Source: The Orthodox Church, Volume 44/Number 4
Some Church school teachers dismiss craft activities as being merely “busy work.” Others feel uncomfortable with crafts because they “just aren’t good at that artsy, hands-on stuff,” as one teacher put it. And there are a still few teachers who genuinely believe that if it can’t be memorized, it isn’t worth learning!
While it’s true that some crafts don’t qualify as much more than time-fillers, and do little to enhance a lesson, considering the limited number of hours we have to teach our students, we need to be especially careful to avoid these. We always need to ask: Will the time spent on a craft be worthwhile for the students? Will they learn something, or experience something, in a way they’re likely to remember? If the answer is no, the craft isn’t worth doing. (Teachers who aren’t sure whether a craft idea is worth the time might consult a more experienced teacher, especially one who teaches or has taught students in the same age group.)
Crafts can enhance lessons.
Many crafts really can deepen students’ learning experiences – especially because our Orthodox faith is so rich that it offers us several directions in which a craft activity might go.
For example, craft books frequently offer ideas for activities that involve fish, based on Christ’s invitation to His disciples to become “fishers of men.” With younger students, we can take such an activity further by teaching the troparion for the feast of Pentecost. Or we can take it in a slightly different direction by looking with students at the icon of Christ blessing the sea and its creatures, and perhaps having students create sea creatures out of clay or some other material. This will help implant in younger children the comforting reassurance that Jesus loves everyone and everything.
With older students, we can discuss in more depth the words of the Pentecost troparion, which present the paradox of the simple fishermen being revealed as “most wise.” Again, we might go in a different direction by looking at the icon, which can reinforce older students’ understanding that Jesus Christ is co-Creator of verything in the universe with His Father and the Holy Spirit. This could lead to a craft based on the Praises, which we sing during Matins and which include so many of the elements of God’s creation.
Similarly, there are many crafts based on Jesus’ life with Mary, the Theotokos, and Joseph. We can take these kinds of activities further by presenting Joachim and Anna, whose names our students hear often in the liturgical services. For example, there is a beautiful icon showing them as a loving couple, and seeing this depiction helps students understand that Mary was the daughter of two people who loved each other, rather than the almost other-worldly creature she might otherwise seem to be. A craft activity involving writing or creating another kind of “thank you” to people who love us would follow nicely from this.
These are just a few of the numerous examples of crafts that will add to a lesson rather than merely filling time.
Keeping differences in mind.
Students will vary in their enthusiasm for any given craft project, just as they vary in their abilities, attention pans, and interests. Here are some tips for “meeting” our students where they are.
Whenever possible, offer choices – in materials, format, colors, etc. With younger children, just two choices are usually enough. But with older students, you might offer more than two.
For example, students could choose to express an idea by writing a story or an essay, composing a poem, fashioning something out of clay, or drawing or painting. In the lessons written by members of the OCA Department of Christian Education posted at dce.oca.org, you’ll find a wide variety of activities with suggested choices.
Don’t frustrate students by showing them a flawless, adult-created sample of the craft project. Many of them won’t be able to replicate it, and they should not feel they have to – and keep in mind that artistic excellence is not the goal of the craft project in the first place. And, by the same token, free yourself from the stress of feeling that every student must create something worthy of display on the family fireplace mantel. Crafts can be very simple, so long as they have an element of learning.
Consider having older students learn a story (from the Bible, about a historical event, or telling the life of a saint) to teach to younger students, perhaps with puppets, the flannel board, repetitive gestures and refrains, a song, a poem, or some other method. Then they can help the younger students complete a related simple craft.
Make allowances for the different types of students you have. While your “visual learners” may be able to give prolonged attention to a craft project, seated at a table, others may have trouble sitting still and will need to move around a bit. Let them stand at the table and be mobile as they complete the project. Still others may finish quickly, unwilling to give much time to the project. Have something else ready for them to do; it need not be anything complicated – perhaps they could read a passage related to the topic the class is studying, or answer prepared questions about it.
Encourage all your students in the work they are doing. Even those who are less skilled at a particular project will benefit from your interest. And next time, with a different kind of craft, the student who seemed unenthusiastic may be the one who shines!
DISCOVER a wealth of educational resources, creative ideas, and study units for all ages on the OCA’s Department of Christian Education web site at http://dce.oca.org/.