"The whole trouble is that -- literally -- we do not know what is good for us; and what makes the trouble still worse is that we think we do. We have our own plans for our happiness, and too often we merely regard God as somebody who will help us to accomplish them. The true state of affairs is just the opposite. God has His plans for our happiness, and He is waiting for us to help Him to accomplish them. And let us be quite clear about it: We cannot improve on God's plans." This Tremendous Lover, M. Eugene Boylan, O.C.R.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Prayer in our Life: Thanksgiving

This past Sunday we had a lot of fun thanking God for all He gives us! Here is the plans we went with:

9:15 Prayers in the Church

9:20 Introduction to Thanksgiving:

Everything that we have, have had, will have is from God! Today we are going to talk about the third type of prayer from ACTS…lets recap what we’ve learned already…. (discuss with children previous lessons about adoration and confession)

God gives us everything and we need to tell him how grateful we are! Have you ever been to a birthday party where the person receiving the gifts wasn’t thanking everyone or didn't even seem to like a gift? How does that make you feel? God has given us so many gifts and we often forget to thank Him.

The Bible has a Psalm about thanking God, we’re going to listen to it rigt now. (Psalm 91:1-9) (Select student volunteers to read verse by verse.)

Now that we've heard what the Bible has to say about thanking God, we're going to talk about what we should be thankful for. We’re going to play a little game to think about how many gifts God has given us!

9:30 Pull children up 4 at a time, blindfold, place object in their hand, then have them guess what it is, discuss the items and all the things we can be thankful for. We had dirt, water, a prayer rope, an apple, shoes, a shirt, and I even put one of the parent's hands in their child's hands. After the children had guessed the item, we expounded on the idea. For example, we're not just thankful for an apple, but all our food, and those who prepare it for us, etc.

9:45 Thankful tree activity, found HERE. The artwork is beautiful!

We ran a bit over from our normal end time of 10am, but the kids all had a great time. Homework was to make a thankful poster. Instructions for that can be found HERE.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Help with the little ones in church

One of the things that brings me great joy is when people tell me that my girls were so well-behaved during church. While, for the most part, this is the case now, it was not always so! When we switched to the Melkite Church, my youngest was 2 and gave me a real run for my money! Every week for almost 3 months I dealt with melt downs and temper tantrums. Eventually though, we figured it out!

Now, I enjoy going to church with my girls and am able to pray and help them to pray as well. I found this article this week that shares a lot of great tips that I also have used with my girls. While the blogger is not Catholic, the ideas apply just as well to our church experience. Of course, every family has to figure this out for themselves, but these pointers are a great place to start!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Prayer in our Life: Adoration

There are four main types of prayer that we will learn about with the children this year. We can think of them by the word “ACTS.” Each of the letters of ACTS stands for a different type of prayer. A stands for Adoration. Adoration means praising God for His amazing holiness and for his wonderful creation. C stands for Confess. When we confess to God, we tell Him we are sorry for our sins. T stands for Thanksgiving, which is when we thank God for all He has done for us. S stands for Supplication, or asking God for what we need. We might ask God to protect us or heal someone who is sick. We will take the next few weeks to learn about each one.

To help reinforce the definitions, we’ll play a game to see some examples of each of the words. We will divide the children into two teams. Each team takes turns drawing a phrase from a bowl. The team has 30 seconds to decide which category of prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, or supplication) it goes under. The team will tape the item under the correct category. Correct answer is one point. If they get it wrong, the other team can try to put it in the right category for the point. For the list of phrases, you can print them here. I also printed pictures the represent each of the types of prayer for my pre-readers, which you can get here.

After the game, we'll move into teaching the children about adoration. I am using the lesson plan directly from the Prayer in our Life book. The lesson plan focuses on the holiness of God and the amazing things that He has created. We praise God for who He is...no one is like Him.

Just as God created many beautiful things, he gave us the ability to also create with Him. To wrap up the day, we are going to create something beautiful from clay. I will give the children a variety of colors of simple salt clay with the instructions, "Maybe you want to make a small bowl, or something for your icon corner. Maybe you want to make an animal or plant. You can create whatever you want. When you take it home, it can remind you of God’s creation and how awesome He is."

Happy lesson planning! Here are a few photos of some of the kiddos and their creations!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Prayer in our Life: How to Listen to God

This is the second lesson from the Prayer in our Life series available through God with Us Publications. Prayer in our Life is one of the curriculums I will be using as a foundation this year. This particular program can be found here. It is seven lessons long and has three levels of instruction on each topic geared toward different age groups. While I am using this program as my foundation, following is the lesson I created to teach children about prayer for this week.

This weeks theme is to teach the children that prayer is not just talking to God, but listening to His voice as well. Silence is not easily mastered by children (or me!), but it is not too soon to start trying! We will focus on not only hearing God's voice in the silence, but also hearing God's voice in His Word, the Bible. My lesson plan can be found here.

Little kids will get to make their own mini-"icon corner." My girls love having their own prayer space. This is a simple craft that could be hung near the child's bed at home, or taken with them to a private place where they can sit and talk to God on their own. The background is a basic felt sheet cut in half. I have all different colors for the children. Then, I printed out and laminated a variety of icons and items they might find in a regular icon corner. I have The Theotokos icon, St. John of the Desert icon (our parish patron), Jesus the Good Shepherd icon, incense, Holy Water, Holy Oil, The Bible, flowers, the Crucifix, icon of Christ the Teacher, and a candle for the children to choose from. (Click on each item to print your own.) Each item has Velcro attached to the back and easily "holds" on to the felt. Ahead of time, I sewed a simple loop of ribbon at the top to hang up the craft.

Big kids will be doing a Bible verse search with me. We will discuss what the Bible says about prayer and in turn, learn about looking verses up in the Bible. You can print out that worksheet here.

That's it for this week! May God bless our work with His children!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Prayer in our Life: What is prayer?

Prayer in our Life is a study series available through God with Us Publications. This is one of the curriculums I will be using as a foundation this year. This particular program can be found here. It is seven lessons long and has three levels of instruction on each topic geared toward different age groups. While I am using this program as my foundation, following is the lesson I created to teach children about prayer for this week.

The objectives of this lesson are to teach children that prayer is simply talking to God. We will also focus on our Beginning prayers. For the little ones, this will mean mastering the Sign of the Cross. For our older children, this will mean being introduced to the Trisagion prayers, or the Thrice Holy Hymn.

If you would like to print out and review the teacher's lesson plan that I created, you can print it here. Since I am teaching a multi-grade classroom, I had to adjust the formatted script from the text to accommodate all the children.

For our activity, we are making lap books. I have two set ups, one again for the older children with the Trisagion prayers and one for the younger children with the Sign of the Cross.

These look rather plain, they were my practice samples. The children's folders and pieces are colored, so it is much more appealing then. I will try to upload a few photos after we complete them tomorrow!

Here are the links to the lap book parts for your reference! Not all of the spacing and format translated well into Scribd, so you may have to adjust the documents once you download them.

Vocabulary folds

Left side, younger children

Left side, older children

Lap book Center, younger children originally found and adapted from HERE

Center page, older children

Right side, all children

No Eastern Catholic introduction to prayer would be complete without a discussion about icon corners! Please see my previous post here to learn more about setting up your own icon corner.

Take home activities:
For my pre-readers, adjusted to our tradition from HERE. (We make the Sign of the Cross from right to left!)

For my Primary grade children

My Secondary grade children are using a worksheet from the curriculum (page I-13)

A reflection on prayer for teens, originally found HERE, I created this page.

May God bless you abundantly this weekend!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

This week, we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is also our first week of Sunday school, so my actual lesson on the Feast is rather short so that I can focus on getting everyone back in the swing of things! I've made a few notes for you here though, to inform you on the feast, as well as offer some simple suggestions to help your family celebrate at home!

First, we learn about the icon for the Feast (check it out above). In this icon, there are two important people: St. Macarius, who was the archbishop of Jerusalem a long time ago, and St. Helena, who was Emperor Constantine’s mom. The other people in the picture represent other bishops, priests, and hymnographers (songwriters).

This icon tells one of the stories that we celebrate on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. In the year 326, Christianity was still new and life was hard for the Christians. St. Helena went looking for the cross that Jesus had died on. She found three crosses which were surrounded by basil plants, but she didn’t know which one had belonged to Jesus. St. Macarius, Archbishop of Jerusalem at the time, took all three crosses and touched each one to a dying, sick woman. When the true cross touched her, she was immediately healed. They took the true cross and built a church to keep it in. This is also why we have basil, or other fresh flowers and herbs, blessed on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

The Holy Cross remained in Jerusalem until almost 300 years later. In the year 614, Jerusalem was conquered by the Persians and they stole the true cross. The Persians kept the cross away from the people for fifteen years. In 628, the new Emperor of Jerusalem, Heraclius, defeated the Persian King and brought the Holy cross back to Jerusalem. This is the second event that we celebrate on this Feast Day.

There is an interesting story about Emperor Heraclius bringing the Holy Cross back to Jerusalem. After he conquered Persia, he decided to carry the cross back to Jerusalem himself. As he tried to carry the Cross back into town, an invisible hand stopped him from walking any further. He felt as though he couldn’t take another step and he didn’t know what to do. The bishop at the time advised him that he should remove all his fancy clothes and royal jewels so he could carry the cross humbly, as Jesus did. The emperor changed into a simple tunic and walked barefoot with the cross to take it back to Golgotha, where Jesus had died in Jerusalem.

The cross is an important sign for us as Christians. The cross was used to try to get rid of Jesus and stop his message, yet He rose from the dead, conquered death and opened Heaven to all of us. Now, the cross is a sign of our victory with Christ. We wear it on our jewelry, clothes, and we make the sign of the cross with our bodies when we pray. These are all ways that we can remind ourselves that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us and rise again to free us of our sins.

Now that you know about the Feast itself, here are two simple suggestions to help you celebrate!

1. Attend the Divine Liturgy this week as a family to celebrate this feast. Don’t forget to bring basil, flowers, or other fresh herbs to be blessed! Fresh basil is SO fragrant, the kids enjoy experiencing this plant up close!

2. Cook foods with basil in them for dinner! (Even better...use the basil you had blessed at Liturgy!) Check out this cheesy basil stuffed chicken recipe that I made tonight at Mel's Kitchen Cafe. It was so good!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Nativity of the Theotokos

Kontakion of the Feast

Through your holy birth, O Immaculate One, Joachim and Anne were delivered from the shame of childlessness, and Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. Your people redeemed from the debt of their sins, celebrate your birth crying out to you: the barren one gives birth to the Mother of God, the Sustainer of our life.

Today is the Virgin Mary's birthday! My daughter's school is celebrating with a tea party this morning, and we are all looking forward to it. Be sure to bake a cake tonight and sing for Mary with your family. Catholic Icing also has some cute crafty ideas if you have free time today with the kids.

Sts. Joachim and Anne, pray for us!
Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Friday, September 2, 2011

First Friday Link up at Catholic Icing

My favorite, cute, crafty Catholic blog is hosting another link up! Head over for some great ideas!

First Friday Link Up

May God bless you with a good rest over the holiday weekend!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Parent Meeting

This weekend will be the parent meeting for Sunday School (CRE). I am very excited because we have our largest enrollment yet at our parish! At the parent meeting, I think this is a great time to establish our program's focus and expectations, not only for children, but for the families. Here are a few pointers from my meeting that you may want to incorporate into yours!

1. Welcome, Summary of our program

“Our culture is doing catechesis every day. It works like water dripping on a stone, eroding people’s moral and religious sensibilities, and leaving a hole where their convictions used to be. Christians in my country and yours – and throughout the West, generally – have done a terrible job of transmitting our faith to our own children and to the culture at large,” Archbishop Chaput

When we present our lives before the Lord, we will be held responsible for what we did and did not teach our children. This is a huge responsibility. Society is not teaching children our Faith, we need to make sure that WE do that. I encourage you to make Sunday School and attending Liturgy regularly a priority for your family this year.

Additionally, our children don’t need the faith “dumbed down” for them…they often have a better grasp on the Ways of our Lord than we do! It is not too much to ask of our children to come to CRE and then to the Divine Liturgy. We do it for school all week long; we can do it on Sundays too! While this may be a change for your family, I just want to encourage you that you can do it!

2. Description of learning style: a Multi-grade Classroom

At our small parish, we have a wide age-range of children to teach and few volunteers to do so. This creates a situation where it becomes necessary to create a multi-grade classroom, where children of all ages are able to learn together. While this may seem like a disadvantage, I believe that this style of learning is actually very beneficial to our children. One of the primary challenges in teaching our children is that they have such varying levels of religious knowledge within the same age groups. By putting all children together, we are able to address concepts with older children they may otherwise have skipped over, while bringing our younger children to a deeper knowledge of our faith.

If you are interested in more information about multi-grade classrooms, I encourage you to check out this website.

3. Schedule for the year

Each week, I will present the lesson of the day to the entire group; then we will either break into age-based groups for activities at their own level, or participate in a large group game or activity. (In another post, I will try to describe my lesson-planning for the year)

4. Guidelines for parents and co-teachers

While these guidelines are specific to my parish, you may have similar guidelines:

-You must have your safe environment training completed and a back ground check with our diocese to co-teach.
-Parents of 3 year olds must stay to assist their children.
-Co-teachers should be present at church by 9am to receive instruction from me on the activities and responsibilities of that day. Regular attendance is very important for those who want to co-teach. The children grow very attached to their teachers and we need to cultivate that bond.
-Parents are invited to attend the children’s lesson or meet together in the conference room for adult learning and conversation.

5. Attendance Policy

Attendance is something we have struggled with in the past. We have families that don't come regularly, which makes it challenging to teach the children lessons that build one week after another. We also had families that would come to Sunday School(CRE) and then not come to Liturgy, which we definitely don't want! This year, I created this attendance system in the hopes that it will motivate the entire family to make sure that we're together every week!

Attendance weekly at both CRE and the Divine Liturgy is necessary for our children to receive the maximum benefit from the program, but more importantly, to truly come to know and love God through our Church.

Attendance will be tracked this year. Each week, there is an opportunity to earn 2 stickers. Children earn 1 sticker for coming to CRE and 1 sticker for attending Liturgy.

-Actual attendance will be rewarded with a smiley-face sticker.
-An excused absence will be when you tell me, by phone or email, the day before class that you are unable to attend. These days will be marked with a star.
-An unexcused absence will be those days where your absence was not noted ahead of time. These days, the children will receive no stars.
-If you attend CRE and then miss Liturgy on the same day, this is counted as an unexcused absence for Liturgy.

For every 6 stickers, the children will get to pick a prize from a treasure box. We also will be having a Nativity play this year, and only children who have attended well will be allowed in the play.

I hope that these guidelines for my parent meeting help you gather your thoughts for your programs as well!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Classroom Rules and Expectations

This week I am starting to prepare classroom materials as well as prepare for our parent-teacher meeting that will be in just a few weeks. I am sharing today with you the poster that I made to convey the classroom rules for our group this year.

The actual rules came from The Catholic Tool Box, a resource that I recently shared with you. I put the poster together with stickers in the $1 bin at Walmart I found this week, then colorful markers.

I also decided to include pictures of each of the concepts below the written rules. I have quite a few pre-readers this year in my classes, so I wanted to be sure they had a visual for the rules as well.You can print the images that I used HERE as well.

I love that the rules are painted in a positive light: What we WILL do, instead of what we will NOT do. I am so easily bogged down in "no's" when I discipline, so this is a great reminder for me to stay positive, even while correcting behavior.

More to come on setting up your school year!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sharing a great resource

Just a quick post to share a great resource that you may not have seen before: The Catholic Tool Box!

This is a fantastic source of information for your Catholic Classroom. Most resources are of the Latin-variety, but there is plenty that can be used for our Eastern perspective. This website is truly amazing!

Right now, she is gathering links for Catholic websites and blogs...hopefully more resources will be listed soon!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Feast of the Transfiguration

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration! Our church will celebrate tomorrow at Sunday Liturgy, but I wanted to share a couple tips to help you celebrate this feast with your family. Don't forget to get a basket of grapes ready to be blessed at your Liturgy!

1. Read the story from your Bible in Matthew 17: 1-9 as a family.

2. Want to keep things super simple? Here is a beautiful coloring page to print.

3. Feeling ambitious? Try out this craft, an idea from Happy Catholic Mom. Print out Jesus HERE. Have the children color Jesus, and glue him to a piece of construction paper. Next, paint a thin layer of glue over Jesus and around him. Sprinkle glitter over the glue, dust off the extra and you're all set! Now Jesus will shine just as He did in the story. (I did this with glitter Mod Podge instead of loose glitter...I am a total type A mom and hate the mess! LOL) We also drew a cloud and wrote from the scripture "This is my beloved Son, of whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him."

4. Purchase and use the Transfiguration learning kit from Orthodox Christian Supply. We have some of their other kits and they have been a big hit with the kids.

5. Make a card for your parish priest. Fold a sheet of card stock in half. Have your children dip their thumbs into purple paint and press them on the page to form the bunch of grapes. Cut out felt leaves for dimension and glue them on. Inside, write an encouraging message of appreciation.

6. Sing the troparion for the day as a family. "You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ God, showing your Disciples as much of your glory as they could hold. Let your eternal light shine also upon us sinners, through the prayers of the Mother of God. O Giver of Light, glory to You."

7. At dinner, have a discussion about the Feast. Need some help with what to say? Look HERE. Show the children the icon for the Feast.

8. Buy as many colors of grapes as you can and have the children help you wash them and arrange them in a basket for Liturgy.

9. One more cute grape craft made from egg cartons...check it out HERE! This would be great with little ones.

10. After returning from Liturgy, share your blessed grapes with your neighbors. What a great way to witness to our friends!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sunday School Enrollment!

Dear Parishioners, Family, and Friends in the Phoenix metro area,

Christ is among us!

It is time for Children's Religious Education enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year at St. John of the Desert Melkite Catholic Church. The enrollment deadline this year is August 31, 2011. I have linked below to three documents with all the information that you will need to enroll your children. Please note that registration is not limited solely to parishioners, so please feel free to pass along this information to your extended family and friends. We would love to see our enrollment grow this year!

Please leave a comment below if you have additional questions. I am here to help!

Registration Letter

Important Dates

Registration Form

Friday, June 3, 2011


Some basic info I've collected for the Feast, plus crafts, cupcakes, and a coloring page at the bottom for you! (Edited from my original post)

Pentecost is the great festival that marks the birth of the Christian church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost means "fiftieth day" and is celebrated fifty days after Easter.
Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the twelve apostles, Jesus' mother, and many other of His disciples gathered together in Jerusalem for the Jewish harvest festival that was celebrated on the fiftieth day of Passover. While they were indoors praying, a sound like that of a rushing wind filled the house and tongues of fire descended and rested over each of their heads. This was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on human flesh promised by God through the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-29). The disciples were suddenly empowered to proclaim the gospel of the risen Christ. They went out into the streets of Jerusalem and began preaching to the crowds gathered for the festival. Not only did the disciples preach with boldness and vigor, but by a miracle of the Holy Spirit they spoke in the native languages of the people present, many who had come from all corners of the Roman Empire. This created a sensation. The apostle Peter seized the moment and addressed the crowd, preaching to them about Jesus' death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. The result was that about three thousand converts were baptized that day. (You can read the Biblical account of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-41).
Red is the liturgical color for this day in the Roman/Latin Church. Red recalls the tongues of flame in which the Holy Spirit descended on the first Pentecost. The color red also reminds us of the blood of the martyrs. These are the believers of every generation who by the power of the Holy Spirit hold firm to the true faith even at the cost of their lives. Be sure to wear red to mass!
As an aside, the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches celebrate this feast with the color green to symbolize new life. They also decorate their homes and prayer spaces with green plants to remind them of this. Perhaps you can also decorate your home with new plants, or make a tree like we did here:

These spinners we a HUGE hit with the kids, they were so excited and worked hard to perfect their "spinning technique." (Don't worry, my lovely kiddo is really is happy in these pictures, she's just concentrating on spinning it! LOL)

I also like this coloring page.

For a quick and easy game, I love these memory cards. The page has 2 printables listed in alphabetical order called Disciples Memory Match 1 and 2. They have the apostles saying "hello" in all different languages! Adorable!

Last, but not least, I made these cupcakes as a treat for the kids. Pentecost is our "graduation" celebration as well this year. I used strawberry cake and vanilla frosting. On top, I cut a strawberry in half (the inside really looks like a flame!) and added a dab of orange (food coloring) frosting and orange sprinkles to add to the "fire" look! They were a big hit with the kids and grown-ups!

Monday, May 30, 2011

End of the Year gifts for Sunday school kids

Spoiler alert! If your kids attend my Sunday school classes, they have not yet received these gifts! You may want to re-visit after the graduation ceremony! :-)

I saw THIS gift idea, and thought it was a great foundation for a Christian children's gift...check out my twist on this idea!

Romans 12:2 says "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." I think as Sunday school teachers (and parents!), we can not pick a better summary of our goal in teaching our children. We want them to know that they are IN this world, but not OF this world, and intended for such a great purpose- the Will of God!

So I picked up snack size Milky-Way candy bars, put a few in a cello bag and created these labels for each child. Voila! A simple, inexpensive, "thank-you" for your Sunday school kids!

Feast of the Ascension

I can't believe how quickly this Easter season has gone for me! This Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension, and I wanted to share with you the craft I've prepared for this Sunday's class, plus a few other links that I really liked!

For this craft, you just need the two pages that I have for you to print out, string, and a wire coat hanger. (I always have a ton of extras from the dry cleaning!)

To start out, take your hanger and pull down the bottom bar to elongate the shape. Use the twine or tape to secure each piece to the hanger.

You can print out this image of Christ HERE.

I tied string to one end of the hanger, "thread" the clouds through the string, then tied them to the other side.

You can print this scripture, as well as the clouds HERE.

I also found this website, from the religious education department of St. John the Baptist Church, which has a free printable coloring page for the Ascension.

And of course, my favorite Catholic-crafty blog has a few other links up as well HERE.

Happy crafting, happy celebrating this beautiful Feast of our Lord this week!

Christ is Risen! He is Truly Risen!

First Friday Link Up

I'm linked up over at Catholic Icing...be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pascha (Easter) Lapbook

Lucky for me, Pascha is celebrated for 50 days! So, while for many Easter has come and gone, we Catholics are lucky to continue celebrating! Here is a quick lapbook that I created for my Sunday school kids, I hope you enjoy!

I started with the Troparion for the Feast. I love that the songs we sing in church teach the faith. My kids LOVE to sing this one too, which makes it all the more fun. I printed the troparion in English, Greek, and Arabic. You can print the flip book HERE.

Next, I made a three-fold page. On the outside, it reads "Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?" from Corinthians. Then when you open it, we have the Pascha icon. I set up the page so that you just fold it in half, then fold it in thirds. You can print that page HERE.

At the top center, I have the words from the angel at the tomb, as well as a little coloring page for the children. It is really beautiful and you can print it HERE.

At the bottom of the page, I found a printable book online from this website. This link actually takes you to an entire other set of pieces for a lapbook, but I wasn't crazy about the other parts, so I just used the Easter story book.

On the top of the right flap, I included our Paschal greeting, "Christ is Risen!", as well as the response, "He is truly Risen!" We practice this a lot with the children, as it is used during Liturgy, after Liturgy as we kiss the cross, and also in the social hall. You can print this piece HERE.

I saved my favorite part of the lapbook for last! At the end of Pascha's Liturgy, Father blesses baskets of eggs in our Church. Other Eastern Churches fill their baskets with all the foods they've been fasting from during Lent, such as meats, cheeses, butter (oil), and sweets. In my own family, we have chosen to fill our basket this way for the blessing. It is such a fun tradition! To remind the children of this part of the Liturgy, I made a little basket. Once you have it cut out around the edges, I cut a small slit where the basket would be open. Then, I put glue only on the edges. Then, I cut out all the pieces that we traditionally put in the baskets. You can print this last pieceHERE.

Here's a picture of our basket, plus a few other baskets from the parish!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Retreat feed back

As many of you know, we hosted our third annual children's retreat back in March. It was an amazing day, and I have had a few people request a bit more information about what we did. I've put together some practical highlights for other people looking to do the same.

Our parish can not afford to do a week long "vacation Bible school," so we have made it a habit each Great Lent to have one day for a children's retreat. This year, our theme was the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary. I think it was our best retreat yet!

The curriculum we used was from this Greek Orthodox website. The catalog can be found here. I ordered the following items for about $100:

V21 Volume 1 Master Tool kit
v21-5Prayer service booklet
v22-6 Student classroom booklet
v21-7 Theotokos Stamp
CB301 Illustrated Life of the Theotokos

They are well-done and I was very happy to have the guidance of a pre-planned program. In the past, I have created the retreat from scratch which is very difficult! I did have to edit the material in some places, namely, it is created to be a week-long program and we had just one day! I also thought that the music provided was not impressive, but the content was excellent.

You can print out our schedule for the day here. Basically, instead of four days of classes, we ended up with four stations which the children rotated through. Each station lasted about 45 minutes. We had a snack in the morning and also served lunch.

We started the day by checking in all the children for their "trip:"

They had to stamp their "passports" first. We made basic salt dough in four different colors, then we used the Theotokos medal (dipped in a LOT of flour) to stamp into the dough. While the children participated in the retreat, our kitchen staff baked them so they would be hard. We gave them to the children at the end of the day to take home and hang up in their prayer space. You can find a recipe for simple bake clay online, or use the recipe I found here.

The children also picked up their "luggage," which was a gift bag labeled with their group name on it. Inside the bag, I put inexpensive gifts and sea-travel themed games and activities. I also had coloring pages out for the children to have something to do while everyone arrived and we got them all checked in. Throughout the day, children had things to add to their luggage at each station.

Next, we broke into our groups (by age) and started out to our stations. I had treasure maps for everyone to follow. They are very cute, check them out!

The station curriculum was from the pre-planned retreat, then a few adds from each of the teachers to personalize the station. We taught the children about the Nativity of the Theotokos, the Annunciation, her presentation in the Temple, and her Dormition. If you are interested in more details about our "adds" to the curriculum, message me, and I will get the information to you!

We made an effort at each station to have a lesson, craft/hands on activity, and something active. We had children as young as 3 and old as 16, so it can be challenging to accommodate this large of a group. We also gave the children journals. I used the student booklet from the pre-made retreat as a template, but made our own journals. I included a coloring page for each station in the books for our pre-readers, as well as plenty of writing and drawing space for older children. They decorated their own covers and I think the journals turned out fantastic!

Here are a few highlights of the day.

We showed a short video clip of the annunciation from You Tube. I think it is important to use many different types of tools to reach out to the children.

That's my momma teaching in the Nave of our Church! (I couldn't do these retreats without her!)

This is one of my regular teachers discussing the Nativity of the Theotokos with some of the older children.

The obstacle course is always a huge hit and lets the kids get moving!

Beautiful lesson of the Presentation, done Catechesis of the Good Shepherd style.

Bean bag toss game...that's my hubby in middle!

The children made tissue paper flowers and put them by the icon of the Dormition. Then, we said prayers together. It was beautiful.

This is me teaching a small group. I read the story of Mary's dormition and put up the pieces of the icon one piece at a time in a puzzle to teach the children the meaning behind the icon.

I hope that this helps you to put on a retreat at your own parish! Please feel free to contact me if you would like more guidance!

P.S. I picked pictures that you can't see the kiddos' faces since they don't all belong to me. So, I know they're a bit generic, but at least you get the idea! :-)