Help children learn the skill of Reflection

A university professor ended her week of instruction with reflection questions for her students: What was your significant learning this past week? What did you learn or what was reinforced about yourself?

Reflection didn’t happen.

reflection questionShe asked the students to get in small groups to discuss. “They got in their groups and just looked at one another with baffled looks on their faces while remaining silent. I tried rewording the questions and providing examples and still got blank looks when they returned to their group discussions,” explains Jackie Gerstein.

Without reflection, kids aren’t getting the meaning.

She continues, “I began to get frustrated by their lack of response until a major AHA struck me . . . They are products of a standardized system where they …finished one unit of information and were asked to quickly move on to the next unit.  They were not given the time, skills, and opportunities to extract personalized meanings from their studies.  Reflection was not part of their curriculum as it cannot be measured nor tested.” *

In Child-Centered Spirituality we observe the same thing happening.

Kids move from one activity to the next. Be one of those adults in their lives who offers them time to consider and express what they are learning or feeling. I was with a preteen girl and her grandmother this week. The girl planned for the three of us to have lunch and go to a movie. At lunch we laughed a lot and I when I looked back on our time together, I realized that we had touched on living in our families, how we’re experiencing God, and making smart choices. One open-ended reflection question can create an AHA moment for everyone at the table.

Try one of these reflection questions:

  • What are some things you got to do this week that other people might not be able or allowed to do?
  • What do you think are the most important qualities of a good (grandparent…parent…teacher…etc)?

*I read Jackie Gerstein’s story on her website, User Generated Education.

Tweetable: Kids move from one activity to the next and few adults offer them time to consider and express what they are learning. Examples here of reflection questions. Click to Tweet


Two ideas can help kids learn to expand possibilities

possibilities with kidsKids and summertime. School’s out. Schedules relax. I’m anticipating day trips with my friends and their kids or grandchildren.  This quotation inspires me:

“We help each other grow in our families when we look beyond what we already know and imagine new possibilities in the future. This involves trying new things, going new places, and meeting people,” writes Kent Pekel in a Search Institute study. The study makes the following helpful possibilities to try.

Possibilitiies:  Trying new things

Introduce children to a person, a family, or an organization coming from a culture different from yours.  Visit community festivals, restaurants, and museums to expand a child’s perspective. Explain that meeting people who are different from us can make life more interesting and helps us get along better with others in our world. Discuss ways that this new culture is similar and ways that it is different from your own.

Possibilities:  Going new places

Introduce children to new art, music or activities. Visit a museum or a similar organization without the children and find interesting things for them to see and do there. While you are there, plan a scavenger hunt that the children will lead on a later visit. Give children clues to find the things in the museum. Whatever they find, celebrate the hunt and ask the child what she or he thought about the “treasures” they found. Find a creative way to celebrate the child’s participation in the scavenger hunt and the results—whatever they might be.

I’m hoping to do this with a middle school student, her younger sister, and her grandmother. We’ll go to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.  And maybe stop at the Gift Store for a prize of her choosing.

possibiities in the gardenThe existence of beauty in an art museum is a spiritual quality. Love manifesting itself as loveliness in a botanical garden is a spiritual quality. Life’s spiritual dimension is more prominent than most of us could ever imagine.

Tweetable:  Two possibilities to expand a child’s horizon, involving new places, activities and people. Work even harder to help kids develop relationships away from the allure of their online presence. Click to Tweet

It pays to champion kids’ spiritual exploration

food explorationWhen two of our nieces were small, they and their parents would get together with us about once a month and it always included a meal. When it was my turn to cook, I made lots of recipes not in the girls’ normal diet. On the drive to our house, their mom would play a guessing game with them, which she says was a high point of the drive—What kind of meat do you think we’re going to have? salad? dessert? Their mother was preparing them to try new tastes and textures, and to eat, with gratitude, whatever was put before them.

The power of diversity

exploration abroad“Diversity gives the brain a powerful workout. And, just like a physical workout, it can be incredibly good for us,” says Julie Van de Vyver, assistant professor of Psychology at Durham University.

We may tend to gravitate toward people with whom we share life experiences and values, but Julie goes on to say, “When people are exposed to a more diverse group of people, their brains are forced to process complex and unexpected information. [We see this in] teens who study abroad and demonstrate enhanced creativity.”

Take the same attitude toward spiritual exploration.

As adults we need to develop and guide children’s innate spirituality. We encourage open dialogue and exploration as children engage in their own journeys of ongoing discovery—even it if makes us uncomfortable, and even if we run the risk of them coming to different conclusions from our own. Our role is not to make their choices for them—which we cannot do anyway—but to guide them in their own unique process of spiritual development.

Some ideas–

  • Read books or watch movies about children with different religious backgrounds from your family.
  • Welcome friends to share your religious holiday traditions and then switch and participate in theirs.

Opening ourselves to new experiences can seem hard to do, but it can help children cross divides and create a feeling of connectedness with others and with the divine.

* Inspiration for this post here.

Tweetable: Reflections on the power of diversity, even in spiritual exploration with children. Become an advocate for them to form their own expressions. Click to Tweet

Children ask, “Why does God allow disasters?”

flood why God? The headline in my local newspaper reads, “Worst [flood] in a generation,” as the Russian River turned storm-battered towns into islands. Once again, older kids ask: “What was God thinking?” Why does God allow innocent people to suffer?

When I talk with children I draw from the thinking of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:.

God is not in disasters.

There’s a great conversation recorded in the Old Testament* between God and a holy man, Elijah. God taught Elijah that he, God, is not in windstorms, earthquakes or fires, but in the gentle whisper that heals.

We live in a physical world.

“Natural disasters,” said the 12th century sage Moses Maimonides, “have no explanation other than that God, by placing us in a physical world, set life within the parameters of the physical. Planets are formed, earthquakes occur, and sometimes innocents die.”

What do we do about it?

A better question than asking why this happened is – What can we do about it? “That is why, in temples, churches and mosques, along with our prayers for the injured and grieving, we ask people to donate money to assist the work of relief.”

We become God’s partners in healing.

“Our response is not to seek to understand and thereby accept,” says Rabbi Sacks. Instead we are the people God has called on to be God’s partners. We can say, ‘God, I do not know why this disaster happened, but I do know what you want of me: to help the suffering, comfort the grieving, send healing to the injured and aid those who have lost their livelihoods and homes.’ ”

We imitate God’s love and care.

“After an earlier flood, in the days of Noah, God made God’s first covenant with humankind. Genesis records** that God had seen ‘a world filled with corruption and violence’ and asked Noah to institute a social order that would honor human life as the image of God. Not as an explanation of suffering but as a response to it.

The covenant of human solidarity

“In our collective sadness for any type of disaster, we renew the covenant of human solidarity. Having seen how small and vulnerable humanity is in the face of nature, might we not also see how small are the things the divide us, and how tragic to add grief to grief?”  

*1 Kings chapter 19, verses 9-13. **Genesis 6:11

Tweetable: Be ready to talk with kids when they ask about disasters, human suffering, and hardships. Bullet points here guide you. Click to Tweet

Wisdom is power, but how to convince kids?

wisdom of motherA neighbor of mine shared his mother’s words of wisdom in our local paper. It got me thinking about how I’m passing along wisdom to the children in my life.

My neighbor’s (partial) list

  1. You don’t dress to impress. You dress to show your respect to others.
  2. Life’s not fair. Get over it and move on.
  3. Don’t let your career find you. Find what you were made to do.
  4. Knowledge comes from school. Maturity sometimes comes with age. Wisdom comes from the Bible.
  5. Something worth doing is seldom easy.
  6. Your logic can be perfect, but your facts could be wrong.

Obviously these are not the only words of wisdom that my neighbor lives by, but he’s found a way to frame life by a series of sayings leading to a satisfying life.

There’s power in wisdom

We want the kids we love to end up knowing how to judge rightly and follow the soundest course of action. We teach by example, springing from our:

wisdom of teenWait for a kid’s “hmm” or moment of silence

I usually know when I’ve made connection with a child. Typically it’s followed by a few second of silence as they process a new thought.  Sometimes they look off into the distance for a moment. We can leave an even deeper impression when we make eye contact or touch their shoulder or arm as we’re speaking. I learned from Becky Bailey that “connections on the outside with others build neuro-connections on the inside.”

Wisdom is what I hope to impart to kids

When we open our ears and eyes to what kids are feeling, acting out on and thinking about, we build on their life experiences and their perceptions of the world. Our power lies in asking follow-up questions or making 10-words-or-less observations about what they’ve shared. This promotes wisdom in them, a legacy I find worth leaving.

Tweetable; Each day, so much information comes to us and the kids we love. Check out the benefits that Wisdom has to offer. Knowledge is necessary, but search for Wisdom like a treasure.  Read more. Click to Tweet





Kids’ spiritual conversations can be downright exciting!

Over the past 15 years, large strides have been made in the science behind how the brain develops and the settings and contexts that are conducive to learning. It’s brought exciting insights for enriching the human spirit!

Daily settings for increased brain development

Social relationships, emotional experiences and cognitive opportunities provide purposeful learning paths for the brain. Drive conversations causing kids to reflect upon, make sense of, and learn from the often misunderstood spiritual dimension. A child’s world may be seriously impoverished if we don’t.

As the brain develops, so does the human spirit.

The child’s spirit needs hope, and the comfort of knowing that a loving God is with them, watching over them wherever they are, wherever they go. Ask them, “When did you feel God’s love today?” They need to know what to do when they mess up and how to handle guilt. They want to know what God is like, and how to make a personal connection with God.

What we can do

Feed the child’s human spirit when, in responding to their questions and comments about God, we convey God’s love, affection, warmth and tenderness for the child. Make use of nurturing touch, empathy, empowerment, and unconditional love with children, to reflect the heart of our unseen God. Explore your own family’s religious or spiritual traditions to find accurate information about God. Where you find a disconnect here, go to trusted friends and sacred writings for wisdom.

Genuinely pursue a whole-child approach.

Not only are kids more likely to feel at peace with God, but they are more likely to care for others, and to pass that spiritual nurture down to future generations of children in their lives.

*(I read about the brain basis for integrated whole child development emerging from the lab of Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang in USC’s alumni magazine.)