Tag Archives: Ideas

Gleanings from a Book: “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

Author’s note: This book has been sitting on my shelf for a few months – ever since the author sent it my way. I promised to read it and share it with you, but wanted to wait until nearer the time of the Nativity Fast so that it would be more fresh in our minds as the fast approaches. Every time I saw the book sitting there waiting for me I inwardly smiled as I anticipated reading it. The Nativity Fast is the one we anticipate next, and we can begin to think about it, so I finally allowed myself to pull this book off of my shelf and read it! As expected, it did not disappoint.

This book reminds me of just how very much I love stories from the Scriptures. From Creation to Noah to Abraham to Joseph, on through the kings and prophets, all the way to the birth of Christ; each of the 40 stories in this book helps the reader to learn more about Christ and how God prepared the world for His coming. Every story points us to Christ in some way, and they build on each other, referencing previous stories throughout the book.

I grew up hearing Bible stories over and over again. They are my old friends. It was delightful to re-visit so many of these friends as I read this book. There are also a few stories with which I was unfamiliar, so I soaked them in like a sponge, and made some new friends! (I was raised Protestant, so the stories such as those of Tobit and Tobias, not included in the Protestant scriptures, as well as many details from Holy Tradition about the Theotokos’ upbringing and marriage were unfamiliar to me.) The stories in “Welcoming the Christ Child” are written in a manner that is true to both Scriptures and Tradition while also remaining understandable to children.

While I loved reading the stories themselves, I also really enjoyed the insights which the author has included after the stories. Every story has at least 3 related questions (and their answers, too!) that can help readers think about the story. There is also an advanced discussion suggestion for each story. Between the stories, the questions, and the advanced discussion suggestion, every story’s important role in pointing people to Christ is explained in a way that is very easy to understand. Families with young children may only want to read the story. Those with older children can also include the questions. Those with even older children will want to take advantage of the advanced discussion. Families with children of varied ages will find aspects of the book helpful for each child.

Every story in the book has a watercolor illustration either embedded in or immediately following the story. Some of these illustrations are simple, featuring a detail from the story. Others are more elaborate, illustrating an important event in the story. All are colorful and eye-catching, painted in an icon-like style that can help children make better sense of the icon for the story.

This book is set up for families to read together. It would make an excellent very-early Christmas present for your students which you could give to them at the beginning of the fast so that they have it to share with their family! If you choose to give each of your students a copy to read during the Nativity Fast, and want to do something in class related to the book, you could spend class time on the Sundays leading up to Christmas helping your students to create each week’s related ornaments. This would take a lot of planning (and collaboration with fellow SCS teachers to make sure that not every child is bringing home a book and an entire set of 40 ornaments!) but would offer your students a gift that they would likely use during the Nativity Fast for years to come!

So, as we approach the Nativity Fast, let us begin to make our plan of how to grow throughout it. We fast in order to prepare our hearts for the birth of our Lord. One way we can prepare is by spending some time each day reading about Him and about those whose lives pointed to Him before He was born into our world. This book is an excellent way for us to do this very thing and to encourage our students to do the same. My only regret with the book is that it was not published 10 years ago, when I could have used it with my own (now grown) children!

Purchase your own copy of “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich here: http://www.sebastianpress.org/product-p/sp-bk-ch-2017-001.htm

Here are some gleanings from the book, followed by related ways to encourage your Sunday Church School students to grow in their faith during the Nativity Fast.

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“Why would Adam need company? Because he is made in the image of God, and God is love; God is a community of three Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and Adam is created in God’s image, so Adam is also created to be part of a community of love.” ~ p. 10, Advanced Discussion Idea after “God Creates People,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“We sometimes say that the Holy Church is like Noah’s ark – it is built according to God’s specific instructions so that we can be saved: He tells us to love one another, to fast and to pray, to receive the sacraments. We trust God and His Word, and God protects us inside our Holy Church from the storms outside.” ~ p. 20, part of the answer to “What if Noah had not followed God’s careful instructions and had built the ark in a different way?” a question after “Noah’s Ark,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“The Church Fathers describe Joseph as being, in many ways, like Jesus. He didn’t do anything wrong, but other people envied him… both of them were betrayed for a small amount of money… Both went into a pit – Joseph was thrown in the dark pit until the slave traders came, and Jesus was in the dark pit of Hades after His crucifixion.” ~ p. 35, part of the Advance Discussion Idea after “Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“Rahab was not one of God’s Israelites, but she learned about God and chose to serve Him and His people… Rahab was rewarded by being allowed to live in israel, but she also received another reward: she was given a place in the line of Christ. …Rahab, a harlot from Jericho, became a part of that royal line that led to the king of kings, for God loves all people and includes all of us in His family.” ~ p. 70, part of the Advance Discussion Idea after “Joshua and the Battle of Jericho,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“God actually used David’s weakness to teach us. When he fought Goliath, the fact that David was small and weak showed us that God must have helped him win. Later in his life, David’s other weakness, his sinfulness, enabled him to teach us how to repent; he wrote beautiful Psalms about repentance…
The prophets reveal God to us, but they are not perfect. Sometimes, God uses our weakness to reveal His glory.” ~ p. 86, part of the Advance Discussion Idea after “David the Psalmist,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“Why did God give so many hints about the coming of His Son?

He wanted the people to know He was coming so that they would be ready for Him; they should expect Him and be prepared to follow Him. he gave them details so that they could recognize Him when He came. ~ p. 120, discussion question and answer after “The Prophet Isaiah,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“The Fathers call Mary the new Eve, because in the Garden of Eden, the first Eve disobeyed God’s commandment not to eat the fruit of the tree, causing mankind to fall – but Mary is like a second chance, and this woman is obedient to God’s will and wishes only to do what is pleasing to God and best for mankind. Where Eve ignored God and did what she wanted, Mary does not worry about her own desires or wish to explore other ideas. Mary trusts God, and is happy to cooperate with God’s will, so she says yes to the angel. The child she bears will fix the fall, saving mankind from death and opening the gates of Paradise.” ~ pp. 147-148, Advanced Discussion Idea after “The Annunciation,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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“God can do anything, and He could have arranged for His own Son, the King of Kings, to be born in a palace but He did not; He chose for His Son to be born in a humble cave… He came to live in the humblest way, to share the most basic human experiences…He would live like the poorest people and suffer alongside us through all of the indignities of our world. The first people called to worship Him were poor and uneducated shepherds, because God does not care whether we are important to the world; every one of us in important in God’s eyes , and our Lord has come for each and every one of us.” ~ p.159, Advanced Discussion Idea after “A Child is Born in Bethlehem,” a reading in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich

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Are you acquainted with the Orthodox Jesse Tree as a way to prepare your heart for the Nativity during that fast? (http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/tree-jesse describes it, and http://antiochian.org/content/advent-reading-jesse-tree lists all of the scripture passages) If you are, then “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” will seem very familiar to you. The book is set up to be read daily during Nativity Lent, and is patterned after the Jesse Tree Project.

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Jesse Tree ornament options:
#1: Soon there will be a set of Jesse Tree ornaments available for purchase which go along with “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent” by Elissa Bjeletich. We will post the link to the ornaments as soon as we have it!
#2: Teachers with younger students may want to help them make their own 3D ornaments such as these https://festalcelebrations.wordpress.com/2007/12/27/jesse-tree-project-2008/ which coincide with these Jesse Tree readings: https://www.scribd.com/document/42707446/The-Tree-of-Jesse. Many will coincide with the writings in “Welcoming the Christ Child…”, but you will want to cross-check the lists and may need to come up with a few ornaments of your own if you are reading the book as a family.

#3: If your students like to color, check out these printable ornaments for an Orthodox Jesse Tree: http://asimplehousewife.blogspot.com/2014/11/jesse-tree-orthodox-christian-advent.html. Again, many will coincide with the writings in “Welcoming the Christ Child…”, but you will want to cross-check the lists and may need to come up with a few of these, as well.

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Teachers of teens will enjoy having the discussion questions called “Advanced Discussion Ideas” at the end of each meditation in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent,” by Elissa Bjeletich. The teens may prefer to use the readings (straight from scripture and the Prologue) found here during the days of the Nativity Fast, instead of the more simplified readings in the book: https://festalcelebrations.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/festaljessetreeadditonaldays1-52pdf.pdf But regardless of which way you get the information (online or from the book), be sure to include a discussion of the book’s “Advanced Discussion Ideas.” They are thought-provoking.

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You may wish to invite your students to create their very own set of ornaments in response to the stories in “Welcoming the Christ Child: Family Readings for the Nativity Lent,” by Elissa Bjeletich. For this option, you would probably want to send a stack of 40 copies of this Welcoming the Christ Child printable home with your students, so that they could do the activity at home after they read each day’s entry. You’ll also want to send directions, such as: “Work together each day, or let each family member take a turn to complete this page after you read and discuss every story in the book. Cut out the “ornament” on the page, make the illustration(s), and then add it to a basket, clip it in sequence on a string, hang it from a gold-sprayed-many-limbed branch, or add it to a small evergreen tree: whatever display method works best for you and your family!”

Back-Pocket Ideas for Creative Expression in Lessons

We have both created and collected ideas for you to slip “into your back pocket,” for when you are teaching and need some creative opportunities for your students. Summer break (if you have one) is a great time to be gathering such ideas and stashing them away for future reference. Then as you plan your lessons during the Sunday Church School year, you will already have creative ideas readily available for use with your students.

We recommend that as you take a look at the ideas and links that we share, if you find any that you like, bookmark the page on your computer, pin the idea(s) to your Pinterest board(s), or jot down your favorites on note cards. If you decide to take the notecard route, collect the cards in a recipe card box, or punch a hole in the corner of each card and clip them together on a binder ring that can be hung in your classroom where you can easily find them. If you come across a lesson-specific idea, you may want to jot your notes about it on a sticky note and place that in your teacher book at the lesson plan where you wish to use the idea. That way, you are guaranteed to remember it when you are ready plan that particular lesson. It is up to you how you keep track of the ideas which resonate with you, but do keep track of them somehow! That way you are most likely to be able to use them when an appropriate lesson arises!

Here are a few Orthodox “back pocket” ideas for creative expression in the Sunday Church School classroom. We are sharing them in the order in which we found them. We hope that some of them will be helpful for you to use with your students. What additional creative ideas do you have to share with the community?

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In December of 2014, we launched a series of blogs about including art in the Sunday Church School classroom. Read the initial blog here https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/on-including-art-in-the-sunday-church-school-classroom/ and then follow through the next few blog posts, to get some ideas of different art styles you may want to try with your students.

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Find Orthodox-specific craft ideas here: https://oca.org/the-hub/crafts/various-crafts

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Find some crafts which your students can use as they grow in their faith, here: http://orthodoxcamps.org/resources/ac

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Visit The Orthodox Children’s Press’ website for many craft ideas. Search “art” or “craft” to bring some of them up right away. Or just take a leisurely scroll through the site itself to see what all you find! http://www.theorthodoxchildrenspress.com/

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There are 20 Orthodox art/craft ideas here: https://fieldsofbasil.blogspot.com/2015/03/20-orthodox-crafts-for-lent-and-other.html

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Find Orthodox crafts sprinkled throughout this blog: http://www.illumination-learning.com/blog (Search “craft” to find them quickly.)

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This Orthodox blog offers craft ideas that could be helpful to your class: https://craftycontemplative.com/

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A Service Project Idea for Students with Traveling Friends

It’s that time of the year when many families in our parish travel together. If your class is continuing to meet for Sunday Church School over the summer,* consider doing this project during class one Sunday. A week or so ahead of time, ask your students to think of someone they know who will be traveling soon. Tell them about this project they will get to do: assemble a personalized travel activity folder for that person (their “project buddy”). Before introducing the concept to your students, you may also want to ask your priest if he knows of any traveling families in the parish, and have each student who can’t think of any traveling friend to create a project for one of the children in that family. Before the service project day arrives, print a variety of activity page options at different age/ability levels, so that your students have a choice and can customize the travel activity folder for their project buddy. (*If you are taking a summer break from classes, you can either make these for your own traveling students, or shelve this idea for a Sunday when you want to give them an opportunity to think of and bless someone else, and do it together then.)

Before class on the service project day, gather:

Two-pocket folders with fasteners (various colors, one per project buddy)

Markers, crayons, colored pencils, etc.

Plastic sleeves (several for each project)

Narrow dry-erase markers (one per project; optional)

Blank paper (three-hole punched)

Two copies of the travel prayer, hole punched, for each project

Enlarged photocopy of a picture of someone’s face for each project (each student – if it is not anonymous – or their project buddy would be ideal)

Copies of other coloring/activity/game sheets (three-hole punched)

When your students arrive at class on the service project day, talk together about traveling. Have any of them traveled? What did they do? How was the actual travel? What did they do to pass the time?
Once you have allowed the students to chime in about traveling, reintroduce the service project. Invite them to think about their project buddy. What does that person like? What kinds of activities would they enjoy doing while traveling? This project offers us the chance to serve someone else by creating something that they will enjoy in a time that could otherwise seem long and perhaps not-so-fun.

Have each student select a two-pocket folder from the pile and decorate it with their project buddy in mind. They may want to give it a title such as “George’s Travel Activity Folder” or “Fun for Catherine for Travel.” You can decide together whether these will be presented by the students themselves (in which case they can include a personal note inside like “I thought you would enjoy these activities while you travel. God bless your trip! Love, Maya”). Another option would be for them to be assembled and you can deliver them anonymously. It is up to your class.

Once the folder is prepared, your students can begin to assemble and insert the contents. The first sheet inserted in the fasteners should be the Orthodox Christian Travel Prayer reproducible. Insert it together as a class, and while you do, read it together, allowing each student to insert their travel buddy’s name where appropriate. (At the end of class, be sure to send a copy of this prayer which you printed home with each student so they can remember to pray for their project buddy while the buddy is traveling.)

Aside from the prayer, the contents of the folder are really up to your student. You will need to supervise and make sure that they are adding things that are age-appropriate for their buddy.

Here are some suggestions, and we will offer links to printables, as well.

  1. If you photocopied an enlarged photo of someone’s face, slip it into one of the plastic sleeves. The traveler can decorate the face with glasses, a moustache, a crown, etc., using a dry-erase marker. Then, they can wipe it clean and try something different!
  2. Car games such as scavenger hunts, tic-tac-toe, etc. should also be slipped into plastic sleeves to be used and reused in the same way.
  3. Your students can create their own activity pages with some of the blank paper you provide. Encourage them to think about the things you’ve studied in class and draw about those or create an activity page related to something you’ve studied.
  4. They may wish to insert blank pages so their buddy can draw or write whatever they wish in their travel activity folder.
  5. Your students may also wish to include printable activity/coloring pages that you prepared before class.

Once they have collected all of the pages that they wish to include in their buddy’s activity book, have them insert the pages and close up the holding tabs. They can tuck the thin dry-erase marker (if you provide these) into one of the folder’s pockets, for storage between uses.

After the activity books are all prepared, you can decide if your students will wrap them or not before they are given. This is up to you and your class! Say a prayer for the project buddies and their families, and ask God’s blessing on everyone traveling this summer, then dismiss so the students (or you!) can deliver the activity folders to their new owners!

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you print pages for this project. They’re listed in no particular order.

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Here are a variety of secular travel activities for kids to do. Of particular interest are the printable car games. Most can be used alone, as a sort of solitaire, or in groups. You may want to encourage your students to plan to include more than one of these copies for each notebook they assemble. That way the students’ family members can participate, as well!

http://www.landeeseelandeedo.com/2017/06/printable-car-games-for-kids-road-trip-games.html

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Find printable Bible Story coloring pages here which you could add to the travel folders when you do the service project: http://www.coloring.ws/christian.htm

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More (secular) road trip printables for the travel folder service project can be found here: https://www.thejoysofboys.com/free-printable-road-trip-games/ or here: http://lalymom.com/printable-road-trip-games-for-kids/

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Printable Bible story activity pages are available here. These would be great for elementary-aged traveling friends’ folders: http://www.dltk-bible.com/worksheet-index.htm

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Printable Orthodox Saint story activity pages can be found at this site. The pages will work well for a variety of ages’ travel folders, if you do the service project we mentioned: http://dce.oca.org/page/activity-books/

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Older children may be interested in having these beautiful scripture coloring pages in their travel folder:: http://joditt.com/free-christian-coloring-pages-adults/

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Here are some Bible story dot to dot puzzles at varying degrees of difficulty, for the travel folder service project: http://sundayschoolzone.com/resource-type/coloring-pages/connect-the-dots/

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Find mazes of every letter from A to Z here. If you know your students’ travel buddies’ names ahead of time, you could print the first (and last) initials’ maze for their travel folder: http://brainymaze.com/for-teachers/. (Find mazes of all sorts at the parent page, http://brainymaze.com/.)

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On Finding a Way to Help (Even on a Limited Budget)

Author’s note: Summer schedules sometimes are changed enough that perhaps your Sunday Church School class would have time to do a service project together. If you wish to do so, here are some ideas of ways for you and your students to actively live your Faith this summer.

There are so many different needs that come to our attention. A local fire or flood, a foreign orphanage, a friend-of-a-friend’s illness with lofty medical costs, hungry homeless in a nearby city, etc. The list goes on, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Because we are Christians, we need to live a life of giving and helping. We become aware of needs, sometimes on a daily basis, and we are know that we should be part of the cure for those needs. But where do we start? What can we do to help? How can we make a difference?


There may be times and seasons in our life when we can actually go to where the need is and physically help. There may be other times when going is just not possible, but we are able to help financially. But what about those times when we cannot go, but we also do not have the kind of money that we want to donate to help?

Even as far back as the 6th century, this must have been an issue as well, because Abba Dorotheos spoke to it. His words still hold for us today. He said, “No one can say, ‘I am poor and hence I have no means of giving alms.’ For even if you cannot give as the rich gave their gifts into the temple treasury, give two farthings as the poor widow did, and from you God will consider it greater gift than the gifts of the rich. And if you do not have as much as two farthings? You can take pity on the sick and give alms by ministering to them. And if you cannot do even this? You can comfort your brother by your words. ‘A good word is better than the best of gifts.’” In other words, we need to look at what we can give, and give that; whether it’s lots of money, a little money, our time, or our kindness.

If we want our class to live the life of the righteous people mentioned in Matthew 25: 35-36 (“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink,” etc.), we need to teach our students about the importance of giving from what we have, as Abba Dorotheos mentioned. But maybe we can get a little creative with what we have, and multiply what we have so that we have even more to give! If we just back up a little in that same chapter of Matthew, we will find one of Christ’s parables: “The Parable of the Talents.” In this story, we read about people who were given talents (money) according to their ability. The focus in this parable is not so much on how much they were given as it is in how they USED what they were given. The person with only one talent who did absolutely nothing with it ended up losing what he was given; whereas the ones who used what they were given, multiplied it and were able to enter into the joy of their lord.

But how do we multiply what we have? First, we need to talk with our students about giving and how important it is to our Christian life. Then we need to gather as a class and list all of the needs we know that we may want to help meet. Choosing one need to work towards helping first is our next task. We need to be sure to consult our priest on this part of the project: he will be very helpful in identifying which need(s) are the most important for us to fill. The next thing we need to do is decide how much we have available to give (we’ll call that our “deposit”). We teachers can personally offer the amount for the deposit, or we can have our students write a letter to their parents requesting a small donation, and pool those donations to create our class’ deposit. After we have gathered our deposit, we can begin to brainstorm creative ways to multiply that deposit. We can either set a specific goal of how much we hope to raise and work to that end, or just try to make our deposit grow as much as possible: that’s up to the class. Once we’ve brainstormed ways to multiply our deposit to help us reach our goal, we need to select one of those creative ways to multiply it, and work together to carry it out. (Note: we will need to enlist parents and/or other volunteers from the parish to help us with the “working together to carry it out” part!)

This process can be a great blessing not only to those in need who receive the final gift we give, but also to each member of our class! Those in need will gain some items or finances that they need. We will gain the joy of giving from what we have. We also gain the positive experience of working together to choose a need and then finding a way to help to meet the need. Perhaps best of all, we gain the peace of knowing that, at least in this part of our life, we are living as true Christians.

“Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40

Need some ideas of ways to multiply your giving? Here are a few. What ideas do you have? Share them with the community, and let’s all get to work, making a difference in our world! We are not limited to one creative means of multiplying our deposit: once we complete one project’s gift, we can move on to another!

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Spend your class’s deposit money on supplies to create something else that you can offer for sale. Does your class like to bake? Spend it on ingredients and get baking! Do you prefer to create things? Spend it on craft supplies and make the crafts together. Do you enjoy building things? Purchase the needed wood and get sawing! (Here are some ideas for starters: http://www.parents.com/recipes/familyrecipes/quickandeasy/simple-bake-sale-treats/; http://diyjoy.com/crafts-to-make-and-sell; http://www.diyncrafts.com/4478/home/40-genius-rustic-home-decor-ideas-can-build) Donate what you create, or sell it (perhaps to your fellow parishioners) to grow your monetary gift.

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Perhaps your “deposit money” isn’t money at all: maybe you are able to donate items that you no longer need or use or want to give. At home, have each member of the class go through their things and find items to donate (with parental permission). If you are trying to meet a need that requires the items themselves, you can give them as your gift. If not, and with your priest’s blessing, perhaps you could put them up for sale on a table in the coffee hour space. Anything that doesn’t sell to fellow parishioners could be sold at a yard sale, consignment shop, classified ad, or online. Then you will have money to give if that is what is needed! (You may want to check out the ideas here, or find more elsewhere online: http://clark.com/personal-finance-credit/where-to-sell-your-old-stuff-for-top-dollar/)

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What can you turn your “deposit” into? Find something that you’re willing to part with, and trade it for something better. Then trade that item for something even better, and so on, until you end up meeting your goal for the gift you want to give. Need inspiration? This young man traded a red paperclip for a pen shaped like a fish… and traded that for a doorknob with a crazy face on it… and on and on, until he had a house. Teachers (one of the trade offers which he turned down is not appropriate for children to hear, sorry) can watch his Ted talk about the experience here, for inspiration, if you haven’t heard about this idea before, and then you can describe the idea to your students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s3bdVxuFBs

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Perhaps you’d rather have a class work day to turn your “deposit” into more money. Brainstorm the kind of work you can do together as a class- perhaps yard cleanup, a painting job, cooking or cleaning for someone. “Advertise” to your fellow parishioners, to see if any of them would need your help and be willing to hire your class for specific tasks (or by the hour). You may need to spend some of your “deposit” on flyers advertising your services, on gas to get to wherever you’re working, on lunch or drinks needed to fortify you, etc…, but your earnings should still multiply that deposit!

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What talents do your students have? Consider hosting a “(grade level) Class Shares Their Talents” event at church or in your own backyard. Charge a small admission fee, have snacks for sale, have some guessing games or raffle items, and then have your class share your talents with attendees in a performance! In this case, your “deposit” will need to cover advertising flyers, food, and prizes. Your talents and the donations of your generous guests will multiply the deposit to grow your gift! (Here’s how one family hosted a neighborhood talent show, if you need ideas: http://lessthanperfectlifeofbliss.com/2013/08/talent-show-party-night-with-stars.html)

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What if you have no “deposit” money available to give? No problem! Approach business owners in your parish, to see if they would be willing to sponsor your class as you serve the parish or in the community. This idea gives twice: once to the organization which you are serving in the service project, and once to the need which your sponsor money will help to meet! Ask your priest for ideas of where to serve. If he doesn’t have any suggestions, consider one of these ideas: https://hybridrastamama.com/50-family-friendly-community-service-project-ideas/

Back Pocket Ideas for Sunday Church School Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Living Icons

The Orthodox Christian Faith is enriched by icons. We surrounded ourselves with these prayerfully-written images of Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints. Our churches are full of icons, as are our homes. This is as it should be. In our modern self-focused culture, we need visual reminders of God’s work in and through the saints! These reminders in the form of icons challenge us to be strong and live a life accordingly faithful.

There are other icons that enrich our Faith as well. God has surrounded us with His hand-written images of Christ in the form of every person around us. Our churches are full of them, as are our homes. But He has not limited His handwritten icons to the Church. They are all around us. If you are like me, occasionally you may need a reminder that everyone – EVERYONE – is an icon of Christ, written by God Himself, in His image. May this short post remind us of that truth. So, that sweet lady at Church? Yes, she is an icon of Christ. The person who just cut me off when driving? An icon. The persistent child interrupting my phone conversation? An icon. That person who I struggle to love? An icon. The famous person everyone gossips about? An icon. Those people who live far away and very differently from me? They, too, are an icon. My spouse? Also an icon, written in the image of (and by the Hand of) God.


Whether or not we recognize His artistry, God has written (and is writing) each and every person. Therefore, we must remember that He is at work in and through them, then respond with the love and respect that we offer any other icon reflecting His image. When we choose to see His work in each person, we will be challenged by them to be strong and live our Christian life faithfully!  

We must be careful to note that this recognition of God’s work in writing the living icons around us must not be limited to noting it in other people. In truth, we ourselves are living icons, and should also be enriching the Church and our world. In order to be the most reflective image of Him that we can be, we need to cooperate with Him as he works in and through us. As we do so, He will strengthen us and give us what we need to live the faithful Christian life befitting an icon.

May God help us all to live and love His image in every person! And as we do so, may we teach our Sunday Church School children to do the same.

 

Here are some resources that can help us teach our students how to be more aware of the icons of Christ around us; while challenging ourselves to be the best icons of Christ that we can:

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Here is an excellent activity that you can do with a younger-grades class which will help them to review the symbolism in iconography and then apply it to a contemporary icon-like drawing of a living icon who they know. Find the activity, symbolic descriptions, and a link to the printable page the students can use for their drawing here:  http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2008/07/living-icons.html

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Teachers of younger grades may be able to adapt parts of this (non-Orthodox) activity-filled lesson on being made in God’s image: https://www.umcmission.org/ArticleDocuments/150/book2part2lesson5.pdf.aspx
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Talk with your students about this quote by St. John of Damascus: “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”
If we truly believe this, how does that affect our view and treatment of others? Of ourselves? Of the world itself?

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Share this quote to begin a discussion with a teen or adult class:

“Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.” – Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

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“To be an Orthodox Christian means to proclaim that God has a very special love for us. Our life was given to us a very a sacred gift so that we may grow to fulfill our destiny as His children, to fulfill His plan that He has had for us since before we were even born. We are called to be “living icons,” temples of the Holy Spirit, and members of the Kingdom of Heaven. We must come to value life for the precious gift from God that it is, and make our choices on that basis.” These are the concluding thoughts of a lesson. This lesson (which includes a variety of activities and suggested discussion questions) could be used for a Sunday Church School or for a retreat on the importance of valuing life and living as an icon. https://oca.org/the-hub/life-and-death/session-1-the-living-icon-the-sanctity-of-human-life

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Listen to this 7 minute sermon from Fr. Ted Paraskevopoulos with your teen/adult Sunday Church School class to receive an overhaul on your perspective of yourself (and others), the icon(s) of Christ: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/isermon/orthodox_anthropology

 

 

On Pursuing Virtue: Diligence

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!

The last virtue we will focus on in this series is diligence. Merriam-Webster defines diligence as “steady, earnest, and energetic effort.” St. Theophan the Recluse helps us to understand diligence in the context of our Orthodox faith: “Our entire lives, in all their parts and details, must be devoted to God. The general rule is that everything you do should be done according to the Divine will and for the sake of pleasing God …Although [our] acts are not brilliant or perfect, [we] permit nothing consciously in them that would offend God or would not be pleasing to Him.” He goes on to say that when we choose to live in this way, our hearts will be filled with peace and joy because we will be living close to God. It is this definition of diligence that we should communicate to our Sunday Church School students: the deliberate decision to make everything that we do honor God, and the determination to carry out that decision to the best of our ability. (We should emphasize that we will not be perfect as we do this, but that our efforts will be pleasing to God and helpful to those around us, anyway!)

To introduce this virtue to your students, begin by having the word “diligence” spelled out with honey sticks (plastic straws with honey sealed inside, available online or at some grocery stores). Place the word somewhere in the classroom where the students will see it when they arrive at class (for example, down the middle of the table if you meet around a large table). The students will be curious about the honey sticks, so the discussion can begin almost immediately. Have them figure out what the word says, then begin talking about what it means. Allow the students who want to, to eat a honey stick as you talk about bees and their diligence to make the honey being consumed. (Each stick contains about one teaspoon of honey. It took 12 bees their entire lifetime – 6 weeks – to make that one honey stick. Bees visited more than 31,000 flowers to make each one of these honey sticks.) Talk about how hard the bees worked, and how diligent they are. Define diligence for the students, or have them concoct a definition together.

After talking about the definition of diligence with your students, help them learn about this important virtue by sharing stories with them that emphasize or model diligence. Stories teach in a way that is engaging, but also practical, for they demonstrate the application of the virtue in a way that mere definition cannot. There are many kinds of stories that would work for teaching about diligence. Saints’ stories are an excellent resource: their diligence in following God is what helped them to become a saint! There are also many stories in the scriptures that would help. (The story of Joseph is an excellent example!)

Folk tales offer another opportunity for us to teach children about diligence. Many cultures highly value diligence and thus have folktales to help communicate this virtue. “Give Up, Gecko!” by Margaret Read MacDonald (2013) is an excellent example. This Ugandan folktale tells the tale of many thirsty animals trying to make a hole deep enough to reach water during a drought. All the big animals try and quit when they do not succeed. Finally little gecko has a turn to try. Gecko is tempted to quit, too, especially when everyone laughs at him, but he is determined to provide water, and perseveres… and he succeeds! Read the story aloud to your students, or assign them roles and have them act it out as you read, with everyone chanting along with the animals as they stomp while attempting to create the water hole. Regardless of how you share the story, after it is over, discuss diligence. Ask questions like: “Who in the story demonstrated diligence? How did they do so? What can we learn about diligence from this story? What can we apply to our own life? Why is diligence important to our Orthodox Christian life?”

After teaching your students about diligence and citing an example (or more), invite your students to respond artistically to their learning. Extend the learning by selecting an art form that requires them to practice diligence. For example, a mosaic! Provide each student with a sturdy piece of cardstock (or cardboard) for the base of their piece and small tiles (pieces of paper, adhesive foam, or even tiny glass or ceramic tiles). On the cardstock, your students can sketch their design of something that reminds them of diligence, or even the word itself with a pencil. Then they can fill in the color using the tiles, carefully adhering the pieces inside the sketched space to create the final image. This project will require the students to work diligently to complete it, and thus makes an excellent example of what diligence is (as well as an opportunity to figure out how tedious it can be for us) with the opportunity to experience a beautiful reward (the finished project) at the end. You may want to display all of the projects in a place where the whole parish can see and enjoy them, when they are finally finished!

Whether we follow the above suggestions or come up with a lesson plan of our own, let us be sure to teach our students about diligence. It is a virtue that is much easier to teach about than it is to truly learn and apply! But it is much needed, in order that all of the other virtues can be better attained. So, it is important that we (diligently!) work to help our Sunday Church School students learn about this virtue.

Here are other resources that can help you to plan a lesson on diligence:

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Here is a preschool lesson (non-Orthodox, but still quite helpful) on diligence: https://preschooljoy.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/diligence-lesson-1/
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Here’s a simple lesson plan on diligence that can be used with young children. It features a discussion of the story of the ants and the grasshopper, and even offers a fingerprint craft idea! It’s not Orthodox, and is written for parents to use with their children, but could easily used in a Sunday Church School context: http://meaningfulmama.com/teaching-diligence-with-the-ant-and-the-grasshopper.html

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This secular character-education article about diligence offers some books that can be read at various ages, as well as suggestions from nature, biographies, etc. that can enhance a discussion of diligence:  http://classroom.synonym.com/childrens-lessons-diligence-vs-laziness-12134203.html

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Here is another (secular) list of books that can be used in a discussion of diligence: http://pacecommunity.org/diligence-a-list-for-young-readers-2/

And here is a list by a Christian blogger: http://meaningfulmama.com/books-diligence.html

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Practice diligence with your students by giving them some problem-solving opportunities. This (Christian, but not Orthodox) blog post offers suggestions that can spark further ideas: http://meaningfulmama.com/day-125-diligence-in-problem-solving.html

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This (Christian but not Orthodox) lesson on diligence features the story of Ruth from the Bible. http://howtohomeschoolmychild.com/we-choose-virtues-learning-to-be-diligent/
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This blog post is aimed at helping your own children learn about diligence. Although it is not Orthodox, it contains many great ideas for teaching children about diligence. We especially liked the challenge ideas offered here; as they give children a fun way to practice their diligence! https://www.steadfastfamily.com/hero-training-kids-character-challenge-diligence-week-5/

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Consider including this self-evaluating diligence survey in a lesson with teens: http://www.performwell.org/index.php/find-surveyassessments/outcomes/social-development/life-skills/diligence-scale-for-teenagers#popup. After completing the survey, discuss diligence and how the teens intend to improve their score over time. (It may be beneficial to have them take the survey again at a later date, for a check-up!)