More Catholicity from . . . Brrr . . . Minnesota

Deep Freeze Minnesota

The news called it historical, but when you’re born and raised in Minnesota, like my husband and me, it’s simply another exciting winter week.

30 below zero weather did make for enjoyable, indoor times, prayer for fellow Minnesotans and an exciting three days out of school and buses. One of the best parts of growing up in Minnesota are announcements from your school district that there will be no school.  Children and parents anxiously wait to see their school name, followed by “CLOSED,” slide across the bottom of the television screen. One “Watertown School Distirct: CLOSED TOMORROW,” was silver. Three days? Those were golden!

Although we home school, we still felt excitement as everyone hunkered down in their warm homes and to-do lists waited for the thermometer to rise above 10 below. Youngsters blessed with fireplaces, imagined furnaces breaking down from too much work. Children and parents would be forced to snuggle together, in toasty pajamas, by a roaring, crackling fire. Yet, furnaces labored on and instead, little hands prayed for those not blessed with warm homes, hoping for all Minnesotans to be safe.

Ironically, our little home school celebrated a few Summer “Jesse Tree Journey VBS” activities to think “warm” as we “cozied up” in our farmhouse. We colored Joseph’s colorful coats, danced to “Rock of Faith,” and role played lessons learned from Scripture. And, now that we are thawing out, we hope you will think about summer, too. Perhaps you will visit www.godisgoodvbs.com to feel the warmth of fun Catechesis, too.

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Stay warm!

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Cave Vacation Bible School? Meh. What’s the Best VBS for your Parish?

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“Meh. I could do without another VBS Cave Theme.”

This winter time of the year, God is Good VBS enjoys many calls, from Church leaders and educators, as they choose the “right VBS” for their parishes and archdioceses. After all, today’s children are in desperate need of energetic Catechesis and it is critical that they become engaged with forming faith and developing a relationship with Jesus.

While we share our thoughts and expertise, God is Good VBS also asks the following questions to help educators, volunteers, diocese employees and priests discern the perfect VBS choice for their parishes and archdioceses:

  1. What do you want to teach about this summer, during Vacation Bible School? Often, parishes have already presented topics during faith formation that they want to pass on during the summer. Although that isn’t a bad decision, sometimes it works to enrich what children learned about (during the school year) in the summer, through VBS. For example, if children learn about the Jesse Tree during Advent, parishes might enrich this topic with learning about the Old Testament during Summer VBS.  But, when parishes want something “different from what’s already been taught,” vocation education is rare and special so we often suggest a vocation VBS. Alternatively, we hear, “I haven’t taught our children much about the Gospels this school year, so I’d like to choose a VBS about Ss. John, Luke, Mark and Matthew.”
  2.  Are you accustomed to a specific publisher? We ask this question because larger publishers, that leaders are used to, have somewhat perfected user-friendliness. That doesn’t mean that they are a perfect fit for everyone though. Smaller companies have the ability to spend more time working on what’s important to them and more importantly what’s important to parishes. Small, but solidly Catholic curricula publishers have also mastered user-friendliness for Directors of Religious Education. We are authentically Catholic, which encourages children to embrace the richness of our Church and develop relationships with Christ. Relationships with Christ will encourage children to deepen their desire to know, love and serve Him and His Church! God is Good VBS does not speak for the other small “fish in the publisher pond,” but our curricula is developed by educators. We help leaders who have little to much experience, TEACH and ENJOY. These verbs are amazing combinations to act upon, for children’s faiths to be formed.
  3. Are you concerned about your VBS boasting a mountain, beach or cave theme?  Surprisingly, answers to this question vary. Many leaders tell us that that they’ve been there done that. We even heard one leader say, Meh. I could do without a fluffy, VBS beach theme.”  On the other hand, religious educators and children are accustomed to “faith formation on steroids!” (I cannot take credit for that terrific quote, but my response is like many: Faith Formation on steroids isn’t necessarily a good thing.) Of course, our black and white Baltimore Catechisms are chock full of the BEST Catechesis out there, but vacation bible school is different. It is a vacation from regular Catechesis. Children are bright, and good publishers, teachers and parents know this! Children are able to focus on the natural beauty of our Catholic faith and the awesomeness of God. They already intrinsically know that God created everything out of nothing. If parishes want more for their children, we encourage them to think about what the VBS theme focuses on; secular themes or Godly themes?
  4.  So, perhaps you don’t want to focus on caves anymore but what about decorations, t-shirts, and music for your parish? We haven’t met a VBS leader who doesn’t emphasize the importance of some or all of these Vacation Bible School aspects. Decorations and music are very critical to most parishes and publishers should understand. A fun atmosphere without distracting children, where everyone is enjoying music and dancing makes vacation bible school  unique from other good methods of Catholic education. Our company chooses music from World Library Publications which is child AND adult friendly. Leaders and parents thank us for the music being enjoyable for them, too. Other Catholic publishers provide good music, too. Consider what’s important to you and your VBS team.
  5.  Does the appearance and topics of the guides concern you when purchasing a VBS Director’s Kit? One universal answer we receive is that “guides need to be user-friendly and parishes want learning stations, so that VBS is different than Wednesday night faith formation.” We provide a large Director’s Guide as do most publishers, and we feel this is the most helpful guide. Our volunteer guides are for Art, Game, Snack, Role Plays and Prayer Stations. Although stations vary from publisher to publisher, we pride ourselves on our guides being regular book size and colorful. Consider if these qualities are important to you and your team.

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Typically, we encounter many questions returned our way when we chat with people like you! We are more than happy to talk Catholic Education. Our hope is that this short post helps you think about this wonderful avenue to forming faith . . . Catholic VBS.

 

Looking for more information? Call us at 952-290-0483.

 

Here’s to our Mary(s)

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Merry Christmas Season, Faith Formation Directors and Mamas alike.  Like many readers, I anxiously awaited Mary Poppins Return for almost half a century. Nearly fifty years old, I have delighted in Mary Poppins for as long as I remember.  Lest you roll your eyes and assume our youngest Catholic daughter was named in honor of Ms. Poppins, you are mistaken. Of course, we honored our Mother in Heaven, when naming our Mary Bella.

This Catholic mom and educator must admit, though, that I adored Mary Poppins Returns (and Mary Poppins, again) during Christmas break. In fact, I’ve spent entirely too much time thinking about her. Hopefully, you will relate to the following prayer and may our Father (and Mother) in Heaven have a rich sense of humor:

Dear God,

Although Mary Poppins movies are not touted as Catholic, they remain my favorites. As you know, I refuse to be reminded that Mary Poppins is make believe. Sure, P.L. Travers and Disney made Mary “practically perfect,” and those that know me, tease me for quoting Mary Poppins and carrying a small carpet bag. However, I educate in the faith, parent six children and happiness is contagious, so I ignore the grown ups in my life.

A sparkling Catholic forum contradicts the dark people who make Mary Poppins secular. For Catholics such as myself, Mary could represent the Blessed Virgin Mary . . . at least in the deep recesses of our hearts. The Banks family is troubled by materialism in both films; and secular feminism is wayward when the Banks children are forgotten by their mum (1).

I am not the only  Catholic who yearns for a Christian connection to Mary Poppins. Julian Ahlquist, reminds British nanny fans that the wind might represent the Holy Spirit, the fun, energetic characters are Charismatic Catholics, to which this mom adores. And, Admiral Boom, oh so cool, may be that Traditionalist Catholic, which I need in my life, daily (that may be why you gave silly me my dear, serious Catholic husband) (1).

Unknown-13Father, when we began our new Church year, the first week of Advent, I asked, as I often do, that you keep the Virgin Mary in my heart throughout the Church year. I continue to ask you for trust like Mary; to say “yes” to You and raise my children with a gentle, loving and pure soul. Oh how I try to be like the Virgin Mary.  Then, I fail. I try again. And, when I keep failing, I go to our Mother in Heaven and ask her to pray for me to clean up my blessed messes of human frailty.

And, Mary Poppins? Forgive me for embracing this make believe character. But, Lord, she reminds me too, about being lovely and maternal.  Mary never “explains too much,” and is kind and firm.

Help me, God, to be disciplined in my vocation as a Christian daughter, mother, wife . . . and “never allow others to interrupt my schedule.”

Mary Poppins places, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” and “Spit Spot,” on my lips many times over the years in the classroom and at home, when there is nothing left to say or we are in a hurry.  Guide me to make school and life full of “Splash and Play!” Remind me to provide “spoons full of sugar,” to everyone I meet, especially my children.

When I look in the mirror, help me to see your image, but to also be cheeky and say to myself, “It’s wonderful to see you.”

When something or someone gets lost, help me remember to say to my little ones, “Nothing’s gone forever, only out of place (from us).”

And, when my children yearn to grow up too fast, help me to say, “Well, we’ll have to see what can be done about that,” as I implore them to slow down and remind myself to be childlike, too.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, of course, I close my prayer with, “Amen,” so that I may say, “yes,” to this “practically perfect” prayer.

Amen.

To my Sisters in Christ, we say to Mary, our Mother in Heaven, “Hail Mary!” And, to Mary Poppins, in the year 2019? “Off we go!”

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Bibliography: 

1 Vogt, Brandon. “Mary Poppins Catholicism Interview with Julian Ahlquist,” August 15, 2018. Brandonvogt.com (web).

Photo Credits:

Photo 1: Comics.com

Photo 2: Wikimedia

Photo 3: Yahoo

 

Summer Studies: Faith Formation is my Favorite

As warm, summer days grow a bit shorter and we approach the season’s middle, I attempt to tap into what’s on your minds and hearts. Besides more lesson planning, decorating VBS tees and, most importantly, spending time with my own children, here’s what I explore in July:

  • Decorating (and we aren’t talking Home Decor)
  • Faith formation teaching
  • Planning for the fall

DECORATING FOR FAITH FORMATION

We field questions about how to decorate for VBS themes from God is Good VBS, every week. I try to provide a mix of decoration ideas that will help parishes throughout the summer AND school year.

For all faith formation scenarios, it is important to begin with classroom expectations. I call these “Images of God Expectations,” and suggest posting them in faith formation classrooms and your VBS spaces. I have used them for decades and they include:

  • Love God
  • Love one Another
  • Do your Best
  • Raise your Hand to Talk
  • Hands to yourself

Posting pictures of saints is also a great way to remind children that saints are simply people who have sinned but keep trying, just as we all sin and keep trying. Saints are ideal for praying with, discussing, emulating, and teaching Catholics that we are all one happy family. Mother Theresa is featured here, because she’s awfully cute, and I loved that, in her fiery way, she admonished political leaders who were “pro-choice.” But, I mix many older heroes with younger saints, too, so that children relate easily to posters and images.

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Specifically, for our VBS programs, I suggest an assembly banner for the theme you choose. We boast our favorite Gospel writer for St. Luke VBS, the Garden of Eden for Amazing Apostles’ Creed VBS, a Jesse Tree for Jesse Tree Journey VBS and an old-fashioned ship for our Discovery Mission Vocation Bible School.

Because Discovery Mission Vocation Bible School is our most popular, this summer, we feature the photo below. You might also borrow an old-fashioned canoe to remind children of missionaries,  trunks that boast vocation necesseties (bridal veils . . . patens  . . . Bibles . . .), and our adorable, popular stand-up cut outs. The trunks also help leaders play fun games with children.

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WE ARE TEACHERS

Teachers, now more than ever, must consider strategies for managing children’s behavior. This may sound clinical, but families are busier than ever and they are looking to faith formation leaders and classroom teachers to help them raise their children. I could lament about this sad, new dynamic in faith formation and education for hours. HOWEVER, I serve others better by embracing today’s world and trying to help. The following tips will help you  . . . help families.

We are not called to be children’s friends. As formerly mentioned, families are too busy.  Children are craving routine, structure and steady discipline from adults.  Discipline sounds strict, but in reality it means to teach. In the faith formation world, we should think, “teaching to be Christ-like.”

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Our little ones are lonely for parents’ attention and we are called to slow down and notice their needs. Most often, children who misbehave are screaming for attention and are likely exhausted from their busy lives.

Young adults need discipline too. These students crave friendship with their youth ministers, but parents who have raised children, KNOW that teenagers also require guidance from trusted Christian role models. Sixteen year old “social media experts,” need face to face relationships with adults who care about them. Telling young adults that God loves them as their Father, is an incredibly important message to deliver, as you require the best from them.

Provide positive attention, help your students feel loved and avoid power struggles. As long as children are safe, then approaching misbehavior in a careful, concise, matter of fact manner, without arguing, is the best way to handle misbehavior.  \

Take time to plan. Lesson plans are important. Whether you are using older faith formation curricula, trying something new or adding a bit of creativity, it is critical that faith formation curricula is studied!

You may be surprised how long we take to develop plans, for all ages. After the objectives, materials, anticipatory set (attention getter), procedure, evaluation and enrichment skills have been completed we test our lessons on children and teens. There are more adjustments made, we place the curricula in God’s care and we PRAY that you use the plans accordingly. Nothing is perfect, but after decades of educating, I assure you lesson plans are there to help you and your students. Use them.

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HERE COMES FALL

Keep it positive. Because I work with people just like you and I am a teacher by trade, I empathize with how you feel the day after Labor Day. Gone are the days of lazier times. Some of you may be sad to send your own children or grandchildren off to school and, let’s face it, registration and the faith formation kick-offs evoke a little anxiety.

I often tell my children, “fake it until you make it.” This advice is easier spoken than taken, but if we pretend to be enthusiastic about hard, worthwhile work, we find ourselves becoming enthusiastic. We all know leaders who pass those “good feelings” onto their volunteers and employees and the results are amazing. Pizza parties and an occasional shared bottle of wine, with co-educators, doesn’t hurt either, as you plan, together, for the fall.

Consider variety. As formerly mentioned, curricula is important. Plans and lesson suggestions should be followed, for the most part. And, we cannot emphasize enough, that we teach according the Magisterium. Content, Teachings and Tradition must be adhered to when instructing our children. But the value of creative educators who are gifted with cleverness to get children excited about our Catholic faith cannot be understated.

Curricula doesn’t have to be strictly from textbooks, either. Reflect on adding a variety of lesson plans. Imprimatur approved faith formation magazines, Day Vacation Bible Schools for during the school year, “Formed Videos” for youth ministry, field trips and games are ideas to inspire. Don’t forget a sense of humor, enthusiasm and having fun are ways educators can encourage children to love their faith. For the quieter Catechist, you will discover that teaching students the beauty of contemplative prayer comes easily embraced by young and old: adore Him by His Holy cross.

As we reflect on our surroundings, classroom management and the future, imagine a world where children say, “My favorite subject is Faith Formation.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell Summer Faith Formation, Hello Fall Faith Formation

Fall is the busiest time for parish faith formation. As children attend state fairs, go boating one last time or begin school, you are rounding up volunteers, planning your school year calendar and contacting families. Say farewell to summer and look to God is Good VBS to share a few fun ideas for your classrooms!

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FIRST: Remind teachers to plan and read lesson plans. We get busy, but volunteers are often teaching only once a week. Spending an hour, or so, reading through lessons makes a tremendous good difference in how classes go. Planning makes classes go smoothly, there is less down time and children learn better. We suggest making a copy of the lesson so teachers can mark them up with predictions, new ideas, attention getters (anticipatory sets), and more. These notes will help teachers feel comfortable and excited about lessons.

SECOND: Give teachers ideas to encourage good behavior. I encourage educators to provide motivation for good behavior and the rewards can be, but don’t need to be, purchased items! Start with posting expectations in parish classrooms. These rules should include the following:

  • Be a good friend
  • Be Christ-like
  • Hands to yourself
  • Raise your hand before you speak
  • Listen
  • Try Your Best

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Then, teachers explain that by following these rules, “we are ALL becoming clearer images of God.” Evaluating your images of God is subjective, so filling a cotton ball jar, or writing down letters such as “IMAGES OF GOD,” or “You were Christ-like today!” to keep track of good behavior works. Or, simply decide to reward children at the end of each quarter if they become clearer images of God. These rewards can be purchased at https://shop.godisgoodvbs.com/t/god-is-good for our extras or at local stores. 

However, purchasing items is not the only way to motivate children to cooperate and learn about their faith. Games, free-time outside, good news letters, or small pizza or ice-cream parties are a few non-purchased motivations that children will love celebrating with you! 

THIRD: Adore Christ. We cannot emphasize enough how wonderful this experience is with students. If your parish is blessed to have its own Adoration Chapel, you’ll have a perfect place to attend, but praying in front of the tabernacle in the church will be lovely, too.

Concerned about the five year olds? Don’t be. They will pray for at least their age in minutes (five minutes or so). Their prayers make the hardest hearts soften. And, you will Unknown-2.jpegnotice elementary school to high school students not wanting to leave.

 A Divine intervention occurs as adults watch students become quiet and contemplative with Christ. I have often wondered what was happening between Jesus and my children, during Adoration, but understand that He only knows; and that is the way it is meant to be. 

Lighting a candle at prayer time, during class, can be a way to adore Christ, too!

FOURTH: Suggest the following, fun game for children to get to know teachers and one another.

KINDERGARTEN TO THRID GRADE FUN: Teachers who are teaching little ones should ask parents to stick around for a few minutes on their first day of class.

As children arrive ask Mom or Dad to help their children print a couple fun facts about themselves and families. For example:

“I hate beets, but I love strawberry shortcake.”

“I am good at baseball, but I have to cover my burps so my mom doesn’t get mad.”

“I pray for my grandma and my dad.”

“My family went to Texas this summer.”

Collect the facts. Once you begin your first class, ask everyone to sit in a circle with their parent(s). Read the facts and see if students AND you can guess who wrote the fact. Students will likely be better at this than you, but that is what makes it fun!

4TH GRADE TO HIGH SCHOOL FUN: Adjust the previous game so that parents do not need to stay for Day 1 classes, unless they’d like to! Another change to the game is that children should write THREE appropriate statements that include two true facts and ONE FIB. For example:

“I am a great singer.”

“My family went to Disneyland this summer.”

“I am new to this parish.”

Then, collect the facts and fib. Again, sit in a circle. Read the statements and try to guess about the person who wrote the statements and which one was a lie! This is a lot of fun and again, the students might know A LOT about one another.

LASTLY: Dance, Sing, Play, Learn. Vacation Bible School doesn’t need to be just during the summer. You  certainly don’t need to commit to a vacation bible school during the school year, but please remember two thoughts. We offer a unique Advent VBS called Jesse Tree Journey Day VBS.

Jesse Tree Day VBS is a fun way to celebrate Advent season and parishes use the curricula for faith formation classes.

19225410_1994090280812554_3933151123729968881_n.jpgSecondly, a song or dance before, during or after children attend class is not simply suggested, but implored for making Catechism fun. I am reminded of Pope Francis telling us not to be “Year Round Lent Catholics.” We must celebrate and learn about our faith through different methods. Vacation bible school activities don’t need to be simply summer activities. Parishes dancing and singing together will bring unity to families and children. We suggest St. Luke’s Tunes Dance DVD  for coming together, as it is our favorite and best production.

If you or your teachers would like more ideas or have questions, please call us at 952-290-0483 or you can email me at julia@godisgoodvbs.com. God bless your FALL faith formation classes.

 

 

 

Discovery Mission VBS: Critical for the Future of our Church, Energetic and Fun

 

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“I’ll be Father Mark. You be Sister Clarinda and you two pretend to get married. Benjamin put the bow tie on.”

“Don’t worry, you’re changing a clean diaper. Get in the go-cart once you change the doll so our team can win the race to church!”

“Chips and salsa? My favorite!”

“I know all about Adoration. Follow me.”

“Joey is pretending to be Saint Isidore. He was a farmer.”

“‘Hope sets the World Afire’ is my favorite song!”

These are words children shared during one of our trial Discovery Mission VBS events, as they listened to God’s special mission. Most children will continue to listen for His calling for many years before they’re certain of their vocation. But, for many, Discovery Mission VBS will open their hearts and begin the new journey of listening. Students will know  more about the powerful priestly vocation, the holiness of married life and the selflessness of the religious life.

Churches will celebrate and learn about Catholic vocations with stand-up cutouts or similar decorations during assemblies. Children will follow missionaries on a gorgeous world map. They’ll dance and sing about vocations during a time when more and more families miss out on opportunities to personally know priests and the religious. This is an important mission!

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During prayer time, children will be introduced to saints who listened to their call to the priesthood, religious life, and marriage. Praying, singing and adoring the Blessed Sacrament will be cherished. In the Game Station, youth will play racing throwing, climbing games that teach them more about vocations. Parishes will create string art, drawings and picture frames in the Art Station. They will enjoy salty and sweet snacks that even connect to vocations during snack time.

Why is this VBS much more than fun and memorable? It’s critical to the future of our church! Generations before us were taught by Sisters who showed love to them and to our Catholic faith. Today’s grandparents broke bread and played cards with Fathers. As children they knew what monks were and what it meant for laity to minister to the youth. Many witnessed happy marriages that were revered and respected. 

We still witness some of those same blessings and enjoy relationships with solid Catholics. But, our  world is different. Encompassed by plug-in distractions and tremendous shortages of priests, religious AND Holy marriages, our children have fewer opportunities to witness the divinity of Catholic vocations.

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And so it is, with glad hearts, Vianney Vocations and God is Good VBS are bringing excitement and joy to Catholic parishes throughout America, as children look forward to Catholic VOCATION Bible School: Discovery Mission VBS! Dioceses and parishes, in every state, are ordering our one of a kind Catholic curricula for children ages, kindergarten to sixth grade.

Middle and high school students are preparing, with religious educators, to lead this unique, easy to use Vocation Bible School. Children will pray, create, snack, dance and play throughout the weeks of Summer 2017 and we look forward to hearing from even more parishes throughout May and June.

There is victory in vocation education: visit www.vocationbibleschool.com.  Or, call us to chat about this unique method of Catechesis: 952-290-0483.a56638f7d97c82b18c5ec2d19085e6e5.jpeg