Several Small Projects for Church Schools

Before Class: (top)

Prepare a questionnaire. Ask questions on it about the student's family, likes, dislikes, favorite pastimes, favorite song, TV program, saying, possible career choices, what they like about church, what they don't like about it, what topics they'd like to discuss in church school, given the opportunity (or have a list of topics, and have to student number them in order of preference.) This last question could later be torn off by the teacher to be included in the semester's curriculum. Xerox enough copies of the questionnaire for the students and the teacher.

On the class day: (top)

1 Arrange to bring to class a Polaroid camera with film, along with the questionnaire, pens and/or pencils. Have the "class photographer" take a picture of each person individually. (Much interest in how each one turns out.) Collect the pictures and keep them.

2 Pass out the questionnaire and have the students spend about 20 minutes filling them out.

3 Collect them and redistribute them so that each person has someone else's questionnaire. Read them aloud to the rest of the class. (If the students know each other well, have the person reading, omit the name of the person on the questionnaire. At the end of the reading, let the class guess who it is.)

4 When all have finished reading, collect the questionnaires. A lot of fun and information has been exchanged. A relaxed and congenial atmosphere is established in which to continue with whatever curriculum you have decided on.

During the Following Week: Mount the photos at the top of the questionnaire in the space left blank for that purpose. Hang the questionnaires on the walls of the classroom so they can be reread as students pass by. (Adult parishioners greatly enjoy reading what the students have to say as well.) Give them back to the students at the end of the school year as mementos of the class.

A Slide and Sound Presentation: (top)

During the Lenten season, our church school presented a slide and sound presentation entitled "JESUS CHRIST, The Son of God, Born to DIE so that We Might LIVE." The program consisted of approximately 160 slides, which were divided into two parts and accompanied by a two-part taped cassette recording.

Part I of the program showed scenes of various stages of the life of Jesus Christ beginning with the prophecies of His birth, His nativity, childhood, baptism, ministry and ultimately His death and resurrection. The slides were prepared over a period of time and depict not only iconographic works but actual vignettes of the church school children who were dressed in Old Testament costumes and arranged in various biblical settings which were photographed both within the church building and out of doors.

The children's voices were recorded onto a cassette as they read from a prepared script which provided the narration for the slides. Also included on the cassette was the choral background accompaniment of St. Vladimir's Seminary Choir, our own church adult choir, youth choir and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. These musical interludes included hymns which were appropriate for particular scenes. For example, a slide would show the icon of "The Presentation of Our Lord" in the Temple. Initially, one would see the iconographic figure of St. Simeon followed by a slide of a young church schoolboy dressed up as St. Simeon. Then a close-up slide of the same icon shows Jesus in St. Simeon's arms while the succeeding slide shows the child Simeon (in costume) holding a doll wrapped in a blanket as Simeon stands on our church front steps. The scene thus gradually enlarges until the entire icon of "The presentation of Our Lord" is seen. This is followed by an actual outdoor scene on our church steps showing St. Simeon, St. Mary's, St. Joseph, St. Anna and Jesus Christ. All of these slides are viewed by the audience while listening to a narration describing St. Simeon's encounter with the Christ-child, followed by the youth choir singing " Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace," The familiar vesperal hymn.

The entire presentation is enacted in this format until the climax of the Resurrection is realized. Part II of the slide and sound program then follows.

In Part II, The taped recording plays "The Hallelujah Chorus" (from Handle's "Messiah") by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which is an extremely fast-paced moving rendition. The slides shown during this musical piece consist of scenes from all aspects of our church life including such slides as church picnics, feast day celebrations, children preparing in rehearsals for this particular project, as well as slides of various church edifices and iconography. The concept conveyed is that church life is life itself, and all the people therein are a part of that life --- both past and present. The final music heard of "The Angel Cried" recorded by our church adult choir and the slides shown depict a Paschal celebration at our church, concluding with the icon of" The Lord's Resurrection."

The task of producing such a presentation may appear to be overwhelming, but it truly is not. We planned two full Saturday sessions with the children who were assigned parts in the script and who were asked to bring old robes and sandals to be costumed as people of the Old Testament.

Two cameras were used for taking slides, one for actual scenes necessary for Part I of the program, and one for slides for the children during the rehearsals\s, for use in Part II. A record player was used to play the background music which was recorded simultaneously onto a cassette tape along with the children's narration. *(Several practice sessions should be held before a final recording is made.) However, don't anticipate 100% perfection. The project should be fun and educational for the children in that they actually dress the parts and say the words of many of those saints and persons who were a part of Christ's life and the early church.

In conjunction with the evening presentation of our sound and slide program, a Lenten dinner was prepared by our church teenagers so that following the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy on a Friday evening, the entire parish was able to share in a common meal and see and hear a spiritually enlightening program by our church school children. Such a project can be prepared during any time of the church year and any subject matter may be considered for selection. We attempted to show the life of Jesus Christ from prophecy to His Resurrection in a twenty-minute presentation and I believe we succeeded. The tremendous advantage of a slide and sound program versus a "live" play is that the children themselves are then able to view the program of which they are a part and which can be utilized over again for future presentations.

Quote Wall: (top)

Begin a "graffiti picture-quote wall" (made with poster paper) on which students can write original or favorite quotes. The quotes should relate to a picture that the teacher places on the quote wall for the month.

For example: If the picture is a watch, some of the original sayings might be "Take time to think about God." How much time did you give to others today." Or if the picture is the sun: "Let Christ's love shine through by sharing your smile." Don't let the sun go down on your anger." This activity calls for creativity and also gives the students a chance to write on the "wall" - but with a positive motive.

Visit The Church: (top)

Take your class for special visits to the church, before or after the Divine Liturgy or at a prearranged time with your priest. There they can see up close, and the priest can explain and show the vessels used during the service, the icons and the iconostasis, the church building, the vestments and any other object the class may be studying at that time. This is an excellent way to make use of the visual aids the church itself offers us, and a chance for the class to have more personal contact with the priest.

Parish Profile: (top)

To enhance an awareness of and a feeling for the parish community, let your junior high class compile a parish profile. Divide them into teams and let each team be responsible for a different dimension of parish life, e.g. liturgy, the role of the priest, the deacon, the altar boys, the choir, the parish council, the church school, the different church organizations, the custodian etc. After three weeks each group can report to the class about the sector of the parish they've explored using taped interviews, photographs, posters etc. Then all the groups can combine any visual materials they've collected on a large corridor wall or bulletin board. This will give a panoramic view of their parish, its people, its worship and its activities. This project can arouse much interest, involvement and parish identity.

Easter Butterflies- A Lenten Project for First and Second Graders: (top)

A few weeks before Lent, read with the children some poems and stories about butterflies. Follow up by giving each child a white paper butterfly (6"x 7") to color. Collect them and put them away in a safe place.

During the first week or two of Lent, tell the children of the resurrection message in the story of the butterfly. Explain how the butterfly begins as a caterpillar, spins a cocoon, and then hangs on a tree for a long time as id there is no life in it. Parallel this to Christ's life on earth and His death for our sakes. At His death He is put on a tomb. We know that on the 3rd day, Jesus rises from the dead and leaves the to b. so, in the Spring, the cocoon slowly opens, and a beautiful butterfly comes out.

After this explanation, give each child a green paper caterpillar (6" x 8") and have them decorate it. Then have the children make cocoons out of empty bathroom tissue rolls. Have them wrap and glue brown construction paper around it, 1" longer than the tube on each side. Have them curl their caterpillar up inside the tube, and tuck the brown paper ends in. Have each child put his name on the cocoon and hang them with string from a classroom tree that you have constructed previously (or you can make a tree out of construction paper on a bulletin board and simply attach the strings to branches of the tree with thumb tacks.)

During Holy Week, exchange the caterpillars for the butterflies. On Easter, or as soon as possible thereafter, have the children open their cocoons, preferably with their families present. They can then give the butterfly a special place in their home during the Easter season.

A Popcorn Sunday- A Lenten Lesson for Preschoolers: (top)

This lesson focuses on "popcorn" as the point of reference to show change, growth, expansion and beauty in God's love for us, when we show that we love Him and others.

On a Sunday early in lent, bring a popcorn popper to class and show it to the children at the beginning of the class. (Have it prepared with the oil, but not with the kernels in it.) Then talk to the children about Great Lent as the season of the ear when we get our hearts ready for Jesus' big day, His Resurrection Day. Explain that Jesus loves us more than anyone can, and Lent is our special time to return that love. Then spend a few moments helping the children talk about how and when they've shown love to others, i.e. giving kisses and hugs, helping family, friends. Remind them that when they show love for others they are showing love to Jesus.

Bring out the kernels of popcorn and have the children feel how hard they are - hard like a person who does not love. Have the children take turns dropping the kernels into the popper (which has now been plugged in), being careful not to touch any hot part. Have the children watch as the heat changes the kernels into soft, fluffy, large pieces of delicious food. Applying what they see to our spiritual life, tell the children that Jesus loves when our hearts change and grow into bigger, softer, better hearts. And Jesus' love helps us to do this. Serve portions of the popcorn to the children as their snack.

After the snack, have an activity using other popcorn kernels to make flowers. Give each child a piece of colored construction paper, and with crayons, make stems and leaves. Then the children can arrange the kernels in flower patterns and glue them on the paper. As you are doing this, talk to the children about all the beautiful things God has created for us, including spring flowers like the ones they're making. (Have pictures of spring flowers hung up on the walls. Even better, have a pot or two of blossoming spring flowers on the desk or table for all to see and admire.)

The lesson can close with a prayer thanking Jesus for loving us so much, for giving us so many good and beautiful things like popcorn and flowers, for helping our hearts grow bigger and better.

A Project - Book for Families: (top)

I have often thought how sad it is to have a lapse in Christian education during the times of the year when most of our parishes have a "hiatus" or discontinue the church school programs. Although good reasons are offered to such a break, e.g. a heavy liturgical cycle during the Christmas-Epiphany season in winter, or the unbearable heat and different vacation schedules in the summer. And yet there is a tremendous need to bridge these gaps in our educational programs by encouraging our child's awareness of God. Whether we are out doing things together, noticing the beauty of God's creation, or talking about God daily, we can help to strengthen our child's love of God and belief in Him. Recently, I was made aware of a project-book for children that could be adapted to any season and used during those class-breaks, or as a supplement to regular classroom instruction during the school year. Such a booklet can be helpful to families who wish to keep a small rule of study on a weekly basis.

As a church schoolteacher or parent, you may want to develop such a booklet to help you and your child enrich your knowledge and awareness of God. A few church schoolteachers have developed summer project books which can serve as a source of ideas and format to help you get started.

A Personalized Book for Each Child: (top)

To begin the project, take color photographs of each child separately and/or group shots of the church school class and teacher (if a child is absent, obtain a photo from home). The photo is a nice remembrance for years to come, but more importantly it personalizes the booklet which, hopefully, will make a child more anxious to use it.

Secondly, purchase sketch pads (approximately 9 x 12", 25 pages - cost: approximately $2.00), several rolls of double-sided tape, and a pint jar of rubber cement (if you are making several books). Using rubber cement, paste a brightly colored piece of construction paper on the front to cover the advertisement on the pad. Tape the photos on the cover and print the name of the child and a title on the book: John Doe's Summer Fun Book.

Planning the Contents: (top)

Make three calendar pages, one each for the months of June, July, and August. Fill in the boxes with the summer feast days - Ss. Peter and Paul, Transfiguration, Dormition, and specific saints' days that are celebrated in your parish. Title each Sunday with the theme of the Gospel lesson, and list the Epistle and Gospel readings for the Sundays and feast-days.

Nest, try to provide a reading and/or activity for each week. For the Sunday gospels, you can use pictures from Bible coloring books and a simplified explanation or paraphrase of the lesson on the facing page.

Some of the gospel readings may be too difficult for younger children to understand even in a paraphrased version, or some may be difficult to illustrate (or to find an appropriate illustration which fits(). In such cases you may focus on some related theme. Such is the case with Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30. Jesus tells us: "he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me." For this lesson you may want to use a drawing of a cross (which can be colored) and then include flower stickers (available at any 5 & 10 store) to put around the cross.

Another example is the gospel reading Matthew 5:22-23, which speaks about adultery and divorce. In this case, stress the fact that God made us a family, to love one another, to need one another, to forgive one another, and to serve Him. Write out directions to cut some photos out of magazines of family members (or find photographs of their own family) and draw pictures of how we can help each other.

A third example is the summer Gospel of St Matthew 9:27-35 which talks about Jesus healing the blind men. You can take a sheet of paper (almost as large as one of the sketch pages) and draw a dotted line down the center of the page and divide the page into 8 parts to form a book, In the first section write: "Oh, Lord how manifold are Thy works in wisdom hast Thou made them all." Then label the sections: At The Seashore and draw some of God's creatures seen there. In the Mountains and draw some of God's creation (example: flowers, rocks, and trees). These are things we SEE especially during the summer proving God's existence. The child then cuts along the dotted lines, staples the parts together and has a little booklet that can be colored (you may want to tape an envelope on the sketch pad's page to hold the booklet so as not to lose it).

For the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, you can purchase a color icon print of St. John and tape it into the booklet.

As for Dormition, enumerate things they can do to celebrate the Feast:

1. Pick either wild or garden flowers to bring to Church to be blessed.

2. Bring the flowers home and place in your icon corner.

3. With your family bring the flowers to a shut-in and sing the festal troparia.

4. Sing the troparion before each meal.

Next include the life of each child's paternal saint. Add a not t the parents asking them to familiarize their child with the saint's biography by regularly reading it together and even quizzing them on it.

Leave a few blank pages at the end of the booklet for the child to describe his own impressions of the summer activities and especially any new parishes they visited while on vacation.

To complete the book, a table of contents should be included in the beginning as well as a page giving general instructions on how to use the book. A list of goals may be suggested for the child to have as he enters into the September church school program. Be sure to emphasize the return and completion of the booklet in the Fall.