As a parent of two children, with a husband that is currently deployed as a civilian contractor in the middle east, I definitely need some time for me. As I sat here getting ready to write this post I realized that I was experiencing a moment of peace. The fire was burning, I was snacking on a fresh batch of roasted pumpkin seeds, and the house was quiet.
Quiet moments like these are such a gift! What have you noticed today?
My boys LOVE reading books, and as you can see, my twin niece and nephew feel the same way. In fact, most children I know love listening to a good story! As a parent I’m always on the lookout for books that I can use to further my children’s spiritual education. Knowing the categories of spiritual books helps me recognize the many spiritual stories we already own!
Close Readings are books that remain close to scripture stories. One example, from my personal library is the book Noah’s Crew Came 2 By 2 by Mindy MacDonald. This type of faith story book is the easiest to spot. They are typically based on scripture stories we are all familiar with.
Stories about the tradition’s stories are books that look at a scripture story from a new perspective. I love the story Who Is Coming to Our House? (Board Book) by Joseph Slate. It is the perfect example of a story about a scripture. It looks at the birth of Jesus from the perspective of the stable animals.
Books linking tradition and contemporary life become slightly more difficult to recognize. They are books, according to Yust, that explicitly take some aspect or issue of contemporary life and relate that concern to scripture or the practices of the religious tradition. One famous example is Judy Blume’s classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. An example from my own library is the book Little Ways to Give God Praise by Sally Anne Conan.
Stories exemplifying spiritual practices are the books that you probably have the most of in your home. They are ones that take a spiritual principal and give it a human face. In the story Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney children can see the spiritual principal of caring for creation exemplified by the main character.
Take a look at your children’s books and see which categories they fall into. Now that you know what you have, you can be on the lookout for books in the other areas when adding to your collection. And who doesn’t like to shop for books?!?
Decide on one or two “rules” that you could break during this lesson with the children. If you are doing this at home perhaps it’s eating dessert in the middle of the day. If you are using this at church maybe it’s eating in the sanctuary or texting/listening to music. Whatever you choose make sure it is one or two rules you can visibly break during the lesson. Gather whatever materials are necessary for your rule breaking.
Gather the children and give them a firm lecture about why they have to follow the rules. Really lay it on thick telling them what a problem it is for these particular rules to be broken. The entire time you are talking to the children about the importance of rule following be sure you are actively breaking those same rules. If possible keep lecturing until someone speaks up about how unfair you are being.
Discuss with the children how it made them feel to be lectured about following a rule that you were breaking. Ask them if they have ever seen someone say one thing but do another thing. Share with them Matthew 23:1-12. If you have Ralph Minton’s Lectionary Story Bible – Year A the scripture is on page 231.
Jesus didn’t believe that the people in charge got to do whatever they wanted. Jesus taught that if you tell others to do something then you should do it too. That the leaders of the church, even the pastor should be serving and helping others. It’s our job to take care of others no matter who we are.
Teach the children the song Humble Yourselfto help them remember the scripture lesson of today.
Each Monday I post a mindfulness prompt. And you may have noticed that my Mindfulness Monday series has not really focused on practicing mindfulness with children. Which may seem strange for a children’s spirituality blog. But I have one main reason. YOU are your child’s best model. Your child will do and say the things they hear YOU doing and saying. When I am more connected to God, I am better able to facilitate my children’s connection to God. And for me, the simplest way to stay connected is to practice mindfulness. So, for the most part, Mindfulness Mondays will be about you. A reminder to start off your week with God in mind, so that you are more able to talk with your children about God!
But mindfulness is also a perfect activity to do with your children! So today I thought I’d share one way you can get your kids to start being mindful of God in their lives. With children I like to use the word notice rather than mindful. One of the easiest ways to begin is to take a walk. Tell your child that today we are going to look up and notice the BIG and BEAUTIFUL things that God has created. Don’t restrict your child’s noticings. If they say that God created that big beautiful house, say something like, “That is a beautiful creation! God worked through a person to create that beautiful house.”
At the end of your noticing walk reflect on the BIG and BEAUTIFUL things that God created. You may just choose to discuss your noticings, or you may want to have your child draw a picture of their favorite BIG and BEAUTIFUL part of God’s creation. Either way, you have just introduced your child to the spiritual practice of mindfulness!
And just like adults, the more often children take time to notice God in their lives, the more connected they will feel!
The other day I stumbled across this website full of amazing ideas for teaching your kids. One set of lessons about creation. I immediately pinned the site I Can Teach My Child to my Childhood Spirituality Pinterest Board. (Are you on pinterest? Want to follow me? You can find my profile here).
This site does an awesome job of giving you some fun ideas for teaching your child about the creation story. There are crafts, activities, and even a song with a new verse each day. This would be a great week long activity!
This week’s lectionary scripture is Matthew 22:34-40
Ask the child(ren) to name some people they love. You may want to record a list of the types of people (mom, dad, grandma, friend, teacher, etc) Once you have a list of several people ask how we show our love to those people? Do we show our love to our Mom and Dad in the same way we show love to our best friend? Have the child(ren) list several ways they show love (ex: hugs, kisses, smiles, high fives, etc).
Say to the child(ren), “did you know there are rules about who to love?” There is a scripture where Jesus tells us who we should love. Listen as I read to see if you hear what the rules are.” Read Matthew 22:34-40 (if you have Ralph Minton’s Lectionary Story Bible – Year A this scripture is on pg 228 of year A).
When you finish reading ask the child(ren) if they heard the two rules for who to love. What did Jesus say was THE most important thing? Jesus said that loving God was the most important thing.
Ask the child(ren) if they remember the other rule. Remind them that this one was almost as important as the first one. If they need a refresher re-read Matthew 22:39. Acknowledge that loving our neighbors is almost as important as loving God.
Say to the child(ren), “Who do you think Jesus meant when he said to love our neighbor? Do you think he meant only the people that live next door to us? Who else could he have meant?” Discuss the idea that Jesus was telling us to love people everywhere. Even those we have never met. Generate some ideas about how we can show love to people we have never met.
Let the child(ren) know that there is a song that helps us remember this scripture. Sing it together…Love the Lord (I’ve included the song if you’d like to sing along)
To finish give the child(ren) the Love Your Neighboor Handout to complete on their own. Ask them to write, or draw, ways they can show love to the people in their neighborhood, their city, and to people in another country.
Forgive the poor quality of this image. It's a photograph of a newspaper article. Sadly, it's one of the few photos I have of myself in my classroom.
This weekend we observe Children’s Sabbath. The Children’s Defense Fund says, “this year Children’s Sabbath will focus on the closing the achievement gap in education that currently has children in poverty and children of color falling further and further behind, and ensuring that education becomes the engine of equality, not inequality. The level of educational achievement is the best predictor of future income; ensuring that every child gets a high quality education is the best poverty-prevention program we have.” Having spent 12 years teaching in a school with a very high poverty level this topic is close to my heart.
Here are a few stats for you from the State of America’s Children report done by the Children’s Defense Fund in 2010.
The annual cost of child care for a 4-year-old is more than the annual in-state tuition at a public four-year college in 36 states and the District of Columbia.
In 20 states, a family must have an income that is below 175 percent of the poverty level to receive a public child care subsidy.
Only 8 states and the District of Columbia require 5-year-olds to be enrolled in school.
The U.S. spends almost three times as much per prisoner as per public school pupil.
46% of Black high school students, 39% of Hispanic and 11% of White students attend the 2,000 “drop-out factories” across our country, where less than 60% of the freshman class will graduate in four years with a regular diploma.
Staggering numbers, aren’t they? How many of you, when you think of Children’s Sabbath and helping the needy children of the world picture, in our minds eye, the starving children of Africa? Often, I think, we believe the problems are “out there” in some far away unreachable place. But the reality is, they are right here in our own backyard.
So what can we do? First I think we need to educate ourselves. One great way to start is to watch the movie “Waiting for Superman” Take a peek at the trailer…Waiting for Superman Trailer. Then we need to find ways to support the schools and teachers in our own cities. There are great resources on WaitingforSuperman.com
What can you do today to change not only the life of your own child, but also the life of a child in need?
We’ve all been there, right? Frustrated because you’ve told your child something 100 times and they still don’t do it…or even remember hearing it! I’ve even been known to say things like, “I’m not talking just because I like the sound of my voice!” And when your kids don’t listen to you about things like not running in the house, or putting their laundry away we start to wonder…are they listening to anything I’m trying to teach them?
I saw this information in a presentation about brain research a few years back. It shows the average retention rate after 24 hours of learning new information.
After 24 hours of hearing a lecture people retain approximately 5% of what they heard. Think college…how many of us can recite from memory one of our professor’s lectures? I don’t remember a whole lecture but I do remember one quote. I had a college professor that used to say, “If teaching were the same as telling, thing how smart we’d all be!” How true!
Which means if you spend 30 minutes lecturing your kid, they are going to come away remembering about 1.5 min of what you said. And you don’t get to choose which 1.5 min they will remember. That must be why I feel like my kids are never listening to me! 🙂
If you read new information you retain about 10%. Audio visuals, like Powerpoint presentations, bring you up to 20%. If you can throw in a demonstration you bring the retention rate up to 30%. Still not great numbers.
Here is where things start to get good. Allowing the opportunity for discussion brings retention up to 50%. If you get to practice the activity by doing it yourself you retain 75% and if you go share what you learned with someone else you retain 90% of what you learned!
Can you imagine how powerful that makes a family devotion?!? When you provide space for your family to openly discuss their thoughts and beliefs about God you strengthen your children’s connection to their faith. When you spend time together with activities such as “Doing the Scripture” or using prayer practices you give your children the practice they need to make this connection a life long habit. And when you share your story with others and see your children doing the same you know that the most important message you are trying to impart has become internalized in them.
So if you take nothing else away from this post (since I know you will only retain about 10%), remember this…
Your children are listening! And when you take time to connect with God as a family you are teaching them lessons they will remember forever!
Our Lectionary focus scripture this week is Matthew 22:15-22.
Prior to your activity gather together some items for your child to reflect on. If you are using this as a children’s moment you may want to have a ziplock baggie for each child. If you are doing this at home you can just collect these items ahead of time.
a coin (could be real or play money)
a leaf, shell, or small stone (something to represent the earth)
a heart (could be paper, felt/fabric, etc)
a reflective surface (small mirror, or even a square of tin foil)
Begin by showing the children the items you have collected. Let them know that these items will help them understand the scripture you are about to read. Ask them to look at the items and think about why you chose them while you read the scripture. Hand out the bags before you begin reading the scripture.
Read Matthew 22:15-22 aloud (you can use any version but if you have Ralph Milton’s Lectionary Story Bible – Year A this scripture is on page 224-225). After reading Matthew 22:19-20 ask the children if they see anything in their bag that goes along with this part of the scripture. Ask them to look at that coin as you finish the scripture. Say to the children, “I wonder why Jesus said to give the money to Cesar and not to God? Don’t we usually talk about giving money at church too? And I wonder what Jesus meant when he said to give to God what is God’s? I wonder what belongs to God?” (allow those questions to be rhetorical and don’t ask for children’s thoughts at this time)
Redirect the children back to the items in their bag and hold up the leaf (or shell or stone etc). Ask the children where that item came from. As they answer guide them to the idea that the leaf (or shell/stone) are a part of our earth. Ask the children how we could give the earth to God? Help them see that through caring for our earth we are giving it back to God.
Now pull out the heart. Ask the children what this item represents. Once it is established that a heart represents love ask the children what we do with our love. We give love to others as we help one another. Let them know that when we love one another we are also giving love back to God.
Go back to the coin. Ask the children if there are ways to use the money to help others or to take care of our earth. Acknowledge that money is important, but it’s not the most important thing. It’s how you use it or what you do with it that counts!
Finally, pull out the mirror (or any reflective surface) and ask them to hold the mirror in front of their face. Ask the children what they see. Tell them that just like Caesar’s image was on the coin, God’s image is in them. Jesus wanted us to give ourselves to God, to use every one of our gifts to help others, and care for all of creation. WE are God’s and when we live our lives helping and caring for creation we give ourselves back to God.