Shine On: Middle School Math Teacher Shares Appreciation for Nourishing Lessons with No-Nonsense Prep

Guest blog by Esther Kratzer Koontz,

MennoMedia’s new Shine Sunday school curriculum for children, [published in partnership with Brethren Press] is praiseworthy: easy to plan, easy to teach and committed to deep and simple truths that stick with me all week long.

A student’s welcome sign from Esther Kratzer Koontz’s class at First Mennonite Church of Hutchinson, Kan.

I commute 45 minutes to church, which gives me plenty of time to plan the lesson on the way. As long as I’ve packed the snack, I can usually scavenge up the rest of the ingredients for a nourishing and enjoyable lesson at the church.

This week, I needed a backpack — but I found that on the floor of our minivan. I was supposed to have packed the backpack with a sampling of “valuables” to represent the weight of possessions in our lives, but my first- and second-grade students sure had fun helping me fill the backpack with wooden blocks of various sizes, each representing something a “rich man” might own.

“Gold, a mansion, a hot tub!”

We found our “limbo stick” in the broom closet. A needle? The sewing ladies happily showed us where those are kept.

Then we read each story right out of the new Shine On Bible. Word for word.

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While I read slowly, we acted out the story with the olive wood figures in our story people box. Jesus changes shape every week. Some weeks he’s tall and dark. Other weeks he’s light and stout with a knot on his back. The kids are never a bit surprised.

My scarf of the day quickly turned into the river where Jesus was baptized, the road where Jesus and his friends walk, or the sea where Jesus pulled up in his boat made of, you guessed it, a wooden block.

My busiest students loved building Peter’s mother’s house or the ship where Jesus stands to calm the winds.

What do you wonder?

After the story, we closed our eyes and asked the curriculum’s “wondering” questions. You don’t raise your hand to answer the questions. You just think about the story and wonder.

I wondered if the man used any of his money to help others. (The Bible doesn’t tell us.) I wondered how the things we own can make it hard to follow Jesus. Imagine hearing someone tell you to sell everything you own. Jesus asked the man to give what he owned to the poor. I wondered what God wants me to do.

What deep ideas — yet so simple for our little ones to grasp when they enter through the context of the story.

First shall be last

Each lesson includes simple movement games, a perfect transition as we left the worship center to head back to the table.

While we played the limbo game weighed down by the backpack full of block possessions, my daughter asked, “What does it really mean for the first to be last? What if someone’s been waiting for a long time, and they just got to the front of the line? Will they be last again?”

For snack, we lined up for a special treat, and I surprised them by giving the child at the back her treat first.

The child who had hurried to the front was my daughter. She cried about it later in the car, not because she got her snack last but because she was worried that she might end up last in God’s kingdom. Plus, she was embarrassed.

My husband told me, “Your line illustration may have been too literal.”

We told our daughter, “Jesus is simply looking out for the ones who everyone else has forgotten or pushed to the back. In God’s kingdom, it’s not about getting in line. Remember Jesus’ open arms last week as he let the children come.”

A blessing for each

Toward the end of each class, we eat our snack, work on optional activities in the student leaflets, chat or listen to music from the Shine CD. The kids sing really loud and dance whenever “Siyuhumba” comes on.

Each lesson includes a blessing to finish with, and we read it, word for word. I have found I can’t improve on the thoughtfulness of what the authors prepared.

On the last week of the quarter, the teacher’s guide suggested I bless each child for his or her special gifts to the class. I got a bit teary as I went around the table thanking each child individually: for coming early to prepare the room, for welcoming newcomers, for running the CD player, for asking good questions, for helping me build props for the Bible stories.

Last week some of the children created signs welcoming others to our class to mirror Jesus’ welcoming the children. One girl’s sign said, “Come in! This is the best class ever.”

I echo her sentiment, and add: this is the best Sunday school curriculum ever. It’s easy to teach, and the lessons pierce the heart with their truth and depth. The children respond to the stories and activities with joy and amazing perception, showing me what it must be like to enter the kingdom of God like a child.

Esther Kratzer Koontz teaches Sunday school at First Mennonite Church in Hutchinson, Kan. This article appeared originally in Mennonite World Review. Used by permission.

Esther also blogs at Through Grass and Sage and wrote previously about her first Sunday using Shine On. 

 

Do You Have a Book Group? Some Book Ideas — by Mary Ann Weber

A soldier returns to the United States after the worst day of his life—a day when a fierce battle took the lives of some of his friends. A young woman finds herself working at a police precinct and is mesmerized by the recent hire of a young woman who seems to lead a much more glamorous life. An Indian Catholic sister working in Ethiopia dies while giving birth to twins, one of whom grows up to be a physician.*

These brief plots are from books I’ve read for the book group I meet with each month. Aside from the fact that I love to read, one reason to be part of such a group is that I read books that I might not have chosen on my own. We’re assured of a variety of genres and writing styles because we take turns choosing books.

Thinking about book selection led me to wonder what would happen if a book group read only MennoMedia titles? Keeping in mind a variety of books, what would I recommend?

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1. Shine On: A Story Bible. This book might not, at first glance, seem like a good book for adults. In this volume, numerous Bible stories are written and illustrated with children in mind. Yet, the stories are skillfully told and the illustrations are captivating. Each story contains ideas to help readers explore the story further and connect with it. Choosing some of them would generate excellent group discussion.

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2. Extending the Table. Cookbooks are not traditionally circulated among book groups. But what if everyone prepared their favorite recipe from the book and brought it along to the group? From Afghanistan to Zambia, Extending the Table includes recipes from all over the world. Perhaps some foods will be new, while others will remind group members of travels and of living in places outside of their own context. What a tasty meeting!

recon3. Reconcile by John Paul Lederach. Lederach has worked in conflict situations around the globe and he takes seriously that reconciliation is a central part of the Bible. Using personal stories and Scripture, Lederach illustrates how Christians work toward resolving conflicts peacefully. Practical ideas and resources are included, as well as a study guide for group discussions.

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4. Chasing the Amish Dream by Loren Beachy. Amish fiction is quite prolific these days and is written by outsiders. So how about getting the authentic voice by picking up this book? Beachy is a member of the Amish church with a gift for both writing and humor. Book groups will learn about real Amish life from someone on the inside.

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5. Making Friends with the Taliban by Jonathan P. Larson. This true story about Dan Terry, who worked as a peacemaker in Afghanistan, is both inspiring and challenging. What does it mean to work for peace in a world of conflict? How do we learn to understand cultures and people? Are we ready to give our lives for peace? This book provides many conversation topics for book groups.

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6. Radical Jesus edited by Paul Buhle. Most book groups don’t read graphic novels, and that’s too bad. Many have good things to say in the way they use both words and pictures to tell a story. This book highlights the life and teachings of Jesus, and then features those who have lived by those teachings throughout history. Many elements of the book will spark good conversations and a study guide is available at: http://www.heraldpress.com/Studygds/

What are some books you recommend to a book group?

I wish to also remind you that most books MennoMedia sells are available at a
25 % discount with the “Study Shelf” discount. See details and book ideas here.

Happy reading!

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*Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell, Cutting for Stone by Abraham

 

Mary Ann Weber, Managing Editor, Curriculum

My Littlest Donors — by Steve Carpenter

I have been MennoMedia’s Director of Development and Church Relations for nearly three years. When I first came on staff I overlapped with my predecessor for one week. During that time, we did a development trip together to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, visiting donors and Mennonite churches.

One of the things Randy Miller, the prior development director said to me was, “It’s a good day when you have the opportunity to meet with a donor who is younger than you.” Randy and I were both in our late 50s when he made that remark. He was right.

Very few of the donors I’ve met in the past three years have been younger than I am. Two of MennoMedia’s faithful older donors are Russell and Gladys Alderfer, who are 90 and 88 years of age respectively. Although they are my in-laws, they have been supporting MennoMedia for many decades, long before I came on staff.

Russell and Gladys Alderfer

Russell and Gladys Alderfer

I enlisted MennoMedia’s four youngest donors last month when I visited Brent and Deirdre Alderfer in Stockton, New Jersey. Brent is my brother-in-law and is supportive of my work. However, he wouldn’t give to MennoMedia if he wasn’t convinced his donation would yield a beneficial return. He is after all, a keen businessman and CEO of Community Energy, a sustainable energy company. He, and his wife Deirdre, are also passing along business acumen and a sense of generosity to their children.

Several years ago Brent and Deirdre made a gift to MennoMedia to support development of the new Anabaptist Sunday school curriculum, Shine. I was revisiting him and his family to seek additional support for that curriculum project. Brent and Deirdre again came through with a gift but this time they invited their young children, Aiden, Andrew, Aleesia and Adeline, to give too. The kids set aside money from their allowance for savings and to give to God’s work. They keep this money in envelopes marked “savings,” “helping,” and “world.”

Aiden, Andrew, Adeline (front) & Aleesia Alderfer

Aiden, Andrew, Adeline (front) & Aleesia Alderfer

In addition to the gift their parents gave, the children gave an additional $9 for new curriculum development. With these gifts and others we have raised nearly $367,000 of the $400,000 needed to complete development of Shine, the new Anabaptist Sunday school curriculum.

As is my custom, I like to give each donor whom I visit a gift. I generally allow them to choose one of our books. In this case I gave the Alderfer family a copy of the Shine On children’s Bible storybook, which is integral to the Shine curriculum but is also a very nice standalone piece which can be used by parents and grandparents in the home. Aleesia took to it immediately!

Aleesia Alderfer with Shine On Children's Bible Storybook

Aleesia Alderfer with Shine On Children’s Bible Storybook

The Bible tells us that “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7 b). These four little ones radiate the joy of giving. May we learn from their example, and follow their lead in giving generously and joyfully to God’s work, as the Spirit prompts.

If you would like to give to MennoMedia click here. Once at that site you will find two buttons, one for U.S. citizens and another for Canadians. You can make a tax deductible donation using PayPal, a credit card, or by check. Thank you for your support.

Brent and Deirdre have modeled teaching stewardship to their children. MC USA’s Stewardship agency Everence  has several free downloadable resources available to use in teaching generosity to children and youth on their website. Click here to view or download three stewardship resources: Money Matters for Youth, which is designed for use in High School aged Sunday school classes, Three Key Questions and Money, written for Youth Groups, and  a three-part lesson plan for young children called Stewardship for Kids.
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Blessings in your work, worship and witness.

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations

Steve Carpenter, Director of Development and Church Relations

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How do you teach generosity to your children?

Are there resources you would recommend for teaching children about giving to God’s work?