Monthly Archives: June 2011

Writing for a Volunteer-driven Camp – part 2


When I listened to volunteers give feed back on out of the box VBS programs they had been involved with,  I heard about the camaraderie and stress of meeting the various age groups needs.  When I listened to the children, I found that anyone under the age of six was really happy.  But as the age began to go up so did the dis-satisfaction levels.  As I pondered the dilemma of burning out adults and dis-satisfied children,  I thought about the developmental needs of children and wondered where the children were being let down.

Three to Six Developmental Plane

“Help me do it myself.”

Goal: to transfer power to the child.  – empowerment through transparent lessons.

Method:  to guide the child to strengthen their muscles and control their will.

Work:  the child rests in order to work.

Health:   Illness – strengthening immune system

View of the Complexity of Life:   Defense of the Self

Core Goal Satisfies: Physical

Notes: When instructing, leave them  begging for more. Let them have independence.


Six to Twelve Developmental Plane   

“We’ll do this together.”

Goal:  To develop the power to reason and have judgement.  – through creation of the establishment of information connections.

Method:   To develop the ability to imagine and function in community.

Work:  The child has a great compacity to work.

Health:  healthy – quick movement

View of the Complexity of Life: Right or Wrong

Core Goal Satisfies:  Community

Notes:   Friendship and social awareness – The child finds a friend then finds  some work they both can do.  Learns they can do more in community than alone.


Same goal, yet not together.

Twelve to Eighteen Developmental Plane

“I can do this better than anyone else.”

Goal: To provide opportunities to search for their tendencies to match their cosmic task.

Method:  To enhance the ability of the intellect to understand information and relationships.

Work:  The child needs more rest

Health:  Illness – physiological changes

View of the Complexity of Life:  Black and White

Core Goal Satisfies:  Psyche

Notes:  The child is vulnerable again due to the physical and emotional changes and the innate knowledge that they are soon enter the greater society.  Want to be recognized for the individual they are.


Eighteen to Adult Developmental Plane

“I will do what I can.”

Goal:  to enter their great cosmic task

Method:  to provide the impetus to see that there are contributions that outlast we can make that outlasts ourself.

Work:  great ability for physical & mental activity

Health: healthy – strength and speed

View of the Complexity of Life:  Grey are as are explored

Core Goal Satisfies: Spirit

Notes:  Practicality in life. Focus on  the  integration the world into the focus of a purpose.  Awareness of their potential to causes greater than themselves and an appreciation of  those who have come before.

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Writing for a Volunteer-driven Camp

Teens enjoy challenging new skills to make a topographical map of the near east.

The greatest thing that I’ve learned over the years of writing these camps is that Volunteers are a gift from God.  I’ve met some absolutely wonderful folks who seem to get the Montessori madness when they see the camp.  I’ve also met some folks who just want a good flannel graph and buttered bread finger sandwiches.  It doesn’t matter they are your gift and they must be unwrapped with care and shown love and respect.  (No one said all of God’s gifts are warm and fuzzy.)

The advantages of child centered camps is that the children are part of the “kitchen crew,”  the “clean-up staff,”  and the instructors (through Socratic questioning). Providing children with real skills allows them have ownership and purpose in the world.   For example, placing children in the kitchen encourages the trying of foods that might be sketchy.  When a child makes the food, the child is more likely to sell it to themselves and their friends as, “no really, it’s good.”  It also provides the child with another way of relating to their parent.  They truly can help cut up fruit or veggies.  They know how to stir a pot and wash a pot, too.  It is real life for real families.  There are families that employ some one to teach their teen to drive a car.  I view teaching kids to cook to be similar.  Some parents are overly cautious with knives.  (My mom was.  I didn’t cut my own meat up until highschool. Sigh.)  Some it is the hot stove.  Others are concerned with perfection.  Kids can practice in the kitchen at camp.

This frees up volunteers to be utilized differently in a kid centered camp.  Volunteers are the shepherds which spend extended periods of time just being with kids.  They have two jobs: 1.  Get the kids safely from point A to point B and 2. love and nurture the kids in their care.  The shepherds also act as back-up for the room coordinators.  One person is in charge of a space and can pour all her energy into the lesson and since the decorations aren’t the big deal, time can be spent working on how to communicate effectively.  In the years I’ve been using this model, volunteers consistently have found themselves less stressed.

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It is all about the Church’s vision.

One of the reasons churches bring me in to write Church Camp materials is that their goals for their children can be very much in line with their vision for the community of believers.

This year, the vision included the Old Testament.

As a Montessorian I immediately thought of Fundamental needs of Man and the power of Geography in the rise of civilizations.  We settled on a passage out of Deuteronomy 6.  

The discussion would follow the Shema: Hear O Israel the Lord is one God.  It would discuss the conquest of the land under Joshua with a day dedicated to:

  1. Who are the people of God?  What is a mezuzah and the shema?
  2. The family tree of Abraham.  The geography of the near east.
  3. The tribes living in “promised land” and the civilizations of the near east during the later bronze age. (A look at the Gibeonites.)
  4. How the people of God interacted with the other tribes (ie Ruth and Samson) and the surrounding cities and resources for trading and the trade routes;
  5. Justice and law during the bronze age and including the cities of refuge. A perusing of the Wheel of Apostasy.
This camp is about providing no more than 35 children a three and a half hour camp. The camp times would be from 3:30 to 7:00 pm. The children would be divided into groups that would rotate through places, and finally the whole camp would meet for the fifth.  If you are familiar with Montessori, you can appreciate the areas of work of the child that are incorporated into this schedule.  The children who come to this camp are not Montessori in background and need the be encouraged to find their inner love of learning and self-direction.  

The first four cover the time from 3:45 until 5:45.  Each group rotates in turn through the areas. The fifth involves dinner, music, and the speaker.

Working with Hands  (In the Parish Hall)

Activities are not crafts. Activities aid in understanding the concept.  The goal is to introduce the concepts of the Biblical passage in a kinesthetic and visual-spacial manner. Discussion of theology is as important as teaching and modeling the skills. 

  • project covering the day’s topic

Working with Mind (In the Tree House)

When working with the mind, a Socratic approach (posed questions for the children) is utilized to aid the children in their ability to look at Scripture and discern themes, history, and meaning for themselves.

  • This piece of the rotation cover the topic from a look into the Bible and its themes.

Care of Self (In the Magee Prayer Center)

The care of self is a peaceful, productive time.  It is not a frenzy of multiple choices and little centering. Clean-up is an important part of the care of self. 

  • This piece in the rotation is designed to allow the child to recenter themselves and have a time to focus on God and themselves. There will be a space for prayer, personal study, reading and handwork. 

Care of Others (1)  (In the Kitchen and the Parish Hall)

  • Making appetizer 
  • How to use a knife. 
  • Unloading dishwasher
  • Setting tables
  • Napkins on the table folding 
  • Ice in pitchers on table
  • Cups on table

Care of Others (2)

This time is designed to allow the children to care for their environment by cleaning up from the day’s activities and provide for last minute preparation for the dinner service.

  • Sweeping the floor
  • Consolidating trash
  • Checking the bathroom for towels and toilet paper
  • Turning off lights
  • Loading the dishwasher from dinner prep
  • Consolidating recycling
  • Checking for litter outside
  • Making place mats
  • Sweeping the walkways outside
  • Setting out the appetizers 

 Work of the Heart  (In the Parish Hall)

This final piece of the camp is designed to be shared with an adult.  It is a time to allow for parents to bond with their child and find common conversation, learning, and worship.

  • music
  • discussion
  • Bible application talk
  • dinner 

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Montessori VBS

Ahhh The phrase: It’s time for VBS

One would tend to think back to boxed curricula and VBS with a sigh and the though of, “well, that was cute.”  Years ago when I was just discovering Montessori through youth ministry (Yes, I tend to be a bit backwards as most of you discovered Montessori through much younger children.) I was challenged by a fabulous children’s minister to rethink the box.  Her guidance was to use the box as a starting point and rewrite the scripts for the daily skits; re-think the music; and certainly redo the craft ideas.  What ensued was a 8.5 month pregnant me smushed into a kaftan or muumuu with a dubuta wrapped around my head leading teens in a skit and sing along to 75 little kids sitting outside in 95 degree Florida heat. (We were supposed to be on a Caribbean Island after all.)  It was brilliant according to all the volunteers, teens, and church staff.  Over the years, the teens continued to run an AM children’s VBS and began an afternoon version for seniors from a lower income highrise down the street.

Over the years I’ve discarded the box completely and I’ve been asked to write curricula for churches to use in their programs.  I’ve lead archeological digs while children looked at Nehemiah’s return.  I’ve worked with churches to bus 35 boys out to a farm to paint fences, pick-up pinecones, and hang out with mentally challenged teens to see what it means to love your neighbor. Simultaneously 25 girls were making over (with interior designers and carpenters) elderly church member’s homes by deep cleaning and repairing spaces for them.

Things I have learned over the years:

  • Volunteers are a gift from God.
  • Don’t try to run an all age VBS.  Run two. Kids learn more if it is divided 3 to 6 and 6 to 12.  Your volunteers like it, too.
  • Don’t out-grow your space. (Be wise to keep a cap in size.)
  • Let the kids actually learn something that is good for real life. Learn how to make paper and ink from scratch.  Learn how to start a fire.  Learn how to ask questions about what they are being taught.
  • Don’t underestimate what kids can learn.
  • Keep down the clutter.  (I followed the year after a church’s VBS was put in warning from the fire marshal for excessive use of brown paper enshrouding a hallway.)  Invest in better tools, visuals, and materials.
  • Kids don’t need cheese and characters to be interested in learning and loving God.
  • Provide a space where kids can have quiet with each other and God.
  • Teens are GREAT volunteers, but require training and expectations to really be a great part.
The next few posts will cover an older kid’s Camp on the Corner that we wrote to discuss Bronze Age Israel in preparation for a four day study of Jonah (The Walk About).  There is a corresponding Camp on the Corner for zero to six as well.  I’ll see about covering that later.



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Working with the Hands

It just dawned on me this morning that a child growing up today could live their lives without ever seeing something hand made – much less absorbing skills from one generation to another.  This is worrisome.

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My Montessori Summer

As part of my offering to God, I write curriculum for and aid in the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Peter, Episcopal’s summer program.  We began a new experience this year.  We realize that in a city that is called the Holy City because of the sheer number of churches, we didn’t want to compete. So we decided to do two multi-age, multi-week programs.  The 6 to 12 year-old camp is on Monday afternoons from 3:30 to 7:00 and the younger children are on Friday mornings from 9:00 to 11:30.
Today began the younger camp.  We are reading a lovely book about the love of God and winding our way through the back roads of the Old Testament as we look at the height, weight, noise, depth, etc of the Love of God. My job was to create environments that were age appropriate – 18 months to 3 years  and 3 years to 6 years.
Since we were looking at the height of God’s love today – higher than the stars in the sky, the 3 to 6 children worked with stars.  We spooned and scooped stars.  We counted and sorted stars.  We did a presentation on stellar-neucleaosynthesis.  We spoke (and interacted in a giant sand box) about Abraham’s promise from God that his decedents would be like the stars in the sky.
We hung constellations on the walls.  We counted one of the story teller’s polka-dotted pants to see if we could count the stars in the sky.  We looked through binoculars and tried to count the leaves on the tree.  It was relaxing to work with Casa children after wrestling with Elementary children for so long.
The children left the classroom and headed to music, play, and art.  A morning well spent.
I’ll tell you about the older kid’s camp soon.

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