In 1989 we began a new retreat program called Junior Yearly Meeting Elementary Retreats under the care of New England Yearly Meeting (NEYM) for children in grades two through six. We provide five retreats during the school year held at larger meetings around New England, and two retreats, spring and fall, at Woolman Hill Retreat and Conference center located in western Massachusetts.
Multiple Friends have expressed concerns in recent years about how many children and young people seem to have trouble making the transition from Young Friend (in First Day School) to Adult Friend (in meeting for worship, committee work, etc. ). I think we need to be intentional about helping them cross over and stop underestimating their capacity for spiritual experience!
My “Friendly” outlook in writing this article is to look at the concept of multiple intelligences through the eyes of a Quaker and to consider possible applications in a First Day School setting. There comes a point in the life of a Friend when the realization comes that the inner and outer lives are connected. It is this inner light felt by individuals in the sense of “daily living” that we can present Friends social testimonies of peace, simplicity, equality and ecological witness to children in our classes.
A growing tension exists between our Quaker families and our culture of busyness and ‘round the clock scheduling. Caught between school sports and all of other choices that now exist on Sunday mornings, Quaker families often don’t prioritize meeting attendance. Needless to say, this is very discouraging for First Day School teachers who have worked hard to prepare a lesson. Irregular attendance also inhibits the formation of friendships among class members and the development of a sense of community.
Welcome to this opportunity to wonder with the young Friends in your meeting, to be a mentor and role model, and to join together as you search for the Inward Teacher available to all. There are some excellent materials available to you to help you organize and present a First Day School (FDS) program. We have listed some of them at the end of this article. But you’ve been asked today! Here are a few ideas that others have found helpful.
Teachers usually teach because they feel led to, and that they have real gifts and ministry to offer children and youth, are often missed. Other adults focus on their own needs that the teacher has filled which are likely NOT why someone has chosen to teach.
An Activity for Middle and/or High School Friends
The following activity is a great opportunity to have some fun and create some excitement about your First Day School program. In addition, it helps young Friends to identify and represent themselves in the larger community as Quakers. It takes between 2 and 3 hours.
The FGC Religious Education committee is encouraging Quaker religious educators to explore the many possible ways one can build a lesson around a single book. The Religious Education committee is calling such a lesson, especially one created using a form or template they have provided, a Lesson from a Book. (See sample lessons in this issue.) There are scores of excellent books available, so it makes sense to plan carefully and maximize the use of these books in the First Day School setting.