Monday, February 27, 2012

Lent: Helping Children Identify with the Poor

Although my husband and I were both raised in the church, our family started observing Lent together only about three years ago, and we are still growing in our understanding of what it is all about. We became aware that identifying with the poor is an important aspect of Lent and this year we wanted to stretch ourselves a little more in that area.

Inspired by the book below which was written by an old college friend of my husband's, we began to think about how we might help our kids (and us!) become more aware and inclined to do something about the problem of poverty in our world.

Part of Lent is connecting with God's thoughts and heart in prayer first and then taking action. How could we as a family connect with God's compassion for the poor? My husband came up with a plan to pray for a specific part of the world each week of Lent and try to find meals from those areas, especially ones that poor people would eat. Although I thought his idea was brilliant, I was a bit concerned that the kids would get burned out if we ate bland meals everyday. In talking it over with my dear friend and mentor, Lyn, she helped hone our ideas into something pedagogically appropriate for our kids' ages. 

When I mentioned that we sponsored two children with World Vision, Lyn suggested that on Sundays, our feast days (where we are free from fasting), we should have an expensive meal from whatever part of the world we are praying for. Then, on Monday evening, we would eat the poor person's meal. Next, we calculate the costs of both meal and the money saved on the poor person's meal would then be collected to give as an extra gift to the children that we sponsor. 

The jar with pictures of the two children we sponsor through World Vision, 
where we will collect the monetary gift for them.

This week, we begin with a continent close to our hearts, Africa. Last night, we ate "Djaba Dji", a chicken and vegetable stew from Mali. (This is a recipe from one of our all-time favorite books, I Lost my Tooth in Africa.) Afterwards, we talked about specific people that we know in Africa and what we could pray for them. My children then prayed some really touching prayers. My daughter, who usually doesn't like to pray out loud, surprised me by praying very thoughtful things for her friends Fiona and Rebecca, who live in Uganda. My son prayed, "Lord, please make me a super hero when I grow up so that I can help the poor." In my book, he's already a super hero! But just in case you think he's a saint, this is the same kid that burst into tears on Ash Wednesday because he already missed meat.: )

Tonight, we ate plain polenta (to mimic "pap", the corn mush eaten in many African countries) and beans (our staple on our trip to Uganda). Although the kids were less than thrilled with it, they ate it and understood why we were eating it. We then calculated that there was a 10 Euro difference in the meal, so we put that amount in the jar for the children we sponsor. 

And then we prayed for  children in Africa to have good medical care. To avoid this being too abstract, I explained that many African children didn't have a "Frau Dr. Märker", my kids' beloved pediatrician. I also used an example of a time they were both really sick to ask what would have happened if we had had no medicine.

An inspiring passage from Isaiah 58 says:

"Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice 
and untie the cords of the yoke, 
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?"

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - 
when you see the naked to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard."

Though fasting is difficult, I am motivated to do it when I hear God saying that he will loosen the chains of injustice and untie the cords of oppression. And I hope that my children will grow up understanding why we fast at Lent instead of dreading it!

This post was written as a part of the Celebrating Lent Link-Up from this blog, Explore and Express, and Wonderful in an Easter Kind of Way!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lenten Nature Table 2012

We just finished putting up our nature table to begin our Lenten journey in 2012. While there are some  familiar elements from last year, we've added a few new things as well. These symbols of our faith are powerful reminders that we are on a special journey with God during Lent.  We set aside more time to draw closer in relationship with our Creator, to allow him to change us, and allow him to prompt change in the world through us.

Below is our Christ Candle surrounded by the things we are finding in our park as of late. I love having the Christ Candle in our kitchen where so much real life takes place. We eat, talk, do homework, art and have breakdowns in that room. The Christ Candle is a gentle reminder that God is always there with me, no matter what our day may turn into. The leaves are from an evergreen bush much like holly and the berries are signs of life that show the winter is thawing. The red berries are called "Hagebutte" in German and they are often used to make tea. The white berries we call "Knallbeeren"("crack" berries), because they make a fun sound when you step on them.: ) And the dark berries we call "Vogelbeeren" (bird berries), because the birds love to eat them.

Four figures in the desert, one for each member of our family. This year, I let each person pick out their own figures. You can probably guess which ones are my son and daughter. A bowl of water reminds of God's power to cleanse and renew. It also reminds us of our baptism. And since our children have not yet been baptized, it reminds us to talk with them about what it is all about.

The puzzle pieces are from the Godly Play story, The Mystery of Easter. This is a brilliant story that helps children (and adults!) understand why we need six weeks of preparation to celebrate with God at Easter. In it, the storyteller and children put together a puzzle that is a cross. Since I couldn't fit my wooden cross puzzle on the window sill, I had the idea from  So Many Joys to make one out of felt.

The puzzle pieces become this . . . 

and then this . . .

The two colors represent both the deep sadness of the Crucifixion and pure joy of the Resurrection that we experience at Easter.

I couldn't resist picking up a yellow crocus to put on the table. These beautiful flowers are the heralds announcing that we are in a transition and that change is about to come. Also, our jar with the pictures of  the children we sponsor through World Vision. (More about that in an upcoming post!)

And on the kitchen table, we have a single pillar candle and a prayer pot that the children made last year. Over the next six weeks, we will put objects in it that go with specific prayers that will lead us up to Easter.

May you be blessed on your Lenten journey!

This post is linked to the 
Celebrating Lent Link-Up Party 

and The Magic Onions

and Catholic Icing

and Crafty Moms Share and Mama Mia's Heart 2 Heart

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Celebrating Lent Link-Up!

I am so excited to announce that Storyteller from Wonderful in an Easter kind of Way and I are co-hosting a new link party: 
Celebrating Lent!

Lenten Nature Table from last year

Godly Play story, The Mystery of Easter
For the entire six weeks of Lent, we are inviting any of you with Lenten-themed or Preparing for Easter posts that fit the following categories to share your ideas with us: 
  • story-based religious activities 
  • art projects 
  • Montessori activities
  • nature-based projects
Please enter your submissions below. All we ask is that you kindly link back to both of our blogs, Explore and Express and Wonderful in an Easter Kind of Way. We will be re-posting each week on Wednesday!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Winter as a Spiritual Season

If you live in a colder climate, the dark, overcast days of winter can wear on a person physically and emotionally after a while. It is easy to get down and negative and our children pick up on this quickly. In the natural world we know that winter allows the soil to rest and replenish. It also gives foliage a way to rid itself of old growth in order to make room for the new growth that comes in the spring. These natural processes of death and new birth carry over into our spiritual lives as well. How and what we communicate to our children about the natural season of winter can impact their ability to weather the spiritual "winters" that come in their later years.

Snow can be magical.
Children begin to understand metaphors and put metaphorical meanings to words like "hot" and "cold" around the ages of 7 or 8. The cognitive experiences and knowledge that the child has gathered and will continue to gather are transformed into symbols that contribute to the development of abstract thinking that Piaget called the "formal operational stage". Thus, the ideas and opinions that children are exposed to about the natural world (including winter) help to shape their view of these things as positive or negative and these things take on metaphorical meanings in the child's later years. 

So what does this have to do with winter, faith and spirituality? (Where is she going with this blog post anyway??!!) God crafted the natural world to be a reflection of his character. Indeed, the Bible is full of pictures and metaphors about the seasons, and our lives have a natural rhythm, an ebb and flow to them, that is from our Creator.

Psalm 74: 17 says, "You have made both the summer and the winter."  As adults, sometimes it is spring or summer in our lives and we feel alive with new ideas and boundless energy. And sometimes it is winter. And sometimes it lasts a long time. We feel that parts of us are dying. We can't go on doing the same things and we need to rest. The "spiritual winter" seeks to give us rest, let things that need to die do so, and offers the hope of new growth. If we slow down and let it do its job, then winter becomes something that we can treasure and not just make it through. 

Learning to ice skate on a frozen pond. 
In shepherding the spiritual development of children, we can take care to pass on the beauty of winter to them. When we do enjoyable things with them in this season -  telling stories, doing experiments and making art projects - we reinforce the truth that what God has created is good and useful. Even when it's hard at times. (It's also okay to be honest and let our kids know that the winter can be long and hard as long as we communicate the positive side, too.) Helping kids to see the natural season of winter in its many facets can then in the long run help them weather the spiritual one as well.

Feeding the birds

And then we pray and believe that God will communicate to our children as he has done for countless generations that all of the seasons on this earth are meant for good as well as all of the seasons of life.

My Top 10 Fun Things to do in Winter:

1. Explore the forest and see how many colors we can find.
2. Build a fort in the forest.
3. Hang home-made bird feeders.
4. Ice Skate!
5. Make a snuggle corner for reading books and drinking hot chocolate.
6. Winter arts and crafts (cutting snowflakes or making ice ornaments).
7. Science experiments with ice
8. Sledding!
9. Tell / read / make up winter fairy tales.
10. Learn about what animals do in winter and about arctic animals.

P.S. And if you live in a crazy hot climate like Texas, then you have a whole other reason to teach your kids about the beauty of winter, because it is the only time of year that you can actually enjoy being outside!

How do you make winter into a positive experience for your children?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Die Kirchenuhr / How the Church Tells Time

Am Sonntag haben wir die Godly Play Geschichte, "Die Kirchenuhr", gehört. Diese Geschichte ist eine liturgische Handlung über das Kirchenjahr. Die Zeit wird durch Farben statt Zahlen erklärt. Das war mein erstes Mal diese Geschichte überhaupt zu erzählen und es hat mir sehr viel Spass gemacht. Ich war wie ein Kind mit einem neuen Spielzeug.: ) On Sunday we heard the Godly Play story called "How the Church Tells Time". This is a liturgical story in which the church calender is explained through colors rather than dates. It was my first time to tell this story and I was like a kid in a candy store!

Mir gefällt's in dieser Geschichte, dass das Kirchenjahr nicht als Kalendarium von Heiligen Tagen behandelt wird, sondern als ein natürlicher Rhythmus, der einem hilft sich an die große Geheimnisses Gottes zu nähern. Ein Rhythmus, wo jeder Anfang ein Ende ist und jedes Ende ist wieder ein Anfang. I like that the church year in this story is presented not as a list of months and Holy Days, but rather as a natural rhythm that moves us between times of preparation and times of entering into the great mysteries of God. It is a rhythm where each 'beginning' is an 'end' of sorts and each 'end' is a new 'beginning'.

Bei der Vorbereitung von der Geschichte musste ich ein paar Änderungen machen. Die deutsche Version der Geschichte ist für ein Kreis-Kästchen aus Holz geschrieben, wo man die Farbwürfeln herausnimmt und wieder mit den Kindern zusammenlegt. Eine tolle Idee, aber das Holz-Material für diese Geschichte ist ziemlich teuer und ich hatte mich für den Filzvariant schon entschieden. Also, ich musste dann ein großer Teil der Geschichte streichen und dann den Rest zusammenbasteln. In preparing to tell the story, I had to make a few edits. The German version is written for use with wooden church year that has colored blocks. The blocks are removed early on in the story and the storyteller is supposed to put them back in with the kids. It's a great idea, but since the wooden materials are way out of my price range, I had already bought the felt version. So I had to leave out a large section of the story and piece the important things back together. 

Die Kinder waren meistens aufmerksam. Die Kleineren waren am Ende bisschen müde. Vermutlich gab es nicht genug Action für sie. Immer als ich auf Pfingsten gezeigt habe, hab ich "Autsch!" gesagt und getan, als ob der rote Würfel wirklich heiss wäre. Sie fanden dies lustig. The kids were attentive for the most part. The younger ones got a little restless towards the end, probably because there is not as much action in this story. Whenever I touched the red block for Pentecost, I pretended to burn my finger and said, "Ouch!" This got a great reaction out of the kids.

Das Ergründungsgespräch ("Wondering") war auch interessant. Ich habe die Fragen gestellt: Welche von den Farben magst du am liebsten? Welche ist wohl die wichtigste? Was meinst du, warum erzählt die Kirche von der Zeit mit Farben? Die Kinder hatten starke Meinungen darüber, welche Farbe die wichtigste sei. Ein Kind meinte, "weiss", weil es mit Weihnachten und Ostern zu tun hat. Ein anderes Kind meinte "grün", weil sein Geburtstag in der grünen, wachsenden Zeit ist. Our "Wondering" was also interesting. I asked the questions: Which of these colors is your favorite? Which one is the most important? Why do you think the church tells time in colors? The kids had the strongest opinions about which color was the most important. One child said that white was the most important, because it was the color of Christmas and Easter. Another child said green, because his birthday was in the green, growing season.

In der Kreativphase haben alle gemalt. Mein Godly Play Zimmer war diesmal unser Wohnzimmer, sodass ich konnte nur das Material für diese Geschichte zur Verfügung aufstellen und dann Buntstifte und Wachsstifte fürs Malen. Den Kindern hat's nicht gestört und alle haben friedlich gemalt. Ein Kind hat einen Vogel gemalt. Als ich nachgefragt habe, meinte er, dass der Vogel ihn an den Heilgen Geist errinert und er dachte an den Heiligen Geist, da wir über Pfingsten geredet haben. Ein anderes Kind malte 2 Prinzessinen und meinte, "Eine ist gut und die andere ist böse." Warum ist die 2-te böse? "Weil sie nicht auf ihre Eltern zuhört, " sagte es. Ich dachte in dem Moment an Paulus im Römerbrief, wo er über den Streit, den wir alle mit dem eigenen Willen führen, geschrieben hat. During our creative time, everyone decided to draw. My Godly Play room this time was my living room, so I only had the material for this story out and then some crayons and colored pencils to draw with. This didn't seem to bother the kids. One child drew a bird and when I asked more about this, he said that he drew it because he was thinking about the Holy Spirit. And he started thinking about the Holy Spirit, because we had spoken of Pentecost. Another child drew a picture of 2 princesses and told me that "one is good and the other is bad". "Why is this princess bad?" I asked. "Because she doesn't listen to her parents." At that moment I thought of the Apostle Paul's writings in Romans 7:15 about the struggle that we all have with our own will.

Es war eine schöne Zeit zusammen und ich bin dankbar dafür! Ich dachte nachher, ich habe den schönsten Beruf der Welt: mit kleinen Gruppen von Kindern über Gott und die Welt zu reden, Geschichten zu erzählen und kreativ zu sein. It was a great morning together and I was thankful for it! I thought afterwards, I have the greatest job in the world working with small groups of children, talking about God and the world, telling stories and being creative. What more could I ask for?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's Day at our House

I have wonderful memories of Valentine's Day as a child and I try to pass this on to my children even though Valentine's Day is not really celebrated in our part of Germany. We have a few simple traditions that we began when my oldest was very little and continue year after year. 

A little Valentine's ambience.

The day before Valentine's Day, we bake jam-filled Double Thumbprint Cookies (a Martha Stewart recipe that I found years ago). This is great fun for kids, because you roll the dough into two little balls, press them with your thumbs, and make a pointed end to form a heart. After baking, you then fill them with your favorite preserves. This year, we had lemon curd and sour cherry jam on hand! We make enough cookies for us and each of our kids' classes. (The teachers have started looking forward to us bringing something every year!)

Martha's original recipe torn out and
faithfully preserved in my Valentine's folder.
Our cookies never look quite as pristine as hers,
but we probably have more fun!

Then, on Valentine's Day, we make a special "red" meal together. The staple is always spaghetti with meatballs with sides of red peppers or strawberries or whatever we find that is red. A special red drink of cranberry juice in a sugar-coated rim with a lime slice tops it all off.  I found these ideas in Family Fun magazine when my son was about a year old and they have been a hit ever since. The meal has gotten more fun over the years, because the kids can now help with it. Last year, my son decided we should make heart-shaped meatballs using a cookie cutter, and this year, he took on the job all by himself. 

Our faux Valentine's margarita.
The Family Fun article said, " . . . with this drink,
your kids will feel like a million dollars."
It's true, they do.

Heart-shaped meatballs . . . leave it to my pint-sized
creative genius to think of that one.

"Hurry up, Mom, and take the picture!"

After dinner, we usually read the story of St. Valentine and  1 Corinthians 13 together and talk a bit about what true love and friendship look like. 

I was initially overwhelmed thinking about what traditions to pass on to my children, but I have found that a few simple things like these year after year make a lasting impression. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

We have a Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations, Rahelli
you have the won the 
Montessori Training Giveaway! 

With the not-so-high-tech help of my daughter, 
your name has just been drawn from the hat! 

Rahelli wrote: "Hab grad in der letzten Woche darüber nachgedacht, ob ich nicht einen Montessori Kurs machen sollte und dann les ich deinen Eintrag:) Würd mich freuen, wenn deine Tochter mich zieht." (Translation: I was just thinking last week that I should take a Montessori course and then I read your blog post. It would make me happy if your daughter drew my name.)

I hope that you enjoy Karen's course as much as I have! I will e-mail you Karen's contact information as soon as possible.

Thanks to everyone who entered! And for those of you who didn't win, I would still encourage you to look into Karen's course. She has several different payment plans, among others to pay $150 up front for the entire course. You won't find a deal like that anywhere else! Click here for more information.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I am a storyteller. I just didn't know it for many years. I was under the mistaken impression for a long time that you had to be born knowing how to do certain things or be passionate about them from an early age. But I have learned that many things in life just have to grow.

I have always loved stories. Books were my best friends as a kid, and my best memories of my parents are when they read or told bedtime stories to me. My father, in particular, was a great storyteller, and now tells my kids stories about all kinds of things when they visit. And when I look back on my own childhood faith and spiritual development, my happiest memories are of the Bible stories that were told me with flannelgraph figures at church. I was riveted by tales of people like Moses, Deborah and the Apostle Paul. I never tired of hearing about Jesus feeding the 5,000 or his meeting with Zaccheus. Sometime after the third grade, the stories stopped and our Sunday School lessons became "topical" in nature.  I became bored with them, and in hindsight, I became bored with God. For many years afterward, "God" in my childhood understanding was a set of rules rather than a Person within whose grand story I was living. (Please understand me, I am not placing blame on the "topical" lessons, but somehow they did not help my particular spiritual style further develop.)

I fell in love with Godly Play, because it was a form of storytelling that brought faith in God to life for children. It helped me see the familiar stories in a new way each time I told them and helped me to explain them to children in a way that honored their own exploration process. 

But the idea of telling spontaneous stories always scared the pants off of me. When my kids were small, I started to hear, "Will you tell me a story?" on a regular basis. Even after I had just read several books. For a long time, I was afraid to even try. I would get tongue-tied. I was afraid of failing or disappointing them. But when my son was going through a particularly difficult time, he begged for stories and I began to try. Since he was into dinosaurs and the Corythosaurus (how many adults even know this dinosaur??!!) was his favorite, I made up silly stories about the Corythosaurus family whose adventures paralleled our own. There was a Mom, Dad, Big Brother and Little Sister Corythosaurus who were often running from T-rexes and always got saved by Bob the Pterodactyl's father who swooped down to save them in the nick of time. These stories led to ones for my daughter about "the littlest matryoshka" who is always getting lost and then found, and a little fairy who shoots fire out of her wings and feet when she gets mad and accidentally sets the house on fire. (That paralleled some of my daughter's temper tantrums!)

Little by little, my courage and talent in telling stories has grown. Stories of all kinds.  I recently read a wonderful book called Storytelling with Children by Nancy Mellon that has encouraged me even more. (If you read my quote of the week on Sunday, you may have guessed what one of my posts would be about this week!)

There were many valuable things that I read in this book. One is that most everyone is afraid to tell stories at first!! Whether you are doing scripted ones like in Godly Play, telling a fairy tale or making up a story spontaneously, it takes practice. But the more you do it, the more your confidence rises and the more fun it gets. Hence the quote on Sunday, about not giving up! 

Nancy Mellon has so many wonderful ideas for stories and suggestions of how to start. She talks about the importance of telling children stories from your own childhood, because it helps your children to form a sense of identity. She writes that even if your childhood wasn't happy, there are still things that you can see anew through a child's eyes and tell stories about. I grew up in suburbia and never thought there was anything very interesting about my childhood. But spurred on by this encouragement, I have come across some simple memories that do indeed make good stories. 

In Storytelling for Children, there are good suggestions for creating stories from memories and everyday experiences or how to create stories to help a child through difficult situations like illness or death. There are also ideas about how to use props or incorporate songs and finger games. While I really loved this book, there are times when Mellon's opinions get a bit too esoteric for me. But if  you can "swallow the gnats and spit out the camels", so to speak, I highly recommend it.

Since the beginning of the year, I've found myself telling more stories (rather than reading them) to the children in my English classes as I have been reading this book. The oral stories sharpen the children's listening skills and their expressions as they listen are treasures that I will keep with me as long as I live. And it gets easier the more I do it. 

I am also gaining more confidence in telling my children unscripted Bible stories.  There is not, for example, a Godly Play story about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and this is my daughter's favorite Bible story that she has been asking for lately. So I am working on props to tell it very soon in children's church. 

I also have a story that I have been working on about my children's experiences in Uganda. I dream about finishing it someday, having it published, and giving any proceeds from it to the children of the family that we spent so much time with there.  

How has storytelling with the children in your life developed? Did it come naturally or was it something that you had to work at?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Winterwald / Winter Forest

Während der Winterferien von der Schule machten wir einen Ausflug in dem beliebten Grünewald. Ich gehe gern zu jeder Jahreszeit in den selben Ort hin, damit die Kinder den Vergleich haben, wie anders der Wald aussehen kann.  During the winter holidays from school, we visited our favorite forest, the Grünewald. I love going to this same place in each season so that the kids really notice the differences in the way the forest looks. 

Wir üben für den Zirkus!
Practicing our balancing act. 

Die Waldfeen bräuchten ein Häuschen . . .
The fairies needed a house . . . 

Und wir auch . . .
And so did we . . . 

Zum Glück gab's unheimlich viel Äste am Boden.
Fortunately, there were lots of branches lying around!

Und Voila, unser Häuschen! Wenn es ein Sturm gäbe,
weiss ich nicht . . . aber es hat Spass gemacht.

 And voila, our little house!
I'm not so sure how it would stand up
to the Big, Bad Wolf, but it sure was fun.

Und mit Leckerei für die Vogel ist alles perfekt geworden.
The final touch: adding a bird feeder.

Beim Spielen auf einem erfrorenen Teich.
Es hat uns inspiriert am nächsten Tag
Schlittschuhlaufen zu fahren.

Playing on a frozen pond.
This inspired us to go ice skating the day after!

Versteck in Sumpfplanzen.
Hide-and-seek among the pond foliage.

Die beliebte Kiesgrube.
Auch der Sand ist im Winter ganz anders.

Our beloved Kiesgrube ("Sand pit").
Even the sand has a different texture in winter.

Drei Stunden in der Kälte macht hungrig! Wir haben uns danach über die deutsche Küche gefreut: Schnitzel, Königsberger Klopse, und gebratene Ente mit Rotkohl.: )
After three hours in the cold we were starving!  Fortunately, there was a restaurant 
just outside of the forest with some of our favorite winter dishes: Schnitzel, Königsberger Klopse (meatballs in a cream sauce with capers on top of mashed potatoes) and baked duck with red cabbage. Gotta love living in Germany on days like this!

linked to The Magic Onions

Monday, February 6, 2012

Montessori Musings: DIY Moveable Alphabet

The moveable alphabet is one of my favorite Montessori materials and one that I use the most both in my English classes and with my own children. I have a really nice wooden one purchased from a German company for 90 Euros that I use at school:

However, I have been wanting a second one for use at home with my children for after-school activities. Without a car, it quickly got old carrying the big one to and from school.  I've seen some really great ideas on the internet (see this post from Living Montessori Now and this one from What did we do all day?), and decided to give a DIY a try.  It turned out to be an adventure!

First, I purchased these wooden craft letters called "Woodsies" that cost around $10. I chose them because there was a label on the package that told how many of each letter were supposed to inside.  I say "supposed to be", because in reality the letters G, Q and X were completely missing!  I was a little mad about that and had to make the missing letters out of stiff cardboard. For that reason, I would not recommend this particular brand of wooden letters.

I then painted the consonants red and the vowels blue according to standard Montessori procedure. There were also some numbers included, so I painted them green, since the sandpaper Montessori numbers are always on green boards.

For the case, I purchased this box with 32 compartments for about 5 Euros on Amazon. The measurements of the compartments were not included in the description, so I just crossed my fingers that the letters would fit in. They did! Definitely worth the money!

This project took a lot of time and effort, but it did save me about 70 Euros, which made it worth it. The missing wooden letters were particularly frustrating! But my daughter really loves the smaller moveable alphabet, because she can find the letters easier. And I can easily stick it in my backpack as a second moveable alphabet for my classroom on the days that I need it.

linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Inspiration for the Week

"As a parent or grandparent, you have an innate right to be a storyteller. Don't give up! As you practice, the stories and children will give you more and more confidence."

- Nancy Mellon in Storytelling with Children

Just wanted to remind you about the Montessori Training Giveaway to be announced on Feb. 12!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Godly Play: St. Thomas Aquinas

January 28 was the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas and I told the children his story on this quiet Saturday afternoon. I have to admit that I fell in love with this story of the saint who "thought for God". In this story, we learned that Thomas had many questions about God and wrote pages and pages about God and his two favorite kinds of books, the Bible and those by Aristotle.  But in the end, he found that the most important things about God were beyond words and could only be expressed in being close to God.

Our materials for the story of St. Thomas Aquinas

For the story, we needed:
- a St. Thomas figure
- two felt books to represent the Bible and the works of Aristotle
- a wooden ox, because Thomas was called "the silent ox"
- a map of Italy to show where Thomas was from (a piece from a Europe puzzle)
- a bit of straw, because Thomas felt at the end of his life that all he had written was like straw in comparison to being close to God

My 6-year-old daughter, who was so eager to play with the materials as I was making them, said she did not really like the story. (In fact, she is still playing with them as I have added them to our Candlemas Winter nature table.) My 8-year-old son, who was not so impressed by the materials, found the story riveting.  I'm not entirely sure if the different reactions were due to age or personality or a combination of both.

Our Wondering phase was fairly quiet until I mentioned that the part of the story that told something about me was that Thomas loved books (just like me!). My son suddenly became attentive again and exclaimed, "I like books, too!" Then, my daughter started examining the felt books and asked if she could draw in them. When I explained that we might need them to tell the story again, she asked if she could make her own book. Since I had some extra felt in a closet, I thought, "Why not?" and pulled out the materials for her.  Then, my son decided that he wanted to make one as well.  They made the two books pictured below, cutting the felt themselves and binding the paper with a needle and thread. The red one is my daughter's and the black/green one is my son's. 

The felt books that my children made during the Creative Phase.

My daughter drew detailed pictures of Mickey Mouse in hers (which is, of course, just fine).  Expecting my son to draw super heroes in his, he shocked me by writing out The Lord's Prayer in English in his book. (He knows this prayer much better in German and usually only wants to say it in that language.) Then, he drew a "map of heaven" as he has been trying a lot lately to picture what heaven might be like. Then, he drew detailed sketches of the human body including the outer layer and then the internal organs. And when we visited the Berlin Aquarium on Monday, he insisted on taking the book with him to make sketches of the fish. 

A peek inside their felt books.
(I asked their permission to take this picture!)

So suffice it to say that our Creative Phase turned out much differently than I had expected or could have planned. But then again, that is one of my greatest joys in working with children: you never know what they are going to do next!

I will always treasure this story of St. Thomas Aquinas, because of what we learn from his relationship with God and for how my children have perceived and experienced it. 

linked to Catholic Icing