For most of us, we’re kicking off our new RE year. We’re finalizing our volunteer assignments, selecting our stories, getting our work options ready, and freshening up our classrooms in anticipation. We also need to think about how we’re going to ensure a strong start with our children and their parents. Do you conduct an orientation each year for them? This blog post looks at four different orientations to consider holding.
Each church likely has an orientation for their teachers for the year. This might or might not include any specifics on the Spirit Play classes. In our church following the general orientation for all teachers, the Spirit Play storytellers and doorkeepers will get together and make sure we’re all on the same page. During that time we discuss topics such as:
- The order of the morning
- Chalice lighting words and opening song
- Closing process and song
- How the feast is going to work (whether hospitality or RE provide the snacks)
By doing this, we are sure that no matter who’s in the classroom, the children are getting the same experience.
We want the children to be successful in this classroom, and to do so, they need an orientation that lets them know what is expected of them in Spirit Play and what they can expect from their teachers and fellow students. Even if the children have been in a Spirit Play the previous year, it’s best to still go through the orientation to remind them of how the class works. Over time, how the class runs can change. Think of the orientation as a reset back to how the program is designed to run.
In the packet of stories you receive after completing training, you’ll find an orientation to use with the children in the Philosophy and Administration Files folder. Use the first week of class to go through the orientation, teaching or reminding the children how the class works. You can adjust this document to match your particular class beginning and ending, adding any songs, joys and concerns, or other familiar rituals for the children. We have a second orientation for the second week if you want to use it to make sure that all the children have attended. You may wish to combine the two orientation weeks into one if parents cannot attend the first one.
Just as training for the teachers is crucial to the success of the class, it is essential to orient everyone to this method of religious education. Talking about it is wonderful, but experiencing it engages people at a deeper level. Have an orientation just for the parents that is, if not mandatory, strongly recommended. Most parents want to know what is going on in the classrooms on Sunday mornings. If possible, it is best to have an orientation with the parents for the first time at some other time rather than Sunday morning. So, add it onto a family night as the program, or as an after-church program with childcare; make it impossible for them not to come. If this will not work then the first week the children have their regular program, do the orientation.
During your orientation, give an overview of the method and where it came from. Let them know they will be experiencing a shortened version of what their children will experience on Sunday morning and that they are welcome to respond when you ask wondering questions. Then lead the adults into a model classroom experience where they are the children entering a Spirit Play classroom. If possible, have them sit on the floor for the story circle, then have them choose work as the children would do. You want them to connect to the story, and the wondering, and their own choice for a response in a way that gives them a sense of what this method could mean spiritually to their children. Most of the time, adults find their own sense of spirituality being stimulated by the model classroom. Your doorkeeper will greet them at the door and help them find what they need during the work time. After work time, you may wish to invite them to leave the space and have their “feast” more comfortably where they can ask questions.
Emphasize that you wish to minimize visitors for the first few weeks so that the children can acclimate to this new method but to see you if they need to visit. This orientation will minimize those requests. If you will be sending home a page each week with a story synopsis and wondering questions, let them know. Let them explore the classroom further as they need to, and answer as many questions as you can.
If this is your first year with Spirit Play in your church, we recommended that you lead a whole church introduction to Spirit Play to educate the congregation about the method and the possibilities. There are many ways that people other than those who teach can become involved through suggesting stories, providing materials, creating stories, building bookshelves, or just pledging more financial support for the religious education programming. Engaging the entire community in this process builds support.
Once the program is begun, have an open house in the classroom after church about halfway through the year so that the community can see just what the classroom looks like. Personally invite new members or parents and those who have helped to make something for the room so that they can see where their hard work went.
You can create a wish list for materials that you need with photographs and what it would cost to purchase them. People can give money for specific amounts for the items they wished to buy, and others can donate items. It helps reduce the need to ask for more funds from the church budget and helped the community into a sense of direct ownership of the program.
Orientations are an important part of the Spirit Play class so that everyone knows what’s going on and can support each other. The classroom volunteers know what is expected of them. The children can spend their time in class focusing on the stories and work rather than the procedures. And you never know who might be inspired to volunteer or lend a hand when they know more about Spirit Play.
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