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Meeting the Needs of Our Church School Children

The church school teachers of New England gathered in January of 2017 at the Chancery for a workshop sponsored by the Department of Christian Education. Our workshop leader was Dr. Iona Popa, an educator, psychiatrist and pious orthodox christian. The teachers were challenged to approach the church school class as a kind of liturgy, which parallels or continues the Divine Liturgy itself. The classroom is a place where the Mount Tabor experience is brought into the world: a holy place where our children will encounter God; a special place where we tap into the life of the Trinity made incarnate by Jesus Christ. As in the Divine Liturgy, in the classroom we use all of our senses.

Dr. Popa pointed out that children learn differently from each other. Some are auditory learners, others visual, and still others kinesthetic. By learning how our class and each of our children learn, we can be more successful in communicating the good news of Jesus Christ. To assess learning style, Iona suggested that we ask the children to give us directions to a place either in the church complex or to an area with which they are familiar. Those who are visual learners will describe landmarks. Those who are auditory learners may speak slowly to hear their own words or talk a lot as they process and conceptualize the journey. The kinesthetic learners will use their hands and maybe their feet in demonstrating how turns are made to get to the destination. Learning how they learn allows us to craft a more effective lesson.

Just as the liturgy utilizes our senses in helping us encounter God, so should our class lessons, applying the concepts and information with the learning styles of our students in mind. Our purpose is not reducible to conveying information. Our purpose is helping the children encounter God. We must be vigilant and creative, so as to not allow ourselves to be distracted from this essential ministry.

Creative learning activities may include role-playing, making puppet shows, having children interview each other, retelling bible stories as if in a modern setting, making up songs to convey important lessons, or preparing to share the lessons with parents or others. It is unrealistic to expect kinesthetic learners to sit still, or auditory learners to read in class. These learners develop and process differently than does the visual learner. Making these accommodations allow the children to learn successfully and come to know God.

Sometimes our children are too easily distracted from the message we are delivering. We should not forget our mission while coping with such disruptions. Instead, we should be creative in responding to them. Some children benet from having a parent or teacher's assistant present to offer individual coaching during the class. Some teachers who were present at the workshop shared that they provide children with stress balls and pencils, so that they can keep their hands busy as they listen in the class. Others offer regular exams to challenge the children to stay focused. All of the teachers agreed that there was not time enough for their lessons to be distracted by disciplinary actions. Our goal is not discipline, but education.

Understanding the classroom as a kind of liturgy conveys both the importance of the classroom experience and the opportunity to encounter God. Like the priest, the teacher who is energized and excited about the message will convey this contagious enthusiasm to the participants of the liturgy and classroom. We could all benet from taking the liturgy to our homes, play and workplaces, to encounter God there, and praying that His Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.

Bishop John