Examen for Young Children

Maggie sent this to be posted as something to consider for nurturing our children’s spiritual lives. I hope you find it interesting!

~Annemarie

Examen for Young Children and Their Parents in the Home

by Michael Gibson, of Mullica Hill Monthly Meeting (Quakers),Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Friends General Conference

Children have deep spiritual lives, but may not have adequate vocabulary or tools for expressing them.  There are numerous ways parents can help, including the regular use of examen, a variation of which will be described here.  Examen is an Ignatian (Jesuit) daily examination of conscience and reflection on the movements of the Spirit. Parents can nourish themselves and their families by practicing this discipline with their young children at bedtime, perhaps holding them in bed while doing so. Asking “wonderings” instead of pointed questions can help greatly to build trust (all answers are respected), to provide safety in sharing (there are no “wrong” answers), and to nurture children’s natural capacity for wonder.  I recommend keeping the wonderings open-ended and asking the same wonderings each night.  Children may quickly grow accustomed to, and fond of, this time of intimate sharing with their parents. Through this practice, children and parents gain skills in reflecting on their own experience and can learn from each other’s spiritual lives in age appropriate ways.  As the children mature, more wonderings can be added as feels appropriate, or each person can enter more deeply into the same wonderings.

Below is a suggested format using wonderings inspired by those used in Godly Play® stories.  With very young children you might want to use only two or three of these. Experimentation will let you know whether this model needs any adaptation for your particular family situation.

I wonder what you like best about today.  [Child and parent(s) respond simply.]

I wonder what is most important to you about today.  [Again, after the child responds, the parent responds briefly and simply.]

I wonder if there was any part of the day we could leave out and still have all the day we needed.   [Parent and child might respond back and forth.  It is surprising how many things children sometimes share in response.  Someone was stung by a bee.  The cat got stuck up a tree. A parent burned the oatmeal.  Someone was very rude.]

Depending on the age of the child and how the wondering is going, the parent(s) might add: I wonder if there was anything about today that you want to keep in your heart and remember.  [The parent also shares in response.]

Wonder one or more of these:
I wonder where God was in your day.
I wonder if (and when) you felt God today.
I wonder how you listened for God today.
[Naturally, it is extremely helpful for the parent to also respond to the wondering.]
I wonder if there is anything we might say to God about today.  [The prayers that follow might be spoken, unspoken, or both.]

Depending on the age of the child, the energy level, and the mood of the moment, the parent(s) might consider adding a period of silent prayer. Don’t be afraid of silence!  Children are often able to be more contemplative than we think.  Initially, it is helpful to give the child something go do in the silence, such as feel and listen to her breath, listen to all the little sounds in the silence that we don’t usually notice, or simply enjoy God.  The child might even suggest something for all to do in the silence.  The parent or the child may decide on the length of the silence.  End with a hug or a good-night kiss.
_______________________

Parents can do a variation on this exercise with their children when they come home from school instead of before bed, if this works better.  When a parent asks a child, “what did you do at school today,” the response is likely to be “oh, nothing.”   However, asking more specific, yet open-ended, questions in a spirit of wide-eyed wonder and play often yields expressive results that are rewarding for both parent and child.  Some open-ended wondering questions are offered below.  One is wise not to skip the first one listed, for doing so can very easily make the wondering sound like a test, which is not helpful!  Depending on the age of the child, it may also be wise to limit the sharing session to three or four wondering questions.
I wonder what you liked best about today (or about school today).
I wonder what was most important about your day.
I wonder if there was any part of the day you could leave out and still have all the day you needed.
I wonder if there was anything you discovered about yourself today.
I wonder where God was in your day.

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