Frequently Asked Questions
Questions on Contemplative Prayer – what is contemplative prayer, how do I lead the contemplative prayer experience, etc.
Contemplative prayer is a focal point of the Backpack Program and can be introduced in the third section of the program or earlier with the progressive muscle relaxation in lesson four. In the Backpack program there is a contemplative prayer structure outlined in lesson 25 and recordings of this prayer experience on the leader USB. To lead contemplative prayer, simply select the contemplative prayer recording you need (short/long). Students benefit from beanbag or comfortable seating during this.
What if the neuroscience is too advanced for the students?
The short answer is, it’s not. Some facilitators struggle to understand the neuroscience concepts in Lesson Five, understandably, as the material is science heavy. But the students will grasp the concepts in Lesson Five and many will actually name this as their favourite part of the program. Don’t worry if words like “neocortex” or “paradoxical thinking” don’t land right away! They will. Don’t be afraid to learn with the students.
What age range is best for the Backpack?
The Backpack is most suitable for anyone aged 13 to 18. We have also found it to work with 12 year olds preparing for Confirmation or after Confirmation and with adults in their twenties. Honestly, the material is helpful for anyone, at any age! We also do it with adults and even used it in an Addiction Treatment Center.
Can you have a group of mixed ages, ie, what if there is a 13-year-old and an 18 year old in the same group?
Absolutely! We have run this program many times with varying age groups and there have been no issues with the age range. The students are all approaching the material from the same place, no matter their ages. It can be helpful to remember that the students often mix in groups where there are age ranges such as sports.
What is it like to run the program with a single sex group?
It can be really fun to run the program with a single sex group. You may find that an entirely female group does not enjoy as many of the “active” games or maybe they will absolutely love them! Overall, there is no problem running the Backpack with a single sex group. We’ve done them with male, female and mixed. We don’t really give it a second thought.
What if a student discloses personal information of a sensitive nature within the group?
The program is tailored in such a way that you shouldn’t really encounter this. The program has in built activities and lessons for solitary work and it is here that students would write down personal information. We would not really encourage students to over disclose or share information that is of a very personal nature. If it happens, be respectful and keep the focus on the activity or lesson taking place. We included some helpful language in the introduction.
What if students go to a teacher or guidance counsellor seeking help with a problem after some of these lessons? Will the curriculum trigger any issues?
The curriculum may bring up some issues for students such as recognition of boundary violations or greater self-awareness. We want to encourage help seeking behaviour for all of us! If a student approaches someone in their school with an issue they are struggling with, we would hail this as a success! Studies have shown that this is healthy and a good option for a youth who may be facing something they do not know how to fix on their own.
Can this program be run with non-Catholics or non-Christians?
Yes! This program has been run in many groups by our team and almost each group has had one or more members who identify as non-Catholic, atheist or agnostic. The Backpack has many components which are helpful for everyone, spirituality out aside. Additionally, one Lesson includes a “Tell us about your beliefs’ section. That stated, this is a Catholic program and our Catechism is taught throughout. The spirituality of the Backpack is delivered in a gentle way with a focus on personal relationship with God through Contemplative prayer.
What if some of the students don’t believe in God?
This is not a problem and it is a reality. Students who are comfortable saying they do not believe in God shouldn’t be forced to explain their views or partake in activities that may make them feel uncomfortable. We encourage them to view the Contemplative Prayer exercise as a calming meditation and they actually love it so do not worry.
What if a student refuses to participate in games or prayer, or any other aspect of the program?
This is completely fine. When we run groups for the Backpack we actually say at the beginning of some activities “If you are uncomfortable at any stage, you do not have to take part in this activity.” For games as much as lessons, we encourage as much participation as possible but we do not force anyone to do anything they really do not want to.
How do I advertise a youth group?
You can advertise a youth group in many different ways. You can contact the Backpack team for promotional materials such as flyers if you want to distribute these in your local area. You can contact your parish priest and ask him to speak about the program at Masses or have you speak at the Masses and you can also reach out to teens or parents who you might know personally. Word of mouth is effective!
What is the best location to host a youth group?
Youth groups work well in a lot of settings and so it is difficult to pin down one specific location. That being said, there are features in a location that make it work well. These features include places with a wide, open space for active games, comfortable seating, a screen for videos, an outside area, cleanliness and heating. If you are able to dedicate a space specifically for a Backpack this is ideal! It has also been run in homes very successfully.
If I want to start a parish group, who do I talk to in order to get it set up?
You can speak to your parish priest in order to get help advertising and raising awareness/funds for materials (e.g snacks). You would also reach out to parents and potential leaders in the area for a good support network. Parish groups really blossom when there is a good team of parents and helpers in the local area. If one person was in charge of snacks, (we do pizza) another could take care of organising the venue and then another person could hand out workbooks and pens at the meetings. Clearly, Youth Ministry is a great place to start.
If I’m not a teacher, how do I get the Backpack implemented in my local school?
You can start by contacting the principal of the school. We have found that principals are very open to the program, especially if they receive a copy of the workbook. You can also contact religion or health teachers as they are usually very helpful in implementing the program or setting up meetings with principals.
What if I start a program and there are very few students?
No problem at all. If you have as few as two people, you can run the program. If you have one person, you can do one-on-one sessions. We have successfully run youth groups with as few as two or three students and they have been every bit as successful. The students benefit from the curriculum and the atmosphere in small and large groups. We have also been asked to run the program one on one with certain young people and we have used well trained Junior Leaders to help with this at times.
Can I adapt the program for children younger than 13, for a confirmation class, for adults, for prisoners, for rehab patients, etc?
Yes! The Backpack can be adapted for many different ages and populations. So far we have used the program in an addiction centre, a prison, for Confirmation students as a prep course and for college students, as well as for adults and in prayer groups. One group ran it for homeless people at a Charity shop.
What costs/materials are involved if I want to teach this program in a parish or school setting?
To run the Backpack each student will require a workbook. The leader will need their own workbook as well as a leader’s guide and USB for video tutorials. The leaders pack can be purchased as a package. The other materials necessary include a projector/screen or computer for video resources, art materials and balls/game supplies. We would also recommend some snacks for parish groups! In saying all of this, you can really get a Backpack group established on minimal resources as long as there is a fun, comfortable space for the group to meet. The Backpack team are dedicated to working with leaders with whatever materials/space/time-frame available J
I have never taught before. Will this negatively affect the material of the program?
Certainly not! The program is not specifically designed to be led by formal educators- anyone who can present the videos, allow the discussion, and be present with a group of people will be able to run this! If you feel unsure on how to lead the program, you can always contact our team for more information.
What is the main aim of the program?
The main aim of the program is to equip students with essential tools for life and to facilitate contemplative prayer. We hope the students are better able to think critically about themselves and their relationships. This program promotes resilience and help-seeking behaviour and so this is also a main aim and outcome of the curriculum.
What can I do if I do not really understand something in the workbook?
First thing- do not panic! This is really no problem. You can simply contact our team on the Backpack website or call us. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and our phone number is 083 487 7325 (usa call 011-353-83-487-7325) or we can skype or viber with you.
How will I find the videos for each lesson?
The videos are accessible on the USB that our team produced and you can also find supplementary videos for the lessons on our website.
Should I do the workbook in sequence?
Yes. The lessons build on each other and so ideally, the workbook should be taught in sequence. You could introduce lesson Twenty-Five on contemplative prayer earlier in the course if you felt that the students were really getting deep into the progressive muscle relaxation from lesson four. We have found that early introduction is super beneficial! Simply use the audio files.
How often should the workbook be taught?
The workbook should be used with each lesson. The course of the Backpack can be taught over a year, over a semester or through a five-day summer camp. We would say that the longer the program is taught, the better as the students have more time for discussion and for delving deeper. We have seen it work really well in really every way it has been delivered. Usually, it turns into a fellowship/prayer group and that is a great place to aim. Often what occurs is that it is run for a semester and then continues on for the second semester. We can say confidently that in most of the groups, all that we know of, the students asked for it to continue after it was finished.
When should I introduce the progressive muscle relaxation?
You can introduce the progressive muscle relaxation at the end of lesson four when the students have discussed positive uses for the body. You can also start it the first day. The sooner the better, actually.
Is there a video or audio available to use for progressive muscle relaxation?
There are audio recordings of the progressive muscle relaxation on the Backpack USB. You can also access them by contacting us via the website.
How much time should be given to each lesson?
This will vary depending on the lesson but we would typically advise one lesson per meeting. Some will be quicker than others and some, like lesson fourteen on boundaries, may require more attention. With the brain teachings and the boundaries, we allowed as many classes or meetings as necessary. Teachers in schools have told us that they allowed three weeks for boundaries.