Spiritual Formation and the Early Child

Is your Sunday school or Church school a place where children experience prayer?

The Catechesis of The Good Shepherd Curriculum as put forth by Orthdox Teacher brings hands on experience to the early child.

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

workingwiththegoodsheperdChildren 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.

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."

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.

That which is acquired during a sensitive period tends to be everlasting. 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.

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.”

What is the sensitive period for spiritual formation?

evangChildren 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.

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.”
ONLINE Course July 21, 2014

Two Week Intensive Course
June 2015 TBA
Monday Through Friday
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Location: Hellenic College
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As educators then, in realizing that the impressions of early childhood will outlast and outweigh any others, consider the Montessori's words: 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.”