Blog

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.

Helping Families Keep Easter at Home

Easter should be our most joyous season, yet with the “Stay at Home” order caused by the COVID-19 Virus, it can feel anything, but joyous.  We are all feeling worn out, frazzled, and grieving.  Here are some ways for families to keep Easter and remind them of the joy of the season.

Holy Time:  Set a time each day (if that is too ambitious, then once a week) for a holy time.  Explain to the children that this time is to practice Sabbath.  Set the alarm so that when the predetermined time arrives, it is a reminder to start.  Ideas include, sitting in prayer with eyes closed, practice some deep breathing or “box” breathing, sitting in a circle and saying what you are grateful for today, or praying a song (offering a song as a prayer to God and then maintain a few moments of silence after it is finished.)

Find a way that works for your family and make it a priority.

Finding Joy:  Each family member has a day and a predetermined time, all the family participates in what brings the person joy.  Start with a prayer, let the person explain what the activity or thing is that brings them joy, all try it and then end with sharing what each person is grateful about the activity or thing, then close in prayer.

Easter Butterflies:  Each person in the family design a butterfly.  Put them in the front window to remind people walking by that it is Easter.  Hearts and signs can be added too.

Empty Tomb Stone:  On a walk, find a rock that can be decorated.  When you get home, use permanent markers, paint, ribbon, and other craft objects to decorate the rock.  While you are decorating the rock, each time a color is added or an object, say a prayer of thanksgiving to God.  Place the finished rock or rocks in a bowl to be used for prayer during Holy Time or Prayer Time.

Scavenger Hunt Walk:  As you go for a walk outside, look for signs of new life.  Try to remember what certain bushes, trees, or paths looked like in Winter.  Notice the differences now.  Remind yourself that this time will pass to and we will enter Spring.  After you have found 10 things, say a prayer to God, then continue the hunt until you find 10 more, then pray and continue repeating until you arrive home again.

Prayer Walk: Before you leave home, each person chooses a color.  Every time they see that color on the walk, they offer a prayer to God.

Easter Pen Pals: Make a list of people you miss seeing and don’t forget the people, who may not be considered friends but are a regular part of your life (like the janitor at school or church).  Each week of Easter send a letter to one person on your list telling them that you miss them, what you like about them, and what is going on at home for you.  Encourage them to write back.  The more letters you send, the more you will get in return.

Holy Week for Children at Home

As a Children’s Minister, my biggest question is how to make Holy Week special and fulfilling for children. This week should be a big deal. It is a big deal!

In addition to the ideas on my previous blog on Holy Week, we are faced in 2020 with one of the biggest challenges for Holy Week that leave us struggling with, “What do we do when we can not gather to prepare or worship?”

Here are ideas for keeping Holy Week that families can do with little to no preparation:

  • Palm Sunday: have the children gather greenery from their yard. Do a children’s moment either during the service and tell the children the story or have a Children’s Chapel after and retell the story. Encourage them to yell, “Hosanna!” and wave their greenery. Have the family create a “Holy Week” space in their house (a corner or table) and place the greenery their as a reminder of the start of the week. They can make a crown for the king. A battery operated candle can be used for prayer time.
  • Wednesday of Holy Week: have a Children’s Chapel of what has happened and what is to come. I talk about Jesus as teacher, healer, storyteller, and messiah. The Godly Play Faces of Easter are very good for this. Ask the children to choose a role of Jesus and put a symbol representing that role on their “Holy Week” space. Letting the children choose the object or picture creates a beautiful chance at sharing.
  • Maundy Thursday: have a Children’s Chapel before the Maundy Thursday Service and explain how this Service will be different. Tell the story of the Last Supper and the washing of the feet. Encourage each family to wash each others feet or hands before they eat tonight. Add a small towel to the “Holy Week” space.
  • Good Friday: have a Children’s Chapel before the Good Friday Service and explain how this service is different. Tell the story and talk about being afraid. Remind them that this is not the end of the story! After the service, create a cross from twigs or other objects at home and put it on your “Holy Week” space.
  • Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil: depending on which service you will do, have a children’s chapel explaining what will happen and why. If doing Holy Saturday, it is a beautiful time to talk about waiting, about God never leaving us, about love, and about family. To the “Holy Week” space add a picture of the family that is not there with you. If doing the Easter Vigil, have the children draw their favorite Bible Story and add it to the “Holy Week” space. During Children’s Chapel (done before the service), expain what the Vigil is, encourage families to light a candle and turn off all the lights until Easter is announced.
  • Easter: have the children pick flowers or draw flowers. Remove all the items from the “Holy Week” space and replace with flowers. During the children’s moment or during Children’s Chapel, tell the story of love winning and light winning. Tell the story of the resurrection with enthusiasm and excitement to emphasize the big deal this is.

Viritual Easter Egg Hunt: one of the ways, I am making Easter special for our children, is during each of the above named Children’s Chapels, I have cut a very large egg out of paper and put a Bible story picture or symbol on it. For the week of Holy Week and the first week of Easter, every time I do a chapel, I will have an “egg” in the background. Children find the eggs and write the Bible Story or symbol down. Those who have found all of the eggs and named the story get a goodie bag of Easter treats on Pentecost or the next time we are able to gather. (If you are not on a “Stay at Home Order”, then you can deliver the treat bag to their houses.

To view any of the Children’s Chapel Services on our Holy Week, visit www.facebook.com/stpaulswinstonsalem.