After two weeks of discussing what exactly hope is, what it has to do with Christmas, and how to pass it on to others, we took our first baby step in exploring what all of this practically means and how to express it. Earlier this fall, I had already contacted a well-known group in Berlin, called Die Arche (“The Ark”), a Christian organization that serves inner city children in difficult living situations to ask them about the possibility of doing a project with them. One of the things that I respect about this group is that they are very open to working with other groups. They said yes and agreed that we would put on an Advent Party together for the children in the neighborhood where one of the Arche branches is located.
During the second week of our Club, we told the children that we would be visiting Die Arche in another district. Because our children come from fairly affluent, well-educated families, we purposely did not tell them that many of the children we would be visiting came from difficult backgrounds. Rather we told them that some of the children might be a lot like us and some of them might be different. As I have researched how to encourage social responsibility in children, many educators with experience in this field agree that young children develop this mindset through small steps such as sharing with their siblings and simply coming into contact with people who are different. An excellent article on this topic:
After a subway ride and trekking through the snow, we arrived at Die Arche in the district of Wedding. We were a little shocked at first, because the elementary children who came on that day were almost all older than our children, who are in grades 1-3. Using our children’s ideas, we had planned to offer two stations, one with games and another with arts & crafts. My colleague (another teacher at our school), who was led the game station, had to quickly change all of his plans, because 4th, 5th and 6th graders would have found our games too babyish. He did a great job, though, by asking the Arche kids what they liked to play and spontaneously coming up with a new plan. I led the craft time with the help of a mother who came along to chaperone. We did Christmas collages with the children using patterns of angels and Christmas ornaments. Die Arche staff then surprised us by giving each child a gift bags with treats inside!
I was particularly proud of our kids when they went straight into the kitchen at Die Arche and began to put the things they had brought for the buffet on plates:
Here are some pictures of our craft time:
Below is in the game room and the kids are playing "Stopptanz", a game where music is played and when it stops, the kids have to freeze. Whoever moves is out.
At the end, I got a chance to tell a Godly Play story to a group of kids. I told them "The Holy Family", an ingenious story that tells of Jesus' birth and shows how Christmas and Easter are related. Here are two girls from the Arche who listened and "wondered" with me at the end.
Considering that we were only there for one afternoon, our children did a good job of mixing with the other children. They did, however, notice straightaway that some of the attitudes and behaviour of some of the Arche children were different from theirs. When we asked our kids later about what they thought and how the experience had been, they surprised us by saying that the day had been fun. One little girl, a first grader, said that she thought the kids would be mean at first, but that they had turned out to be nice to her. When I pressed them a little more about things that had been challenging, they agreed that they had been intimidated by the fact that the Arche children were older. One of the girls said that she had been uncomfortable with the way some of the children talked to each other. After all is said and done, I can’t say that this was the most fun day ever for our children, but from a pedagogical perspective it was a success. The children learned and experienced that it takes effort to reach out to other people, and that you can’t always judge a book by its cover. And that gives me hope for their generation.