Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quote of the day

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."
- Albert Einstein

And just for fun:
One of the recent visitors to our bird feeders.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Exploring the Creator through Nature

Every time I tell the Godly Play story about God creating the world, I am filled with a sense of awe.  In the GP story and if we look closely enough in the Bible, we find a passionate and ingenious artist painting with his life’s breath onto the canvas of the world.  Oddly enough as a child and as a teenager, the Creation Story was boring to me.  It probably had a lot to do with the fact that I spent most of my childhood indoors to avoid the heat of the southern United States and way too much time in front of the television.  I was not actually acquainted with nature.  Unfortunately,  many children in the Western world are having the same experience that I had with detrimental societal effects.

In German we have a wonderful term called “Naturpädagogik” (“nature pedagogy”) which I really don’t know the term for in English.  The best I can come up with is “nature conservation education”, but nature pedagogy is so much more than just conserving nature.  (If any of you Waldorfers or Montessori pros in the English-speaking world have any suggestions for a better term, please let me know!)  It is getting to know nature, being a part of it, seeing what it does, and letting the seasons affect our everyday lives.  If, as Paul writes in the letter to the Romans, “creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature . . . .”, shouldn’t we as children’s pastors and parents be facilitating spiritual experiences for our children in God’s amazing creation?

Experiencing nature up-close is vital to a child’s spiritual and physical development.  On a pure physical level, nature has many benefits and here are just a few:
-       Nature has a calming effect on children. Children with behavioural problems concentrate better after walks in green areas.
-       Enhances cognitive abilities.
-       Children are more physically active and less prone to weight issues.
-       Nurtures self-discipline.
-       Nurtures healthy curiosity and problem solving.
 Here are some articles and websites that have the information above and more on the subject: Children and Nature NetworkYoung Children's Relationship to NatureOutside Learning Enriches

In her book, “A Home Start in Reading”, Ruth Beechick writes of a school district that did a test to see whether children who learned to read at an early age performed better than children who were allowed to play outside and explore nature.  The nature children did better in the long-run, because their vocabularies and thinking skills were more advanced through hands-on experiences in the outdoors.  (Remember young children are sensorimotor learners and learn with all their senses.)

In their spiritual development, children exposed to nature encounter the mystery of God and develop a healthy curiousity.  The second greatest commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  Children, who for example grow plants and vegetables, develop healthy self-esteem, which is the prerequisite for this commandment.  Also, taking care of plants and animals helps children to develop  a respect for living things which in turn helps develop the essential quality of compassion.

How do you start?  Start simple. Almost any nature experience can be turned into a spiritual experience with a little thought and preparation.  Make art with natural things and incorporate them into your worship service. Here are some websites that have lots of good ideas: Naturkinder, MarghanitaThe Enchanted TreeThe Magic Onions

A nature table (“Jahreszeittisch” in German) that combines Christian themes with natural materials is another great way to start.  Here are some websites that have good ideas for this: Living Montessori NowA Little Slice of LifeStill Parenting

This is our January nature table. Christmas may be technically over, but not
for my 5-year-old! She made this nativity in her kindergarten
and we added some curious forest animals.

In a church setting, arrange an outing and hold your worship service outdoors.  In the summer, we do our Family Brunch in one of the parks near our home and the kids love it. It may be a bit chaotic, but the long-term benefits are worth the chaos!

The ultimate adventure with God and his creation:
my children, then ages 5 and 3,  in Uganda
with two newly found friends.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Jesus Feeds the 5,000 (and we feed the birds!)

This week at Familienbrunch (Family Brunch) the children heard the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread.  For most stories about the life of Jesus, I use Young Children and Worship and Following Jesus by Dr. Sonja Stewart, because Godly Play actually does not have many stories outside of Christmas, Easter and the parable genre that tell the stories about Jesus found in the four Gospels.  Dr. Stewart co-wrote the first book with Godly Play creator, Jerome Berryman, and she developed much of her concept with Dr. Berryman.  Unfortunately, these books have not been translated in to German, so I have to do my own translations when I use these stories!  Also, on a side note, the German Godly Play Foundation is currently in the process of developing its own stories about the life of Jesus, but I have to wait until 2012 to get them.: ) 

After wondering with the children about how the fish and bread tasted to all of those hungry people and what the disciples thought about it all, we sang a song together (“Ein guter Vater” by Daniel Kallach) about God being a good father who provides for us. I paraphrased the end of Matthew chapter 6 with the children where Jesus says that we shouldn’t worry about what we will eat or drink, because our Father in heaven loves us and will take care of us, the birds, the animals and the world.  Then, I explained that God often provides through his children and that we can be God’s helpers.  And what better way to start  being God’s helper than feeding the birds here in the middle of winter?

So I offered the following project as one of the options during the creative phase (playing with the story and art are always two of their options) that we always have after the Bible story in our worship service: making bird feeders out of orange peels to hang in the trees.  I found this awesome project on the Naturkinder blog, a great source of creative ideas for bringing children in contact with nature.  Carolina’s recipe on the blog calls for beef tallow, but try finding that in the middle of Berlin!  So we substituted peanut butter instead.: )  You can just imagine what me, the kids, and the floor looked like after mixing peanut butter, bird feed, and raisins and then stuffing them into orange peels! 

Let the fun begin!

My son climbing up in a tree to hang one of the feeders.

One of the finished bird feeders hanging in the park near our home.

All the snow has melted here, so perhaps the birds aren’t quite as desperate as they were a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to do this project to help teach the children responsibility for this beautiful world that God has given us.  I am convinced that bringing children into contact with the Father’s creation is vital to their spiritual and social development, but more on that in my next blog. : )

Friday, January 14, 2011


Last Sunday we celebrated Ephiphany with the children in our church plant.  (The official feast day is on January 6 in Germany, but we didn’t have services on this day.)  The children have, of course, heard the story of the Three Wise Men many times during Advent. The Godly Play story for Epiphany stresses that Jesus was a king like no other and allows the children to ponder the meanings of the gifts. Although gold was a fitting gift for a king, frankincense and myrrh were unusual gifts because Jesus was an unusual king. 
I also added some “wondering questions” for the children at the end to help them explore the Three Kings’ spiritual journey and revelation.  How do you think the Three Wise Men felt when they finally reached the stable where Baby Jesus lay?  Do you think they found what they had expected to find?  Which of the three gifts do you like the best and why?

For the creative phase, the children could either choose to pick out their own art materials and work freely or they could work on an “angeleitet” (instructional) art project.  Below is the project that I presented.  It is a simple piece that came to me when I was out jogging and ran past an art gallery in our neighborhood with negative space paintings.  I chose the star as a symbol of God’s revelation that often comes after a long spiritual journey.  I left it white as a metaphor for revelation being an empty or blank place in us that God fills. 

A 3-year-old working on her project.
To paint this project:

  1. Give the children a star pattern to trace or allow them to draw their own in the center of the page. 
  2. Using a ruler, have them draw straight lines wherever they choose from the outside of the star to the edge of the paper, dividing the paper into quadrants.
  3. Ask the children to choose 2 “cool” colors and 2 “warm” colors (after explaining what this means) and paint the quadrants.
  4. The children may then fill the quadrants however they choose either with designs or pictures.

This is from a child who chose to work freely.

A normal Godly Play worship service does not usually include Montessori motor skill exercises, but because we have 3 and 4-year-olds in our services, I like to include some to help them further think about what they have heard and to help them in a practical way. Because the Godly Play story deals with the gifts that the Wise Men brought, I had the children practice wrapping gifts. I had planned to do this before Christmas, but couldn’t come up with enough small boxes to do it.  Then I saw on Leptir that Nataša had used wooden blocks and I thought this was an excellent idea! 

The tray with the materials. 

Maybe these ideas will help someone next year!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Doing Art Together

My own children were my first guinea pigs in learning to teach art to children and incorporate it into their spiritual journey.  When they were still quite young, Kate, my art teacher friend in Texas, highly recommended that I read a book called Doing Art Together by Muriel Silberstein-Storfer.  Kate had finished an internship under Muriel at the MET in New York and her own teaching style had been highly influenced by Muriel’s work.  Like Drawing with Children that I mentioned in a previous post, this book helped set me on the path that I am now on.

I don’t know if Muriel has a background in or any connections to Montessori, but her principles fit very well within the Montessori context.  The basic philosophy of the book is that children explore art at their own pace with the help of a simple structure and prepared environment.  Parent and child sit at the same table together with each focused on his/her own work.   The importance of the child’s “work” is validated by the parent’s involvement in his/her own art. To this day in children’s church, I often sit with the children during the creative phase and work on my own artwork as they are working on theirs.  I rarely finish anything (!), but this communicates to the children that what they are doing is valuable. It also sharpens my ability to be spontaneously creative.

A typical session is comprised of three rounds in which children are given opportunities to work with paint, collage and sculpture respectively. Depending on time, one can do all three or just one or two.  (I had never worked with collage much before and actually discovered through this parent-child workshop that collage is my favorite artistic medium.)  Muriel also gives teaching tips for each medium as well as suggestions about how to talk with the children about their work.

Some significant practical advice that I gained from Muriel’s book was how to prepare the environment in an orderly way to teach respect for the materials and avoid chaos, but at the same time allow children the freedom to manipulate the materials as they choose. (I have to admit that I had always been nervous about children and paint, but Muriel’s tips convinced me that I could paint with my children and still keep my walls intact!) Painting materials are set out on tray with one tray per child / parent.  Small amounts of paint (primary colors, black and white) are squeezed into furniture castors so that only as much paint as needed is used.  Two paintbrushes (one large and one small), a sponge, and a water container for rinsing are set on the tray as well.  After the session, the child is involved in the clean-up process as well.

Here is my set-up for a left-hander.  I use baby food lids instead of furniture castors for the paint and yogurt cups for water bowls. 

This is my son at age 3 shortly after we started the Doing Art Together method. 
My 1-year-old daughter also participated, but I started her off with finger paints first. 

If you are seeking to incorporate art into your children’s ministry, classroom, or even at home, this book is a must-read!

Click on Doing Art Together for more about Muriel's work. 

Quote of the Day

"But for me, education means making 
creators. . . You have to make inventors, 
innovators, not conformists."
- Jean Piaget