St Mark's Children's Programme

BLÁTHNAID  QUINN reports

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The  position  of  Children ’ s  Programme  Coordinator  was created  in  September  2015  with  the  aim  of  this  role being  to  develop  the  spiritual  programme  for  children and  young  people  suitable  for  the  range  of  children attending  St  Mark's.  Ida  Silkenat  took  on  the  role,  as  an initial two year  pilot.  Ida  has  set  a  very  high  standard  in establishing  the  post,  but  has  now  moved  on  to  take other  responsibilities.  Ida  has  successfully  engaged children  and  young  people  and  developed  a  successful and  sustainable  children ’s  programme  model  for  St Mark’s.  Her  contribution  will  be  very  much  missed  but we  look  forward  to  a  new  era  in  the  children programme  with  the  recruitment  of  a  new  coordinator. 

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There  is  now  a  core  group  of  children  who  participate  in  the programme,  who  have  formed  relationships  and  though  the numbers  may  be  small  these  are  important  to  the  children and  valued  by  parents.  From  the  outset  Ida  introduced  a structured  programme  with  familiar  routines,  opening  and closing  songs,  prepared  supporting  materials  and  activities, often  related to  service  themes  and underpinned by  Unitarian values.  The  children  moved to  the  lower  hall  which  has created  dedicated  space  for  children,  without  disruption  from adults.  Ida  established  a  separate  Teens  and  Tweens  Group, which  met  monthly  during  2016/17.  This  has  attracted  a small  core  of  young  people,  supported  by  some  visiting students  whom  Ida  identified  and  supported.  The  children have participated  in  several  services  during  this  time  and following  discussion  with  the  parents,  the  Christmas  service 2016  took  a  new  form  with a  reverse  Santa.  

There  remain  some  underlying  challenges  in  running  the Children s  Programme  in  St  Mark’s  due  to  the  small  numbers involved,  the  varied  age  range  and  unplanned  nature  of children's  attendance.  Attracting  and  retaining  volunteers  has been  a  challenge,  though  most  volunteers  have  sustained their  commitment  during  this  period,  due  to  the  support  they have  received  by  having  activities  prepared  by  the  coordinator.  

Parents  and  programme  leaders  were  surveyed  for  their views  on  the  impact  of  this  role.    Agreement  on  the  value, depth  and  contribution  to  the  spiritual  development  of  the children  from  the  programme  content  was  wholehearted.

Feedback  received included: 
•  The  coordinator  has  provided  structure  and  real, meaningful  content.    The  children don’t just go off and play,  they  are  learning. 
•  A  number  of  interesting  and  valuable  topics  have  been covered  at  a  level  sensitive  to  the  age  range  of  the children.  
•  The  children  have  dealt  with  a  number  of  topics  in  a manner  that  has  taught  them  about  tolerance,  respect, empathy  etc.    Structure  and  content  has  been  provided. They  know  what  awaits  them  when  they  head  off  to  the hall  and  they  enjoy  it.   They  have  developed  relationships with  each  other  and  enjoy  catching  up  when  they  get  to see  each  other. 
•  Having  a  paid  Children ’ s  Programme  Coordinator  has been  truly  transformative  for  the  programme  during  the past  two  years.  This  is  due  to  the  dedicated  time, organisation  and expertise  in  both  children's  activities  and Unitarianism  that  Ida  has  offered.  The  quality  of  activities prepared  with  detailed  instructions  and  resources  have been  engaging  for  ALL  ages  and  GREATLY  helped leaders.  For  leaders,  it  is  a  huge  relief  to  not  worry  about preparation,  particularly  when  it  is  often  unclear  which age  group will  be  attending. 
•  Having  a  coordinator  also  gave  us  the  confidence  to  join the  Children ’s  Programme  team  as  we  knew  there  would be  support  for  session  planning  and  allowed  us  to contribute  without  having  to  sacrifice  lots  of  time  outside the  session. 

Children ’ s  views

The  children  mentioned  some  themes  and  activities  they liked:  Remembrance  Day, Refugees  stories,  Being  Kind, Happy  Bucket,  Sikh  stories  and  Autumn.  The  children  also clearly  liked  being  given  responsibilities  such  as  sowing  seeds for  food,  watering  the  plants  and  handing  out  books  at  the beginning of  the  service. 

Teens  and  Tweens and their parents

I  like  having  the  church  community  but  I  don't  like long services.  In  teens  and  tweens  I  like  to  make  new  friends and  do  fun  activities.  I  feel  like  I  can  be  myself  and  it's  a  nice break  from  the  rest  of  life. 

She  has  really  enjoyed  the  tweens  activities  and  this  has  kept her  engaged  with  St  Mark's.  I  think  that  had  this  not  been available  I  would  struggle  to  maintain  her  interest  at  this stage  in her  life.

Summary  and  recommendation  to  Council

Ida  should  be  congratulated  on  leading  such a  successful  pilot and  setting  a  high  standard  for  others  to  follow.  Supporting the  Children’ s  Programme  is  an  investment  in  the  future  of this  community,  the  next  generation,  both  parents  and children.  Parents  feel  supported  to  participate  in  the  life  of  St Mark s  and  have  confidence  that  their  children  are  learning values  of  respect  for  others  and  being  encouraged  to  explore diverse  issues .   Council  has  recommended  that  the  Ministry Team  seek  to  identify  a  new  Children ’ s Programme  Coordinator  to  continue  the  good  work  evidenced  through  this pilot.  

This  photograph  of  Ida  Silkenat  with  some  members  of  the  children programme  was  taken  by  Bláthnaid  Quinn.  Bláthnaid is a member of St Mark’ s  and  a  volunteer  on  the  children’s programme.

This  photograph  of  Ida  Silkenat  with  some  members  of  the  children programme  was  taken  by  Bláthnaid  Quinn.  Bláthnaid is a member of St Mark’ s  and  a  volunteer  on  the  children’s programme.

This  photograph  of  Ida  Silkenat  with  some  members  of  the  children programme  was  taken  by  Bláthnaid  Quinn.  Bláthnaid is a member of St Mark’ s  and  a  volunteer  on  the  children’s programme.

Photographs  by  Bláthnaid  Quinn