27 November 2011

Hopeful Advent

Just a quick post to share a link that Leslie at Thoughts from the Sheepfold pointed me to. This is a two-minute explanation of what Advent is all about. I think it's great! I've also put a link to it at the bottom of my blog layout for the whole season. Thank you, Busted Halo, and thank you, Leslie!

21 November 2011

another new Godly Play blogger

Today I got an email message from a friend announcing her newest blog, Building Godly Play. Welcome, Jennings! I'm so pleased that you're doing this. She's only posted two posts so far, but it looks like her special contribution is going to be the sharing of her own personal variations on the scripts that she uses. And lots of helpful photographs!

I think I'm right in saying that although this blog is new for her, she's actually been using Godly Play for longer than I have and that she's also been trained in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Here's a fun pic (which I'm pretty sure she won't mind me sharing - just let me know otherwise, Jennings, and it's gone) which you won't find on that blog. This is from her church's blog, and shows their GP classroom. What a great assortment of different children and work.

Jennings and friends in the Godly Play classroom
I know she'd love to have some visitors and followers, so do wander over for a visit. If you're interested in what you see, why not click on her link to be a public follower?

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While I'm on the topic of linking from one blog to another, I'd like to thank four bloggers who've sent lots of traffic in my direction. According to my Blogger "all time" stats, these are the top four Referring URLs for this blog. 

Thank you all - readers and referrers!

18 November 2011

looking ahead to Advent

The first time I tried leading a complete Godly Play session was for an "away-day" for adults in our church. We used the Godly Play room and materials at a church in one of the suburbs.

But the first time I led a full Godly Play session for children, using my own materials, was the second Sunday of Advent. It was held in my living room, with art materials set out on chairs next to my dining table for the Response Time. I did the same for the third, and then the fourth Sundays of Advent, increasing the circle from two to three children, and it culminated in an all-age celebration of the first Sunday after Christmas... again in my living room, during a snowstorm on Boxing Day.

photo by seethroughfaith
Although I love our current Junior Church setting for its spaciousness and its convenience for parents, I have fond memories of those sessions in my living room. Last spring one child asked, When are we going back to your house? Liturgically, I like the fact that we started Godly Play in Advent, the first season of the Church year. It is my hope that this year again we will have some new children joining us, coming to Junior Church for the first time... in Advent.

Many people come to this blog looking for information on Godly Play materials, and the Advent materials may look daunting to those who do not have access to wood-working tools. They can be bought from Godly Play retailers in the USAFinland, the UK, and Germany. I bought my wooden pieces ready-cut but unfinished from Johanna Kaarto-Wallin, and stained and painted them in a workshop at the Godly Play European Conference in Finland. However, if you prefer to make your own, an easy and beautiful alternative to wooden cards is to make them from felt (as shown on the Watkins Every Flavor Beans blog).

the display racks are lovely, but a basket is just fine
A quick Google image search will show you the range of variation possible when you make your materials. Some are blue, some blue-ish purple, some pink-ish purple. Some plaques are large and square, some smaller and rectangular. Some have very stylized wreathes, some look more real. But in almost all cases the first plaque has one candle on the wreath, and a pointing hand representing the prophets. The second has two candles, and shows the road to Bethlehem. The third has three candles (sometimes the third candle is pink), and a lamb. The fourth has four candles, and three crowns. The fifth has a white background, and may show a star. These plaques are laid out on a cloth underlay, something pleasant to the touch. It has four squares of purple and one of white, onto which the plaques are placed. The easiest way to do this is to use a long stretch of purple, divide it with strips of gold cord or ribbon, and glue or sew a white square onto the end.

photo by seethroughfaith
only the Storyteller is allowed
to take things from this basket
You will also need candles, ideally in the colors used by your church (the most common alternatives are four red, or three purple and one pink), and you will probably want unobtrusive candle holders for them (I have since purchased a flea-market set of glass saucers for mine). In addition to matches, you will also need a candle-snuffer. The fifth, white, candle will be the Christ candle from your focal shelf.

ready to give a hug
You probably already have a Holy Family for your focal shelf, but if not you will want one for this lesson. You don't need it for week one, though, so there is time to hunt around. Ideally, the figures will include a baby Jesus who can be taken out of his manger and has his arms spread open, Mary, Joseph, a donkey, a cow or ox, three wise men, a shepherd, and two sheep. (And the focal shelf should also hold a picture or figure of the Risen Christ.) However, you can make do with what you have. My terra cotta Christ child has his arms open for a hug but does not come out of his manger, and this has never been a problem at all.

Several times I used a nativity set belonging to my godson, in which the baby was wrapped tightly in swaddling clothes. He was also smiling. In general, we don't like to use figures with smiles, preferring to let children imagine their expressions themselves. However, I felt that for pastoral reasons it was appropriate to use my godson's set, and I just changed the words of the script on those occasions from see how he's holding out his arms to give you a hug to see how he's smiling at you.

the Holy Family, smiling
More important than sticking precisely to the words of the script is to say the words by heart. It is considered good Godly Play practice to keep to the script as well as you can, and Jerome has written some beautiful lines. But don't rely on note cards! Just gaze at your materials and tell the story from your heart. This is your story. This is our story. This is the story of our faith.

At the same time, don't fret if things don't turn out perfectly. This story officially includes no Wondering, just "enjoying the light". However, last year one young child was far more excited about changing the light than quietly enjoying the light. As soon as the candles were lit, it was Snuff them out! Snuff them out! And the children may well want to wonder or talk about the story. Great! Similarly, don't interrupt a child's intent work to make "corrections". Just enjoy the light of Christ.

"wrong" layout

For more about Advent Godly Play, try these links at Living Montessori Now or see what else I've written.

November 2012 update: This post has been included in the Explore and Express "Getting Ready for Advent" link party.

06 November 2011

circle-calendar of the church year

[I've written this post in advance.] Today, Sunday, I'm on a residential weekend for ministry training and Vandriver is leading Junior Church (reading aloud from the Jesus Storybook Bible).

As we're getting ready for Advent and the new church year, I wanted to publicize this wonderful resource from My Faith My Life.

©2011 Jenifer Gamber; permisson to reproduce for church use
It's a beautiful rendition of the circle of the church year in all its colors, along with the corresponding dates from the calendar year. If I had loads of time (which I don't) it would be tempting to try to put together something similar to this myself, with tweaks (such as purple for Advent) to bring it into line with our congregation's practice. But as it is, perhaps I will just print this out to have in the room as a talking point. A high-quality pdf is here. Many thanks for Jenifer Gamber for making this available to churches!

01 November 2011

my world communion materials

It was months ago that I promised Sheila from Explore and Express that I'd write about how I made my World Communion materials. Since then she's gone ahead and made her own materials in her own way, which I'm glad about for her sake. But I'm perfectly happy to describe my own - a fair amount of the "traffic" that comes to me through search engines is people looking for information about materials - it was just that I hadn't actually finished mine until this week. These were made with much love and little expense. There was no woodworking involved!

The fence enclosing the sheep fold is of plastic (by Schleich), which disappointed me at first, but it is working well for us. It's easy to disassemble and store, which I have to do every week. We use only four pieces, two of which are designed not to fasten, so it's easy to open and close the pen. My green circle bases are simply cardboard painted green. I was a bit embarrassed about doing that, but this beautiful post at What Can We Leave Out reminds me that the beauty and value of these objects is as much in how you treat them as what they're made of. Here's another photograph of a World Communion base made out of cardboard (from Godly Play in Australia), with clothes-pin people. I would encourage you not to apologize for your materials as long as you have created them with love and care.

My figures are also made of cardboard, but a very stiff and solid board. It doesn't have the holes that you can see within the base (EDIT: corrugated, that's the word. It's not corrugated) - it's just a solid stiff cardboard. I no longer remember where it came from - it was just in our recycling box on the day that I went hunting for what to use for this. I used the patterns found in the Young Children and Worship book, but my figures are like typical Godly Play figures in that they are clothed and colored rather than just being wooden silhouettes. I bought a super-basic range of the three primary colors at the craft store: blue, yellow, red, and white paint (and bitterly regretted not having bought any black, but I used a Sharpie pen for hair and definition), and did my non-artistic best to mix them into a range of plausible skin tones and hair colors. I deliberately left one man bald and gave one woman white hair, and tried to give the priest a gender-neutral hairstyle.

side view, lamb's "wool"
upholstery swatches
I had stumbled across a couple books of upholstery swatches in the flea market. What a great find! (I also used them for my "Jesus the King" Palm Sunday materials.) With them I was able to create clothing (and sheepskin) which was soft to the touch. For the lamb on the Jesus's shoulders I actually used a thicker fleece material, for a contrast with his garment. (The priest's stole is a bit of ribbon.)

The whole process of course took much longer than I had anticipated. I clothed them front and back, just using scissors and glue. A couple of hours before church I realized I wouldn't have time to finish, and decided to prioritize the children over the adults. So we had the Good Shepherd, five sheep, one priest, and five children for our first session. It was only the Shepherd, two sheep and the priest who could even stand up that day! (This was done simply by using little cardboard bases like paper dolls often have, set at right angles to the figures' flat bodies.)

(back view)
And for the next several months, that was the range of figures that we had. I did nothing else apart from provide the rest of the bases so that each figure could stand up. The unclothed adults were stashed away in a craft box at my house. We did have a communion table or altar, which was simply a simple, unvarnished dolls' house table which I bought on sale. It's not quite to scale, but seems to work fine. The "chalice" and paten were another flea market find. They were the creamer and one saucer from a little tea set. Again it's not ideal - there's a chip missing - but they do for now. In fact, if you remember, stf couldn't find them one week and substituted cardboard ones in their place (which are now lovingly stored together with these ones in their basket).

Last Sunday I presented these materials again. The story of that presentation will have to wait for another post. But it was the motivation I needed to finally finish clothing my figures. I had already tried to dress one of the girls in a shalwar kameez for some cultural diversity, although at least one person has told me it just looks like she's wearing a coat and scarf. But I gave the adults a real variety of clothing. One woman is in a cheongsam and one is in a gákti. One man is in a suit and tie and the other is in sweats (a jogging suit). One thing I don't have, though, is a diversity of mobility (at one parish in Lohja, Finland, they include a man with a cane).

It was actually a friend who was looking to do some "community service" who clothed the man in sweats - thank you!

You might also like to read the post about the first time I presented this lesson
and a short post (with a photo) about how limited my materials were then