Category Archives: Christian Education Archive

FAMILY ADVENT ACTIVITY: ADVENT PRAYER CALENDAR

Hi Friends,

My name is Mirim Kim and I am currently a second year student at Knox College, studying in the MTS program specializing in Religious Education. My passion has always been for children, youth and family ministries, and creating practical activities that help families to cultivate loving, joyful and faith-based home environment. This year, I was given the exciting opportunity to participate in a Theological Field Education (TFE) placement and met Tori Smit as my site educator, who has helped me to expand my horizon in both educational and intergenerational ministries. As a part of my TFE experience, she has graciously invited me to write a blog posting for the synod website, thus I decided to share with you one of my family activities that we do at home.

So let’s begin! 

Another exciting season of Advent is less than a month away. It is a wonderful season for parents and grandparents to create a learning opportunity for our children to experience the joyful anticipation of the birth of Jesus. With this in mind, I want to invite you to participate in this simple family activity, which has helped my family reflect on the coming of Christ.

Children tend to pay better attention when tangible materials are in front of their eyes, and when they are allowed to touch and interact with objects. Perhaps this is the reason why many toy stores allow children to see, touch, and hear the toys to stimulate their interest in order to sell the products. Children also love having a chocolate Advent calendar so that they not only have fun opening something each day, but also to taste the delicious chocolate. 

As a mom of three boys, I wondered if there are any other types of Advent calendars we can use before bedtime that would not create a sugar rush for the boys, and also something that can be reused year after year. I also looked for something simple. We tried our best to do Advent devotions with our children every year, but to be honest, there were days when they were just not willing to do anything, or when we were too exhausted from the chaotic day. 

While looking for the one I liked, I ended up deciding to make my own version at home. Inspired by the Advent wreath that we commonly see in the church, I made an Advent prayer calendar composed of one white Christ candle, 25 stones and 25 little bowls to put them into. 

Each night, we gather around this prayer calendar and ask each person to offer up a prayer of waiting for the coming of Jesus. Children’s prayers can be a simple sentence, such as “thank you for sending baby Jesus,” while younger children can be encouraged to say just a word or two. When my youngest was in preschool, we asked him to say a word, and the word he chose was “baby Jesus.” There is no right or wrong prayer. Meaningful participation is the key to this family activity. Creating a safe environment for children to feel welcomed and invited to pray in simple language in their own way is the core of this Advent Prayer Calendar. 

When the prayers are done, we asked our boys to take turns putting one stone in one of the little bowls each night. The person who placed the stone in was also asked to say, “we pray all this in Jesus’ name, Amen,” and then use the candle snuffer to snuff out the light. Our children liked to stay there for a few more seconds to watch the smoke dancing and disappearing as it went up in the air. One of my boys told me that it reminds him of God being everywhere. Indeed, our God is omnipresent. 

This has been a meaningful Advent prayer time for our family, to not only learn how to pray but also to listen to each other’s prayers and build a sense of unity as a family in expressing our hearts to Christ. I hope that this family activity may bring an extra special atmosphere and joyful participation of waiting for the coming of Christ, just as it is for our family. 

How To Make an Advent Prayer Calendar

Materials:

2-3 packages of oven baking modelling clay (I used Sculpey PE 5042 Oven Bake Clay Premolar! in black from Amazon. You can choose any colour you want.

25 small stones (available at a dollar store)

A white pillar candle (available at a dollar store)

A small container to hold rocks (available at a dollar store)

A simple candle holder (optional)

Candle snuffer (optional)

Instructions:

Unpack the clay from its original package and cut them evenly to make 25 pieces. 

Using your hands to mold the clay into small bowls for the stones. Place them on the baking tray and bake it according to the instruction on the original package. I used “Sculpey Premo” and baked them at 275 degrees for 40 min.

Let the cups sit until the bowls are cooled down. 

Designate a place in your home to display the Christ candle, a container of rocks and little bowls nicely. This space will be an Advent praying center for your family.

Optional: If you have extra clay, make some more little bowls to create a total of 40 bowls. Also, get a purple pillar candle and a few more rocks (you have enough when you get a bag from the dollar store) to make a family prayer calendar for the season of Lent.

Jesus Is Coming!

Advent is a time of waiting. Or, at least it’s supposed to be.

For many of us the simple act of waiting is frequently lost in the midst of the busyness of the season; there’s shopping and baking to be done, family visits and decorating that needs to happen, and the regular activities of our lives at school, at work and at home that need to carry on. In the midst of all of this there is also the desire to undertake a few Advent family activities that we can do at home such as special Advent devotions, Advent calendars, and Advent candle lighting. We know it is a good thing to do these things, but even the act of simply remembering to do them, and failing to do so some of the time, leaves us feeling more burdened then blessed during these days. How do we capture the season of waiting and anticipation for the birth of Jesus in the midst of all of this without feeling worse than when we started?

This year, instead of providing a family Advent devotional booklet for families to follow, I have instead created a booklet that keeps in mind the many obligations and commitments of families at this time. This year our Advent booklet instead focuses on the wonderful family activities we already do and enjoy. Each week there is one bible story to read together, using either the Spark Story Bible or scripture, followed by three suggested picture story books that are easily found at your local library, your church library, or Chapters/Indigo, and one family movie for your family to enjoy together. Each of the weekly stories from the bible come from the lectionary readings for that week and connect with the traditional themes of Advent, Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The suggested story books also reflect the weekly themes as does each of the family movies.

It is my hope that rather than feeling overwhelmed during Advent that your family will instead delight in the opportunity to read the stories at bedtime, or watch a family movie with a bowl of popcorn and some hot chocolate. Don’t feel obliged to do it all or find all of the story books; just do what fits in, is easily available, and allows your family to experience and talk about what it is you are waiting for.

For families who would like to print out this booklet, you will find it attached below through a dropbox link. When you open the link it will look a bit mixed up, as it is laid out ready to be printed and assembled into a booklet. Print out the document two-sided, with the short edge binding, and when it comes off your printer assemble the three pages together and then fold it in half. Now it will make sense and flow correctly through the weeks of Advent and Christmas.

For churches who would like to print out multiple copies of this booklet for distribution print out each page separately so you can put it through your church photocopier easily. Print the pages as a two-sided document, assemble the pages together, fold in half, and staple down the fold.

Churches may also want to plan ahead and purchase some of the books recommended for your church library, or plan a movie night featuring one of the movies suggested one evening during Advent. Perhaps one or two of the books could be used for your children’s message during worship allowing everyone to reflect on the theme for that week. Don’t worry that you will be taking the story away from families to read at home; reading the story over and over again at home is still a wonderful family activity and helps us all remember the wonder of each story.

Please, also feel free to email or call me if you want to know about any of the stories, movies, or ideas for family Advent celebrations your church may wish undertake. You can get a hold of me at torismit@gmail.com or by calling 647-348-0879.

Jesus is indeed coming! As we wait and anticipate this glorious day, may we all find precious time to contemplate what this means to each of us and to our world. Blessings, Tori

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/afurmvshrhw0qrg/AADfcKWF_cqjy1YDHoMxXdkia?dl=0

A Children’s Book for Remembrance Day

When we gather to worship on the Sunday before Remembrance Day, we will also gather to honour and remember those people who gave their lives in the Great War, more than 65,000 of them, and those that were added to their number during the Second World War. We will also remember those that served in the Korean War,and Afghanistan.

In worship we will have special prayers, poppies will be worn and wreaths may be laid, the names of those who fought and died in the wars may be read out loud, we will stand for two minutes of silence and we will experience the mourning and rising of Last Post and Reville. All of these visible and solemn ways of honouring those who gave their lives in service to our country also help our children to see and hear about a time before they were born. Through these activities we keep the memory of loved ones and our commitment to peace alive. For children who may only rarely hear these meaningful stories the act of remembrance can be profound.

We wonder how to tell the stories of war and the desire for peace in ways that are appropriate for our children. When we come to the children’s time it becomes a challenge. How much do we say? What should we say? And what shouldn’t we say. How do we find the right balance between too little and too much for our children to take in. In speaking with the children we need to be honest and use words that are clearly understood. Children do need to hear something of the cost of war without focusing on the gory details. It is appropriate to use the words ‘dead’ and ‘died’, rather than using words like ‘passed on’, ‘gone to sleep’, or ‘have gone to the other side’ which only cause confusion and unintended fears in our children. They need to have their honest questions answered sensitively and not ignored. What will you say? The age of the children in your church will help decide how much detail you want to go into, and what the focus of your message might be.

If you are looking for a good children’s book to read aloud during your children’s time, in the Sunday School, or during a mid-week children’s gathering I would like to suggest the book, A Poppy Is to Remember by Heather Patterson (Scholastic, 2004). In explaining the symbol of the poppy, this thoughtfully written book reminds us of Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae who wrote the famous poem, In Flanders Fields, and prompts its listeners to remember those who served in the wars, those who cared for the injured, and those remained at home. The book concludes by highlighting the poppy as a symbol of peace. The book is brief, with helpful pictures, and includes the text of the famous poem written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae (which you can read along with the book’s text if you wish), and a brief history of Remembrance Day in Canada.

If you would like a copy of A Poppy is To Remember, you can buy it in the children’s section of your local bookstore (Chapters and Indigo).

Faith Formation Matters-a new, free course for Christian Education Coordinators

Dear friends,

Many of our local congregations have hired a gifted lay person, usually on a part-time basis, to coordinate and lead their Christian education, youth and/or family ministries programmes. While these people are hired with a great deal of commitment to the task, they often have little formal education in their ministry area and wish they had more.

The synod has heard this concern. This fall the synod is inviting anyone serving as a paid Christian education coordinator to sign up and participate in an exciting and interactive basic course on Christian education and faith formation that is designed to assist them in understanding and doing their ministry better. This course, ‘Faith Formation Matters’, will cover the basics of the theology, theory and practice of educational ministry as well as provide an opportunity for participants to get to know others in their field.

‘Faith Formation Matters’ will be taught by Dr. Tori Smit, the synod’s Regional Minister for Faith Formation. Tori holds a Doctor of Educational Ministry Degree from Columbia Theological Seminary, has been a professional Christian educator for over 36 years, has authored numerous curriculum resources for the PCC, PCUSA, Kerygma Bible Studies and Montreat Conference Center, has taught Christian Education courses at Columbia Theological Seminary and Emmanuel College and keynotes regularly across Canada and the US. She is both knowledgable and very practical in her field.

And here is the best news of all – ‘Faith Formation Matters’ is free.

This course will be held between 7 and 9 pm the third Wednesday of each month at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Toronto. Trinity is easily reached from all directions as it is just off of the 401 at Bayview Ave. and has a parking lot available. If your church has a person serving as the CE coordinator, or you are that person, please register by calling Tori at 647-348-0879 or emailing torismit@gmail.com.

See you at Trinity, Tori Smit

Light, Glorious Light!

 

The season of Advent starts on December 2. It is the beginning of a new church year and invites us to move out of darkness and in to God’s marvellous light as we anticipate and prepare for the coming of Christ. As we decorate our homes, plan family meals and rush around to gather gifts and visit friends and family during this season it is important to stop, rest and reflect on the stories from scripture that lead us to Jesus, the light of the world.

I invite you to take time, to read and to pray each day of the Advent season. To help you on your way please feel free to download and print the Advent devotional booklet, Light, Glorious Light! attached to this blog posting. Please feel free to duplicate it and gift it to family, friends, and church members.

This devotional booklet is based on Year 1 of the Narrative Lectionary, a new collection of scripture readings that highlight the stories of our faith over a four year cycle. This year you will encounter the stories of Habakkuk and Esther along with the Gospel texts from Matthew and Luke.

When you open the attached pdf. file it will appear to be out of order. It isn’t. The pages appear to be out of order because the file is intended to be printed as a booklet. Print the file as a two-sided document with the short-edges binding, then take the printed pages as they come off your printer and fold them in half as a booklet with the colour picture of the candles on the cover of your booklet. Staple the middle seam to hold all of the pages together.

If you are wanting to print multiple copies, print the document on six, one-sided pages and then photocopy them as a double-sided document, fold as a booklet and staple in the middle. You will want to run one copy off as a trial document before committing your photocopier to large numbers.

I wish you hope, peace, joy and love this Advent as you experience God’s love anew each day. Tori

click here for the 2018 Advent Devotional Booklet, Light, Glorious Light

Advent Faith Practices – 2018 Calendar

Traci Smith is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and a faith-filled parent with her spouse to a young family. Traci cares deeply about how families can talk about and ‘do’ faith at home through nurture and simple practices. She has a great book out for families, Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home, filled with engaging and easy ideas for conversations, rituals, prayers, and family activities for families to do together at home. Traci also sends out a weekly email to  families called Treasure Box Tuesday. You can sign up for this great email of ideas and recommended resources at her website, www.traci-smith.com.

Get to know Traci through her 2018 Advent Faith Practices calendar that is linked to this posting. Please feel free to circulate it among your congregation members and to others. Please just ensure that it is circulated free of charge, and with the acknowledgement included in the bottom box of the calendar.

Click here for Traci Smith’s Advent Faith Practices Calendar

Come to the Pre-Advent Retreat at Crieff Hills for Church Leaders

Before the hustle and bustle of the season takes over your days, take time to relax, refresh, and/or plan ahead away from the busyness of it all.

Pre-Advent Retreat Special 

Leading others through the season of Advent requires careful preparation. This year, Crieff is offering a reduced rate for church leaders, preachers and Sunday school teachers for nights between November 4th to 9th and November 11th to 16th. Book an overnight stay for $80 (+HST) per night and receive:

  • overnight accommodation in a one-bedroom suite at the Pines

  • access to a special Advent resource center in the Pines Common Room       

  • opportunities for walking the labyrinth and hiking our extensive wooded trails 

  • unhurried time to prepare Bible studies, write sermons and plan children’s programs   

Call 1-800-884-1525 to book your stay. Ask about discounts on shared rooms and multiple night stays! Let us help you quiet your heart, wait on God and prepare for the upcoming holiday season.   

How to Choose Curriculum

Choosing curriculum for the Sunday School, Nursery, Youth Group, and Intergenerational activities can be a challenge. How do you ever decide? There are so many options on the market and there are pros and cons to each and every one of them. Where do you start?

While there is no one perfect curriculum for every church, making a curriculum choice is not impossible and can be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on your church’s goals and prayers for great faith formation for the children and youth of your church community.

Finding the one that’s right for your church’s needs means beginning with a good understanding of your church’s theology, and a some knowledge of how children, youth and adults best engage in learning. Knowing these things helps the teachers, parents, minister(s) and session review each curriculum option with a more critical eye.

Attached to this post you will find an article entitled How to Choose Curriculum that includes a ‘cheat sheet’ designed to assist your church in reviewing curriculum resources through a theological and educational lens, as well as assess the practical implications of each of curricula you’re evaluating. Begin by downloading a few selected curriculum samples off of the internet (more about these later). With samples of two or three appropriate curricula to evaluate, thoroughly read each of the lesson plans for each selected age group, noting what each says about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church, sin, faith, baptism etc. Use a separate evaluation sheet for each resource, note what each says about God and our relationship to God using these  prompts. With your list of what each curricula says about God etc.  you are then better able to answer the question, “Is this what our church believes?” for each of the resources. If the theology of the curriculum is not consistent with the theology of your church, then it is not a curriculum suitable for your church. Having established which of the resources you reviewed is theologically consistent with your church, you can now begin to look at its approach to learning.

Answering questions about the lesson’s educational stance helps you to determine if the curriculum is suitable for your congregation’s approach to faith formation. Consider the following:

  • Does the session outline have a way of introducing the biblical theme that engages the participants and draws them into the theme even before the story is presented?
  • Are there a broad variety of ways of presenting the biblical story, or is the biblical story simply read directly from a text? ‘Hearing’ the story through drama, pictures, story-telling, and experientially draw the participants into the story in a more memorable and personal way.
  • Do the questions have right and/or wrong answers, or does the curriculum encourage the children/youth and teachers to wonder together about the possible answers, honouring each child’s contribution?
  • Do the lesson activities embrace a variety of learning styles? The more learning styles embraced in a lesson the more open the lesson is to all of the participants entering into and engaging with the lesson.
  • Are there options for the participants to choose from? for the teacher to choose from? If the teacher knows something just won’t work, are there other options to choose from, or will the teacher be stuck trying to come up with an alternative option on their own. With a broad variety of learning styles and ages in a classroom, being able to offer more than one activity for the participants to choose from allows each to learn in a way they learn best and enjoy.
  • Do the activities invite the participants to delve deeper into the focus of the lesson, or does it feel more like filling time?
  • Is there an opportunity for participants to reflect on how they might apply the lesson focus in their own life?
  • Does the lesson conclude (or begin) with a short time of worship?
  • Are their additional materials, biblical and educational, for the teacher to learn how best to present the lesson? Is the lesson exciting and engaging, inviting everyone in to the subject, or does the lesson feel flat or school-like?

Answering these questions point to the educational stance of the curriculum and helps you to assess whether memorable and transformative learning will take place using this curriculum.

Lastly, consider some additional questions. Will the curriculum work with the facility, and technological resources you have? If the curriculum depends on large, well-stocked classrooms and/or DVD players and screens in every classroom, and this does not describe your church, are you willing to make changes to your circumstances, or should you pass on this curriculum no matter how wonderful it appears? Will the curriculum work well with the average weekly attendance of the the children in your church? A curriculum designed for large classroom numbers, when you have only two or three in each class will be a constant frustration for everyone and demand constant adaptation. What is the cost of the curriculum when you add up the cost of leader’s guides, student resources, and additional resources (music, DVDs, magazines, curriculum specific bibles, take him papers etc.)? Is this in line with your CE budget? Does your budget need to change or do you need to consider a less costly option?

Now that you know how to review curriculum, you need to know the curriculum options available to you. There are as many curricula as cereal options at the grocery store. We can begin by narrowing down our curriculum list to those that fall within the reformed theology and educational practises of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. While the PCC does not publish its own curriculum, it does recommend a number of curriculum that fall within the theological and educational parameters of our denomination. You will find a list of recommended curricula attached to this post. The list divides your options into a number of categories, with some of the curricula appearing in more than one category. Curricula is itemized by age groupings as well as specific categories such as lectionary based, intergenerational, and broadly-graded. Each is listed alphabetically and not by preference of this writer. Links to publishing websites are also included at the end of the document.

Please, also remember that the curriculum you choose is only one piece of your church’s overall approach to faith formation with your children and youth. Finding a well-written and suitable curriculum for your church is important, but it isn’t everything. Great faith formation happens through the caring relationships your children and youth form with all of the members of your church and as they hear the stories of faith shared with them by those who love God and live their faith in every aspect of their lives.

Click here to view the document, How to Choose Curriculum

Click here to view the document, Curriculum Options for Churches

Christmas Gift Boxes

Is your congregation considering participating in a Christmas gift box project this year? Such boxes are often filled with toys and toiletries by caring individuals and groups, returned to the sponsoring agency, and sent to children living in vulnerable communities in countries around the globe. Yet, this hands-on means of gracious giving may not be as helpful as you think.

Before signing on to participate in a gift box program please read the following article from Presbyterian World Service and Development written to help you consider this way of assisting children and communities who are at risk, including some great alternative options for caring for vulnerable children during the Christmas season and throughout the year.

Following the article is a link to an more extensive article about the Showbox programme from the baptist news.

 

 


Click here for a link to a more extensive article posted in the Baptist News