Wow! Teaching Christian Meditation to Preschool children. I must be crazy!
This was my first thought at our initial meeting early in 2005. How was I going to get 4 and 5 year olds to be still, silent and prayerful for one minute, let alone five. My journey had begun!
My first experience of Christian Meditation was at a Care for the Soul Retreat at Paluma in 2004. It was a 3 day, silent retreat in a beautiful environment in a town in the clouds.
What a wonderful, prayerful and reflective experience it was being away from the hectic life at home and school. My initiation into Christian Meditation was a very positive one. I promised myself to take time out regularly for ‘me’ and to meditate as often as possible. How wrong was I!
When I returned to the real world and all the daily pressures, my meditation was put on hold. I occasionally found 5 minutes here or 10 there but it was very difficult.
In 2005 I was nominated to be part of a team of teachers who were developing a programme to teach Christian Meditation to children in the classroom environment.
Ernie and Joan had an amazing way of keeping us on track, motivating and re-assuring us about how special this project was and our role in it. Our gatherings as a team were very positive and practical and a wonderful time to share and compare stories.
I have enjoyed the journey so far and the bond our team is developing. 2006 will come with new classes and challenges as Christian Meditation is introduced into schools around our diocese.
How did I begin the journey with my children? I began playing special music (Rainforest Magic) which the children knew meant time to find a spot on the carpet and lie down.
I incorporated slow relaxation exercises - stretching, breathing, gentle rolling etc to begin to get them to slow down. Getting Preschool children to become used to periods of stillness and quietness was difficult initially. Four and five year olds aren’t designed to be quiet unless asleepI hoped to eventually be able to meditate daily. During this introduction stage I gave them listening challenges while being quiet:
- Listen to God sounds around you. (This was difficult with all the construction work happening at school)
- People sounds
- Machine sounds (easy being in the flight path of the air force jets)
I would put out my signs, close the doors and turn off the lights to create a more peaceful atmosphere. This would last for about 10 minutes and I would often end with a bible story or prayer from my daily blessing book.
We did this for a couple of weeks before moving to the next step of introducing our prayer mat as a special place to pray. I also introduced our prayer candle and prayer bear. I moved the children from lying quietly around the room to sitting quietly around the mat and looking at the candle and bear.
We spoke about the candle as a symbol of God that it helps to remind us that God is with us. The prayer bear has become a very special part of our class prayer time to the extent that the children asked for it to be included in our class photo.
By now the children were getting better at being still so I talked about closing our eyes. If they opened their eyes I encouraged them to focus on the candle and try to close their eyes again.
The children began to talk about God being in their hearts and by closing their eyes they could find God within them. We practised this for about a week. It was important at this stage to build the confidence and trust in the children during this time as they were concerned about people coming into the room. The staff and office knew our meditation time and our signs went outside each time.
When I felt the children were ready I talked about the mantra as being a special ‘Jesus Word.’ We practised saying the word ma-ra-na-tha out loud to get the children used to saying it. We would vocalise this for about a minute. (I had to stop the strong emphasis on the 'tha' at the end of the word.) Gradually we would stop saying it out loud and internalise our mantra. Eventually (and I still do this) we began our meditation by saying our mantra out loud and when I stop, the children stop and continue saying it in their minds. By now we were still, silent, eyes closed and meditation was for about 2 minutes.
Recently we were able to achieve our goal of 5 minutes. This doesn’t always happen as I gauge the children’s attentiveness as to how long we go for. It is important for the children’s experience to be a positive one. I found that the children were becoming more settled and calm after a period of meditation. They were also easier to calm and quieten down after activity time.
I noticed a difference in the children when during room construction, moving and generally busy time, we stopped meditation for a month.
They were becoming unsettled and intolerant of each other and began asking to meditate again. We have recommenced in our new room but not with the earlier success as end of year is busy.
When beginning Christian Meditation with young children it is very important to take things slowly and introduce new things one at a time. Don’t give up if things don’t work. Make everyone at school aware of what you are doing to avoid interruptions. Don’t expect instant results. They come with time
We began meditating after lunch as a means of calming children but have since moved to the morning as they are more receptive. We now meditate after parent puzzle time - 9am, and even some parents are able to stay and join us.
With my new class in 2006, I was more confident and relaxed to begin the whole process again. This year’s group is very keen to meditate and ask for it on a daily basis.
They also ask to meditate longer each day. By Easter, we were able to be still and silent for 5 minutes. Most children are also able to keep their eyes closed during this time. After Easter I introduced the mantra to them as a special ‘Jesus Word’ which we vocalise out loud for a short time before continuing our 5 minutes of silent meditation.
Meditation for us is a special and peaceful time and the children are calmer and easier to settle. The setting up and packing away of our prayer-time things has become a ritual that all the children want to be involved in. I have begun meditation with a Grade 1 class with some of my children from last year as well as with our Year 6 Buddy Class. Both have been great experiences. I also do staff meditation on a fortnightly basis at our staff prayer time.
During Term 2 I will spend time with all teachers and children to assist with the introduction of Christian Meditation across all classes in our school. I am looking forward to this new challenge and hope that in our school community we can provide all staff, children and their families with a prayerful experience that will remain with them and grow more powerful in years to come.