Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dirt - common denominator for us all?

With our brand-new, clean and good smelling car on one of its very first trips doing duty as the family-wagon, my husband suggested that maybe for this car we should have a "no eating in it" rule. This, fairly mild, suggestion upset me so much that when we got home I tore apart the sofa and vacuumed it and set to scrubbing small stains out of the slipcover.

I have some baggage, shall we say?

So I quite enjoyed reading Dirt: The Quirks, Habits, and Passions of Keeping House. This collection of essays brings all kinds of voices (male, female, single, divorced, married, parents, children, rich, poor, gay, straight, asian, black, and white) to the discussion of how and why we clean, or don't clean, our personal spaces. I was touched by the raw vulnerability so many of the writers displayed, and reassured that I am definitely not alone.

Perhaps this most mundane of issues - the toothpaste dried on the sink, the dirt tracked in on our shoes - is really the common denominator of our human lives. And the issue is connected with our family stories, our relationships, our power-struggles, our relative levels of privilege in life - it carries a lot of baggage with it.

Take a break from cleaning house, and read this book instead!

Monday, August 30, 2010

refashioned clothing

I just made this shirt dress for the girl from a cast-off shirt of my husband's (it was stained). I sort of used the directions from this tutorial at Make it and Love It. I was going to make belt loops and a tie from the last of the shirt fabric, but she wanted a colorful belt and picked this purple stuff out from my fabric stash.

shirt dress

shirt dress refashion

A Recommitment to Myself - or "get thyself to the gym!"

Since my big trip this summer, I have completely dropped most of my healthy habits of personal care. I'm not taking my supplements, I'm not juicing, I'm not going to the gym - and I've even been spotty about my morning yoga.

So, summer is really just about over - the kids go back to school next week - and it is time to restart some routines. I went to the gym this morning and, tellingly, I couldn't find my gym shoes anywhere. I finally located them, buried in the back of my closet under a backpack and a pair of sandals, and that pile up perfectly reflects the skew in my priorities that summer brought about. But I'm not beating myself up about it; it's perfectly fine and healthy to live seasonally and gather the sun while we have it as long as we readjust once summer is over.

I recommit to:

1. Take my supplement pills everyday.

2. Start each day off with a tall glass of either water or fresh juice.

3. Do at least ten minutes of yoga each morning.

4. Always go to the gym on Mondays, and try to go three more times during the week.

5. Keep my packed gym bag ready to go by the front door.

6. Have more impromptu Dance Parties with the kids.

I'm also inspired and supported by this list from the Happiness Project.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My brother's wedding

It wasn't really "her" day, but you couldn't have convinced Hypatia of that. Being the flower girl "felt like being a princess", and she thoroughly enjoyed the day.

flower girl

flower girl

wedding day

flower girl

the procession

flower girl

bride and flower girl

Friday, August 27, 2010

Unrealistically cool school representations

This morning my kids and I watched an episode of Sid the Science Kid as we were eating our breakfast. I don't generally watch this show, but they have watched it a few times. The premise is that Sid wants to learn about Everything! The perfect student. And his mother is very supportive of whatever he wakes up wanting to know that day. The perfect parent. And she takes him to school, where he plans on exploring that topic that day. And he has three friends at school (the class size is very small), and a cheerful and fun teacher who comes out and teaches him exactly what he wanted to learn that day.

The perfect school.

And it's so unrealistic.

Carbon goes to a tiny, alternative school. But even his school is not this cool. As he pointed out - "he doesn't even have to tell the teacher what he wants to learn - she's already got it all set up!".

A psychic teacher, a class size of four children, and all the learning resources you can imagine. Wouldn't that be nice.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fashion Victim

Shopping mistakes

I bought these recently - I don't even quite know why. They weren't even on sale, and I didn't even really like them that much. I've worn them twice - once because they were my new shoes, and once more because I felt guilty for not wearing them.

I am not much of a Fashion Victim, but in many ways we all are a little bit. In Michelle Lee's book Fashion Victim , she identifies many victims of our current take on fashion: the sweat shop workers, the environment itself for the petroleum products and the bulging landfills, the animals for the leather and fur and wool and silk, the designers whose creativity is stolen by knock-off artists, the regional cultures that are homogenized, and the individuals who never develop their own style and who feel inferior and lacking all the time.

It was interesting timing to pick up this book right now, because I came back from my trip to Europe with a deep sense of dissatisfaction with my general style - a regionally accepted look of jeans, sneakers, hoodie sweatshirts, and fleece vests. In so many cities in Romania and Hungary I saw women who looked like they had made an effort with themselves - a scarf or other accessories - and they looked so happy and confident. I came home and tried to add a bit more effort and a few more accessories to my look.

This effort has been fun - I feel more confident and happier when I'm trying to look my best, and I just flat out enjoy some things like the feel of dangly earrings. It turns out I already own lots of things like scarves and earrings, but I just have to choose each and every morning whether or not to make the effort.

I think I can have a style makeover without shopping, without looking at current fashion trends, and without buying into the whole fashion victim mentality. What do I feel good wearing? What combinations can I make with the clothing I already own? If I am going to buy something, does it go with the things I have? Is it an item I will want to wear next year? You know - when everyone else is onto another trend and now I'll be all on my own in last year's styles?

So those shoes are going to Goodwill. My new rule when shopping - that item I'm buying needs to make my heart sing. I need to love it, or I shouldn't buy it. Because I want to love all my clothing, and have fun getting dressed in the morning.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

a bit of navel gazing

I'm deep in a period of self-reflection, and trying to process some "stuff". Part of my process involves reading self-help books, although these books, like parenting books, can also just drive you crazy with too many instructions and not enough wisdom.

But, along these lines, I just read Pleasers: Why Women Don't Have to Make Everyone Happy to Be Happy. There were two bits of wisdom in the book that I plan to hold onto:

1. The Little Girl You Once Were Is Still Inside You

2. A Positive Pleaser is a person who pleases and is nice, but for all the right reasons

The little girl I once was still has a lot of angst, pain, and is striving for some fairly childish things - like approval from Daddy. But that will always be a part of me, so I just have to learn how to parent that little girl. My adult self doesn't need to let her control me, but can rather work through it.

The other part is about being a pleaser - or a person who is programmed to seek to please others. I like the point the author raises, that there is nothing wrong with being pleasing. The world would be a better place if more people tried to be nice and pleasing to others. But there are many ways that pleasing isn't actually good for the pleaser or the people being pleased.

When my husband wants to go out, and I say Yes even though I want him to stay home with me, but then I am actually upset when he goes - it doesn't do him any real favors.

When we are choosing a major purchase, and I don't assert myself during the process, I end up with something that I may not want as much. But it's me that has to live with it, usually.

When I do too much for others that they could do for themselves, I keep them dependent and immature.

I will not martyr myself. I will say what I want. And I will try to feel neither guilt nor resentment. I will be a Positive Pleaser.

Monday, August 23, 2010

this week's library stack

library finds

God Is Not One

I knew I wanted to read God is Not One: the Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter by Stephen Prothero, after I saw his appearance on The Colbert Report. I had also read Prothero's other book, Religious Literacy, and liked that one quite a bit.

God is Not One is a response to the religious pluralists who like to say "they are all just different paths up the same mountain of truth". Prothero's thesis is that they are different mountains altogether, because different religions make different basic assumptions and are seeking answers to totally different questions. He lays this argument out in the Introduction to the book.

I was a bit disappointed to discover, however, that after that Introduction the rest of the book just examines each religion and explains the basics everyone should know about it. It's a bit of rework of Religious Literacy - a great text for a comparative religion class, (oohh, an idea for adult education), but not a major continuation of the "different mountains" discussion.

But Prothero's style is engaging and understandable, reducing some complex theological concepts to simple terms and grouping ideas nicely. And his judgment of the most important religions is interesting: Islam first, then Christianity, then Confucianism. It went on to Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba religion, Judaism, Daoism, and "A Brief Coda on Atheism".

Unfortunately, I've only made it to Buddhism and it's overdue at the library. So this one will remain on my wishlist.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How you know your kid has been listening to King Arthur

when you overhear the kids playing and they are saying "I cannot go to war, because I am most grievously wounded".

Friday, August 20, 2010

Preparing the Environment

Our Montessori-based class, Spirit Play, is a lot of work to set up. The idea of a "prepared environment" does pretty much imply that, of course.

But we've been using this method for many years, and so this year I feel well-prepared. Today my kids and I cleaned the classroom, putting away last year's stories and preparing the shelves for the new year. I'm especially proud of my new shelf place-markers, so that everything really does have a place and it should be easy for the kids to put things away properly. Doesn't it look nice?

getting classrooms ready

UU Focus Shelf

Promise Stories Shelf

a place for everything

and everything in its place

Inch by Inch

Last night my husband sat down to read Hypatia's bedtime story, and the book on the top of the library pile was Inch by Inch. The illustrations were only mediocre, but as he was reading he recognized it as a song from childhood. The song is in the back of the book, so I plunked out the melody line on our piano and we all tried to sing it.

We recognized its time period as being something from our parents' generation - I called it a "back to the earther anthem", and we knew it had been sung by some of those folksy guitar singers of the time period. But my husband knew the song far better than he would have from just hearing it a few times. Where had he heard it? Did his father like to sing it?

Thank goodness for YouTube, which can settle these sorts of nagging questions. He knows the song because John Denver sang it on The Muppet Show. Oh, our dearly beloved Muppet Show. How we loved you.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Looking for a story

One part of my job description is to tell the Story for All Ages in the worship service once or twice a month. I enjoy the actual telling of the stories, but in some ways the hunt for a good story is also fun.

The last story I told was to go with a sermon by our intern minister, who is seeking to be a Navy Chaplain. She was going to delve into the ifs and hows of Unitarian Universalist congregations offering support to military and veterans returning home. I was asked to "lighten it up a bit" because it was going to be a heavy service. But I couldn't think of any stories I've read that followed that theme, so instead I had to go with the personal and talk about how my husband videotaped himself reading bedtime stories for Carbon, and I played those tapes during the year he was in Iraq. I then read Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton, which was one of the stories we taped. Carbon was 8 months old when his father deployed. I don't like to tell personal stories, much, but this felt right and it was well-received.

Now I'm looking for a story to go with a service theme of "why we worship" - it will be a couple members of the Worship Arts Committee talking about what they see as the essence of worship. I first looked to see if there were any good stories in the anthologies I've bought from the UUA, but no luck there. Next I went to the public library, for some inspiration from the picture book section. Although I gravitated toward two of my favorites, Because Nothing Looks Like God and God's Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, neither felt like the right direction for this service. Back at home, I sought inspiration on my own bookshelves. Here are the standbys I fall back on over and over again: Dr. Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter, a book of African folktales, a book of Greek myths, and a book of Native American stories. If I can't find a story elsewhere, here is where I land. But I still didn't find anything, so I had to keep looking on the shelves.

And I pulled out Carbon's copy of The Little Prince. After sinking to the floor and re-reading several sections, I think I know what story I will tell. It will be excerpted, of course, and then memorized and then a bit improvised.

"The desert is beautiful," the little prince added.
And it was true. I've always loved the desert. You sit down on a sand dune. You see nothing. You hear nothing. And yet it shines, something sings in that silence ...
"What makes the desert beautiful," the little prince said, "is that it hides a well somewhere ..."

By the way, I see that Amazon has a book called A Guide For Grown Ups: Essential Wisdom from the Collected Works of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I just might have to add that to my wish list.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The great car debacle

Well, my car dilemma turned into a car debacle last week. My Subaru turned out to need $3500 in parts and labor to fix the differential and all the other transmission parts that were damaged by metal particles from the disintegrating differential. It's been like an end-of-life drama over the phone with the auto-shop, discussing my options and looking into its relative value as scrap or a donation, etc.

Meanwhile, I had a whole week with no car, so the kids and I utilized our local mass transit. I love that my town has fantastic transit for the size of the town. I was able to get to all my appointments - but things like grocery needs were very challenging. The corner convenience store in my neighborhood got some good business from me last week but I would hate to be trapped paying those kind of prices for tiny bags of cat food and so forth.

We tried to think of a way we could wait until the Nissan Leaf is released, but that will still be 5 months or more, and going that long with no car doesn't look possible. And when we decided to buy a Leaf, it would have been a second car, with the Subaru being parked in the driveway ready to go on trips of more than the 100 mile range of the Leaf batteries. My mother lives just over 100 miles away from me. As an only car, the Leaf wouldn't allow us to make the trips to Seattle or to my mother's house that we make about once a month.

So we went and bought a Toyota Prius. It's not a zero emission all electric way of the future ... but it's 50 mpg of efficient fossil fuel consumption. As one friend said "you can feel like a petty thief instead of a climate criminal". I won't be able to afford the Leaf now, though - I can't buy two cars at once!

Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. I wish life would line up to follow my plans, but alas and alack, it does not. Some witty person, can't remember who, said "I would take my problems one at a time if only they would form a neat line".

So now I am driving a hybrid, and still trying to unload my sad broken car.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On the nightstand

on the nightstand

It might be interesting to just periodically check in with my nightstand - a valid yardstick for where my head and my reading is at right now.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Teaching Meditation to Children

kids meditating

Meditation has become more and more important at my church in the last few years, as our minister has become increasingly interested in it as a spiritual practice and has started a friday meditation group that has grown in numbers. But we haven't included children in the practice, until this summer. For our summer class, I offered an all-ages Meditation program, which in practice has had children 3-11 years old attend. I used the book Teaching Meditation to Children by David Fontana.

It hasn't been the easiest summer program to implement, and it's not user-friendly for inexperienced teachers. But I believe it's incredibly worthwhile. Not that I can make them meditate, because I can't. All I could make them do is sit still - and even that would be pretty hard! But that's not the point - as Fontana points out in the book, you are offering meditation to them, not forcing it on them. It has to be their choice whether or not to do it.

So what I've done is set up my classroom with a line of shelves down the middle, creating a divider. One side just has a comfortable rug on the floor. The other side has tons of fun art supplies, building blocks, books, and other "quiet" activities. In each class, I ask the kids to start each meditation, and do it as long as they can, but then they are free to stand up quietly and walk into the "quiet area" and do whatever they wish as long as they are quiet and respect those who are still meditating.

There are a couple children who jump up almost right away. That's OK. There are also many children who settle down and appear to go to sleep. That's OK. Some of the children may even be meditating - and it's all OK. I'm modeling it (as best I can while also keeping my finger on the pulse of my class - this has been a real interesting exercise for me), and I'm offering it as a gift to them.

I recommend the book - it's not written to be a curriculum, but if you are a parent, teacher, mentor, or therapist interested in doing meditation with children you will find it useful and sweet.

Full disclosure compels me to say that my children are not really meditating in the picture above. I asked them to "strike a meditation pose" and that is what they did. When they really meditate, they just lie down flat on the ground. They also love to do yoga with me in the morning, which is what we were doing on the morning I took this picture.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fall is Looming at Work


Fall is right around the corner, and not only do I need to be ready for that at home, but I also need to be ready for it at church. I'm close - but there's still a lot to do!

I almost bought myself a teacher's planner this year, so that I could write out the lesson plans for each Sunday and keep myself organized. But no commercially available planner at the local stores quite met my needs, so instead I created some tables and stapled them together into my own planner. I have a sheet for each grade level, so I can lay out the sequence of classes. And I have a sheet for each month, so I can see how much I'm trying to do on each given Sunday and have the full picture for that day in one place.

We have been using the Spiritplay method for years in our pre-K classes, and this year I was excited to add in the adaptation of Holidays and Holy days that was recently released. Unfortunately, I didn't catch that it was intended for 3rd grade and up until I had the CD open and was browsing through the stories. But I still really want to bring more holidays and seasonal influence into our Spiritplay class this year, so I need to sit down and simplify, simplify, simplify a few holiday stories.

In our 1st-3rd grade class we are going to use a curriculum we've done before: Spirit of Adventure. It's an active and fun UU identity curriculum, and I've gone through and picked out all the lessons I remember the kids particularly liking last time, as it is a year long curriculum we'll only do for 13 weeks. Sticking with the same curriculum author, we'll do Kate Tweedie Covey's Picture Book World Religions with this class in the winter. I love her stuff!

And then our 4th-5th graders will be doing an exercise to Create a Country based on UU principles this Fall, so we have a rough outline but will have to adapt as we go depending on what sort of decisions the group makes about their country.

I don't have a plan yet for Middle School, but I'm hoping the advisors will be interested in doing Neighboring Faiths when we meet to plan. I've got that meeting scheduled. And then there is the High School youth group, which is planning on doing High School OWL this fall and which I need to get organized for fundraising for a youth trip to Transylvania next August. That will be a big project! I have planning meetings scheduled with the youth advisors and the minister, and then another with the YAC - youth and adult committee - which supports the youth group.

And then I've got an experimental family program starting this fall, to adapt the Evensong for Families curriculum for Sunday mornings - Morning Song. It's been done at the Vancouver, WA. church, and was presented at this year's District Assembly. I'm excited to try it - something family's can do together on Sunday morning.

Well, that's a lot of the What for this fall. But another hugely important question each year is Who? Who is going to teach all these great classes? Every year, I need to recruit almost 30 volunteers! The good news on that front is that I am almost there - I have most of my volunteers, the teams look strong, and I'm in the process of trying to find dates for training meetings that work with everyone's schedule. I meet with each team separately, to go over the What, Why, and How of the upcoming classes, so that will be three meetings there.

And then we need some kids! So I really need to catch up on getting the registration packets out in the mail and the new brochures printed up and the new information up on the church website - that's the area I'm the most behind on! Actually, instead of blogging about it now - I should go do that.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fall is Looming

Summer already feels like it's on its way out, and in fact it is time for the rush to get ready for Fall. Tomorrow I'll talk about what I'm preparing for the church this Fall, but today I need to think about getting my own kids ready for Back-to-School.

There are three areas for this effort:

1. The "stuff" they'll need for going to their two schools - private preschool and private Sudbury school

2. What we will do at home for our Afterschooling

3. Getting them set-up for their extracurriculars - two each

In the first area (Stuff for School), I am in pretty good shape. Carbon is still pretty well clothed by some hand-me-down clothing he got years ago from his cousin. He's just now growing into some of the jeans that we've had up in our attic. He has new shoes we got in May, and his rubber boots and coats still fit. He's got a good backpack and water bottle already, so all we needed was a new lunchbox. I ordered one that will match his backpack.

Hypatia wasn't as well set up. I knew she needed a backpack and a lunchbox, and we ordered a matching pair from ebags.com. She has a little metal water bottle, but she doesn't like it much - we'll see if I end up getting her a different one. Clothing wise, she refuses to wear pants anymore, so I ordered four pairs of tights so she can stay warm under those skirts in the Fall. I've never seen good tights at the thrift stores, but the rest of her clothing I should be able to find thrifted or just whip up on my sewing machine myself. Skirts, especially, are so incredibly easy to make. She'll still need a new pair of shoes, but she has rain boots and a rain coat already.

I got her vaccination records from the doctor and I need to get her paperwork all filled out. Neither school requires any other "stuff" - no list of pencils or paper or anything to bring.

That brings me to Afterschooling. Hypatia isn't doing much in that area - she's doing the Primer Level Math-U-See that Carbon already did (I'm erasing his pencil marks out of the book as we go, and then we'll hit the part of the book where I started photocopying the pages out and then she'll have blank pages), and she's participating in the Sonrisa Spanish program with Carbon. We also have plenty of ABC type stuff lying around the house, left over from Carbon or from when I did daycare.

Carbon will be working on Book Two of The Story of the World for history, continue with the Alpha Level of Math-U-See, and continue the Sonrisa Spanish program. For reading, I ordered Explode the Code and a Reading Rabbit game for his nintendo, and we'll also just keep having him read easy-readers out loud to me. As a treat, I ordered the Sum Swamp boardgame for math and a science experiment kit.

Finally, The Extracurriculars. The local dance studio is offering a free boys dance class, so I signed Carbon up for that. He's old enough now that we want his other extracurricular to be music lessons, and he wants them to be ukelele. I need to look around for a teacher. Hypatia's two things will be ballet - I signed her up for pre-ballet at the same dance studio - and swim lessons at the YMCA. I'll have to get both kids dance attire.

How about you? Are you ready for the Fall?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A garden tour

Let's take a little stroll through my garden.


bean teepee

little pumpkin

squash blossom

scarlet runner bean

cat in the treehouse

Generational Theory

Last year I attended a workshop on multigenerational worship at the UUA General Assembly. In general, we use the term "multigenerational worship" for the few services a year which are meant for the children to stay and participate in, but the workshop pointed out that every worship service we do is a multi-generational service unless we have specifically called for one narrow age group (such as, I suppose, a Young Adult only service).

At the time, I found it profoundly eye-opening to realize that "Adult" is not a monolithic category, but instead includes many different age cohorts. So I was very interested to read Generations of Faith: a congregational atlas by Carl G. Eeman.

Eeman looks at the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe, who first presented Generational Theory and explained that history and generational archetypes have a cycle they move through.

These generational archetypes are:

Prophet/Idealist (currently the Baby Boomers, born between 1943-1960)
Nomad/Reactive (currently Gen X, born between 1961-1981)
Hero/Civic (the GI generation born between 1901-1925 and the Millenial generation born between 1981-2003)
Adaptive/Artist (the Silent Generation born between 1925-1942, and Gen Z born between 2003-2019)

Although individuals may differ, the theory goes that there are characteristics and norms that hold true for generations, and that each generation is affected by the generations that come before it in a predictable and patterned way. These patterns also extend to history, with crises, awakenings, and cultural shifts coming in a somewhat predictable pattern as history and generations affect each other.

In Eeman's book, he describes a committee meeting with some Silents, some Boomers, and some Gen X'ers. At this hypothetical meeting, the Silents will be most concerned with process and procedure, and with hearing from everyone no matter how long it takes. They will stick with the process and expect folks to be flexible and open-minded in discussing disagreements. The Boomers will be passionate about their ideas and more prone to see things as right vs. wrong (and themselves as Right). They are also generally not afraid of an argument, or may even enjoy one, so they will bring a passionate debate style bordering on fighting to the discussion of disagreements. And, finally, the Gen. X'ers will just want to quickly find a practical solution, and will dislike both the time that Process takes and the combativeness of the Debate. They can be prone to withdrawal, and just "keeping their heads down" until the point comes to actually Do something.

Eeman doesn't place any Civic types at this committee meeting, because currently the Civics are our elders and our children. But when they are present, they will bring optimism and a "let's all pull together" attitude, while unfortunately sometimes discouraging diversity and dissent because it's seen as bad for group cohesion.

Of course this is a generalization, so you can't look at any one member of any generation and expect them to behave exactly as their generational profile would predict, but as a Big Picture it strikes me as being true enough. And it's fascinating stuff to read.

I find it interesting to note that I am on a cusp between generations. Although I was born just within the border of Gen X, all my siblings are Millenials and I feel like I share more of that generations character, which is "everyone pull together" and "let's get this done". On the other hand, my husband and many of my friends are more solidly in Gen X, and I see the characteristics of pragmatism bordering on cynicism in them. And we are all reacting to the "me first" emphasis on personal happiness and fulfillment of the Silent and Boomer generations, which left many of their children with inadequate parental care, childhood disruption, and divorced parents. If the cyclical theory holds, we will then turn around and parent our own children with too much parental protection, leaving them feeling smothered and rigidly controlled and then leading to them growing up to seek more personal fulfillment and expression - and the cycle continues.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My bedroom makeover

The Old Bedroom:

story of my stuff, part 3

And now we finally have a grown up bedroom! We've lived together for 9 years, and have never had a bedframe. Whenever we went shopping for one, we couldn't agree on a style that we both liked, and that led to 9 years of indecision and just not having one.

Problem solved: he really only cares about choices when they are right in front of him (at which point he becomes very picky), but once it's in our life (or his wardrobe), he really doesn't care and just lives with it. So I went shopping by myself and picked out a bed. I LOVE our new bedroom set up.

the new bed

new bedroom set up

dresser top isn't big enough!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wonder and Awe

The big difference between what I was trained to teach (high school chemistry and science) and what I get to teach now (religious education at a Unitarian Universalist church) is that in the high school setting I was accountable for making sure my students could memorize a huge set of facts, much of it minutia that would be forgotten as soon as it wasn't needed anymore. I wasn't asked to make them love science - although that would always be nice - or to ensure that when they looked at the world around them they could see just how amazing it is. As long as they passed the tests and did well on their science WASL at the end of the year, I had done well. Oh - and as long as I made sure they weren't too loud or rowdy in class, of course - gotta maintain that classroom discipline!

Now, there is no real set of facts to learn. Sure, I hope the kids will come out of the program knowing something about UU history, some Bible stories, and something about world religions. Sure, I hope they know the mechanics of meditation and the democratic process - but I don't think any of that is what I'm really trying to teach.

Religious Education here is all about Wonder and Awe. If we feel those two things, we are experiencing our lives and the world around us in a religious way. I don't care if you are an atheist who loves hard science or a theist who believes in a personal God - the point to me is that you look around you with Wonder and Awe. Either way, the Universe is a pretty amazing place, a place to be experienced with wide eyed amazement.

How do you teach a feeling? Well, you sure can't test it with some multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble exam. All I can do is listen to them, look at how they live their lives, and have a little faith of my own that it makes a difference to show children this way to see the world.

I am so blessed and privileged to have found this calling, to surround myself with Love and Wonder and Awe instead of test sheets and class averages.

Friday, August 6, 2010


the barn is on fire!

It feels really good to try something new and have it actually work. For as long as I have been involved in this church, there have been folks who would say "I wish we had a summer camp". But we never had the space or support to do it, so I felt like this was the year when we had the building expansion. Strangely, I didn't feel a lot of enthusiasm for the idea in the Family Ministry Team this year, but they went along with me.

Summer Camp curriculum is somewhat scarce - sure I could adapt one of our regular RE curricula as a camp (and I am very excited to try that with K-1 OWL next summer), but most lessons in a regular curricula are written in these short chunks that would feel very choppy if you did them back-to-back all day. I am much more inclined toward block scheduling, with plenty of free play time built in as well.

So I started with the Born with a Bang trilogy, and then added in some other great books, such as Creation: Read Aloud Stories from Many Lands, and wrote my own rough lesson plans based on regular story-circles throughout the day where I would read a book to the kids and talk about the ideas, and then we did lots of crafts and games in between each story circle.

The themes ended up being a bit different each day, so it was

Monday: The Big Bang and the Universe
Tuesday: Evolution of Life
Wednesday: Creation Stories
Thursday: The Interdependent Web of Life
Friday: Peace Begins With You

The flow of the curriculum went well, and now I need to actually sit down and write it out nicely so I can duplicate it in the future. But I was also just pleased that the whole idea worked - we had 14 kids! The support staff were great - a wonderful music teacher that I was so fortunate approached me and two of the youth from the church youth group - and the larger church facility was perfect. The kids bonded with each other across age differences (we had 4-10 year olds), and by the end of the week the Joys and Sorrows we did each day were starting to include things like "I am glad this is my church".

And today when the parents picked the kids up for the last time many of them said "you're doing this next year, right?".

It feels good.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Creativity at Camp

sock puppet

sock creatures

clay creatures

I have tried to plan fun crafts, on a decent budget, for each day of our Chalice Camp. Googly eyes are always a win, in my experience!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

a very fun resource

evolution timeline

I have long been eyeing the Timeline of Life sold at Montessori Services, but the price is prohibitive. So when I was planning out my Chalice Camp and I knew I wanted to spend a day on Evolution, I looked for more affordable alternatives. Luckily, I found Charlie's Playhouse, a site dedicated to resources for teaching kids about evolution. At $49, the Giant Evolution Playmat is much more affordable, and there are also cards that can be purchased to go with the mat. The information is presented in a lively conversational tone, and the mat itself is sturdy enough that kids really can walk on it. I presented this to the class by reading the timeline while flipping it open, then letting them "walk through time" at their own pace before we spent some time passing out cards and having the kids place them where they belong on the timeline.

It's a great resource, which I think could be used again and again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's a classic

dna model

geometry of marshmallows

marshmallow art

Sometimes there is a good reason for a classroom project to be a classic. It's cheap, it's fun, it's creative, it works. All good.

I need to remember I don't always have to be super new and creative in my lesson plans.

Milky Way chalk art

the blackhole

I am teaching a week long day camp at my church, which we call Chalice Camp, and yesterday was the first day. With 13 children between the ages of 4-10 years, we spent a day reading about the Big Bang, the Universe, and Constellations and doing several related projects.

One project, which in practice didn't go off as well as I had hoped but which I still think is a very cool idea, was this scale model sketch of the Milky Way. Mine was done very simply, with just chalk and estimations for each arm within the Milky Way. We established the overall diameter with a measuring tape, and then a group of kids worked on making the black hole in the center. Ours is not black, because they had all colored chalk and the black hole "sucked them all in" (the being sucked in was their idea). To be true to scale, the stars should just be dots, but artistic vision trumped science on that one, and the kids went to town making big beautiful stars for our galaxy.

So our short little project was a fun, but less than precise, affair, that did give some idea of the scale and geometry of the galaxy but was still accessible for 4 year olds. If you want to see how to do it right if you have more time and older students, my inspiration came from my DRE role model at First Unitarian Church in Worcester, Mass. In turn, she was inspired and assisted by the creator of The Galaxy Garden. Check out both of these projects!