Monday, January 30, 2012

Sensorimotor Worship: Caring for a Pet

Sensorimotor Worship* can be defined as a spiritual lesson or experience that involves all of the five senses and incorporates visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles.

Animals are a unique part of God's creation and the Christian scriptures teach love and respect for them. From Adam's tender care of them in the Creation Story to the exhortation in Proverbs that " . . . a righteous man cares for the needs of his animal . . . " to Isaiah's prophecy that someday the lion will co-exist in peace with the lamb, one can see that part of honoring God is taking care of the animals that he creates. And whether you are religious or not, you can't easily miss the wonder in a child's eyes when they come into contact with an animal or dismiss the therapeutic effect that pets have on lonely people. Animals are amazing and taking care of them can be a part of showing love to our Creator.

My son received a hamster for his 8th birthday last August. "Hammy", as we call her, has become a member of the family. When Hammy first came into our home, we explained to our son that he was being given the awesome responsibility of taking care of one of God's creatures.  He would be the primary caregiver by daily feeding the hamster and cleaning her cage. Along the way, Hammy has also provided some important spiritual lessons:

Lesson #1: Responsibility for another living thing. Learning the value of being a caregiver as a child can certainly make it more natural when that child becomes an adult. Also, in an age where children are often exposed to violence in the media, caring for a pet cultivates the value of life and the natural world.

Lesson #2: Choosing to love and respect even when you don't necessarily feel appreciated. Hammy was not an easy hamster at first. She bit often and my son ran to us many times with a bleeding finger and crying that Hammy didn't appreciate all that he did for her. (We, of course, explained to him that Hammy wasn't being "mean", but rather signaling that she was scared or didn't want to be bothered at the moment with the only means of communication that she posesses.)

Lesson #3: Consistency. With few exceptions, my son cleans Hammy's cage every other day no matter how tired he is or how late it is. Hammy depends on him, and since our son is not naturally an organized person, this helps teach him rhythm and discipline. (For this reason, many Montessori curriculums recommend pet care for children.)

These are all things lessons that we need to understand and reflect the character of God (no matter how big or small we are!). How fun to learn them through one of His cutest creations!

* "Sensorimotor worship" is a term coined by Dr. Sonya Stewart, co-creator of Young Children and Worship, that is rooted in the Montessori educational philosophy. I use it to describe spiritual experiences involving the five senses beyond the church envirionment.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Inspiration for the Week

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves."

-Carl Jung

Friday, January 27, 2012

Art & Child Development: Two Great Resources

If you want to set up an artistic atmosphere for children where they can explore the world of art, then it is helpful to know something about the developmental stages that young artists go through.  The ability to recognize what stage a child is in can help you set up user-friendly ways for him/her to make art, treasure their baby steps and also keep you from overwhelming the child by demanding more than he/she is developmentally ready for.

When my son was very young, and although I was artistic myself, I was fairly clueless about child development and how to even begin doing art with him. I knew enough to start with finger paints when he was about a year old, but that was about it.  I began to do some research and stumbled upon some great resources that I have learned a lot from.  And two of these resources can be found for free on-line.

The first, Drawing Development in Children, is a pamphlet of sorts compiled by Susan K. Donley based on the work of Viktor Lowenfeld and Betty Edwards. It provides concise explanations of the various developmental stages that children ages 2-12 experience in drawing. Click below to view the pamphlet.

The second, Young in Art, is "a developmental look at child art" written by Dr. Craig Roland, a professor of art at the University of Florida. An easy read with helpful real-life examples of different stages, I often go back to this for a quick reference. 

Young in Art

Roland also includes examples of constructive questions to ask a child about their work in order to encourage their verbal skills.  For example, he advises caregivers of children in the scribbling stage: "As the child gains control of scribbling, comment on the variety of movements and different marks the child has made . . . As the child starts naming his or her scribbles, listen to the child’s comments and use the meanings offered by the child as a source for dialogue." Doesn't that make more sense than the negative commentary usually give to scribbles?

I hope these articles are as helpful to you as they were to me! And I hope that you'll never look at scribbling quite the same again!

linked to The Magic Onions

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Art at our House: Super Heroes

When my son was about 6 years old, he became frustrated when trying to draw human figures and asked me to teach him how to draw them better. I gave him some lessons and tips found in Mona Brook's Drawing with Children. (If you are new to my blog, I am a huge fan of the "Monart" method and highly recommend it, especially if you are uneasy with your drawing skills, but want your children to learn to draw.) 

Brooks divides the body into a series of circles and tubes that make body parts easier to "see". She does the same with the head and neck and then gives helpful tips and examples of how to position facial features in kid-friendly language and illustrations. 

Well, after those short lessons, my son, who had drawn mostly animals before, started drawing all kids of people - real ones, characters from films and more than a few made-up ones. These days he is into super heroes. So, we have sketchbooks and literally reams of paper filled with drawings of super heroes.

This is "Sonnemensch" ("Sun Man"), one of his made-up super heroes.
Sonnemensch harnesses energy from the sun and puts it to useful purposes. 

At first I was a bit uneasy about his preoccupation with super heroes and wondered if we were exposing him to too much pop culture. "Wouldn't he be better off drawing more plants, animals and trees?" I thought. But apparently, he is just doing what comes naturally to boys aged 8-10. (He's 8 as of this writing.)  Renowned art educators Betty Edwards and Viktor Lowenfeld write this in Creative and Mental Growth about what they term "The Stage of Complexity": "At nine or ten years, children try for more detail, hoping to achieve greater realism, a prized goal. Concern for where things are in their drawings is replaced by concern for how things look-- particularly tanks, dinosaurs, super heroes, etc. for boys . . . "

Almost the entire Marvel Universe on one sheet of paper.

And Craig Roland, an art professor at the University of Florida, writes in Young in Art that " . . .while many children simply copy their favorite super heroes and comic-book characters, some also invent their own characters and narrative plots  . . .  Rather than discourage such creative activity, teachers and parents should take full advantage of children’s fascination with popular culture and use it to develop their drawing abilities beyond the most basic level." 

So, my sweet child is right on schedule and I can relax a little. And admire the amazing developmental steps that he is making: )

Monday, January 23, 2012

Making St. Thomas Aquinas

Homemade materials for the Godly Play story of St. Thomas Aquinas

Last week in this post, I mentioned that I had purchased Godly Play Volume 7 and was planning on telling my children the story of St.Thomas Aquinas on January 28. Because the materials are expensive and I also wasn't entirely satisfied with the suggested materials, I began making a St. Thomas peg doll.

After carefully studying images of St. Thomas from the internet, such as the one below . . .  

I began the work. First, I painted the peg doll's hair and white monk's robe. I intentionally left off any facial features (other than the distinctive haircut) to encourage the children to use their own imaginations during the Wondering phase.  (For a great discussion of why this is a good practice, please see this post by Storyteller at Wonderful in an Easter Kind of Way.) Then, I cut out three pieces of felt: two brown ones for the monk's cloak and a yellow dot to represent the sun that usually depicts St. Thomas' heart.

Voila! With the help of a little glue and thread, St. Thomas Aquinas emerged . . . 

Below are the completed materials for the story: 
- St. Thomas
- a wooden ox from our Nativity since St. Thomas was called the "silent ox"
- his two favorite kinds of books, the Bible and anything by Aristotle, made with red felt and paper
- a bit of straw to represent the important revelation at the end of his life

And just for fun, here is the fire stacking toy that I am painting for Pentecost. My son saw it and said. "Wow, that's the burning bush that Moses saw!" (Brilliant - why didn't I think of that?) I've always been a fan of these, but they cost around 30 Euros each. Through another website, I found unpainted DIY ones at Clickety Clack that are very affordable.  They are beautiful and well-cut, so I highly recommend them.

Stay tuned to see how the storytelling goes!

linked to Frontier Dreams

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Inspiration for the Week

"Education is the most interesting and difficult adventure in life. Educating – from the Latin educere – means leading young people to move beyond themselves and introducing them to reality, towards a fullness that leads to growth.  . . .  For this reason, today more than ever we need authentic witnesses, and not simply people who parcel out rules and facts; we need witnesses capable of seeing farther than others because their life is so much broader. A witness is someone who first lives the life that he proposes to others."

- Pope Benedict XVI (Message Celebrating World Day of Peace, 2012)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter Nature Table

 . . . with a Candlemas theme

On Candlemas (February 2) we remember the story of Baby Jesus being presented in the temple. We rejoice with Simeon and Anna that God's gift to the world has come, and that we, who might otherwise walk in darkness, have a Light. 

Beside Giotto's painting of Jesus' Presentation in the Temple are beeswax candles that my son made at school before Christmas.

Baby Jesus has moved from the Nature Nativity to a bed of soft snow with a path leading to the forest. My son's favorite whittling stick turns into a tree adorned with snow-covered pine cones recycled from our Advent candles.

Our Christ Candle is surrounded by acorns that we found on our recent trip to Georgia (a type of acorn that we haven't seen here) where winter looks and feels much different than it does in Germany.

You are the fullness of life, of holiness, of joy.
Fill our days and nights with the love of your wisdom,
that we may bear fruit in the beauty of your holiness,
like a tree watered by running streams.

Linked to The Magic Onions

and Sharing Saturday at Crafty Moms Share and Mama Mia's Heart to Heart

and Monday Madness at Art 4 Little Hands and Let Kids Create

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Fun Treat

Last week my daughter and I made an unexpected trip to the States to visit my Mom, who has been very sick. Seeing her granddaughter was the best medicine in the world for her, and we are so thankful that she is much stronger now. While there, I picked up a treat for us . . . 

The latest Godly Play Handbook: Volume 7,
16 enrichment sessions focusing on the lives of the saints

Volume 7 is not yet available in continental Europe and there are no plans of yet to translate it into German. I bought it mainly as a supplement for my own kids, although I am sure that I will do some rough translations in the future for German-speaking children. This is also the first GP material that I have ever owned in English, so that makes it all the more exciting.

I have been reading the stories devotionally and wondering on my own.  I really like the stories, but am not sure about some of the suggested materials.  The individual stories call for props that relate to the saint's life (for example, a wooden ox for St. Thomas Aquinas and a hazelnut for Julian of Norwich) and then a booklet featuring a picture of the saint, a map of his/her home country, a timeline and then the full story of his/her life. Though informative, the booklets do not seem very playful to me. I am pretty certain that my children would not be very interested in them.  

St. Thomas Aquinas set with booklet from Godly Play Resources

While Godly Play Resources does make flat wooden figures of the saints for the introductory lesson entitled "Introduction to the Communion of the Saints", they cost $127;  so needless to say, I won't be buying them anytime soon.  

Sooooo . . . . I am currently working on a peg doll right now for St. Thomas.: )  I plan on telling the story on Jan. 28, which is his feast day. I'll let you know what the kids think. 

The future St. Thomas along with a stacking flame
that I am painting for Pentecost. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Inspiration for the Week

A thought as we move into "Ordinary Time" . . . 

"Be the change you want to see in the world."

-Mohandes K. "Mahatma" Gandhi

and a prayer . . . 

You are the fullness of life, of holiness, of joy. 
Fill our days and nights with the love of your wisdom,
that we may bear fruit in the beauty of your holiness,
like a tree watered by running streams.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pioneering Godly Play in Russia

Experimenting with Godly Play in Moscow.

My friend, Asmic, whom I have written about in this post, is pioneering Godly Play in a Russian language context. She is incorporating Godly Play into ministry with her own children, their friends and children at her church. In bringing Godly Play to a new context or culture, there are all kinds of things to consider. Will the symbols and original language of the story communicate what we are wanting to communicate? What do we do if they don’t? How should the materials look and how do we get them?

This year, Asmic invited several children from their local elementary school and their parents to a Godly Play Advent afternoon. She decided to tell the Godly Play Advent stories in one session. (GP Storytellers have the option of telling them in four parts or all at one time.) In considering how to best translate the story into her culture, she wrote, “It's not traditional in Russian culture to light Advent candles or have a wreath. Even to me it's something I have to get used to and just learnt about. I have an idea of incorporating art masterpieces into the GP story. I've seen pictures on plywood cards in some GP materials. So I had an idea of printing up some artwork depicting Isaiah, Mary and Joseph, the Magi, and glueing them on the cards instead of those with candles.”

In Russian culture whose religious language and symbolism has been impacted for centuries by Orthodoxy, wreaths, for example, are not at all associated with Advent. Rather they are usually only seen at funerals. I found this very astute and wise of Asmic to consider what works best in her context rather than to merely import something from the West.

Many people find GP daunting at first, because of the materials. There is not, of course, a GP supplier in Russia and importing the materials from Europe is not a cost-effective solution. So, Asmic dealt with the situation by making her own Advent cards for the story. Then, she asked a friend to cut wooden figures for her, and used her children’s wooden blocks for the model of Bethlehem.

She writes, “I was very pleased with how the materials came out. I changed the cards, since doing the silhouettes would be simply repeating the wooden figures. So, I found online some masterpieces depicting the characters, had them printed on a matte paper in a nearby shop, and then glued them on 20x20cm cardboards. I loved Giotto di Bondone’s images which you used in The Mystery of Christmas! I used one of them, too. Since most of the art depicts the shepherds and wise men already adoring Christ, I didn’t want to bring it on the scene too early. So I had pictures of Mary and Joseph, the magi and shepherds on the way to Bethlehem, and on the other side put the adoration ones. I reversed them with the words ‘today ALL of us are in Bethlehem to meet the Christ child’.”

Asmic's alternative to the traditional Godly Play Advent cards.

“On the Tuesday before Christmas, we had the party for my son’s classmates. We had 6 first graders come and one brought his 4-year-old sister. Their moms got to stay too. The original plan was the story, the creative phase, and then tea & cakes. For the creative phase, I was going to have the kids draw their favourite character of the story and then make a nativity scene with all of them. I also wanted to challenge them to think of others in the season of waiting for presents from Ded Moroz (“Grandfather Frost”). So another option was to make a card for someone who they think needs some extra love now, including their teacher whose mother is badly ill.”

Well, as anyone who works with children knows, the best-laid of our plans have a way of changing depending on the mood of the children at that particular time.: ) Asmic writes further, “But telling the story turned into a real challenge. While waiting for everyone to come the kids played some crazy games that involved swords and shields, so it took a while to cool them off and sit down. I started off with a question about what they think Christmas is about. Most answers were that it’s a time for playing in the snow, sledding, skating and having fun, for the tree and presents, etc. One girl said it was the birth of Jesus Christ and was 'corrected' by the other - 'No, it’s Easter when Christ was born.' I showed them how to sit with their legs crossed, but still they stretched them and moved the materials. I explained we will have a special time to talk and ask questions later, but they kept asking me and wanting to tell me something. When I began lighting the candles, they wanted to turn off the light – and they did twice without asking me!”

The Advent figures cut by a friend and the children's blocks
that Asmic used to make a model of Bethlehem.

“The wondering phase turned into a wandering phase. I tried to ask some questions, but lost their attention. They were fascinated by the snuffer and I let each one of them snuff the candles for several times. It turned out to be the most exciting thing. Not wanting to force them to do anything more, I let them get back to play.”

Exactly the right thing to do! If the kids aren’t able to pay attention any longer, it’s useless to force them. The space, the type of storytelling, and the Christmas story itself were new to these children and no one can expect them to get it the first time. I’ve also learned that when we think children aren’t paying the least bit of attention, they still soak in all kinds of important things.

“The party itself was a good thing. The kids had a blast and the moms got some kind of a team-building experience. I LOVE these ladies and feel so blessed to be given such a gift of friendship!” Asmic concludes.

Implementing Godly Play and working with children are an amazing adventure! The thing I love the most about Asmic’s journey is that she is stepping out and doing it. She is not waiting for the perfect moment or all the right materials. And that is something that I want to encourage everyone with a vision for GP to do. We learn the most by simply doing. And God takes our baby steps and brings something beautiful from them.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Epiphany Ideas

This year for Epiphany my daughter and I will be on a plane travelling to see a sick family member, so I will probably not be able to try out any new ideas. But here are some ideas from last year's post just in case you are looking for inspiration:

Warm/Cool Color Epiphany Star

A classic Montessori exercise for training motor skills:
wrapping wooden blocks as "presents" for the Christ Child

And of course, telling the Godly Play enrichment story of Epiphany.
The children actually get to see gold, frankincense and myrrh!

Linked to Monday Madness at Let Kids Create and Art 4 Little Hands

Monday, January 2, 2012

Montessori Musings: Sound Cylinders/Geräuschdosen

Handmade set of 6 Sound Cylinders.
Handgemachtes Set von 6 Geräuschdosen.

We did a lot of baking during Advent this year and used a lot of cookie decorating sprinkles. Dr. Oetker, the German Betty Crocker, sells their sprinkles in plastic cylinders. Each time one of those cylinders was empty, I thought to myself, "What a waste to throw these away . . . I should make something out of them." But what? Wir haben während Advent oft gebacken und deswegen viel Gebackschmück gekauft. Bei Dr. Oetker gibt's das Zeug in netten Plastikdosen. Es tat mir immer Leid die Dosen einfach wegzuschmeissen, und ich habe mich gefragt, was ich aus ihnen machen könnten.

And then when pondering what sort of educational and age-appropriate gift to give a friend's two-year-old son, I had an idea. They'd be perfect for homemade Montessori sound cylinders. Sound cylinders are part of the standard Montessori Sensorial materials for preschoolers. They come in two colors and the child must figure out which two cylinders make the same sound. A cylinder from each color corresponds to one of the other color.  Als ich überlegte, was ich dem zweijährigen Sohn einer Freundin schenken könnte, das altersgerecht und pädagogisch sinnvoll wäre, habe ich plötzlich eine Idee bekommen. Sie wären perfekt für Montessori Geräuschdosen! Geräuschdosen gehören zu Sinnesmaterial in der Montessori Kindergartenpädagogik. Sie bestehen aus Dosen in zwei Farben. Das Kind muss die Geräusche unterscheiden und die entsprechenden Paare aussuchen. 

This is how the original cylinders looked.
Die Dosen von Dr. Oetker sahen so aus.

Step 1: Paint the insides of the cylinders. Mine took 2 days to dry.
Schritt 1: Male die Innenseite der Dosen. Meine haben 2 Tage gebraucht auszutrocknen.

Step 2: Fill with granular material. I used decorative gravel, polenta and glass beads.
Step 3: Glue the lids with a non-toxic glue.
Schritt 2: Fülle die Dosen mit fein- und grobkörnigem Material.
(Ich habe Maisgrieß, Kieselsteine und Glassteine benutzt.)
Schritt 3: Klebe die Deckel mit giftfreiem Bastelleim.

I also included a note explaining to our small friend's parents the purpose of the Sound Cylinders and for safety reasons to only let him play with them when they were in the room. (Just in case he somehow managed to get them open!) Ich habe auch Hinweise an den Eltern von dem Kleinen geschrieben und sie aus Sicherheitsgründen gebeten, dass er nur mir den Dosen in ihrer Gegenwart spielt. (In dem Fall, dass er die Deckel doch offen kriegen könnte!)

Our small friend received his gift on New Year's Eve and played with it on and off the whole evening happily comparing each sound to the others! Unser kleiner Freund hat sein Geschenk zu Sylvester bekommen und die Freude war groß!