Category Archives: Resource Reviews
Article Review: ‘I saw the universe and I saw the world’: Exploring Spiritual Literacy with Young Children in a Primary Classroom by Marni J. Binder
Over the last two quarters in various classes, I have been exploring the idea of holistic education and how to broaden our understanding of education to engage the inner life of students. While there are a lot of great books providing the philosophies that may guide such an approach, it is difficult to know how to follow that philosophy with good practice. In this article Marni J. Binder writes the story about how she promotes spiritual literacy in her classroom.
Binder begins by exploring what she means by spiritual literacy and why it is important. She relies on research in children’s spirituality coupled with the concept of holistic education. In the introduction Binder provides a comprehensive theoretical framework to guide the remainder of the paper, which focuses on spiritual literacy practices she uses in the classroom. In her classroom each week the children engage in a visualization session. The children are given something to focus on and then provided the space to reflect on it through journaling, drawing, and silence. They then dialogue about the session. She tells fascinating stories of how the children respond to these visualization sessions. Binder then goes on to describe the concept of mindful spaces, and how mindful spaces are interwoven into various aspects of the daily curriculum.
The examples Binder shares about how to use spiritual literacy are valuable. Even more valuable is the narrative she provides about experiences she has with children through visualization sessions and mindful spaces, and the way she approaches children with a level of respect and dignity that honors the work they do in those spaces.
This article is great for teachers, particularly teachers of primary grades, who are interested in providing a space in the classroom and curriculum to engage the inner lives of children. Those interested in knowing more about how children respond to practices like visualization sessions and mindful spaces, like parents, grandparents, caregivers, children’s ministry directors, can really learn a lot from this article.
Binder, M. J. (2011). ‘I saw the universe and I saw the world’: exploring spiritual literacy with young children in a primary classroom. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality,16(1), 19-35.
I was first introduced to Parker Palmer when The Courage to Teach was assigned in one of my classes at Trinity Lutheran College. I don’t think I was in the right place in life to be able to truly appreciate his work. Now over eight years later, I am continually inspired when I read his writing. To Know as We Are Known does not disappoint.
Palmer begins the book with a call to see the world through two-eyed lenses. We often live one-eyed lives or lives seen primarily through the mind’s eye. He writes the mind’s eye sees a world that is a “cold and mechanical place” (p. xxviii). But when we open the second eye, the eye of the heart we see a “world warmed and transformed by the power of love” (p. xxvii). The book is designed to help readers broaden their perspective from the one-eyed view that pervades education to a two-eyed vision of the world.
Palmer uses various analogies to describe what he means by the term “spirituality.” He challenges conventional process of education and contemporary views of knowing and truth. In developing the ideas of truth and knowledge he brings in scripture, words from Jesus, dessert fathers and mothers, and other spiritual and theological leaders from different faith traditions.
He presents three characteristics that create a learning space; openness, boundaries, and an air of hospitality. He defines obedience as being able to “listen with a discerning ear and respond faithfully to the personal implications of what one has heard” (p. 89) Through obedience one is responsible for listening to one another and to the subject. The seeking of truth is a communal process. Palmer advocates for a classroom where learning happens by “interacting with the world, not by viewing it from afar” (p. 35). In this model, learners are responsible for critically thinking about their own learning and understanding of the world, but also accountable to the community of learners and the subject. He gives several examples including adding silence to the classroom, inviting students to introduce themselves and collectively evaluate the class, requiring groups to work together and collaborate, contemplative reading, and lectures designed to make students think versus just absorb information.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in education. As a children’s ministry director the book challenged me to think deeply about how the current paradigm in children’s ministry that is focused on fact and a way of knowing that enables us to control the world can shift toward a paradigm of knowing that empowers us to be co-creators in the world. I plan on encouraging my Sunday school teachers next year to read and discuss this book throughout the year. I believe it provides a level of depth into the subject of holistic education , that goes beyond many typical books on children’s ministry, but can provide important insight.
As Steven Glazer describes, The Heart of Learning shows us how education can “serve as the core for a lifelong journey towards wholeness, rather than merely an accumulation of facts, figures, or skills” (p. 1) The book is written to challenge current educational trends that ignore the spirituality of students, and offer insight on why and how to incorporate practices that support the inner development of students. The four objectives for the book are to: “1) establish the understanding that true learning requires openness to the unknown, to mystery; 2) establish awareness and wholeness as important, necessary goals of education; 3) help people understand learning as a process of transformational growth that requires…dynamic interpersonal (and interactive) work; and 4) offer tools, information, and resources to make spirituality in education a viable, rewarding approach” (pp. 4-5).
The book is divided into four sections Sacredness, Identity, Relationship and Community, and Tradition and Innovation. Each section is divided into several chapters written by teachers and spiritual leaders.
While the introduction from Glazer is inspiring, the book as a whole didn’t rise to the same level of inspiration. In the midst of articles charged with political or religious rhetoric, there were some gems. The first two chapters were among my favorites. One chapter worth noting is written by Parker Palmer. He provides guidance for reclaiming the sacred in education. He offers the simple definition that “The sacred is that which is worthy of respect” (p. 17). Through examples of his own experience in academia Palmer provides an invitation to journey toward reclaiming the sacred in education. I feel as thought every time I read something new from Parker Palmer, I think it is my favorite. It might be that this chapter was particularly fitting in my life because of my experience the world of academia, but I think if anything, this chapter is worth reading.
Other notable chapters include Rachel Naomi Remen’s “Educating for Mission” where she discusses her quest to bring spirituality into the School of Medicine at the University of California. David Orr writes about bringing the sacred into education through environment and buildings that promote wholeness and shares a story of working with a group of students in developing a sustainable learning environment.
If your particular focus is working with children in a Christian church, I don’t recommend this as a book to run out and buy. If you are an educator interested in diving deeper into topics around spirituality in education and how to foster spirituality apart from religion, this is a book worth picking up. Due to the wide range of opinions and ideas expressed in the book, I imagine you will have a similar reaction to the chapters that I did; some will resonate with you while others may frustrate you. However, in general the authors combined provide a thought-provoking look at spirituality in education.
The Spiritual Life of Children
By Robert Coles
Robert Coles and his work with children, particularly in the realm of spirituality is often quoted in books about children’s ministry. However, it wasn’t until recently that I decided to pick up the book and actually read the research directly from his book. I am so glad I finally did. It was well worth the read and a book I should have read long ago.
Cole’s research with 500 children, ages six through twelve, from all over the world is a seminal study in the field of spirituality and children. It is clear that his work has been influential on subsequent studies addressing children and spirituality.
Cole’s calls this book “my stories of the stories [the children] kindly gave me” (p. 39). He explains that his research is all about learning from the children. “Each child becomes an authority, and all the meetings become occasions for a teacher- the child- to offer, gradually, a lesson” (p. 27).
Throughout this book the reader is taken on a journey through a beautifully written narrative where children express their joys, concerns, questions, struggles and ideas around issues of faith, religion, God, and morality. He divides the book into chapters that represent overarching themes that came through in his conversations with the children. Some of them are broad categories like “philosophical reflections” and “visionary moments” while others are from a particular religious background including “Christian salvation”, “Islamic surrender” and “secular soul-searching”.
While the intimate glimpse into the spiritual lives of the children Coles’writes about is certainly an important part of the book, I think an underrepresented gem of the work is the commentary Coles provides about his personal thoughts and feelings as he sits with these children. What is unique to Coles’ writing is that not only does he document dialogue he has with and among children, but we get to hear his own thoughts. He provides the reader with insight into his own personal struggling and wrestling. He offers an inspiriting yet humble approach to the delicate task of bringing out the inner lives of children without influencing the conversation too much. It is also clear that the children cause him to recall and revisit times in his own life where he wrestled with issues of faith, religion, morality, and God.
If you are looking for a list of qualities that make of children’s spirituality or a practical guide to nurturing children’s spirituality, this isn’t the book for you. However, I think this is an important foundational book for anyone interested in to the topic of children’s spirituality. It will help inform and guide the way you read other books on the subject, and the way you approach spirituality with children.