Thursday, October 27, 2011

To Russia with Love

Well, tomorrow we head off to Ulan-Ude, Irkutsk and Moscow!  I probably won't be able to post anything for a while, but I'll be happy to share our Godly Play adventures as well as our family adventures as soon as we return.

Much love, Sheila

My husband and I in Irkutsk in 1996.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Blogiversary!

When I first started blogging exactly one year ago, I was a little worried that I might run out of things to blog about. Boy, was I wrong!  In fact, these days, I have to force myself to stick to just these topics:  children's spirituality, Godly Play, art education, nature pedagogy and Montessori.

I'd like to thank all of you who read this blog! It's been wonderful to share ideas, get feedback from you, and read your blogs as well.

I'd also like to thank three women without whom this blog would probably never have been read:

 I sense in each of you ladies that you are not in this just for yourselves, but to help and encourage others. Thank you for your blogs and for letting me share your space with you!

I have also made many new friends this year!  Special thanks to Storyteller from Wonderful in an Easter Kind of Way and Leslie from Thoughts from the Sheepfold, for being sources of encouragement and letting me glean from your ideas, observations and experience. 

I look forward to another year! 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Autumn Leaf Crown

Need a crown for your favorite elf?  This beautiful autumn leaf crown is the work of Birgit, a Waldorf-trained teacher at the Naturkindergarten (Nature Kindergarten) that my daughter attends. I watched her weave it the other day and then had to try it myself.  It was such a great idea that I just had to share it with you! Möchte dein lieblings Waldzwerg eine schöne Krone haben? Dies ist die wunderschöne Handarbeit von Birgit, eine Waldorf Pädagogin im Naturkindergarten, wo meine Tochter hingeht. Ich habe sie vor paar Tagen beobachtet als sie diese Krone zusammenbastelt hat. Danach musste ich selber probieren und mit euch teilen!

To make, gather any autumn leaves that have longer stems, such as maple leaves.  Pull the stems off. They will  be used as "thread" to hold the crown together.  Then, fold the bottom third of each leaf. Begin to put each leaf inside half of the folded one next to it. Use the stems to weave the leaves together.
So geht das: erstmal schöne Herbstblätter sammeln und die Stiele entfernen. Dann faltet man ungefähr den unteren Drittel von jedem Blatt und steckt die Hälfte jeden Blattes in das davor liegende Blatt. Zuletzt "näht" man die Blätter zusammen mit den entfernten Stielen.  

This will be the inside of the crown. You can see how the stems are threaded into the leaves.
Das ist die innere Seite der Krone. Man sieht wie die Blätter zusammen "genäht" sind.
The finished crown.
Die fertige Krone.
With a little practice, older children can make these themselves. Such a simple project, yet so striking! 
Mit Übung könnten ältere Kinder auch solche Kronen schaffen. So einfach, aber so eindrucksvoll! 

Linked to The Magic Onions

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Exploring Warsaw

The grandparents came to visit from the States and we took a side trip to Warsaw, Poland. While Warsaw may not be at the top of everyone's list as a vacation spot, we found it to be a delightful and interesting place!

The grandparents and our kids in the Old City Square. 

Scaling the Barbican . . . 
and anything else in our path!

One of our favorite ways to get to know a culture is through its food! We love to explore grocery stores, outdoor markets, and restaurants.

Poziomka! A type of wild strawberry. My kids downed these and 500g of the sweetest raspberries we ever got ahold of in about 15 minutes.  Stomachaches afterwards, but it was worth it!

A local bakery with lots of yummies

And baked Pierogis! Who knew that they could be baked and not boiled?!!

Warsaw also has some great museums. The Copernicus Science Center is literally for people of all ages. It is three floors of playful science experiements that will keep the family entertained for hours.  It is fun and entertaining, but at the same time intelligent and not over-the-top. 

My daughter is building a dome with foam bricks.  When she is finished,
the yellow ballon deflates to test her work and see if the dome stands.

This was in the preschool section.  It is a wall something akin to "Light Brights"
where the kids press in pegs that reveal a pattern on the other side.  A tactile paradise. 

We also love to wander through old churches and talk about the imagery with our children.  And in Warsaw, there is a beautiful Catholic church on every corner.  

My kids particularly liked this depiction of St. John the Baptist. I was pleased when they recognized who he was after I asked them a few questions about what they were viewing. Although we don't always think of sculptures and paintings in older churches as being "kid-friendly", children find them fascinating when they are allowed to play guessing games about the content. 
In the Church of St. John the Baptist, there was an unusual and moving Stations of the Cross
carved as three dimensional sculptures protruding from a two-dimensional surface.
We walked through all the Stations with our kids who were glued to them
and loved figuring out what happened at each station.
This led to a spontaneous prayer time from the kids thanking Jesus
for his sacrifice for us and the world. 

My daughter turned into a Polish princess midway through the trip
with this crown of flowers that is apparently traditional in Krakow.
A happy Mommy and Daddy!

Friday, October 14, 2011

What to do in the Forest

Making trips to the forest with kids, besides being loads of fun, is essential to their physical and spiritual development.  If you live in a big city like I do, you might have to do a little planning to get there, but it will be well worth your time.

What do you do once you get there?  Well, several years ago I would have asked exactly the same question, and I am happy to pass on some ideas that I have gleaned from my own experience with kids, the Naturkindergarten ("Nature Kindergarten") that my daughter attends, and from the internet. In German, there is even a word for educating children in a playful way about the forest: Waldpädagogik ("Forest Pedagogy").

1. Read a book or tell a story. Bring a blanket to sit on, hang out, and every story will be more exciting in the great outdoors. Fairy tale or mystery, they only get better outside. The forest can also be a great place to tell a Godly Play or Young Children in Worship story as well. 

2. Build something!  Honestly, that idea used to intimidate me, but then I discovered it's really easy. There is building material all around and the children usually have great ideas once you get started.  Fairy houses and landscapes for toy animals are great things to begin with.  Twigs turn into a hut, acorn caps turn into bowls, leaves become carpets, etc.  The possibilities are endless! Just today I saw a child take two fallen leaves, attach them to her wooden bear and transform him into a "flying bear".

My son and daughter hard at work building a shelter of sorts with large sticks.
3. Collect things for a nature table or art project.  Especially in autumn, the natural treasures are endless. Add a little color to your home with them. They make wonderful collage and sculpture pieces as well. 

4. Play "Find something . . ." In this game, you make a list of adjectives like "smooth", "shiny", or "slimy". Write them on slips of paper and have the children draw a slip.  Then, they have to find something that fits that description. This idea from Gerd Weitbrecht is in a Waldpädagogik download, and if you can read German, this is a treasure chest of good ideas. 

5. Draw a "listening map". Have the children sit down in the forest and spend five minutes drawing  the different sounds they hear and where they think they are coming from. This is another great idea from Gerd Weitbrecht's Waldpädagogik download as well. 

6. Catch bugs. And then let them go, of course! What kid isn't thrilled over a beetle or caterpillar?

7. See how many colors you can find.  Caro at Naturkinder plays this game often with her nature group and her photos are stunning. 

8. Make a nature journal or draw something.  It only takes a second to pack some colored pencils and drawing boards. Children discover in a deeper way when they draw something they have observed.

9. Make land art. Natural materials provide the opportunity to make something beautiful that is temporary and to be savored in that moment. For some wonderful ideas, see Land Art for Kids. One of my goals in the future is to tell a Godly Play story outdoors and have the kids make land art during the creative phase to process their thoughts.

Snail paradise / art project: this wasn't made in the forest, but you get the idea!

For lots more ideas, take a look at these blogs that I have come to love: Marghanita and Naturkinder!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Art Project: Buryat Peg Doll

From 1993-96 I called the Siberian city of Ulan-Ude home. (And, yes, I was there voluntarily and happily!) Ulan-Ude is the capital of an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation called Buryatia. While Buryatia has a large Russian population and is highly influenced by Russian culture, it is of course the home of the Buryats, who were the original inhabitants of this part of Siberia.

My family will visiting Ulan-Ude on an upcoming trip, and if you have been reading my recent posts, you know I have been doing everything possible to prepare my children for the people they will meet and cultures they will experience. Since some of my dearest friends in the world are Buryats, I really want my kids to be familiar with this beautiful people group as well.

Art is one of my favorite mediums for teaching about other cultures. Since I had some extra wooden peg dolls left over from a Godly Play project, I had the idea to create a Buryat peg doll as an art project.

This is the Buryat peg doll that I created.

This is a map of Russia and the Republic of Buryatia is in red.
Before we began the peg doll project, I helped my children locate Russia on our wooden
Montessori map and then showed them Buryatia on the map above.
We also looked at pictures like this one of Buryats in their traditional costumes.
You want see any Buryats these days walking down the street dressed like this,
but they do pull them out on special occasions.

My peg doll was inspired by wooden Buryat dolls that I saw often in Ulan-Ude.
In fact, I have some that I bought when I lived there, but they are packed away somewhere
 at my parents' home in the States. I found this picture on-line of a Mongolian doll from the company
Face Music that close resembles the dolls I had.
Step 1: Choose paints and several sizes of paint brushes for your doll.

Step 2: Paint the body of the doll. When my daughter painted hers, I used masking tape to cover the neck  and feet, because painting the edges can be tricky for little hands.

Step 3: After looking at pictures of traditional Buryat hats, make a hat out of clay. I used regular modeling clay, but you could use air-hardening clay as well. You can do this while the body is drying.

Step 4: Paint the hat with Mod Podge or some sort of varnish that will give it a shiny coat and help hold its form. The varnish will act as an adhesive to glue the hat to the doll. 

Step 5: Paint the facial features. I had my daughter practice a little on a separate sheet of paper. 

Step 6: Paint any decorations on the body after the first coat of paint has dried. 

Step 7: Paint the back of the doll. 

Here is my daughter's beautiful doll! Her peg doll was slightly larger than mine to make it easier for her. Also, I was pleased that she chose a different decorative motif for the doll's dress.
We only had two meltdowns during this project and they were over faster than the one during the Matryoshka project! (For more on that topic, see this post.) My 8-year-old son, while very interested in the Buryats, opted to paint pictures of the X-men instead of doing a peg doll.: ) But I couldn't have asked for a better afternoon with all of us sitting around the table together doing art.

And the Buryat peg dolls have now joined the Acorn family and the Chestnut family on our autumn nature table. So much fun to be a child, create and play!

Linked to The Magic Onions

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Godly Play in Russian

On Sunday I told a Godly Play story for the first time in Russian.  It was such a fun experience for me and an important "practice" session for an upcoming workshop that I will be doing in Irkutsk. Since I know the story like the back of my hand in German, telling it in Russian was actually a bit like writing with my left hand.  I am somewhat ambidextrous and use my left hand often, but writing with it is a different sensation that requires more concentration. And although I speak Russian very often here in Berlin, telling a Godly Play story requires more mental gymnastics than just having a normal conversation with someone.: )

My "guinea pig" was the five-year-old son of my dear friend, Irina, who was visiting from Munich. I told the Parable of the Good Shepherd and he seemed to enjoy the story and understand everything, even though I found out later from Irina that I had mispronounced the word for "parable" the entire time. (Good thing I'm practicing now!) I had to do the Wondering phase in German, however, because my own children had had enough at that point of sitting through something they didn't understand.

When asking for Irina's honest critique afterwards, she mentioned a couple of interesting things.  One was the choice of word for "shepherd". This translation uses a word in the Russian Bible from Psalm 23 (пастырь) that is different from the more commonly used word for "shepherd" (пастух).  Irina brought up the point that the average child on the street would not know the biblical word and might it not be better to use the more commonly used word?  Good question. I'm not sure.  One the one hand, children often hear words they don't know and figure them out from context.  In the Parable of the Good Shepherd, the children figure it out, because of the concrete illustrations in the story. Might not the older, less commonly used word add a bit of mystery to the story?  On the other hand, a primary element in GP is language development.  GP seeks to help children develop a language to express spiritual ideas.  In using an older word for shepherd, one could potentially run the risk of helping children develop a language that is unintelligible to the culture they live in. But my thoughts on this come from one living in a post-modern, western culture and not as one actually living in Russia. I'll be interested to hear what my friends in Russia think about this.

The other thing she brought up was the aspect of GP that seems to disturb many adults: that the storyteller intentionally does not look at the children during the story. The reason for this is to keep the focus on the story rather than on the storyteller. (For some great thoughts on this, see this post at Wonderful in an Easter kind of Way.) Though my friend understood this, she still thought it might be a good idea to make more eye contact with the children as a foreigner.  Since I will be helping to lead the children's worship service in Irkutsk, this is a good reminder that I need to think of a good way to break the ice with the kids before I begin the story.

I'll let you know how it goes with a larger group of Russian children.  I'm curious . . .

Have any of you had the opportunity to tell Godly Play stories in a foreign language?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Russian Fairy Tales

Another way that I have been introducing my children to Russian culture is by reading them  Russian fairy tales.  Both my son, age 8, and my daughter, age 5, have been asking for them daily now.  I fell in love with these fairy tales when I lived in Russia, and fortunately, there are several good English translations on the web.  

Here are a few of my favorites and the links to these tales:

Ivan and Elena the Beautiful on the Grey Wolf
by Viktor Vasnetsov
(This might be my favorite story, because the heroine is so spunky and is called "Elena the Wise".)
The Frog Princess from Tradestone Gallery
Vasilisa on her way to borrow
fire from Baba Yaga.
By Ivan Bilbin.

Baba Yaga flying around in her mortar and pestle.
By Ivan Bilbin.

Fairy Tales or Not?
I know that many families tend to shy away from fairy tales for various reasons. Some want to shield their children from what they feel are undue fears and nightmares. Others object to the witchcraft/magic aspect. Still others feel that fairy tales are irrelevant to our modern world. 

In our family, I have come to value sharing fairy tales with my children.  These tales allow my children to consider different moral possibilities, ponder the difference between good and evil, and hear traditional wisdom from different cultures in an intuitive way.  Interestingly enough, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton, three great Christian writers of the twentieth century, as well as  the Irish monks who helped preserve western civilization during the Dark Ages, all placed great value on ancient myths and fairy tales.  

For well-written thoughts on the benefits of fairy tales, please click on this link by Susanne Lakin: The Importance of Reading Fairy Tales to Children and this essay by G.K. ChestertonThe Red Angel.

Happy Reading!

Linked to The Magic Onions

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


 Sonne, Äpfel, Mittelalter und Freunde, die wir lange nicht gesehen haben:  besser als diese Kombination gibt's nicht! Eine Freundin war mit ihrem Sohn zu Besuch und wir haben uns spontan entschieden zum Apfelfest in Potsdam zu fahren. Obwohl dies ist normaleweise ein herbstliches Fest, war das Wetter draußen eher wie im Sommer.  On Saturday we visited the Apfelfest ("Apple Festival") in Potsdam just outside of Berlin.  My friend and her son were visiting us from Munich and she happened to see a sign for the festival, so we spontaneously decided  to go. Though this is supposed to be a fall festival, the weather outside felt like July! 

Natürlich gab es beim Apfelfest Äpfel, aber hier ging's mehr um das Mittelalter. Sobald wir ankamen, schauten wir ein Theaterstück über Ritter und Drachenburg an. Man kann unten sehen wie der Drache echtes Feuer gespuckt hat! Es tat mir aber bisschen Leid für die Schauspieler, die in so einer sommerlichen Hitze Ritterrüstung anziehen mussten. There were apples, of course, but this was really a medieval festival.  Right after we arrived, we were treated to a play about two knights defeating a dragon. You can see the dragon breathing fire in the picture below. I felt sorry for the actors who must have been dying of a heatstroke in the "summer" heat!

Die Kinder haben Rüstung und Schwerte anprobiert . . .
Our kids tried out medieval armor and swords . . .  

mittelalterliche Technik entdeckt . . .
and medieval machinery . . . 

und mit Holzburg und Rittern gespielt . . . 
and a wooden castle with toy knights . . . 

Zu unserer Freude gab's auch Tiere zu streicheln . . . 
To our delight, there were also lots of animals to pet . . . 

und meine Tochter durfte einen weißen Pferd reiten 
und sogar einen pink Helm anziehen.
and my daughter got to ride a white horse and wear a pink helmet. 

Ich war auch überrascht danach, dass die Kinder noch eine halbe 
Stunde lang mittelaltliche Musik zuhörten. 
Im großen Ganzen war's ein schöner Samstag gewesen! 
 I was also amazed when our kids sat for half an hour enthralled by Celtic music. 
All in all, a wonderful way to spend a sunny Saturday!

Linked to The Magic Onions