Oct 292014
 

Chances are that if you’ve volunteered for any length of time in one of our classroom, you’ve encountered some less than desirable behavior.  Our immediate response can sometimes be shock.  We’re at church after all.  Why are all these sinful children here?  Where are the perfect ones?  This response is often followed with panic.  What do I do?  Even seasoned parents and veteran teachers often find themselves unsure of how to handle situations with someone else’s child.  When should I ignore?  When should I intervene?  How do I have a conversations with a child that targets the heart rather than the behavior when there are 29 other kids here as well?  Trust me, I’ve been there too.

While there is no list I can give you that will magically prepare you for each situation with each child, there are a list of guiding principles we’d like to remind you of when faced  with some of these challenging situations.  Let’s take a closer look not just at the “what” and the “how,” but also the “why.”

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What Our Goal is Not
In his book Christless Christianity, Michael Horton writes,

“What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city?  Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio.  Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastured), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other.  There would be no swearing.  The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ was not preached.”

Our goal on Sunday morning is not a group of perfectly behaved children.  Our goal on Sunday morning is for children to hear, believe, and understand the Gospel.  Part of this is seeing our sin, recognizing our need for a Savior, and realizing that no amount of righteousness on the outside can make us right before a holy God.  We intentionally try to make our lessons Christ-centered rather than man or behavior centered on purpose each week.  As Donald Grey Barnhouse shared so many years ago, there is a real danger to  making our end goal behavior in and of itself.

Tedd Trip reminds us of this as well in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart:

“God is concerned about the heart—the well-spring of life (Proverbs 4:23).  Parents (*teachers) tend to focus on the externals of behavior rather than the internal overflow of the heart.  We tend to worry more about the “what” of behavior than the “why”.  Accordingly, most of us spend an enormous amount of energy in controlling and constraining behavior.  To the degree and extent to which our focus is on behavior, we miss the heart.” 

“The church borrowed the old “you listen to me, kid, or I’ll cuff you” method of raising children.  It seemed to work.  children seemed to obey.  They were externally submissive.  This method fails us now because our culture no longer responds to authority as it did a generation ago.  We lament the passing of this way of rearing children because we miss its simplicity.  I fear, however, we have overlooked its unbiblical methods and goals…Let me overview a biblical vision…it involves being a kind of authority, shepherding your children to understand themselves in God’s world, and keeping the Gospel in clear view so children can internalize the good news and someday live in mutuality with you as people under God.”

When we miss the heart, we miss subtle idols, the Gospel, and the Glory of God.  Yet, we also know that a completely chaotic and unsafe environment  will often cause us to miss these things as well.  How do we address the heart and do our part to create classrooms where children feel safe and are able to hear, participate, and engage with the lesson?

Again, Tedd Tripp reminds us that we have the ultimate example of what our roles should be as someone in authority:

“Jesus is an example of this.  The One who commands you, the One who possesses all authority, came as a servant.  He is a ruler who serves; he is also a servant who rules…You must exercise authority, not as a cruel taskmaster, but as one who truly loves.”

One of the best things we can do is to exercise our authority as a ruler who serves and a servant who rules.  That means not making a child’s behavior about us (something I struggle with consistently.)  That means that we don’t handle it through manipulation or other practices that seem easier or as a “quick fix” on the surface.  That means we don’t handle things cruelly, but we also don’t roll over either.  We set healthy boundaries.  We say no.  We pull kids aside to have conversations when necessary.  We communicate with parents and get their input (partnering with parents is one of our core values, after all.)  We target the heart rather than the external behavior as much as possible.  Here are just a few practical tips that may help you in the trenches on Sunday mornings.

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The “What” and “How”

  • One way to “love” and to “serve” the children we shepherd is to be proactive, thoughtful, and intentional about the environment we create.
  • Sometimes we can anticipate hindrances for them, but also hindrances for us.
  • We are all sinners serving sinners and out of an overflow of our hearts, our mouths speak.  Take time to prepare yourself to serve on Sunday morning.  Pray for individual children who may have trouble on Sundays.  Ask God to soften your heart toward them and give you wisdom as you interact with them.

Practical Proactive Tips

Getting their Attention

  • Clapping
  • Turning off Lights
  • Show me your listening eyes, ears etc…
  • “If you can hear my voice say ________,” etc…

Transitions

  • Not Everybody All At Once—“If your birthday is in ___________,” “If you’re      wearing _________________,” etc… 
  • Agenda/ Sequence of Events—Let children know what you’re planning to do,     if/when you’re having snack, order of events, etc…  This is especially helpful for students with Autism or other special needs.
  • Time Frame—“In a minute, but not yet.,” Counting Backward, Song, Giving a Time Constraint with Reminders (In 3 minutes, in 1 minute, etc…)

Developmental Appropriateness

  • Kindergartners and 5th Graders are both alike and different.  Consider adapting your strategy based on your audience.

Proximity

  • Sit near child, move closer, etc…

Movement

  • Recognize and honor need for movement
  • Change things up
  • Limit Pocket Time

Transitioning/Distributing Materials

  • Centralized Location?
  • Pass Out Ahead of Time?
  • “Leading into temptation…”  (If I sit this in front of them, are they going to play with it instead of listening to directions, and will that drive me nuts?)

Multi-step Directions

  • Break into smaller chunks
  • Have children repeat
  • Model/Show Example

Take the Time to Listen, Laugh, and Have Fun

  • Individual conversations/relationships
  • Morning Meeting

What happens when “proactive” doesn’t work?

  • Check our hearts first.
  • Go back to the why: Go back to the heart.
  • Remember that when we miss the heart, we miss subtle idols, the Gospel, and God’s glory.
  • Have an individual conversation.
  • Ask Questions (See Wise Words chart in the Elementary Cabinets.)
  • Pray for/with child.
  • Communicate with families.

And sometimes we’ll then need to recognize that even after doing all those things, we still won’t have perfectly behaved children or classrooms and that as we talked about earlier, that’s o.k. because that’s not the end goal.  Moments like this are opportunities for us to remember our limitations.  Moments like this are opportunities for us to remember who is really in charge, who really changes hearts.  They’re moments for us to pray and preach the Gospel to ourselves.  They’re moments to remind us of what Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson say in their book, Give them Grace:

“We are always to do our best, striving to be obedient and to love, nurture, and discipline them.  But we are to do it with faith in the Lord’s ability to transform hearts, not in our ability to be consistent or faithful.  Seeking to be faithfully obedient parents (*teachers) is our responsibility; granting faith to our children is his.  Freedom to love and enjoy our children flows out of the knowledge that God saves them in spite of our best efforts, not because of them.  Salvation is of the Lord.”

Know that we pray for you and your time with children each week.  Also know that we’re here to support you when these situations arise, and pray for us as well.  We are all still in process with all of these things.  More than anyone else I know, I need God’s grace and wisdom in this arena of life on Sunday mornings.

Oct 042014
 

Sunday Morning at The Crossing, April 6, 2014

If you were to walk down the elementary hallways of Crossing Kids on a Sunday morning, you would see a flurry of activity and little bodies hard at work. In one room, kids dress up in character to act out a bible story. Next door, kids take photographs to capture the morning’s scripture that will eventually come together as a music video. Across the hall, kids construct models using foam and diagrams from a study bible. Still another group plays a version of the game “Twister” to uncover clues to the bible story. A few kids meet with leaders out in the hallway to share what they have been writing and drawing in their prayer journals. Though diverse, all the activities going on connect and reinforce one biblical topic to draw kids’ hearts out for Christ. All elementary children will rotate through each activity over a period of five weeks, therefore learning about and mentally reinforcing the Biblical topic through a variety of methods.

This is the heart of the workshop model in Crossing Kids.

Sunday worship, April 27, 2014_14016071416_o

Merriam-Webster defines a workshop as “a series of classes in which a small group of people learn the methods and skills used in doing something.” So, why workshops in Crossing Kids?

There are three things about a workshop that are important:

1. A workshop is a series of classes. In Crossing Kids, we run a workshop rotation for 5 weeks, therefore engaging kids in a single idea across a variety of experiences. Kids learn best when they are immersed in a topic and can revisit an idea several times to make connections.

2. A workshop involves a small group of people. Our 4th value in Crossing Kids is relationships. We want kids to work together, to share ideas, to talk about how the Bible applies to their life, to be vulnerable with one another. By participating in small groups in workshops, we give kids the opportunity to consistently go deep in their community.

3. A workshop involves learning methods and skills to do something. We want kids to learn what faith in Christ looks like, how we should pursue knowing Him through the Word, and have their hearts draw out to follow Him their entire lives. Workshops are about much more than just imparting knowledge and facts. Rather, workshops engage kids though experience. The learning theory of constructivism states “people produce knowledge and form meaning based upon their experiences.” Workshops strive to draw kids’ hearts out for God as they apply, meditate on, and experience His truth through diverse learning experiences. Through workshops, we want to equip kids to read the Bible and apply it’s meaning to their lives. We want kids’ minds, hands and hearts to be engaged each week as they learn about God.

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Workshops also strive to meet the unique needs of children and adhere to Gardner’s Theory of Multiples Intelligences (which I previously posted about here and here). In short, we believe that children learn in a variety of ways and are unique in how they process and apply information. Some children love to make up stories where as others would rather work with technology or use their body to dance or play a game. We want to engage all parts of children’s’ minds – that’s why the workshop model works so well.

In Crossing Kids, we always want to teach in light of this question: “How do kids learn best?”

To sum up, we believe kids learn best:

  • when they are immersed in a single concept or topic of a period of time
  • in small community groups where they can discuss, share, and work out ideas together
  • when they are engaged through hands-on experience
  • when they are in process (because learning takes time!)

This is why Crossing Kids places such value in the workshop approach. It is a joy to see kids go deep in their learning and see their hearts and affections drawn out for Christ in the process. May God be glorified as we teach and learn and grow and process together in Crossing Kids.

Mar 072014
 

Last weekend was one of my favorite weekends in Columbia: the True/False Film Fest. Not only are the documentary films thought-provoking, challenging, inspiring, and beautiful to view, the films are surrounded with great interviews and Q and A with the film directors. I saw six films this year – most were marvelous, a few were just okay, and one film I loved and hated all at the same time.

Approaching the Elephant.

Because of my background in education and my love of documentaries that feature kids, schools, and teachers (To Be and To Have; Pressure Cooker), I was really excited to see Approaching the Elephant. The True/False description of the film reads, “The free school model proposes a learning environment where classes are optional and all rules are determined by democratic vote…this radical concept has reached the small town of Little Falls, New Jersey, where an ambitious idealist…opens the world’s 262nd free school.”

I’ve heard of free schools before and the concept is intriguing to me. In seeing the film, I wondered how students would handle their freedom to choose classes and run the school themselves. I wondered what role the teachers would play and how they would teach if children didn’t choose to learn. Approaching the Elephant gave a true and up close view of what happens when kids have complete freedom to do whatever they choose. And it was difficult to watch. The teacher and mother in me were cringing throughout most of the film.

In one scene, the children are haphazardly using handsaws to cut boards with their fingers literally an inch away from the blade while the teacher gives loose instructions. One little girl eventually says, “I don’t think my parents would want me to do this.”

Another scene shows the same little girl being bullied and chased by older boys while they are unsupervised outside, which is where one of the older boy students spends most of his day choosing to ride his bike for hours instead of choosing to take a class.

The teacher helps guide one of the many democratic meetings we see in the film where the students are upset with him because he asked them to stop jumping off some plastic bins so they wouldn’t get hurt. One girl was so upset with the teacher she said she would not come back to school over the issue. Another student and assistant teacher decide if the main teacher was guilty or innocent in this situation and provide the verdict he was innocent.

I could go on. Watching the children choose over and over again to fight with one another, wander around the school, ride bikes, and play video games was so disheartening. These children needed guidance. They needed a teacher who would instruct them, provide boundaries, set high expectations, and discipline them when needed. They needed an adult to lead them; someone with wisdom and experience and compassion for his students.

I am all for giving kids choices, when adults are helping them to learn how to choose. For example, when I taught at Stephens College Children’s School, the children had a 90-minute literacy block. During that time, they would attend reading groups, writing circles, and meet individually with a teacher. But they could also choose how to structure the rest of their time. They could choose to read or write or edit or work on a new poem or publish some writing. But there were parameters for their choices.

Teaching and disciplining children is biblical. It is God’s design for adults to model and instruct children so that they will grow up in faith and knowledge and wisdom. To this point, consider the following verses:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. –  Proverbs 22:6

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. – Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. – Matthew 19: 13-15

Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. – Proverbs 13:24

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 3:14-15

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. – Proverbs 22:15

This is why Approaching the Elephant was such a difficult film for me. It showed in explicit ways how children are unable to guide themselves to make good choices when left completely to their own desires. They need some help to see what is wise and good and true. As Christians, this is especially important because, as the verses above proclaim, we are charged by God to teach our children about Him and His holy word. Teaching, instructing, and disciplining is not optional work – we want to impress God’s truths and teaching on our kids’ hearts.

You’ll remember I said at the beginning of this post I both “loved and hated” this film. Though I’ve mostly discussed what I found troubling, there were some things that make this film stand out. First, it is beautiful to watch. In striking black and white, the film feels timeless and set apart highlighting the gray subject matter of the film. Secondly, the film is impeccably edited. The director, Amanda Rose Wilder, condensed hours and hours of footage into a tight and engaging story that allows the viewers to feel like they are a spectator of the inner workings of the school. And, lastly, the film feels true. Though I didn’t agree with the philosophy of the school, the film itself reserved comments and ideas about what the viewers should take from it. Since there were no interviews or voiceovers or soundtrack, we simply got to watch the teacher and his students interact. We are to draw our own conclusions and this is why the film felt real and pure.

If Approaching the Elephant ever makes its way to Ragtag or Netflix, be sure to check it out. Through this film was frustrating in many ways, it was still engaging and caused me to roll out some of my thinking on how important teachers are for our children and their future.

Mar 012013
 

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A few weeks ago, Keith Simon led a parenting seminar, “How Good Parents Ruin their Kids,” where he discussed the idea that parents are perhaps doing too much for their kids. Parents often strive for the ultimate goal of keeping their kids happy at all costs. While this might seem like a good thing in some ways, kids are struggling to cope with the challenges life throws at them because they have often been to coddled, sheltered, and protected from any difficulty.

Keith reminded us of our ultimate goal as Christian parents: to help guide our children to love and serve Jesus. This means allowing God to bring hardship into our kids’ lives to mature them in their faith. When we allow our children to experience hardship, challenges, and difficulties, we have an opportunity to use those experiences to point them to Jesus.

With these ideas in mind, I have long been intrigued by the concept of the outdoor classroom. Outdoor education is most popular in Europe, but is gaining some popularity in certain parts of the United States. The idea is simple – teachers facilitate meaningful learning in a outdoor environment exposing children to the hardship and beauty of the elements. Kids are allowed to experience the discomfort of being cold and hot and wet as they learn. They are encouraged to explore without the “safety” of the playground – they climb trees, cross streams, and get dirty. Teachers encourage kids to learn using real tools – matches to light fires, hammers, nails, & saws to construct, and pots and pans to cook over an open stove.

Watch this six minute video of an outdoor kindergarten in Norway to get a taste of the outdoor classroom.

While none of these schools are actively teaching Christianity (that I know of), I think this model would be ideal for pointing kids to God through enjoying the world He made – and the challenges and beauty in it. Since we don’t have any outdoor schools in Columbia, perhaps the next best thing would be to take our kids for hikes on the Katy trail or a camping trip in the Ozarks. Playing in the snow, climbing trees, pitching a tent in the backyard, collecting leaves, and planting a garden are all ways to help our kids experience the challenge and joy of God’s world.

What do you think about the idea of the outdoor classroom?

Oct 262012
 

In my last post, I outlined an overview of the theory of multiple intelligences and how it should inform our view of children. In this post, I’d like the share how this theory can be implemented in Crossing Kids so that we are reaching all of God’s diverse children and engaging them in learning about Him.

There are eight different intelligence areas. Each child embodies all of them to some degree, but most children have a strength in two or three specific areas. These areas are their “sweet spot” for learning and assimilating information. This means as leaders and teachers in Crossing Kids, we should strive to engage children in all eight areas on Sunday mornings. Certainly, we can’t teach within all eight areas every single week, but we strive to vary our curriculum and activities to incorporate the full spectrum of learning styles.

The chart below comes from The Gardner School, named after Howard Gardner who outlined the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Perhaps as you look over the chart, you can think of kids in your group who fall within some of the areas.

Intelligence Area:

Is Strong In:

Likes to:

Learns Best Through:

Famous Examples:

Verbal-Linguistic

(Word Smart)

reading, writing, telling stories, memorizing dates, thinking words

read, write, tell stories, talk, memorize, work at puzzles

reading, hearing and seeing words, speaking, writing, discussing and debating

Maya Angelou, Abraham Lincoln

Math-Logic (Number Smart)

math, reasoning, logic, problem-solving, patterns

solve problems, question, work with numbers, experiment

working with patterns and relationships, classifying, categorizing, working with the abstract

Albert Einstein,

John Dewey

Spatial (Picture Smart)

reading, maps, charts, drawing, mazes, puzzles, making images, visualization

design, draw, build, create, daydream, look at pictures

working with pictures and colors, visualizing, using the minds eye, drawing

Pablo Picasso,

Georgia OKeeffe

Bodily-Kinesthetic (Body Smart)

athletics, dancing, acting, crafts, using tools

move around, touch and talk, use body language

touching, moving, processing knowledge through bodily sensations

Charlie Chaplin,

Magic Johnson

Musical (Music Smart)

singing, picking up sounds, remembering melodies, rhythms

sing, hum, play an instrument, listen to music

rhythm, melody, singing, listening to music and melodies

 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,

Ella Fitzgerald

Interpersonal (People Smart)

understanding people, leading, organizing, communicating, resolving conflicts, selling

have friends, talk to people, join groups

sharing, comparing, relating, interviewing, cooperating

Ronald Reagan, Mother Theresa

Intrapersonal (Self Smart)

understanding self, recognizing strengths and weaknesses, setting goals

work alone, reflect, pursue interests

working alone, doing self-paced projects, having space, reflecting

Eleanor Roosevelt

Naturalist (Nature Smart)

understanding nature, making distinctions, identifying flora and fauna

be involved with nature, make distinctions

working in nature, exploring living things, learning about plants and natural events

John Muir

The column most helpful in this chart is the “Learns Best Through” column. This column outlines how we can help children learn in Crossing Kids. After all, don’t all these ways of learning teach us more about our gracious and glorious God and all the aspects of His character.

Our curriculum in Crossing Kids is specifically written to engage kids through these methods. Some lessons have drawing, acting, and singing, while others include a nature walk around the lake or a group project. I am on the curriculum writing team for K – 5th grade which uses a curriculum model called the “Workshop Rotation Model.” In the workshops, children will participate in workshops including: science, art, drama, history, cinema, puppetry, missions, bookmaking, and games. Throughout these various workshops, children learn about God and His Word in a rich and engaging manner.

As you continue to teach and lead in Crossing Kids, perhaps you can think about how to engage children in various ways. Ask a child to draw pictures with you, play Twister with you, build something with Legos, or just tell a story about their week. Children can all be drawn out in various ways. It’s helpful to consider God made all kids different with a variety of strengths. When we strive to implement Multiple Intelligences in our ministry, we have a greater opportunity to reach children for Christ.

A Overview of Multiple Intelligences

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Oct 122012
 

Children all learn differently. Peek into any classroom or place where children are gathered and you are sure to see a variety of learning methods at work:

  • children talking and discussing a problem to find a solution.
  • children drawing diagrams to understand a problem.
  • children acting or role playing to solve a problem.
  • children building with blocks to solve a problem.

It is clear that children have different ways to thinking about and interacting with the world. When teachers and leaders in the classroom understand this concept, they can create a learning environment where children thrive as more active, involved learners.

A great framework to help us better understand children’s learning styles is a theory developed by Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychologist and professor of neuroscience from Harvard University. Dr. Gardner developed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983, and since that time his theory has revolutionized the way teachers think about how children learn.

Multiple Intelligences states that human beings have nine different kinds of intelligence that reflect different ways of interacting with the world. Though each person does contain a spectrum of all nine intelligences, each person has a unique combination of strengths and no two individuals have the same exact configuration!

For Gardner, intelligence is defined as:

  • the ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture;
  • a set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life;
  • the potential for finding or creating solutions for problems, which involves gathering new knowledge.

NINE MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES:*

1. Linguistic Intelligence: the capacity to use language to express what’s on your mind and to understand other people. Any kind of writer, orator, speaker, lawyer, or other person for whom language is an important stock in trade has great linguistic intelligence.

2. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: the capacity to understand the underlying principles of some kind of causal system, the way a scientist or a logician does; or to manipulate numbers, quantities, and operations, the way a mathematician does.

3. Musical Rhythmic Intelligence: the capacity to think in music; to be able to hear patterns, recognize them, and perhaps manipulate them. People who have strong musical intelligence don’t just remember music easily, they can’t get it out of their minds, it’s so omnipresent.

4. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence: the capacity to use your whole body or parts of your body (your hands, your fingers, your arms) to solve a problem, make something, or put on some kind of production. The most evident examples are people in athletics or the performing arts, particularly dancing or acting.

5. Spatial Intelligence: the ability to represent the spatial world internally in your mind — the way a sailor or airplane pilot navigates the large spatial world, or the way a chess player or sculptor represents a more circumscribed spatial world. Spatial intelligence can be used in the arts or in the sciences.

6. Naturalist Intelligence: the ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) and sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef.

7. Intrapersonal Intelligence: having an understanding of yourself; knowing who you are, what you can do, what you want to do, how you react to things, which things to avoid, and which things to gravitate toward. We are drawn to people who have a good understanding of themselves. They tend to know what they can and can’t do, and to know where to go if they need help.

8. Interpersonal Intelligence: the ability to understand other people. It’s an ability we all need, but is especially important for teachers, clinicians, salespersons, or politicians — anybody who deals with other people.

9. Existential Intelligence: the ability and proclivity to pose (and ponder) questions about life, death, and ultimate realities.

As I read this list, I am in awe at the creativity of God. Often, we are reminded of God’s greatness, power, and glory when we look at the stars and galaxies in the heavens. This list of Multiple Intelligences reminds me we can see the greatness, power, and glory in the way He created our brains to think and process information. We can marvel at God’s splendor when we see the diversity in children – not just their physical features, but the way God wired their bring to think about Him and the world He made. In my next post, I’ll unpack some specific ways we can use this information about Multiple Intelligences on Sunday mornings in Crossing Kids.

* As written in Dr. Howard Gardner’s INTELLIGENCE REFRAMED: MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY. New York: Basic Books, 1999.