Sunday, December 13, 2015

Our December 13, 2015 session in the atrium

Oh,  the excitement of Christmas!  I can see it growing in our little ones each week as we move closer to December 25!  But we still try to emphasize that this is Advent, and not yet Christmas!  So, I fill the atrium with 'lots of practical works that involve the color purple.  Again, a subtle way to emphasize that we are in the "purple" season, which they have already begun to associate with "preparation for a feast."  No, we're not at the feast (of Christmas) yet, but we're getting ready!

Such an important message, especially in today's world, which has been talking "Christmas" for weeks now!  I feel sad that our society, as a whole, misses the wonderful season of contemplative preparation!

So, as promised last week, thought I would share some photos of our work table and the various works that the children are doing during Advent.  Some of these works aren't necessarily "religious" in nature.  Their goal is to help the children build their motor skills (especially fine motor skills) while increasing their ability to concentrate for a growing period of time.  As explained last week, this is an essential skill that many of us are losing today, yet it is a skill that is foundational to our ability to pray in a deep and meaningful way. 

So, here are some of the works they will use in Advent.  (I apologize that some of these photos are blurry!  I was trying to quickly take some shots before the children arrived this morning.)

  "Match the names of Jesus" work. These little plastic ornaments, in purple, pink and silver, have the many names of Jesus written on them. (One name on each ornament, such as "Light of the World," "Holy Child," etc.  The children find the name with the ornament and place it on the laminated sheet next to the appropriate word.  We have two sets of this work -- one with small ornaments, the other with larger ornaments.

"Decorate our Jesse tree work."  Children can select small purple garland, beads and ornaments to decorate our little tree.  On the third week of Advent, we add a few pink ornaments to the mix for Gaudete Sunday.
This work was so popular last week that I added a second small tree this week, so more children could decorate a tree if they wished. I also encourage them to make "Jesse tree" ornaments -- we have paper ornaments that they can color and add to the tree. 


"Placing beads in small grooves on a mat."  The children use a little spoon to move purple, oval-shaped beads from the small bowl to the mat.  The second photo is a similar activity--they are moving round beads from the container to the grooved mat using the purple tongs.

 "Learning to spell the word 'Advent" and "Emmanuel"  The children match purple wooden letters to the letters on the Advent mat.  When they have found the correct letter, they place it directly over the letter on the mat. The second photo gives them the opportunity to match the wooden letters to spell Emmanuel.  Both activities also help them build vocabulary and letter recognition.

 "Dry Erase Coloring the Word 'Advent'"     The children use a purple dry erase marker to color in the word Advent, then they use the little included eraser to erase their coloring.  They can repeat as many times as they like.  It is interesting to watch the children concentrate while they do this, and they may repeat it several times, as if they are memorizing the letters!

 "Sorting purple objects."  The children use a little spoon or their fingers to move sort and categorize purple items of various shapes and textures.  Some of the items include tiny purple blocks, sticks, pom-poms and triangles. Because they have a choice of how to move the materials, they are problem solving:  could they move the sticks with the little spoon, or will they need to use their fingers to do it?

As mentioned earlier, many of these works may almost seem "secular" because they do not have any Biblical or spiritual underpinings.  However, they are still building a very important skill for the children.  As their concentration levels and ability with these practical works increase, we find that they spend less time on these materials and more time on some of the more "spiritual" works.  


The other thing we did today:  while the children were working individually on these various works, I pulled small groups of children aside and presented the Annunciation material to them.  I use a small diorama of Mary's home with figures of Mary and the Angel Gabriel.  I read Luke's passage about the Annunciation to them, we discussed the passage, and then I read the passage again, using the figures.  I wish I could have taken photos of the children while I was presenting the material (but that would have distracted them too much!)  The wonder and joy I saw in their faces, at the thought of an angel appearing to Mary and telling her the great news that she was going to have the baby Jesus! 

It is amazing in many ways.  I read to them directly from a regular Bible (not a children's Bible), and as you know, a regular Bible is often filled with big words they don't know.  Yet they remain attentive to the words and their eyes watch me closely as I read from the Bible.  I might explain a few words here and there, but sometimes this seems almost unnecessary.  They may not have the vocabulary to give me a definition of the meaning of the complicated words, but they still understand the story and love it.  I can see it in their faces!  

I feel so blessed to do this work with your children each week, and to watch as they discover the beauty and miracles that God gives us every day! 

We're off for three weeks for the Christmas holiday.  Our next session will be 1/10/16, when we'll do a meditation on the Nativity.  

Wishing you and your families a joyous holiday season!  



Photos and brief commentary on December 6, 2015 session

Although it is the second Sunday of Advent for the church, it is the first week that we've observed Advent in the CGS atrium, because we were off last week for Thanksgiving break.  The children noticed the changes, from the new "Advent" themed work on the tables, to our Jesse trees, waiting to be decorated, to the purple cloth and the advent wreath on our prayer table.

 We also read Isaiah's Prophecy (9:2) and learned about how "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."  Such deep thoughts these little ones on this prophecy,  from how beautiful the light is and how happy we are see to see the light!  Who is this light?  They immediately answered "Jesus!"

I'll share photos of our Advent work in the 12/13 edition of the blog, but for now, want to share some photos of the children working,  snapped by Christy Sharafinski.  (Thank you, Christy!)

Notice that even when they are sorting things, or using their fine motor skills to place little beads on an indented mat, that they are in deep concentration.  In our hurried, fast-paced world, this is a skill that many children (and adults!) are losing--the ability to concentrate deeply on something for an extended period of time.   I think that is why coloring books have become so popular with adults, especially those coloring books that include images with detailed patterns.  You really need to concentrate deeply to color them.  Our soul yearns for this deep, contemplative concentration!

Several of the children enjoy decorating our "Jesse tree."  I do not call it a Christmas tree.  During Advent, we decorate it in the color of the season--purple for Advent, and they had  the opportunity to color little Jesse tree ornaments and put them on the tree.  (The white pieces of paper are our Jesse tree ornaments.)

If you aren't familiar with a Jesse tree, it is a tree or bush filled with small ornaments that symbolize important people in the Old Testament who are Jesus' ancestors.   Think of it as Jesus' family tree!

Incidentally,  I do not discuss the Jesse tree with the children in Level I (with the 3-6 year olds), other than just tell them it is a Jesse tree.  That's because Sofia Cavalletti, the developer of the program, does not recommend teaching Old Testament stories to the littlest ones.  For the littlest ones, we want to build an image in their head of a loving shepherd who watches over them and protects them.  Sofia found that this is the image that resonates with them the most at this tender young age.  Old Testament stories are often frightening to children, or, to make them less frightening, they are often told in a "fairy tale" way that will later confuse the children and make them associate Bible stories with fictional stories.

Because of this, your little ones won't hear Old Testament stories in CGS until they are older and have reached the age of reason (usually about 9-12 years old.)  By that time, they have already fallen in love with the loving, merciful God and are more able to dwell in the deeper meanings of the Old Testament passages.

Sorry--I went a little off topic, but wanted to explain why your children won't be hearing stories like Noah's Ark, or Jonah and the Whale, until they are older.

Happy Second Week of Advent, everyone!