First Parish in Needham Logo

23 Dedham Avenue
Needham, MA 02492

I share my final blog of the year with the R.E. leadership team … as we proudly present your dinner … Oopps, no, your programming for the 2019-2020 church year.   After months of research, meeting, and exploring the evolving needs of families today,  check out what we have come up with for the coming year that combines the “tried and true” favorites and some fresh, new ideas to  providing meaningful, authentic, engaging programming for our children and teens. 

For the last several years, First Parish has been following the Religious Education model established by our previous religious educator. It functioned as a co-op model wherein parents of the children in the program exclusively served as the teachers.  It also consisted mostly of grade-specific curricula from the UUA’s Tapestry of Faith with occasional grade combinations.  This served us fairly well at that time because we had enough children and youth to fill the classes.  Sadly, our numbers of children in the RE program are down — way down. We no longer have the requisite numbers to fill so many separate classes and having fewer parents is contributing to volunteer burnout.  We have reached the point where what once worked no longer serves us.


Inspired by the interim process, the RE Committee and other leaders began the task of visioning for our future.  Kate FitzGerald did some research and found that the most vibrant religious communities offered genuine and relevant “lifespan” programming that met the unique needs of each age group, beginning with families with infants.   Roberta’s general research (in UU and other religious trends) combines with Kate’s to suggest that the biggest difference is that these highly populated religious centers are providing many helpful and enriching services to their families.  In contrast, many smaller communities (like First Parish) invite families to provide a service to each other.   A good example of this is the “parents as teachers” model, which is well intentioned but causes volunteer burnout, as we’ve seen first-hand in our RE program. 


We also found that a growing number of kids don’t want a sixth day of school.  Add to this the growing percentage of parents identifying as “spiritual but not religious” who don’t think they want church and we are left questioning what can we offer here at First Parish that welcomes and supports today’s families


In assessing the shifting needs of families in Needham and the surrounding towns, we have found that the time has come to join together as a community to provide meaningful, authentic, engaging programming that enriches and accommodates today’s families without adding the burden of volunteering on so small a group.  We believe that by asking the whole First Parish community to share their passions, hobbies and interests to assist us with the UU Explorers: Choose Your Own Adventure program, we can create a collaborative and innovative experience for both the students and our Parishioners, one that brings our multi-generational community together and enriches the RE experience for everyone. 


Our children and youth programming for next year combines the beloved and traditional grade-specific curricula from the UUA’s Tapestry of Faith for some of the age groups and a framework for a new elementary-level program that we are very excited to try called UU Explorers: Choose Your Own Adventure.  It and we are a work in progress and we are open to changes over the coming year.  


Here are the programs broken down by grade:

Nursery through Kindergarten: Friendship Finders

Kindergarten through 6th grade: UU Explorers: Choose Your Own Adventure

7th and 8th grade: Building Bridges

9th grade: Coming-of-Age (and youth group)

10th through 12th grade: Leadership Development, Our Whole Lives, and Youth Group


The new UU Explorers: Choose Your Own Adventure program offers multiple mixed-age groups for kids in grades K through 6th.  Instead of all of the kids being in one space together, we will be providing three distinct spaces, one for visual arts, one for performing arts and one for science and nature.  Each child will chose which area interests them the most for how they want to explore and engage. Each of the three spaces will focus on the same value and hear the same story with wondering questions (inspired by our UU sources such as people who live their values, tales from around the world, and books that promote critical thinking) . It is the exploration of that value through the chosen method that will be different for each group.  The values that we will be highlighting for the 2019-2020 year are respect, compassion, community, growth, service, conscience, justice, interdependence, integrity and care. These values are inspired by both the Unitarian Universalist principles and First Parish’s own covenant.   

To facilitate this new UU Explorers: Choose your Adventure program, we are hoping that adults and teens will share with the children their own hobbies and interests as a way to engage with them in a multi-generational, meaningful way.  By including visual arts, performing arts, and science/nature in our programming, we hope to inspire you to join us for two to three Sundays to share your passion with our awesome kids.   We also have leadership opportunities with our beloved little kids and middle-schoolers.  Perhaps you are passionate about the more traditional “tried and true” curricula from the UUA’s Tapestry of Faith, like the Building Bridges program of visiting other religious communities or our Friendship Finders play program for our preschoolers?  Join us! 


Please REGISTER today for your children and youth here:

Please volunteer to help with programming for next year here: