Doing the Book…or Scripture

As a teacher one strategy I used to help children really connect with a story was called “Doing the Book.” Children who “Do the Book” become more active readers. Characters setting, events, dialogue, conclusions, mood, and motivation become more important, and children pay more attention to them when they have to interpret and recreate the drama.  Doing the book greatly increases story comprehension.  What that says to me is if I want my children to comprehend scripture one excellent activity to incorporate would be Doing the Book Scripture.

Children relate to characters and images they see frequently and recognize as familiar: Mickey, Big Bird, Thomas the Tank Engine, Winnie the Pooh, etc. In order for children to develop a relationship with the images and characters of their faith tradition, they must also see these images and characters often. The spiritual characters in a child’s world need to have a name and personality: King David, Miriam dancing and singing, Noah and the ark. Only when they know enough details about these people will they think of them again and again. One of the easiest ways in which we can cultivate our children’s spiritual lives is by exposing them to religious stories and then providing them with the materials (props) necessary to enact these stories in their imaginary play.

A couple of summers ago our congregation chose to combine all our Sunday school classes because of how small our numbers got while people were on vacation, at camps, etc. One Sunday I was in charge of this multi age group. I had an 18 month old up to a 2nd grader. I read them the scripture of the Lost Sheep. Then I laid out some supplies (cotton balls, one sheep each, a farmer figurine, and some popsicle sticks) and asked them to look and think about how we could use them as I read the scripture a 2nd time. Then I allowed them to set their scene. The third time I read the scripture I had them act it out with their supplies. Then for fun we took our supplies and found someone to “perform” our story for. By then Sunday school was over. So I packed up and we went on to church. About half way through the service my oldest, who was 3 at the time and had been in class with me, asked if he could play with the “lost sheep toys.” I pulled them out and listened as he re-enacted the story from start to finish without any help from me. I was shocked that after only a few readings he already knew every bit of the story. I was even more impressed when a few weeks later he could still tell me the complete story! That speaks to the power of acting out a story! I’ve even used this technique during a children’s moment.  I didn’t have toys, I used people instead to act out the scripture about Jesus telling his disciples to let the children come to him. I recommend checking with the people you are going to use first. Or you can do like I did and just call on people in the congregation that you know will be good sports. 🙂

Not every scripture lends itself to this activity. But where it’s appropriate, it can be a very powerful way for your child(ren) to connect with scripture! Come back next week to see the types of props I use when my family is Doing the Book Scripture!

~ Monica

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How Did I Get Here?

Here’s my story, several years ago when my oldest was about 2 and my youngest was a newborn (aren’t they cute?!?) I started feeling like it was time to begin deliberately encouraging their spiritual growth. But I felt totally inadequate to that task. As a teacher I knew what to do for language development, early math and reading skills, I even knew how to discipline…I had training in all of those areas. But when it came to helping my children develop a relationship with God I was at a loss. Who here can relate?

So I turned to someone I know that does have training in all this spiritual “stuff,” my mom. She has her seminary degree with a focus on Spiritual Formation. I asked her to work with me on developing a resource for childhood spirituality. I felt like we could take her extensive knowledge on spiritual practices and my knowledge about how children learn and develop, and combine them to create something really powerful. What we came up with is a 4 session course on utilizing spiritual practices in family devotional settings. Through the years we have presented portions of this work both together and I have presented it alone. And that work led to me writing some child spirituality resources as well as a children’s book for my church.

Over the years I have used spiritual practices in my home with my children (who are now 6 and 4) and I have begun to find more and more ways to incorporate God and spirituality into our lives. And yet, I hear so many parents saying they simply don’t know what to do. And so this website was born. My hope is that I can use what I’ve learned to offer ideas that will make it more simple for you to talk about God with your children!

And now, I’d love to hear from you!  What are you already doing with the children in your life? What do you wish you knew more of or had access to? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear all about it!

~ Monica

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Brain Based Spirituality

I took a class in college, and again in Grad school that talked about brain based learning.  Now my witty father would say, “Isn’t all learning brain based?” Yes all learning involves the brain! But the idea of brain based learning is that you take what has been learned in the field of neurology and you keep those things in mind as you teach, so that you can help students have maximum retention. Now I want to state for the record that I am not a neurologist, or even an expert in brain based learning. But I find the field fascinating!

 Eric Jensen, author of Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Revised 2nd Edition
says, “One of the most amazing discoveries in brain research might be that human beings have the capacity and the choice to be able to change our own brains.  Because humans have so much uncommitted brain tissue at birth, our brains have an extraordinary opportunity to become customized by our life experiences.  Put another way when you are born the human brain has a great deal of uncommitted “real estate.” Throughout life, your brain is losing connections at the same time it is creating new connections.  What’s truly amazing is that this constant reorganization of the brain is always purposeful—driven not by a mysterious signal but by real-life use and disuse.”

That must be why algebra is totally gone for me. My brain has definitely let go of those connections!

Jensen goes on to say, “The competition concept is simple: whatever is first, whatever activities are more frequent, and whatever actions are more coherent will “win” the competition for network wiring and signal the brain to give space and resources to that set of behaviors.  Weak, rarely active synapses are eliminated.  Everything the child doesn’t do sends a message to the brain, “You may not need these connections; it’s okay to pull back on resources in this area.  Something more important is going on elsewhere.”

When I learned that piece of information I started thinking about my own boys. Knowing that humans have the capacity to change their own brains, and that whatever is most frequent will win space, I started wondering what was winning space in their lives. Right now Jake and the Neverland Pirates would be a big one for both of my children, but they also love stories and music and sports. All of those things are great, even Jake, and worthy of mental real estate. Yet I began to realize that, as a parent, I had an opportunity to buy up some of that uncommitted real estate with topics I think will be important in their lives. I want values, and the messages of our faith community to be imbedded in their minds. I want the spiritual world to have meaning for them.

The greater the number of links and associations that our brain creates, the more neural territories involved and the more firmly the information is woven neurologically.

Think of the power of that! That’s what I want for my children. I want the spiritual side of life to be so connected in my boys’ minds that it is literally woven into their brains. I want those thoughts to be the first thing that pops into their minds when they are making behavior and life choices. And because we know that humans have the ability to map out their own brain, we can buy up some “real estate” for God.

I believe that is exactly what a regular family devotion provides. Time together to open the door to communication with your children, share your beliefs with them and allow them to share theirs with you. To build those associations and connections to the story of God. That dialog is such a gift, and I’m guessing your experience will be much like mine.  I started this journey because I wanted more for my children, but what I have found is that my own spiritual life has been deeply blessed by the process.

So tell me, how does your family build those connections? What are you doing that’s working? What areas would you like to do better? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear all about your experience!

 

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Take Time to Notice

I find that often we zip through our day without really noticing anything. Take a minute and think…other than where you went and what you did, can you describe the special moments of your day? Until I started taking time to notice moments of beauty in my day my answer to that question would have been no.

For me the change happened when I started working on my photography skills. Last summer I signed up for an inspirational photography class just because I wanted to get better at taking pictures of my kids.  Little did I know that such a small thing would change me so drastically.  Through the lens of my camera I began to truly see the world around me.  The beauty in the every day mesmerized me.  More and more often I would be stopped in my tracks by the simple beauty of God’s creation and in picking up my camera I was taking time out of my life to acknowledge it, respect it, and give honor and praise to God.  For me, making space for this daily connection with God is a form of prayer.  My photographs are prayer.  And the more I practice, the more of my time is spent noticing God in my life.

So today, take time to notice.  Find something that stops you in your tracks with the presence of God.  When you begin to notice God in your life, you are more able to model that connection for your children.

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Welcome to Childhood Spirituality

Welcome! I am so glad you stopped by my little corner of the web! This website will be dedicated to sharing family devotion ideas, spiritual practices for children, and offering resources for children’s ministry.

My name is Monica and I am, first and foremost, a stay at home mom of two wonderful boys.  Prior to staying home I worked for 12 years as an elementary school teacher.  I spent much of my time teaching Kindergarten and 1st graders but I also spent time training teachers about how to work with young learners.

In my church life I focus on training congregations on how to minister to children.  I have presented workshops about using spiritual practices with children, written resources for working with children, and authored the book Sharing in Community of Christ due out in the spring of 2012.

It is my hope that through this website we can come together to deepen the discussion on encouraging spiritual growth in children.  I look forward to connecting with you as we begin to live spiritual lives together!

~ Monica

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