not everyone wants to hear about Jesus, but never stop speaking about His love. You might change someone’s heart without knowing it.’” (p. 13, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)


“Before going to sleep, Philo hesitated. He wanted to pray and read his Bible but he was embarrassed and worried that Tom and the other boys would make fun of him. The tent frame looked like a cross, reminding Philo to activate his SuperHolies.” (p.18, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)


“…the Faithfulness SuperHoly was chosen to help Philo, and she started whispering into Philo’s heart. ‘…You are an example to your friends. Your love for Jesus might make your friends curious about Him. You could be the reason your friends decide to visit a Church or learn more about our Lord.’” (pp. 20-21, “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” by Mireille Mishriky)


Before sharing “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school class, consider setting up your classroom with a “campfire” for storytelling. Import some rocks for the rock ring, stack a handful of wood pieces for the “fire”, stuff a few yellow/orange/red tissue paper “flames” amidst the wood, and insert a flickering light source (perhaps several battery-operated candles?) in the midst of it all, for atmosphere. When the class enters the room, encourage them to sit around the campfire so that you can share stories. Begin with “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly.” Ask the students some questions about the story, to check their understanding and learning. Be sure to include questions like, “How did Philo’s actions earlier in the evening influence Tom?”; “Have you ever seen your faithfulness to God, demonstrated by your actions, affecting others? How?”; “How would you have handled Philo’s dilemma in the tent?”; and “Have you ever experienced something like Philo’s situation?”

This book is perfect for storytelling, so, while you’re still around the “campfire”, invite them to share their own stories. They can tell a Bible story they know that exhibits faithfulness (besides Daniel and the Lion’s Den, since that one is already taken, in the book!). They can tell of a time when they were able to exhibit faithfulness to God, whether or not it had a happy result like Philo’s. They can tell the story of a saint that they admire for their faithfulness. Each student can choose which type of story to share: but, if possible, they should all share a story, or at least have the opportunity to share one.

If you’d like, you could end the class by having them draw or write about their favorite story of faithfulness.


If you have not yet “met” Philo and the SuperHolies, we introduced them (with a few other resources that had just become available) here:

Learn more about the virtue of faithfulness, including quotes from the scriptures and from the Church fathers, here:
Perhaps some of the insights into this virtue will be helpful as you approach reading “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school students.


After sharing “Philo and the Faithfulness SuperHoly” with your Sunday Church school class, if it seems that your class needs to continue to grow in faithfulness, check out the lesson ideas suggested here:



Gleanings from a Book: “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich

Do you find yourself ready for a retreat because summer – or life in general – is getting to you? Does life feel stormy, or are there clouds threatening the horizon of your heart? If so, a little spa time is just what you need! We often think of pampering our bodies when we are weary and heavy laden. Sometimes physical rest and relaxation is in order, and it truly helps us. But often afterwards, we get back home and into life again, and we find ourselves right back in a stormy, weary place, wishing we could return to the spa…

What would happen if we would choose to spend our “spa” time and energy on preparing to soothe our soul through prayer? We could then set up an all-encompassing prayer space that ministers to our body as well as our soul. We could also make a plan to restructure our life to include spending time in that space each day, praying.

But how would we go about creating such a space and implementing such a change? “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” offers solutions to this question. The book is full of reasons for us to bathe our souls in peaceful prayer. And it doesn’t simply scold us with reasons to straighten out our prayer life: it gently takes us by the hand, introducing us to practical means to do so.

This book is, in itself, a retreat. Each entry is simultaneously soothing and thought provoking. It is written thoughtfully, and every page is poetry which engages the mind while challenging the reader’s thoughts. Themed chapters help the reader think from a distinctly Orthodox Christian perspective about topics related to prayer. They are as follows: Mind…Body…Soul; The Five Senses; Your Prayer Plan; Inner Stillness; An Offering; The Hours; Tools for Therapy. (Readers will likely find the “Tools for Therapy” chapter to become the most visited chapter. It includes a few ideas for ways to invite your body to join in prayer, as well as pages and pages of prayers, ranging from Psalms for each of the Hours to morning and evening prayers.) The author’s near-exclusive use of lower case is intentional; whispering her ideas and findings instead of shouting them, enhancing their soft allure. The final pages of the book are supplements that include a reproducible prayer card for your daily prayer plan, pages of scripture verses to memorize and pray, and recommended books (featuring an important quote from each) for further growth.

In Orthodoxy, we often invite the world to “come and see” what The Faith is all about. The same applies to this book. Attempting to describe it is one thing: but experiencing it is something else completely. The author’s intent with the book is “to bring the hidden wisdom of early christian luminaries to those in the twenty-first century who may not yet have come to experience this tangible way to love your God, your neighbor, and yourself within the fabric of daily life.” (p. 108) She has succeeded. “Prayer Spa” is at once a tall drink of cool water on a hot day and a sturdy lighthouse in a stormy sea. You may wish to “come and see” for yourself.

Whether or not we adopt all of the ideas in “Prayer Spa,” let us embrace its challenge to be intentional in our prayers. Let us indeed commune with God daily, with our whole self, through prayer, thus nourishing our soul. This is the kind of “spa time” that we truly need. Anchoring our life in prayer brings calm and peace to our souls, even in the storms of life.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for sharing a copy with the AODCE so that we could read it and write this review.

Purchase your own copy here:

(Note: although this book may not be applicable for use with your Sunday church school students, its effect on their teacher will certainly impact their lives for the good! And perhaps it will stir in you ideas for growing prayer in your students’ lives.)

Here are a few gleanings from the book:


“train your mind to pierce

through the roar of voices

undistracted, to a single focus.

this recalls the stillness of the desert

where our monastic fathers and mothers

honed their communion with a personal God…


…massage your attention span

to align and extend its reach.

memorize prayers, scriptures, and psalms

to lift mind and soul

wrap them in together in white cloth.” (p. 15, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)


“prayer is a way toward theosis—union with God

sharing in His divine nature, through grace.

this is a long, narrow pathway

which must be sought after with great humility and perseverance.


yet spiritual refreshment is available to any person

who wishes to partake in the tangible beauty

of a life seeking the Holy in this grace-infused world.” (pp. 28- 29, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)


“at the beginning, you must force yourself to pray

but soon, prayer becomes essential to a day well lived.” (p. 33, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)


“…by carrying God’s presence deep in the center of your heart

you may one day become, through grace

a person who has been turned into prayer.” (p. 47, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)


“father anthony bloom taught a method

for gathering the crumbs of wasted time

and transforming them into something holy.


the secret of this contemplative exercise is to find joy

simply being with God

as you listen for His voiceless presence  within your heart.” (p. 48, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)


“a fourth-century aid to contemplative prayer

the christian prayer rope is a way to offer time

kairos time, in the moment … not chronos time, by the clock


traditionally it is tied with knots made of nine crosses

one cross representing each order of the angels


to use the prayer rope, simply repeat the Jesus Prayer

while moving from knot to knot with the thumb and forefinger…” (p. 56, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)


“as creatures contained in time, we can sanctify our days

savor the remembrance of God

by praying “the hours.”


the “major hours” consist of morning and evening prayers.


you may choose to expand your offering to include

the seven “divine services” throughout the day

spoken on their designated hour, or adjusted to fit your schedule.” (p. 66, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)


“if you have children, let them catch you praying.

share these short remembrances of God with them.

let them discover your own yearning for prayer

as a treat you quietly prioritize each day.

remember, you too are a child of God, beloved.” (p. 69, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)