Monday, October 29, 2012

Art Project: Linocuts with Kids

I've always been fascinated by printmaking and have tried many simpler forms of it in children's art projects. However, I had never tried linocuts before, so I was thrilled when two of his friends gave him a homemade linocut set for his 9th birthday. (Their moms helped put it together, one of whom is an art teacher at our school, and the other is the  artist, Stephanie Jünemann.)  

Linocuts require specific tools. Here you can see a roller, a set of cutting tools, two tubes of paint and sheets of linoleum. 

Here is a closer look at the cutting tools outside of the box.

Linocuts are a wonderful projects, but not for faint-hearted parents, because they involve lots of potentially messy paint and small knives.: ) But the results are stunningly beautiful and the children hone their fine motor skills through the intricate work. 

First, my son made a sketch on his linoleum plate. 

Then, he began to carve out the areas on that he wanted to remain white. A simple lesson on positive and negative space beforehand is a good idea if your child is not familiar with this. (There are some good lessons in Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes, and here is a fantastic one on the net by Kathy at Art Projects for Kids.)

After cutting a bit, my son made a test print to make sure that he was on the right track. This is to make sure that the cuts are deep enough and that the right spaces are showing up as white.

After examining what he should do next from the test print, he went on cutting.

Voila, here is the final print! Our current family read-aloud is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and this is my son's depiction of what he imagined Gollum to look like, before he had seen any pictures of him in books or film trailers.

My six-year-old daughter then gave it a try as well. Since both of my kids regularly use knives at home to help with dinner, I don't worry too much when they use sharp tools like these. Nevertheless, she did cut her finger once. Nothing that a band-aid can't handle!

As you can see below, her monochromatic of a princess in front of a castle is equally as striking.

So, if you are looking for a special project for your budding artist, consider a linocut set! And if you have your own linocut links, please leave them in the comments.

Linked to Waldorf Wednesday at Seasons of Joy

and Kids Get Crafty! at Red Ted Art

and Friday's Nature Table at The Magic Onions

and Grünzeug (We Love Green Stuff!) at Naturkinder

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Cycles of Growing as a Godly Play Teacher

I am currently re-reading Teaching Godly Play: How to Mentor the Spiritual Development of Children by Jerome Berryman. The first time I read it was after I had been teaching GP for about two years. I read it, but hurried through some parts that did not seem that relevant to me at the time. Now I am going back to "digest" a few things. 

One of those things is the personal growth of a Godly Play teacher. The last few GP gatherings that I have been to have put an emphasis on this topic, so I am trying to listen with fresh ears and reflect on my own growth and how to keep developing it.

Berryman writes about three year cycles in the growth process. Now that I have been through one of these cycles, his words resonate with me a lot more. (This is also one important reason why a requirement to train to be a GP Trainer is a minimum of three years' experience.) 

 "The first year of a teacher's growth cycle feels somewhat awkward and mechanical, because one is thinking and trying to remember so much . . . One is not yet fluent."

I stumbled upon Godly Play almost by accident. I ordered the first two curriculum guides in German and set out with my friend Galina to try and figure out what to do. While we in general liked the philosophy and the stories, we were completely bewildered by some aspects of the stories. Why in the world would you ask the children to name the bird in the Parable of the Mustard Seed? (What a silly thing to do!) And why would you ask the kids what they would leave out in a story? (Are we saying that certain parts of the Bible aren't important?!!?)

Then, a friend suggested that I try to find another church in Berlin that was also doing Godly Play to find out more. Lucky for me, there was a "Kennenlernen Tag" (Get-to-know GP Day) three weeks later in Berlin. There I saw an experienced storyteller, Ulrike, who would be my future trainer, tell a story from each genre. And I was hooked. 

Thus began a long process of learning stories, experimenting, and making materials. Three months later, I spent a lot of money and a whole week doing the Basic GP Training. (In the States and England, it is a 3-day course, but in Germany it is a week long course.)

"The second year things flow better . . . a teacher's confidence grows. There is enough experience to do Godly Play better, but not enough experience to realize how much more there is to learn."

Boy, does that ever sound like me. I started the blog at the beginning of the second year and I cringe at some of the things I wrote back then.: )  But I don't delete them, because that is part of the journey. At that point, I thought that I really knew a lot about Godly Play and children. I know that I at times probably even sounded a bit arrogant with friends and co-workers about what I knew. I also only had a vague understanding of children's spirituality at the time, and how it might be different from adult spirituality. 

"In the third year of the cycle, confidence about mastery begins to evaporate, because teachers realize how much more they need to know to be really good at this art."

By the third year, I had told a lot of Godly Play stories, but began to see that there were many details that I didn't know. (Do you continually focus on the board in "Faces of Easter", even when the part of the story you are telling isn't in the picture? Or is it okay to glance at the children every now and then?) This sort of thing became particularly evident to me when I was in Belarus last April. People there had lots of questions that I wasn't entirely sure how to answer. 

I also realized that it was important it was to have a solid background in  children's spirituality. I began to read more literature from theologians and researchers in this area. Better than that, I started to listen to the children in a different way than I had before.

"The fourth year a teacher begins again and as a conscious effort is made to get better, awkwardness again intrudes. Teachers also realize that this time a new cycle and real growth is taking place  . . . Each three-year cycle adds to ones wisdom not only about teaching but about ourselves as well."

September marked the beginning of my fourth year.  I am very eager to learn more and allow myself to be stretched in new ways. I think it also a season of allowing God to work on my inner life as well. We'll see what happens next!

What about you?  Have you found this cycle to be true in your experience as well?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Two Years Old!

That's right, Explore and Express is two years old today! When I began writing this blog, I had no idea how many new friends that I would make or how much that I would learn through blogging. 

I also had no idea that so many people would read these thoughts! I came up with the name "Explore and Express", because I love doing those two things and love helping other people do them, too.

So thank you, dear readers, for helping me to explore new themes and express myself! I am truly thankful that you are on this journey with me. 

Many thanks as well to Living Montessori NowThe Magic OnionsWonderful in an Easter Kind of Way, Catholic Icing, Frontier Dreams and Seasons of Joy for generously providing avenues for my posts to get read. I love all of your blogs and enjoying reading the things you write! 

I'm looking forward to sharing many more thoughts and ideas with you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Godly Play 101: Creative Phase (Response Time)

Welcome to Godly Play 101, where we discuss the basic elements of Godly Play! (For my non-North American readers, "101" is the course number for introductory level courses on any subject at university.) Today's topic is the "creative phase" (what we call it in German), also known as the "response time" or "work period". It is a time of creative play with God and each other, where the children have a chance to respond to what they have heard or whatever happens to be on their hearts and minds.

The creative phase follows the presentation of the story and the Wondering time.  The storyteller will then ask each child individually, "I wonder what work you would like to do today?" Each child then has the chance to choose between the different story materials in the room and art materials to work with. Here, to quote the film "Was ist Godly Play?", the roots of Montessori education are most evident. The story and art materials are all carefully chosen to aid the child in expressing his or her spiritual thoughts and experiences. Since children begin life as non-verbal beings, they often lack the  linguistic skills needed to formulate their thoughts and experiences into sentences. It is easier for them to  explore and express in playful, non-verbal ways. And through this play, they develop a verbal language to express what is inside. Jerome Berryman, the developer of Godly Play, describes the response time as "deep and personal play" where learn "how to use the Christian language system to cope with the limits of our being and knowing". (For more on these existential limits, see this post.)

As with the Wondering, there is no "right" or "wrong" play during the creative phase. Because children "be" with God in entirely different ways than adults, many times their play may not make sense to the adults around them. In my experience, they do not usually immediately respond to the story they just heard, but rather to something they heard several weeks earlier. Three-year-olds have astounded me at their ability to return to a biblical story that they heard several weeks before.

Many times children draw or play something from their everyday life. Children are often much more holistic in this aspect than adults. For them, everything is spiritual and they don't categorize certain topics as being worthy of church or Sunday. So if a child draws dinosaurs for several weeks, that is just as holy in Godly Play as drawing something direct from the story. After all, are we not called to share our whole lives with God?

It is important to provide a variety of story materials and quality art supplies. If your church has a room to see up as a Godly Play room (see this post for more), then the children are able to have a large selection of things to work with. However, many of us doing Godly Play, including me, do not have a room and transport our materials. Obviously, it is not possible to transport the materials for all 90+ stories and not necessary. One can provide the children with a smaller selection (see this post) and still have everything we need for Godly Play. Most important is that the materials are well-made and aesthetically pleasing and that the art supplies are of good quality. (No cheap crayons that cramp the fingers or markers that run out of ink.)

Most often the art materials are on "shelves" . . .
But with larger groups of children, I make stations
on tables. The most important thing is that the
children can get to the supplies without help from
an adult.
Usually, the storyteller will sit near the story materials and interact with the children if the children invite the interaction. Sometimes the children want me to know what the materials for a certain story are and ask me. Sometimes they pull a story off the shelf and want to tell it to me.

The co-teacher in the room assists the children working with the art supplies. When a child has finished a work of art, the co-teacher can help in the language development department by asking simple questions or making observations about the child's work. Please don't ask, "What is this?" This can put a child under pressure to make a "perfect" piece, or the child may not know how to explain what "it" may be. Instead, questions like "Is there anything you would like to tell me about your work?" and then honoring the child's answer or his silence if he doesn't want to talk. Also, we can make observations like "I see that you have drawn a lot of circles" or "There is a lot of blue in your picture" and then wait for a response. This can help the child to open up and express his thoughts verbally.

At first glance, it is difficult to make sense of this picture,
made by a 4-year-old artist who had just heard the Pentecost story.
When questioned, she was more than happy to talk about it,
and explained that the black paint strokes
were the "rushing wind" from the story.
Although not officially a part of the Godly Play curriculum, if you have a basic understanding of Montessori education, you can include practical life exercises for preschool children. (For a great discussion on this, see this post from Leslie at Thoughts from the Sheepfold.)

This is a practical life activity that I made last spring in which
the child strings bug buttons on a pipe cleaner. It's a
great exercise for strengthening developing hand muscles
and training fine motor skills.
Embedded within this play are opportunities for social growth as well.The children may work alone or in small groups. If a child has something and another child wants to play, too, then the second child must ask the first if he can play, too. There is intentionally not enough of each type of material for each child in the room in order to create real-life opportunities for the children to learn what to do when there is not enough of something. Should they share? Should they take turns?

Taking care of the environment is also emphasized by having the children clean up the space together before the feast.

The creative phase was what first drew me to Godly Play. I love the freedom of choice and movement that the children have, and I love that I learn with them. Many times a child's artistic or playful response has caused me to think about my faith in a different way.

If you have any thoughts about the response time from your own experiences, please tell me about them in the comments!

Here are some other posts in the Godly Play 101 series:

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

Friday, October 19, 2012

Autumn Thoughts and Fun

Autumn is a season of transition, both physically and spiritually. Children sense this intuitively. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks of this in his poem Spring and Fall: To a Young Child. For most of us, transition is not an easy place to be, but in autumn we see that great beauty can found in change. Some children have a particularly hard time with change and the seasons are one great tool that God has given us to help them. 

I love to help children explore these themes by giving them as many hands-on experiences with autumn as possible. When we start seeing round, shiny chestnuts on the ground, and figs, pumpkins, and squash at the market, we know that autumn has arrived.

The other night, we went to the park near our home and gathered leaves and chestnuts to see what we could make out of them. I  then made this leaf crown for my daughter, which we learned to make last year. (You can find my tutorial here.) 

Every child in Germany learns to craft with the shiny chestnuts that are found everywhere. In the picture below, my son is using a "chestnut drill" to bore a hole into a chestnut. Then, you can make necklaces, little people . . .

or a worm!

(Saw this idea on The Artsy Ants and we just happened to have wiggly eyes on hand.)

My daughter grabbed her block crayons and began to make leaf rubbings. Such a simple activity, but one that brings loads of joy.

Also on The Artsy Ants I read about dipping leaves in candle wax to preserve them, so I tried it as well.  We melted wax on the stovetop and dipped the leaves in the wax.

Then, I stuck a few in a vase.

We try to make a trip to the forest at least once during each season. So a few days later, we packed a lunch and headed to the Grunewald. 

Everything tastes better outside! 

In each season, we always find a few new friends . . . 

and discover new things growing . . . 

and have a few new adventures!

We also enjoy sitting among the trees and reading on our forest trips. 

Wherever you are, whether it's autumn or spring on your half of the big, blue marble, I hope that you are diving into and embracing this season of transition!

Linked to  The Magic Onions

and Naturkinder

and Waldorf Wednesday at  Seasons of Joy

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Children and Existential Limits

Jerome Berryman, the creator of Godly Play, writes about four existential limits that both children and adults are confronted with: death, the threat of freedom, the need for meaning and fundamental aloneness. We as human beings are confronted with these things at an early age, and how we learn to cope with them shapes both our character, worldview and ability to make wise decisions. When spiritually mentoring children, we allow children to be confronted with these limits through the Biblical narrative and invite God to be a part of the dialogue. How he initiates and engages with the children (and we teachers as co-learners!) is an exciting process. 

Many adults are afraid to talk with children about death. However, children are confronted with the concept of death often, be it from the falling leaves in autumn to the passing away of a beloved pet. And if they don't have the opportunity to work out for themselves how to respond to this limit set to our humanity, then the child is completely unprepared when something much more heart-breaking occurs, like the death of a grandparent.

Often we adults also fail to consider that children struggle as well with aloneness (despite being part of a community) and finding meaning and purpose in our lives. We think that only adolescents grapple with these issues. Children most definitely deal with them, but express much of their thoughts non-verbally. This is due to their language development, which has yet to reach a level that allows them to share more of their thoughts with words.

Young children share their thoughts more easily
in non-verbal ways.
This is where the "play" in Godly Play comes in. Children learn best while playing. (If you ever tried to teach a child math or a foreign language, you know they respond a lot better to a game than to a worksheet!) When children play "house" or Star Wars, they work out possibilities. They do the same when playing with God.

This type of play can make the adults in the room nervous, because they project their own life experience onto the child's play. Sometimes it can sound sacrilegious to the adults, even when it is not. Recently, we told the baptism story to our Sunday Godly Play group. This story involves baptizing a doll in order to show the children what actually happens during a baptism. During the response time afterwards, a little boy took out the materials and began "baptizing" the doll. He then immersed the doll in the water and pretended that it was swimming. Then, he began to pretend that  the doll was drowning.

Materials for the Godly Play story, "Holy Baptism".
I think at that point, many children's workers would have rushed to intervene, thinking that either the boy was being too wild in his play or poking fun at a sacred rite. (Fortunately, my co-teacher is not phased by things like that, although she does get a little nervous when they light the candles!)  I knew that this child had been talking about baptism  for a while and was even thinking about being baptized in one of Berlin's lakes in the summer. Most likely he was working out what it would be like to be baptized by full-immersion. Could you drown while being baptized in a lake? Would it be okay to go swimming afterwards? Important things for a child to consider. I looked over as he was happily playing and said, "I'd sure like to swim in God's love", something that I have meditated on this week (a week that has been difficult and most certainly has not gone according to my plan!)

Learning to recognize when the children and God are working these matters out in a playful manner takes time and patience. It requires one to listen more than talk or instruct. But it is essential for both the children and us.

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Two Flat Tires and a Blessing in Disguise

(aka Another Irish Adventure!)

Today I'll write about the part of our trip that didn't go quite according to plan. We set out for the Ring of Kerry, an off-the-beaten-path road with beautiful scenery, in an Avis rental car. It sounded like a good idea, but we didn't know that the roads in that area are notorious for their potholes.

Near the town of Macroom we hit a jagged pothole and blew out a tire. Luckily for us, the next place to turn off the road was into the parking lot of the Coolavokig Pottery shop. After discovering that our rental car was lacking a spare tire and that our German cell phone was not getting service, we knocked on the door of the shop. Robb and Meredith, the super-hospitable owners, not only helped us call Avis, but invited us to lunch as well.

Avis promised to deliver a new rental car, but it would take two hours to get it to us. To pass the time, Meredith showed us around their garden and her pottery studio. My children, who can sniff out an art adventure like bloodhounds, seized the moment and began making pottery themselves as Meredith patiently showed them what to do.

Meredith in her studio.

At the end of the day, both kids agreed that this had been the best part of the day. A blessing in disguise. We had made new friends, enjoyed local hospitality, and made some art as well. I also became the proud owner of some gorgeous new pottery pieces. If you are ever near Macroom, please visit Meredith and Robb's  shop!

Avis finally delivered the new car, a mini-van, and we continued on the long and winding road, stopping here and there to see more breathtaking scenery . . .

when lo and behold, we hit another pothole and discovered that we had a second flat tire! Neither the luck of the Irish nor Irish eyes were smiling on us. This time, there was a spare tire in the van, but the wrong tools to change the tire!

Second flat tire: waiting for help to arrive.

After flagging down a local man who knew a mechanic, we were able to change the tire and made our way further around the Ring. This time there was no apparent blessing in disguise, except that the kids had a chance to eat their lollipops that I had forbidden them to eat in the car.: )

Our next stop was Staigue Fort, a pre-Christian circular fort, remarkable for the fact that it it built entirely without mortar. The fort was worth seeing, but the way to it required a rather long drive on a one-lane road with traffic going in both directions. After two flat tires, I was a little weary of bad roads and almost had heart failure a couple of times before we got back on the main road.

Well, we survived the Ring of Kerry with no further unpleasantries and made our way up to the cliffs of Moher near Doolin. The Cliffs really do take you take your breath away and no picture could ever do them justice. They are also famous as the Cliffs of Despair in the "Princess Bride" film.

We were also treated to a music festival with local musicians and dancers at a pub. And our kids made friends with a horse named Madam.

Now we are back home drinking coffee from our new pottery and reading Irish fairy tales.

And now I also promise to get back to the relevant topics of this blog . . . !