Sunday, February 27, 2011

Godly Play: The Mystery of Easter

I had the pleasure of telling this story twice this week: once to the adults at our prayer time and once at our Familienbrunch (Family Brunch) with the children and their parents. Though it may seem like we are getting ahead of ourselves with Lent, we are discussing it early since most of the meetings in our church plant are bi-weekly and we won't meet again until after Ash Wednesday. And once again, Godly Play proved to be just as thought-provoking for the adults as for the children. 

The beautiful story emphasizes the need to prepare for the joy of Easter by taking the time to ponder our own shortcomings and the price that Jesus paid to reconcile us to the Father.  It acknowledges the difficult questions surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It also speaks of the sustaining joy that can come from experiencing a period of mourning followed by a period of great happiness.  This contrast is part of the ebb and flow of walking with God, and understanding this is crucial to our spiritual journey in this life. My favorite part of the story is when I turn the purple bag containing the puzzle pieces inside out to reveal a pure white lining.  Jesus changes us from the inside out.  

Below the children are putting the puzzle pieces together to reveal a purple cross. Interestingly enough, they put it together facing me instead of themselves, so I had to turn it around.  Also, I had to laugh when one of the parents mentioned that the center piece looks like a bat, which, of course, it does!

For the creative phase this week, I chose to have the children do a directed project.  We made the prayer pots from my previous post on Lent with a few minor adjustments. This art project is great way for families to pray together during Lent and help children with ideas of what to pray for. We used natural clay that is already prepared.  (Regular clay is difficult in my setting, because of the time factor required to soften it, and little hands get very frustrated if it is too hard.) Taking a cue from the Naturkinder, I collected wood from trimmed hedges in a park to use as decorations for the pots.  I also added wooden beads, but in retrospect, this was not a good idea.  If I hadn't used the beads, the children would have been keen to use more of the wood. 

Wood, beads and clay.
Below are the objects I used for our prayer pots:
 - a red heart to remind us of God's love for us
 - a bean to remind us that we grow in our relationship to Him
 - an almond to remind us that God is patient with us and that we should be patient with others.
 - a piece of bread to remind us to share with others
 - a band-aid to remind us to help those who are sad or hurt
 - a piece of purple felt to remind us that Jesus is our king
 - a stone to remind us of the empty tomb and that Jesus is with us
I changed some of the objects from the original idea for both aesthetic and linguistic reasons.  I prefer to use natural or organic objects whenever possible.  Also, the idea of using a rubber band to remind us that God stretches his patience with us doesn't work in German, because patience can't be stretched.: )  

At the end, the children packed their objects and the instructions in a small bag.  If anyone is interested in  my German translation of the instructions (what to place in the pot on each Sunday of Lent and what to pray), please e-mail me and I will be happy to share.

Making the pots:


Some of the finished projects:

Have a great week!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Celebrating Lent with Children

While the idea of celebrating Lent (in German “Die Fastenzeit” = “The Fasting Time”) may seem an oxymoron to many, it is actually a beautiful time of year where we again invite God’s grace into our lives, reflect on His love and sacrifice for us, and respond by actively loving others.  With sensitivity and a little planning, we can help our children learn the process of drawing near to God and experience the sorrow of the cross and the wonder of Jesus’ resurrection.  Easter then becomes a true celebration rather than the anticlimatic let-down of a one-day event and too much chocolate. 

As children’s pastors and parents, we seek to instill in our children values (from which habits and behaviours stem!) that will serve them a lifetime. One important value is setting aside special times to concentrate on God.  And these special times then lead us to action:  for example, changing patterns in our own lives, or considering how we can serve our city.  Lent and Advent are such seasons.  Learning as young children to genuinely approach God in these seasons can have a life-long effect on their spiritual formation and identity.

Here are some ideas:

1) Stations of the Cross for Children – This is a sensitive and well done website for children that you can use to explain the story of the crucifixion to your children.  Each of the 15 stations has a child-appropriate picture with an explanation of what is going on in the picture (“Look at Jesus”) and is followed by a practical response to the picture (“Look at your heart”).  My own children were deeply impacted by this website last year. 

From the website "Stations of the Cross - Especially for  Children" by Lucille Perrotta Castro.

I would also recommend visiting a Catholic church or hospital where the children can view the Stations of the Cross in person and parents can explain the pictures.  We did this last year as well and my children talked about it for months afterward. 

(One last thought:  Many Protestants are put off by the story of St. Veronica, because it is not in the biblical text.  If this is an issue for you, I recommend explaining that the story is not in the Bible, but is in the Stations because it is considered a part of church history.)

2) Tell the Godly Play or Young Children in Worship Lent/Easter stories. The Godly Play story called “The Mystery of Easter” features a 6-piece puzzle that forms a cross.  The six pieces represent the six weeks of Lent.  I absolutely love how this story communicates the necessity of taking time to draw close to something as precious as Easter. Even if you can’t afford or don’t have the expensive wooden materials, you could easily make the puzzle for the cross out of poster board. 

Wooden puzzle pieces for  the Godly Play story, "The Mystery of Easter"
3) Use symbols of Lent in your nature table: water, sand, a candle, a cross, a beautifully written portion of Scripture.  Symbols in Our Home from Creighton University has wonderful ideas and the meanings behind the symbols. 

4) Make a sculpture garden.  Your children can make figures out of clay or recycled items that respresent aspects of the life of Jesus and the Christian faith.  See my blog entry Godly Play Outside of the Church: Part 1 for ideas.

5) Make a Prayer Pot.  This is a great sensorimotor worship activity to help children think about the meanings of Lent and Easter.

6)  Take part in a social project.  Lent is also about compassion and loving others as a response to Christ's love for us.  Think of something to do for a neighbor, your school, or your city.  Sponsor a child in a third world country and pray for him/her.

What ideas do you have for celebrating 
this wonderful season?

Update 2014: See here for all the Lenten ideas on this blog!  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On-line Montessori Training Opportunity

After I became more acquainted with the Montessori Method through Godly Play, I began to search for an opportunity to learn more about it in a more formal setting.  Although Berlin has a reputable Montessori Institute that trains teachers, my stage of life with two small children and two part-time jobs makes it logistically impossible to take advantage of it.  I also looked into on-line training, but most correspondence courses from the States cost approximately $3,000 - $5,000.  I remember praying for a workable solution, because I really wanted to be able to incorporate more of the Montessori philosophy into both my work in a church setting and my classroom at school.

Not long afterwards, I read about an on-line course offered by AMS certified Montessorian Karen Tyler that seemed almost too good to be true.  Karen teaches a pre-primary training course that covers all aspects of the Montessori Method from Sensorial to Zoology.  Students learn at their own pace through papers and album presentations.  At the end of the course, a student is the proud owner of 12 Montessori albums that are an incredible resource for any teacher or parent.

And even more unbelievable is the price:  $10 per month!  (She actually has several payment options, and if you pay for the entire course at the beginning, you only pay $150 for everything!) Karen’s philosophy is that Montessori should for everyone, so she purposefully makes the course affordable. 

I have been in the class since December and am learning so much from her.  She is very good about communicating with her students and answers any questions that we might have.  What an amazing thing as a children’s pastor or teacher to have a qualified Montessori trainer just be an e-mail away! 

There is a new class beginning on March 1, so if you think this might be something for you, please check out her website at: Worldwide Montessori .

If you decide to take the course after reading this blog, please leave a comment.  I’d love to know about it!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Follow me!

After battling the flu and bronchitis for several weeks, I was very glad to be at Familienbrunch (Family Brunch) with the children from our church-planting project.  We are following the church calendar and have now entered into a series on the life of Jesus.  This week we heard the story called “Follow Me!” where Jesus ministers to people along the Sea of Galilee and calls his first disciples.  We are using material from Sonja Stewart’s Following Jesus book that draws from Godly Play and the work of Jerome Berryman.  (Unfortunately, neither of Dr. Stewart’s books have been translated into German, so I have to do my own translations.  If any of my German readers are interested in having access to my translations, just write me an e-mail and I’m happy to share.)

Here are some pictures of the materials that I used.  The figures are from Worship Woodworks in the States and from the Diakonie Leipzig that makes Godly Play materials in Germany.  The beautiful boot was made by one of my daughter’s teachers in the Nature Kindergarten that she attends.

“Follow Me!” is told in a lovely way that keeps the children’s attention and introduces them to the mystery of God.  The entire story is told without mentioning Jesus’ name – only the things he does and how he interacts with the people.  Then during the “Ergründungsgespräch” (“Wondering Phase”),  the storyteller asks the question, “I wonder if this man has a name?”  Of course, most of the children know already, but it is still a beautiful moment of revelation.  At the end of the story, I taught the children the song, “Jesus kann alles”, by Daniel Kallauch, which marvelously reiterates what was in the story.

Each week we have a time of prayer after hearing the story. Each child has the opportunity to pray, but does not have to.  I pass around a seashell or some other object from nature, and the child holds it while praying. Then it is passed to the next person when he is finished. Likewise, if the child does not want to pray, he passes it along, so that the next person knows it is their turn.  Since our story had to do with the sea, we passed around a shark’s tooth today that I found at a flea market.  (I love connecting children to nature, so I take every chance I get!)  I was encouraged this week, because a child, who for a long time was quite bothered by other people praying, chose himself to pray a very short, but sincere prayer.  I truly love observing the journey of children forming a relationship with God!
The lovely shark's tooth from Morocco via a flea market in Berlin.
 For the creative phase I offered the children acrylic paints.  This week I did not have a specific project, because I try to find a balance between the projects and allowing the children to freely process what is going on in their hearts and minds.  I do, however, tend to stick with one medium for several weeks, so that the children really get to know what they can do with that particular medium.  
An almost 4-year-old working with lots of color.: )

A 6-year-old thoughtfully planning his work.

Here are some of the children's responses:
This child painted a family of squirrels that after seeing them in the park frequently on his way to school.
This child painted dinosaurs after having thanked God for making them during the prayer time.
The almost 4-year-old told me that this was the desert.  She has drawn many desert paintings and I  think she is still thinking about the Old Testament stories that take place in the desert.  
Of course, playing with the story is always an option, which these two children chose.  The disciples are now sleeping, and the fish nets have become blankets for the baby sleeping peacefully in the boat.

I wish you a wonderful week!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Art is the Root Word of "Start"

The first children, besides my own, that I ever tried to teach art to were the son and daughter of good friends.  The 6-year-old son, Cooper, was a bright, likeable child.  Much to my dismay, in the middle of each of our drawing lessons, Cooper would burst into tears and refuse to draw anymore, often negatively comparing himself to his older sister who seemed to do everything perfectly. Cooper’s outbursts were usually precipitated by a mark that he perceived as an irreparable “mistake”.  (I had the children purposely draw with pens or markers to avoid erasing.) At first, I was at a loss as to how to help him and a bit frustrated over his behaviour.  Eventually, I took the course of action recommended by Mona Brookes in “Drawing with Children”.  I constantly repeated the mantra that “there are no mistakes in art – only changes to be made” and tried to help Cooper think through what changes he could make to end up with a drawing that he was satisfied with and that expressed his thoughts.  Eventually, Cooper stopped the crying spells and began to understand how he make changes to his drawings that led to more exciting possibilities. This process with Cooper was an important lesson for me in observing one of the most valuable skills that children can learn through art:  problem solving.

So why is art important in a child’s education and why is it important in the church?  I will begin by answering the first question. (The second question will be another blog entry!)  Art assists children in developing foundational skills that will overflow into all other academic and practical areas of their lives.  Art is the root word of “start”.  Quite simply, art gives children a place to start.  A place to start developing language skills.  A place to start learning to solve problems.  A place to develop perseverance by seeing a project to its logical end.  Not to mention, that it is a fun place to start!

Art author and educator MaryAnn F. Kohl identifies 5 areas where children develop life skills through art:  communication, problem solving, social and emotional, fine motor, and self-expression / creativity.  I have written much in this blog about language development in young children.  Children are sensorimotor learners who have the ability to reflect, but lack the language skills to express themselves.  Here, art, be it visual or performing arts (music, dance) can help children express ideas that their tongues can not yet readily put into words.  And their art teachers, by asking the right questions, can help them begin to talk about their work.  Mona Brooks also writes that teachers have reported “dramatic increases in letter recognition and reading readiness” as well as increased motivation to read when art is combined with other subjects. (For details on the other areas, see Kohl’s article, “The Importance of Art in a Child’s Development”.)

Just as nature has a calming effect on children that increases concentration, Brookes also writes that children with attention deficit disorders also experience increased concentration when working on art projects.  Brooks herself was a teacher for at-risk students with learning disorders and writes of their progress in “Drawing with Children”. (Read more in the article, “Teaching Basics Through the Arts”.)

Jo Murphy, an art educator in Brisbane, Australia, drawing on the work of John Dewey and Elliot Eisner, writes that art teaches students to make judgements about qualitative relationships in the world, thereby increasing their problem-solving skills and ability to interpret their world. (Read the full article, “Creative Arts Develop Problem-Solving Skills”.)

Another great article to read on the benefits of fostering creativity and the hindrances to it is “Creativity in Young Children” by Sara Gable.

My own son is also now in a perfectionist phase where he frequently bursts into tears at having made a “mistake”.  This time around, though, I realize that it is an important part of his development.  And he is starting to problem-solve rather than being paralyzed by his mistakes.  A good start indeed. 

The following pictures are my children's rendition of a wonderful winter art project from Gail at That Artist Woman.  My son had his latest opportunity to problem solve while working on this project. 

Before: there were lots of tears when my son in a hurry to finish picked up a paintbrush and used black paint to paint the polar bear's features.  After what seemed like an eternity, he calmed down and began to think with me how he could change it.

After:  he decided to let the white and black paint dry and then paint over  what he didn't like with white paint.  Then, he drew the new facial features in with a pencil.  We were both pleased with  the result!

And just for fun, here is my 5-year-old daughter's painting.  I was so pleased with her polar bear stencils that she drew all by herself!