Friday, March 20, 2009

Learning Joyfully

It’s all about the program! Get through the virtues, complete the lists and move on! That is our challenge, that is our only goal.

No, not really. When Little Flowers began some 15+ years ago, I was looking for an opportunity for my daughters and their friends - the first Little Flowers - to get together outside of their schooling to have fun and socialize. Yes, socialize. While we can often dismiss this aspect of their formation when defending our choice to homeschool we can’t. When friends and family ask about socialization as they find out we homeschool, we are quick to comment education should not be about the friends and point out the great educational materials we’ve chosen.

If our children are in school, socialization is still an issue as while they may be around friends all day long, the school day isn’t always the best place to form healthy friendships to build. They spend the majority of their time in classes and can usually grab only a few minutes during lunch or recess (if they still even have that). These conversations have their own problems as they may find themselves with others who don’t share their faith, their beliefs or family ideals. They may find they are either uncomfortable with the conversations or defending themselves. Not good.

So, Little Flowers began as a chance for young girls to learn how to become friends, real friends who learn to build their relationships on a life of virtue and Catholic truths. With a life built on such strong a foundation as that, it will surely survive the storms that will come.

But how to do this? What can you do to help Little Flowers be more than another religion class (something we have been accused of being) or becoming just another talking, talking, talking time (something girls are often accused of)? I think we need to remember balance; proper moderation in all things and the importance of having the virtues being not only the lesson but life.

Covering the materials for each virtue will surely instruct the girls in its characteristics and its function. What charity is and how it should look, for example. But these lessons need to be reinforced and can be as they make a craft and participate in a game.

It is important to make the virtues are part of our conversations - complimenting the girls when they are kind, pointing out their generosity in sharing or courage in making a tough decision. Rather than using vague words such as ‘nice’ or ‘good’, using virute words helps them see virtues in action.

Another important place where virtue comes to life is in game playing. While games are not necessary for every meeting, we all know the girls (and us) love to play them. And while we might like to think that every virtue would lend itself to a specific game, we all know that is not actually practical. We don’t need to have a game about ‘industry’ for example, as all games require some effort to complete. We might not find a game perfectly illustrating piety but can know that every game is eutrapelia in action!

With this in mind, here are a few important things to keep in mind so that every game retains its capacity to teach cooperation, lend itself to joy and give everyone a chance to have fun. Every game has a chance for our daughters to learn healthy social skills in an atmosphere of Catholic truths. Catholics like to have fun, after all, we are just called to do it in a manner that never offends Christ.

On Choosing Pairs/Teams: Be both aware of friendships and cliques. Friendships are healthy, cliques are not. If you find some members always choosing the same friend to be with while ignoring others you will need to step in. There are many ways to choose teams/pairs from counting off, using birthdays, oldest with the youngest, drawing straws, same color shirts, etc. Please make an effort to allow every member the chance to be a leader, be first one picked, feel included and be a winner.

Attitude in Play: Charity must prevail in all things and games are no exceptions. No cheating is ever tolerated and poor winners and losers may need a lesson in fair play and justice. If you do not see charity and friendship displayed as you play, you might need to take a meeting to discuss this. Do not hesitate to remove a member from play who cannot display good sportsmanship and kindness. It is up the leaders of the group to ensure that rules of fair play are displayed at all times by all participants.

In order to help ensure that charity is maintained remind the members of the basic rules of fair play which would include the following:

1. Rules for the game will be set out clearly before the game and may not be changed during the game without full consent of all players and leaders.
2. Referees (or Adults in charge) have final say. No arguing with the ‘officials’.
3. Playing is more important than winning. Win or lose, I will treat myself and other with kindness and respect. Having fun and making friends is most important.
4. Never ridicule or speak harshly to any players.
5. Never intentionally hurt or exclude anyone.
6. No temper tantrums and no showing off.

Do not forget the power and joy of Free Play. Allow members time to create their own games. Encourage them, when practical, to bring their own jump ropes, skates or other portable game equipment and let them decide on their own games. Allowing them unstructured time to imagine their own play is as valid as planned games.

With so much of their time scheduled with school, lessons and other responsibilities many members do enjoy just sitting around and talking and sharing. As long as these conversations are wholesome they need not be discouraged. Gently monitoring of these conversations will help ensure they do not become gossip sessions or create an air of superiority or divisiveness.

While Little Flowers’ goal is to help our young ladies grow in virtue, let us remember that many of life’s greatest lessons do not happen as a result of a lecture but rather from an unplanned experience that became a cherished memory and a part of our character.

God Bless,
Rachel Watkins

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