Series of entries in my teaching diary about an experimental Sunday school class. First entry.
Before we went into the worship service, Melissa found me and said that had something come up at the last minute, and she would have to leave before the class time was over. We had planned that I would tell a story about Theodore Parker, and then she would get the children to finish painting their quilt squares with chalice designs — but since she had to leave early, we quickly decided that she would start the children off painting their quilt squares, and then after she left I would read the story.
Four children came to Sunday school at 11:00 a.m. this week: Lily, who had come once before, was here while her parents were in a meeting; Kali, who usually comes to the 9:30 session; Dorit; and Heather. Their parents told us that Zach and Andrew both play football, and both had games this Sunday morning. I learned later that Sonnet, Heather’s sister, decided to stay in the worship service this week. Monty and Perry, our other regulars, attended the 9:30 session this week.
We had a quick check-in time, and then Melissa started us in painting our quilt squares. Melissa brought regular acrylic paints instead of fabric paints this week, and we all found that it was easier to use the acrylic paints. I asked the children if any of them wanted an apron, but no one did — we had not had any problems in the past while using fabric paints, so I let it go.
Melissa told us that she hoped this would be the last week for painting, and that she would try to assemble the quilt over the next two weeks. There were some quilt squares left where children had outlined a design in pencil, but had never painted; we all decided that those of us who were in attendance could paint in these outlined designs. We all got to work.
We painted away, and talked about all kinds of things — no big topics, nothing important, just the idle but very satisfying chit-chat that people carry on while they’re working on a project together. Dorit completed her intricate chalice design, and announced that now she had to paint in the entire background of her quilt square with light green paint. As she started painting, she sighed and announced happily, “I’m never going to be done!” Soon Melissa had to leave, so Hong, the Religious Education Assistant, came in to be the second adult in the room. All the children were still busily painting their quilt squares, so I decided we would skip the story for this week — we wanted to complete the quilt squares this week.
Before I knew it, it was ten past noon — past time for us to end class. Kali still hadn’t finished painting her intricate design, and she asked Lily and some other children to help her paint in the last details. Dorit painted madly and finally filled in the background on her quilt square, stopping once to declare again, “I’m never going to be done!” The rest of us cleaned up around them, and I began to realize that some of the children had paint on their clothing: Dorit had a splotch on the front of her shirt and one on her pants; Lily had a bit of paint on the sleeve of her dress. Dorit said that her mother wouldn’t care about the paint (which proved to be true). I was more worried about Lily, who takes great care in what she wears, demonstrating far more visual skill and creativity in her dress than you’d expect from a nine year old; but she managed to get most of the paint off, and didn’t seem too worried.
At the end of the class, Sara came in to get her sister Heather. “Sorry I didn’t come today,” she said; she had stayed in the worship service with her parents, which is a good thing for an eleven year old to try. I told her it was good to see her, and then I introduced her to Lily, telling them that they were the two most creative and talented dressers in the Sunday school: “Of course, Lily, you are more arty-funky, and Sara, you dress more like a fashion plate [this was a phrase I had heard Sara use about herself], but even though you have different styles, you’re both really creative.” They nodded to each other, and I think they were pleased to be recognized for their obvious talents. I looked at the other children and said, “We’re witnessing a historic moment, when the two best and most creative dressers in the Sunday school get to meet.” The children expressed extreme skepticism at this judgment of mine — “I don’t this this a historic moment” — but I assured them that I thought the New York Times would carry this story.
By the time we finished cleaning up, it was twenty past twelve. All the quilt squares were finally painted, and set out to dry in the storage closet in our classroom. There had been no time for the story, but it felt like it had been a successful and satisfying session.
(a) While there was no formal learning in this Sunday school session, we nonetheless made progress towards one of our four big goals:– we had fun and built community by working together on a group project. To a lesser extent, we worked on a skill important to our religious community:– the children gained experience in working cooperatively at church, important preparation for the kind of work adults do in our church on committees, in social justice, as worship associates, etc. I would also argue that we probably made some progress towards another of our big goals, to raise children who are more likely to grow up to be Unitarian Universalist adults, but it would be difficult to say exactly how that took place.
Questions for reflection
(1) Most often, we think that Sunday school should focus on communicating religious knowledge and information. However, one explicit goal in our program is to build community and have fun. How do you feel about not doing any teaching of religious knowledge in a class, and just focusing on building community and having fun? Does that feel like a wasted session to you? Do you think it will feel like a wasted session to children and/or parents/guardians?