Using Picture Books for Spiritual Deepening with Children (and Adults!)
Children love books. Reading a book to children builds a sense of connection and shared experience from which lessons naturally arise. When preparing an inviting space for a read aloud, make sure children are all able to see the book. Position yourself, your chair, and the book so everyone feels included. Think about your voice and the pace of your reading. While you don't need to "do voices" to make the story interesting, your voice should be loud and clear, and your pace should be a bit slower than usual, everyday talking. You can ask children to hold thier noticings and questions for the end. And/or you may decide to pause at certain points to invite conversation about what's happening in the story.
Books may be presented in one lesson or presented in multiple lessons. Young children, especially, may need to have a story presented over several sessions. Teachers could repeat reading the book and asking wondering questions at each presentation and then move through the various activities over the course of more than one week. Young children love repetition and revisiting books and materials. It gives them a sense of what the book or activity is about and helps them feel some control over the concepts they are learning.
When possible, links to video read-alouds have been included for those who don't have a copy of the book handy. Check your local library for suggested titles. Many of the books are available through QuakerBooks at FGC.
What is God? by Boritzer
An introduction to the many ideas that answer the question, "What is God?"The book is written so children will be able to understand the answer to this complex question.
Appropriate for older students
We're Going to Meeting for Worship by Abby Hadley
A book about a young child's experience of Meeting for Worship. Through this book we can explore stillness, silence, and what happens in Meeting for Worship.
The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
All quiet is not created equal. In this irresistibly charming picture book, many different quiet moments are captured. Extend the lesson with children to include Meeting for Worship quiet.
Use these Wondering Questions:
I wonder what part you liked best?
I wonder where you saw yourself in the story?
I wonder if you know of another kind of quiet the author didn't write about?
I wonder what happens in the Meeting for Worship quiet?
Wondering with Children
The practice of wondering about a story with children makes space for them to explore the ideas and images, words and characters in a story from the particular perspective of that moment in their lives. When we ask children to wonder about a story, we're not asking them for a factual answer to a question. To wonder can also mean to speculate, to doubt, to question, to be unsure. It can also mean to be in awe or to marvel. We invite children to do any of these things when we wonder together about the story we've just experienced.
Some Practical Tips
- When you finish a book and begin to ask the wondering questions, make sure your posture, face, and voice are open and welcoming.
- Children who have not been asked to "wonder" before may be puzzled by this language. You may need to invite them into this experience very explicitly: When we wonder, we're sharing what we think, feel, or know about the story. There isn't one right or wrong answer. Let's listen in our hearts.
- Starting with a question like, I wonder what part of the story you liked best? is open and inviting. Children usually know what they liked in a story.
- Listen to and affirm responses. Try to avoid comments like, that's right.Instead, reflect back what you heard, you liked the colors.
- Use the book! Turn to the pictures or parts of the story children refer to.
- Remember to be comfortable during periods of silence when children are thinking.
I wonder what part of the story you liked best?
I wonder what part of the story is most important?
I wonder where you see yourself in the story, or what part feels like it's about you?
I wonder if there is nay part of the story we could take out, and still have all the story we need?
Faith & Play: Quaker Stories for Friends Trained in the Godly Play Method (PDF ebook) offers stories for children that explore listening, worship, gifts, queries, and sense of the meeting, as well as three stories of witness about George Fox, Mary Fisher, and John Woolman, using the Godly Play teaching method. The stories and wondering together about them offer opportunities to build spiritual community and deepen our experience of Quaker faith, practice and witness.
The following stories are recommended for exploring Silence & Expectant Waiting with children:
Listening for God, page 3
Prayer and Friends Meeting for Worship, page 7
As Quakers, we recognize children as fully spiritual beings. For children ages 3-8, theis is the perfect moment to begin to intentionally explore through a Quaker lens their sense of self, relationships to family, the broader community, and the natural world. Sparkling Still is a curriculum designed for use in First Day School and/or at home.
Sparkling Still provides:
- Philosophical grounding in the Quaker concept of continuing revelation is discussed and explored through wondering questions
- Practical considerations including a master lesson plan template and concrete suggestions about building classroom community as well as logistical concerns.
- Seven ready-to-use lesson plans and nearly 30 pages of additional book suggestions and where to go for more ideas
- An appendix with Teacher Resources including websites, books and articles to enrich and expand the leader's own spiritual growth and understanding of the faith development of children.
Games for Building Community and Having Fun
Bird, Beast or Fish?
Teacher whispers the name of a bird, beast, or fish (some examples: peacock, horse, shark, seahorse, dog, bear) to a first child up.
The child mimes the bird, beast or fish.
Other children guess out loud.
The first child with the correct guess gets to be the next child up. Continue until all children get a chance to mime the bird, beast, or fish.
Tug of Peace
Materials: a circular rope
Have children sit around the circular rope facing center with their knees up.
Lay the rope on the laps of those seated.
Each person holds onto the rope with both hands and leans back.
Using tension in the rope, each person should be able to lift themselves.
Discuss the experience.
When I Attend Quaker Meeting
When I attend Quaker meeting with my family and I see all the other people sitting in what seems like a deep sense of peace, I find myself experiencing envy. I cannot seem to find my peace during meeting. I find myself in a more peaceful state of mind late at night when I am beginning to drift off to sleep. I believe that a more controlled sense of peace will come with age, and I hope that someday I won’t feel as restless during meeting so I can participate in the stillness and peaceful mood.
Max Dixon-Murdock, 12
Vancouver Monthly Meeting, Canadian Yearly, Meeting (FGC-FUM)
I used to ride to “quiet meeting” on the back of my dad’s bike. I would sit in the corner with felt-tips and Dot-to-Dot books trying to colour between the lines and not make too much noise. Later, I remember wriggling and fidgeting on the laps of friendly strangers, studying the facial expressions in the practically silent circle.
I wonder how much time I spent in that circle over the following years, in the ten minutes before creeping out to read, shout, sing, and draw in Children’s Programme. I spent that time making faces at the other kids, watching the ducks out the window, counting different types of shoes, reading books from the library trolley, asking forgiveness for having snuck a spoonful of Nutella, listening really hard to see if God would talk to me…
I still remember the pride I felt the first time that I sat through a whole meeting, how nervous I was the first time that I gave a reading.
Now, after ten years of meetings, I realise how much I;ve changes. I still know how many beams there are across the meeting house ceiling and how many bars on the window, but I could no longer tell you the ratio of shoes to sandals or how many people had their eyes shut lst Sunday.
I’ve been to quite a few discussions about how different people spend their time in meeting for worship, been given suggestions and things to try, but those ten minutes I have twice a month are different every time. I listen to and reflect on the readings and ministry. I breathe deeply. I admire the beautiful world out the window. I give thanks for the people who are present and think of those who are not. I try to clear my mind of daily worries. I try to focus on my feelings. Sometimes I just stare at the ticking clock waiting for it to be over. I’ve felt enlightened, relaxed, happy. I’ve made resolutions. I’ve come to feel a sense of peace. But I wouldn’t claim to ever have cleared my mind completely or to have heard the Inner Voice.
Watching the younger children in the meeting as they wriggle and whisper, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come...and how far I have to go.
Keava McKeogh, 16
Waikato-Hauraki Meeting, Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa/New Zealand New Zealand
Video Book: The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle
After you watch the story with children, ask these questions and discuss:
What was the very quiet cricket doing in this story?
How did the very quiet cricket feel?
How would you feel if you couldn't make any noise?
Was it good, bad, or both that the very quiet cricket couldn't make a sound? How do you know?
Have you ever felt like you wanted to say something, but couldn't? Tell us about it.
Is it good to be quiet? When? Why?
Is it good to speak up? When? Why?
For this activity you need a device to play this video (only the sound is needed for your group.)
Print this worksheet if you want children to write or draw the sounds they hear. The worksheet also has questions for discussion.
Tell your group that you will think about listening in this activity.
Open the discussion by asking children what they do in meeting for worship.
Share this video with your group. They only need to hear the sounds. Children can share what they think each sound is after each part. Then tell them what each sound is. Allow for brief reactions and discussion.
After all the sounds have played ask some questions for discussion:
What did you have to do in order to figure out the sound?
Was it always easy to figure out what each sound was?
Did you get all the sounds right? Why or why not? What could have helped you?
What do you need in order to guess the sound correctly?
What does this tell us about silence and expectant waiting in meeting for worship?