February 27, 2013

Sunday School: Sin & Forgiveness

Photo by Matt Keilen

At Sunday School this week, the kids learned about sin and forgiveness.  Yes, they're three and four years old.  As such, it was important to me to relate this concept to them in an age-appropriate way while discussing only the details necessary for a three or four-year-old.

First, after some guessing on their part, I told them what sin is:  knowing something is wrong and choosing to do it anyway.

Then I told them what sin is not:  an accident.  

I gave them some scenarios, and encouraged them to decide which was a sin and which was an accident.

Accident:  Bumping into my sister as I sit down at the table and causing her milk to spill.
Sin:  Bumping into my sister as I sit down at the table (on purpose because I'm mad she took the seat I wanted) and causing her milk to spill.

Accident:  Smelling fresh cookies in the kitchen, thinking Dad made them for me, and eating one without realizing it's almost dinner time.
Sin:  Listening to Dad tell me the cookies are for after dinner, and sneaking one anyway while he's in the laundry room.

Sure, this leaves some gray area as children grow into adolescents and become adults.  The sins we become capable of have far larger ramifications.  The fact that an act was accidental may be meaningless.  We hold ourselves to higher standards, and that is a very good thing because you and I know much more about how things work than three and four-year-olds do.  

Three and four-year-olds know that sometimes they do things on purpose and sometimes things happen by accident.  This is an important concept because children need to know that their intentions do matter.  We all make mistakes.  

Just as importantly, children must learn how to apologize and seek forgiveness whether the wrong they committed was accidental or sinful (on purpose).  When you witness or hear about something your child or student did wrong, give him or her the tools to make it right.

Accident:  Instruct your child to apologize for what happened.  Then make sure they say it was an accident and explain how they will try not to do it again.

        "I'm sorry I bumped into you and made your milk spill.  I didn't mean to.  Next time I'll come to the table more slowly and carefully."

Sin:  Instruct your child to apologize for what happened.  Have them acknowledge why they did what they did.  Then make sure they explain how they will try not to do it again.

        "I'm sorry I bumped into you and made your milk spill.  I was mad because I wanted to sit in that seat.  I like it the best.  Next time I'll ask you nicely if we can trade seats."

Children don't come with built in knowledge of how to seek and offer forgiveness.  Helping them do both with grace is our job.  Take them by the hand in these matters, and eventually you will see your efforts pay off.  Your children will become more forgiving and forgivable.  They will also be better equipped to solve their own relational problems.  You will even be setting them up for understanding how to acknowledge our sins before God and seek His wonderful forgiveness.

We also made a craft to demonstrate this concept, and I should really start bringing a camera to class so I can share our projects with you!  

We are images of God and we are made to shine like Him.  Sinning is like having a cloud over us.  It keeps us from God, and we can't see our brightness (our real selves) anymore.  When we seek forgiveness, we replace sin with love, and we can see our faces brightly again!  

1.  For each child in class, I cut a simple face outline and cloud outline from card stock paper.  Each was about the size of one quarter to one half sheet of paper.  The children used crayons to decorate the faces to resemble their own, and they colored the clouds as they pleased.

2.  Holding the cloud over the face, punch a hole between both pieces simultaneously, somewhere near the top of the pieces.

3.  Help the children connect the pieces through the hole using either a brad or a piece of pipe cleaner (twist the pipe cleaner to secure it).

4.  As children finish, encourage them to show you "how it works".  Guide them by asking what it means/is happening when the cloud is over the face.  Then ask how they get the face to show.  They can practice sinning and forgiving (in a totally harmless way) over and over again.


February 11, 2013

9 Hearts - 7 Ways to Learn



Holidays are loaded with opportunities for teachable moments.  Amidst all the festivities and decor, children will be having fun learning without even realizing it.

These nine simple hearts are your key to a host of Valentine's Day related learning games.

1.  Learning to wield a writing utensil begins at an early age by practicing fine motor control.  As children grow, their writing transitions from large, full-arm strokes toward small finger and wrist movements.  Encourage fine motor development by printing the heart picture above, and having your child color each of the hearts (they don't have to be the same).  Begin with the large ones, then medium, and finish with the small ones to naturally guide your child's hand to using smaller, more precise hand movements.

If your child can cut out the hearts without changing their sizes too much, have them do so before beginning activities 2-4.  Otherwise, cut them out yourself, and practice cutting at another time.

An important aspect of children's cognitive development is learning to sort objects or situations according to any characteristic (size, color, shape, type, etc.).  This skill is essential for foundational understanding in science, math, literacy, art, music, and more!  The next three activities relate to this skill called seriation.

2.  Order the hearts from smallest to largest, and then from largest to smallest.  Name them small, medium, and large, or little, middle, and big.

3.  Mix up all the hearts in a pile.  Then sort them by size, placing all the small ones in a pile, all the medium ones in a separate pile, and so on.  

4.  Mix up all the hearts again.  Now sort them by color or design.  This one can be tricky as all children will color the hearts differently.  If there are a variety of colors, gently guide your child through the process of sorting blue from orange from red.  If they're all pink, it is perfectly acceptable to put them all in one pink pile.  

If all the hearts are ALL the colors, here are some ideas.

Ways to sort by design:  
     -Do some have dots and others have lines?  
     -Are some scribbled and others colored neatly?  
     -Do some have a lot of the paper showing through and others have none at all?

The point of sorting is to note the differences between items in a group.  The surprise at the end is now you've matched them according to their likenesses.  

Be sure to help your child notice now that the hearts are sorted by color, they are no longer sorted by size (unless of course they colored all the small ones red, but you will have fun figuring this out!).

5.  Have your child line up all the hearts in a straight horizontal line.  Now, together, count them pointing to each one as you count it (this action with the counting reinforces one to one correspondence).  When you're finished, count them one more time, but this time use ordinal numbers. Beginning on the left, point to each heart one at a time in sequence, and say, "First, second, third, . . ."  Can your child think of a time in the day we count by first, second, third, and so on?  

Possibilities could include: 
     -When waiting turn in line.
     -When ordering the events of the day.
     -When describing what to do before going to the park.

6.  It is important for children to practice using position words to describe things they see or make.  As your child plays freely with the hearts, narrate her play with position words such as:  above, below, under, over, left, right, in front, and behind.

     -"The pink heart is above the blue heart."  
     -"The small, red heart is way below the medium, orange heart."  
     -"The purple heart flies to the left of the great big, yellow heart."

7.  Make a story with the hearts.  Attach arms and legs made from paper scraps, draw faces, pretend they are people, animals, or just heart creatures.  Make a heart creature home, neighborhood, family, pet, city, or even a heart creature workplace.  Use your imaginations and have fun!  

Encourage your child to initiate the ideas, and encourage him as needed.  Be sure to prompt your child to share aloud the story in his head.  Storytelling helps children learn to read and comprehend what they read.  Consider laminating (with stick-on laminating sheets) the pieces so your child can retell the story again and again. 

- - - - - - - - - -

Your child probably does not have the attention span to do all of these activities at once.  Try the ones you think your child will enjoy most.  Then, later in the day or the week, encourage your child to play more heart games.  Repeat olds ones and add in some new ones.  Enjoy!

December 13, 2012

Patterns with Cranberries and Popcorn

We have limited Christmas decorations this year because they're all in storage back in the States.  We will enjoy them next year, but we needed a little something to decorate with this year.  I decided to make garland out of cranberries and popcorn.

This is my first time making garland.  At first it seems tedious, but as you go on it is relaxing, too.  It is a great way to be reflective in this busy season.  This would also be a terrific way to spend some time in conversation with your child.

Pull out some thread to the desired length, thread your needle, and tie a really good knot in the end.  With younger children, man the needle yourself or look for one of those plastic needles at a craft store.  Children can help by sliding the cranberries and popcorn gently down the thread.  They can also help by determining the pattern and laying out the cranberries and popcorn in order of the chosen pattern.

The understanding of patterns is an essential early math skill, and is useful in other subjects like reading as well.  Pre-schoolers will enjoy making AB patterns (two items alternate), ABB patterns (one of the first item followed by two of the second item; repeat), and ABC patterns (three items in a row repeat in sequence).

Children need practice with patterns in the following ways:

-Identifying patterns

-Adding to existing patterns

-Creating their own patterns

-Filling in blanks in patterns

Understanding patterns is an acquired skill.  Expect learning to take time and practice.  Start as simply as possible, and increase the complexity as understanding improves.  Use colors, shapes, numbers, sounds, objects, words - you name it!  Soon your child will be finding patterns everywhere! 

December 3, 2012

Paper Plate Angel

This week in my Sunday school class, we read a story about when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce her pregnancy with Jesus.  The story was apparently really interesting, too, because in the middle one child hollered,

"When do we get to color?!"

When do we get to color? That is a good question.

Color we did, and because I couldn't come up with any projects centered around Mary that I liked, we made these angels instead.  

How to make the angel:

1.  Trace lines on a paper plate to make wings and a head.  Cut along the lines.

2.  Color as desired.  I really tried to find glittery crayons -I really thought/hoped they existed- but instead we used markers.  See my notes below for good pre-schooler rules for using markers.

3.  Use a hole punch to make a hole at the top center of the head.  Using half a glittery silver or gold pipe cleaner, bring the ends together and twist them about half way from the rounded end.  Form the rounded end into a circle, and bend the pipe cleaner where you twisted it making a right angle.  Insert the pipe cleaner ends into the hole.  Tape on the back side to secure if your angel is going to be doing a lot of flying.

4.  Bring together the corners of the paper plate (the parts that were next to where you started cutting for the wings), and form a cone.  The ribbed parts of the paper plate will be almost lined up.  Staple to fasten.  Test to make sure your angle stands, and adjust the shape of the cone if necessary.

Markers Rule!
Markers are awesome, and as such, they need three rules to keep them awesome.  Markers without rules become markers hidden away in the back of the pantry or somewhere your pre-schooler will never ever find them.

I show one finger to represent each rule, and then I repeat them one more time before letting them loose.

1.  Markers are for paper only.

2.  Always put the cap back on the marker.

3.  Be gentle with markers (those strong pre-schooler hands sometimes cause the marker tips to get smashed up inside the handle -no fun- or to run dry long before their life expectancy is up).

Rules like this are really helpful.  So many of the situations you may face can be corrected with one of these rules.  You don't have to say no markers on the face, hands, walls, mouth, table, dog, etc.  Simply remind the child that markers are for paper only.  And if one day you find a great project that is an exception to the rule, wait until then to tell your child about the special activity.

October 8, 2012

Want to Know What's Inside a Chinese Lantern?

For the past month I have been curiously noticing these Chinese Lanterns growing alongside my drive way.  I can guess what most flowers look like inside, but these were so mysterious. 

I plucked one of these beauties, and discovered a straight tap root that brought the whole plant quickly out of the earth.

I took it inside and got ready to dissect it.  Have you ever dissected a flower?  Dissection usually brings memories of frogs and owl pellets, but a flower is a fun, easy, and less messy project (or so I thought...).  It doesn't require many supplies either.

Find a flower of your choice.  A flower straight from the ground works really well because the roots and all the leaves may still be attached.  Lay some paper towels out on a flat work surface.  Obtain a pair of scissors.  Child-size scissors can help increase participation from the kids in your care.

I started with the roots and worked my way from the bottom up.  First I used the scissors to cut off the root section of the stem.  There were a bunch of smaller root shoots coming out of it, and I cut each of those off, too.  Let your child touch the twisty texture of the root shoots, and count the pieces.  My flower had eight small shoots and one large root.

Next I cut off each of the bunches of leaves (there were eight), and each individual leaf (there were thirty four).  Take time to notice the shape of the leaf, the feel, and the difference between the front and back.  

One of my leaves has a hole in it and it's brown there.  Can your child problem solve to figure out what happened there?

Cut the leaves off the stem carefully because you may find some teeny tiny new baby leaves like I did.  Target math skills by arranging the leaves in order from smallest to largest, and largest to smallest.

Now it's time to dissect the blossom.  I've been anticipating this part so much!  I start my scissors at the tip of the flower and slice straight up to where the stem meets the top.  I pull it open, and . . . 

Two little, squirmy, mili-peedy bugs scurry out!!  That is so not what I was expecting!  I instinctively  slam the handle of the scissors on to them; I was so startled.  I took another peek inside the blossom, and there were several more bugs inside!  I had no idea this lantern would be a home for insects.

I thought carefully about whether or not to cut open the whole blossom like I had originally planned.  I decided I could see inside well enough, there was nothing else in there, and I didn't want to loose five more squirmies into my kitchen. 

I move from the blossom onto the stem.  Cut across it to see the inside.  It is strong, green, and moist.  The water inside is what keeps the stem straight.

The flower dissection is finished.  Help develop understanding and comprehension with a brace map, which demonstrates the concept of a whole (on the left) and all of its parts (on the right).  A flower is not a whole flower without all of its parts because each part is necessary to create a whole flower.  You can make this map with pictures, actual flower parts, or you can cut look-alike flower pieces from construction paper and make your own that way.

To extend your conversation, discuss what else the flower needs to grow and where they grow.  Try growing your own flowers in your home or garden, and enjoy watching as each part grows.

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