As you no doubt know, one of the standard tools of religious educators is the ubiquitous “story for all ages” that we read during multigenerational services. While this sometimes seems like nothing more than entertainment designed to focus the elusive attention of children, it has potential far surpassing that one goal.
Stories, such as Toy Boat (which I read to the children at our ingathering service) are chosen with a fair bit of thought and care. First of all, the story needs to be engaging and accessible for children across a fairly wide range of ages. More importantly, it needs to fit the overall themes of the service and the particular message of the Pastor’s homily. And, it must have some measure of depth to it… something worth contemplating for minds young and old alike.
Perhaps the most important criteria, from my perspective as an educator, is that the story needs to be useful. A well chosen story has a lesson in it that can be carried away in the memories and imaginations of all who hear it. It allows children and their adults an opportunity to discuss the meanings imbedded in the entire service at a level that is comfortable for all.
When discussing the message of the ingathering service and the notion that boating is “an act of faith,” for example, Toy Boat serves as common ground from which to build deeper and more meaningful connections not only to the service itself and to the act of worship, but to one another.
We’re all familiar with the ways that parables and morality tales of old were meant to teach important lessons, both practical and spiritual. Whether a dire tale of woe from the Brothers Grimm, or kinder message from Hans Christian Anderson (a UU by the way), these stories stay with us because they entertain and they have this very useful place in our individual and societal growth.
Modern children’s stories often do the same kind of work. They help us to teach our children about kindness, or conquering fear. They might take a difficult topic and make it easier to understand. Or, they just might offer a little lesson about exploring the balance between dependence and independence on the choppy waves of a little lake.
Director of Religious Education