She sat alone at lunch time, hiding flushed cheeks behind a red plastic lunchbox.
He had thick glasses and a speech impediment. He made jokes about getting picked last in gym class.
She sat on the curb during recess, eyes fixed on the ground, tracing figures in the dirt.
Most of us my classmates never reached out to them, and that still makes me really sad.
I went to a small parochial school for elementary. With two classes per grade and a student body that had been together since kindergarten, we sorted into cliques by grade three.
My memories of those years aren’t pleasant. I was both tormented and a tormentor, a sensitive soul desperate for inclusion. In order to equip my own daughters and their friends with the skills necessary to prevent such negative interactions, I’ve been leading the 8-10 year old girls club in my homeschool group. Every two weeks, we meet for social time, team building activities, crafts and a snack. We apply scripture and Church teaching to our daily lives in order to develop self esteem and friendship skills.
I am a firm believer in the importance of this Catholic girls’ group because:
- Being an early tween is hard
- Every girl can benefit from learning social skills
- Girls start questioning their self-worth early
- Girls need to recognize their value, not only to society, but also to the Church
During our September meetings, we worked on recognizing gifts – our own and the gifts of those around us. October’s emphasis has been using those gifts in service to our neighbor, even when it might not be a popular thing to do.
I opened the meeting with a reading from Matthew:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mt 5:14-16)
Each girl got a copy of the scripture, and I asked them to paraphrase for it for me. We talked a bit about what it means to let one’s light shine,* considering the many different ways we can be a light in the darkness. To reinforce this, we played a fun scavenger hunt-type game.
I wrote eight different situations on slips of paper:
- You see a girl sitting by herself at a homeschool event. What do you?
- A friend is wearing a shirt that she loves but you think is ugly. She asks what you think. What do you say?
- You are playing a game with a group of friends. You have the perfect number of people for the game. Another person asks to join. What do you do?
- A friend asks you to play a game you don’t like. What do you do?
- You see a new girl at a homeschool event. She looks unsure of herself. What do you do?
- You are outside when you notice a little boy from your neighborhood is being teased. What do you do?
- You are with a group of friends. They start talking about another girl you know but isn’t present. One of your friends says something unkind. What do you do?
- A friend of yours says something inappropriate or hurtful. What do you do?
I folded each paper in half, numbered it, and hid them in fairly obvious places around my living and dining room. The girls searched for each scenario, read it, and wrote down what they would do in that situation.
Once everyone had finished, we sat down in the living room and went over our answers. I was pleased to see that they all had positive suggestions for each situation. The only one that gave them a little bit of trouble was number two (my own daughter’s response? “I would tell her I’m not comfortable answering that question.”).
Following our discussion, the girls identified virtues that would be helpful in handling each situation:
I asked the girls to choose their favorite virtues and assign colors to them, then I handed out embroidery floss for a lesson on friendship bracelets. When the meeting was over, the girls had a bracelet to take home as a reminder of the lessons they had learned during our meeting.
Grade school wasn’t easy, but in many ways I’m grateful for the experience. It’s helped me develop the content for this course, after all. And I hope the longer we work together, the brighter things will be for these sweet girls in the future. They deserve to know they are loved, and love in return.
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