I recently received a gift copy of Shepherding Sam by Melinda Johnson from Ancient Faith Publishing. I decided to use it as a read aloud with my older boys and was able to to make several connections to other topics we are currently studying – about maps, special needs, and treating others with kindness and love.
Shepherding Sam is about a dog named Saucer who is brought to a monastery and has a strong instinct to herd. He doesn’t have a flock of sheep to herd so he attempts to herd the nuns at the monastery and later the children who come to visit. Saucer notices that Sam, a boy who is brought to the monastery by his aunt, seems to be an outcast from everyone else. On one occasion, Saucer nips at Sam’s shoe laces in order to get Sam to go inside the church at the monastery. Sam thinks that Saucer is a little crazy but by the end of the book Sam admires Saucer for his herding instincts.
The path starts and ends at the church door. It winds down a gentle hill, curves around the tidy rows of vegetables sprouting in the garden, and swerves over to the parking lot. Coming back into the monastery, it rolls around the apple orchard and passes a wooden fence with a squeaky gate, on its way to the nuns’ quarters.Chapter 1
Visual-Spatial Skills & Map Making:
Many years ago, when I was researching dyslexia for my daughter (and it turned out both of us are dyslexic – I just didn’t know it until then), I learned that dyslexia is a different way of thinking. It’s a visual way of thinking. When you put this into the context of a traditional learning environment, it comes across as a disability because written language is not a natural way of thinking for us.
One of the strengths of a visual learner is to create pictures of stories in their minds and one of the best ways for a visual learner to not only remember a story but also explain how much they remember about it – is to draw a picture about it. Thus, one of the things I do with my kids (when the opportunity presents itself) is to draw a map or scene from a book when enough details are given to do so.
Between the descriptive wording in chapter 1 about the monastery grounds and our map studies as part of our current homeschool semester, I had my boys draw a map of the monastery after carefully listening to the paragraph provided on page 11 of Shepherding Sam.
I don’t think Sam knows what to do, Saucer decided. He doesn’t do things that other people do. He doesn’t fit in with his herd.Chapter 4
The author eludes to Sam having special needs throughout most of the book although she never goes into any specifics. This presents an opportunity to talk to our children about people who are different. Is there a child in our church community who has special needs? This is a great opportunity to talk about how that child is different from us and why. How can we help them feel included within our community?
Everyone has a need to belong. In fact, the psychologist Abraham Maslow included “Belonging and Love” in his list of basic needs.
Dr. John Boojamra stated in his book, Foundations for Christian Education, “None of us stands alone before God; we are all part of the body, the Church. The experience of being part of a community belongs to the essence of spiritual growth. The infant or child deprived of the experience of belonging to a close, organized ‘family’ unit is significantly handicapped. Doing something together at home or in the liturgy is extremely important, and all the traditions and celebrations go a long way toward establishing this sense of belonging. Children need a sense of belonging, accomplishment, and acceptance in the process of developing a sense of self-worth as a basis for faith…He (Dr. Saul Levine) suggests that belief and belonging are one step above the physical needs of people, but no less vital for functioning, competence, and adaptation.”
It’s important not only for a special needs child to feel they belong to the parish community but it is also important for the parents of a special needs child. Both the parents and the child can often times feel isolated and alone. Most of the time, it takes minimal effort on our part that will allow a child with special needs to participate along with their peers.
But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.Luke 6:32-33
Treating Others with Kindness & Love:
Sam stood up. “This story is stupid,” he said. He brushed the grass off his pants and stomped away.
Brigid kept jumping on the rock. Elias and Matthew stood still.
“That was really mean,” said Elias, his shoulders drooping. Saucer sat down on Elias’s foot and licked his leg comfortably.
Macrina flipped her braid over her shoulder. “Don’t even worry about what Sam thinks,” she said. “You can ignore him. He’s hopeless.”
Elias glared at Macrina, more irritated with her than with Sam. “It’s mean to call him hopeless.”
“Well, nobody likes how he behaves,” said Macrina, in her most grown-up voice.
“Nobody likes how you behave either,” said Matthew, putting his arm around his brother.
“The grown-ups do,” said Macrina indignantly.
“Right,” said Elias. “Come on, Matthew, let’s get some more food.” The two boys walked away, and Saucer trotted behind them
There are a few teaching points in this exchange:
First, we can talk to our kids about what the Bible says about being nice to others in Luke 6:32-33. (left) We are called to love everyone, not just those who are nice to us. There is a difference between loving everyone and agreeing/accepting their actions. They are not one in the same. This would be a great opportunity to talk about this. Sam was not being nice calling Macrina’s story stupid but we also need to recognize that there was something deeper at play here with Sam. (The story does not give specifics.) Something is bothering Sam. Wouldn’t it be better to recognize that Sam is struggling? Wouldn’t it be better to try and include Sam in some way in the story? Wouldn’t it be better to show patience with Sam when he says something nasty instead of insulting him back? Everyone has a story. Everyone has something they struggle with internally. Wouldn’t it be nice to provide support and guidance for Sam instead of calling him hopeless? This would be a great opportunity to discuss this with our kids in broad terms but it also could be used as a way to discuss (respectfully) a special needs child in our classroom or community that may be a bit abrasive because they feel left out.
Secondly, as grown-ups, far too often we don’t give our kids enough credit for picking up on our whispers to one another. We talk about others in front of our children and think they won’t pick up on what we’re saying. Macrina tells Elias, “Well, nobody likes how he behaves”. Her character likes to please grown-ups. She wants to be a grown-up instead of a child. She probably picked up this notion that nobody likes how Sam behaves by what she overheard from the grown-ups around her. We need to realize that what we say about others carries itself farther than just the person we say it to. Our actions and reactions to others also say a lot about us. This is an opportunity for us to be more careful about what we say to others and think about the possible ramifications of what we say. If it could hurt someone, we need not say it.
Thirdly, discuss with your children how this conversation between all the kids could have been handled differently? Could Macrina have nicely told Sam that his comment hurt her feelings? Could Sam have possibly apologized for saying the story was stupid? Could Macrina have apologized to Sam for calling him hopeless? Role-play how to resolve conflict, apologize, and forgive.