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Fall Christian Formation Planning for Children and Families with Young Children During COVID

Like many Directors of Christian Formation and Children’s Ministry Directors, planning for “Sunday School” or regular Christian Formation is challenging. We want to keep our children safe, but we want to give thtem the tools to continue on their faith journey. Many families are feeling overwhelmed by becoming their child’s teacher in addition to all the other roles being home bound now require. Ideally, this is when the church becomes a support system and a place of comfort, as well as, a place to encounter God and learn.

I wanted to compile a list with lots of different offering so families can pick and choose what they want to do, what they can do, and allow for flexibility to change week to week. I have compiled a list of free online resources that can be shared and used by families inaddition to the online worship service at their normal Sunday Worship.

Here is the list with links:

Children’s Chapels

St. Paul’s Children’s Chapel twice a week: Sundays at 11 AM, Wed 9:30 AM on Facebook Live (can view anytime). Sunday is for all children, while Wednesdays is more for preschool age. www.facebook.com/stpaulswinstonsalem

St. Anne’s Children Message: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZeR42POMr68m5R8rwAIGDA?app=desktop

St. Luke’s Children’s Chapel Sundays at 10:00 AM  https://www.facebook.com/StLukesSalisbury/

Nativity Children’s Message on Sundays: https://www.facebook.com/nativityonline

Summer Sundays at Emmanuel: http://www.emmanuel-parish.org/  

St. Mary’s Chapel: http://www.amyschapelchat.org/chapel-chat-videos.html

Free Resources for Online Ideas/Curriculum/Formation Events Continue Family Formation & Devotion activities to do together (Bible Story, meditation, prayer, discussion questions, craft, music video link, outreach activity, activity to do together, in-reach activity (serving our family), games, watching the story video links, and summer Flat Jesus activity.)  Comes out once a week with up to three saved on the site.  Link: http://www.laurensline.com/family-devotions-formation/ 

Ideas for Children’s Ministry Online events (Online Summer Camp, Lego, Kindergarten events, etc.) http://www.laurensline.com/blog/

http://churchschool.info/  (Virtual Sunday School on line resource)

https://lessonplansthatwork.org/ (Episcopal Church includes home and group activities) *(Also in Spanish)

Do Lego Bible Build once a month for all ages.  http://www.laurensline.com/2020/06/22/virtual-lego-ministry-night/

Forward Movement: Faith at Home: www.dofaithathome.org -sends out weekly readings and activities based on weekly lectionary scripture readings. *(Also in Spanish)

Family Faith and Prayer Booklets https://www.thykingdomcome.global/sites/default/files/2019-03/TKC_Home_Pack_V4.pdf    *(Also in Spanish)

www.spokanediocese.org/worship/worshipathome.html (Also in Spanish)

Parent group do the Living Compass Parenting.  Put in groups of 12.  Meet once a week or month. https://www.livingcompass.org/parents (also have teen program)  *(Also in Spanish)

Using Zoom: Meet by grade/age meetings, lunch with Children’s Minister, EYC for 4th & 5th Graders, Parents After Dark, Taco Tuesdays, Reading to Preschoolers, and discussion of use family home curriculum.

Video Formation: Send out videos to watch on Sundays (Instructed Eucharist, Bible Stories, etc.) and then on an Evening have a Zoom discussion.  Lots of materials, just watch before you send out for appropriateness and beliefs.

Blessing Backpacks & Devices in Times of COVID 19

Our church, like many churches, have been doing virtual services instead of our usual worship schedule.  Schools in our area, have decided to begin online classes for all of its students. 

Normally, we would have a Blessing of Backpacks the Sunday before school starts and over 100 children would participate.  This year is going to be very different.  I wanted to still honor the start of the school year, even if it is going to be unusual, with most children remaining at home.

During the Sunday worship Service, live-stream, we will say a prayer and bless the backpack tags we are giving out.  Then we are inviting families to drive by with their backpacks and devices.  We are asking them to hold them out the window of their car as we bless each one (with water for backpacks) and give them a specially made backpack tag for attaching to their backpack or bag. We, also, made bookmarks with our children and youth online schedule for the fall. We handed these out.

We have scheduled an hour for this and are doing it in a covered area.  For those who cannot drive up, we are blessing the tags, so they can attach them to their bag when we can give them their tag.

For the tags, we try to make them as fun and useful as possible.  This year, instead of designing our own, we are purchasing a stained glass picture, putting our church on the back and using the luggage tag laminator to make them. (See previous backpack for tag instructions).

Celebrating Starting Kindergarten Online

One of the most momentous occasions in a young family’s life is the starting of kindergarten for their child. This marks the moment that the child is moving away from a life centered on family to one of school and friends. As a mother, I joined many mother’s whose eyes were filled with tears after the first day drop off. There is no going back to a baby. Kindergarten signifies a permanent shift in the family.

This year is different. Some will not be able to attend schools, because the schools are closed to in-person learning, some parents are too worried to risk sending their child to school, and some will attend, but an air of worry goes with it.

It is important for the church to acknowledge this momentous step in a family’s life and still keep safety in mind. Honoring and acknowledging this step moves the church out of the Sunday morning “box” and into a family’s life and home.

The invitations to a Zoom on-line breakfast are sent out a month ahead of time, so busy families can make plans. I am doing it the week before school is set tp start. With each RSVP, I create a Kindergarten kit. The kit contains the books mentioned below, a growth chart with spiritual, physical, and emotional milestones, a pencil and a backpack tag that says the church loves them. Kits can be picked up, mailed or delivered if it is a small group.

I decorate the room that I am making the Zoom call from. At the appointed time, we all join in for breakfast. I ask the children if they are worried, excited, what they are looking forward to,

Once all are settled, I talk about the importance of this day. I discuss the growth chart and what is expected in the next year including Faith, Interpersonal, Values, Family and Needs of the Age. I talk about the importance of church and a faith life is to the growing child and their family. I, also, give hints of what to do when roadblocks, such as boredom or not wanting to come, hit. The kit contains a Parent Booklet “Getting School Ready!” (Click on the Link to be taken to the site to get a free PDF.). I have on hand a book: Lessons Learned: The Kindergarten Survival Guide for Parents by Jeannie Podest, who is a teacher and parent. One option is to order enough copies for each parent to take home. Lastly, I give each child a book: Kindergarten, Here I Come by DJ Steinberg. Another really good one is On the First Day of Kindergarten by Trish Rabe. (Click on the books to go to Amazon to see and get the books). I remind parents and children that I am there for them. In each book given, I have a label that says “A Gift from St. Paul’s Children’s Ministry.”

Parents are very grateful for the breakfast and the attention. It reminds them that the church cares about them and what is happening in their lives. It, also, serves as an evangelism tool, as the parents will tell other parents at their school what a great thing their church did for them.

We do not have to let worry and fear take away from this beloved moment in a child’s life.

Clicking on and purchasing any of the items through this site, helps to fund this site. Thank you.

Virtual Summer Camp

Families are looking for something to fill their children’s time. This is a great time for church’s to offer them a chance to grow in faith.

If you are like us in North Carolina, most Vacation Bble Schools were canceled. Virtual VBS is still a possiblity, but many of the things that make a VBS fun and different are lost with the online version.

Offering a unique camp experience done on line, can draw families closer to God and with their church.

Creating the Camp

First, pick a popular movie for families. We chose Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but any movie will do.

Second, pick characters in the movie and come up with their moral tie-in. find Bible stories that deal with this tie-in. For Augustus Goop, I chose gluttony and then picked the Bible story of Esau giving away his inheritance (Genesis 25:29-34), Veronica Salt (self-indulgent) and chose Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke), Violet Beauregarde (rude) and chose Zechariah laughing at the angel, and so forth.

Third, find a craft kit, game, activity pages, musical videos, and on-line sources for each day.

Fourth , get youth and adults to film skits.

Fifth-order supplies, register families, and get ready for a week of fun!

Schedule of Camp

The week before, every family picks up their kit.

On the Sunday, families watch the movie together (we made sure it was on Netflix and Amazon Prime). We also included a chocolate bar with a golden ticket saying they have been chosen to join us for camp.

Monday – Friday: We start off each day with an introduction of the day. “Willy Wonka” tells us about the character, the Bible story, and a short lesson and prayer. There are links to videos to watch our youth telling or acting out the Bible story. There is a scheduled Zoom for a group game. Inside the kit is the days craft kit with instructions, links to music video, Bible cartoon of story, other activities. At 11:30 AM, we have a large group Zoom to review the morning, talk aobut the lesson, and play another game.

Outreach activities and snack activities can be included too. I, also, looked for little toys, pencils and other giveaways for each child for the story or lesson of the day.

For Later

We plan an outdoor get together for all the families that participated and will have an Eucharist when we are able to get back together safely.

Virtual Lego Ministry Night

With the COVID-19 keeping us isolated at home, a fun activity to engage our church members is a Lego Bible Night. This can be done over several nights or days.

Choose one Bible story per family involved. Have a print out of the story or a link to the story. Make each one a different story and make sure it is something that families can use to make come alive. Give or send each family their story. Include with the story or link some information/background material (what was happening, the time, a little history, etc.). Give them some discussion questions to think about. Send a prayer families can say before they start their build.

Working together, the family creates a Lego piece that shares the story. They can video tape themselves talking about the piece and retelling the story or hold a zoom meeting and each family shares with the others involved. Make sure to get pictures of the completed works, so they can be shared witht he whole parish.

After the Zoom call when all are shared, close in prayer and thank the families for sharing in this time. Families might enjoy this so much, that they would like a story a week.

Keep all the pictures and create a story book for the children or video link with all the videos.

Celebrating with Families: Fifth Grade Breakfast

One of the most important things a children’s ministry can do is be a part of a family’s everyday life.  Moving outside of Sunday.  This tells the child and the family, that they are important, they matter, and God is a part of their lives beyond church.

Helping families develop rituals will help them find ways to incorporate their faith into the special moments.  Most families love to find ways to celebrate and include their faith, but are unsure what to do.

It is, also, important for the church to acknowledge and celebrate the milestones in a child’s life.  This says, you are a part of our family.  God loves you.  We love you.  We are here for you.

An important milestone in a child’s life that often gets overlooked is a child’s move from Elementary School to Middle School.  Children have mixed feelings about this move.  Along with excitement, there is fear of the unknown, stress of the what ifs, and grief over what is being left behind.  Parents are feeling these mixed feelings too.  Their child is growing and moving into the teenage part of life.  The obstacles and dangers are real.  The expectations parents place on themselves as they try to include so much in their child’s life can cause stress and anxiety.

One of the things I do to celebrate and help is to hold a Fifth Grade Breakfast.  We invite the parents and their fifth grade child.  Our fourth graders serve and act as hosts.  We do this at the end of fifth grade, usually the weekend before school ends.

We start off with prayer and then enjoy a buffet breakfast.  Once everyone has eaten about ¾ of their plate, we start the program.  After thanking the parents for sharing their child with me, I tell the children how much it has meant to me to be a part of their lives.  I remind them of their spiritual journey and there are many steps left.  I remind them how faith can help them and how much they are loved by their church family.

I give the parents a developmental chart which includes what to expect for the next six years including spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, and other aspects growth.  Similar to the developmental sheet parents got when their child was an infant, this helps parents to know what is coming and how to help or step back while their child moves through this last part of childhood.

Our Youth Leaders, then, talk about youth group and youth formation.  Emphasizing the importance of this in their developmental journey.  We offer support of the parents, as well as, the teen.

After questions and answers, we ask each of the parents to say how their child was a blessing to them.  It is very beautiful to hear and the children are very moved.

We end it with a blessing and a promise that I will always be there for them and this church will always be their home.

Because COVID-19 physical distancing, we could not do our fifth grade breakfast.  We mailed each family a developmental chart and mailed a card to each child telling them how much we love them.  If it is possible, we will hold the fifth grade breakfast at the start of the program year before their sixth grade year starts.  If not, the contact is important.

Helping Families Grow in Faith in Summer from Home Part 2

As Summer 2020 promises to be challenging for all of us, here are some more ideas (see Helping Families Keep Church During the Summer) to connect families during our time in physical/social distancing. 

Camps, Vacation Bible Schools, and all the plans that usually make up our Summer, are not going to happen this year except on line.  Here are some activities that involve us getting off line, but still growing in faith.

Bible Story Treasure Hunt:  Each family gets a Bible Story to read and a poster board.  After a family reads their story, they design a picture to show their story.  They place the poster board in a place that can be seen from the road.  Each family participating gets a list of families addresses, stickers, and a list of the stories (one a page) with some questions on it.

The families drive around and find the poster.  They guess which story it is, answer some questions, and then put a sticker on the page to show they completed it.  Publish the names for your families of those who completed the hunt.  Get families to take pictures of their posters.

Bible Story Scavenger Hunt:  Each week, families receive a different Bible story.  After reading it, there is a list of objects that go with the story (David-sheep, musical instrument, rocks, sling shot, very tall person, crown, etc.).  Each child or family, checks off when they spot all of the objects that go with the story.  Put the first names of the children who complete it in the church newsletter.

Church Member Tag:  Place a picture or an object in the front door of a family.  Send them an email or leave a letter that says they are it.  They must complete four challenges before they can “tag” another family to be it.  The challenges: using the object or picture (after it has been cleaned), come up with silly things from Bible Stories to do with it.  Once the challenges are complete, they place the picture or object at a family of their choosing, sending an email or letter to tell them they are it.

Loving our Neighbor: Get a list of older people from your parish and let them know that they are on a list of love.  Families can choose from the list and do a good deed: make a meal, do yard work, weed a garden, get groceries or do a small act.

LEGO Bible Build:  Each week, send out a Bible Story and ask the families to build a LEGO representation of the story.  Have them send in the pictures and create a photo page for each story.

Activities to Help Families Feel Connected During the Summer

Many families travel for long periods of time during the Summer or use Summer as a chance to withdraw from activities to rest.  As we are currently in an unusual Summer, with social distancing facing our Summer, it is more important than ever to find ways for families to practice and grow in faith.  If the activities or kits come from their Church, then it connects them to their church family and reminds them they have a place that cares for them.

Usually, I would do a “Church on the Go” bag filled with activities and ways to worship while away.  But being away from the building is the “normal” for Summer 2020. Beyond live-streaming, here are some ways to help families keep “church”.

*Flat Jesus or bendable Jesus:  Mail out to each family (or have a pick up location) a Jesus to color, or one that is completed and laminated or a toy bendable Jesus (click on link to find this).  With it come these instructions:

               1. Give them three or four parables to read, suggesting one a week.  Give a few “I wonder” or discussion questions with each parable.  They are to take their Jesus and find ways to show the parable.  Give them a place (email, dropbox, etc.) to send these photos then at the end of the Summer, make a parable book to give out (using copy machine, Shutterfly, etc.)

               2.  Give them the “I AM” statements and have them show who Jesus was, doing as above through taking pictures. Have some discussion questions for each “I AM” statement.

               3. Give them some of Jesus miracles or a paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount. Let the families take photos of the things they are thankful for and where they find God.

*Give them a picture of your altar (5 x 7 at least) along with copies of Morning Prayer and readings.  Before the family does Morning Prayer together, have them create a sacred space including the picture of the altar.  Give them a theme for each week to decorate the space or table (i.e. God’s creation: collect flowers, rocks, pictures of animals or stuffed animals).  Tell them that even though we are not together, we are all the church and our worship is beyond places. 

*Send out a coloring page of a stained-glass window or outside of your church.  Have the families use that as a template to color.  Have it say on the back, “We prayed for you today.  Church Name loves you.”  Have them pray for people and leave it on their doorstep.

*Give them some short lines from Psalms that are about joy and love.  Have them write the lines on a rock, decorate the rock with paint or permanent marker, and leave in places where they go.  Each week, release another psalm with a prayer the family can say over their creation.

*Choose a Bible story for the Summer theme.  For each week for six weeks give them something to do with that story.  For example, the first week would be telling the story with some discussion questions.  The second week would be a craft that goes with the story.  The third week would be a science experiment that goes with the story.  The third week would be an outreach project that goes with the story.  The fourth week would be a game that goes with the story.  The fifth week would be food focused (make something).  The sixth week would be a video of the story or watch a recording of someone talking about the story.

Helping Families Celebrate Pentecost

During this time of quarantine, here are some simple ways churches can get the celebration feeling:

  1. Have families send in photos of them dressed in red with a symbol of the Holy Spirit (flame, candle, sparklers, doves, etc.) and put it into a slide show to show before or after the Service on Pentecost.
  2. Have the families dress in red and give them each a language, including English, and have them say Happy Pentecost on video.  Have them send it in and include it at the offering of the Service of Pentecost or either before or after the service.
  3. Film a video of children playing with things symbolizing the wind (Bubbles, pinwheels, kites) and use as part of the service.
  4. Choose different families and have them say a line from the story of Acts (make sure they wear Red) and video tape it.  Put it together for the reading.

For families to do at home, after watching the Pentecost Service or reading Acts 2.

  1. Talk about the forms of the Holy Spirit and play with bubbles, kites or pinwheels.
  2. Create a red feast.  Prepare foods that are red (strawberries, watermelon, cherries, etc.)
  3. Make red flowers and put them on your table. These can be made from tissue paper, construction paper or draw red flowers and cut them out.
  4. Make a kite or windsock from material around the house.
  5. Bake a cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to the church.
  6. Make windchimes out of old keys or odd metal items and hang them up.
  7. Make doves from paper and decorate them.  Fill a front window of your house or place on your front door.
  8. Make thank you cards for people at your church who have helped you on your faith journey.
  9. Learn a few words in different languages and practice them all day.
  10. Read the book, The Day When God Made Church: A Child’s First Book About Pentecost, by Rebekah McLeod Hutto.

Helping a Child Prepare and Families Honor a Child’s Baptism

Baptism is one of the joyous gatherings of family, friends and church.  Besides being one of the Episcopal Church’s major Sacrament, it is a major ritual and tradition in many of our families.

Once a child is old enough to understand what is about to take place, about three years of age, it is important to include the child in preparation for Baptism.  Once Baptized, it is important to have a celebration annually of this important milestone in the child’s life and in the family life.  It is a reminder of the spiritual/faith journey that was started and a good time to reevaluate where we are on that path.

Child Preparation/Family Preparation:

  1. Start by reading Jesus’ Baptism (Luke1-2; Matthew 1-2:15).
  2. Discuss what other stories in the Bible involving water?  (Noah, Exodus, Woman at the Well)
  3. What does Baptism mean to the parents? 
  4. Talk about Baptism (The Book of Common Prayer pages 858-859) for parents and older children. For younger, put in simple words what is written in the BCP.
  5. For children 10 and under, I read with them: Today is a Baptism Day by Anna V. Osteneo Moore.  Asking at each page, I wonder what this means to you?  Add to what is said to help them grasp an understanding of what the Baptism Covenant is.
  6. Review the “what will happen” at the Baptism (the mechanics) to the child.
  7. This is a special day!  Discuss ways to celebrate this day and going forward each year.
  8. At home, ask them to look at other family member’s baptisms’ pictures, candles, bulletins, and other memorabilia.   I give them a copy of the book to reread a few times before the big day and encourage them to call me or come see me with any questions that may come up.

Celebrating an Anniversary of Baptism- Here are ideas and ways to honor the day in the years to come! The family is encouraged to develop their own tradition to celebrate.  Ideas include:

  1. Lighting their Baptismal Candle and each family member saying a blessing about the person and closing it with prayer.
  2. Giving the child a book of age appropriate prayers or Bible with the whole family encircling the child or laying hands on the child while a prayer is said.
  3. Get out pictures from the child’s Baptism, with each person saying how the child has grown in faith or on their life journey.  Close the time with the child having a cupcake or some small celebration treat after a prayer is said for the child.
  4. Ask the Godparents over for dinner on each anniversary of the Baptism or some other person who is important in the child’s faith life.
  5. Each person in the family writes a short poem or prayer for the child and then reads them out loud while the Baptismal Candle is lit.  Put them in a scrap book that is added to each year.