Which events does your family celebrate in April? Passover? Easter? Earth Day? How about all three? What is the best way to celebrate these events with children? There are many answers to that question that are key to who you are and what you believe. If a step is taken back to look at these celebrations from a more global perspective, it may become more clear that they are not so different, and that everyone can celebrate the underlying philosophy of each.
As always, the best way to reach through the minds and hearts of children are through meaningful stories and songs that reach deeper than the surface icons and symbolism. Never underestimate the ability of a child to gain insight into the deeper meanings and the roles they play in our lives, even if they don’t fully understand all of the abstract concepts. Stories help us make abstract concepts more concrete – something with which they can relate. But it is up to us to cut to the heart of what each celebration really means to us, and how to share it with children.
At the heart of these Spring celebrations, we may find that:
- Passover is a celebration of freedom to live and act within our moral beliefs, and recognition of the struggles required to achieve and keep it.
- Easter is celebration of rebirth, and recognition of the opportunity to start now to blossom and grow in beauty and truth.
- Earth day is celebration of the wondrous planet on which we live, and recognition of our part in preserving it.
- ALL provide an opportunity to teach the need, and a way for peace, within our own soul, within our family, within our community, and within our world.
Each of these celebrations offer an opportunity to tell our children the stories that help ground us in our values and beliefs, to celebrate the opportunities we have, and to renew our faith and commitment that we can make a difference. I really like the discussion by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield in his April 14, 2014 article on the Fox News website, “Fourteen things to know for Passover 2014”, and it also seems to include the message behind Earth Day.
“How are Passover and Easter related?
“While the tradition of calculating the date of Easter based on the date of Passover ended many centuries ago, the holidays share some very deep truths of which all people can avail themselves. Who doesn’t need to be reminded that however dark life may be, that however cold and lifeless the winter has been, the promise of spring, and the possibility of rebirth and renewal is always there?
Whether discovered in the story of a nation making the journey from Abraham’s early successes to the Israelites’ slavery and subsequent redemption, or in the story of one who lives, dies and is born again, we must all celebrate that life holds more possibility and potential than we first imagine — that there is reason for hope, and that in celebrating triumphs of hope from the past, we can unleash new stories of hope in the present and in the future.”
Each family may have different stories that teach these philosophies and values, many of which come from a religious background. These stories and rituals are designed by people of these faiths to teach. The more global view of these events allows us to use these same stories to teach philosophies that are consistent with a good life, regardless of specific religious preference. It is also awesome to reach out to find fabulous resources that are not necessarily part of a religion.
Stories, songs, and heartfelt music, from each of these celebrations, allow for the growth of our spirit, our sense of self, and our sense of belonging. With that said, the full meaning is not shared just by reading the story or singing the words to the song. It is the discussions before and after, as well as possibly during, that expand what a child continues to think about and how it is stored in their hearts and minds.
The warm feelings of being together while sharing stories, songs, and listening to music have an incredible impact on the importance the child places on what is being presented. I personally cherish the times that my Grandmother read to me, and the many long hours I have spent reading to and with my children. My grandmother read and provided me with many fairy tales, and folk tales from around the world through an set of Children’s Encyclopedias. There were some engaging discussions, as we spent time together, making dinner, or brownies, or going for long walks as we talked about each story, with her asking me questions to get to the heart of the story, and me asking questions – sometimes silly, which would make her giggle, or sometimes off the point, or sometimes that led to further and deeper meanings – all of which she gladly participated.
I have tried to do the same with my children, although many of our stories and discussion happen right before bed, which sometimes means we got to bed a little late. It is amazing how children can become so smart and talkative around that time. Although sometimes I found that many children’s books are fairly superficial, without a lot of depth. Where could I find stories for children that come from our history, from all walks of life, that will help me start conversations with children about the personal values that we hold to be the essence of a good life?
When I found “The Book Of Virtues” by William J. Bennett, I knew this was a great place to start. The book includes nursery rhymes, fables, and stories from the philosophers (Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle), from the bible, from other religions, from cultural folk tales from around the world, and organizes them by chapter according to the type of Virtue they teach. Each has a little blurb that introduces the virtue and how it relates to the stories, which makes a great start for a conversation after the story. Each chapter starts with the shorter stories, poems, and root of the value, then progressing to longer and more complex stories and aspects of the base value.
The full Book of Virtues is an 800 page anthology, which is great for older children (perhaps as young as 8 years old), but does not hold the interest of young children for long. So it was with great joy that I found my first copy of The Children’s Book of Virtues, with delightful illustrations by Michael Hague for my children when they were younger. There are more poems, short stories and songs included to meet the young child’s needs more effectively. Even the illustrations are visually stimulating and ripe for starting discussions. Personally, I felt more connected to people who lived throughout history, and I loved sharing the stories and insights found there with my children.
I recently realized there was a television series “Adventures in Virtues” with the same basic premise, using a story and/or song to teach lessons in virtuous life values, regardless of specific religious beliefs. Many of these can be found on YouTube. Our family missed out on this series, enjoying only the books. Perhaps your family can share their experience in the comments if you have enjoyed this series. I do like that each television show and video starts off with Zack and Annie riding their bicycles to the song that sounds like this:
“Tell me a story
Read me a Poem
Lend me a melody
Sing me a song
Then let me hold it
Deep in my heart
Where it can speak to me all the day long
The Adventures of Virtues
The thrill of the knowing that it is up to you
This is my story
The adventure has begun”
The song really is a capsule of perspective and intent, “then let me hold it deep in my heart where it can speak to me all day long”. There are many influences for a child’s preoccupation. I look for the many ways to capture a bit of their contemplation. I hope allows them to consider more choices that are wise and compassionate. To recognize the struggles that it takes to earn the things that are worth the most, trust, friendship, and love, as well as a beautiful sustainable land that will be home to many for generations to come.
There are many books and resources that help children connect with nature. These are some of our family’s favorites:
- Dawn Publications offers so much. Our family’s first of these books was “Seashells by the Seashore”, which really spoke to my beach loving, shell collecting daughter (an myself), and we thrilled to learn more about the shells we collect, as well a their names ! But there is SOOOO much more in store with these books, and downloadable story apps !
- Dawn Publications also offers a series of books with a much broader scope, how to help children connect to earth through the story of the universe. The first in the trilogy is “Born With A Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story“. In the introduction it explains, “How precious earth becomes for children . . . and all of us . . . when we hear the story of how our earth was born out of stardust. The story evokes such a powerful sense of connection, not only with our own special planet, but with the universe as a whole and the great cosmic adventure that we’re all part of. Inside the greater cosmic story, we can’t take earth for granted. It wasn’t always here. Its existence and its capacity to support life rests upon the epic of evolution that brought it into being and the balance of complex interrelationships. Through the story of the universe, we lift off of earth — just as astronauts have done — and see our home as more unique and wondrous than ever.” All traditional Montessori schools teach through this Cosmic perspective and share it’s context for all subjects. I LOVE that my daughter has been learning through this curriculum since she was 3 years old.
- And, of course, music is a huge influence in our household. Besides the wonderful array of songs from Kindermusik that teaches young children so well, I have also been inspired by other musicians that sing to the heart of the matter, like one of my heroes, Woody Guthrie, and his songs for children. Sally Rogers was fascinating to see live in concert, and we all sing along with the songs on her albums, Piggy Back Planet, and What Can One Little Person Do?. She has so much more, but I can’t buy all of them. If you get a chance, see her in concert, listen to her music, and TALK about these topics !
Stories, songs, and the universal language of music are a perfect way to engage our children’s hearts and minds, and leave them feeling a stronger sense of self, and a sense of whom they belong with and how they fit in as part of the whole. This strength of self and belonging is a greater gift than knowledge or skills in the overall scheme of life. It builds a strong foundation that all the rest will be connected to.
PLEASE share the resources you use for stories, songs, and more that help teach your child great life values?