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.

No comments: