| Carolyn Lesmeister |
Young children live for joy and wonder.
It’s what they do.
It’s who they are.
Our role is to provide them with experiences and things that are worthy of their wonder.
Those insights provided the foundation for a recent intensive training on how the Montessori Method can be applied to children’s spiritual formation.*
Throughout the training, I was surprised to find myself moved to tears and having new insights about stories and symbols I thought I already understood. After all, I have two masters’ degrees in theological fields and have been serving as a Lutheran pastor for almost 9 years; the presentations from which I was learning so much were meant for 3-to-6-year-olds! It was truly humbling and awe-inspiring.
One of the key assumptions of the whole approach is that children are hard-wired with a desire to connect with something greater than themselves; in other words, that all children have an innate spiritual longing that seeks fulfillment, just as they have innate drives for other types of learning according to the more traditional Montessori Method.
The role of the adults – whether teachers or parents – in the process is to introduce the child to that greater t/Thing and then allow joy and wonder to take it from there. My favorite metaphor for the process was that it’s like setting up a blind date: you introduce the two parties, but you don’t go on the date!
Because the approach comes out of the Catholic church and thus is Christian, a lot of the details involve introducing the child to key stories from the Bible in such a way that allows them to get “hands on” with it by moving around simple yet gorgeous figurines while the story is read, and then pondering very general questions such as: “I wonder how the sheep felt?” Or, “I wonder who this God might be?”
The goal is not to get the child to come to a particular “right” answer, as is so often the case in more traditional approaches to religious education, but to genuinely spark their sense of curiosity and wonder. The adult is not to affirm nor correct anything the child might say; instead, s/he is to wonder right alongside the child. Then, whatever insights or answers the child might find are truly their own, making the insights both held more deeply but also more flexible and open to the child’s continuing process of growing, questioning, and learning. It’s about exploration, not indoctrination.
I wonder how different many people’s experiences with church might have been had they been invited into such a beautiful process of wondering from the start, and if that wondering had been encouraged as they grew older and their questions became more sophisticated and more challenging. The training was meant to equip people to work with 3-to-6-year-olds, but so much of it could apply to anyone and everyone; I believe that all people have an innate longing to connect with something greater than themselves, regardless of how they might conceive of that t/Thing or what name – if any – they might give i/It.
I wonder how we can continue to cultivate that sense of joy and wonder … in ourselves, with one another, and most especially with the children in our lives?
*The training Carolyn attended is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Carolyn has served as a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor for more than 8 years but is currently transitioning out of that role and into some new ones. She has an MDiv from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and an MA in Ethics and Social Theory from the Graduate Theological Union, both in Berkeley, CA; right now she loves learning about joy and wonder (and mindfulness) from her almost 2-year-old son, Xavier.