Monday, October 29, 2012

The Feast

Earlier in the month, I alluded to an enrichment afternoon that our local Charlotte Mason study group has just launched. We are offering short lessons, learning together, sharing what we know, and deepening relationships to three classes of students: nursery, primary, and elementary. Right now, primary students are hearing and narrating passages from The Book of Virtues, learning to sew, and studying mapwork from a big picture point of view: the solar system first. Elementary students are doing mapwork of Europe and studying the Tarquin kings of Rome. The whole group gets to view early Genesis accounts through Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel, learn South Carolina folk songs, study three states of matter, and read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. What amazes me is how even the youngest students yearn to have parts in the bard's play!

Many Charlotte Mason bloggers have shared how they started their enrichment gatherings, so this post focuses on a completely different angle: guiding an adult with major developmental delays in that setting.

The first step for me was to view the schedule in light of my responsibilities and figure out roles for Pamela and me. Setting up social situations based upon roles is a big element of framing activities in a Relationship Development Intervention lifestyle. My friend Di illustrates this well in a blogpost about her plan for putting away oranges.
  • During our short opening time, I lead the group in learning South Carolina folk songs. Since she loves singing and already knows most of the music, she has no trouble knowing her role: sing along with other children.
  • Then, Pamela and I head out to help with the wee ones in the nursery (more on that later).
  • Since I teach citizenship, my primary responsibility is teaching the class, not Pamela. Right now, I need to focus on getting to know the other students while Pamela sits quietly and listens. Once I establish a solid rapport with her classmates, I can figure out how to guide her in the group while teaching the class.
  • Since another person teaches science, I can concentrate on being a good guide and help Pamela function as a competent member of the class.
  • Since I teach Shakespeare, my top priority is the class. Fortunately, the parents wanted to study a play that Pamela already loves. She has a leg up on the class because of her background knowledge. Guiding her in this class is much easier for that reason.

Nursery Time - Bonding with wee ones didn't seem promising when Pamela and I arrived in the nursery on our first enrichment day. One daddy was playing with his little girl. One mama was settling down her newborn who was reacting to the tears of a toddler crying for his mama. The little boy didn't know me well and I feared that picking him up would only add to his stress. I had to find a way to calm him before guiding an interaction between him and Pamela. Showing him stuffed animals made him cry louder. Pretending to play with trucks and tractors brought on more of the same.

I fell back on RDI principles and established a co-regulatory pattern (which Di also used) that served two purposes: help him feel more comfortable with us and get Pamela in a groove. I took a basket of Duplos and began to build a wall. After four blocks, I handed Pamela a block and she added to the wall. We continued that assembly-line pattern: mom picks a block and hands it to Pamela; Pamela places it on the wall. Over the course of a few minutes, watching our co-regulatory pattern quietened the boy and, when he looked like he wanted to join us, I said to Pamela, "Jacob wants a block." She handed the block to him and he added to the wall.

We stuck to this pattern far longer than I would have with Pamela alone. While she fell into the groove of having a third person quickly, Jacob looked a bit shaky. Whenever the wall wobbled, his lower lip trembled. I solved that problem by making the wall turn a corner until two corners stabilized it. As his confidence grew, he began to chatter. I joined him: I played match plus one, repeating what he said with an extra word or two. Match plus one prevents me from talking too much. I also threw in my unique comments, and he repeated them beautifully.

The point of establishing a co-regulatory pattern is to have a fall-back position when you add a variation that upsets a child. Interacting in such a rigid pattern can become mindless and robotic, empty of emotion. At this point, while Jacob and I were working on our rapport, Pamela was completely ignoring him. Since both seemed comfortable, I added a variation to encourage Pamela to become more dynamic. I picked up a waffle block and handed it to Pamela. She startled and handed it back to me, "That's the wrong one!"

I paused and waited for her to look at me. Then, I winked and explained, "We're going to trick Jacob!" Pamela accepted the block and handed it to Jacob. I watched his lower lip carefully and was ready to help him solve the problem if it trembled. He studied the block, studied the wall, and wondered. I said, "I wonder what we can do with this block." Very slowly, he placed the waffle block on a perfect spot on the wall. I continued handing Pamela "right" blocks and "wrong" blocks and she and Jacob continued their roles. Then, I gave her a foam block and this time she made no complaint. Giving her varied blocks kept Pamela on her toes, which prevented her from mindlessly playing her part.

At this point, our little friend made a crucial error. Fifteen minutes into our little game, he thought of more familiar faces and asked, "Where's my mama?" At that point, he burst into tears again and only her arrival soothed him.

Reflecting upon the framework, I can see room for improvement. Pamela was not "with us" as much as I would have liked. Admittedly, I was guiding two persons and I had to keep both Pamela and Jacob in their comfort zone. Next time, I will keep in mind Di's own self-talk, "Remember to pause! Remember to pause!" Why pause? The activity (building a wall) is only a prop. Building relationships is the real point of our activity. Pausing gives us time to share an emotion, savor a moment, think through the next step, etc. Forgetting to pause may prevent something beautiful from happening.

Hospitality - Because we were the host family, we arrived early. Pamela helped me push tables together so that everyone could gather around one large rectangle at snack time. I gave her roles in setting the table. She placed a plate and cup in front of each seat. During snack time, I dished out fruit while Pamela placed a brownie on each plate. Being tight on time with many folks to feed allowed few opportunities for experience sharing while we were serving. The slower pace of eating our treats fostered a neat interaction between Pamela and a fellow sojourner on the path of autism.

Although he is more than a decade younger than Pamela, Joseph speaks far better than Pamela. Thanks to RDI, she is far more flexible and patient than Joseph, who makes sure that the entire world knows when he is bored. Finicky in his food choices like many children in the spectrum, he voiced his frustration at the snack very loudly. Unsure of what to do, everyone quietly ignored his comments. Everyone except Pamela. She clearly recognized his anxiety, and having learned how to regulate her own anxieties to some extent, Pamela tried to encourage him. Whenever he complained, Pamela took him quite seriously and responded with all sorts of positive self-talk. "Don't be sad." "Cheer up!" "It's okay." "It's not the end of the world."

Shakespeare - Being responsible for guiding the class ruled out my ability to foster dynamic thinking for Pamela. I decided to set the entire class up for success because none of the students have ever read Shakespeare. I asked my friends for input on who could handle reading aloud longer parts and who needed short parts. I tried to give silent parts to the youngest to help them feel included. I emailed highlighted scripts to the families, so everyone could have a chance to become comfortable with reading their parts. It is the King's English after all!!

I set Pamela up for success by giving her the role of the soothsayer, who, as faithful blog readers know, says Pamela's favorite lines. We followed the same process we have used at home: we watch a segment from the BBC version of the play and then we read the script. When it came time to read aloud her scene, the soothsayer stood up with Anthony, Caesar, and the crowd, followed the reading of the script, and said her lines without any prompting from me. I was so thrilled to see her participate in a group activity and succeed on her own. While the setting is quite static, falling short of the aims of what we frame in RDI, sometimes you have to be realistic. My ultimate responsibility was teaching the class, which made relying on her static abilities a necessity.

Science - The first science class was probably one of the more challenging scenarios for a person with autism. A bunch of excited children in a long, narrow classroom with four stations for freely exploring three states of matter. They all gravitated to the more active stations (liquids and gases): blowing up balloons with seltzer tablets, mixing oil and water, playing with a bottle with honey, feeling zip-bags filled with squishy jello, putting things in an ice chest, etc. Boring, old solids (blocks, sticks, and a rubber duckie) didn't seem to capture anyone's hearts, so that is where Pamela and I headed with her science journal. Once the excitement died down, she was able to explore other stations and draw pictures in her notebook.

Then, God showed off for us. I peeked out the window and noticed movement in the recently plowed corn fields. Grackles (very greedy black birds) were gleaning for food. Not just a small flock. Thousands and thousands of grackles were right next to the church. Of course, we couldn't pass up such an opportunity for nature study. We quietened the children and headed them outdoors. Pamela said, "Just like the New Testament. Birds eating the seed." Another child exclaimed, "It reminds me of the time God dropped quail from the sky for the people in the desert." The sheer massive numbers of birds made them quite bold, and eventually the kids figured that out. Then, they all started yelling and shouting to see if the birds even noticed. The birds ignored the noise at first, and then they slowly moved to more promising fields.

Our second day of science gave me another opportunity to consider roles. We headed outside, and the teacher began by explaining how gas molecules behave and directed the students to act it out. They ran around in the field and had so much space they hardly bumped into one another. Pamela doesn't tend to get into this sort of thing, so I gave her the science journal and she drew simple diagrams of the children's action. The teacher reigned the children into a small circle bounded by the driveway and directed them to behave like liquid molecules. Finally, she had them bunch up together to act like a solid. Pamela watched and drew pictures.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Caterpillar Convention, or Deer Rubs Don't Run

For the third week in a row, we took a turn, a rather long and meandering turn, at the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. The ideas of Charlotte Mason (how this family learns and lives) and Relationship Development Intervention (how this family guides persons with autism) began criss-crossing in my mind like the muscadine vines along the path.

Take this pair of mushrooms for example. Our state has a long list of things that ought to be taught and when they ought to be taught. I don't have the time to read through it, but I began to wonder when they recommend children should begin to learn about fungi. Will their first brush with the fungus among us be as something to pick off pizza and toss out? Will they ever see mushrooms in the wild before they meet them in books? Will they have ever tried poking small puff balls to release spores and notice that the white ones are duds, and only the brown ones work sometimes? Will they have seen the many beautiful colors that toadstool mushrooms show off for the world? Will they have ever seen shelf fungi growing at the bottom of a trunk or a dead stump covered in all sorts of mushroomy looking things? What creates the most awe and wonder: reading about them in a unit on fungus or finding a yet another sort of fungal friend in one of many long walks?

Will they ever see a toad hanging out in a chestnut tree crotch before they study the life cycle of a frog in books? Find a dozen frogs dotting the swamp grass? Catch a toad and wonder why their palms feel wet?

Will they ever see for themselves that The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Busy Spider both spin webs? They will if they ever see this caterpillar house in the woods or if they find web worm nests in trees.

Speaking of said caterpillar, will they find eggs before they meet the book? A wee, whispery voice in me wonders if seeing a spotty leaf in the woods one week, then finding it overrun with wee caterpillars the next, and seeing the leaf transformed into holy lace another week inspires more delight.

Will they feel the thrill of naming a cluster of critters—"caterpillar convention" coined by one child naturalist—before hearing a very proper term army? Will they know on their own that a caterpillar army hugging a limb might relate to autumn's chill?

Will they see all sorts of camouflage like the little critter on the left who cannot change colors but hides well in autumn spectrum colors? Or will they think animals that change color and shape is only to amuse little children?

What, you don't see the little amphibian yet?

That's a clue!

Will they ever plunge clean hands into a pond to grab a water hyacinth? Will they dirty their nails to rip open its bulb and find styrofoam that God hid inside? Do textbook writers find this idea worthy of making the cut?

Can children whose time is ground up by busywork, homework, worksheets, testing, and standardized exam preparation ever find out if one really can make ink by grinding up oak galls? How many galls will it take?

"But, wait!" exclaim my RDI friends. What does this have to do with autism and experience sharing? What does walking through the woods have to do with developing relationships with people in the autism spectrum?

My friend, the child naturalist, knows the answer. When looking at a deer rub, he shared, "Deer rubs don't run!" He knows that the woods are full of wonderful things to see and know. It takes time to hunt crickets and catch them in a bug glass. Deer rubs take less time to catch because they don't run. Two years ago, when my friend's days were busy with traditional schooling, time was precious. He never had enough time to know all the things he longed to know. Sometimes, his parents took him and his siblings out of school to go on raptor rescue adventures. But, he still never had his fill of time.

It takes lots of quiet time and long experience in the woods learning how to provoke the antlion larva just enough to come out of its home to fight off intruders. Explaining too much too soon destroys the pleasure of seeing it unfold after long hours of exploring. Pumping buzz words into a child and attempting to extract said words steals joy and mystery from the experience. Pushing through the trail quickly while an expert explains all the important stuff on a field trip pushes out time for rabbit trails. Experience sharing is not about getting the job done and all the stuff known. It is about meandering and musing like the endless weaving of muscadine vines.

It also takes someone more experienced in the ways of the woods to guide. My friend spent many long hours learning things as a child naturalist. She carefully chooses when to share her knowledge (how to turn a ginormous beetle on its back and hear if its a clicker beetle) and when to let her children discover for themselves. To know what time is ripe for exploring and discovering a new thing without a lot of words. To know what time is best for supplying a well-timed word, for holding back an answer to foster wondering and yearning to know, for wandering off the path, for returning back to it. Too many words, too fast a pace, too few visits, too many prompts destroy the wonder of the experience.

I watched this little one pet his first frog and caterpillar today. We had to slow down our pace of interaction for him to keep up. When we did, his joint attention was lovely. Rather than flood his mind with blitz of correct jargon explaining everything a preschooler should know about frogs, his mama elaborated on a familiar play he enjoys. "What does a frog say? Ribbet!" Only then, after carefully studying the amphibian, after his mama quietly coaxed him, after slowly, but steadily reaching his hand toward the frog, did he finally pet the critter.

What life lessons would falter if she had goaded him to touch it, forced compliance, pushed out his time to wonder and ponder?

Even the most nontraditional homeschoolers know when to move on. We came across a garter snake stretched out along the road in a patch of sun. When enough big, loud, wiggly folks ventured too close, the garter snake suddenly sprang into action and sidled to a safe place to hide from the big bad world (just as a person with autism does when we rush too often). We watched the snake wind itself along a muscadine vine, moving onward and upward to blend into the security blanket of camouflage. We all longed to stay for a half hour and see how far it would go. The stomachs of the littlest ones rumbled. The minds of the adult ones knew time was short for we had a hard deadline in the afternoon (the feast of the mind to come). The more experience guides ushered the children along the trail because the time was right to transition.

We know that we will come back to our beloved trail and further our relationship with it. Another day may reveal how high garter snakes climb. Charlotte Mason often said, "Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character." To reap a relationship, we must sow experiences slowly, gently, humbly. When we do that consistently and carefully over the years with our children with autism, then relationships will weave in and out of their lives like the muscadine vines that bear the sweet fruit warmed by the patient sun.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Wish Granted . . . Abundantly and Lavishly

If you have ever read The Five Children and It, then you know the dangers of wishes come true. If you have never read that gem of a book, step away from the computer, find that book now, and enjoy!

Little wishes aren't so dangerous. On Thursday, Paperbackswap granted my wish for a science book that has been sitting on my wish list for two years. It is the kind of book that is truly worth only $15 new but, because it is out-of-print and sought-after in homeschooling circles, is going for $9,999 new paperback, $313 used paperback, and  only $82 new hardcover at Amazon. To think that I'm getting mine for the cost of media mail isn't really mind-blowing because the 48-page book truly isn't worth the inflated-pricing schemes. Perhaps, the tulip mania chapter in Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates isn't so far-fetched after all.

A friend of mine posted a photograph of the Io moth caterpillar about a month ago. This creature is so amazing that I wished to see it in real life. Yesterday, when we headed out to Santee National Wildlife Refuge, my request was granted. The children spied one soaking up sunshine, while resting on the railing of the boardwalk. My cellphone doesn't do it justice, but the picture was clear enough to earn a confirmed sighting of the Io over at BAMONA. Apparently, I'm not as weird as I thought because my sister-in-law, who is so much more hip than I ever was or ever will be, had a cool shot of a caterpillar from her yard on her cell phone too!

I've had another wish, a very long-term wish, really a prayer that finally came true yesterday. In our third year of homeschooling (back in 1997), we joined a homeschooling co-op and loved it. Two things happened in 2000 that changed everything: we moved to another state (and have moved several times since) and we shifted to a Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling. Our paradigm change meant that, while we still occasionally attended co-ops, they never really meshed with how we homeschooled.

Until yesterday!

Backing up a bit, since moving to Carolina, I have tried to start local Charlotte Mason discussion groups, but nobody seemed interest. One spring, a group of us starting meeting in Columbia, but it was such a long drive and life was so busy that it fizzled out. Often, my timing isn't God's timing, nor my plan His plan.

Then, in Spring 2011, God dropped a study group in my lap, or Phase I of my Heavenly Father checking off an item on my bucket list. Long story short, a friend came to me when she first started thinking of homeschooling and I let her borrow For the Children's Sake. Six months later, she plunged into homeschooling and never brought up Mason's ideas, so I assumed that our unusual ways weren't meant for her family. Six months after that, she began telling me that she and some of her homeschooling friends had been reading Mason and they wanted to get together so they could learn more. The first couple of meetings I did some "show and tell" so they could see the sorts of things Pamela and I did and the sorts of books we read. Then, we began plowing through Home Education and moved onto Towards a Philosophy of Education at the beginning of 2012, talking about habit training, exams, mother culture books, and other things CM. Pamela has show an interest in getting to know the babies of the families. During the past eighteen months, we have grown together in our friendship and understanding of Mason's ideas. One friend delighted me with a gift from the British Museum (her husband's favorite haunt in London when he isn't busy flying airplanes).

Last summer, we began hatching a new plan, Phase II of progress toward a bucket list. We all felt brave enough to launch an afternoon of enrichment, which we now call "The Feast". That may sound like an odd name for a homeschooling gathering. We are trying to avoid the "c" word because we are on the road less traveled. We hope to alert fellow homeschoolers we aren't quite what one expects in a typical co-op.

One of my friends said recently that the hardest part of homeschooling and living this way is that you feel sorry for the children who are cooped up in rooms, doing worksheets, reading textbooks, regurgitating facts, too busy to think, imagine, or dream. At that moment, I could finally confide that I felt the same way two years ago when we headed off on our raptor adventure together. I kept the thought to myself that they would probably enjoy the freedom of homeschooling. When she started homeschooling last fall, I kept the thought to myself that they would probably enjoy the Charlotte Mason homeschooling life. Now, her family as well as others in our area are traveling the same road and building relationships as we learn together and share a feast that is both abundant and lavish.

I will hold off on posting on how the day went. Instead, I will share how we spent the past two Friday mornings: walking the trail at the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. The first time we went, Pamela didn't know exactly what to do, surrounded by so many children. She joined in to see what we all found but didn't seemed to find anything herself. Yesterday, she collected sticks, which made me smile.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Juggling TWO Chatterboxes and NINE Wee Turtles

Last fall, a friend brought baby slider turtles to Pamela's watercolor class. At the time, I had wished we could have observed them from the very beginning when my friend had first started posting pictures of the nest on Facebook. Having learned my lesson, I contacted Pat right away when she announced the laying of more eggs in last summer.

On July 20, the mama came to my friend's yard in a golf course community, dug up some dirt, and laid some eggs. Pat heard crows in the neighborhood telling everyone of a pending meal. She grabbed her protective gear and covered the nest with two cages spiked into the ground and nestled in bricks strapped together. Without protection, crows, foxes, and raccoons might help themselves to an easy dinner.

A month later, my friend and her granddaughter opened up the nest to count the eggs and see how they were doing. Slider turtles usually lay eggs in May or June, so this mama was a bit off schedule. Pat found eleven eggs, and all looked well. We paid our first visit on September 7, the day we met the box turtle. Pat removed the protective gear but decided not to dig into the nest. Slider turtle eggs incubate for eighty to ninety days, so they were due to hatch between September 8 and September 18. We saw no signs of hatching (disturbed dirt), so, after taking pictures, we covered up the nest.

A week later, Pat dug around the nest to check the progress of the eggs. We were very nervous, acting like expecting parents. Were they all duds? Were they okay? What were we going to find? She carefully dug and dug, and then we saw four turtles. Since they were not strong enough to dig themselves out, we left them in the ground. We covered them up with dirt and protected them as before.

Pat had to go out of town, so she asked a neighbor to keep a close eye on the nest. She was hoping that the turtles would sit tight until her return on October 1. They did not and dug out of the nest while she was gone. On September 30, the neighbor had to retrieve the babies and bring them indoors, where Pat will raise them until they are large enough to make it on their own. Pamela and I headed over to her house and the first thing we did was to locate the duds. We wanted to make sure Pat's friend hadn't accidentally missed a live turtle. We found the remnants of the last two eggs.

Then, the fun began. Pat wanted to clean out a smaller bin with rocks where they hang out during the day. We helped her carry the nine turtles to a large bin, which Pamela called the "swimming pool." We watched them swim and measured them for their first well-baby checkup. They were 1 3/8 inches in diameter.

Pat, Pamela, and I watched the turtles swim, which I recorded. I was so excited at first that I could not help myself and chattered away, as did Pat. From a Relationship Development Intervention point of view, I did everything exactly opposite, talking quickly and barely giving Pamela time to process.

And yet, she kept up!

This video illustrates how well she engages in a shared experience. Her comments connect directly to the situations. She shares what she thinks. She manages to engage with nine turtles and add her part to a conversation with two chatterboxes. She pays particular attention to one aspect of animals that has fascinated her for a long time: the claws (which is why she thought of her dogs Loa and Arwen).

Friday, October 05, 2012

Awe and Wonder in Bible Study

Children should have the joy of living in far lands, in other persons, in other times—a delightful double existence ~ Charlotte Mason
Since January 2011, I have had the pleasure, yes pleasure, of teaching young children a Bible lesson in my church's afterschool program every Wednesday. I shared my first reflection in June 2011 and my second in November 2011. Our class spent the first few months of 2011 studying Moses and the school year of 2012 reading most of the book of Mark. We ended the year three chapters short of our goal. This year, we plan to finish one whole book of the Bible: Daniel. When I looked up June's post, I noticed a new comment in which Courtney asked the following question about coordinating Sunday school curricula:
We started from scratch and I have attempted to implement Charlotte Mason principles from the beginning. I have done a fair share of the leading, but others have definitely caught on to some of the principles. However, I need a break from creating the curriculum. My hope is to find a curriculum, tweak it to free it from twaddle, competition, teacher pleasing techniques, etc and equip our leaders to lead the children with this method. We have about 20+ children in one room ages 3-8. It’s been a challenge to get in a rhythm. If you have any words of counsel on where to find a base curriculum that would free me from some labor – I would be so appreciative.

Unfortunately, I am rarely happy with children's curricula, so I stick with finding high quality pictures to immerse them in a time period, maps, and the Bible itself. Our class rhythm continues to be the same: play time, snack, song (I downloaded a version of Something about That Name that doesn't drag), prayers, Bible lesson, activity (sometimes related, sometimes not), homework time, and play time. After 2.5 hours, the children leave physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fed!

We continue to use The Illustrated Children's Bible for the Bible lesson (for free samples, go here). I downloaded a copy of of the Old Testament, but you can order it in a binder with CDs with the PDF files. Every week, I scour the Internet and download a couple of high-resolution pictures of artifacts from the time of Daniel to give the children background knowledge and to help immerse them in all things Babylonia. It typically takes a half hour to find suitable images. For example, to go with the first week, they studied and talked quite animatedly about soldiers attacking the Jews in Lachish and another of soldiers carrying Jews into exile. (I didn't go into depth on the fact that the Assyrians are the masters here, instead of the Babylonians, because of the quick change of hands during this period of history.) Seeing men, women, and children heading into exile personalized Daniel to them: they were astonished to see children their age having to walk five hundred miles in the desert to live in a new land with a new language and new customs. They noticed all kinds of details: the differences in clothing styles, vehicles, weapons, hair styles, etc.

I introduced them to King Nebuchadnezzar and showed them what a document looked like in his day. We talked about the clay tablets and how they were baked in ovens. One girl was amazed that you couldn't simply close a book. I told them about how the king had build an amazing palace that had fallen apart and had been covered in sand over the past two-thousand years. I showed them a picture of modern mud-brick palace built by the late Saddam Hussein next to the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar's palace. I told them that a hundred years ago some German archaelogists started finding these beautiful blue bricks that are very much like the tile we use in fireplaces and bathrooms today. They realized it was the gorgeous Ishtar gate and reassembled it in a museum. We talked about the animals on the walls and how many represented Babylonian gods, which were animals, planets, the sun, and moon. I showed them a second picture to give them an idea of the scale of the gate, and they were impressed!

I used to worry about how children unaccustomed to a Charlotte Mason style of education would react. Looking at those pictures and talking about them together incorporates the study of architecture and sculpture, which I am quite sure is neglected in their education. I offer it in a familiar medium, television, but done in an active, not passive way. I created two slideshows into a DVD (which one could also do in powerpoint): one has the pictures just described and the other has pictures of the pages of the Bible we are reading, cut and paste from the PDF file). One benefit of using a DVD is that, if a child misses a week, I can send home the DVD for them to catch up on what they missed the previous week. I simply show a picture and pause it while we have a grand conversation. They love it! The children learn so much just by seeing the artifacts of Daniel's world and noticing little details. It takes me a half hour to prepare the weekly DVD.

Last week was a wonderful example of how our afternoon goes. Children arrive in stages because different schools have different dismissal times. They go to the gym or youth room to play. Once everyone has arrived, we go to the fellowship hall for a snack. Then, we go to the classroom, sing a hymn or two, and pray. Then, we have a conversation about last week's lesson. Typically, I have a student who missed last week. So, I said, "Laura missed the lesson. Who would like to tell her what happened to Daniel last week?" Hands flew up. I picked her friend, sitting next to her, who gave a narration that went something like this
There was this guy. I don't remember his name. [Someone pops up with, "Daniel!"] Yeah, Daniel. This king with a really long name came to his city and chose only young men who were healthy and good-looking. He took them to the palace to be a servant. First, Daniel had to learn a new language and learn to read and write. When he got to the palace, this guard told him he had to eat the king's food, which was really bad for you. But, Daniel only wanted to eat vegetables and water, but the guard wasn't happy. He might get in trouble with the king, and, when the king got mad, he cut off people's heads. Daniel asked for a test of ten days. If he and his friends looked bad after ten days, then they would eat the king's food. We don't know what happened because Mrs. Tammy stopped reading at that part.
Hands flew up after her narration, and I picked a boy who was eager to share his part, which went something like this,
Daniel used to live in a city that was surrounded by walls. When the king's army came to Daniel's town, soldiers were everywhere. Nobody could leave the city. They didn't have guns. They had bows and arrows and, if anyone tried to leave the city, the guards would shoot like this. [He demonstrates shooting an arrow with a bow.] Daniel's city didn't want to run out of food, so they gave up.
Another boy added something like this,
We wondered why Daniel didn't run away when he was in the palace. I thought he should have waited until everyone was sleeping and then sneak out. But, Mrs. Tammy said that they had soldiers guarding them even in the middle of the night. Somebody was always watching them.
Reminded of another reason why, I added, "The other problem, Laura, is that the king's palace was five-hundred miles away from David's old home. He would have to survive in the desert to get home."

You might think that narrating comes easy to these students because they have been in my class for almost two years. This year, we have three new boys. They eagerly added smaller parts. One said something like,
Hey, do you remember the soldiers had pointy hats? Daniel's people had round hats, so that's how you can tell them apart!
Another added,
Oh, yeah! And, the king didn't take just young men. There were children, boys, and girls. Some were so little they rode the carts!
Another remembered,
Mrs. Tammy showed us pictures of the king's city. They had a wall with pictures of animals that were their gods. They had all kinds of gods, not at all like God.

My class is an even mix of public and private school children, so they  have never been in a Mason setting outside of my class. I teared up watching them narrate so happily and so beautifully. They have their own way of expressing their thoughts, and they enjoy sharing what inspired them the most. They were so excited to talk that I had to help them transition to the Bible lesson.

First, we studied the pictures on the television screen and discussed new artifacts from Babylon and a map of the area. Then, we read Daniel 1:15-2:12. I still read all the parts by the narrator and hand out the dialog to volunteers. We pause from time to time and the children tell what they notice or ask questions. Several gasped when I read Daniel 2:2, "So the king called for his fortune-tellers, magicians, wizards and wise men." They cried out, "Wizards? Magicians?" So, I asked them a question to encourage them to think it through. "What if you could bring King Nebuchadnezzar to our time and let him watch television? What would he think about it?" One answered, "He would think we were magicians." I added, "We know that televisions are based on science, but Nebuchadnezzar wouldn't." I stopped at a cliffhanger to leave them begging for more: Daniel 2:12, "When the king heard that, he became very angry. He gave an order for all the wise men of Babylon to be killed." The kids were properly horrified because they realized that Daniel and his friends were on the hit list.

After the lesson, we did an activity: they painted the clay sculptures they made last week. In the background, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue played. Pamela and I are studying it right now, and David's marching band is including it in their half-time show. Sometimes, our activities have nothing to do with the Bible lesson. This week, I'm brought in our temporary pet snail for nature study. Then, the children did their homework and had free play after that.

I want them to enjoy wondering about the Bible. The big question they asked me on the first day concerned Daniel 1:2, "The Lord allowed Nebuchadnezzar to capture Jehoiakim king of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar also took some of the things from the Temple of God. He carried them to Babylonia and put them in the temple of his gods." One of them popped up with, "Why did God let that happen?" Another was angry about the stuff he stole from the temple for, when we studied Moses, we built the tabernacle out of cardstock. I never answered the question about why God let it happen. I told them that, by Christmas, they might figure it out. Every time we come across the word "wise men" I hold my tongue because they will experience more awe once they make the connection themselves.