My Hopes for First Day School
My basic hope for FDS is that it will enable our children to know enough about their own spiritual lives and about being Quakers that they will want to and be able to choose to be Quakers.
I've written a few things about this topic before. See What do you want out of First Day School? and Middle School Affirmations from 2010. I didn't have a blog back when I was clerk of the CRE committee of my previous Meeting or there would be posts on the same topic from 2001-2004, mostly dealing with religious education for preschoolers. But you can see one of my earliest forays into the blogging community dealt with this, as a response to Martin Kelley's 2003 post about religious education for children.
In the earliest years, I think it's enough that our children just want to be with other people they know at meeting. When my son went to preschool for the first time at the age of three, I was astounded at what they can learn at that age. Reading books, singing songs, making art, playing games with Friends - all good.
I think it's not developmentally appropriate for children under the age of maybe eight to be expected to sit still and silent for an hour. I wouldn't want them to do it very often in school or in meeting for worship. It can be done, and sometimes my kids did it. But mostly, I think young children need to walk in nature and experiment with different postures for sitting and have prayers spoken out loud for them. Then they can take their experience of the Divine with them into Meeting for Worship.
In the elementary school years, I hope they learn basic techniques to settle their bodies and center their minds and some awareness that there is something transcendent happening in worship and some language/vocabulary to start to talk about it. I hope that they will learn enough Quaker stories and enough Bible stories that they know they are part of a longer history. I hope they will have opportunities to serve the meeting community - like setting up for hospitality after meeting or special events. I hope the children in my meeting can attend Junior Interim Meeting together. I don't think that children's religious education has to happen at the same time as meeting for worship, but it has to happen some time.
In middle school, I hope they have opportunities to experience longer periods of unprogrammed worship in different settings (like outside on the grass, or while biking in the Wissahickon park, or sitting on pillows upstairs or as a group in the meetingroom), and they learn about worship sharing and Quaker decision-making. I hope that they learn about other religions and about how to become a member of our meeting. I hope they do service projects in the community, and talk about Quaker responses to current events, and have some time to just do silly fun things together. I hope they can attend the yearly meeting's middle school Friends retreats.
I hope that kids are actively encouraged to apply for membership at around 8th-9th grade, not just by their families, but by the meeting.
In high school, I hope that they attend meeting for worship and adult religious education programs and service projects and both family-based and teen-focused social events. I think it is good for the meeting to expect teens to participate and to prepare for their attendance and participation in meeting-wide events. I think it is good for teens to go to visit other meetings, near and far, for worship and activities with teens at those meetings, and to welcome visiting groups at our meeting.
I used to say that my ulterior motive for organizing children's programs at meeting (and Quarterly, Yearly Meeting, etc) was to be sure there were enough young Friends when my kids grew up that they could marry one. Not that they have to, but I wanted them to have the option. The other reason that good programs are important to me was because I want to go to all these Quaker events, and my kids have to go with me, and it behooves me to be sure that there is something worthwhile for them there. I have lots more to say, but I think this is enough for one blog post.
For more recent writing about children as Quakers, see Kathleen Karhnak-Glasby's article in Friends Journal magazine, Wess Daniel's blog post, and Chris Mohr's blog post.
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