A day of rest

Series of entries in my teaching diary about an experimental Sunday school class. First entry.

It was Columbus Day weekend, and to give the volunteer teachers a break we decided that I would hold a “chapel service” this past Sunday. As a result, many families decided not to come to church at all. Attendance at the 9:30 service was 22 children, compared to 45-60 children on the previous three Sundays. And attendance at the 11:00 service was 2 children, both of whom were children of Sunday school teachers (there were also 5 teens and a couple of toddlers at this service, but they were in other programs).

The first fifteen minutes of the worship service this week were particularly welcoming to elementary age children. Susan Owicki, this week’s worship associate, made sure to mention that one of the children in the family who lit the chalice was having her fourth birthday today (the children in that family had already come to Sunday school at 9:30 and left right after they lit the chalice). The guest musician was a folksinger, and he sang a song that many children know, “A Place in the Choir” by Bill Staines. And the first hymn was an easy-to-sing “zipper song,” an African American hymn titled “There Is More Love Somewhere.” I thought to myself, Too bad only two elementary-aged children came this week!

Through a communications glitch, all four of the teachers showed up this week. Melissa brought all the materials for painting quilt squares, and although I had a lesson plan ready, we decided that the best thing to do was to have a non-structured session during which we simply worked on painting our quilt squares. In addition to Zach and Oliver, Melissa’s teenaged daughter L—- also joined us.

Zach finished painting a quilt square he had started last week; we all admired how well it turned out. Oliver worked on his quilt square, but he did not feel as good about it as did Zach; perhaps he felt he couldn’t live up to Zach’s quilt square; in any case, he wanted to stop working on his even though it seemed to the rest of us that if he worked a little more he would have a really good-looking quilt square. Oliver dabbed a little with the paint, and goofed around in a very charming way, but didn’t add much to what he had already painted. L—- and I worked on our respective quilt squares; the other adults mostly observed or helped out Zach and Oliver, but did not work on quilt squares.

It was a very informal session. Even though Zach finished his work fairly early on, and Oliver wasn’t enthusiastic about painting, the time passed quickly in idle conversation. We didn’t talk about anything important or notable; we just enjoyed a pleasant companionship together.

Towards the end of the hour, as we starting to clean up, I mentioned that this was the first time all four of us adults had been together, and maybe we could do some scheduling. “I’ll take the lead next week, and do something on Theodore Parker,” I said. “who wants to teach with me?” L—- said she would, and although I suspected she wasn’t serious, I told her that I have co-taught Sunday school with high-school-aged youth before, and I would love to have her as one of our co-teachers. But L—- decided not to join our teaching team just yet. The four of us who are on the teaching team came up with a rough plan for what we will do between now and Thanksgiving: 2 weeks on Theodore Parker, and then 3 weeks on the history of our own church.


(a) It should be obvious by now that we do not spend a great deal of time on planning. We have a broad curriculum plan — we will spend the fall on Unitarian Universalist identity, the winter on Jewish and Christian heritage, and the spring on wisdom from world’s religions — but within that broad plan, we are choosing specific topics to teach based on our interests as teachers. We also remain aware of our four big educational goals — community-building and fun, religious literacy, religious skills, and raising kids whom we hope will become Unitarian Universalist adults — but at this point in the year, we have found ourselves concentrating most on the first educational goal.

Next entry

Queries for the reader

(1) What do you do when very few children show up for Sunday school?

(2) How much advance planning do you need to make you feel comfortable teaching Sunday school? Do you prefer to have the curriculum planned out in detail in advance, or not? Do you like to schedule everything well in advance, or not? And how do you manage to work with teachers who have the opposite preferences to yours (e.g., if you prefer pretty loose planning, how do you work with obsessive planners)?