Coming Home: A Guide to Teaching Christian Meditation to Children relies heavily on the understanding that all human beings are born contemplative.
It is necessary for the teacher of Christian Meditation to be aware of the different spiritual and psychological developments that occur in children and young adults. This awareness shapes different approaches appropriate to the different age groups.
Religious educator Sofia Cavalletti believes that children are born with the potential for spiritual experience. As she points out,
“transcendent reality seems to be so apparent to the child...Early childhood is primarily the time of the serene enjoyment of God.”
The Religious Potential of the Child, p47 & pp74 -75
Although parents are the first religious educators of their children, this spiritual capacity is neither taught nor ‘caught’. Educator Catherine Stonehouse agrees: “God is the one who stimulates the activation of that potential. We have the privilege of becoming partners with God by assisting children in finding what they long for - experience with God.” (Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey, p181).
The following brief summary of faith development at various ages is based on the work of James Fowler. Whilst it is impossible to clearly delineate stages of spiritual development it is possible to make some generalisation based on common experiences and knowledge of childrens’ psychological and moral development as well.
Ages 5 to 8 - Preschool to Grade 3
Children at this age find abstract thinking beyond them. Children of this age need to have everything related in some way to the practical experiences they already have in life.
There is a reliance on sensory perception. Children at this age have vivid imagination and they are capable of forming images in their minds.
Children of this age love stories, rhymes and songs. Exercises like reading scripture stories aloud to them and asking them to close their eyes and imagine the characters and actions they have been hearing about are an invaluable preparation for meditation.
These types of activities also help lengthen children’s attention span and develop the depth of their ability to remain still and silent for lengths of time.
Use of music and songs is very useful to help prepare children to focus and keep still whilst still engaging them in the prayerfulness of meditation.
Ages 9 to 12 - Grade 4 to Grade 7
Fowler says that the faith development of children of these ages tends to be ‘mythic-literal’ as children begin to mature rapidly and their general knowledge and powers of reasoning develop considerably. They are however, still concrete thinkers and need to have new ideas linked to previous experience.
Faith development during this period of time is quite complex and requires a trusting and supportive environment. The teachers of children during these grades need to work hard at creating the right atmosphere in which stillness, silence and meditation can flourish.
The development of prayer space and quiet times is essential. Students need to feel safe and supported during meditation time and the teacher needs to work hard at creating the right atmosphere for meditation.
Children love meditation at this age and they will often ask to be allowed to have meditation.
Children of this age still enjoy stories and their imaginations are still vivid. Students will often ask more questions about meditation during this stage of development and the teacher needs to be able to gently lead children to a greater understanding of the benefits of “being still and know I am God.”
The children can be actively involved in the preparation for meditation by preparing the prayer table or lighting candles. Children want to get involved in the whole process of meditation.
Ages 13 - 15 - Grades 8 to 10
Children show a marked change in their behaviour during these years of faith development. The peer group becomes increasingly important and the teacher needs to negotiate with their students to allow them to be more actively involved in the whole process of meditation.
It is normal for students of this age to be rebellious and to display signs of agnosticism. The teacher needs to consider the adage “true faith is about doubt negotiated, not about doubt avoided.”
It is not appropriate to expect that students of this age will have integration of faith values and convictions but students of this age do recognise the ‘universal’ benefit of meditation, and whilst they may often question and rebel against religious studies they often appreciate and continue to enjoy and commit to meditation.
During these years most children become capable of abstract thinking. This allows the teacher to extend the scope of the context of meditation.
Students are also capable and very willing to discuss more deeply concepts associated with meditation. Compassion, empathy, universal love, wholeness, peace, joy, mindfulness, spirituality, eternity, and search for meaning can now become concepts and part of the language used by these students.
Students can now start to see that meditation is not only a way of having a positive relaxing experience, it can now be seen as a pathway to a deeper sense of self and God and a deeper understanding of peace, harmony and unity with the rest of creation.