Ministry - Diakonia

What is the Children's Room?

childrenThe Children's Room is a place where liturgical understanding is established, bringing the child into a closer relationship with the Church and with Our Lord. The child is naturally attracted to the beautiful developmentally age appropriate materials. The Children's Room provides activity that stimulates concentration as the child interacts with the "hands-on" materials.

The child's exposure to the faith in the children’s room is centered on our Lord Jesus Christ. The parable of The Good Shepherd speaks to the young child. The Good Shepherd calls His sheep by name, lays down His life for His sheep, nurtures and protects them. With the emphasis placed on Christ as the Good Shepherd, the young children soon realize that they, too, are part of the Good Shepherd’s flock.

The children are free to repeat the activities, to retell the Bible story, and to proceed to other connected activity for each carefully selected parable, infancy narrative, prophesy, hymn, prayer, gesture, or liturgical procedure.

The applied Montessori Method prepares the children to move about freely in the prepared environment. They have the opportunity to practice managing their own bodies in a controlled manner, as they move about carefully and speak softly. All the people in the prepared environment are treated with respect and dignity. As they express themselves through chosen activities placed in the prepared environment; the children’s relationship with God is fostered and they participate in the life of The Church with greater awareness.

Children experience life through the senses. The children practice liturgical response gestures or set up the objects to contemplate a chosen parable, and also "make silence", sit quietly to reflect a certain Bible reading or prayer, chant hymns, polish icons, decorate the room with flowers, and manage the geography structures as part of their chosen activity. Father Alkiviadis Calivas, Professor Emeritus, Holy Cross School of Theology, tells us that "worship is faith in motion". Religious education for the young child is equal to that which is experienced. The Children's Room is designed to provide an array of individual and group activity for each child.

The young child is able to have a relationship with God. Orthodox Christian Spiritual Formation is a program based on the belief that children have a natural desire to look towards God. This very real spiritual child is honored, nurtured, and given a place for experiential activity, reflection, and expression in the Children's Room.
The Children's Room is a prepared environment where the child has the opportunity to:

  • express heartfelt personal faith
  • to pray
  • to hear the Word of God
  • to wonder about the Word of God
  • to express heartfelt response
  • to put faith in motion

Young children require movement simultaneously with mental activity for optimal development to take place.

  • The young child is able to fully focus on a chosen activity when he/she is actively involved. As a result, concentration is enhanced. 
  • He/she gives himself totally to the present moment when movement and mental activity are combined. 

The Children's Room provides constant movement initiated by the child himself.

  • When combined, will, movement, and mental activity nurture child development.
  • The spiritual experience of the child is not reduced to games and play.
  • The young child has the ability to be reverent with complete joy.

Why is it so important to provide a planned program/prepared environment for such young children?

beckyChildren are in a "sensitive period" of spiritual formation.
Sensitive periods occur between the time of birth and age six. The sensitive periods represent critical points in a child's development. It is a time when a child has a natural attraction or a vital urge to interact upon the environment and learn almost effortlessly.
For example, an early child learns his or her mother tongue almost automatically, provided the proper exposure/environment has been present. There is no other time in life when a person can learn a second language so effortlessly than between the ages of birth and six years. Of course, a second language can be learned later in life, usually requiring much study and practice. And, for the most part, that second language will not be as perfected or natural as the mother tongue.

When the proper materials are made available in a prepared environment, children spontaneously acquire knowledge beyond what is generally thought to be possible for their age. The Children's Room is designed to satisfy the child's natural inclination to be spiritual.
During a sensitive period the child may center attention on specific aspects of the environment with intense interest, passion, and commitment. The child's activity is derived from the unconscious and does not lead to fatigue or boredom, but instead leads to persistent energy and interest. Once the sensitive period is realized it disappears and is not relived. Yet that which is acquired during a sensitive period tends to be everlasting.

In realizing that certain things would not be erased from the human mind, if brought to it, in the early years St. John Chrysostom expresses the importance of bringing to children what is of a spiritual nature: “it is this very age that most of all needs the hearing of these things; from its tenderness readily stores up what is said; and what children hear is impressed as a seal on the wax of their minds."

The emphasis of the extreme contribution of childhood on the adult mind is expressed by Aleksandr Solzhentayn in his letter remarking on the Patriarch’s message concerning children: “I heard these words, and my early childhood arose before me, a childhood of attending many church services, and it was that uniquely fresh and pure first impression which could not later be obliterated by any of life’s hardships or by any abstract intellectual theories.”
As educators then, in realizing that the impressions of early childhood will outlast and outweigh any others, consider the Montessori creed: Help us, O God to enter into the secret of childhood so that we may know, love and serve the child in accordance with the laws of the justice and following Thy holy will.”

What is the sensitive period for spiritual formation?

Children are in an ideal state to experience a relationship with God. The Church Fathers tell us that we must be still and quietly reason before we can hear the voice of Our Father. The early child is able to grasp the concept of God and His love for us without question. It is not through reason or intellect that things of a spiritual nature are so pleasing to children. I have been repeatedly amazed at the level of concentration put forth by the 3, 4, and 5 year olds when invited to participate in Biblical or liturgical presentations in the Children's Room.

The body, mind, and heart of the young child, act in unison. They have not yet reached the age of reason and division among their parts. Mental, spiritual, and physical development are interconnected and interdependent. Children remain in the present, fully attentive to the task at hand.

"One of the goals of the Orthodox development system is to isolate the Nous from the faculty of reason. Reason was created to deal with earthly concerns but the Nous alone is for the remembrance of God. The Nous is for the unceasing remembrance of God. "

Our children, through baptism, are fully members of the Church, entitled to practice all aspects of Liturgical life that is made available to them. At baptism they put on Christ, receive the seal of the Holy Spirit, and the Blood and the Body of our great Savior. Infant baptism is a testimony to the authenticity of the infant experience.

“ (The Philokalia) The spiritual faculty, the Nous of the baptized infant knows God through immediate experience.”

The Children's Room provides an environment that nurtures the sensitive period of spiritual formation.

The needs of the child are recognized as being fully equal to any other phase of human development.  The Child’s physical, emotional, and spiritual development depend on the unison of mental and physical activity. Making choices is the same as commanding the body and mind to function.

Liturgical life and scripture provide the curriculum for religious experience. It is ours to provide the experience that enriches the child’s spiritual formation. For a child touching is exploring, seeking to know. The child touches because he doesn’t know. He wants to experience the world, he wants to know the world as he goes along, constructing his memory and progressively incorporating these experiences to develop his inner being. In the Children's Room the child is free to choose from many "hands on" activities.
Thus the environment shall provide meaningful activity for the constantly active child. The child will associate himself or herself with the action when it is freely chosen. "Busy work" can waste precious time as the sensitive periods pass so quickly. Coloring pictures of Jesus Christ or Saints will bring the child a coloring experience instead of a religious faith-bound experience.

Does OCSF offer programs for older children?

Yes, it begins with Level I for 3 to 6 year old children;
Then Level II for 6 -9 year old children and;
Then Level III for 9-12 year old children

The teacher’s role is to prepare the environment that nurtures the sensitive period of spiritual formation and to present materials that encourage the children to respond to God's love. The teacher is the link to the prepared environment, as she reads the Holy Bible, asks contemplative questions, and shows the children how to use the materials.

Who should take this teacher training course?

  • Presbyteras
  • Sunday school teachers
  • Preschool teachers
  • Parents
  • Home school teachers
  • Elementary teachers; Level I prepares you for Level II (Elementary)

The prepared environment requires a prepared adult.

In the training course the adults learn to:

  • prepare the environment for 3, 4, and 5 year old children
  • make the materials for the three year curriculum
  • arrange the environment in sequence
  • present each activity
  • to invite the responses of the children
  • to listen to the responses of the children
  • to prepare the materials for the child’s personal response through chanting, prayer, art work, specific activity, and expression
  • to write the lesson plans for each presentation

Steps to build a Children's Room in your parish:

  • The preschool teachers receive the teacher training. (Training is offered by the Palm Harbor Montessori Teacher Education Center, known as PHMTEC, a nonprofit organization.)
  • Acquire the necessary furnishings for the prepared environment.
  • Teachers make the materials with the help of a volunteer carpenter.
  • Set up the prepared environment.
  • Hold an orientation for the parents.
  • Begin the program at the beginning of a new school year.

More than 90 years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori first understood that children must learn from their environments and are self-motivated to do so.
Klimoff, Dunlop, and Haugh eds. Aleskandr Solzhenitsyn (Norland Pub. Co., Belmont MA, 1973, page 472)

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind , page 276

Orthodox Heritage MESSAGE OF THE MONTH, (November 2007)
The Core of Our Holy Faith’s Spirituality
By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, from “Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction.”

"Do not hinder the children to come unto me" (Mt 19:14).
"The one who does not receive the kingdom of God like a child, will not enter it" (Mk 10:15). For in order to see, to desire, to feel, to receive the kingdom of God it is necessary precisely to see this depth of things, to see that which in the better moments of our life they proclaim to us, that light which begins to flow from them when we return to our childhood wholeness.

More than 90 years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori first understood that children must learn from their environments and are self-motivated to do so.
Klimoff, Dunlop, and Haugh eds. Aleskandr Solzhenitsyn (Norland Pub. Co., Belmont MA, 1973, page 472)

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind , page 276

Orthodox Heritage MESSAGE OF THE MONTH, (November 2007)
The Core of Our Holy Faith’s Spirituality
By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, from “Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction.”

Fr. Alexander Schmemann