April 30, 2012

Bringing Spring to the Chernobyl Children

Please begin with the literacy lesson for How Mama Brought the Spring written by Fran Manushkin and illustrated by Holly Berry.

This happy story is set in early to mid-twentieth century Minsk, Belarus, a small country in northeastern Europe near Russia.  Not knowing much about Belarus -or history for that matter, I looked to the internet to research how children here could connect with children there.  I thought I might find a way to incorporate their beautiful textile patterns into an art project perhaps.  What I found challenged me in ways I was not expecting.  A few decades later brought a new era for Belarus.

Belarus is in the area of the world still suffering intense damage from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  The children have been particularly effected, especially by birth defects.  You can learn more about the reality of life in Belarus at Chernobyl Children International.  Please preview this information and the accompanying photography before considering sharing it with the children in your care.  It must be handled with sensitivity.

Let's see if we can help our children help the Chernobyl Children by offering encouragement, compassion, and hope through this study of Culture, Art, and Faith.

Show the children in your care where Belarus is located on a map or a globe.  Put it into perspective by pointing out where you live, as well, and perhaps other countries they are familiar with.

Picture walk through How Mama Brought the Spring, and pay careful attention to the clothing, homes, furniture, hair styles, food, names of people and places, etc.  What do they notice that is different from themselves or their own families?  After fully exploring the differences, investigate what they think is the same between the people who live in Belarus and people where they live.  {You may notice similarities such as the presence of seasons, they live in families, they have a dog, they live in houses, they have cold winters and warm summers, they make sweet treats, etc.}

Image by Free-extras.com

Art:  When Mama brought the spring, the land warmed, the animals came out, and everyone smiled.  Their hearts were filled with the hope of new life and joy in spring time.  Encourage children to paint a portrait of spring.  The beautiful spring illustrations near the end of the story may serve as inspiration if they like.

Remind children that the beauties of spring are blessings, for which we should be thankful.  Not everyone has the same blessings.  Some people don't have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.  We should be grateful to God that he has given us these gifts.

Attempt to explain in a developmentally appropriate way why children in Belarus need encouragement, compassion, and hope.  The book Children in Crisis: Living After Chernobyl - Ira's Story (though I have not read it yet) looks like it might be a good one for this topic.  Be sure to preview it before sharing with children.  What you say might go like this:

"Remember yesterday when we learned about Belarus?  The pictures in our story, How Mama Brought the Spring, are of what Belarus used to look like a long time ago.  Some places in Belarus might look the same today, but most of Belarus looks newer.  It's just like how our city doesn't look the same as when your grandparents were boys and girls; it looks newer.

Another part of Belarus, however, doesn't look like the story or like a new city.  In that part of Belarus, spring doesn't look like spring anymore because nothing grows there and no people or animals live there.  {Pause to answer questions and/or check for understanding.}

This part of Belarus looks different because there was a big nuclear disaster nearby.  There was an accident that made a huge explosion and put lots and lots of radioactive chemicals into the air.  The chemicals are really bad for living things.  What are living things?  {Answer: people, animals, plants, etc.}

The chemicals killed people, animals, and plants.  It also caused them to be sick, and made the water dangerous to drink.  This happened before I was born -which was a long time ago- but still causes problems for living things in Belarus.  Even kids who are born now, kids as old as you, are sick because of the chemicals.  This makes them hurt and be sad.  {Pause to answer questions and/or check for understanding.}

Things happen all the time that change our world.  Some of them are good and some of them are bad.  Sometimes we have control over them and sometimes we don't.  You can only control whether you choose to do good or bad.  We can choose to do good for the children in Belarus by encouraging them with hope and reaching out to them with compassion.

Yesterday we painted the spring time.  Would you like to give your painting to the children in Belarus?  If not, would you like to make another painting to give to the children in Belarus?  We can also write messages to them.  What would you like to tell the children in Belarus?  {Phonetic writing is fine.  There are likely to be people at Chernobyl Children International who can translate the messages.  Even without a perfect translation, they will understand the hope offered in the children's colorful paintings and heartfelt, hand-written messages.}"

Spend time today creating drawings, paintings, and written messages for the children with Chernobyl Children International in Belarus.  Be available to answer questions, engage in discussions, and offer age-appropriate explanations.  Be aware of the dynamics between the children in your care.  Are any of them particularly touched by today's lesson?  They may need support to understand the children did not do anything to deserve this, and yet we cannot explain why it was allowed to happen.  Sometimes bad things happen to provide us with the opportunity to bless others.  

Gather the items from the children into an envelope.  All items should be flat to clear customs.  Use the contact information online at Chernobyl Children International to determine the appropriate current address to mail the gifts.

Next Time
"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."  Psalm 139: 13-15

Read:  All God's Children by Ken Ham

We are all children of God.  He has made each one of us, and he knows us completely.  He knows how many hairs are on our heads and which thoughts are in our minds.  He loves every one of us.

Have you ever made a prayer picture?

There is a way of journaling prayer that is active, visual, and meditative.  This idea has been coined by Sybil and Andy MacBeth.  Their book Praying in Color and, more recently, Praying in Color Kids' Edition are excellent tools for beginning this artful practice.  PrayingInColor.com offers great reasons for praying in color, which also represent why this practice is particularly good for busy body children.

Image by Sodahead.com

Use the examples in the website for inspiration or go out and find the book.  Get started with a sheet of blank white paper (thick art paper is lovely for this) and a pack of markers.  Doodle your prayers on high!

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