This article is about spiritual development for early childhood Jewish education. Findings from a research study define the spiritual development of young children as an integration of deep connections, basic dispositions (strengthened from experiences of wonderment, awe, joy, inner peace), and complex dispositions (displayed through acts of caring, kindness, empathy, and reverence)—all reinforced by modeling and spiritual moments. Buber's philosophy of I and Thou, Heschel's views of radical amazement and the sublime, and Senge's system thinking offer lenses for integrating a Jewish perspective to this theory of spiritual development.
In this article, I share a research study on early childhood educators’ perspective of spiritual development of young children and add thoughts from Buber, Heschel, and Senge. The purpose was to begin to think about the spiritual development of young Jewish children through the lens of this research theory. What I found was that I-Thou experiences have potential to develop trust within young children. Trust can then lead children to moments of radical amazement. These moments have the potential to strengthen children's basic dispositions or understanding of self and others so that children begin to develop a belief system. Finally, a belief system leads to actions reflective in complex dispositions.
All work together within a system. In this case, the existing system is that of Jewish religious and cultural life where deep connections and trust, basic dispositions and beliefs, and complex dispositions and actions work together in nurturing the spiritual development of young Jewish children. Following are some practical principles to support the journey of educators and parents in nurturing the spiritual development of young Jewish children:
- Feel loved, and then bestow love on others, especially children.
- Place infants and young children in beautiful Jewish environments so they have something Jewish and beautiful for their absorbent minds to absorb.
- Closely observe children to discover what triggers their attention and passions, then add dimension (breadth and depth) to the experience to stimulate both mind and spirit. This will strengthen children's basic dispositions.
- Support children in their ability to be present in the moment. Heneni (I am here).
- Provide children with patterned and predictable time to play, where they are encouraged and supported in choosing their own activities and cleaning up after themselves.
- Provide rituals that incorporate Jewish prayers and blessings. Encourage children's participation in the preparations and experiences of holy days to sanctify time.
- Provide time for children “to be” in beautiful spaces so they might further strengthen their basic dispositions through experiences of radical amazement.
- Include moments of the sublime by using blessings from tradition or from the heart.
- Provide children with outdoor time in nature and connect young children's exploration of nature with Jewish rituals, including Jewish prayers, blessings, songs, celebrations, and ceremonies.
- Never underestimate the depth of a child's present knowledge, capacity to know. (Adapted from Schein, in press)