Teach kids a spiritual vocabulary

After five years of interviewing adults about their childhood spiritual experiences, I’ve seen common threads. Here’s one: As children, they didn’t have the vocabulary to express how they were processing spirituality and God. Can’t you see it in what this man told me?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I remember I was four or five years old and feeding white ducks bread crumbs from the top of a playground slide. It seemed very wonderful to me for some reason and I dreamed about it and I can still see myself doing it. My thoughts couldn’t have been very abstract or sophisticated or articulated in any vocabulary I had at the time, but I felt I was in the presence of something greater than myself, in a world beyond the surface world where I was tossing down food onto the white ducks and feeling very whole, free, peaceful.”

“Use your words.” Words for a kid’s spiritual vocabulary

words in boxIt’s hard to find child-sized words kids can use to express spiritual or transcendent experiences. “Kids need to know the words,” says middle school teacher Sheila Edwards. “When you’re giving to others, that’s sacrifice. Labeling it makes it powerful. Kids can say, ‘I did this—it shows I’m committed,’ or ‘This shows I have integrity.’”

A teacher told one student: “Jake’s mother told me that every kid in the class made fun of him when his nose was runny—everyone but you. Your compassion made a difference to Jake. He came home and told his mom about it.”

Teach children the words they really need to know

I have been interviewing adults about their childhood spiritual experiences for four years now, and here’s one important observation I’ve made: As children, they didn’t have the vocabulary to express how they were processing spirituality and God. As adults, they look back and try to put words to their experiences and thoughts, but when they were children they had difficulty. Consider this quote from one man I interviewed:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I remember I was four or five years old and feeding white ducks bread crumbs from the top of a playground slide. It seemed very wonderful to me for some reason and I dreamed about it and I can still see myself doing it. My thoughts couldn’t have been very abstract or sophisticated or articulated in any vocabulary I had at the time, but I felt I was in the presence of something greater than myself, in a world beyond the surface world where I was tossing down food onto the white ducks and feeling very whole, free, peaceful.”