What Shall Children Study?

colorful tapestry with words "Religious Exploration"


What Shall Children Study? 

Robin Mitzcavitch, Director of Religious Exploration and Education

All that quickens sympathetic imagining,
That awakens sensitivity to other’s feelings,
All that enriches and enlarges understanding of the world;
All that strengthens courage,
That adds to the love of living;
All that leads to developing skills
Needed for democratic participations–

All these put together are curriculum
Through which children learn.

~Sofia Lyons Fahs

Last week I called the Worcester Art Museum’s tour director, Jan, to set up a field trip time for our Building Bridges class. Rev. Cheryl Leshay and Lars Dahl, class facilitators, have prepared a tour called “Religious Art is Universal” for our grade 5-7 children to attend.

After finishing up with the details of the trip, the director, Jan, began to tell me of her fond memories of attending our church as a child. She said she would never forget that Sunday morning when they pulled all the children out of their classes to watch their minister ( Rev. Eugene Adams) on television. He was marching with Rev. Martin Luther King in Selma.

Jan told me she would also never forget an elderly member of the congregation named Grace Brown: aka “The Lollipop Lady”. She said that every Sunday, Grace would come to church with two handbags. One was her actual handbag, and the other (described to me as an old-fashion black bag with a metal clasp on the top) was always filled with lollipops which she handed out to any child she met in the church halls.

This fun and lovely exchange really stuck with me. The stories that this woman described, really resonated with the way I feel about how church and religious exploration and education should work. I know the curricula we offer is outstanding, the adults who step up to teach are very qualified, and the classrooms are stocked with ample supplies and are safe. But for me, there has to be more. There has to be those sensory moments full of feeling in order to create lasting impact and memories.

With lots of assistance from Rev. Aaron Payson, I put together an online teacher training video this year as an addendum to our regular teacher kick-off trainings. In that video, I went over all the nuts and bolts of preparing for classes, safety, inclusion, calendars, special events, etc. When talking about preparing the curricula lessons and managing the classroom I emphasized our goals in offering religious exploration and education. Our number one goal is to allow each child to leave the class with a “feeling” rather than some information memorized.

Yes, we will spend a lot of time this year talking about our 7 principles, but we never ask our children to memorize. Rather, we ask them to internalize what it feels like to accept another who is different than they are. We hope that children leave the classroom feeling as though they have been seen, heard, respected, and treated fairly. We help each child practice what it’s like to act in justice, in love, and with respect. We encourage questions and hope to provide engaging experiences: like going to a museum and looking at art when talking about world religions. We want children to remember the adult who took the time to care about their opinion or story, to help them, or maybe even give a lollipop.

Right now the world is full of uncertainties for many different people, communities, and the environment. For some, it could even feel like times back when Rev. Eugene Adams marched in Selma. It seems to me that gathering together with our children in a faith-based space is critical. This should be a place to experience peace, calm and steadfast community. This should be a place where we can also explore what it means to seek justice for those marginalized and to respect the environment and stand up for protecting it. This is a place where we can celebrate our differences, learn how to speak about them in an affirming way, and then also admire all the ways we are akin and connected. This is a place to bring your questions and fears and feel heard.

Years from now, I hope the adult, who was once a child engaged in our programs, can conjure up a fond memory: a “feeling” about our church. The museum tour director probably remembers feeling proud of her minister as he stood up and marched for racial justice. She probably thinks of love, kindness, and gracious giving when she remembers the “Lollipop Lady”.

Justice. Peace. Gracious Giving. Kindness to others – just because. Love. Being seen and heard. Exploration. These are the things that our faith tradition strives for children to encounter. As the revolutionary liberal religious educator, Sophia Lyons Fahs writes: This is what the children shall study:

The religious way is the deep way, the way that sees what physical eyes alone fail to see, the intangibles of the heart of every phenomenon. The religious way is the way that touches universal relationships; that goes high, wide and deep, that expands the feelings of kinship.

This past Sunday we gave out small “Exploration Charms” as part of the Blessing of the Backpacks. We hoped that these charms could be used to remind children (and adults!) that not only should they bring their notebooks, and pencils, and tools with them into the world as they learn, work , and play; they should also bring their intangible tools.

These intangible tools: the ones they explore and practice at UUCW, are our 7 Principles. I look at our principles and know that these are some of the most important tools you can carry.

1st Principle: We believe that each and every person is important.

2nd Principle: We believe that all people should be treated fairly and kindly.

3rd Principle: We believe that we should accept one another and keep on learning together.

4th Principle: We believe that each person must be free to search for what is true and right in life.

5th Principle: We believe that all persons should have a vote about the things that concern them.

6th Principle: We believe in working for a peaceful, fair, and free world.

7th Principle: We believe in caring for our planet Earth, the home we share with all living things.

I look forward to a wondrous year of exploring together; creating good feelings and fond memories of love and Justice.

In Love and Faith,