What do you want out of First Day School?

This month I’m going off the News committee (newsletter, website, asstd. other outreach activities) for my Meeting and back onto the Children’s Religious Education committee. I think it’s been six years since I last served on our Meeting’s CRE committee.

In the last round, my big project was to start a more intentional curriculum for preschoolers. Now my main concern is to build a more intentional program for middle schoolers. Funny how our interests change over time, huh? Especially as my children age into and out of these groups.

The program that the committee set up nine years ago is still officially the plan, although it’s not fully functioning anymore. Each month, the theme corresponds to the topic of the PYM Advices and Queries for the month. There is a four week rotation of teachers so that each month, the teachers will each take a turn addressing the topic. We have a great collection of curricula that we bought from the FGC bookstore over the years.

What’s been missing for a while now is an organizing force. Someone to plan ahead, to check in with teachers, to organize teacher training, etc. But I think that our new committee Clerk (not me) has that ambition for the committee so I’m not so worried about that.

The other thing we did, back in the olden days when I was clerk, sonny, was to have a series of discussions, on the committee and in the meeting for business, about what were the goals or purpose of First Day School. We asked a broad range of Friends, “What do you want our children to get out of our FDS program?” There were a lot of different answers, of course, but I think we were able to identify some common elements and to keep them in mind as we prepared our curricula for each year. That really helped us make choices and provide some cohesion to our program.

So I’ve been thinking again, now that I have more experience as a parent and as my older son reaches the end of his FDS time, what do I want my children (or all children) to get out of First Day School?

I want them to learn how to be a Quaker.

What do Quakers do in meeting for worship and why do they do it that way?

How do Quakers make decisions, as a community and in their personal lives: about the work that they do, how they spend their time, how they treat other people, what they consume or not?

By the end of eighth grade, I’d like them to have covered what they need to know to become a member of our meeting. Starting in 9th grade, or age 14 more or less, I’d expect my children to come to meeting for worship like an adult and seek religious education in other ways.

And I want them to be able to explain it. This is the range of Quaker belief on such & such a topic, and I fall ___________ (wherever they are) on that subject.

If our FDS made it that far, we’d be amazing.

What do you want our children to get out of their religious education program?

Labels: , ,

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]


Blogger Su said...

Our RE committed invited us to have a conversation a couple of years ago about what parents and others in the meeting wanted for our quickly-growing group of kids. The first person to speak in that meeting said that a good grounding in the Bible was really important to her. The second person said that she didn't much care what went on in FDS so long as it wasn't explicitly Christian and didn't include the Bible. I was impressed that the RE committee didn't just get up and walk out of the room at that point. (Liberal unprogrammed meeting, obviously, not to have prior consensus on a question like that.)

5/07/2010 5:56 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I've heard of that happening in other meetings as well. I think we've been lucky not to have anyone completely anti-bible in our meeting for a while now. We have plenty of people who don't think it's very important, but who wouldn't object to it being used, especially in a somewhat liberal interpretation. Some people have been open to the idea that it's part of our Western literary tradition and helpful to know the stories and the origin of phrases like "feet of clay" even if you don't believe in it literally.

I think the real key is getting people to say out loud what they want or don't want so you can figure out what to do, rather than imagining what people will want or not. That has often been surprising to me. And I think that when people can see the variety of things that are proposed over the months of the year, they have been less worried that any one thing might be part of the mix.

5/07/2010 6:44 PM  
Blogger naturalmom said...

I'm in the same meeting as Su and was on the RE committee when we had that meeting. My recollection was that while people had their druthers about how much we used the Bible, the over-all feeling was that they trusted the RE committee and teachers to teach stuff that was basically in line with their values. Since that meeting, Bible stories (and passages for older kids) have been a part of FDS with some regularity and without complaint. And the emphasis on serious spiritual exploration, as well as Quaker process has increased as a portion of our kids have moved into that middle school range. This is thanks largely to an RE committee made up of people who are mostly pretty serious about their own spirituality, and who have learned from past generations of teens in our meeting who complained that they didn't get the grounding in Quaker practice that they might have liked. Trust is a big issue. With it, a meeting can give a degree of latitude to the FDS program. I think we mostly have that trust right now.

I love your goals for your meetings FDS program. Mine would be similar. Along a similar, but slightly divergent line, there is a curriculum that helps Quaker kids learn a bit about more fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity and how liberal Quakerism differs from it. The goal is to help Quaker kids not be intimidated or tongue-tied when confronted by peers who are very confident and perhaps "assertive" in those beliefs. The goal isn't to debate or argue, but simply to be confident and not confused. I have to remember to offer to teach it some time -- our group of older kids are getting to the age where it could prove useful. Part of what I like about it is that in the process of learning about another tradition, the participants inevitably learn more about their own. They are also really challenged to think about what they have been taught and question their own degree of commitment to that.


5/07/2010 9:54 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

We keep it simple - We want to introduce our children to Jesus in the context of being a Friends Meeting. We see both elements as essential - but not everyone would agree.

5/07/2010 10:05 PM  
Blogger R said...

I'm also in a liberal meeting and have been part of the RE committee. We regularly lose our kids as they move beyond elementary school age, and I think it's partly because the FDS is too "school-like" and dull. What I primarily want (sort of like level 1 of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, lol) is for kids to be reasonably cheerful about coming to FDS. The experience should be joyful, playful. It should have singing and creativity. I learned to love the psalms (as an adult) because so many of the hymns we sang in church that I liked were based on the psalms. Ditto the beatitudes. It's not that it shouldn't have content for the young kids, but handle it playfully. In other words, I want them not only to know how to be a Quaker, but also to think that that might be rewarding.

5/08/2010 4:46 PM  
Blogger Joanna Hoyt said...

I didn't find Quakers until I was 16, so mostly missed out on RE, though I was greatly helped by the series of classes for YFs on death and dying that our Monthly Meeting was engaged in when we showed up. Throughout Protestant Sunday School before that I was looking desperately for substance--for a place to wrestle with challenging parts of Scripture, to learn about different models for living a life of prayer, to explore the major questions about vocation, relationships etc. that I would have to decide about soon.

5/09/2010 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Jay T. said...

The most important thing I wanted for my children (now adults, most of the time) was relationships with some remarkable people. I wanted them to get to know others in our meeting--their age and older--in some ways that aren't likely in school or work situations.

I appreciate your clarity, Robin. You've outlined some very important outcomes. But the personal trumps the theological and even the experiential for me.

Both sons have good relationships with the meeting I'm still in. They come to our town, visit meeting and the mutual regard and care is evident. One of the sons maintains a long-term close friendship with a young man he met in First Day School.

5/09/2010 7:57 PM  
Anonymous Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks, Robin. You inspired a post over on my blog--not on First Day School, but on "how to be a Quaker."


5/10/2010 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Steven Davison said...

I co-taught middle school fds for several years several years ago and am planning to return this fall, part time. I really like the goals laid out in Robin's post. We had another goal: to prepare the young people who came to us to recognize their own spiritual experience. So we talked a lot about their experiences. We talked about our own spiritual experiences. We shared the stories of other Friends' experiences. And we looked at the stories of spiritual experience in the Bible.

As for teaching the Bible, I was once the Friend who (successfully) objected to teaching the Bible in our first day school. Some of those kids, now adults, fault us for preparing them so poorly. Now my meeting looks primarily to me to teach the Bible, as almost nobody else knows it well enough.

I think what most people really fear is that you'll use the Bible to evangelize their kids or present it as some kind of truth that trumps common sense, science, or their family's values. The greater threat, though, it seems to me, is that the Bible will seem insipid or irrelevant.

I found that using the Bible passages that early Friends used to talk about their experience or their beliefs in the context of a discussion of Quaker faith and practice provided a great segue. For instance, the beginning of the letter of James chapter 4 is the real, mostly unrecognized foundation for the peace testimony, and it connects directly to consumerism, so it couldn't be more relevant; just think petro-wars.

5/10/2010 11:03 AM  
Blogger Hystery said...

As a Pagan Friend, I want my children to be familiar with the Bible and to recognize it as a foundational document in Quaker history and continuing revelation. Of course, I also want them to be able to approach it critically, and with time and intellectual maturity, with the tools of scholarly analysis. I want my children to learn about Friends' history in our own region and to understand that unique history in the greater context of Friends' heritage, development and diversity. And I want them to begin a journey of continually considering what we're all doing and what we're all about and what's up with all that and why we stick together in love despite our differences.

5/10/2010 1:10 PM  
Blogger Cathy Barney said...

Great conversation as I am contemplating where I am being led with regard to FDS.

Been facilitating a spiritual-nurture group as FDS and have experimented with a variety of disciplines: active silence, prayer of all kinds, journaling, lectio divina, making/walking a labyrinth, silent hiking, etc. Even used the new Spirit Rising and had the kids write their own interpretation after silent worship. They really get this stuff!

Other teachers focus on Quakerism, Bible stories/teachings and service.

However, the education committee was laid down and the prevailing thought was that parents should teach. Not my sentiments.

I have seen things not working laid down and something new, better and more spirit-led arise and that is my prayer here.

In teaching 5 to 13 year-olds, there is such a broad range that I feel a concern to work with the pre/teens – so am discerning that.

5/10/2010 3:57 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

My overall reaction is YES. I want all these things from FDS. And isn't that part of the problem? We want so many things for our children, but so many of our FDS programs are cobbled together with very part-time volunteers who have a wide variety of skills and experience, and not nearly enough coordination or support.

The good news is that most of our kids spend years going to FDS, at least some of the time, and there's time for all of these.

The hardest thing to read was Cathy's meeting that thinks that parents should just teach the FDS. As if the religious education of children was only their parents' responsibility and not that of the Meeting. As if parents didn't need to go to worship, they should come to the meetinghouse to spend another hour teaching their children. I am a parent, and I have taken turns teaching our children, but I am good at other things too which the meeting doesn't benefit from if I'm always with the children. Cathy, I'm so sorry to hear that.

5/10/2010 11:41 PM  
Blogger Cathy Barney said...

It wasn't easy to learn that, although I don't think everyone thinks that. For a meeting of 50 with 17 committees (another topic there), I think people are just tapped out.

I really believe new energy will arise around FDS and we have wonderful teachers now.

Thanks for the forum, Robin.

-- Cathy

PS I am trying to get more exposure for my blog and Liz Opp suggests leaving a link on a blog comment-- hope it's ok to do it here. THANKS

5/13/2010 3:53 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I love this post - I've been blogging about First Day School every couple of weeks when we meet. Our Meeting being tiny, I am about it for the FDS "committee". When my older daughter and the other child who used to be in our Meeting who is a few years older than she is were a "class", we mostly muddled through. We learned about the testimonies, learned some Quaker history, read a lot, a lot of novels about Quakers and explored some midrashim. They did a First Day Schools Peace Quilt Project and worked without a lot of progress on some other project ideas they had come up with regarding a history comic book with a pacifist twist and a video they wanted to make. Mostly they were rather resistant to being led, but they did a good job leading themselves, until we started our study of world religions, eventually acquiring the UU Neighboring Faiths curriculum which we have really liked using parts of. I don't feel they got enough familiarity with the Bible. I wanted to avoid all the violent stories until they were past their primary years and by then they were resistant. So, now I am using the New Testament pretty heavily with my Little Friend(s) so they won't have that problem and will do some OT as well. I like a hands-on meditative approach (in the style of F&P, GP, Montessori, etc.)for the younger ones that will help them feel God's presence while learning the testimonies and I think teens are sort of all about exploring World Religions, being at such a seeking stage of development. Coming from a small Meeting, I would not want to phase FDS out for teens because it is what keeps them most attached to Quakerism - they have few other opportunities for fellowship together and aren't really that interested in hanging with the adults all the time.

5/15/2010 8:19 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Cathy (and all others), it is perfectly all right to leave a link to your own blog, especially just under your signature. If that's all you left, that would be tolerable once, but not after that. But if you're leaving substantive comments, as Cathy really is (thank you) then it's helpful to others to be able to find what you are writing. This is how I started finding other blogs, for example.

LoneStarMa, thanks for sharing your experience. I try to remember that in SF we are lucky to often have ten kids under 12, and at least six different people who are willing to teach at one time. Which means it doesn't get stuck on any one person.

In my quarterly meeting, we just spent a fair amount of time also talking about what is happening now vs. what would be ideal for youth programs in our Quarter and our yearly meeting. I think it was a good next step in developing better youth programs for Pacific Yearly Meeting.

One of the things that hasn't been mentioned here is the desire that young people be of service - to each other, to the Meeting, to the community, or to the global community. I think that is another good element of a FDS program.

5/16/2010 11:15 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I agree. With much less than a handful of kids, it is likely that ours will be doing most of their acts of service in other groups like Girl Scouts and with family as mine do but our teens (then 2, but now 1) did raise money for the AFSC by having people at Yearly Meeting making a donation to sign the border of the Peace Quilt and they have served at the soup kitchen, etc. Mostly our families are very involved in various causes all the time and our work overlaps anyways. Our Meeting could probably do a better job in tying the work our members do back to Meeting some way but it is hard when we are too small for Committees.

5/23/2010 1:22 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home