Children often lead rich spiritual lives and are curious about faith, prayer, caring for each other and the world, and connecting with That Which is Eternal. Adults offer children a powerful gift when we invite them to explore their spirituality in an open and creative environment. The Spiritual Deepening Program provides resources and activities that speak to the experiences and the questions that fill children’s lives.
Using Picture Books for Spiritual Deepening with Children (and Adults!)
Many of the Spiritual Deepening activities for children are much more than reading a book to children and wondering about it together. These exercises involve building the circle of children and adult(s), sharing about their lives (plusses and minuses or “roses and thorns’), centering together through song and/or breathing, sharing and wondering about a book together, doing an activity to respond and reflect on the book, and closing the time together.
Book 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.
Using Wondering Questions with Children and Adults
Questions that begin with “I wonder. . .” give us opportunities to reflect upon a story, how it relates to us and our lives, and to the presence of the Spirit. Learning to listen and reflect with awe and openness to continue revelation is part of our Quaker practice, and for children can begin with their experience of stories.
Wondering questions are appropriate for all ages, as well as being:
- open-ended; open to multiple interpretations or meanings,
- avenues to feelings and not just recall of facts or “the moral of the story,”
- helpful in bringing the story to the life of the child (“I wonder where you are in the story?”),
- experiential, not dogmatic,
- helpful in allowing the adult to be authentic in wondering how a story affects a child instead of wanting to know what the child remembers.
It is not only the questions that open listeners to discovery; it is how the questions are asked and how they are responded to. By listening respectfully to every response given and by repeating the essence of the response from the child while touching with reverence and gratitude the component parts of the story to illustrate it, the storyteller conveys acceptance and appreciation for all responses. The storyteller helps open the child to reflection and wonder as a spiritual practice. See Sparkling Still pages viii-xi to learn more about how to use wondering questions with children and stories.
Four core questions often used in Godly Play and Faith & Play stories are:
- I wonder which part of the story you like best?
- I wonder which part of the story is the most important part (to you today)?
- I wonder where you are in this story, or what part of the story is about you?
- I wonder if there is any part of this story we could leave out and still have all the story we need? 
Wondering questions are meant to help the child expand and discover the Spirit working in the lives of the characters in a Bible story, contemporary story, fictional story… and in the lives of the children and adults sharing the story. We invite you to discover this way of experiencing the Spirit.
Planning Intergenerational Activities
The Spiritual Deepening library contains many exercises that are appropriate for All Ages. These activities offer opportunities to build intergenerational connections by bringing adults and young people together for mutual learning. As you consider planning intergenerational activities as part of your meeting’s Spiritual Deepening experience, there are several possibilities to explore:
- A Spiritual Deepening small group of adults may schedule a time when the whole meeting, including children and teens, can come together for a Spiritual Deepening exercise. Making a Listening Mural and Wandering in the Wilderness are good options to consider.
- The adults may coordinate with the First Day School (children’s program) teachers to explore the same Spiritual Deepening topic over the same time period. For example, each group may separately focus on The Light, Seed, Christ Working In Us for four sessions and come together for the fifth session to share an All Ages activity. The adults and children can share together what they’ve done and what they’ve learned about the topic.
- The children may invite the adults in the meeting to read a picture book with them and use wondering questions to share with each other their spiritual stories. This may work especially well after the children have already read the book and discussed it together. Start with Forgiveness Garden or Places of Power, or any of the books listed in the Grounding for Children sections.
Games for Building Community
Greeting with Movement
Can’t Let Go
Circle up. Shake someone’s hand with a verbal greeting like, “Good morning, Friend.” You can’t let go of that hand until you’ve shaken another person’s hand and verbally greeted them. Keep going until you’ve greeted everyone.
Gathering Games with Body Movement
Keep it Up
Purpose: Move and have fun
Time: 10 -15 minutes
Materials: One, two, or three balloons
Circle up. One balloon goes into the circle. Participants must keep it afloat. No hands but can use heads, knees, elbows, etc. No talking. Facilitator can add one or two more balloons.
A Big Wind Blows
Purpose: Explore our commonalities
Time: 10 -20 minutes
Materials: A circle of chairs with one fewer chair than participants
How to play: Everyone sits (or stands) in a circle with clearly demarcated spaces (chairs or floor markers, but there must be one less than the total number of participants). One person starts in the center. The person in the center says, “A Big Wind BLows for everyone who…” and inserts a statement that is true for them, and may also be true for others in the room. For example, someone might say, “A Big Wind Blows for everyone who has visited a country outside of the United States.” Everyone for whom the statement is true gets up and tries to find another space in the circle along with the person who made the statement. There will be one person without a seat who then moves to the center.
Consider having a rule that no one can move to the seat directly to their right or left because that’s too easy. If a person repeatedly ends up in the center, consider being “slow” to let that person get to a seat so you take a turn in the center.
Statements from the center can be simple like, “A Big Wind Blows for everyone wearing blue, sneakers, long sleeves. Or likes soccer, plays tennis, plays an instrument…” Some statements should apply to everyone, “A Big Wind Blows for everyone that’s participating in this workshop.”
Purpose: To build community by contributing to the group’s creation
Time: 10-15 minutes
How to play: One person begins by standing up and walking to the middle of the circle. They put themselves in a position (like arm in the air, leg out, neck titled) and begin to make a movement. It can be a full body movement or just one arm swinging back and forth. They add a sound to the movement (like, boom, beep, pop, etc) The person continues to make the same movement and say the same sound. When another person is ready, they walk over and stand or sit next to the first person and connect to them in some way (they could touch toes, or stand in back of the person). Wherever they chose to place themselves, they begin making another movement and saying a new sound. This continues until everyone is part of the “human machine.” As each person adds another movement and sound, you create a human machine together.
Purpose: To move and get to know each other
Time: 5-10 minutes
Circle up. A person mimes an activity and says, “Let’s all (fill in the blank) (brush our teeth.)” Participants in the circle all repeat that and the next person says, “Let’s all (fill in the blank) (wash dishes.)” Continue until everyone has had a turn.
Gathering Games without Body Movement
Purpose: To bring the group together by making as long a word as possible
Time: 5 minutes
How to play: The group sits in a circle. One person begins by saying a letter (example, F). The person to their left thinks of a word that begins with the letter F (but does not tell the group what the word is) and says the second letter in that word (example; If the word their thinking of is FIRST, then the second letter is I). The next person has to think of a word that begins with FI and then they say a third letter that builds a real word. Continue to move clockwise around the circle with the goal of spelling a real word, each person contributing one letter.
You must have a real word in mind when you add a letter. If someone in the game thinks you don’t have a real word in mind, they can challenge you. If you can’t say a word, then you get the letter G (for Ghost) and the round is over. The next time you get challenged and you don’t have a real word in mind, you get the letter H (for gHost). You lose if you get all the letters to GHOST. You also get a letter for finishing a word. (If the word you have in mind is DOG and you’re the third person and say the letter G). However, in this example, if you have the word DOGGY in mind, the game keeps going unless the person next to you challenges you because they don’t believe you have a longer word in mind. If they challenge you and you DO have a word in mind, then THEY get a letter from the word GHOST.
The game ends when someone gets all the letters to the word GHOST.
Additional Resources for Spiritual Deepening with Children
The art of teaching lies not so much in imparting facts and stories to children, but in offering them the opportunity to explore their own unique ideas and perspectives in a safe and nurturing environment. This is nowhere more true than in a First Day School setting where children are introduced to spiritual ideas and given the freedom to express and wonder about the sacred and the divine, and about life. Sparkling Stilloffers new and experienced First Day School teachers a framework and ideas on sharing these tender and mysterious concepts with children ages 3 to 8 through children’s picture books.
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.
Sparkling Still is available from QuakerBooks of FGC.
Faith & Play™
Faith & Play™ stories are the Quaker extension of Godly Play®, a religious education curriculum written primarily for children ages 3-13. Friends have found that they are also “wonder-full” story experiences for adults and multigenerational groups. The stories and wondering together about them offer opportunities to build spiritual community and deepen our experience of Quaker faith, practice and witness. Storytellers use three-dimensional materials, so that both language and images are offered, drawing in the listener in profound ways.
Friends interested in using Faith & Play™️ or Godly Play®️ stories as religious education resources should be aware that there is a particular method of storytelling and supporting children’s spiritual lives that these stories employ. More information about Faith & Play and Godly Play for Friends, including training opportunities, can be found on the website: https://quakerfaithandplay.org Faith & Play stories use a particular method of storytelling for supporting children’s spiritual lives, and work best when storytellers have participated in “Playing in the Light” training offered by Faith & Play Stories, Inc. with Godly Play/Faith & Play trainers.
Faith & Play was created by Friends trained to use Godly Play®, a storytelling curriculum for exploring Bible stories, authored by Jerome Berryman.
Quaker Religious Education Collaborative
The Quaker Religious Education Collaborative is is a grassroots network of Friends holding a sense of stewardship for life-long Quaker faith formation through religious education. The QREC Resource Library is a forum for curricula, articles, videos and other educational materials on Quaker themes. You will also find principles, policies and procedures to strengthen operation of your child, youth and adult religious education programs.
Many children’s books are freely available on YouTube. Often the book is read as if it were being read aloud to children. Many of the Spiritual Deepening activities and readings for children include links to videos of books being read. We know that not all of the recommended books are available in many local libraries and some older books are not readily available anymore. We also recorded videos of some of our own favorite books so that Friends will be able to use the Spiritual Deepening lessons without being prohibited by the cost of buying books or the challenge of tracking down older selections.
Lighting Candles in the Dark, Marnie Clark, Elinor Briggs, Carol Passmore, editors. FGC, (2001)
Lives That Speak: Stories of Twentieth-Century Quakers, edited by Marnie Clark, FGC (2004), Stories appropriate for Middle, High School, and Adults.
Opening Doors to Quaker Religious Education, Mary Snyder. Available through Quaker Books
 Jerome W. Berryman, The Complete Guide to Godly Play, Volume 1, (Denver CO: Morehouse Education Resources, 2002, 2005), 15-16.