Monday, August 18, 2014

Happy The Home- Family Shrines- Immaculate Conception

"Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother- exercising their royal priesthood- penetrate the innermost depths of their children's hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface."  
~St. John Paul II

In this post last week, I wrote about using the idea of traveling shrines to encourage family prayer.  I made the example shrine dedicated to St. Maximilian Kolbe, who is the patron Saint of my classroom.  You could use this idea with any Saint, including our Blessed Mother.  This Marian Shrine will be making the rounds with my Immaculate Conception CCD families, honoring Mary as the patron of our parish.

Here is the list of basics that I would include in any traveling shrine:
1. A simple introduction note, explaining the shrine, giving ideas for use, and a date for its return.
2. An icon, framed picture, or small statue of the Saint. It would be a nice idea to have your priest bless the item before sending it to the homes.
3. A prayer notebook for the families to record their intentions and thanksgivings.
4. Books for both the kids and the adults about the life of the Saint.
5. Holy cards (or something similar) for each family to be able to keep after their time with the shrine.  Bonus points if the card includes a prayer asking for the Saint's intercession.
6. Simple activities that the families could choose to do about the Saint:
-coloring pages or activity sheets
-an easy craft with supplies included
-a list of recommended websites with more information
-a movie about the Saint or music CD that would encourage prayer
7. A bag to carry it all in.  Make sure that the bag is labeled with where it should be returned (ex. a tag tied on that reads "St. Joseph School 5th Grade").  I would also recommend a card or paper that lists the original contents of the bag so that parents can pack everything up before sending it back.

For our Marian Shrine, I am including this beautiful statue of Mary. 
She spent some time on my kitchen table this summer :)
I am also including in this shrine a pretty little cloth for Mary to stand on.  This happens to be a trimmed handkerchief, but you could send a placement, small runner, or doily along with the statue.  In your introduction note, you can explain the cloth and how it sets apart a special place for the shrine, whether on the family dinner table, shelf or other location.
While still breakable, I chose a statue made of pretty sturdy stuff.   I'd like her to last, so she will be traveling in this appropriately sized box wrapped in tissue paper.

I had this pretty little box left over from something else...
...and it became the perfect place to store these Immaculate Conception holy cards that each family will get to keep as a reminder after they send back the shrine.
I am also including this sweet, sweet book called Just Like Mary by Rosemarie Gortler.  I liked how it didn't need to be read cover to cover, but told individual stories and prayers connecting the life of Mary to things a child also goes through, like trusting God, loving others, listening to God, etc.
Just like in my last post, I am including a notebook for the families' intentions and thanksgivings.  I started with a cheap and simple notebook:
Wrote a note similar to this one inside the front cover: (see the text here)
Labeled all of the pages with Thanksgivings and Prayer Requests:
And added a cute cover:

Finally, I decorated a basic canvas bag with acrylic paint:

And loaded it all up!  I still need to add a book for adults, a CD with Marian music, and some simple coloring pages and activity sheets before I send this home with the first family next month.  I am excited to see how it goes!

Have you tried a traveling family Marian shrine with your parish or school?  I'd love to hear how it worked!

Also, if you are looking more ideas on teaching kids about Mary, check out:
Marian Typology Cards
Hail Mary Prayer Cards

Mary Garden Plant Labels 
Mary and Discipleship 
Mary Fact Flipbooks
My Soul Magnifies the Lord Theme
Pop Up Notebook Marian Shrine 
Pop Up Marian Shrine in a Lapbook
Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue
Marian Paper Dolls
Mary as the Moon coloring page

Friday, August 15, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Oregano Tea and other Summer Mistakes that Didn't Turn Out So Bad

Today is my last Friday of summer.  (sigh)  School resumes next week, and while my classroom is ready and I am excited to greet 22 happy faces each morning, that doesn't mean that I don't mourn the end of summer.  This was an exceptionally good summer, so that makes it even harder.

Why was it so good you ask?
I would list my trip to Colorado, time with family, beautiful weather, free time, books read, friends cherished...

But there were a few other things that were sort of good...but started out not good...but still added to the stories of my summer.  Here are seven funny memories from the past couple of months:

For a farmer's daughter I have a black thumb- houseplants beware.  However, I do pretty well at keeping a few pots of herbs alive in the summer and relish having fresh basil and cilantro at my fingertips.  Another herb I usually have is mint, mostly because I like to make mint sweet tea in the summer.

This year, I kept waiting for my mint plant to get bigger before I harvested any, but eventually decided that it must just be a different variety than what I had in the past.  I picked a handful of leaves, brewed some tea, poured over ice, and sipped.  It was... interesting.  A bit of a mint flavor but not what I was used to.  Hmmm.  I drank the glass, but then got curious.  And rechecked my herb labels.  And did a google search.

Come to find out, at some point my labels had gotten moved and instead of mint tea, I had just brewed oregano tea.  Oregano, the stuff you put in pizza sauce.  I was beginning to think that I was crazy and had forgotten what mint smelled and tasted like until I discovered that oregano is part OF THE MINT FAMILY.  No jokes.  Oregano tea.  I didn't make it again.
Oregano Tea.  The next big thing.
I do enjoy a good garage sale or thrift store, and this summer was no exception.  My most successful weekend was during my town wide garage sales with a friend.  My sister had given me a list of some baby items that I was a on a mission to find.

However, I had decided to be fashionably comfortable as we shopped by wearing a cute maxi skirt.  And it rained.  All day.  Do you know what happens to the hem of a long skirt when you walk around all day in the rain?  The hem gets wet, and then the skirt gets wet up to your ankles, and then shins, and then knees.  Pretty soon that skirt weighed about 50 pounds.  How did our ancestors do it with their floor length skirts and petticoats and layers over layers?  Anyways, despite my feminine fax-pas, I scored this awesome solid wood high chair (isn't it beautiful?) for $5.  FIVE DOLLARS.  Bring the rain.
My niece or nephew is gonna love this.

I had a few weddings this summer, one of which (almost) all of my immediate family was at.  It was beautiful and fun and a lovely day to celebrate.  Aren't we a good looking bunch?
The fam, sans Luke.
The night before some of us visited the new local coffee shop, which is my current favorite place to be.  We were hanging out, listening to live music, drinking some goodness, and my brother-in-law suggested a game.  We ended up playing competitive pairs battleship until the place closed.  Insert required hipster picture:
My team took one too many torpedoes.

This summer my parish worked together with two other area churches to offer a Vacation Bible School.  If you know anything about VBS, you are aware that there will be singing.  And dancing.  And the songs will be annoyingly catchy.  They will get stuck in your head.  By day two, I never wanted to hear the music again.  But by the end of the week, I had added the music to my itunes.  As had several of the volunteers.  Take this one for example:

I celebrated my actual birthday in Colorado, which was lovely.  A few weeks later, I was trying to catch up with some friends, and made plans to come over for breakfast after Sunday Mass.  While driving, Bonnie called to check on my ETA.  She then said that the kids wanted to talk to me.  After visiting with B for a bit, L got on the phone, and the conversation went something like this:
Me- "Are you hungry?  I am!"
L- "Yes!"
Me- "I have a big bowl of fruit in my backseat for us.  What else are we going to eat?"
L- "I can't tell you.  It is a surprise."
Me- "OK."
L- "Actually (drops to a whisper) I can't tell you because it is all a surprise.  It's a surprise birthday party for YOU!"


I was five minutes away, so after L hung up on me, I just walked in and pretended that it never happened.  I still got decorations, a yelled "SURPRISE!", and a candle in a sculpture of pastries.  It was the best ever not-such-a-surprise belated birthday breakfast.
The best.

This summer I had a goal of "touching" everything in my apartment.  Sounds weird, but I mean that I wanted to sort and throw away and donate lots after going through every box, closet, bin, shelf, etc.  I wanted it to happen, but I did not want to do it.  However, I buckled down a few weeks ago and got it done.  (Unfortunately, it was after those town wide garage sales, or I could have made quite the profit!).  Everything looks SO much better, and it is so peaceful to be in an organized home.
Might not look like much, but you should see the before.  On second hand, no you shouldn't.

While helping my sister and her husband look for more furniture in an antique shop, Steven and I got a little bored.  We wandered, and came upon these (ahem) lovely porcelain dolls.  Don't ask me how, but without even getting close, I identified them as being the characters from Little Women.

"Little Women?" Steven asked.

Big mistake.  I then tried to explain the plot of one of my favorite books/movies to him.  Using the porcelain dolls as reference.  He is a good man.  Because he didn't run away.
"You must tell me, because we are sisters, a relation closer than marriage."

 ~Bonus #8~
One of my last little road trips of the summer was to visit Marytown & the St. Maximilian Kolbe Shrine in Libertyville, IL and then stop at Mundelein Seminary.  There could be many reasons to visit Mundelein- the gorgeous lake and grounds, beautiful architecture, the sculptures, hoping to run into Fr. Robert Barron, visiting the lovely chapel of the Immaculate Conception...but really I just wanted to see this window.
First stained glass window to feature an Emmy, I reckon.
Fr. Barron posted pics earlier this summer of the new stained glass windows in the recently renovated JP2 chapel at Mundelein.  I had to see my friend Fulton up close, so making it to that chapel was at the top of the list.  We walked the grounds, took pictures, and visited several buildings.  After checking with a seminarian, we climbed the stairs to the new chapel to was temporarily closed for continued installations.


Not to be deterred, we, my Bible Study friends, young Catholics visiting a seminary by choice on a free weekend, went ahead and broke in.  (by broke in, we ignored the sign and moved some plastic and went in anyways, rebels that we are.)  It was so worth it.  This window was so beautiful, and while some others were covered, I was able to see St. Gianna, Bl. Pier Giorgio, St. John XXIII, Mother Teresa, and more.  I felt as though I were among friends.  Sneaking in was totally worth it.  Just don't tell Fr. Barron.
Better than a mug shot, we suppose.
What great summer memories :)

Now go visit Conversion Diary for what will likely be more coherent sets of Quick Takes!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Happy The Home- Family Shrines- St. Maximilian Kolbe

There are many ways to encourage parent involvement in religious education, but if there is one thing that we can help our families to do, it should be to pray with and for each other.

By making their home a school of prayer, parents show their children Who God is, and who we are.  They witness the living out of faith becoming an integral part of the day.  Kids see moms and dads turning to God in praise and petition.  Prayer changes a home.

One new project that I am going to try both in my classroom and my CCD program this year are traveling shrines.  I really like the idea of uniting our families together with a bag of goodies that visits each home.  The first one that will be making the rounds with my students will center on family prayer and encourage the creation of a place of prayer in the home.

The patron Saint of my classroom is St. Maximilian Kolbe.  (And tomorrow is his feast day!) My students and I will spend the first few weeks of school learning from the life of St. Max, and he continues to be a big part of our environment all year long.  So, I thought that carrying our devotion to St. Max into the homes of my students would be another neat way to connect home and school, as well as a way to encourage family prayer. Here is our St. Max traveling shrine, ready to spend one week in the homes of each of my students this school year.  Once it comes back, it will be restocked and sent home to another family, eventually making it to all of the students.  Other take-home-learning bags will also be visiting my student's homes (usually focusing on skills, like math/reading/writing) but I want this one to be the most special.

You could create a traveling shrine for any Saint, but here are some basics that I would include:
1. A simple introduction note, explaining the shrine, giving ideas for use, and a date for its return.
2. An icon, framed picture, or small statue of the Saint.  It would be a nice idea to have your priest bless the item before sending it to the homes.
3. A prayer notebook for the families to record their intentions and thanksgivings.
4. Books for both the kids and the adults about the life of the Saint.
5. Holy cards (or something similar) for each family to be able to keep after their time with the shrine.  Bonus points if the card includes a prayer asking for the Saint's intercession.
6. Simple activities that the families could choose to do about the Saint:
-coloring pages or activity sheets
-an easy craft with supplies included
-a list of recommended websites with more information
-a movie about the Saint or music CD that would encourage prayer
7. A bag to carry it all in.  Make sure that the bag is labeled with where it should be returned (ex. a tag tied on that reads "St. Joseph School 5th Grade").  I would also recommend a card or paper that lists the original contents of the bag so that parents can pack everything up before sending it back.

This is what I included in our St. Max Shrine:

While visiting the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe at Marytown in Libertyville, IL,  I was able to buy this beautiful icon of St. Max complete with a prayer for his intercession.  I stuck it in a garage sale frame, and it is ready to travel to my students' homes.

I was also able to get this great graphic novel about St. Max there:

There are enough of these St. Max post cards from the National Shrine that each family can keep one.  That way, even when the traveling shrine is passed on to another family, they will still have a little reminder of St. Max in their home.

Also included are a book for both the kids and the adults (seen in the pic at the top of the post.)
Mary's Knight by Patricia Edward Jablonski, FSB. (We read this out loud in class, but I think that the kids will enjoy having their own copy for a week.)
Hero of Auschwitz by Marytown Publishing (A short little booklet for the grownups who might not know much about Max.  It also contains illustrations & pictures.)

To help maintain the connection between the families, as well as to really encourage prayer, I made a simple prayer journal to travel with the shrine.  Here is a cheap notebook:
And I wrote a note about how to use it on the first page.  Click here for the text of this note.
And labeled one side of the pages with the title Thanksgivings: (so sorry for the blurry pics.  You get the idea.)
And the other side with Prayer Requests:
And made a simple cover:
Then it was time to decorate a bag to have the students carry it all back and forth in.  These are just simple canvas bags available from any craft store.  I used acrylic paint to decorate one side.
This black bag got the "St. Max Family Shrine" label, as well as some symbols of St. Max's life- a white and red crown, the M and Cross from a Miraculous Medal, and a piece of a prisoner's uniform with the #16670.  Obviously, you don't have to decorate a bag like this, but make sure that it is labeled somehow so that it can be recognized for its purpose.
Here it is all packed up with the goodies and ready to be sent home for a family to enjoy!  I probably will also add some St. Max & Mary coloring pages and activity sheets as well, because who doesn't love those :).

If you are interested in teaching your students the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe click here for my cross-curricular resources for teaching about St. Max.
And here for some additional St. Max activities.

In my next Happy the Home post, I'll be sharing my ideas for a traveling Family Marian Shrine for the families in my Immaculate Conception CCD program.  Check back, and let me know if you have had any success with a similar idea!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Happy The Home- Let the Kids be the Teachers

Parents are the first and most important teachers of the faith for their children.  What if we as the teachers/DREs/catechists find that the parents feel that they are ill-equipped, unprepared, or disinterested in passing on the faith to their kids? 

While encouraging parents to realize and accept the importance of sharing their faith with their children, I have found that often the kids are the ones who become the teachers.  We can offer the parents Bible studies, faith formation, classes, videos, talks, etc., but attendance tends to be a low percentage of the same families.

What will parents show up for?  Seeing their kids perform or present.

Knowing the parents will come and watch their kids shine, it is always a great idea to give opportunities for your students to share what they are learning with their families.  This could be as simple as inviting the parents to come into the classroom for ten minutes, once a month, during which time the students give reports or show off new projects.  Or it could be as elaborate as a planned program involving the whole school/all the CCD classes.  Creating a presentation involving all of those students might sound intimidating, but it can be simple and still effective.  Letting the students share what they know is not only a good practice that makes the objective of their learning real and practical, but it also enriches the knowledge and understanding of their families as a whole.  The more the parents are involved in their faith, the more they thirst to know and serve Christ and His Church, the more that love will trickle down into their kids.

I would like to share with you one way that kids became the teachers through an awesome program celebrating the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII.  My friend Paula, who works in a nearby parish, created this celebration for a group of students and families to mark the merging of a group of parishes.  The parishes in the Kewanee, IL area joined under the new name of St. John Paul II this spring. You can see the adorable pictures from this celebration (including costume and set up ideas!) by clicking here. You can read about it in their parish bulletin here.

Paula designed this program so that each student was involved and each grade level had a specific part in the presentation.  All of the parts worked together and told the stories not only of St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII, but also about the things that they taught and about the canonization process overall.  They covered some awesome information in interesting ways, and I know that more than the students learned from this program.  The parents, grandparents, parishioners, and teachers who were in attendance were enriched and inspired by the stories of these holy men and the faith that they loved.

This was their agenda:
Canonization Celebration
Celebrating Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II Becoming Saints
·     *3rd grade presented the Road to Sainthood (Check out the link above to the picture to see how the kids literally used the idea of a "road" to describe the canonization process.)
·     *6th /7th grade enacted the miracle stories of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II (More info below.)
·     *8th grade introduced us to the saints these two Popes canonized during their pontificates.  (These presentations included Sts. Josephine Bakhita, Maximilian Kolbe, Faustina, Gianna Beretta Molla, Martin dePorres, and Juan Diego.)
·     *4th /1st grade talked about World Youth Day which Pope John Paul II started 28 years ago. (The big kids and little kids worked together to read a "report" about World Youth Days, including repetition by the little kids and chanting of "John Paul 2, We Love You!")
·     *5th grade played a game to teach us about the Luminous Mysteries, added to the Rosary by Pope John Paul II (This part involved hints about the Mysteries and word scrambles on poster board.)
·     *Kindergarten will share time, talent and treasure for the “Peace Pope” John XXIII. (The students read the Prayer of St. Francis while collecting donations for a specific charity.)
·     *2nd grade helped us to understand the Divine Mercy of Jesus and served us Divine Mercy Sundaes. (yum!)

      Paula found most of her information online for the presentations about canonization, the Saint biographies, World Youth Day, the Luminous Mysteries, and Divine Mercy and turned them into useable reports/scripts for the kids to practice with and use.  However, realizing that she wanted to share the stories of the miracles performed through the intercession of these great popes, Paula created two original plays for the students to perform.  These stellar scripts, which she had written by Patrick Sloan, could be used as plays with costumes and an audience like you see in the pictures above, or you could use them in a classroom for a more simple readers' theater.  Either way, they are well written, content rich, and available here for free. Paula was graciously willing to share the scripts so that more students (and maybe parents!) could learn from them.

      Click here for the play "The Miracle of Pope John Paul II."

Click here for the play "The Healing Miracle of the Peasant Pope."
     Thank you Paula, for your great work with your students, and for sharing these plays with us!   

      How have you encouraged your students 
to become the teachers in their homes?

      You can find the links to other posts in my Happy the Home series at the bottom of my Sharing the Faith tab.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Happy the Home- Parent Communication Newsletters

Back in this post I gave a little background on my belief that parents are the first and most important teachers of the faith for their kids.  Here, I would like to give some ideas for parent newsletters and how they can encourage faith involvement.

The idea of using newsletters to communicate between home or church and school is nothing new, but that doesn't mean that they can't be effective.  I use weekly newsletters both in my CCD program at church as well as in my classroom at school.  Here are a few ideas for using them:

1. Actually get them in the parents' hands.  A stellar newsletter does no good if the parent never sees it.  Find out what the most effect way to get them "home."
-A paper copy that goes home in the same folder every week with the student.
-A paper copy sent in the mail.
-A PDF sent through email.
-A post  on a regularly checked classroom website.
-A combination of more than one delivery method.
-Deliver your newsletters on a regular and expected basis.  I recommend weekly, on the same day of the week. 

2.  Keep it simple and useful.  I create newsletters that have one page of information, all on the front.  On the back of the newsletter, I include enrichment activities that the family can use.
-Too much information gurantees the newsletter won't get read.
-Keep the same info organized in the same locations each week- dates, upcoming events, special announcements, etc.
-Know when a paragraph is necessary to communicate info and when a list will do a better job.

3.  Make it recognizable.  Each year for CCD and my classroom, I create a newsletter template, and just update it each week.  It has the same theme, design, and layout.  Samples of different themes are posted below.  (Also, I have had people ask- I use Microsoft Word for all of my files.  I know there are a lot of perks to Publisher or InDesign, but I have learned to make do without buying another program. :) )
-Use a consistent header with program title, location, dates, etc.
-Use text boxes to separate info.
-Use interesting but readable fonts.  Don't go crazy, but make it look attractive.

4.  Give parents a reason to read it.  Here are some ideas to include in a CCD/Sunday School Newsletter:
-A current and correct calendar.  (We do our best to give parents accurate calendars at the beginning of the year, but things change, are added, and are decided at later times.  The biggest perk to doing a weekly newsletter is being able to communicate our upcoming events.)
-Include any events relating to the kids and families, not just CCD classes.  Adult Bible Studies, special meetings, Youth Group events, upcoming Sacrament opportunities, etc. are all good to include.  Everyone might not be involved in every religious ed event, but it is good for them to be aware of them.
-Special announcements.  Some examples of things to include:
     *Updates on Sacrament classes, including first names of students as they are close to receiving a
       new Sacrament, asking families to pray for them.
     *Announcements relating to the Liturgical year.  Share ideas for celebrating as a family, invite
       them to parish events, etc.
     *Updates and requests for service.  Donations, volunteer opportunities, etc.
     *Draw attention to special CCD events.  Give more details than what is just in the upcoming
       calendar sections.
     *Highlight specific things going on in the classrooms.  Special projects, guests, accomplishments,
       prayer requests, etc.
-Include some faith formation ideas.  Little facts, trivia, discussion starters, prayers, simple projects, etc.  I also like to include coloring pages, games, or activity sheets copied on the back of the newsletter that tie in with the faith info included on the front.

Here are some actual samples of newsletters that I pulled out of the file from years past.  Perfect?  Absolutely not. But if you are looking for a starting point or a fresh idea, click on the images below for a link to three or four newsletter samples.

From our year with the Armor of God theme:

From our "My Soul Magnifies the Lord" theme:

From our All Saint theme:

 And for those Catholic School Teachers out there, here is a list of ideas to include in a weekly classroom newsletter:
5. Classroom newsletter ideas:
-Upcoming school or classroom events for the week.
-Due dates for projects or plans for tests/quizzes.
-Fun trivia or facts.  (I use trivia as an incentive for families to read my newsletter each week.  Trivia answer=prizes!)  This is also a great way to introduce an upcoming topic or to stretch their knowledge of something we are learning in the classroom.
-Info on fundraisers, service projects, etc.
-Announcements about classroom curriculum and current areas of study.
-Encouragement about what has been going well, and reminders of what can be reinforced at home.
-Prayer requests, faith tidbits, Liturgical Year activities, etc.
-Requests for volunteers, supplies, donations, etc.

Click here for a few classroom newsletter samples.

What kind of information do you like to see in a newsletter?
What do you think makes a newsletter effective?
How have you/could you use a newsletter to help with church/school to home communication?
Let me know what you think!