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Make your religious education program boy-friendly

By Staff Writer
January/February 2003 1.1.03

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1) Recruit 50 percent men for teaching and committee positions. Religious educators agree that both boys and girls benefit from having a diversity of teachers, and that religious education programs benefit when they are designed jointly by women and men. Each gender brings its own intrinsic and learned strengths to the program.

2)Plan for at least one movement-oriented activity in each class each week. Whether it's the result of nature, nurture, or both, boys tend to be more active than girls. For young children, simple games like Duck-Duck-Goose can address this need for activity and can be transformed into lessons in Unitarian Universalist values. Middle-school and older children can help design their own games. Resource: Learning to Play, Playing to Learn: Games and Activities to Teach Sharing, Caring, and Compromise by Charlie Steffens and Spencer Gorin.

3) Plan for at least one class each month to take place outside of the classroom. Church classrooms are usually small and are confining for many children. Classes can be moved to a nearby park, a skating rink, or the bell tower of the oldest church in town. Allow for discovery, adventure, and reasonable noise-making.

4) Create a mentor program in which each child has scheduled contact with a same-sex adult in the congregation. Child-development specialists agree that children of both genders benefit from dedicated time with an adult who is not their parent who can advise, guide, and counsel them. The children can ask questions they may not feel free to ask a parent and learn that not all adults think alike.

5) Create a rites-of-passage or coming-of-age program for teens. Western culture has eschewed such rituals to its detriment. Because boys do not have menstruation as a marker of the passage into young adulthood, they are especially in need of rituals led by older males. When they don't get such rituals in their religious communities, they often seek substitutes in street gangs and other less-than-healthy male communities. Resources: Boy into Man: A Fathers' Guide to Initiation of Teenage Sons by Bernard Weiner; curricula available from the UUA's Lifespan Faith Development office.

6) Put up a basketball hoop (or other sports facility) on the church grounds. Sports is an important way that boys and men build community, as well as a healthy outlet for aggressive energy. Providing sports equipment sends the message that those who are not intellectually or artistically oriented are still welcome and valued by the community.

7) Hold at least one male-led service each year that men and boys plan and participate in—and don't make it on Father's Day. This sounds simple, but when was the last time your church did it?

8) Start a men's group or fathers' group in the congregation. Make the group visible, too. When boys see that the men in the congregation value the company and wisdom of their brethren, they will value themselves as males, also. In addition, an all-male group can become a focal point for developing male-positive programming at all levels of the congregation. Resource: A Community of Men: A Guide To Men's Programming in UU Congregations, developed by the UU Men's Network. (Available for $5 from UUMeN, P.O. Box 3070, Madison WI 53704, 800-227-6670.)

9) Participate in a hands-on service project in the larger community. Help build a Habitat for Humanity house. Serve food at a homeless shelter. Collect and deliver toys to the children of the victims of domestic violence. Boys and girls learn about their world, and themselves, when they put their minds, hearts, and bodies to work.

10) Remember that no attention, no conversation, no affirmation, no blessing is ever "wasted" on our boys. We bless our boys when we challenge them and when we seek to admire them. When they are challenged and admired, they know we care about them and their spiritual development. Both women and men hold the power to offer these blessings.

Developed by the Unitarian Universalist Men's Network. Reprinted with permission from MaleCall: Newsletter of the Unitarian Universalist Men's Network, Spring 2002.

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