• ECEnet: Spiritual Foundations: Meeting Jesus in Early Childhood Spaces and Stories

  • Spiritual Foundations

    Meeting Jesus in Early Childhood Spaces and Stories

    How do we know what children know about their faith in Jesus? We don’t want to know what they have been taught. We want to know what they know. There are times when I wonder how we could create authentic evidence of our young learners’ spiritual development. Most of what I knew about “religion” in early childhood education was comprised of lessons taught by the teacher, Jesus songs, prayers before snack and meals, and perhaps memory verses. My big question was: How do we know what children know about their faith in Jesus? We don’t want to know what they have been taught. We want to know what they know.

    I believe our objective needs to focus on deeper insights pertaining to how we help our young learners encounter a growing, vital faith in Christ in our classrooms and beyond. A critical look into our classroom environments, our storytelling strategies, and our active listening skills will provide new opportunities for students to grow in faith and knowledge of Jesus as their heavenly King and Savior.

    First, let’s consider where our children “meet” God in our early childhood environments. Do we intentionally design sacred spaces in our classrooms to reflect the wonder of God and the story of Christ? These sacred spaces are where the children can see themselves in God’s story and remember His great love for them throughout the day. Consider the following questions: What in my classroom says, “This is a place where children and adults learn and grow together in faith and in their relationship with Jesus, their Savior?” If we toured your classroom, what Christ-like artifacts would we find in your room? Would we see crosses, a child-friendly altar space, children’s Bibles and songbooks, posters or pictures with Bible verses or pictures of Jesus on them, student art work reflecting biblical themes or the church year, or student prayers or journals?

    A tour of our home would reveal a lot about us. Our classrooms do the same for our children and their families.There are so many ways to bring the faith into our classroom environments. The classroom setting is “designed to be not only functional but also beautiful and reflective of the child’s learning. It is the child’s relationship with parent, teacher, and environment that ignites learning” (Biermeier, 2015). Relationships and inviting environments reflect and ignite learning, and yes, even spiritual growth! I think of my own home and how the rooms reflect who we are… our family photos, our collections, and our faith. A tour of our home would reveal a lot about us. Our classrooms do the same for our children and their families.

    How we tell God’s story is very important too. The authors of the text, Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey (May, 2010), encourage storytellers to prepare to tell God’s story “by seeking to enter The Story, experience the thoughts and feelings of the characters and the wonder of God’s presence and actions” (May, 2010). These feelings and a sense of wonder come through the voice of the storyteller inviting the children to “enter” the story. This type of preparation helps us open our hearts and voices to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. Our prayerful preparation allows the power of Scripture to be alive and active as stated in Hebrews 4:12, For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” What a privilege!

    Our authors suggest that there are four phases of telling God’s story to children. First, we tell the story with wonder and awe to “aid the work of God’s Spirit to grasp the heart of the child” (May, 2010). This preparation requires a bit more than reading the story that is in your lesson plans. It involves becoming so familiar with the reading that one can tell the story almost from memory and with feeling and awe!

    Second, “We use simple props to allow children to enter the story through doing” (May, 2010). Simple figures or props allow the children to actively focus on the story. The authors refer to this as “reflective engagement.” It provides an opportunity for the children to respond to the story visually as we use simple materials or props.

    Third, we allow children to “wonder and question.” This is a time for children to think out loud with their peers and teachers. Children learn to wonder and question through the role model of the storyteller. We want to move the children beyond naming facts to knowing their place in God’s story. Our children learn to think and reflect while we learn to listen.

    Fourth, we allow children to “retell the story.” When children retell the story, we listen and begin our process of documentation through dictation or drawings. We begin to know what they know. We begin to understand what they have heard and how it is shaping their faith knowledge.

     

    • What does the sacred space look like in your classroom?
    • How would a visitor know that yours is a Christian classroom?
    • What Jesus story are you teaching next? How will you draw children into the story?

    Looping back to our objective at the beginning of this short essay, I believe that we can offer deeper insights into our Jesus Time moments, more artifacts of his presence in our classrooms, and ultimately, more evidence of our young students learning and sharing His story in the classroom and beyond. What faith stories will your class be living this year?

    God’s story is our story!

    Cheryl Haun is recently retired from her position as Early Childhood Director at Zion Lutheran School, St. Charles, Mo. She is skilled in early childhood education, peer mentoring, teaching, non-profit volunteering, and curriculum development.

    Works Cited

    Biermeier, M. A. (2015). Inspired by Reggio Emilia: the Emergent Curriculum in Relationship-Driven Learning Environments. NAEYC Young Children, Volume 70 Number 5.
    May, C. S. (2010). Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey. Baker Publishing.

    Photos and artwork courtesy the author.

     

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