What They Give Us: Young Children and Hope
Before we teach a class, we prepare our minds to give information to children. We ready our hearts to share our spirituality. We organize the classroom by mixing paints, finding books, setting out crayons and scissors. We do all this to give of our minds, our hearts and our creativity to the children.

This is right and good. However, all relationships include the elements of give and take. Little children do not come to us as empty vessels. They are full of life and they bring something to us as well.

That ‘something’ is an intangible we call hope. It is hard not to feel hopeful in the company of preschoolers! The light in their eyes, the quickness of their movements and the words of their sincere prayers all lift the hearts of adults.

For adults, though, hope is not so easily maintained. We get mired in concerns about time and schedules, government and world events, money and bills to pay. We face challenges and difficulties that dash our hopes.

As teachers of young children, we can look to these children to renew our sense of hope. When the children are with us, we feel it. What is it they have that we can learn? What makes young children hopeful?
  • They believe that life is basically good. Unless they have experienced significant trauma, most children expect goodness to come their way. When you feel hopeless, look for goodness.
  • Children are new to the world. Everything they experience is novel and therefore interesting. Listen for something new each day. Think about something you know but approach it from a different perspective.
  • This newness leads children to be open to learning new information, new skills, new personal strengths. Do something that does not come naturally to you, whether it is to take a class, eat sushi, jog around the block, or listen to language tapes.
  • Children are ready to be silly at a moment’s notice. Life is often absurd, and preschoolers don’t ignore it, get embarrassed or angry about that. They laugh. They go along with it and get silly. Then they laugh some more. Anyone who is laughing has some hope. Get silly.
  • And they are open to love—God’s love, their families’ love, a teacher’s love. Open your heart. This leads to the words of Italian architect, scholar and Domincan brother, Fra Giovanni, who wrote in 1513: “No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven.  No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace.  The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet, within our reach, is joy. Take joy.”
A Witness to a Child’s Faith
As someone who works with very young, you have been given a wonderful gift: you will be witness to some of the children’s first conscious encounters with Jesus!

The children have already been touched by God’s love, and some may be familiar with Jesus through the nativity story or family prayers. But it is your task (and blessing) to help them begin to recognize Jesus in their lives. This can be a joyful task, for preschoolers are often little mystics. They are more open and accepting of matters of faith than adults who are more cerebral!

Building a foundation for faith:  Faith in Jesus is founded on love, trust, and some understanding of Jesus when he lived on earth.

Help them identify with the Child Jesus: While we have few scripture stories of his childhood (when children would most easily identify with Jesus), you can surmise certain aspects because they are logical or historically accurate. When you can’t confirm something in scriptures, use the words, “might have”, “probably”, and “maybe” to indicate you don’t know for certain.

Suggestions:
  • Jesus was a little child at one time, just like you.
  • Mary and Joseph worked to give Jesus food. Some of the foods he may have eaten are bread, fish, lamb, cucumbers and grapes.
  • Jesus probably saw animals when he was a child: sheep, dogs, camels, chickens and donkeys.
  • Jesus probably went to school.
  • Jesus learned to read.
  • Mary and Joseph probably prayed with him and told him stories from scripture.
  • Maybe Jesus played games with other children.
  • Maybe Jesus fell down and hurt his knees.
  • Maybe he picked flowers and watched birds.

Meeting Jesus through scripture: Of course, also use scripture .A good children’s bible will be helpful here. To encourage children to develop an understanding of Jesus living on earth, here are some scripture suggestions:
  • The child Jesus in the temple (see Luke 2)
  • Jesus stills the storm (see Matt 8, Mark 4, Luke 8)
  • The miracle of the loaves and fishes (see Matt 14, Mark 6, Luke 9)
  • Jesus visits his friends Mary and Martha (see Luke 10)
  • Bartimaeus (see Mark 10)
Scriptures that help children feel Jesus’ love and to develop a sense of trust in Jesus:
  • Good Shepherd (Luke 15)
  • Jesus and the Children (Matt 19, Mark 10, Luke 18)
Prayer: When you pray with the children, begin your prayer with phrases such as:
  • Dear Jesus, our special friend
  • Jesus, our loving brother
  • Dear Jesus, who loves us so much
  • Jesus, who watches over us and listens to us

Visual images: Use posters such as Jesus with the children or other scenes that convey Jesus’ warmth and approachability. Give children holy cards with similar images. Displaying a statue of a loving Jesus would also be helpful.

Playtime:  Preschoolers learn best through play. Encourage them to use props to play the scripture stories of Jesus.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit
In preparing yourself and your little students for the new school year, go right to the greatest source of inspiration: the Holy Spirit.
Pray that the Holy Spirit helps you reach the minds and hearts of the children.
Then prepare a little ritual and art project to help the children come to feel the Holy Spirit too!

Materials needed:
For prayer:
  • Small table
  • Candle and candle holder, matches
For the project:
  • Red felt or construction paper
  • Orange felt or construction paper
  • The patterns provided below
  • Scissors
  • Glue if using felt, glue stick if using construction paper
  • Wet cloth for wiping sticky fingers in using glue
Before class, cut out a heart shape for each child based on the pattern, one for each child. Do the same with the flame shapes.

Gather the children into a circle around a small table which holds the candle.  Explain that the Spirit of God is with us, helping us learn, listen, make friends and pray. Tell them that while we can’t see the Spirit, we can use a sign that helps us think of this Holy Spirit. A good sign is a little flame of fire.

Light the candle. Take a few seconds of silence. Then lead children in a simple prayer to the Holy Spirit, such as:
Dear Spirit of God, warm our hearts so we feel your love. Help us know you are  with us, helping us learn and love each other. Amen.
Then suggest children make their own sign of the Holy Spirit that they can always keep in a pocket, backpack, near their beds, etc.
Give them the materials listed above and help them attach the flame to the center of the heart.
Click here and here to get the images.