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"Connect, Respect, Protect"

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The eleventh episode in the "A Religion for Our Time" series features the outdoor education program for 9-12-year-olds at Jefferson Unitarian Church (JUC) in Golden, CO.

How do you keep pre-teens interested in going to church? Parents at JUC came up with an idea that puts enthusiastic young people right in the middle of the 7th principle. With the motto of “Connect, Respect, Protect,” the Nature’s Keepers religious education program helps participants engage with and learn about the great outdoors.

According to Nature's Keepers Co-Founder Kristi Reeves, "There’s no curriculum except 'nature happens.'" She adds, "One of the things we learned was that it was not so much about figuring out a big, fancy activity. It was just getting out in the interconnected web of which we are all a part."

Download Episode Eleven (MP4) (right-click to save the file).
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Transcript

REV. PETER MORALES:  It seems UU congregations are always looking for new and engaging ways to enhance the connection between kids and church. That's especially true as children get a little older.

Some parents at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Colorado took on that challenge for a gaggle of pre-teens, and to call it a big hit is an understatement.

SPEAKER: Why don't we say what Nature's Keepers is?

SPEAKER: Nature's Keepers is being together and connecting more with the outer world.

SPEAKER: For 9 to 12 year olds, friends and members of JUC.

SPEAKER: Having fun, having fun in nature.

SPEAKER: The kids meet twice a month and go out and do things in nature.

SPEAKER: We're all together having a good time.

SPEAKER: You get active. You're having a [UNINTELLIGIBLE] time and you're out in nature.

SPEAKER: Yup.

JULIA WILSON: So, have we develop like a curriculum for it?

KRISTI REEVES: Nope. There's no curriculum except nature happens all through the year.

JULIA WILSON: What are some examples of our nature happening?

SPEAKER: Rock climbing.

SPEAKER: Canoeing, snow-shoeing, sledding.

SPEAKER: I really liked going for the bike ride.

SPEAKER: It's really fun.

SPEAKER: I think one of the things we learned was that it was not so much about figuring out a big, fancy activity or anything like that. It was just getting out in the interconnected web on which we are all a part.

JULIA WILSON:  If we were trying to survive on just this food, would this be enough for us to get through the whole winter?

SPEAKER: No.

SPEAKER: You never know what's going to happen. For instance, this fall when we went on a bike ride, we ended up at Clear Creek.

SPEAKER: When we stopped at a stream, we saw little crawfish and fish eggs and stuff. So that was really cool.

SPEAKER: We're bouldering, which is basically like rock climbing, except for [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE].

SPEAKER: Well, no, you've got to stay--.

SPEAKER: Instead of going up you go across the rock horizontally instead of vertically.

SPEAKER: How old is this rock?

SPEAKER: And I think the  other cool thing about this group is that we've had non-parents or at least people who don't have kids within this age range, volunteer to lead the activities or volunteer to help out in some way. So it's become intergenerational in that way and I think that's really cool, too.

SPEAKER: I favorite part of it is probably camp.

SPEAKER: Having the camp-out in the spring time and then at the very end of summer, those have been huge bonding experiences. That should definitely always be a part of what we do.

JULIA WILSON: Let's talk about the vests.

KRISTI REEVES: Yeah. So like scouting, we have kind of a uniform. We have a fishing vest, and so when the kids join, there was a $35.00 material fee is what we called it, and that went for just this vest and the patches. So one of our church members was a graphic designer and she designed the logo. So the kids throughout the year earn patches for the different activities. So there's a  camping patch and a hiking patch and a pumpkin patch patch. And a canoeing patch and a biking patch. And then each year we decided they would earn kind of a yearly stripe.

SPEAKER: We came up with this idea that we needed to have a motto that we said.

SPEAKER: And an opening and closing circle.

SPEAKER: Nature's Keepers. Connect, Respect, Protect.

SPEAKER: So like connects to nature, and kind of respects it, too. And also we need to protect nature from pollution and that destruction.

SPEAKER: I think one of the reasons why we were talking about this is because we saw that there was this increasing disconnect between kids that were third, fourth, and fifth grade into the community of JUC. So we wanted to form a social group that would allow them to get to know each other and they're making friends, and hopefully become more tied to the church.

SPEAKER: We've done that. I mean the kids are friends and they look forward to this and it's been really -- for me I think the biggest joy of this has been that it's happened.

SPEAKER: And I feel like the kids are a lot more connected to the church and to each other.

SPEAKER: Making connections with all ages for a religion for our time.

SPEAKER: One, two, three.

SPEAKER: Nature's Keepers. Connect, Respect, Protect.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Saturday, December 10, 2011.

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