"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.

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!