Friday, June 28, 2013

Inspiring Montessori Blogs

Well, we're in Georgia now and having a great time with grandparents, but I haven't had regular internet access, so the posting is a going a little slower. Here's something I wrote last week. Hope you enjoy it!

If you click on "Godly Play" in my overhead bar, you can see my favorite blogs about Montessori-based religious education. But you may not know that I follow A LOT of other blogs as well! Over the summer I'd like to toot some other people's horns and share some favorite blogs on various topics. I'll start with inspiring Montessori blogs.

Living Montessori Now
Deb Chitwood is a certified Montessori teacher, who in turn homeschooled her own children using Montessori principles. Her blog is chock full of ideas about every theme/subject imaginable, but my favorite posts are when she writes about the principles and philosophy behind the mechanics of Montessori.

It's funny, I don't actually know this blogger-mom's real name, but her kids (Michelle, DJ and Ken) are part of my daily life, because I read about their homeschool adventures each day. Their appetite for learning is contagious and proof that Montessori really works. This mom also has another equally good blog called Think.Create.Explore.

DJ working with some math materials.
What DID we do all day?
Andrea's blog is a journal of her homeschooling experience with her two boys. If you want to learn to practically use Montessori within a homeschool context, this is the place to do it. I am continually amazed at the thoroughness in which she teaches each subject and the diligence with which she makes materials.

The Hands-On Homeschooler 
(formerly Montessori Tidbits)
Leann and I "met" through Karen Tyler's on-line Montessori course. She also has wonderful ideas about how to use Montessori principles at home. She also wrote one of my most popular posts about a Montessori-inspired prayer chart.

Nataša is a Montessori teacher in Croatia. She hasn't been writing regularly in the past year, but her blog is nevertheless a wealth of information and ideas about the Montessori classroom. She inspired me to start trying tray ideas for my own children and the children I work with.

This lady is a Montessorian who writes about child development and parenting. I so wish I had known about her when my own children were smaller. You'll find lots of ideas for both at home and classroom settings.

Maren Schmidt

Coming soon: Nature and Waldorf-inspired blogs!

Monday, June 24, 2013

More Sacred Spaces for Children

Summer vacation finally arrived in Berlin, and we're using it to spend some extra time in the US. We arrived in Houston, TX this week and are enjoying family, friends and great Tex-Mex cuisine! On Saturday, we visited Ecclesia Church where we have some connections through an old college friendship. 

I immediately fell in love with the sacred space that this church has created for their children and just have to share it with you! Inspired by Godly Play, Montessori and Waldorf principles, the space is crafted with a sensitive understanding of how children spend time with God and how it differs from the ways that adults spend time with God.

In the main hall before you even enter the children's areas, there is a "Family Worship" area with stations for children and parents to reflect and worship together in a meditative way. This month's theme was "The Great Family", the family of Abraham and Sarah, from who the Jewish people and the Christian church ultimately came from. 

One of the stations that you can see below was called the "Family Tree". Small square pieces of paper with an outline of a head and shoulders were provided. Children and parents were encouraged to draw themselves and something that makes them special and place it on the table with other members of the family. 

"The Great Family" is, of course, a foundational story in the Godly Play curriculum that deals with the existential question of identity. What a wonderful way to help children consider this question for themselves!

Let's move on to the elementary area, where I spent most of my visit, since my own children are elementary students. Below you can see one of the storytelling areas, which is a tent. When a story is being told, the tent curtains are closed. There are obviously parallels with the "Tent of Meeting" in the Old Testament. Absolutely brilliant! 

We heard the Godly Play story of Jacob, an enrichment story that continues the narrative of "The Great Family". Below you can see the focus table in the tent with a Waldorf-inspired chalk drawing.

The church is located in an old factory, and the children's spaces are very large rooms that are divided into stations. Definitely has a Reggio feel to it. There was no way to take a panoramic view of the room with my iPhone, so hopefully the picture below will give you enough of an idea of what it is like. In the very back of the room are neatly labelled shelves with art supplies and tables for the children to work at. In the foreground, you can see a reading station. The long black strip is a chalk station for making chalk drawings.

Other stations included a Montessori-like work station with tools for constructing things. There were storage bins so that the children could continue their projects over several weeks. 

My daughter is at a prayer station below. She is at a table with wooden figures and wood shavings. A table next to it has colored pencils and paper.

I also made it a point to visit the preschool area which is also a large room divided into three main sections. The children start out in an area designed for free and imaginative play that you can see below.

This is another view of the play area. Notice the play silks and dress-up materials.

The second section is a Response Time area with art supplies and nature materials. Below you can see a tray with soil and then natural objects such as pine cones in baskets to play and create with. 

The third section was the storytelling area which also had a tent just like in the elementary area. I was told that they are also working on shelving, so that the children have more Godly Play stories to work with during Response Time.

This is me with Kathy and Amanda who worked so hard to create these loving and respectful spaces for the children. May God continue to bless their work and the children in their care!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Godly Play: St. Columba

Today, we heard the story of St. Columba from Godly Play: Volume 7. The character of Columba has always fascinated me. First, he was part of the movement of Irish monasticism that "saved civilization" during the Dark Ages. Secondly, he made a huge mistake out of anger as a young man that cost many lives, but rather than being defeated by it, he lived out forgiveness and went on to help many others. Thirdly, his monastic community at Iona produced beautiful illuminated books, including the famous Book of Kells.

This Godly Play story starts out by saying that Columba means "the dove" and that it was said of him that he was loving to all. However, he hadn't always been that way. 

Through his arrogance over a book, many people were killed in an infamous battle. Columba decided to spend his life telling others of God's forgiveness and warning them about the danger of anger.

At the end of his life, he knew that "those who seek the Lord lack no thing", and had helped many people. 

My children were excited about this story, because they have actually seen the Book of Kells, which is now in Dublin. My son asked me to show him how to draw a Celtic knot during our Response Time. I showed him a simple way to do it and he drew the picture below. He figured out how to do the Trinity circular knot all by himself without my help. I love the little animal in the picture. The illuminated letters are supposed to say "God" in German, but he accidentally left off the second "t". Didn't have the heart to tell him, because it is such an amazing picture.: )

Friday, June 14, 2013

Sketchy Sunday (on Friday!)

Joining the Artsy Ants again for Sketchy Sunday, the weekly art challenge.

Last week's theme was "outfit". I chose these shoes, because I never draw pictures of shoes.: )

This week's theme is "travel". I chose this particular picture to sketch, because I need practice drawing hands.

And I am obsessed with faces. I loved the humorous, knowing look on this man's face and tried to capture it in a sketch.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Godly Play: Creation

Bevor ich Godly Play kannte, habe ich die Schöpfungsgeschichte gemieden. Ich sah keinen Weg die Information zu vermittlen ohne die dichterische Kunst des hebräischen Textes zu zerstören oder die Intelligenz der Kinder nicht zu beleidigen. Und glaubt mir - ich habe grausame Versionen dieser Geschichte in der Kinderkirche erlebt! Before I came into contact with Godly Play, I always avoided telling the story of Creation. There just never seemed to be a way to do it that honored the poeticness of the biblical account and didn't insult the children's intelligence. Believe me, I've seen some really boring and banal ways to tell this story.

Die sieben Tage der Schöpfung. The seven days of Creation.

Warum ist die Godly Play Version anders? Weil sie spielerisch und dichterisch ist. Obwohl man die Geschichte vielleicht schon kennt, ist sie trotzdem spannend. Mein lieblings Teil ist am Anfang, wo der Erzähler sagt, "Am Anfang . . . nun im Anfang, da war nicht sehr viel. Im Anfang, da war nichts. Außer vielleicht ein riesig großes Lächeln . . . aber es gab niemanden, der diese Lächeln sehen konnte." Das bringt immer Kinder und Erwachsene zum Lachen.  Why is the Godly Play version different? It combines both playfulness and beauty. And even though you might already know the biblical account, you don't necessarily know what the storyteller is going to say next. One of my favorite parts is at the beginning of the story where the storyteller says, "In the beginning, there wasn't much. In fact, there wasn't anything at all . . . except maybe a huge smile. But there wasn't anyone to see that smile." (My direct translation from the German.) I always get a chuckle out of kids and adults alike at that point. 

Der Kern der Geschichte handelt sich um die Geschenke Gottes, die wir kaum wahrnehmen können, weil sie einfach zu groß sind. Am Ende kommt der 7.Tag, ein Tag um auszuruhen und uns an all diese wunderbare Geschenke zu errinern. Der siebte Tafel ist mit Absicht leer, damit die Kinder ihren lieblings Ort, wo sie sich an diese Geschenke Gottes errinern, vorstellen können. Die Geschichte würdigt auch die Idee, dass dieser Ort nicht unbedingt in der Kirche sein müsste. The story focuses on gifts from God that we often overlook, because they are so big. It ends with a meditation on the 7th day being a day to rest and ponder these gifts. The seventh board is intentionally left blank, so the children can imagine their favorite place to think about these gifts. The story also acknowledges that this favorite place is different for each person and might not necessarily be the church. 

Unser Ergründungsgespräch war lebendig, besonders als wir zu der Frage kamen: "Welchen Tag konnten wir weglassen und trotzdem alles haben, was wir für die Geschichte brauchen?" (Für den pädagogischen Hintergrund zu dieser Frage siehe diese Post.) Die Mehrheit der Kinder waren 3.-4.Klässler, die Sachkunde in der Schule gehabt haben, und sie hatten Spass daran zu überlegen, was passieren würde, wenn ein bestimmter Tag nicht gewesen wäre. Zum Schluss einigten sie sich, dass man nichts weglassen konnte. Our Wondering was quite lively, especially when we wondered about which day we could leave out and still have all we needed. (For the reasoning behind such a question, see this post.) Half of the children were 3rd and 4th graders who have had a bit of science in school, so they had a great time discussing the effects of leaving a particular day out. Eventually they concluded that we couldn't leave anything out.

Unser Fokustisch mit der Kirchenuhr.
Our focus table with the Circle of the Church Year. (In German we call it a "church clock".)

Für die Kreativphase hatten die Kinder diese Möglichkeiten: mit den Geschichten zu spielen, mit Buntstifte und Pastelkreide zu malen, und mit Farbe und Naturmaterial zu malen. Die letzte Idee kam von No Time for Flash Cards (übrigens ein tolles Blog!). Die Kinder haben Blätter, Blumen, usw. in Farbe getaucht und Abdrücke damit gemacht.  For Response Time, the children could choose between the story materials, drawing with colored pencils or pastels, or painting with nature materials. The idea for painting with nature materials came from this post from No Time for Flashcards (a great blog, by the way!). They took leaves, flowers, etc. and dipped them in paint to make prints on the paper.

Dieses Bild errinert mich an die Seerosen von Monet.
This child's painting reminded me of Monet's Water Lilies.

Pflanzen an der Fensterbank. 
Plants on a windowsill.

Unser Vorschulkind fand diese Aktivität von Montessori-Praktisches-Leben spannend. Ich habe sie für dieses Mädchen ausgedacht, da es Sand so toll findet. Our preschooler found this Practical Life activity lots of fun. I designed it especially for her, because she loves sand so much. 

Das war der letzte Kindergottesdienst bis August, da meine Familie unterwegs in der USA wird. Ich werde die Kinder in den Ferien echt vermissen! This is our last children's service until August, because my family will be traveling to the USA soon. I will really miss these children over the summer break!

Linked to Sharing Saturday at Crafty Moms Share

and Grünzeug at Naturkinder

Work in Progress

Here's an update on the painting that evolved out of some of my sketches.

Right here my husband pointed out to me that the woman's forehead was way too high, so I remeasured the dimensions and repainted the hairline. It's always helpful to have a "second opinion" when painting faces, because you can stare at something for so long that your judgement gets impaired. 

It's almost finished. I have to figure out what to do with the butterflies, and add some eyelashes. I also have had feedback to work a little more on the nose. 

Here are some of my art "tutors" these days:

Sharon Tomlinson at All Norah's Art. Her paintings of faces are exquisite and I hope to take one of her e-courses in the fall. 

Eric T. Francis on You Tube. I love this guy's encouraging spirit. If you listen to him long enough, you will start to believe that you can draw or paint anything. He shares so many wonderful secrets about painting faces and skin tones. 

Free e-books on ArtGraphica. There are books here about everything from shading to drawing horses. 

The internet has so many amazing resources for people like me who don't have the time to attend a class! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

On-Line Montessori Course from Karen Tyler

I've received a few e-mails in response to my last post wanting more information about Karen Tyler's on-line Montessori course and my experience with it. So I thought I would share my responses with all of you.

In true Montessori fashion, the course is really what you make of it. Looking at her website, it appears that Karen has re-vamped and changed a few things, but when I was in it there was a weekly syllabus that consisted of readings about the Montessori Method (all on-line books) and downloadable albums. As I've browsed her new website, it seems that she has added things like optional quizzes and written assignments as well as Forum Boards.

The plusses: 
- You learn a lot about basic Montessori principles that can be applied across the board with all ages

- You can go at your own pace.
- You have 12 different albums at the end of the course that would cost you A LOT of money if you ordered them directly from a Montessori company.
- The price is incredibly reasonable.
- Karen is great communicator and promptly answers all e-mails and questions.
- There are no mandatory papers to turn it.

The minuses:
- The readings in the albums can get tedious after a while.
- My particular group didn't do much on-line discussion.
- Specifically for Godly Play, you probably only need the Practical Life album.
- It is aimed mainly at work with preschool children.

All in all, I am very glad that I did it. Since I didn't have the time or money to attend a Montessori college, this was an unbelievably good option! I highly recommend it if you are self-disciplined enough to follow through with the readings. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Montessori Musings: Summer Practical Life Activity

Here is another Practical Life activity that is perfect for summer when everything outside is green and blooming. This is a simple transfer activity where wooden leaves are hidden in a bowl of sand. The child finds the leaves and transfers them to the bowl on the left. 

I have a preschool child who is crazy over sand, so she found this activity to be a lot of fun. 

A closer look at the wooden leaves in the sand.

I didn't come to Godly Play with a background in Montessori.  But after practicing Godly Play for about a year, a strong desire to learn more about the pedagogy that inspired GP began to grow in me. I enrolled in an on-line course from Karen Tyler that taught me the basic principles behind the Montessori Method. Through the course's many wonderful albums (presentation ideas for each subject), I learned to create simple activities like the one above. Though the course is aimed at people working with preschoolers, I have been able to use the principles with all ages. 

Practical Life activities support and complement the other work going on in a Godly Play classroom. The activities teach practical skills as the name suggests, but also train the children to concentrate deeply. My friend, Leslie at Thoughts from the Sheepfold, writes: 

"Concentration, peace and contentment are key attributes of prayer and meditation, and practical life builds up these attributes in the children better than anything else."

I'm so glad that I can be a part of helping children in this process!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Children's Spirituality: Living in the Present

More thoughts from Kathryn Copsey's book, From the Ground UpCopsey shares with us a little of Henri Nouwen's experience working with children in Peru:

"The children always challenge me to live in the present. They want me to be with them here and now, and find it hard to understand that I might have other things to do or think about . . . I marvel at their ability to be fully present to me."

It's true. Children have this remarkable ability to live the present moment to its fullest and be 100% there. It is an important part of their spiritual development and something to be encouraged.

As adults we tend to either live in the future or the past. Or, as Copsey points out, sometimes we live in a sort of parallel world through comparison or social media. And after reading this, I've definitely become more aware of where my thoughts are. This gift of living in the present is something that we can definitely glean from our children's example.

In middle and late childhood, we can help kids continue to cultivate this gift. One way is to not interrupt a child when he/she is engaged in an activity. I am learning to hold my tongue with my kids when they are in the middle of something. I want them to learn to concentrate for long periods of time, and if I constantly interrupt them, their attention spans will not be trained. 

Another way is to limit the various forms of media in our homes and classrooms. This is so that children can continue to take joy in simple things, but also to keep them from being prematurely flooded with adult cares and values. 

Can you think of any other ways to help children cultivate this gift, or to cultivate it in our adult lives?


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sketchy Sunday

We're joining the Artsy Ants for Sketchy Sunday again! They took a break for a few weeks, but I am very glad that they are back with the weekly art challenge.

Last week's theme was "Work". Being a Montessorian, I immediately thought of the "work" that kids do in a Montessori classroom. Here is a sketch of a little hand working with the wooden cylinders. I also needed practice drawing hands, so this was a nice exercise. (Unfortunately, you can see part of a drawing on the next page - sorry for the oval shape near the hand!)

It's hasn't been a great week for sketching, but I did manage this sketch of a woman . . . 

and a butterfly oil and pastel resist, which is an idea for a children's project on repeating designs . . . 

which led to this idea for the first acrylic painting that I have done in a long, long time. I'll keep you posted on its progress.

And last, but certainly not least, my son has been working all weekend on his own comic book. He's already made at least ten pages, and I am amazed at his ability to finish projects. At his age (9), I had lots of ideas, but lacked the ability to focus long enough to complete them.