Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sneak Preview: St. Columba

Columba was always one of my favorite saints. Because he loved books. Because he made terrible mistakes and learned from them. Because he was Irish.  I'll be very excited to tell this story to my kids later on this year. 

The weather was cold and rainy on Saturday, so we spent most of the day inside having arts and crafts time. (Though we did get outside for an hour - I am a firm believer in spending time outside every day no matter what the weather is like!) And Mom got to work on some Godly Play materials.

This story in Godly Play Volume 7 calls for several items. The first is a Columba figure that I made out of a peg doll. I added some brown wool roving for his beard and a blue and yellow felt hat.

I also needle-felted a dove. I am very new to needle-felting, so this is the first time that I have tried to make a living thing. I used ideas from this tutorial about how to shape a bird's body. My daughter says it looks more like a white duck, but I think it'll do.

Then, I printed out and mounted pictures of the monastery at Iona and illuminated script from the Book of Kells on canvas board.

You'll have to wait until June, though, to hear more about the story.: )

Here's a look at all the saints that I have made so far:

L to R: Thomas Aquinas, Valentine, Patrick, Columba, Elisabeth of Portugal, 
Teresa of Avila

My next one will probably be Mother Teresa of Calcutta in September.

Monday, April 29, 2013

YCW: John's Vision of the Kingdom of God

Young Children and Worship is another Montessori-based form of religious education developed by Dr. Sonja Stewart under the tutelage of Godly Play creator, Jerome Berryman. While I do not feel that YCW has the depth of Godly Play, I do use it occasionally to introduce new stories to my own children. I do wish there were more New Testament stories in the Godly Play curriculum. Though there is a wonderful story about the life of Paul, and both the Pentecost and Last Supper stories touch on the lives of the apostles, there are no other GP stories that deal directly with the Book of Acts. 

This past Sunday, I told my own children a story called "John, Follower of Jesus, Teaches throughout the World". It is one of three stories about John's post-Pentecost ministry found in "Following Jesus", and recounts John's exile on the isle of Patmos and letters to the churches that he wrote there.

John travels far from Jerusalem to tell other about Jesus and show the ways of God's Kingdom. The people begin meeting in groups called churches. In Ephesus some people do not like what John is saying and arrest him. He is exiled to the island of Patmos.

This scene shows John's travels and his exile on Patmos.
John wants to write to his friends in the churches, but it isn't safe. He begins to write in a secret code that only his friends can understand. He writes to them about his vision of the Kingdom of God.

The yellow circle represents the spread of the kingdom of God and the scroll
contains a verse from the book of Revelation.
This scroll contains part of the "secret" message, found in the Revelation 21: 1-4:

"I saw a new heaven and new earth . . . and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling of God is with people. God will live with them, and they shall be God's people. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there shall be no death, there shall be no sadness, or crying, or pain anymore. The old way is gone . . . God is making everything new."

While the above description isn't the exact text due to copyright laws, it's pretty close. One of the problems in doing YCW with older children is that the stories tend to be a little too short, especially if the kids are used to Godly Play. (This can, of course, also be an advantage when working with 2-5 year-olds.) As soon as I finished the story and began the Wondering, my daughter (age 7) complained that the story had been too short. However, the Wondering proved to be quite deep, so maybe the length of the story wasn't so bad after all. It seems to have forced them to stop and take a closer look at the scripture.

I asked the following Wondering questions (the first one I made up and the second and third are from the book):
- What was your favorite part of John's secret message to his friends?
- What do you think his friend wrote back to him?
- What do you think they would have drawn in response to John's vision of the Kingdom of God?

My son hastily answered that his favorite part of John's message was that there would be no sadness. But then he thought for a moment longer and said that he didn't know how things would be without death and pain. 

"Maybe it would be good to not have death, but there has to be pain. Otherwise there would be no stories like 'Star Wars'," he said. 

I realized what an important thought that was. Pain is such a constant companion in this world that it really is difficult to imagine it being completely eradicated. It is so engrained in us as human beings that every good story has a conflict. We simply can not comprehend what existence without it will mean. My wondering about that continued long after we were through.: )

That whole conversation led to my daughter wondering what the new heaven and new earth will be like. Will they be real places? When it says that God will live with us, does that mean that we will be able to see him and talk to him face-to-face?

By the time we got to question three, both kids were pretty tired of thinking so hard, so they erupted in giggles and silly answers - their reward for so much deep theologizing. (If only all theological conversations led to laughter . . . !)

There is a companion story to this one called "A New Heaven, a New Earth, and a New Jerusalem". The text is exactly the same except the "secret message" (Revelation 21:22-26) and the Wondering questions that deal with the theme of God being our light in the new creation. I am not sure if I will try it, but I may make a scroll of the text and use it in an evening devotional.

Has anyone else out there tried this story? What have your experiences with it been?

A Note on Geography: Older children may want to know where to find this part of the world on the map. I would definitely explain to them that Patmos is enlarged for the story. In reality, Patmos is so tiny in comparison to modern-day Turkey (Asia Minor) that you can hardly see it.

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Creative Response to The Lord's Prayer

I wanted to highlight an idea for helping children go deeper with The Lord's Prayer that we used in the Easter Club this year.

After sharing a "Godly Play-style" story about The Lord's Prayer, we invited the children to a table where they could explore the prayer a little more.

We printed out copies of each verse of the prayer on strips of paper, and set them out on a table along with oil pastels, colored pencils, construction paper, glue and scissors.

We then invited the children to pick the verse that they liked best or that was most important to them. They could glue it onto a piece of construction paper, and then draw or write something about it.

This allows children to process individually and hopefully make the prayer their own.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

My latest read: "From the Ground Up" by Kathryn Copsey

The latest book that I am reading about children's spirituality is called From the Ground Up by Kathryn Copsey. It was suggested to me by my friend Helen and got a resounding "yes" from Rebecca Nye (Godly Play Trainers' Trainer and author of Children's Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters) when I was asking her about further reading. 

So far I have only finished the first chapter, because there was so much in it that I read it three times! What I love about this book is that Kathryn's experience and philosophy do not come from orderly, white, middle-class Sunday school rooms. Rather this book is the fruit of her long-standing work with urban children in London, the majority of whom have not had easy lives.

One of the most helpful thoughts from chapter 1 is the difference between spirituality and faith. Most of us know that children's spirituality is fairly hard to define. (I personally like Rebecca Nye's basic definition that spirituality is the attempt to connect to that which is beyond yourself.) And then to differentiate it from faith is even harder. Copsey had a group of children's workers brainstorm words associated with "spirituality" and "faith". The words that people came up with for "spirituality" tended to reflect awareness, mystery, and otherness. The words associated with faith, however, appeared to be more secure, grounded and linked to the beliefs and practices of a given religious community. 

She goes on to say that all children have a spirituality, and that faith is the framework that is built around this spirituality. A child might have a Jewish, Buddhist, or Muslim framework around her spirituality. And it is even possible to build a secular atheistic framework around a child's spirituality. These sorts of statements are exactly what make the subject of children's spirituality a bit controversial in more conservative religious circles, because it becomes clear that spirituality is not limited to Christian children. In fact, all children are spiritual beings and some sort of framework will be built around it, either consciously or unconsciously.

And that is where our work as a Christian mentors comes in. Copsey writes " . . . as Christians, our belief is that spirituality reaches its full expression when a Christian framework is applied - when the original image of God imprinted in each person is consciously recognized and responded to in Jesus Christ." 

All children start out spiritually open, but far too many become less open to it and even closed to it in late childhood and adolescence. This happens in part because their spirituality is either not nurtured or ignored. My dream is to mentor children who will continue to be spiritual their whole lives.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sketchy Sunday

We're joining the Artsy Ants for Sketchy Sunday again this week! I haven't been doing nearly enough sketching lately, so I am thankful for the accountability that this blog party challenges me with. 

We're several weeks behind, but better late than never. 

Here is an entry for "Cozy":

I couldn't resist drawing this sweet little girl's hair for the theme "Hair":

"Clean" with Conte Crayons:


And this is my son's entry for "Spring". 
I love the man looking down the groundhog hole 
and the clouds fighting with one another!

Honestly, I haven't been very pleased with my sketches lately. But I remember the words of Mona Brookes from Drawing with Children saying that no artist likes everything she draws, and that we have to give ourselves permission not to like everything.: )

  . . . 

Die Artsy Ants bieten jede Woche eine Link-Party für Zeichnen-Skizzen an. Da ich am Anfang des Jahres vorgenommen habe regelmäßig zu zeichnen (was ich in den letzten Jahren vernachlässigt habe), helfen mir die wöchentliche Themen dran zu bleiben und mehr Spass darin zu haben.: )

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Godly Play and Special Needs Children

Let me begin this post by saying that I am not an expert on special needs children. This post is meant only to add to the conversation already going on, and to share my journey with one special little girl. (In this article, I'll refer to her as "Nina", even though that is not her real name.)

Last fall the mother of one of my students (I have a part-time job as an English teacher in an elementary school) shared that she was planning to have both of her daughters baptized. Here in Berlin such children usually attend "Christenlehre" classes beforehand to learn the basics of the Christian faith. She was trying to figure out how to prepare her younger daughter, who was born with Down Syndrome, since the catechist at the church they were attending did not feel she had the resources to teach Nina. 

Even though I had absolutely nil experience with special needs people, I knew that Godly Play was effective with special needs children through the work of Martina Grass and Wolfhard Schweiker, two of my Godly Play colleagues here in Germany. Martina is a special needs teacher near Stuttgart who teaches Godly Play at school, and Wolfhard is a theologian who has assisted her for many years. You can see a bit of their work in the film, "Was ist Godly Play?" (The English translation is coming this summer!)

Martina has this to say about Godly Play and the special needs children she teaches: 

“Any child with special needs can keep track of what is going on simply by watching the movement in the story. It's told in a neutral tone, so that everyone can get something out of it, whatever their own developmental pace.”

And Wolfhard adds: 

"Vanessa goes to the shelf, discovers the picture, The Last Supper, and looks at it intensely. I have no idea what she is thinking, but a process is definitely going on in her head. That's when I think that something here is really working!"

When I began preparing to integrate Nina into our Godly Play group, I immediately went to Martina, Hillary at Featherglen, and Sarah at the Spiritual Child Network for some advice. The child's own mother was also, of course, an invaluable resource. 

Here are some helpful things that I learned:

1. Special needs children need both structure and an understanding of what is about to take place. Godly Play already has a simple, but effective rhythm. It is the same structure each time, but the possibilities within that structure are endless.

Nina's mother helped me put together this chart below to show Nina what we would do in children's church. 

Here Nina can see that we will hear a story, play or do art, pray and then eat a snack. Because she now knows exactly what to expect, she gets excited about coming.

2. You need a co-teacher! I have done Godly Play in many settings with up to 15 children alone. But when you have a special needs child in the group, you really do need a second adult in the room. Melinda, my co-teacher, once toyed with the idea of being a play therapist, and she is just amazing with Nina. 

Melinda and Nina playing with the desert bag.
3. Sign language can be helpful, especially in the beginning. Makaton is a sign language that developed in England specifically for children with Down Syndrome. You can find links to Makaton sites at the Spiritual Child Network. We used this in the beginning with Nina for words specific to the Christian faith. But because she is so high-functioning in the language area, we soon found that we didn't need them. 

4. Give loving, respectful boundaries. Nina's mother and my other advisors told me to be sure and give Nina clear boundaries. I think when someone is inexperienced with special needs children, there can be a tendency to just let them do whatever out of a misguided sense of compassion or out of pure frustration. Melinda and I have learned to simply (and gently, but firmly) take Nina's hand and direct her when she needs a boundary. Or we give her a choice. For example, we always ask the children to sit up (as opposed to lying on the floor) for our small feast each week. One Sunday Nina decided that she didn't want to sit up. We gently, but firmly told her that she could have her snack after she sat up. She lay down for a little while longer, but then decided that she was hungry and sat up.: ) 

5. Let yourself make a few mistakes.: ) It's part of the learning process. Don't wait until you know everything to make special needs children a part of your life. You'll miss out on too many fun things!

If you have a special needs child in your group or are considering integrating special needs children in the future, here are some resources that I can point you towards:

1. The Spiritual Child Network - inspiration and links to helpful sites

2. Featherglen - Hillary in Scotland regularly uses GP with special needs adults in the L'Arche community.

3. Thoughts from the Sheepfold - Leslie, who uses the Montessori-based Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, has special needs children in her classes.

4. Martina Grass - Godly Play Trainer and special needs teacher in Germany. She can be reached at grassqgodlyplay.de . (Just replace the "q" with an @ sign.)

5. All Play on Sunday - The author of this blog has experience with autistic children

Last Sunday, Nina's mother said that she woke up very excited to go to church. When her Mom asked if she knew where they were going, she responded with a big smile and said, "Sheila, sand, fire!" ("Sand" for the desert bag and "fire" because we light the Christ candle each time.) That made my day. Nina is such a special part of my life, and I am so glad that God allowed our paths to meet.

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Godly Play: The Good Shepherd and the Worldwide Communion

Well, I'm back after a short pause from blogging. Sometimes you just have to take a break every now and then to find fresh inspiration.: )

This week at our church's bi-weekly brunch, we heard the story, "The Good Shepherd and the World Communion". I actually like the German title better: "Der Gute Hirte und die weltweit Einheit der Christen", which translates to "The Good Shepherd and the Worldwide Unity of Christians". This story is from the liturgical genre and connects the Parable of the Good Shepherd to the Eucharist (Communion or Lord's Supper, depending on which tradition you come from). The Eucharist, like the Lord's Prayer, is something that almost all Christians with few exceptions (although there are some) observe. Hence, my tendency to favor the German title. 

This is a story with little text. As an inexperienced Storyteller, I used to rush it, because I was uneasy with the silence. If you can learn to be content with the silence, the children will be attentive as well and enjoy the silence. 

The Good Shepherd leads his sheep out of the stall. They know his voice and follow him.

He goes before them to show them the way.

He leads them to green pastures.

This is the Good Shepherd's table.

This is the bread and wine of the Good Shepherd.

Sometimes people from all over the world come to the Good Shepherd's table. And the children come, too.

The text above is, of course, not the actual text. It's just enough to give you a taste of what the story is like and show you what the movement in the story is like. 

The image of the Good Shepherd seems to be an image that children are naturally drawn to. Berryman based his Good Shepherd stories on the work of Sophia Cavaletti (who developed Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the forerunner of Godly Play), who in her research repeatedly found that children were particularly interested in the idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I have found this to be true in my work as well. 

All of the children who heard the story today had heard the Parable of the Good Shepherd at least once before. Some have actually participated in Communion before. But interestingly enough, the children did not seem to make a direct connection between communion in the church and the Good Shepherd's table. One child, however, wondered if there was a connection between the Good Shepherd's table and the Passover feast (which she had been learning about in religion class at school). 

One of the questions in the Wondering was whether or not the people at the Good Shepherd's table were happy. That led to a lively discussion about whether or not we are always happy when we come to the table or when we leave. 

Here is a look at some of the creative work that we did afterwards.

One child wanted to hear the Parable of the Sower, so I told it to her. Then she pulled out the Second Creation story and put it together with the Good Shepherd and the World Communion. I would love to know the story that she was going through her head. 

Another child made wool pictures. 

Other children painted.

I am thrilled to have a child who is developmentally young enough for Montessori Practical Life activities. She is practicing "dry pouring" with lentils, an activity that encourages fine motor skills. 

This was one of our more harmonious Godly Play Sundays, and one in which I pondered again how much I love my job! 

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Closer Look: Easter Nature Table 2013

I wanted to give you a closer look at our Easter Nature Table that I mentioned in the last post. 

Overnight, our table transformed from Lent . . . 

to joyous Easter . . . 

Here are some of the Pysanky that we made this year.

Our sad, purple cross becomes a symbol of triumph.

And we find the stone rolled away and an empty tomb.

A few close-ups of our Easter tree ornaments:

And last but not least, we've included various bunnies and chickens that the kids made in school.

 . . . 

Unser Jahreszeittisch verwandelte sich über Nacht von einem Fastenzeitstisch zum einem fröhlichen Ostertisch! 

Da haben wir einiges ausgestellt: ein weißes Kreuz, das leere Grab von Jesu, unsere Pisanki-Eier, selbst gebastelten Hasen u. Küken und natürlich den geschmückten Osterbaum. 

Frohe Ostern an euch alle!

Linked to Friday's Nature Table at The Magic Onions

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Happy Eastertide!

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter Sunday! 

After attending a sunrise service with some friends at a local church, we had lovely Easter brunch at our house. Later on, since there was a ton of snow on the ground and I was still a bit sick, we opted to hunt the Easter eggs in our apartment. 

The first thing my daughter did after getting dressed was to go to the
nature table and roll the stone away from the empty tomb. Then,
she changed the cross from purple to white.

Happy Spring, huh? Apparently, we Berliners
are having the coldest March in 130 years!
We made a Russian Easter cake called a "kulich"
for brunch. Mine looks a little like a giant
mushroom, because the dough overflowed
the coffee can while baking.: )
The last few days we've just been enjoying the time off from school to meet with friends and do some things that we don't normally get to do when school is in session. On Easter Monday (we get two days for Easter in Germany!), we visited a well-known medieval festival near the Chorin Monastery just outside of Berlin. We were treated to a medieval Passion Play as well as fire-spitting acrobats and a dragon. My son loved shooting a bow and arrow best of all.

The Monastery at Chorin

On Tuesday, we got to see baby chicks hatching at the Kindermuseum MachMit!, a hands-on children's museum in the Prenzlauerberg district of Berlin. It also has an amazing jungle-gym labyrinth on the top floor. Makes me wish I was a kid again!

And on Wednesday, we visited a stable and got to ride horses.

We've also started using our Resurrection cards and telling all the stories about Jesus between the resurrection and his ascension. 

Easter is such a wonderful time of year, and now 
we have 6 whole weeks to celebrate it!