To start to read professional research on childhood, is always a big mission for me. You see, a teacher gets rusty and a little misplaced through time and one surefire way to fan the embers and to get back the inspiration, is to read. As always, getting started is the most difficult step but I have learned in the past that once you get through the first step, it gets easier, intriguing and thought-provoking along the way.
I have few pages of research on spirituality among young children, a topic I long wanted to unravel, sitting on my desk for months. In the last Auckland lockdown, I managed to finally read it. Let me share with you highlights of what I learned from these journals.
Most research contend that spirituality in the early childhood settings, are not fully understood and articulated because it is often equated with religion. Research found that childhood is a stage in life where spiritual experiences are very much alive and when children revere that which cannot be seen. What are some of these spiritual experiences? That sense of wonder and constant wonderings about themselves, others, nature; are considered spiritual experiences. Wonderings truly abound in a young child’s life. A child at daycare once asked me if a tree had a heart like human beings. I invited the child to hug a tree and listen for any heartbeat to seek the “truth”.
Spirituality awakens a child’s focus and creativity and one way teachers could foster spirituality is to invite calm and silence in their lives. Research found that developing spirituality in young children could help address alienation and depression, violence and alcohol and drug abuse, later on in their lives.
The way spirituality was painted here is truly beautiful. But that which drives these spiritual experiences, I believe, is rooted in something more than a realisation, a feeling, an emotion.
What truly drives spirituality is the Holy Spirit and absolutely, my faith has EVERYTHING to do with it. Our connectedness with people, places, things and ourselves; has more meaning, knowing that the Holy Spirit is behind it; such is our eyes that allow us to see the truth.
When my two daughters were toddlers, my wife and I used to take them to the beach just to search for shells. Then, it was not the number of shells they found but how they got to discover each shell. I would let them run their fingers around it and let them find words to describe it. Always, I would point out that God made them. How did God make them? I don’t need to know. For something so perfect, it must be such a loving act. Nature is so perfect and it must be a work of a perfect God.
Nature invites focus and silence. The world bustles with a lot of noise. PS4 noises in the living room. Car honking in the streets. Chatters in the train. Noises in our head. How do we turn these noises off? A time of prayer spent in nature is one way to invite the Spirit. My younger daughter, Soleil came one day telling me that she meditated in the school garden. I was very pleased that she found her way to turn off noises around her and bring in peace by praying in silence.
The Holy Spirit lives in us and manifests Himself in different ways. When our children, show acts of kindness, praise their good-heartedness and let them know that the Holy Spirit guided their work and it must be in their heart. My elder daughter Skylar loves to share her food with her friends in school. I knew that she really has a good heart. When she was about five years old, she got mad at us for shooing the ducklings taking interest in our picnic food. She must be feeling the ducklings’ hunger. Children’s act of kindness are spiritual experiences that must not go unnoticed.
When we struggle, the Holy Spirit can also hold us together. Anger and sadness are healthy emotions that children have to go through. When prolonged, deep and constant though, these emotions could become unwanted spirits later in our lives. These could turn into the feeling of worthlessness, alienation and depression.
Early on in life, we can help children recognise big unsettling emotions. We label these emotions. We talk them through it. We encourage them to believe that they will never ever be alone and that act of inviting silence predisposes them to prayer. In silent prayer, the Holy Spirit could dwell in them. It could dwell In all of us.
As Jesus promised us in John 14:16-17 – “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
The Holy Spirit is the kind of help we all desperately need today.
While we, teachers and parents, scramble to “teach” our children to succeed academically and socially, we should also “teach” them spirituality driven by the Holy Spirit. The early years is the best time to do this. It is the time when children show so much reverence to the unseen when they spend endless moments of wonderings. Teach them that the Holy Spirit can be invited to dwell in us when we pray in our silence. Once it touches us, all we have to do is surrender and it becomes our armour against the unwanted and unwelcome spirits of this world.
Our life and joy-giving connectedness with the world and ourselves is driven by the Holy Spirit. When that connectedness breaks causing us despair, it is also the Holy Spirit that restores, rebuilds and heals it. Let us take it. It is a free gift.