Nurturing the Heart of a Child.
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I'm a mom, new grandmother (!), child development specialist, and served as University Professor, Children's Pastor, teacher, and consultant. As founder of the Institute for Childhood Education, we're helping parents, teachers, & child care facilities create nurturing environments.
Child development is amazing, and a glimpse into the Mind of our Creator. I'm here to help you nurture your children, grandchildren, and the kids you serve in ministry. Read more →

ballet-on-stage_opt200heleanor-at-ballet_opt200hOver the holidays I have had the opportunity to participate in Advent celebrations in churches of different faiths.  I am always curious to observe how churches include or exclude children in the life of the church because it says something about how they view the spiritual growth and development of little ones.  In one church the pastor explicitly addressed the importance of having children in worship alongside their parents and he encouraged everyone to embrace their wiggles and rustling of paper as a good and positive thing.

It warmed my heart to see the ways in which congregations included and embraced children during the advent season.  I witnessed moments of “awe and wonder” as time seemed to stand still and a holy hush came over them.  Wiggly bodies suddenly were still as their eyes sparkled and their faces reflected joy and wonder.

The picture you see is of my three-year-old granddaughter observing a Christmas pageant at her church.  For two hours she watched in rapt wonder as her ballet teacher danced across the stage under dazzling lights.  She heard and saw the Christmas story portrayed through drama, live animals, singing and dancing.  She insisted on staying until the very end of the two-hour performance, completely destroying the myth that children have short attention spans.  They only have short attention spans when they aren’t really interested.  (Isn’t that the way it is with adults too?)

In some of the churches children were the very ones who ushered the adults into that place of transcendence as they played the piano, read scripture, lit candles and participated in candle light services.  Sometimes just witnessing their very innocence and vulnerability is a moment of sacred awe.

But these moments aren’t just reserved for the holidays.  Children can experience sacred moments of awe and wonder all through the year.  Though we can’t manufacture these moments, we can create spaces when we pause from the busyness of life and turn down the noise.  We create opportunities to just be still….and know.  Yes, notice that I said, “we” pause.  This is probably the hardest part.  It is about us, the grownups, calming the noise and chaos within ourselves to model and help our children to be quiet and just be.

1.  Take a walk on a snowy night and listen to the silence.

2.  Read together as a family—even when they are teenagers.

3.  Build a fire in a fire pit on a chilly autumn evening and huddle together and just talk.

4.  Lay a hula hoop in the grass on a warm day and with a magnifying glass, look for all of the living creatures you can find in that space.

5.  Attach a bird feeder to a window in your home or at your church so that children can observe their habits and behavior.

6.    Catch fireflies on a hot summer night and put them in a clear container to observe (Let them go when you are done.)

7.  Instead of just talking about creation with children at church, let them experience it.  Bring in butterfly gardens, ant farms, and root viewers.

8.  Plant a garden at your church and let children sit on a blanket to sing and hear stories.

9.  Give children opportunities to taste, touch, smell, hear and see stories of the faith.  Eat lentil soup when talking about Jacob and Esau; dye fabric with natural sources of dye when talking about Joseph’s coat of many colors. Include lamps and candles, clay pots, bread, stalks of wheat and grapes as you talk about metaphors of the faith.

10.  Sing together.  Did you know that when people sing together, their heart rate begins to synchronize with one another?

Take time this week and pause….just be….and invite your children to be still…and know.

 

One of my favorite stories as a kid was Chicken Little.  Lately, I have been feeling a lot like Henny Penny, the main character in the story, who declares the sky is falling but her warning falls on deaf ears.  Like Henny Penny, I believe the sky is falling with regard to our children.  We are living in a culture that is becoming increasingly toxic to healthy growth and development and few seem to notice.  Do we not care or do we not know enough about child development that we don’t recognize what is happening?

 

The world for many children has become “hard.”  More and more children are spending significant portions of their time interacting with screens more than they are interacting with people.  Their world is filled with flashing lights and color, virtual worlds filled with grotesque images of zombies, monsters and violence.  Schools have become drab, windowless spaces where the goal is to get children to sit still, be quiet and bubble in the right answers to tests.  There is little opportunity to pursue ideas and questions that are of personal interest or meaning.  There is little that sparks imagination and ignites creativity.

 

Even our churches have succumbed to the “hardness” of our culture.  On Sunday mornings families attend places of worship where children are relegated to uninviting spaces that scream indifference and ignorance of children and their development.  Some, in their attempt to be “culturally relevant” resort to Hollywood images to supposedly attract young families to programs devoid of content because we have  forgotten or don’t understand how to truly connect to their heart and mind.

 

We have forgotten that children are drawn to “sacred spaces”—places that beckon children to be still, to contemplate…to experience God.  It is in these moments that children have the capacity to realize that they are part of something bigger than themselves.  The experience of sacred moments leads to awe and wonder; awe and wonder will ultimately lead to praise and worship and reverence for life.

 

Hollywood spends an enormous amount of time and money doing research to understand how to capture the hearts and minds of children for the sole purpose of making them consumers of their products.  We live in a culture that is willing to sell the souls of children for monetary personal gain.  If only our churches and schools were as purposeful and intentional as Hollywood.

 

One of the ways we create scared spaces is to incorporate the natural world into our homes, schools and churches.  The images of Hollywood pale in comparison to the joy and wonder of experiencing the world that God created.  If you don’t believe it, just watch this.

Moments of Wonder

One of the things I have always loved about being a teacher is that each year there is a new beginning.  We may teach year round but typically once a year there is at least a slightly different mix of children and a feeling of a new start.

As we begin again this fall, one of our priorities is to establish a relationship with each child.  In order to do so children must feel safe and welcomed into our presence.  One of the primary ways we communicate a sense of felt safety is through tone of voice.  Every interaction we have with a child has a double meaning.  There are the words that we say and the tone with which we say it.  Our words need to be carefully chosen and our tone needs to match the words.

The child’s first encounters of the day will set the tone for the rest of the day.  This means that not only teachers but bus drivers, van drivers, directors and principals play an important role as they greet and welcome children each day.  Communicating a sense of, “I’m glad you are here!” should be the goal of everyone who interacts with children throughout the day.

Psychiatrist Curt Thompson says that every child is born looking for someone looking for him.  I believe we need to communicate to children that we are looking for them each and every day.

Take a look at this video clip and see what a difference tone of voice and welcoming words can make in the life of a child.