Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sitting here...

So I'm sitting here coloring color pages from the last 6 or 7 Bible story handouts (cringing over my coloring skill) intending to cut them into puzzles to add to our assortment of distraction-into-worship activities. Asking myself, "Why exactly am I doing this? Why am I not more focused on "spiritual" things..."

Well, at least one preschooler isn't into arts and crafts but LOVES puzzles. A couple of kids don't always like to listen but if they're pretending, they're actively engaged. Right now, the older kids like word games. A couple kids are physically and mentally very active kids. (Playdough!) A couple of kids are very very social.* Most like music: listening, singing, playing rhythm instruments, moving, dancing.

I'm sitting here asking, "Why is it important (for me) to find quiet activities to engage every child (all different kinds of kids) and to help them focus on the story (apart from the importance of the story itself and interacting with it). Why?"

Just because I/we think an activity is actively engaging, it doesn't mean the child will. If a child isn't engaged during our worship time in a way that's personally meaningful to him/her (whether they can articulate that or not) all our good intentions, planning, and activities won't mean anything personal. There are other things imaginary and real that will draw their attention and as they grow, those things will grow with them. If the things we plan don't mean anything to them, they won't make it theirs.

"It"? Faith? Christ Jesus ? God? To make God's story, my story. We're focused on basic sensory, language experiences for the under 7's that will cause them to ponder God's stories. Then we watch and see what God will do. Don't know if anyone else is thinking but I'm not sure including kids in worship will work any other way. Activities that allow children using one of their five senses to encounter God's stories, and learning the words to go with the experiences, will probably open doors for most kids. But most kids will remember some sensory experiences better than others - thus the need to offer a variety of choices. That's what we're doing for adult kids.

My prayer is that the Spirit of Jesus saturate the work of our hands and engage these little people in spirit and in truth as they interact with the Greatest-of-Storytellers through His Story in as many ways as we can think of.

*Social: That's the hardest one to tap into during worship but maybe the inability to socialize with peers forces a social child to think about Jesus as the only one left to interact with and to encounter Jesus through the adults he/she interacts with. An idea that deserves more thought. :)

Catching up: Easter and Emmaus

Last week on Easter Sunday we had both younger kids and older kids in the foyer before the end of service. They'd gone through planned activities quickly so we turned a blanket and table into a cave. It got loud but a couple of kids were actually thinking about the story. I heard them!

This week was The Road to Emmaus focused on seeing Jesus when he broke the bread. Pieces of bread, gingerbread man cookie cutters, peanut butter (and decorations) for sanctuary and foyer. Maybe that was an unspiritual stretch, but memorable. In the foyer, we had a small table cloth with play food and dishes . Apparently there was enough to keep the older kids occupied and engaged in the sanctuary. The little ones in the foyer played with the food and dishes much more quietly and much longer than I expected.

So I'm thinking about quiet, reusable or multi-purpose/story-appropriate toys and puzzles . . . without generating alot of clutter.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Painting a young face

On Lisa's Blog
she shares some comments made by the artist who drew/painted? a portrait of the young actor who played Harry Potter. I think the artist's comments about the challenge of painting the young vs. the old are really really profound.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Revisting Children's Spirituality (the brain -1)

"Children's Spiritual Experiences and the Brain" by Scottie May and Donald Ratcliff. (This is where I bite my tongue having made earlier comments about common sense and research.)

Some comments to ponder:

For scientific purposes and the purpose of this discussion, spirituality seems to contain elements of awareness, mystery, value and relationship. (Children's Spirituality p. 149) I like these describing words maybe because they fit my experience and my understanding of scripture.

"Spiritual experiences, in Nye's view, occur in children regardless of religious training or lack thereof. . . spirituality, in this sense, [is] quite distinct from religion." (Children's Spirituality p. 150) I wholeheartedly agree that spirituality and religion are distinctly different. Are faith and spirituality the same? I think of faith as relational.

"Spiritual experience is often powerfully influenced by the immediate environment. Certain contexts may be more conducive to quiet reflection and experiences of awe and wonder than others." (Children's Spirituality p. 150) I think this is perhaps the context of Young Children in Worship. And I think it's something to ponder as we include children in contemporary worship. The two environments are very different. This may sound contradictory, but I think that the environments we link with spirituality have everything to do with how we perceive "spirituality" and whether it involves and includes all of life or one segment of our lives, just the still quiet places or any place we find ourselves.

We (children, people) are "hardwired to connect." "We are hardwired for other people, and for moral meaning and openness to the transcendent." The authors go on to say that ever-increasing incidences of emotional and behavioural problems in North American children is one of the reasons that social science is beginning to explore spirituality. According to one study, strong nurturing environments or lack of that nurturing can counteract "gene transcription and development of brain circuitry". (Children's Spirituality p. 150) I'm presuming that can go positive or negative. The study also showed that "[p]ositive spiritual development and religiosity may have the same effect as primary nurturing relationships because they influence well-being in significant ways." (Children's Spirituality p. 151) This would suggest the value of including children in faith communities with or without their families though I personally feel strongly about respecting, not undermining, the role of parents in a child's life. This opens doors to other discussions.

"While research cannot directly measure spirituality- by its very nature "spirit" is immaterial- there have been recent investigations that suggest that certain patterns in neural activity tend to correspond with the experiences of a spiritual nature. " (Children's Spirituality p. 151)

This makes me think of Romans 1:20 (NIV) "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. . ." We think about that when we look at what God has created outside of us and even our human bodies. Interesting to think about what the inside of us and the way that we're wired tell us about God.

I'll keep reading...

The lady with the jar of perfume ointment

That was the story on Sunday.

Before service, we had kids helping get key chains ready for "Artisan in 7" (All a visitor might want to know about Artisan in seven minutes sandwiched :-) between the end of service and dinner) and someone helped wash potatoes. Kids often help put pens on chairs. They help bring chairs out from the nursery. They puppy-sit Camden. Although the kids will do different jobs or no jobs, I think there are already jobs they enjoy and jobs they don't, depending on the child.

Pastoral object lesson: bath oil beads in a tub of water for the kids to squeeze. So much fun it was hard to break away!

The school aged kids had perfumes and lotions to smell with fake price tags (smallest container with the biggest price) and activity sheets. We have activity sheets for any child old enough to use a crayon.

The toddler to pre-K didn't seem to care about the smells. One of the magazines for cutting had some nice jar pictures. Too bad I didn't think to bring a jar for the littles in the foyer.

So we had the smell of perfume and a visual for the word "jar". Not enough for 30-40 minutes.

If learning is tied to experience and language to experience, touching, smelling, seeing, hearing, learning appropriate words to go with the story is probably enough for the 2's.

One of our pre-K's played a game standing and dropping clothes pins in a can. Harder than it sounds. The can could have been a jar.

Still working on handling the migration of kids between the time they finish their activities during the message and the end of service.

Working on ways to engage very active children (toddler to 7) in quiet non-directed activities on topic for 30-45 minutes:
Twenty to thirty non-reader/non-directed one minute activities. . . .thirty things a child can do with a jar . . . or smells. . . hmm. . .
Quiet games or playthings available in the foyer that will tie to more than one story from scripture...

You get the idea... They can be movement based but quiet... Things from home or things provided.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


[This last Sunday we had some extra people helping out the toddlers and parents in the foyer, playing with the kids. It seemed to be going well.]

Emily, one of our college students did a separate lesson with the older kids about disabilities. They talked and colored and played a game leading a blindfolded friend through an obstacle course. Given her age range (4-8 years) the kids did a great job keeping their friends safe. I was much impressed. One of the kids that I think of as very shy was very engaged in the conversation. That was special.

And this was very special: I know that some of the kids are good friends with an adult who has some "disability". When Emily asked the kids if they knew anyone with a disability they all said "no". Why? Because he's a friend like every other friend in their lives. They're not thinking about the ways that he's different. He's their friend.

Personally, I think that's what we're shooting for... more than loving people despite our differences, to be so good at loving people that we don't even think about it.

Jesus healed.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Kids at House Blend (3)

The puppies love the kids. The kids at least like them. But my puppies are still learning manners. (Imagine yourself a child standing eyeball to eyeball with not one but two black dogs even if they're well mannered!)

My two black puppies usually wait impatiently behind the baby gate until everyone's done eating and the meeting closes then we let them mill around and greet everyone. (They stand eye-ball level with plates of food on laps and at least eyeball to eyeball with most of the kids).

At the end of the night we usually let them join the group because we need them to welcome and be comfortable with groups of people (and kids) at our house. Friday night my usual puppy supervisors had to leave early and we went over our time so everyone left pretty quickly. (Ellie didn't even bark at my guitar. smile! )

I think my puppies were disappointed that they didn't get their usual social time at the end. (Good thing Bryn was there!) But having the gate means that we could have our meeting and still watch the kids feel safe and go up to them and talk to them and pet them (and get them excited) the whole time. Grown-ups, kids, and puppies did just fine.

Kids at House Blend (2)

All of you who have groups in your house understand that something like House Blend means a relatively clean house, a meal for 10-15+ , add worship semi-coordinated with whatever George decides to explore as topic which he thinks about for a week or a month but doesn't actually decide until Friday. Friday mid-morning, my husband whom I love, decided that it would be nice to use the idea of the yeast leavening the loaf and proposed this to me: Do you suppose "we" could bake one batch of homemade bread, (I assumed he meant pita bread, which he didn't), and then have one bowl of bubbling bread dough and one bowl of flour and yeast? Simple, right?...[mh grumbles...] In order to have bread finished and bubbling dough on cue, timing is important. It also helps, after you've already gone to the store, if your yeast isn't old and dead. But even in the midst of very very thick and sticky fingers it actually was a very good idea. The kids will remember it!

We did some of the songs Mike does on Sundays with simple choruses or a phrase that repeated that the kids could sing with us. They colored and we found various quiet distractions. If nothing else, we'll learn how to engage very active kids in worship at House Blend. And maybe we can somehow apply what we learn to Sundays. We'll keep working on it. [Next time remind me to bring out rhythm instruments.]

Monday, April 03, 2006

Kids at House Blend (1)

One of the things we do at Artisan is House Blend - a relatively informal time at someone's house. (It happens to be at our house right now.) At House Blend, people come, eat, fellowship, worship, take communion together and ponder the scriptures. (and George likes to talk ...)

The Artisan folk were pretty brave having it at our house considering we don't really fit the post-modern mold or any church model we've been part of. But years ago when our kids were young, of all the home groups in our church, ours was one of the few (maybe the only one) that always included the kids. The kids usually spent the time playing and growing their relationsips with each other as opposed to staying around and participating, depending on their ages, but they came and they were a part of the group. George and I have been looking for little ways to include the kids and as I was staring at little fingers covered with sticky bread dough in the middle of my living room on Friday night, I realized that I've not blogged about this.

I don't remember which week was which but one week we took communion right after the meal as part of the meal (assuming it was part of the meal centuries ago when it first happened). We served meal sized portions of juice and bread. The kids joined us and George had some questions for them that had to do with the other things we did that night.

Another week, closing our eyes, we pictured ourselves as children receiving something from the Lord and how we would physically do that thinking it would be a good movement intro to lifting our hands. Let it be said that one of the very few who actually did something with their bodies, and the only one who lifted his hands high, was a child.

I only know the old worship songs and I didn't want to do the old worship songs so I decided to try something different. We have a young crew - a musical crew. Some of the kids like to make up songs. So I was thinking that psalm echo songs might be easy to make up and easy to do with the kids. It's scripture. If the song gets stuck in your head you get to meditate on the Word. So, for better or for worse, we used a few sentences from Psalms and made up some tunes and did an echo type deal. Yes, it was a little odd for some (most?) but that's ok. Adults and kids were basically all faced with the same challenge. Younger kids have the advantage of being less self-conscious.