The bottle demonstrates the beauty of sand that is combined, but not blended.
Photos by Drew Page
by Drew Page
GRANBY (09/19/2012) -- South Congregational Church of Granby UCC launched a new curriculum unit this May for the Sunday school program, called Free To Be Me, Free To Be You. Its overall theme is to help children be secure in who they are and appreciate difference in others. Though the subjects are common enough -- self esteem, bullying, diversity -- the approach is a bold step toward beginning a discussion often not taken with youth.
A rotation model engages groups of children in a variety of experiences over 6 weeks. The objectives of each session vary. One session emphasized the importance of a diverse community. During the session, children filled clear glass bottles with bright colorful sand. A facilitator demonstrated what happens when we shake the bottle and blend the sand. The group discussed why it is important for cultures and traditions of people to remain intact and how forcing them all to blend into one form hurts the entire community.
On the same day, a younger group made cutouts of themselves and decorated them. The activity explored each child's gifts and emphasized the massage that we are all made in God's image and yet entirely unique. This class listened to the book I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont -- a story that reinforced the idea that there is something likeable in all of us.
|Children celebrate the cutouts of themselves.|
A third group examined stereotypes often associated with gender, and were asked to examine their own perspectives by classifying familiar activities, like skateboarding or building with Lego blocks, based on which gender might prefer them.
None of the activities in Granby's Free to Be Me, Free To Be You curriculum is brand new. The Granby team pulled material from a variety of sources they already owned or found online, or in other resource libraries such as the Ruth Dudley Resource Center in Hartford. The concept of teaching children self-worth, the value of diversity, or even how to recognize and respond to bullying is as old as the problems these curricula address. Yet, Granby has taken a bold step is forming a curriculum in response to an immediate need within its community.
The catalyst for the new curriculum was an inappropriate comment regarding homosexuality made by one young person in the church. An adult overheard the comment and approached Christian Education Director Maggie Burnett asking what steps were in place for teaching the youth about the meaning of open and affirming. Burnett had no answer, but was determined to do something. With the help of her curriculum team, the new unit was developed.
|People aren't so different from bottles of colored sand: difference makes beauty.|
South Granby has been an Open and Affirming Church for about 2 years. The debate about choosing the Open and Affirming path has been discussed and written about for many years. Church leaders spend months, even years, deliberating about whether or not to take the official steps toward declaring a congregation Open and Affirming. Congregations discuss the matter, sometimes with polarizing passion, and eventually vote. Yet these discussions rarely involve the youth of the church, and more remarkably absent is any planning for how the church will begin the Open and Affirming conversation with youth.
Children today are exposed to social issues much earlier than past generations. The accessibility of media is at an all-time high, and much of this media targets younger and younger audiences. Increased media coverage of bullying and cyber bullying has led to more public awareness of identity struggles in young children. Exposure to social matters, however, does not ensure an understanding of them. Though our churches often proclaim our sincere welcome to all people on all paths of life, there is often little discussion with the youth about what those many paths mean.
In Granby, the conversation has begun. Children are being asked to share their views, to listen to others, and to go beyond simply welcoming differences.
"This is about celebrating differences rather than just understanding them, affirmation rather than tolerance," said Burnett.
If you would like more information about the Free To Be Me, Free To Be You curriculum or to explore how to begin a conversation about affirming differences with the youth at your church, contact Karen Ziel at the Ruth Dudley Resource Center.
Drew Page is Media Assistant for the Connecticut Conference, UCC.