Religious Education (RE) Curriculum
Parents are the primary religious educators of their children. Through RE programs and the inclusion of children in worship, social justice work, and multigenerational gatherings, our community reinforces what parents teach at home. We nurture truth-seeking, spirituality, and progressive moral values that shape and support our children as they grow.
After completing the RE program at First Parish, our children:
- Know what it means to be part of a worship community, and have a sense of belonging
- Can articulate the basic tenets and values of our Unitarian Universalist faith
- Are familiar with a variety of religious rituals and practices, and understand that spiritual beliefs are multifaceted and wide-ranging
- Feel and know that First Parish is their spiritual home
- Have made connections with many positive, caring youth and adults at First Parish
- Can use their critical-thinking skills to articulate their own spiritual path
The pre-K curricula introduce children to being in community together and give them a basic grounding in Unitarian Universalism.
- Sunday School Fun (taught in the fall and winter) introduces children to the RE program; they learn about being in community together in a fun and loving way. Weekly lessons incorporate the concepts of a worship community, family groupings, holiday celebrations, nature, and the world around us through art, music, games, and other interactive activities.
- Chalice Children (taught in the spring) offers a concrete introduction to Unitarian Universalism. Children learn about our congregation, explore the physical building and surroundings, and continue to practice rituals of our UU faith, including chalice lighting, circle time, and a benediction.
The kindergarten curricula take a deeper dive into what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist, including the Seven Principles that are at the core of our faith.
- A Discovering Year (taught in the fall and winter) offers children the opportunity to learn about their religious community and its traditions, and the freedom to discover and express their own uniqueness. Children are encouraged to use their minds, bodies, and emotions to develop their sense of identity and self-esteem within the Unitarian Universalist community and the world.
- Wonderful Welcome (taught in the winter and spring) engages children in exploring how and why we are willing to welcome others into our lives, as well as the intangible gifts we share with others. Children learn the importance of welcoming as an act of Unitarian Universalist faith and as an expression of our Principles.
- Love Surrounds Us (taught in the winter and spring) explores the Seven Principles in the context of Beloved Communities that are most recognizable to kindergarteners—family, home, school, and neighborhood. Children engage in activities that emphasize the love they feel in community.
The first grade curricula introduce several important religious concepts, including God, creation, prayer, and what it means to have a “faith home.” Throughout, children are reminded that as Unitarian Universalists, we decide for ourselves what we believe and what words we use to express our beliefs.
- In Faith, Rituals, and Mystery: Stories from Many Cultures (taught in the fall), children learn about different conceptions of God from a variety of world religions and cultures, ultimately considering for themselves what they think about God. They consider a number of creation stories, and explore the ritual of prayer.
- Creating Home (taught in the winter and spring) introduces the concept of the congregation as a “faith home”—which, like a family home, offers its members certain joys, protections, and responsibilities. Children begin by exploring the purpose and functions of a home for people and for other animals, and then consider parallels between what happens in families and what happens in congregations.
Grade 2: Experiences with the Web of Life
This curriculum focuses on our seventh UU Principle: respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part. Its emphasis on values differentiates it from the ecological content that children often receive at school. This yearlong curriculum has four key goals:
- Develop children’s awareness of the interdependence of living things and each child’s place within the web of life
- Encourage children’s natural sense of curiosity and awe
- Foster their awareness of and comfort with change and growth as characteristics of living things (including life and death)
- Encourage them to protect the environment, enjoy nature, and respect all living things
Grade 3: Holidays and Holy Days
Children learn about and celebrate special holy days from around the world through stories, food, music, and movement. Each holiday/holy day ties in one or more of our UU principles, so that children may compare and contrast the many theological beliefs and ideas they learn about during the year.
At First Parish, we believe that biblical literacy plays a significant role in fully understanding and appreciating the world’s history and culture, and it is critical for our students as they learn to navigate the world. Fourth-graders begin the year by focusing on the Hebrew Bible (from Genesis through Chronicles), one of the six sources of our living tradition, with a deep focus on the theme of “covenant.” They then return to our seventh UU Principle (respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part) and consider the covenant we each have with the earth.
- In Living the Promise (taught in the fall and winter), children experience stories from the Hebrew Bible in a way that is both fun and meaningful to them. Ultimately, they learn that the ideals we as Unitarian Universalists cherish—justice, compassion, peace, and the courage to stand up for these—can be directly traced to their Hebrew roots.
- Our Environment (taught in the spring) is designed to foster a love of nature and of living in harmony with the earth. Students are challenged to look at the changing face of our planet and to consider personal activism: how one person can take action to preserve the earth.
Fifth-graders continue their study of the Bible, learning about the life and teachings of Jesus, based on the four gospels of the New Testament. They then take a deeper look at our Unitarian Universalist faith.
- In Kingdom of Equals (taught in the fall and winter), students consider Jesus as a pivotal figure in both secular and religious history, particularly the ideas of equality and radical love as taught by Jesus. Throughout, it is stressed that Jesus stories are universal and therefore open to interpretation and definition.
- Toolbox of Faith (taught in the spring) invites students to reflect on the qualities of our Unitarian Universalist faith as tools they can use in living their lives and building their own faith. Each session uses a tool as a metaphor, such as reflection (symbolized by a mirror), flexibility (duct tape), and justice (a flashlight).
In grade 6, our students contemplate two of the “big questions” of life: How do we know right from wrong? and What happens when we die?
- Amazing Grace: Exploring Right and Wrong (taught in the fall and winter) guides sixth-graders through ways to determine right from wrong and act on their new understandings. Through stories, activities, and discussion, the youth address such questions as, Why do bad things happen? Is evil or goodness within us, or is it something we choose? How can I follow my own ideas and not somebody else’s? Is “you decide for yourself” really the ultimate UU answer to these questions?
- The Lessons of Loss (taught in the spring) examines how various cultures and religions answer the question of why tragic events occur, the range of UU beliefs concerning death and dying, what other religious traditions believe about death and dying, and how religious rituals acknowledge loss. Students are encouraged to develop their own ideas regarding what death means to them and their families.
Grade 7: Neighboring Faiths
Note: Neighboring Faiths, taught during the fall and winter of grade 7, concludes the regular morning RE program offered to all children who attend First Parish.
As this class involves visits to other religious groups in our community, students may attend at times other than Sunday mornings. A schedule of planned trips will be provided to parents and guardians at the first class, which will be on Sunday morning as usual.
This class introduces students to the faith traditions and practices of other religious groups in our community. Students visit places of worship and take part in their rituals, then come together the following week to discuss their experiences and observations. Students continue to articulate their own spiritual path as they consider other traditions, religions, and spiritual practices.
OWL (Our Whole Lives of Sexuality) (Spring of Grade 7 and Fall of Grade 8)
Note: To take part in OWL, students must attend Sunday School for three months prior to the first session. Pre-registration for this two-term program is required, and weekly attendance is expected.
OWL offers a profound opportunity for our middle-grades youth to deepen their faith and put their values into practice. The curriculum promotes sexual and emotional health and fosters meaningful dialogue among peers in a safe and respectful setting. Youth have opportunities to identify, clarify, and discuss issues within the entire spectrum of sexuality, including self-esteem, media images, gender identity, relationship building, communication, and caring, and to learn important facts about the human body, sexual harassment and abuse, and sexual practices. The curriculum was recently updated to include lessons on social media and pornography. Critical-thinking, decision-making, and communication skills are fostered and practiced throughout the two terms of the program.
Coming of Age (Winter and Spring of Grade 8)
Note: Like OWL, Coming of Age is not a drop-in program; registration is required, and weekly attendance is expected.
Coming of Age fosters the transition from the RE program to the high school Youth Group. With the support of an adult mentor from our congregation, the youth investigate their personal spirituality and develop a greater sense of what they believe. Through discussions, guest speakers, art projects, and workshops, they consider worship, social justice, religious history and tradition, the life and organization of First Parish, and their own spiritual autobiography. Over the course of the program, the youth develop a personal credo—a written statement regarding their beliefs or unique perspectives. The program culminates in a worship service and celebration, during which students share their credos with the congregation.
For the most part, children identify with the faith beliefs of their parents and family. The Coming of Age program signals the beginning of individual spiritual searching; it is an official recognition that the youth involved have begun to search for their personal truth.