Thursday, May 30, 2013

Written Prayers with Children

My 7-year-old daughter does not like to pray. At least that is what she tells people. When probed a bit further, what she really means is that she doesn't like to pray out loud. Who knows why? Maybe praying out loud just isn't her best way of expressing herself to God. Maybe she is intimidated by her older brother, who loves to pray out loud. 

She also says sometimes that she doesn't know how to pray, which is probably the real issue. So after pondering for some time how to help find her own way to pray, I noticed that she was showing a great interest in writing, both in English and in German. 

Near the middle of her first grade year, she began to show a real desire to express herself through the written word. She wrote stories, made cards for people, and even wrote a "secret message" for me on the bathroom mirror that showed up after I took a shower.: )

Shortly after observing this, I came across the book, Writing to God: Kids' Edition, by Rachel G. Hackenberg. 

In this book, the author explains how prayer is like a conversation and then offers short prompts for written prayers. It is divided into several sections with writing prompts based on:

  • the 5 senses
  • feelings
  • Scripture verses
  • nature
  • thankfulness
  • ordinary events
  • using metaphors and similes (which she calls "using new words and pictures")

I made each child a prayer journal by stapling paper together, and we have been journaling together in our evening devotions. Not every night, but a couple of nights a week. 

And my daughter has been delighted by it. Her prayers are simple and heart-felt. They remind me to take time to enjoy the simple things in life.: )

If you are a Godly Play teacher or work with children in church settings, it might be worth your time to incorporate some of the ideas in this book into your classroom. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Things that damage a Child's Spirituality

I'm continuing to read From the Ground Up by Kathryn Copsey. I'm on a chapter now entitled "Damaged Spirituality". According to the author, a child's spiritual growth can be stunted or damaged through situations that threaten a child's natural openness, ability to live in the present, freedom of spirit, and the image of God within them. (In the reverse, a child's spirituality will be strengthened through situations where these four key areas are affirmed.) 

Here are some things that work against and can ultimately shut down positive spiritual growth:
  • repressing the child's natural curiosity and ability to see the world with wonder
  • too much or inappropriate media access that take the joy out of simpler activities and expose them to negative adult values
  • discouraging children from making choices
  • damaging the sense of trust through inconsistency, unreliability, and insincerity
  • shutting down a child's welcoming nature by discouraging or belittling them when they attempt to join in an adult conversation
  • overloading the child with too many responsibilities and cares (impairs their ability to live in the present)
  • lack of  healthy boundaries
  • lack or absence of unconditional love
  • when shame is used as a tool of discipline or control

Children whose spirituality has been damaged or stunted will eventually deny their needs and disown them, or lose a voice for them altogether. They then develop coping strategies through behaviors that often drive the adults around them crazy. And though these behaviors can give caregivers gray hair, without them the child would "drown". 

I think we all have made at least one or two of the mistakes above out of ignorance or frustration. And it's scary how many misguided "Christian" parenting books out there actually suggest doing some of them as good parenting. (I know at least one series that highly discourages giving young children choices! But, as Copsey points out, how can they "choose" a relationship with God if they have never been taught to make good choices?)

The good news is that God is much bigger than our mistakes, and that a child's spirituality can be restored. We can make good on our own mistakes, and then we can reach out and help hurting children along the path to restoration. 

I'll be writing about that chapter soon!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Montessori Musings: Spring Practical Life Tray Activity

I wanted to show you this easy Practical Life Activity with a spring insect theme. The children make the pattern on the cards by stringing insect buttons on a pipe cleaner.

This activity trains fine motor skills as the child places the pipe cleaner through the small button holes. Mathematical skills are trained as well through the recognition of patterns. While this activity is mainly for 4-5 year olds, a couple of older children found it interesting as well on Sunday. They began to make up their own patterns after a while instead of following the cards, which is a logical progression.

I found the buttons at a hobby shop, and then made the cards myself by downloading free clip art images.

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Celebrating Pentecost

Our Pentecost celebration in Children's Church was rather scaled down this year. First of all, most of the kids that normally come weren't there for various reasons. Secondly, we didn't have our traditional cupcakes to celebrate the church's birthday, because my co-teacher, who wanted to bake them, was sick. But, we made the best of it and had a pretty good time together.

It's the one time of the liturgical year where we get to use the color red!  Our liturgical "clock" below shows the time.

Our focus table.
I told the Godly Play "Mystery of Pentecost" story, which you can read more about here, here and here

I limited our Response Time to the following activities: needle-felting with wool, drawing with colored pencils and a Montessori Practical Life activity. Below you can see the materials for needle-felting and drawing. Later this week, I'll show you the Practical Life tray activity.

The kids chose to spend their time needle-felting afterwards. We made things that remind us of spring such as butterflies and birds. I love the butterfly as a symbol of Pentecost, because it implies the transformation that takes place as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We spent some time talking about this together. 

This is a needle-felted symbol of the Trinity.
On a funny note, my daughter spontaneously set up her Playmobil house the same as we do for the church brunches. 

with the adults in the living room doing their thing . . . 

and the kids sitting in a Godly Play circle in the kitchen!  
She even made up her own parable with a vase, flowers and two cows.: )

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

Friday, May 24, 2013

On the island of Rügen

Rügen is a German island in the Baltic Sea. It is a nature lovers' paradise, and one of the most uncommercialized tourist locales in Europe. It is much-loved by Berliners for weekend get-a-ways, because it is not far away. We have been there many times and visited again over Pentecost. (Berliner schools get the Monday and Tuesday after Pentecost Sunday off!) This time, we were at a the northernmost tip of Rügen called Cape Arkona that is known for its chalk bluffs facing the sea.

The landscape is amazing in any season, but the rapeseed fields in spring were especially breathtaking. I kept thinking that I was in the middle of a Van Gogh painting!

It's rarely what we'd call "hot" on the Baltic sea, and most of the time, we had on long sleeves and jackets. But my kids were determined to go swimming no matter what the temperature was. 

Rügen is also a rock collector's treasure chest. We brought home a lot of souvenirs and a few things for future art projects.

The area around Cape Arkona is also known for its bike trails. We covered many kilometers on our bikes each day and returned home each evening with that wonderful tired but relaxed feeling you get after lots of fresh air and physical exertion.

We also got to ride horses through the forest along the chalk bluffs. I don't have any pictures of us riding, though, because after not having ridden a horse in 20 years, I was too nervous to let go of the reins and take a picture! 

We'll be celebrating Pentecost at our church gathering this Sunday, so stay tuned!

Friday, May 17, 2013

How and why to set up a nature table

We all know that children need rhythm in their daily lives. Any educational philosophy worth its salt agrees on this, from Montessori to Waldorf or Reggio. They also need to understand that there is a rhythm to the world beyond them. (Remember, spirituality at its most basic is an attempt to connect to something greater than ourselves.) Nature Tables are a practical way to help a child understand the rhythm of the greater world around them.

Nature tables highlight both the physical seasons and special holidays. It is a place to put the small "treasures" that children find outside: stones, leaves, sticks, flowers, etc.

Summer Nature Table
Autumn Nature Table
We follow this rhythm with our nature tables: winter, Lent, spring / Eastertide, Ascension, Pentecost, summer, autumn, Advent and Christmas. Our rhythm follows the Christian liturgical calendar, but if you are not religious or of another faith, you could highlight other holidays that are significant in your culture.

Lenten Nature Table
Advent Nature Table
Although I come up with the basic concept and much of the symbolism, I allow my children to add their ideas and help set up the table.

Adding to the Summer Nature Table.
Making felted butterflies for last year's Pentecost Nature Table.
If you've never made a nature table, here are a few tips:

1) Begin your design for the table by asking the question, "What about this season is important to our family?"

2) Less is more. We try not to overcrowd the table with too many things. 

3) Try to use only what you have, have found, or have made before buying new things for the table. 

4) Let your child have input, but give guidance as to what is aesthetically pleasing. 

5) Avoid the table becoming a drop-off point for unrelated things like keys, papers, toys, etc. 

I recently asked my children of all the special activities that we have done through the years what their favorite was. My nine-year-old son answered without hesitation, " The nature tables!" My heart just jumped when he told me that, because they are a true labor of love with and for my sweet ones. 

P.S. - You can find links to all the nature tables I've made by clicking on the "Nature Projects" button above!

Linked to Eco Kids' Tuesday at Like Mama-Like Daughter and Organic Aspirations

and Friday's Nature Table at The Magic Onions

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ascension & Pentecost Nature Table

Dieses Jahr haben wir Himmelfahrt und Pfingsten auf dem Jahreszeittisch zusammen getan. This year we combined the themes of  Ascension and Pentecost to set up our nature table. 

 Unten kann man Jesus mit den Jüngern sehen, 
bevor er zurück zum Vater in den Himmel fährt.
Die Flamme aus Holz stellt das Geschenk des Heiligen Geistes dar.
Here you can see Jesus speaking last comforting words to the disciples
before he returns to the Father. 
The stacking flame represents the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Schmetterlinge sind in der Waldorpädagogik traditionell zum Pfingsten. Diesmal haben wir sie mit dem Filznadel trocken gefilzt. Sie hängen vom Fensterrahmen und sehen so aus, als ob sie "fliegen", wenn der Wind weht.
Butterflies are also traditional at Pentecost, also called Whitsun. 
This year we decided to needle felt them. They are hanging from the top of the window sill and appear to be "flying" when a draft comes through the window.

Meine 7-jährige Tochter wollte auch beim Filzen mitmachen. Bis jetzt habe ich wegen dem schrecklich großen Nadel gezögert sie's probieren zu lassen. 
Aber sie überzeugte mir, dass sie vorsichtig wäre, und benutzte eine Ausstechform um die Fingern zu schützen.
My 7-year-old daughter also wanted to try her hand a needle-felting. I had been a little hesitant after having accidentally stabbed my self a few times with the needle, but I relented when I saw that she would be careful. We used a cookie cutter to make the butterflies and protect little fingers.: )

Dann filzte sie diesen wunderschönen Schmetterling und eine Tulpe.
She went on to make this lovely butterfly hovering over a tulip.

Ein wunderschönes Pfingstwochenende an euch allen!
Have a wonderful Pentecost weekend!

Linked to Eco Kids' Tuesday at Like Mama-Like Daughter and Organic Aspirations

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

More on The Mystery of Pentecost (or the mystery of GP in two languages!)

Storyteller just wrote a post about Pentecost in which she describes the opening scene from "The Mystery of Pentecost" where a tower of blocks is built and then allowed to collapse. As soon as I read it, I thought, "Blocks? What the heck is she talking about?!!" 

Then, I realized that the German version of this Godly Play story must be different from the original English version. A few hours later my new English copy of Volume 4 arrived from Amazon, so that I could check my hypothesis. And yes, the original version is a bit different. Not radically different, but different.

Some of the Pentecost materials
The original English story draws a contrast between the story of the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament and the Pentecost story in the New Testament. Both are curious stories that are difficult to explain and involve "tongues". 

The German story, however, leaves out the Tower of Babel bit, and makes a stronger connection between Ascension and Pentecost. This makes perfect sense in our German context, because both Ascension and Pentecost are public holidays here. (Schools even get two days off for these holidays!) And even though everyone knows the holidays, the average person on the street has no idea what they are about. For this reason, the story can be used to teach about both of these important events.

Both versions retain the idea that Pentecost is like a parable. Hence, the red box for the materials.

I tend to like the German version better, but that's probably because I am used to it. I will definitely have to find a way to try out both versions, before I make up my mind. (I probably can't tell it to my own kids, because my son, who remembers absolutely everything, would tell me that I'm doing it wrong!) Also, I will have to ponder the connection between the Tower of Babel and Pentecost more. 

I've slowly been collecting the English Godly Play books. I resisted for a long time, because of the cost. Fortunately, I have managed to find all of them used on Amazon. I figure that since I am a GP Trainer now, I really should be aware of any differences and be able to tell the stories in both languages. 

And to my Russian-speaking friends who are currently translating stories, this is the sort of thing you have to look forward to. : ) 

Telling the story at Easter Club

. . . . . . . . . 

Obwohl meine Muttersprache Englisch ist, habe ich Godly Play erst auf deutsch kennengelernt. Ab und zu ist mir bewusst geworden, dass manchmal die deutsche Geschichten  andere Schwerpunkte haben als die englische Version.

Neulich hat Storyteller über "Das Geheimnis von Pfingsten" geschrieben und erwähnte Bauklötze, die man fürs Material gebraucht. Ich dachte, "Bauklötze? Was für Bauklötze meint sie?!!"

Ich habe dann nachgeguckt im englischen Text und da macht die Geschichte eine Verbindung zum Turn von Babel im Alten Testament. Die Pfingstgeschichte und der Turm von Babel sind beide kuriose Geschichten, die etwas mit "Zungen" zu tun hat, und deshalb diese Verbindung.

Der deutsche Text aber lässt den Turm von Babel weg und schliesst Himmelfahrt an. Das hat natürlich perfektes Sinn in unserem Kontext, wo Himmelfahrt und Pfingsten öffentliche Feiertage sind. (Obwohl in Berlin  die meisten nicht wirklich sagen können, worum sie gehen!)

Ich tendiere zu sagen, dass der deutsche Text mir besser gefällt, aber ich müsste beide Versionen mit Kindern probieren um das definitiv sagen zu können. 

Ein schönes Pfingstwochenende an euch allen!

Monday, May 13, 2013

YCW: Dorcas, Follower of Jesus, Helps the Poor in Judea

This is another Young Children and Worship story that I've tried out with my own children. Although I have not been the biggest fan of YWC, I have been trying to keep an open mind about it until I've told more of these stories. And the story of Dorcas has some really great things in it. 

First of all, it is a New Testament story about a woman. Not many of those out there. And as someone who is consciously trying to empower young girls, I do look for stories that highlight women characters.  

The materials for Dorcas: a Dorcas figure, a Peter figure, 2 figures to represent
a widow and a poor person, and 5 tunics 

Secondly, this story communicates freedom and variety in how we show our love for God. The story begins with how the followers of Jesus received God's gift of the Holy Spirit and how they began to do the things that Jesus did.

"Dorcas did the things that Jesus did, but in her own special way." (She made clothing for the poor and for widows.)

I love this!! The last thing I want to do is mentor children to be cookie-cutter Christians who end up not truly living out the Gospel, because of social pressure to do what everyone else does. Stories like this one communicate that God values all of our gifts and talents. 

The second half of the story focuses on Dorcas' unexpected death brought on by an illness. The many widows and poor people that she has helped are distraught with grief. The apostle Peter is immediately sent for. He prays and then bids her to get up, and she comes to life again. 

Peter and Dorcas after God makes her alive again.
My kids once again complained about the length of the story. (YWC stories are in general very short in comparison to Godly Play.) But they had a lot to say during the Wondering.

I picked the following questions to wonder about:

1) How did the people feel when Dorcas was dying?
2) How did it feel for Dorcas to die and then be made alive again?
3) What did Peter say when he prayed?
4) How might the people who saw Dorcas be made alive again have shown that they loved God in their own special way?

Unfortunately, I don't remember a lot of what we talked about this time. We did talk about the special ways that we show our love to God. And we also spent a lot of time discussing what Peter might have prayed before he told Dorcas to get up.

There were also a few silly moments, because Dorcas' name sounded a lot like "dork" to my son.: ) Glad that we can laugh together and not take ourselves too seriously.

And this is a YWC story that I would definitely tell again.

A note about the materials: Obviously, I used Godly Play People of God figures instead the YWC figures. I also looked at their material list and asked myself, "What can we leave out and still have everything we need for the story?" So I chose not to use a wooden bed for the house and a water basin with cotton balls (to represent the women washing Dorcas after her death). I thought those things would ultimately be distracting and better left to the children's imagination.

Linked to Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

Linked to Eco Kids' Tuesday at Like Mama-Like Daughter and Organic Aspirations

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Art Project: Spring Trees (Oil Pastel & Watercolor Resist)

Melinda and I recently had an opportunity to do an art project with inner-city children in another part of Berlin. We have a great relationship with a Children's Club there who provide after-school care and activities for the children in the neighborhood. Since the club is located next to a park and playground with lots of towering trees, we chose "Spring Trees" as our theme. 

This is a basic oil pastel and watercolor resist, but with the added challenge of drawing the trees from the perspective of looking upward. 

To prepare for drawing the trees, we first walked around with the children and took a closer look at some of the beautiful trees. What are the different parts of a tree? What color is the tree? How does the bark feel? When you look up, which parts of the tree appear large? Which ones appear small?

Then, we played a game in which each child picked a partner. The partner was then blindfolded and led to a tree by the other child. The blindfolded partner "explored" the tree by touch and was then led away again. After the blindfold was removed, the child had to find the tree again. The younger kids loved this game and begged to keep playing it.

And here is how we created our pictures:

Step 1: We talked about how to draw the tree, and started with the trunk. I told the children to decide how many trees would be in the picture and pick a point on the page to start. We also provided the children with some black and white photocopies of trees taken from the perspective of looking upward, so that they could visualize what to draw. 

This first step proved to be quite challenging for the children, and we were met with protests of "I can't do this!" Melinda and I calmly helped each child to keep going and repeated our mantra of "There are no mistakes in art - only changes to be made!"

Step 2: The children drew the crown of the tree using oil pastels. We told them they could use any colors they wanted. 

This part also proved challenging, because it requires a lot of patience to make the leaves. I demonstrated several techniques for making the leaves, but all of children decided on a dot/stipple effect. One child wanted to give up half-way through, but we encouraged her to stay with it.

Step 3: We added a watercolor wash over the oil pastels. Although I prepared several different colors of paint, most of the children settled on blue.

Here are a couple of the finished works:

From a second grader . . . 

From a fourth grader . . . 

This type of art project is so important for inner-city children, because it trains the child to observe intensely and to persevere with an activity. In short, it helps them to enter into the intense periods of concentration that Maria Montessori wrote are essential for healthy overall development. And the interaction with nature is also invaluable to their spiritual development. 

I really enjoyed being with these children and hope that we will have this opportunity again!

 . . . . . . 

Melinda und ich hatten neulich die Möglichkeit ein Kunstprojekt mit Kindern führen, die in einem "Sozialbrennpunkt" von Berlin wohnen. Die Zusammenarbeit war mit einem Kinderclub, die ein tolles
Nachmittagsprogramm für die Kinder im Kiez anbietet.

Da der Kinderclub gleich gegenüber von einem Park mit vielen Bäumen liegt, haben wir uns für das Thema, "Frühlingsbäume" entschieden. Als Vorbereitung fürs Zeichnen, haben wir mit den Kindern die große Bäume genauer angeguckt. Wir spielten auch ein Baumspiel aus der Naturpädagogik, damit die Kinder die Bäume mit den 5 Sinnen kennenlernen konnten. 

Danach fingen wir an die Bäume zu zeichnen, aber aus der Perspektive am Boden zu sein und nach oben zu schauen. Dann haben wir die Baumkrone, Stamm und Äste mit Ölkreide gemalt. Zuletzt haben wir den Hintergrund mit Wasserfarbe darüber gemalt. 

Die Technik war für die Kinder ziemlich herausfordernd und manche wollten mittendrin aufhören. Aber dies war genau, was sie gebraucht haben, denn so ein Projekt trainiert Wahrnehmungsfähigkeiten und Ausdauer. Am Ende waren die Kinder ganz stolz auf die schönen Bilder! 

Linked to Eco Kids' Tuesday at Like Mama-Like Daughter and Organic Aspirations

and Friday's Nature Table at The Magic Onions