A few weeks ago our class finished the Book of Mormon section of our curriculum. After each story I had always let the children explore the materials, but it was never long enough. My co-teacher and I thought it would be great if the children could work with the materials directly, retelling the stories using the figures for the entire class period one day.
Our plan was to let the children choose a story to work with, individually or with a friend. Then, after the child finished working with a story he could choose a different story, choose to draw a picture, choose to write, or choose to read a book from our book basket. I also set up a little prayer center flanked by a couple of artificial trees where someone could go if he needed quiet. The work cycle would continue up until the end of class when we would all meet together and talk about our experience, briefly.
In order for this to happen I spent a couple of weeks organizing the materials. I found some photo boxes about the size of a shoe box on sale at the local craft store. I placed all the necessary peg people and story miniatures in each box. I created booklets for each story. I bought a portable bookcase that could hold the boxes. I had an incredible amount of fun doing all of this.
A couple of weeks before the big day I started prepping the children during Sunday School. I talked about how to handle the materials carefully while I was setting up my stories. I told them about the upcoming day when they would be telling the stories too.
To say I was excited about this day was an extraordinary understatement. I could hardly sleep the night before. I wanted to see which stories the children would choose. I wanted to see what art responses they came up with. I wanted to see how they would handle the freedom. I hoped, above all, that the day would bring them closer to God.
Montessori Sunday, at last!
The day finally arrived. After I gave an introduction of the plan for the day, one of the children offered prayer. He prayed that we would all “be careful of the materials” and that the “Holy Spirit would be with us.” He covered it well. One by one I dismissed each child to choose a work, and a partner if he liked. Soon all the children were working with a story. A couple of children came in late so my co-teacher and I worked with them one-on-one with a story.
I had a wonderful time working with a girl using the Enos story. We had a chance to connect and think about each part of the story that mattered most to her. When she finished the story and went to put it back on the shelf I looked around the room. Everyone was working with a story. I heard expressive voices retelling parts. I heard them asking each other questions. I saw them showing each other interesting things about the materials. I was very encouraged.
After some groups of children finished one story, they started right in on another story that was available on the shelf. One boy made a beeline for the art materials and began a great work of drawing; he worked on it for the entire rest of the period hardly noticing what was going on around him.
Others didn’t know what to do after they were finished with the story, but it just took a little prompting for them to find another work. One girl asked me what she should draw. I encouraged her to think about something very important to her, maybe something that she was thinking about when she was working with the story. She ended up drawing a 3-D cross with sunshine.
In our whole group reflection time at the end of class the overall consensus was very positive. They liked working with each other and they wanted to do it again. They all seemed quite happy. One boy and a girl thought that they would like it if they could tell the story to the whole class; others said they liked working with the story with just one other person. One boy said he hadn’t learned anything new because he already knew the stories. Honesty is appreciated. Another boy said he liked making up sound effects and music as he told the story. Interesting.
After the bell rang I inspected each box. Inside, everything had been placed back carefully—the peg people lined up in a row, the booklet neatly on top. I looked at the artwork they had completed. The boy who had made a beeline for the artwork had created a very detailed drawing of Nephi building a ship. Yes, there was even a bit of origami that was placed in our little worship center by someone who had not contributed to the center yet.
I was struck by how peaceful the whole time had been. Except for the small help in choosing a next activity neither one of us teachers had to interfere with the children. We had been blessed.