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Preschool teacher sees beginnings of spirituality in children's awe

Observing children abandon their faith as they grew older inspired Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church member and Montessori instructor, Elizabeth White, to write a book about nurturing spirituality in children.

Elizabeth White
Elizabeth White

A mother of three and grandmother of two, she also draws from experience as an educator and creator of a Sunday school curriculum for children.
Elizabeth knows that a child’s beginning spirituality is often based on everyday experiences. 

She has observed children filled with awe as they witnessed nature and the beauty of the world.

Reared in Spokane by a Methodist mother and Episcopalian father, Elizabeth searched different faiths in her early teens.  She visited many churches in her searching years.

While attending nurses training in Spokane, she was invited by a roommate to an Orthodox Church and began to attend.

When her husband, Carl, died in 1972, the priest reached out to her with compassion.  She had found her church home.

After her husband’s death, Elizabeth, then a single mother with three boys, returned to college and changed her focus to education, operating a day care for seven years. Her two youngest children had attended a Montessori school, and she loved the method. 

There was no local training for it, and it was not feasible for her to relocate.

Shortly after selling her day-care business she saw an ad about a Seattle program offering training.  She and several local Montessori teachers brought a trainer from Seattle one weekend a month to conduct classes in Spokane.  

Twenty years of Montessori teaching have prepared Elizabeth for the position she now holds, director of the Spokane Montessori School, 9009 N. Wall St.

The similarities within her understanding of the Orthodox tradition—with its rich liturgical worship, savoring of sensory experiences of sight, sound, smell and feeling—and the Montessori program’s emphasis on the same elements blend into Elizabeth’s book, Walking in Wonder. 

Completed recently, it was accepted for publication by Conciliar Press and was available at bookstores in November 2004.

The book focuses on aspects of spirituality not usually recognized in religious education.

Elizabeth believes children are capable of stillness and watchfulness and have a capacity to grasp religious concepts.

“In many ways children are closer to God than adults,” she said.

Elizabeth writes: “Children enjoy a natural, spontaneous relationship with God and do not entertain the doubts that creep into adult thinking.  The spark of divine grace given at baptism is waiting to burst into full flame.

“If we consider all of life as sacred, all of life as a spiritual journey, then every moment assumes supreme importance.  Each act, thought and word offers an opportunity to step forward toward God.

“Look for beauty all around you,” Elizabeth advises. “It might be found in the water drops on a sidewalk after a rain or in a spider’s web.”

“Walking in wonder is opening our hearts to God.  Children do not need to be taught how to wonder, they only need opportunities to walk in its path.  Wonder is an attitude of life moving a child toward faith,” she said.

The book gives parents and caregivers’ techniques to help children develop stillness. 

Elizabeth believes quiet is a natural state for children and our culture’s constant noise and stimulation inhibits their movement toward spirituality.  She has learned that children will seek out nooks and crannies where they can be alone and collect their thoughts.

“Holiness is a gift of God,” she said.  “Children learn to obey God most naturally in their warm relationship with adults.”

One chapter on obedience provides principles for positive discipline allowing a child to develop self-control and responsibility.

Compassion can also be encouraged and supported by simple acts. 
Children can role-play the expression of feelings with dolls or puppets.  They can also play family games involving kindness or help for others, and they can share stories of compassion.

Elizabeth writes that “the wise parent plants seeds that will nurture a continual, growing awareness of our individual roles in the family, the community, the work of the church and all of creation.

She believes that the child who will be compassionate will understand his or her “authentic self as a Christ-like child of God” in God’s everlasting Kingdom; that God’s love dwells inside each child, and that the child’s actions can help meet the need of others.

The child will not “be a self-centered person who demands the immediate satisfaction of every whim without thought of anyone else, but one who cares and shares from the heart,” Elizabeth said.

“Children who have had at least three years of Montessori are more independent learners.  They seem to be more excited about finding out things.  When they are in their teens, they aren’t as likely to succumb to peer pressure.  I have been teaching long enough to see some of my first students become young adults. They seem to be more mature and responsible than many other people their age,” she said.

Elizabeth found writing the book to be a personal journey in her faith walk.
“I struggled at times to cultivate the stillness required to write. I received much help from God’s Spirit and could not have done it on my own,” she said. “There were times I looked back in amazement at what I had written, and couldn’t believe I had written it.”

Walking in Wonder can help parents, teachers and caregivers provide an environment that nurtures a child’s spiritual attitudes toward self, others, the world and Christ, Elizabeth said,

“I hope it will help parents and caregivers be more thoughtful and aware of the little experiences that affect children in large and meaningful ways,” she said.

For information call 328-4344.

Copyright © February 2005 - The Fig Tree