When it comes to educating my children, I have always followed a "classical" approach, inspired and modeled around two major influences, Charlotte Mason whose writings were the first I read (thanks to a wise veteran homeschooler who gifted me her 6 volume set of books when I first began homeschooling), and Andrew Campbell's Latin Centered Curriculum. Lots of memory work, plenty of living books, tea time with poetry readings, composer and picture study, nature walks, with our main school hours dedicated to math and Latin. I also used bits of Macrina Lewis' wonderful program, The Garden of the Theotokos, which introduced me to Waldorf methods when my oldest was just 6. This past year I have received intensive training in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori approach to spiritual formation in children.
So, am I a mixed up teacher who can't choose a method or philosophy? No. I can see now that my mind was attempting to reconcile two areas of child raising - the intellectual development and the spiritual development. I want my children to know about the feasts, the saints, and the rubrics of our faith. More than that, I want them to love Christ. I want them to know Him and His saints, not know "about" them. I can see that is why my heart kept reaching out to those methods of teaching which seem to reach the spirit. Waldorf excites wonder. Flash card drills of icons to learn to identify a saint is not the way to go (believe me, it crossed my mind :) Young children learn best by touching, doing, feeling. So several years ago I began to pull together hands on things to connect them with the church. The Holy Week Learning boxes were the most ambitious of these projects, but saint storytelling inspired by Children's Garden of the Theotokos became a part of our day as well. I was inspired by Leah, who I so wish I could link to, but no longer has a blog. Her little saints inspired my lessons for our Vacation Church School trip to Ireland last year!
So, how do we use these little saint "dolls"? I am not sure "doll" is the right term, as they are not really toys. One thing I really like about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is some of the terms used. As a catechist, I present a story to the children, then offer them an opportunity to "work" with the materials. This is not play, it is work. It is taken seriously, and therefore, the materials are taken seriously and treated with respect. Our little felt saints are not played with in the same way a lego person is played with. At the same time, they are not icons, so we do not hold them up as holy objects. They represent holy people the same way a nativity set does.
For Vacation Church School last summer, we set up a scene each day to represent the saint. We read one of the many wonderful Orthodox children's books about that saint, and we acted out various moments in the life of the saint with the figures. The children were then permitted to use the pieces and set the scenes up themselves.
At home, it is often a form of narration for us. After hearing the life of a saint, my children have access to the materials for that saint. They will often retell the story, using the objects and felt saints. The older ones love to tell the stories to the younger ones. Sometimes, I have a book that goes with the saint. In that case, the book and items are kept together, and the kids enjoy reading the book while setting up the story. Some days, I simply set up a scene in our kitchen to follow up on a story we have recently read.
At co-op, we often are relating the life of an obscure or lesser known saint (since we try to find ones that relate to the science topic which is flying creatures this year), so we rarely have a book. In that case, I find the life of the saint in my collection of Rostov's lives, or on various Internet sources. I go over the life and usually will outline the highlights as memory joggers for myself. Then I retell the story to the children in a storytelling format, with the scene set before them.
Really, it is no different than a nativity set. The figures are out, and so the children want to use them. They like to retell the story, they like to interact with the figures. As they do this, they are thinking about the story. We may not always understand it, we may not always think what they are doing is productive, but they are coming to know who these people are. My children love seeing a new figure, and even my 12 year old, when I showed him St. Herman (modeled after Leah's), immediately asked if I would make him one of his own to keep in his room. They are learning to know these saints in a real way, as real people. And they love them. I hope that answers many of the questions I have gotten recently about the use of these figures. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have further questions!
"Behold, the Lord will pass by, and before the Lord, a great and powerful wind will be rending the mountains and shattering the rocks; but the Lord will not be in the wind. After the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord will not be in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there will be a fire, but the Lord will not be in the fire. After the fire, there will be a sound of a gentle breeze, and the Lord will be there."
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she may help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:40-42