Using Traditional Activities
A book on supporting a child’s inner life wouldn’t be complete without a section on stories, ceremonies, and music. Down through the ages these activities have provided three wonderful means of teaching and inspiring children.
Stories continue to have a great capacity to move and transform children. One year I had several girls in my first and second grade class whose parents had been reading to them about the visions of Mary that appeared to three children in Fatima. The girls were so inspired by those stories that for a period of time they spent their recesses going off alone, praying to Mary. The radiance in their faces as they returned to class attested to the inner joy they were receiving from their prayers.
Another time, after being introduced to the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, many of my third and fourth grade students were very moved by St. Francis’s total reliance on God for everything, even his food. They asked if they could leave their lunch boxes at home for a week, and at noon go begging for food in a spot near our school where many of their parents and adult friends ate their lunches each day! Being a brand new teacher at the school, I just didn’t have enough nerve to write a note to the parents asking them
not to send lunches for a week so we could go begging. Now I wish I had let the children try it. What an opportunity that would have been. The children were so ready to joyously accept as coming from God anything that was given to them or withheld, and were ripe to practice Christ’s teaching, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink.” This is the only idea in the book that I haven’t actually tried, but I wanted to include the story both to show how far you can go, as well as to illustrate how all of us, even authors, sometimes miss special opportunities.
Stories have a way of drawing children deeply into the situations being described and lifting them up to new ways of thinking and being. Folk tales from around the world, fables, stories from the Bible and other scriptures, and writings about saints, heroes and ordinary people who have lived exemplary lives or behaved in inspiring ways are all wonderful sources for sharing high values with children. There are many modern children’s books that can be inspiring as well. (See Appendix.) These books can be found in your local Christian or metaphysical bookshop, and don’t overlook the bookstores in certain churches and temples. By exchanging your favorite titles with friends who share your values, you may be pleasantly surprised at the number of inspiring books you can find.
The human interest sections in newspapers and magazines offer another source of stories about people who have excelled in some meaningful way. As mentioned earlier, monthly magazines like Guideposts and other church publications often include stories that are uplifting and inspiring for young people. True stories about children are particularly meaningful.
It can be helpful to talk about ways to make use of the positive qualities demonstrated in a story, as long as the discussion doesn’t get preachy. Pointing out to your children how they have behaved well in similar, if less dramatic, situations can help them feel that such achievements are actually within their reach. Even little everyday acts of kindness, giving, and stretching beyond past limitations are important steps along one’s inner journey and deserve to be recognized.
Ceremonies can open a very special, almost magical world to children. One time at school we were studying Native Americans. We had learned about one of their ceremonies for getting rid of negativity, which is called “smudging.” A bundle of fragrant, dried herbs is lit and then made to smolder by blowing out the flames. A feather is used to fan the smoldering herbs, directing the smoke an around each person. The person being smudged visualizes the smoke purifying him and ridding him of all negativity. One day the children were having a terrible time getting along with each other. It was just one of those days when everyone seemed to “push everyone else’s buttons.” Finally, one of the children said, “I think we all need to be smudged.” We all sat in a circle while each child went around and smudged every other child. When we were done, several moments passed when no one could even speak. The atmosphere was so changed! The act of smudging had been like both giving and receiving blessings and indeed all of the negativity was gone!
When ceremonies are performed several times, they become infused with past feelings and memories. Those memories enhance the experience of the ceremony each time it is performed. Of course, performing a ceremony so often that boredom sets in must be avoided. Some ways to charge the atmosphere surrounding the ceremony with a sense of sacredness and meaningfulness include: a darkened room lit only with candles; a cloth draped around the shoulders as on a priest or priestess; a central point of focus such as an altar, a candle or a special picture or object; and waiting outside before entering the room one by one and going to a special, designated spot. Ceremonies might be for special achievements, holidays, or times of need and can involve self-offering, getting rid of an undesirable quality, or taking on a new attitude or type of behavior.
An added benefit of developing ceremonies for your family is the sense of belonging and the family traditions that they can establish. For example, once a month, family members can get together and decide on a special quality or deed that each member of the family has displayed that month. Each person leaves the room while he is being discussed. In this way what he will be recognized for remains a surprise. At a designated time, the family gathers together. A bell might be rung to let everyone know that the time has arrived. The room is lit with candles. Everyone enters the room silently and gathers around a bouquet of flowers which represents all that is beautiful in our world. Around the bouquet is a gold star for each family member with his name on it. On the back of the star is written what each person is being recognized for. One person picks up a star and goes to the one whose name is written on it. He then announces what that person is being recognized for. The person who was just given a star then picks up someone else’s star and proceeds in the same manner as the first person did. When everyone has received recognition, they all join hands and sing an uplifting song together to end the ceremony.
The fire ceremony is a very old and well-known ceremony to help rid oneself of an undesirable quality. Each person writes down on a piece of paper what it is he wants to rid himself of. A small fire is built and, one by one, the papers are thrown in. Each one visualizes the trait leaving him and burning up in the fire along with the paper.
Many old, familiar ceremonies are already steeped in a sense of sacredness. Doing them with your family at home or wherever you interact with children makes them your own. You can perform them as they’ve been done in the past or alter them to fit your particular situation. Communion, simplified vision quests, a wedding ceremony modified to include the whole family and done on the parents’ anniversary are just a few examples. If your child is especially drawn to ceremonies, but you feel at a loss as to how to develop them, look into such cultures as the Native American and East Indian and adapt some of their ideas to fit your particular goals and situation.
Music is another powerful tool that you can use to touch and uplift your child or to create the right mood for an activity. When the children in my class are having a hard time calming down, frequently someone will say, “Could we have some quiet music on?” At other times, someone will ask for some particularly lively music when we’re cleaning the room or doing some other energetic activity.
Recently I was parked behind a pick-up while waiting for a child to finish his baseball practice. In the back of the truck were four children chatting and quietly playing with each other. All of a sudden someone in the cab turned on some fairly loud rock music. I could hardly believe what I observed! In mere seconds that quiet group of children were jumping around, yelling and screaming, and dancing wildly. They were the very picture of chaos. It was amazing to see how strongly the music affected them.
Music has a special way of entering the heart and reaching one’s consciousness. In Education for Life, Donald Walters writes, “By rhythm and melody the mind can be inspired with devotion, or fired to risk life in battle; softened to sentiments of kindness and love; tickled to laughter, soothed to relaxation; or kindled to anger and violence.” Uplifting words set to music will stay with the child long after the singing or listening has stopped. The care that you take in selecting the right music to use with your child will reap rich rewards.
It is essential to keep in mind the end result that you are striving towards when you select music to use with your child. If relaxation is your goal, then calm, soothing music is what you need to use. To help your child feel close to nature, a recording such as bird songs with a soft musical background, or the sound of the ocean surf, can be useful. Gregorian chanting and other sacred music may be used to inspire. Just as with books, a good collection of music can come in very handy. If you do not have a background in music, find someone reliable who does have such knowledge, and ask for assistance in deciding upon and locating various pieces.