Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Children and Communion

Play figures from Godly Play:
"The Good Shepherd and the World Wide Communion"
Should young children be allowed to participate in holy communion? An interesting and potentially controversial question, depending on what faith tradition you come from. 

Before I had children of my own, I was of the firm opinion that children should not be allowed to participate in communion until they understood in an age-appropriate manner what they were doing.  This was partially influenced by the Protestant denomination that I was raised in where children were not encouraged to participate in communion until they had been baptized as older children, teenagers or adults.  (In fact, if I am completely honest with myself, a huge motivating factor in my wanting to be baptized at age 12 was the desire to be allowed to take communion and not be left out!) Another factor was my very different understanding of child development at that stage of my life.

However, since having my own children and working full-time with children, I have completely changed my opinion on the whole matter.  Montessori, Godly Play, and my own observations of children have helped me see how children learn about and internalize abstract concepts. I became aware that children learn in a sensorimotor way, that is, through their five senses and by doing.  

Because of this, I became open to letting the children in our church come to the communion table with their parents and partake of the elements together. I felt that this "learn-by-doing" approach would make communion more meaningful for them as adults when they would finally come to the communion table alone. 

Most of the children in our church plant are already aware of the communion table and connect it to the Jesus through the Godly Play story, "The Good Shepherd and the Worldwide Communion".  Also, the Feast element in our Godly Play worship services is a symbolic preparation for taking communion. 

That having been said, I would not want the children to come alone to the communion table. I feel it is very important for them to do this with their parents who can explain and guide them through it.  This helps keep holy communion from being confused with a snack time.  

Coming to the Good Shepherd's table together has become a beautiful thing for our family. No doubt, my children do not understand everything that takes place when we are at the Lord's table together, but neither do we as adults understand everything either!  My 8-year-old son at the very least understands that we are remembering what Jesus did for us by going to the cross and that is certainly a start.  

If you are from a Christian tradition that takes a much different stance on children and communion, please know that I respect your opinion and am not writing this as a "must". It is simply my opinion and what our church has chosen to do. But I am curious . . . 

How do you feel about young children taking holy communion with their parents? 
What does your faith tradition do?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Drawing Prayers with Children

I am always trying to find ways to encourage my children to connect with God and pray on their own rather than just at certain "official" times (i.e. before bedtime, family devotions, etc.) with Mommy and Daddy. Several months ago, I read this post at Watkins Every Flavor Beans about drawing prayers with children after Emily had read a book called "Praying in Color" by Sybil MacBeth. Since I know through my work with Godly Play and Montessori that children are intuitive rather than verbal and how drawing pictures can help younger children better express their thoughts, I was intrigued by the idea.

So I hung a large piece of paper in the hallway and wrote "Dear God . . . " on it.  I explained to the my kids that they could draw a picture of anything that they wanted to say to God at any time they wanted to.  For a couple of days, the paper stayed blank, perhaps because my children didn't really understand what it was all about.  Then, I drew a picture of a carrot, because I was particular pleased with some carrots I had bought that day and wanted to thank God for creating such yummy things to eat.  My kids wanted to know right away why I had drawn a carrot. Then, they started drawing their own pictures:

Some of the drawings above are requests, some express thankfulness, and some are there just because the kids thought God would like them. I don't all the reasons or specific prayers behind the drawings, but God does and that is all that matters.: )

Monday, September 26, 2011

Montessori Musings: Reading

As I have mentioned before, I am teaching my daughter to read using the Montessori method.  We are just at the beginning, but she is making progress at recognizing sounds and three-letter words. We are in the Pink Series, which is the first stage in the Montessori language program.  

The activity below has been a hit with her as well as with the first and second graders at my school.  The child builds simple three-letter words using star-shaped beads.  The beautiful cards are a free download from Montessori Print Shop, which has a ton of free materials. Thanks, Montessori Print Shop! I later happened to find star-shaped beads in a hobby shop and immediately thought of using them to make words with these cards.  (I look at almost everything these days with the thought, "Could I use this for Godly Play or Montessori?")

Preschool and younger elementary children tend to love the tactile experience of building the letters and I have seen some children work for up to 20 minutes on it.  

Another activity that my daughter has enjoyed it guessing the ending sounds of words.  The cards below are also a free download from Montessori Print Shop. My daughter enjoys using the chalkboard to write out the words.  

I'm always amazed at how children get so excited over a chalkboard. Our elementary school actually doesn't have any in the classrooms (instead we have multi-media screens called "Smart Boards"), so there is something earthy and attractive about using a chalkboard in our Montessori lessons. 

Linking to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now and One Hook Wonder

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Inspiration for the Week

"An educational system isn't worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn't teach them how to make a life."  
~Author Unknown

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Autumn Nature Table

When chestnuts start falling from the trees, you know it is autumn in Berlin.  Last week, my daughter and I went to the park to pick up the beautiful chestnuts covering the ground. After she went to bed, I set up this autumn nature table for her.  Wenn die Kastanien überall auf dem Boden zu sehen sind, dann weiss man, die Herbst ist da. Letzte Woche haben meine Tochter und ich einen ganzen Korb voll von Kastanien im Park gesammelt. Nachdem die Kleine ins Bett gegangen ist, habe ich diesen Jahreszeittisch für sie aufgestellt.

I arranged silk "baskets" of chestnuts  . . . 
Ich habe seidene "Körbe" mit Kastanien . . . 

. . . and acorns from our last trip to the forest. Felt leaves and a beautiful piece of birch that we found on the forest floor help celebrate our Creator's breathtaking autumn palette. 
 . . . und Eicheln vom letzen Waldausflug gemacht. Filzblätter und ein tolles Stück Birke, das auf dem Waldboden lag, helfen uns die bunte Palette unseren Schöpfers zu feiern. 

A wooden candlestick from the Tabernacle reminds us that as the days grow shorter and darker, God's light is always there with us. Ein Kerzenständer aus Holz von der Stiftshüttegeschichte errinert uns daran, dass Gottes Licht und Wärme uns in den kommenden kurzeren und dunkeleren Tagen begleiten werden. 

The next day my daughter woke up and was pleased with what she saw. She immediately began playing with the chestnuts and wooden figures and added a few more nature treasures to the table. Then, she designed the table setting below for our dining table that is right next to the nature table. Am nächsten Tag ist meine Tochter aufgestanden und hat sich sofort über den Herbsttisch gefreut. Sie wollte sofort mit den Kastanien und Holzfiguren spielen und ergänzte alles mit noch ein paar Naturschätzen. Danach machte sie die Tischdeko unten für den Esstisch, der daneben steht. 

Happy Autumn!  If any of you have nature tables, please leave a link in the comments. I'd love to see them! Ich wünsche euch viel Herbstfreude!  Wenn ihr auch Jahreszeittische für die Herbst habt, dann würde ich sie gerne sehen. Also, hinterlasst bitte eine Link im Kommentarfeld. 

Linked to The Magic Onions

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Using Art to problem-solve

A couple of days ago, I shared our Matryoshka art project with you. Lest anyone think this all happened in one sitting or was a smooth project, let me tell you the real story. My 5 1/2 year old daughter has hit the perfectionist stage that many children between the ages of 5-7 go through.  (See this post for more about this stage.) Children this age often burst into uncontrollable tears, throw things or try to destroy their art when they do something they perceive to be a "mistake". With a little patience, however, these frustration tantrums can be great opportunities to problem-solve and learn how to channel anger into a constructive direction.

At one point while making the first painting, my daughter threw down her crayons and ran from the room screaming, "I never want to draw again!"  Hearbreaking for me, to say the least.  I took a deep breath, used every ounce of self-control not to react, and calmly reassured her that there were no mistakes in art and that she could come back to her project later if she wanted. That was on Thursday. On Saturday, she came back to the project of her own accord and started working again.  She finished it and then started another.  On Sunday, while making the collage, she did something that she was unhappy with, but looked up at me and said, "There's no mistakes in art, right Mommy?"

That made all the emotional turmoil worth it. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

M is for Matryoshka

In preparation for a trip to Russia, I have been teaching my kids about the language and culture. I've always been a huge fan of Russian folk art, so naturally we have been doing some exploration of the culture through art. Matryoshkas are the nesting dolls that have become a widely recognized symbol of Russia. Few little girls can resist these adorable dolls and this week my daughter and I went a little matryoshka crazy.

One of my daughter's projects: a mixed media painting with watercolor and oil pastel.
This is one of the books that inspired us. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about Russia. It has none of the cliches that most books about Russia have and is filled with interesting information in small chunks.

Step 1:  To draw a series of matryoskas, you need round objects in various sizes for each head and face. Finding these objects is a  great exercise for preschoolers in learning to distinguish sizes.  Trace the head first and then use a smaller circular object for the face. Repeat for as many dolls as you want to make. 

Step 2: Draw the body. This is a great way for child to practice symmetry in drawing, a skill that many adults lack.
Step 3: Draw the facial features and decorations with crayon or oil pastel.
Step 4: Paint the bodies and faces with watercolor. The pastel or crayon will
resist the watercolor and the design will show through. 
The look before my daughter added a background. 
I just had to join in the matryoshka fun, too, with this picture . . . 

 . . . and this one. Why should my kids have all the fun?

Our finished drawing led my daughter to do an impromptu "puppet show" on Saturday. 

Then on Sunday, we did matryoshka collages. You might recognize my daughter's
collage papers as being the tree rubbings from the summer.: )

Again, I had to join in on the fun. This is a matryoshka meeting up with a firebird,
one of my favorite Russian fairy tale figures. 
I will hopefully share more on our Russian (and also Buryat!) studies in upcoming posts!

and Monday Madness at Art 4 Little Hands

Monday, September 19, 2011

Serve the City (with kids!)

Last Saturday there was a Berlin-wide campaign called "Berlin räumt auf" ("Berlin cleans up"), which called on citizens to take part in various social projects to improve the quality of life in our city.  We took part through a group called "Serve the City" and decided that it would be a great opportunity to have our children involved as well.  (Serve the City is an international group in many European cities.)

If you have read my blog very much, then you know that teaching children social responsibility is a subject very close to my heart. Like everything else, children learn by doing and can take part in social projects as long as the activities are within their developmental range.

Through Serve the City we had a choice of three projects to be involved in:
- picking up trash
- planting greenery in front of an apartment
- serving coffee and cake to the homeless

When we explained to the children that we wanted to take part in this as a family, we allowed the children to choose what we would do. ("Follow the child's interests" is a pillar of the Montessori philosophy and I have found it to work well.)  They immediately chose collecting trash and planting greenery.

Through the BSR, Berlin's sanitation company, we received gloves and tongs to pick up the trash. My son loved doing this, although he said it was hard work. My daughter had an attack of bad mood when we arrived and did not want to participate, so she watched for a while as I picked up trash. Then, she decided that she wanted to do it as well.

My son putting trash into the blue bags.

Daddy and son hard at work.  
After about a half hour, we moved onto planting the small garden in front of a local apartment building. As I mentioned in the previous post, there is a law that requires trees to be planted in front of each apartment building.  Unfortunately, these are often used as dog toilets without being cleaned up and the beautiful sight of the tree is spoiled by canine poo.  Our goal was to plant something to make the space a little more beautiful and deter the dog owners.  

Our friend, Christine, who was the mastermind behind the Serve the City project.
Here my daughter breaks up the hard ground to make room for the plants.
My son and Daddy placing the new plants in the ground.
We covered everything with a layer of fresh soil.

Our whole group meeting up to talk about the day's events. 
The whole day was a great experience for our kids.  We ate ice cream together later to celebrate our hard work.  These were small steps, but they go along way in helping my kids to learn social responsibility. i know that they will think twice before they throw something on the ground in the future and that they will be more aware of the trash problem in Berlin.  Also, they are learning how to take initiative to solve problems instead of just waiting for someone else to do it for them.

Just like in the Parable of the Mustard Seed, small steps can produce big results in the future . . . 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Trip to the Forest / Waldausflug

Have I mentioned that Berlin is the "greenest" city in the world? By this I mean it has more trees and foliage per capita than any other city. There is even a law that each citizen has a right to a tree within a few meters of their home.  The aptly named Grunewald ("Green Forest") is one of the best spots in Berlin. It is a protected forest within city limits complete with ponds, lakes, a sand pit and wild pigs.  When my children need a break from city life, the Grunewald is just a 30 minute train ride away.

In the S-Bahn station Grunewald
Daddy and son beginning our trek. We've had an Indian Summer, so everything still looks very green. 
Children and sticks - an essential combo!
Making friends with a beetle.
New finds for our nature table.
The first signs of fall.

Other-worldy looking mushrooms . . . 
 . . .perfect for a dolly world. 
Game: who can hit the tree with the pine cones?
There's nothing like sinking your feet in a muddy pond and searching for frogs.

Caught one!
The Kiesgrube (Sandpit) is one of the most fun spots in the forest.

And light saber battles are also way more fun outdoors!
I always notice an immediate change in my kids when we visit the forest or some natural setting. They are more relaxed and their concentration levels increase. 

Just a reminder of some of the benefits when children spend time in nature:
- Calming effect that also helps with behavioral problems
-  Enhances cognitive abilities
-  Children are more physically active and less prone to weight issues
-  Nurtures self-discipline.
-  Nurtures healthy curiosity and problem solving
-  Sounder sleep patterns
(For more articles on how nature positively effects children, see the links in this post.)

I wish you a great start in the week!