Sunday, November 20, 2011

Early Religious Education

My son started "Sunday school" this year, as a Preschooler.  Our UU church here is small, so the 2- and 3-year-olds play in the nursery with the babies.  But as a 4-year-old, he can join the first class.  It's really making me think about my experiences in Religious Education (RE), and the years I spent as an RE teacher.

My parents were very devout Catholics.  I can remember around Kindergarten, First Grade or so, not only was I going to a Catholic elementary school, I also went to Sunday School at our church.  One of those years, the two classes were working from the exact same book.

Mom compared it once to math.  Something about how you don't wait to start teaching math until a child is old enough to understand Calculus, so from her perspective one shouldn't wait until a person is old enough to ponder the Mysteries of the universe before beginning to teach them about faith.

As I approached junior high, and started work towards Confirmation, we were supposed to have some number of volunteer hours.  So, when I was about 13 or so, I started helping out with Sunday School classes.

The first year, I was a floater.  Each week I'd find the Director of Religious Education (DRE), and see which teacher needed help.  Most of the classes I helped with were the 3-, 4-, and 5-year olds.

The second year, I was assigned to a 4-year-old class.  It was nice to have consistency, learn names better.  We had one little boy who had a hard time focusing.  I worked with him a lot, so that the adult teacher could focus on the rest of the class.

I worked with a different teacher for a third year, my freshman year of high school.  I ran into the previous year's teacher, one day, and she had news.  Gulf War 1 had broken out over the summer, and we were at an Air Force Base.  My father was Air Force, an uncle was still in the Marines, but neither of them was deployed.

Every brat knows there is a theoretical risk.  The teacher told me that that little boy, the 4-year-old I'd been working with... his father got deployed.  And he didn't make it home.
(Glee hits home on many levels.)
I'm not sure I ever saw the boy again, but my heart still hurts for the situation.

I didn't help teach my Sophomore year.  There was too much flux, we couldn't commit to being at church every Sunday to help out.  Junior year, that small Indiana town didn't need me.

But my Senior year, up in South Bend, Mom worked with the DRE to get all 4 teens/preteens helping out with their preschool Tiny Seed program.  Most of the time, I worked with 4-year-olds again, but once in a while I substitute taught the 3-year-old class by myself.

Then I went off to college, and of course I volunteered to help out again, my fifth year.  I was matched with two sisters, and we co-taught the 4-year-olds for the next year and a half.  My sixth year was interrupted by an internship in the spring, and I didn't get back into it.

In the Catholic church, preschool RE is fairly simple.  I remember a lesson on families, and how God made Families.  Lessons on the seasons, and how God made the Seasons.  Always mixed in with the message that God loves you.

So, last year with my 3-year-old, I tried to adapt some of what I knew for my 3-year-old.  Simple songs, like "This Little Light of Mine," that only needed minor adaptations to fit our beliefs.  Or a book I found at the zoo, <a href="">Whole World.</a>

When I started my internships, I stopped teaching.  It was about 8 years before I got involved with RE again.  This time I my husband and I were asked to be Advisers for the high school youth at our UU church.  There were some surreal moments, when I realized that the 3- and 4-year-olds that I had worked with in junior high and high school were now teenagers, about the same age as the high school youth.

Most of the Catholic churches my family attended, had enough people to hold mass 3 to 5 times for a Sunday (counting the Saturday vigil through Sunday night).  It was easy for me to do both, teach a class and attend Mass.  I never felt like I was missing out by teaching.

The UUA congregations I've been a member of, have been much smaller than the Catholic churches, and usually hold just one service on Sundays.  They try to compromise by having twice the teachers, so that they only have to miss half the services in a month.  I don't find that satisfying.