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A review of Francis and Friends
by Linda Cannata of the Third Order
Society of St. Francis www.tssf.org
Francis and Friends is a delightful educational program that introduces children to the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi while emphasizing the beauty and joy of God’s creation. Richard Nelson, or Rich as he’s known to his friends, Olivia the Owl, Sally the Squirrel and Danny the Donkey, has created a gentle, accepting atmosphere reminiscent of Fred Rogers and his neighborhood. With the help of his puppet friends he addresses the concerns common in the lives of children: sharing, cooperation, responsibility, empathy, fear and safety.
The program is divided into 5 sessions which could be easily used for a Bible School, a children’s retreat, or a unit of study in a regular Sunday Christian Education program. There is even program for families to use at home.
Each session begins with a scene at the Clubhouse where Rich and his friends are dealing with a problem: Sally and Olivia squabble over a favorite tree, Danny isn’t taking responsibility for a job he has promised to do, someone is afraid and lonely in the dark. Rich and the puppet friends talk about the situation and allow everyone to express their feelings as well as their opinions.
This sets up the animated portion of the lesson which portrays a story from the life of St. Francis. Francis is depicted not as a garden statue but as a barefoot, shaggy haired young man with an open, joyous attitude. His sidekick Clare is equally up to date and appealing. The look is both truly Franciscan and attractive to children. At the end of the story the friends try to apply what they have just seen to the difficulty they are facing.
The culmination of each session is the activities that help the children respond to what they have seen and heard. The wide variety offers an activity for every age and learning style from writing and drawing to canoeing and studying wolves.
Francis and Friends has much to offer teachers and parents. There are resources for every aspect of the program. There is background material for each lesson, motivational tools for the children (certificates, passports, medals), and even promotional material. The many options built into the program give teachers the flexibility to adapt the lessons and activities to the needs of their students and to their individual teaching environment.
The greatest strength of Francis and Friends is its Franciscan heart. The love of God’s children and all of God’s creation shines through every phase of the program. Francis and Friends is a joy to be shared by children, parents and teachers.
Linda Cannata, tssf