If you have ever had conversations with children, you may notice that they are often very excited about themselves – the things they’re doing and what they’ve accomplished. Even when they are a bit shy, you can often get them to open up by discussing something that centers around them. This is normal (healthy, even) to expect from children. You will see this tendency in adolescence, and arguably, through adulthood as well, though adults get better at hiding it.
I have done a lot of interacting with children as Religious Education Board Chair, and I kept two goals in mind when conversing directly with a child or leading circle time. First, I affirm the worth that the children intuit about themselves. This may mean showing interest in their new outfit, their birthday plans, or the picture they just drew, in a way that communicates “I value you, and your presence at BuxMont.”
The second, very important part is to gently encourage them to open their eyes and turn their heads to see their neighbor as well. In Pre-K, this is as basic as helping them to recognize that someone else would like a turn with a toy. In elementary-age groups, it is about listening and remembering the Joys and Sorrows of others as well as their own. (I even make a game of it, to see who can best remember the Joys or Sorrows of the group.) In classes like OWL, Coming of Age or Youth Group, it is exposing them to the challenges of those in the wider world.
To me, this is a central part if not the core of Religious Education. Regardless of one’s defined belief system, the purpose of coming together is to pull us outside of ourselves, to see other people, and the way in which our importance and value is connected to theirs. This learning starts very young, and continues throughout our lifetimes.
– Barbara Preuninger