Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Godly Play Trainers' Training: Part 3

I finally have some pictures to from our time at the Godly Play Trainers' Training in Holland to share with you, thanks to Satu Reinikainin, one of my fellow trainees from Finland!

We stayed in a guest house at this lovely cloister in Maarsen, Holland.
Front Row: Andrea (England), Satu (Finland), Rachel (England/Germany), Peter  & Rosemany Privett, Rebecca Nye
Back Row: Sian (England), me, Christie (Holland), Trinette (Holland), Anita (Latvia), Jacolean (Holland), Mari (Finland), Katie (Belgium), An (Belgium)

One of the first tasks that Peter and Rebecca, our trainers, gave us was to
unload all of the GP materials and figure out how to best arrange them in the room.
Core Trainings aren't always in ideal settings, so this was a very practical activity.

Peter sharing how to do the Trinity Synthesis, which many of us had
no experience with. The Synthesis stories are only done with
children who are thoroughly familiar with all of the core stories. 

Background work in Children's Spirituality

As promised, here is my third installment about what we did in Holland. (See Training another Storyteller and Storytelling and being trained by a peer for the first two parts.) We spend one third of our time delving into the theory and theology of children's spirituality. Without some background in this area, many things about Godly Play either don't make sense or don't serve the child in the ways they should. Since the field in a Christian context is relatively new, there are very few experts and we are all in a learning process together.

Part of our preparation for the training was to read and present material on children's spirituality to our fellow trainees. We were specifically told not to simply regurgitate the material in a lecture-style, but to choose the most important things and present them in a creative manner. 

Everyone was so creative and inspiring in the way that they chose to present the information. Far from being dry and theoretical, each presentation came to life through the personalities and teaching styles of each participant.

In the picture above, Jacolean and Christie are sharing with us about "Being in Parables with Children". They pulled their main points out of parable box and relayed the information as if they were telling a parable themselves. (And perhaps they were!) Then, they gave us an opportunity to respond by placing objects in the room next to the particular point that had stuck with us. 

The phrase that stuck with me the most that I have since done a lot of silent wondering about is  that "parables are at the edge of language". Simply hearing and repeating the words of a biblical parable will get you nowhere. Art and play can take us beyond words in order to gain deeper understanding. 

Rachel, who lives in Munich, and I teamed up to present two chapters in a book from Jerome Berryman entitled, "Clearing the Way for Grace". In a nutshell, Berryman uses attachment theory to assert that just as a healthy child forms a healthy attachment to its parents, a child will also form a healthy attachment to the church as an institution if he/she experiences an open, accepting, loving atmosphere in the formative years. Dysfunction comes in as a result of ambivalence and indifference towards children. Berryman then challenges the reader to think of the child as a living sacrament. 

We chose to illustrate the ambivalence and indifference towards children in the church's history by dividing our fellow trainees into small groups and giving each group cards, upon which the quotations of various theologians' views of children were written. The group had about 5 minutes to sort the cards into "yes", "no" or "maybe" piles, depending on their opinion of the quote. 

After giving a little more background information and sharing Berryman's challenge to think of the child as a sacrament, we passed around slips of paper with the sacraments written on them and challenged each person to consider how a child could be more involved in the sacrament they drew. 

And at the end of our presentation, we passed around small stones and markers and encouraged each person to take a stone and write a word or draw a picture as a reminder of what they wanted to take with them from this topic. 

Mari and Satu did a presentation on laughter in religious education. (Most people don't make a connection between religion and laughter, so I especially loved this topic!) Sean and Andrea spoke about the existential boundaries that we deal with in Godly Play. Trinette and Anita helped us to think more about the language of silence in religious education. And finally, Katie and An shared about "Children and Mature Spirituality". 

We are supposed to write up our presentations and send them to each other. So when I get the information, I'll write more on these things!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Godly Play: The Parable of the Leaven

My son has the flu, so we did not attend our church's brunch this week. Instead, I told both children "The Parable of the Leaven" at home. This parable is one of the core stories in the GP curriculum. It is also the shortest story of them all. Indeed, the text in the Bible is only one verse. As a result, it often gets dismissed by beginner storytellers. I remember thinking, "This is it?!" 

After the normal introduction about the gold box, how parables are gifts, and wondering about what the underlay might be,  comes this . . . 

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman who took three measure of flour . . . "

" . . . and mixed them together. She hid the leaven in the mixture . . . "

". . . which swelled up and was leavened all over."

"It got big and puffy like the bread you buy in the store."

But don't let the simplicity of this story throw you off. Precisely because it is so simple, there is a ton to wonder about and discuss. What is the leaven, really, in the parable and in life? Have you ever come close to a place where this happens, not just in the parable, but in life?

At our training in Holland, the Wondering after this particular story went on for what seemed like an eternity, because we all so fully immersed in it. In fact, we would have kept on, had our fellow trainee whose turn it was to train us not stepped in to lead us into the evaluation.

This story is also a difficult one to tell, again because it is so simple. You have to be internally okay with the language of silence and gracious in your movements. My colleague, Rachel, told this story in Holland, and I remember thinking, "I'm glad it's her and not me!" But she did an amazing job of not rushing the text or our responses, and the Wondering was some of the most thought-provoking that I've ever participated in. 

Yesterday, my son was under strict orders to only do silent wondering, since he was losing his voice. My daughter (who is 7) said a few things, but was eager to get to the Response Time, so our Wondering was a bit short. What was interesting was that she came back to the story at bedtime when she wondered what baking bread had to do with the Kingdom of Heaven? Would there only be one person in heaven and would she just be baking bread? (All this said with an irritated tone in her voice!) I reminded her that Jesus had said that his Kingdom was like this woman baking bread. I also reminded her that sometimes the door to the parable stays closed for a bit, but we can always come back again and someday it will open for us . . . 

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

and Eco Kids' Tuesday at   Like Mama~Like Daughter and Organic Aspirations

and Waldorf Wednesday at Seasons of Joy

and Sharing Saturday at Crafty Moms Share

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sketchy Sunday (and a New Year's Resolution)

When you spend a lot of time doing art projects with children, it can be really easy to neglect your own personal development as an artist. And I'm afraid that has been me the past couple of years.  In the business of life and working with children, I haven't always made time for my first artistic love: drawing. So far this year, the only New Year's Resolution that I have made is to start sketching once a day for at least ten minutes. In reality, I haven't met my goal every single day, but I do get to it several times a week, which is way more than I did last year!

As I was pondering how to keep myself accountable, one of my favorite blogs, The Artsy Ants, has started a weekly sketching challenge called "Sketchy Sunday". Each week they host a link-up for the week's theme and then announce the theme for next week. What a wonderful way to keep sketching and connect with others!

The week's theme is "fruit", so I chose to sketch a fruit that I had tried to draw: a pomegranate. I used black ink, colored pencils, and oil pastel. 

Last week's theme was "cold" and here are a couple of sketches below.

Thanks, Sylvia and Simona, for thinking up this great idea!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Enjoying the Winter

As Ariana at Still Parenting says, winter often gets a bad rap. People tend to focus on being cold and getting sick. But it can be a great season, and as I wrote last year, it is a spiritually important season.

There are fun things you can do outdoors if you dress warmly enough: explore the forest, ice skating, sledding, etc. And then there are the things to be enjoyed inside: hot drinks, snuggling under warm blankets, reading books, extra time to make art together, perhaps learning to knit (we are kind of on-again, off-again learners with knitting!). 

Last weekend, even though it was one of the coldest in Berlin this year, we managed to spend most of it outside. Each winter, we visit our beloved Grunewald, Berlin's largest forest within city limits. We walk around for several hours, and then we have a wonderful meal at a cozy German restaurant called "Die Scheune" near the edge of the forest. (While it may seem strange to say we were at a German restaurant in Germany, Berliners only eat German food occasionally, because it is rich and heavy.) This time, I had roasted duck, Rotkohl (simmered red cabbage) and Kartoffelklöße (potato dumplings). . . yum, yum! There really aren't words to describe the feelings I have after walking around in the bitter cold and then sitting by a fireplace with incredible German food afterwards.

I never get enough of seeing small children play with big sticks!

And I will be really sad when my daughter gets too old to have snow fairy adventures.
The picture above was taken at a curious spot at the highest point in the forest, an artificial hill made from the rubble of WWII called the "Teufelsberg". During the Cold War, the American NSA had a listening station there in which they spied on everyone from the Kremlin to the East Germans. 

It has been abandoned for many years now, but you can still take tours of it. My son is standing in front of one of the domes that had top secret equipment in it. The echoes when you are inside the domes sound freaky - like something out of a horror movie. 

And the next day we were crazy enough to go ice-skating at an outdoor rink! Ah, winter . . . savor it while it lasts (before Mother Thaw comes and wrecks all the fun)!

Linked to Friday's Nature Table at The Magic Onions

Monday, January 21, 2013

Red Clay of the Soul: The Legacy of MLK Jr. in my life

I am going to depart from the normal topics of this blog to share some personal things. I don't usually do that, but many times our history plays an important role in the choices we make. And in some many of the ways that we choose to mentor children. So here goes . . .

I grew up in small town in South Georgia in the southern U.S. While Georgia is generally known for peaches, there is another widely seen phenomenon of the natural world where I come from: red clay. An orangy, blood-red gift from Mother Earth. It's everywhere. And if it happens to get on your clothing or shoes, it is very difficult, if not impossible to remove.

I was born a little more than 100 years after the end of the Civil War and the Abolition of Slavery. A lot can change in 100 years, but it generally takes a people group longer to make changes of the heart. Though slavery ended in 1865, segregation would be practiced in this small town for many more years. About 10 years before I was born, a desegregation coalition was formed that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to our city. The coalition became known as the Albany Movement and though it failed, many important lessons were learned from it. Formal segregation eventually came to an end, but an informal segregation lingered on. And that was the social milieu that I grew up in.

Mine was a world where I often heard the word "nigger". (For the sake of my parents, I want to add that they taught me never to say that word.) As a result, I became aware of skin color at an early age. The African-Americans that I knew were my teachers at school and a handful of kids that attended our majority-white elementary school. But we never mixed socially with them outside of school. There are painful childhood memories involving race: of a black friend not being able to come to my birthday party. Of being told by an extended family member (again, just want to clarify that this was not my parents) that I would no longer be in the family if I ever married a black man.

I have another distinct memory as an eight-year-old. One day while riding bicycles with a neighborhood friend, he for some reason started bad-mouthing African-Americans, using the "n" word, and talking about how white people were better. I remember hearing his words and thinking, "That's wrong! We are not better! God loves black people!" I hope that I told him what I thought, but I honestly don't remember. I don't tell this story to imply that I was some kind of great person as a child. I definitely wasn't. But there are times in our lives when the grace of God breaks through our thoughts and culture and gives us insight. This was one of them.

I would leave for college 10 years later and found myself sharing a dorm room at Baylor University with a smart, beautiful African-American women named Renee. It was there I realized that though I'd left the small town in Georgia behind, its "red clay" was still on my soul. The shame of having had ancestors who owned slaves. That my hometown had been a battleground of the Civil Rights Movement, where the Movement had actually lost ground. That it was a place where African-Americans and white Americans continued to largely mistrust and live in fear of one another. Renee helped me confront my own prejudices that I didn't know were even there. I am grateful that she was in my life. She helped me begin a life-long journey of seeking out people who are different from me. Of learning from them and seeing differences as strengths.

I didn't know much about Dr. King until I was an adult, because no one ever talked about him when I was a kid. As a young adult, I was moved by his speeches and ideals. His commitment to non-violent resistance and speaking up for what is right are things that I have committed to emulate. And God used him to set forces in motion that have profoundly changed American society. (Not to say that there isn't still a long way to go where racial issues are concerned.) I am acutely aware of how much he has influenced my life, even though I wasn't always conscious of it.

Is the red clay still there? Though the shame I once carried is largely gone, the red clay is not easily washed away. I believe it even now profoundly affects how I mentor children. God has a marvelous way of taking the ugly things in our lives and casting them in a new light. One of my missions as a Godly Play mentor has become to expose children to others of different backgrounds as soon as possible. The earlier children become familiar with people of different ages, races, languages, religions, etc., the more they will be able to live out Christ's command to "love your neighbor as yourself" and the less likely they are to become racists. It's why I took my then 3 and 5-year-olds to Uganda. It's why the kids in our Advent and Easter clubs play with senior citizens and inner-city children of different socio-economic groups. It's why we have Muslim friends.

It has also caused me to be committed to teaching children non-violent ways of solving conflicts. It takes time and patience to help children find verbal solutions, because verbality doesn't come naturally to them.

And what about my hometown? Though I still sense much racial tension when I go back to visit, it is healing for me to meet African-Americans who now attend the Baptist church that I grew up in. There is hope.

Thank you, Dr. King, for following God's call on your life, even though it cost you everything. 
And thank you, Father, for making use of the red clay. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Second Creation Story

Most of the time I follow the liturgical calendar, but occasionally I stray from it to suit the needs of the children. In the current rhythm of our church plant, our Godly Play group meets once a month. Because of this, I have to be choosy about which stories I tell. Since several of the children in the group are quite familiar with the core stories, so I have observed that they are ready for more enrichment stories. 

Last Sunday, I decided to tell the Second Creation Story. This is the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis 2, in which Adam names the animals, Eve is created and both are led to doubt God's intentions, resulting in making a bad choice that has long-term consequences. 

Since we don't have Jerome Berryman's original enrichment stories translated in German, I have to rely on stories from German religion teachers and tell them in Godly Play style. (So if you place this on a Pinterest board, please be sure to label it as "Godly Play-style" and not Godly Play.)

Here are my materials for the story:

Aren't the trees beautiful? They are from Ostheimer, a German maker
of wooden toys. The snake in my story is represented by a gesture rather
than a wooden snake as in the picture below.

And these are the materials for the real Godly Play version in English:
Source: Godly Play Resources, Ashland, KS

One important principle in Godly Play is to tell the story in a very neutral manner, so that the children are able to imagine for themselves what emotions the characters might have been feeling. This is very important in a story like Genesis 2, because we really don't know how God spoke to Adam and Eve, how they spoke to him, or how they spoke to each other. And if we interpret with a tone of voice that we imagine in the situation, we may get in the way of the Holy Spirit's communion with the individual children.

Though I am very sure that each child present was familiar this story from religion class in school and children's Bibles, they each were drawn deeply into the story and were considering it all over again. We had a lot of silent Wondering afterwards, because there was so much to consider in this story. I sensed that the children felt the deep loss of the Garden and with it the direct access to God. They all agreed that neither God nor Adam and Eve were happy at the end of this story.

Many of you may be wondering (no pun intended!) why the Second Creation Story is an enrichment story in Godly Play rather than a core story. I think it is because the core stories all deal with the question of God's character and our identity in relation to him. In short, they help children to establish trust with a gracious God. Then, from this secure standpoint, the children are able to consider questions of obedience and what happens when we choose not to obey.

None of the children responded directly to the story during the Response Time (at least as far as I could tell, but who knows?), but I will be curious to see if they come back to it in the next few weeks . . . 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Godly Play Trainers' Training: Part 2

Telling a story and being trained by another Storyteller

The second part of our course to become Godly Play Trainers involved telling a story to our peers and being trained by another student. I have to say that we were all nervous about telling stories to each other. Of course, we would all have been completely in our comfort zone with children, but the idea of telling a story in front of so many really good, experienced storytellers was both exciting and intimidating! What took the heat off was knowing that the real pressure was on the person who had to take the role of the trainer. 

I was fortunate enough to be assigned "The Holy Baptism". This is a story that I love, have a personal history with, and that I have told three times in the past year. The only thing that made it difficult was that we weren't allowed to light any candles in the building where our course was being held. Candles are central to this story, and at the end you "change" the light by extinguishing them with a candle snuffer. Pretending to do all of this made the story seem less authentic to me. Fortunately, my listeners were not bothered at all by this and were able to be fully in the story anyway. 

I was also fortunate to have Anita from Latvia as my trainer. She was so gracious and helpful. She also asked many questions and helped draw out my discomfort about the fake candles, and then help me receive feedback from the others. I was glad to know that the fakeness that I was feeling apparently did come spill over into my storytelling. I was really honored when one of the women in our group expressed how she had really disliked this story before, but had seen it in a new light as I was telling it.

When Rebecca debriefed Anita, she gave us some practicals about the story. One important thing to know is that the picture showing the set-up in the English version of the book, Godly Play Volume 3, is actually wrong. If you put the candle on the white felt circle to the right (storyteller's perspective), you will burn yourself when you show how the doll is baptized. (The German editors knew about the mistake when they published the materials in German, so the candle is on the circle in front.) 

Most of the time, when you debrief a storyteller, you have them put the materials away in order to keep the group from doing further Wondering when they are supposed to be giving feedback. But in this story, it is helpful to leave the materials out. From the position of the materials on the three felt circles to the way the doll is held, there is a lot to discuss.

Telling a story to my colleagues turned out to be a very positive experience. I, in turn, enjoyed hearing and seeing how they told their stories. Each person had a specific style and something to teach us.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sharing Dr. MLK Jr. with kids

Dr. King's actual birthday was earlier this week, but the official holiday will be celebrated on Monday. Whether you are American or not, religious or not, the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an inspiring one that is worth telling your children. How God can use an ordinary person to bring about extraordinary changes. And if you are an American, your children deserve to know this part of their country's history, because it is part of their historical and spiritual inheritance, regardless of race, creed or religion.

Below are some short, child-friendly videos that I found.

This one is a short cartoon called "MLK - The King and His Dream" for kindergarten and younger elementary-age students:

This one is from National Geographic Kids and shows actual footage of Dr. King's life and times. I can't imbed it, because it is not on You Tube, but it is perfect for older elementary students.

Also this post from Living Montessori Now has tons of great ideas for celebrating the day with your kids.

And here you and your family can listen to Dr. King's "I have a Dream" speech.

I see his Dream in my own children and in the children that I teach  . . . 

Linked to The Magic Onions

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Godly Play Trainers' Training in Holland: Part 1

Hi everyone, if you've been wondering where I have been, I've been super busy getting grades together for the end of the first semester, and finishing up a couple of projects for Godly Play Deutschland. I love to be in this space, but the things happening in real time take priority.: )

One of my favorite blogs is called "What did we do all Day?", and that is an appropriate question about our recent training in Holland to become Godly Play Trainers. Exactly what did we do all day for six days straight? Can you really discuss and do Godly Play from morning until evening for that long?

Well, for the inquiring mind that want to know, you can talk about and practice Godly Play for six days and still not have all of your questions answered.: )  

There were 12 of us training to be Trainers and we were divided into 2 groups of six. Our trainers were Dr. Rebecca Nye, the author of Children's Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters, and the Rev. Peter Privett, who together brought Godly Play to Europe in the late 1990s. They were both wonderful down-to-earth people who came in with the attitude that we were all learning together rather than them being the experts who knew everything. How refreshing that was! 

Our training was divided into three parts:

1) Training another Storyteller 

2) Telling a story and being trained by another Storyteller

3) Background work in Children's Spirituality

Since I promised to write shorter posts, I'll just tell you about the first part today: 

Training a fellow Storyteller

This was baptism by fire for me, because I was the very first one in my group train someone else! Fortunately, Rebecca and Peter had brought along Peter's wife, Rosemary (brave woman!), to be a guinea pig storyteller, and Rebecca had begun the training by training Rosemary.  I trained Andrea from England who did a marvelous job of telling "The Flood and the Ark". Fortunately, I had told my kids this story in Nov., so I was familiar with it. 
When you train someone else, you sit outside of the circle behind the group in a chair, so that you have a clear view of what is going on and take notes as quietly as possible about what you see. Then, you observe the story, the Storyteller, the people listening, and the Wondering at the end. 

I found it incredibly difficult to be such a multitasked here! My natural Modus Operandi is to get drawn into the story itself and forget about everything else. I had to fight with myself to stay on track and keep observing. Taking notes helped a lot. 

When the story was finished, I had to gently find a way to enter the group. The circle had been formed in the beginning and the participants had experienced a deep Wondering time together. To come in too abruptly would have made everything suddenly strange and possibly make the Storyteller nervous about what I was going to say. So following Rebecca's example as a Trainer, I gently asked if I could join the group. 

Andrea had done a brilliant job of telling the story, so there wasn't much to address in the first place. I began by asking her how the experience had been for her. After she shared, I asked the group what they liked about the story, and they shared encouragements for quite a while. Finally, I asked Andrea, "Were there any rough spots for you?" Then, she knew exactly what had been problematic without me even having to mention it. 

I discovered through all of this that being a Trainer is really a pastoral role. You are not necessarily there to give a lot of direct critique, but to help the person draw it out for themselves. You want to encourage the storyteller that he or she can do this storytelling thing. Rebecca and Peter stressed that training someone is different every time and that you just have to look for teachable moments and feel the person out for how open they are for critique. Apparently, in most Core Trainings, the time for the direct instruction is during the practice time, BEFORE the person tells the story in front of the group. The training afterwards is a debrief about how it went. 

Also, one important thing that I mentioned in my first post on the training, is that a Trainer evaluates not just the story, but the session as a whole. Again, this stretched my multi-tasking skills, but I think it will get easier with practice.

Right after my experience as a Trainer, Rebecca then debriefed me by doing exactly the same sort of thing that I had just done with Andrea. And then I thought to myself, I think I can really do this!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Elements of a Godly Play Session

You may be wondering why you haven't yet heard anything about the Godly Play Trainers' Training that I attended in Holland. The truth is that as soon as I returned home, I was hit with the news about the tragedy in Newtown, CT, and it didn't seem appropriate to be rejoicing about something when there was so much pain elsewhere in the world. Also, my daughter's 7th birthday was on the same day that I returned, and then we jumped straight into the last week of Advent and Christmas. So it's only now that I have begun to reflect on all that I learned and experienced in Holland. 

What a wonderful and overwhelming experience it was! Though I am now officially a Godly Play Trainer, I know that this is a role that I will have to grow into over time.

I'd like to begin by giving you some bite-size chunks of what we learned rather than overwhelming you with long posts. 

One significant thing that Rebecca and Peter, our trainers, brought out in the beginning was the need to train people to do all the elements of a Godly Play session and not just focus on the story. I must admit that when I thought about training others myself, most often my thoughts were about the story or the response time. But all of the elements are important. 

Here is a visual aid that Rebecca shared to help us see the whole picture:

(Idea courtesy of Alison Seaman, Godly Play Trainer, UK)
The six groups of objects in the picture above represent:

1. The ThresholdThis is a literal and metaphorical one. It refers to how the children (or whatever age the Godly Play participants may be) enter the room. Children, in particular, need to a chance to start getting ready before they enter the room. They also need to feel welcomed and know that this is a safe place to express their thoughts. Here, the Co-Teacher can make all the difference. 

2. Building the circle - After the Co-Teacher welcomes each child and he/she crosses the threshold one-by-one, the child selects a place in the circle and the Storyteller greets him/her as well. It is a basic human instinct to want to belong to and feel comfortable in a group, and here the Storyteller can playfully help in this process. 

3. The Story - A story is shared from one of three genres: Sacred Stories, Parables and Liturgical stories. There is one more genre called the "genre of silence". You can read more about these genres here and here.

4. The Wondering - In this part, the group responds to the story they have just heard, both in verbal and non-verbal ways. You can read more about Wondering here

5. The Creative Response - Here the children respond individually, but not necessarily to the story they have just heard, but to any story or any other thoughts they may have. You can read more about this here

6. The Feast - This part is about community. It is also an indirect preparation for taking communion. 

There are, of course, times when we have to leave out one element or another. For example, sometimes we don't have enough time for the response time, and sometimes we may even leave out the story. But knowing that all of these elements work together and working to make them better makes our Godly Play times much more effective. 

Elements like crossing the threshold and building the circle are never left out. And they become even more important if you are doing Godly Play in a more informal setting such as your home, because the children often have a greater need to get ready.  

I'll be back in the next couple of days with more to share!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Godly Play: Epiphany + Link-Up

Epiphany has become a special day for me. I didn't grow up celebrating it, and actually didn't know what it was until I was an adult. It is a wonderful way to bring closure to the 12 Days of Christmas (although many churches celebrate one week longer, see Catholic Icing's post on this), and celebrate the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah to the whole world.

Materials from the Godly Play Epiphany story
The word "Epiphany" comes from the Greek and means "manifestation" or "appearance". While Eastern churches focus on the baptism of Jesus at Epiphany, Western churches bring attention to the visit of the Magi to child Jesus. Both stories point to God's physical manifestation in Jesus, but in the Magi story we also remember that Jesus was revealed to the Gentiles as well.

Our project did not hold services this week, so I planned a special family service for our kids. Early this morning, the kids and I got up to bake a "La Galette des Rois", a French King's Cake made of puff pastry and filled with frangipane. We used this easy recipe here and added vanilla and lemon zest to it.

Before baking . . . We used a cookie cutter
to make a star in the center.
A "bean" or small figure is traditionally placed inside the cake and whoever gets that piece is "king" for a day. (The Louisiana Mardi Gras cake developed from this tradition.) We placed a plastic Wise Man inside ours. Since it was made of plastic, I wrapped it in tin foil to hopefully avoid any toxins leaking into the cake!

Brushing egg yolk onto the puff pastry.

A golden brown delight!
Later that morning, I told the Godly Play Epiphany story during our family service. This story recaps the journey to Bethlehem in the Advent story and then focuses attention on the three gifts that the Magi brought. Since I was not able to acquire frankincense and myrrh this year, I printed out pictures on the internet and pasted them on gold card stock so that the children could actually see what they look like. (You can the images them here: gold, frankincense and myrrh.)

The whole story laid out.
Cards for gold, frankincense,
and myrrh.
This story does not have any official Wondering, but I felt that my children needed something to help them ponder the gifts more. So I added the following questions:

I wonder which gift is your favorite?

I wonder which gift you think is the most important?

What gift would you give to the child Jesus?

This turned out to be one of the most fun Wondering times that I have ever had with my own kids. Between the second and third question, one of the kids wondered aloud what the gifts might have been for. My son thought that there might be some connection between three gifts and the three members of the Trinity. He went on to say that gold could be for the Father, because gold is a gift for kings; that myrrh could be for Jesus, since it was used for funerals and Jesus would die someday; and that frankincense was like the Holy Spirit, because it was used in worship and released a smell that was unseen. I think he might have been drawing a connection there with the Baptism story, because in it we speak of the Holy  Spirit as being "invisible like the scent of oil". 

My daughter, who usually does more silent wondering when it's just the four of us, was quite talkative today. She wondered aloud about the myrrh and went to the bookshelf, where she pulled out a book with the story of Jesus being anointed by the woman in Simon's house. She pointed to the nard and wanted to know if it was like myrrh. Also, when asked what she would give the child Jesus as a present, she said, "I would draw him a picture of me, so that he could see me all the time.": )

And then we came the Feast, which everyone was particularly excited about because of the King Cake. I reminded the kids of the tradition that the person who finds the plastic king in their cake is King for a day. I was met with replies like, "Yeah, I want to get it so I can order Dad around!" I suggested that maybe we should think about being a king like Jesus was king and that started some more wondering. As it turns out, no one got a piece with the king in it, so we'll have to wait until tomorrow (when we have room for some more cake) to see who will be King for a day . . . 

One piece is enough as this cake is quite filling!
Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

and Eco-Kids Tuesdays at Like Mama-Like Daughter and Organic Aspirations

and Waldorf Wednesday at Seasons of Joy

And now for last Exploring Christmas Link-Up! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your wonderful ideas. If you are joining us for the first time today, maybe you will find some ideas for next year.

If you participate, please link back to Explore and Express. Feel free to grab the button below or in the side bar. 

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Creative Christmastide Prayer with Children

I want to share an idea for children's prayer that I saw recently. After Christmas, we happened to pop into the Zionskirche, the church where Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught confirmation classes, while taking a walk. Near the altar, they had the following set-up for spontaneous prayer. My children were immediately drawn to it and so was another child who happened to be in the building. 

There was a nativity scene with a basket full of tea lights and a candlelighter nearby. The children were encouraged to light a candle, say a prayer, and then set the candle among the nativity landscape. This is especially meaningful if the children have spent time on passages like Isaiah 9:2 ("The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light") during Advent. 

The second part of the prayer set-up involved placing a written or drawn prayer in the holes of cinder blocks. My daughter, who can't yet write, drew a picture. 

This type of prayer is great for both younger and older children, because it allows them to express themselves verbally or non-verbally, depending on where the child is developmentally. It also particularly appeals to children who tend towards the spiritual style of symbolism.

I would definitely like to do something 
like this next year! 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Group Art Project: Life-Size Fairy Collage

My daughter's birthday is in December in the middle of Advent. Despite being so close to Christmas, she has never seen this as a disadvantage and loves that a celebration is going on the whole month. Though I try to work with the natural seasons and rhythms in almost every aspect of our lives, I make exceptions with her birthday. So if she wants a fairy-garden-themed party in the middle of December, then why not? Which was the inspiration for this group art project . . .

a life-size fairy collage!

Group or collaborative art projects are one aspect of art education that fascinates me. It is also one of the least-written about topics on the internet. (That's probably why my first post on collaborative projects is one of my most popular.) Probably because there aren't as many art teachers out there doing them. It takes time and effort to think them up and pull them off. But the pedagogical benefits for the children are more than worth it!

The original idea for this project came from a website about fairy-themed birthday parties that you can find here. I then adapted the project for our needs and art supplies that I already had on hand.

Here's what to do:

roll of butcher paper (or some other large format art paper)
water dishes for rinsing
sponges for blotting brushes
jewels, feathers, buttons or other interesting objects to use for collage pieces

1. Roll out the paper and trace the outline of your child's body.

2. Have the children brainstorm what they can add to the picture to transform the the outline into a fairy (i.e. wings, crown, wand, etc.), or what they could paint as a background.

3. Provide the children with paints, sponges and rinsing dishes, and ask them to paint the fairy.

4. After the paint has dried, give them the collage pieces and glue.

And now for the pedagogical benefits . . . 

Group projects like this allow children to be in situations where they must work as a team. They have to agree on ideas and delegate who will paint or glue what. They have to communicate, problem-solve, and make compromises - all skills that children must learn to make it in the real world.

Watching this process again at my daughter's party was beautiful. The birthday girl had very specific ideas of what she wanted, but had to make compromises. There was also one big "mistake" where some paint dripped where the girls had to figure out how to make it look nice again. (I'm sure you can hear me quoting Mona Brookes at this point, "There are no mistakes in art - only changes to be made.") The idea to paint a background came about spontaneously, because a couple of girls didn't have anything to do. 

If your child isn't into fairies, you could easily do the same project with another theme (knight, sports figure, profession, etc.) For a children's worship service, the kids could paint a biblical figure as well.

Do you have any experience with group art projects? If so, I'd love to hear about them!