By Sonnie McFarland
(Article published by Children of the New Earth, February 2005)
“I am a child with a vision to share
Of a world of peace and a world of care.
I so recently came to planet earth
That I remember the peace I had at birth.
Please see my love and nurture me
To make peace on earth a reality.”
THERE IS NO GREATER PURITY than the guileless love of a child. Children join the human family bearing gifts of potential that, if nurtured, will bring greater love and light to the world. It is the responsibility of the adults in the child’s life to nurture these delicate gifts unfolding in the life of the child.In order for children to manifest their greatest potential the adults around them must be sensitive to the true nature of children and provide them with nurturing environments that meet their physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs. This process requires conscious work on the part of the significant adults in the child’s life.The Nature of Young ChildrenA child’s essential nature is the spirit of love. The word spirit does not speak to any particular culture or religion, but rather, to the connecting love that resides deep within all people, all of nature and throughout the universe. Surrounding and supporting the beautiful spirit within each child is his/her body, mind and emotions whose purpose is to connect the spirit to the physical plane. This spirit of love gently holds the secret of childhood and creates the inner drive for children to become who they are born to become.
Dr. Maria Montessori recognized the unique nature of young children when she said,
“There is in the child a special kind of sensitivity which leads him to absorb everything about him, and it is this work of observing and absorbing that alone enables him to adapt himself to life. He does it in virtue of an unconscious power that only exists in childhood… This fashioning of the human personality is a secret of ‘incarnation’.” 2
She went on to say,
“The child is an enigma. All that we know is that he has the highest potentialities, but we do not know what he will be. He must ‘become incarnate’ with the help of his own will.” 3
As stated above, children have an inner drive to manifest their highest potentialities. Their work is to construct themselves according to their “secret” inner map. As adults, it is important for us to respect this inner work of the children and honor their desire for self-actualization. We must develop sensitivity to their developing interests and needs and, to the best of our ability, provide environments and experiences for them in which they can exercise independence, freedom and choice so they can fulfill their divine destinies.
Although young children embody pure light and love, they are not conscious of this and depend on the significant adults in their lives to reflect their essential natures back to them. Children become what is mirrored to them. If children are seen through negative eyes, they see themselves in an unfavorable light and reflect negative behavior. If they are seen through the eyes of love and appreciation, they develop a positive sense of themselves and reflect caring, peaceful behavior. Ken Carey, author of The Third Millennium, spoke of this when he said:
“Help them to blossom into all they can be-sure of themselves, confident in the wisdom, the life that lives within them…When you see their beauty and perfection, when you affirm their eternal reality of being, when you see it in their eyes, you cannot help but draw it forth.” 4
As parents and teachers, we can help our children remember who they are by saying to them:
“I see your love. I see it sparkle in your eyes. I see it when you smile. I bring my heart to you. I trust and respect you for who you are and who you will become. I will be with you wherever you wish to stand. You are safe and I love you.” 5
Aline D. Wolf, in her pivotal book entitled, Nurturing the Spirit in Non-Sectarian Classrooms, speaks clearly about our task of nurturing the spirit of the children.
“Our task as spiritual nurturers becomes easier when we realize that we do not have to instill spirituality in a child, we have only to protect it from being trampled and to nourish its natural growth.” 6
The Aware Adult
As stated above, it is important that the significant adults in children’s lives see their essential nature as the spirit of love. By doing this, we call forth their inborn peaceful characteristics. That does not mean we ignore negative behavior, rather, it means that we continually affirm children’s higher natures and give them direction with kindness, firmness and respect.
Being able to see our children through the eyes of love is an ongoing challenge to all of us as we can only see what we know. Our own lens of perception colors our vision. It is therefore our responsibility to consciously clean our lens, to let go of our shame, and to accept and love ourselves so that we can offer unconditional love and acceptance to our children.
Our ability to call forth the loving spiritual nature in children and model peaceful behavior for them expands as we focus awareness on our own spiritual center of love. The more we come in touch with our essential nature, the more we appreciate and respect this same spirit within others. On the other hand, when we are not in touch with our center of love and reflect negative feelings, such as fear or aggression, children often take this personally, blame themselves and develop a low self esteem.
As parents we have a genuine and deep love for our children. Similarly, as sincere teachers we have a deep love and respect for the children in our classrooms. It is this love and desire for the children’s success that motivates us to continue day after day inspiring the children to be the best they can be. Both parents and teachers, motivated by love, willingly go through personal transformation to be fully present for the children. This transformation involves a process of “clearing the lens” of our own faulty perceptions so that we can reflect to the children their essential spiritual nature of love. We understand that we are significant others in the children’s development of healthy self-concepts.
To better understand this process of transformation, let’s look at the four basic elements of ourselves: body, mind, emotions and spirit. As we become aware of how each of these aspects of self operates independently, and how each functions in relationship, we enhance our ability to systematically clear our lens of perception and consciously tune into our spiritual nature. As we go through a continual process of observing ourselves, understanding the source of our disturbances, and removing the seed causes of our disturbances, we enable ourselves consciously to tune into our spirit of love. Through our work toward self-perfection, we realize greater creativity, see the children in a clearer light and have greater ability to support them in the construction of their personalities and talents.
Our bodies are the most visible and most directly experienced part of ourselves. When they are healthy and full of energy we are much more likely to feel positive, happy and able to call our better self forward. Conversely, when we are sick or stressed, we are much more likely to think unclearly, manifest negative emotions and be short of temper. When in this state we tend to see the world through a negative framework. Being aware of our bodies and conscientiously caring for them allows us to be more effective parents and teachers, to remain in touch with our spiritual centers, and to reflect love back to our children. Remembering to eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water, provide adequate rest and relaxation, to engage in exercise and to practice conscious breathing are a few things that will assist us in keeping our body healthy and in harmony with our mind, emotions and spirit.
Our mind, distinct from our physical brain, is the control center for almost all we do, think and feel. Being aware of our thought processes greatly enhances our lives and gives us a sense of personal control. Instead of operating from a model of reaction, we are able to make choices about how we respond. We consciously change our thought patterns and paradigms which free us from our own limited thinking. We increase our ability to remember and clear out the unwanted and unhealthy memories stored in our subconscious. We creatively use our imaginations and tune in directly to our intuition. We empower ourselves as we learn that we are in control and that we are responsible for our own choices. We learn to listen to the aspect of our mind that supports our true nature rather than the nagging aspect of our mind that often wants to negate who and what we are. We learn to concentrate the great power of mind and direct it according to our inner will. One of the most important paradigms we can hold in our mind is “I honor the light of the child.”
Our emotions are always in fluctuation, and we often identify who we are by them. For example we might say, “I am angry,” rather than “I feel angry.” By doing this we begin to identify with our emotions rather than our true nature of spirit. Emotions are indicators of our feelings, but do not determine who we are. They are extremely powerful, and without proper understanding, we often allow them to control our body, mind and spirit.
Our emotions are directly connected to the thoughts we think. These thoughts can be either conscious or subconscious. When stimuli enter our minds, we interpret them according to the paradigms or mind sets that we hold. These paradigms are stored in our subconscious and arise without our conscious awareness. When these thoughts show themselves, our emotions react accordingly. This is the reason we are sometimes surprised to find ourselves in a particular emotional state. Observation of our thinking processes and consciously “letting go” of unwanted paradigms begins to clean the storehouse of our subconscious and give us greater control of our emotional reactions.
Since emotions emit specific chemicals in our bodies, they can, and often do, overtake our rational mind and directly affect the functioning of our body. It is imperative that we acknowledge and recognize our feelings, and express and channel them constructively. Learning to be aware of our emotions and how to handle them effectively increases our ability to stay centered and in touch with our spiritual nature.
Our spirit of love is the core and essence of who we are. The more consciously we connect to our spirit, the more we can see love and light in our children and others. It is important for us to nurture our spirit on a daily basis so that it remains strong and vibrant. This may take many forms such as taking nature walks, reading inspirational works, listening to music, using affirmations, meditating and/or praying.
In my book, Shining Through – A Teacher’s Handbook on Transformation, I wrote:
“As we consciously take the time to experience the peace and tranquility of our spirit, we are filled with joy and guided in our actions. We have the confidence to be vulnerable and the humility to continually remove that which is keeping us from achieving our potential. As we work sincerely to transform ourselves, we experience a clear lens with which to view the world. Love is seen and love is reflected back to our children and others.” 7
Young children have the unique ability to absorb the experiences and impressions of their surroundings and use these impressions to help form their personalities. It is therefore of major importance to reflect on the types of environments we prepare and offer our children. If we want our children to manifest their unique gifts of potential, we must create environments that encourage this both at home and school.
See the environment from the child’s point of view. What do they see? Is it aesthetic pleasing and comfortable for them? Is the furniture the right size and weight so they can be comfortable using it and moving it when desired? Are the materials and objects with which they work of appropriate size to allow them to be successful? Young children are in a critical period of order, so their environments need to be orderly and uncluttered. Children and nature go hand in hand. They are attracted to plants, animals and flowers and are inspired to love and care for them. Children respond positively to having their senses of smell, sound, taste, touch and sight stimulated. Adding soft music, fragrant smells, soft touch, tasty food and beautiful objects in our children’s environments brings them great joy and inspiration.
Children want to feel comfortable and to be able to manage their physical environments with ease. The environment needs to offer the children as many opportunities as possible to be independent. If we find ourselves doing something for them repeatedly, we can see if there are ways to structure the environment so the children can do it for themselves. They get much joy and satisfaction in doing things “all by themselves.” By carefully constructing our home and school environments, we offer children a unique combination of freedom and responsibility. They become self directed, confident and cooperative.
When presenting thoughts and ideas to children, they need to be as developmentally appropriate and concrete as possible. Using hands-on materials that engage the children’s five senses helps them remember what they are learning. Because children learn in different ways, it is effective when we use as many ways of teaching as possible.
When we encourage children to make choices, they are more likely to become engaged in the project and keep a positive state of mind. However, when they do not make thoughtful choices, we can intervene and help them reflect on the outcomes of their choices, and assist them in seeing possible alternatives for the future. It is important to do this from a supportive point of view rather than a punitive one. When we maintain a supportive attitude, the children are more likely to engage in discussion and self-reflection.
We can assist children to hold positive mental attitudes about who they are and what they are capable of doing. This can be done by helping them recognize when they are experiencing fear and doubt in themselves and support them in shifting their thinking to more clearly reflect their inner strengths.
When children are emotionally upset, it is almost impossible for them to learn. If the amygdala gland, housed inside the brain, is negatively stimulated, it acts as a hijacker and takes away the ability of their brain to function in its thinking and reflective capacity. Children experiencing painful feelings such as loneliness, anger, sorrow and fear have a difficult time focusing their attention and minds on any task of learning or cooperation. Knowing this, it is imperative that children experience a warm, accepting and nurturing environment where they feel comfortable to express and process their feelings. Having a special place and process to use when children problem solve is helpful. In my book, Honoring the Light of the Child – Activities to Nurture Peaceful Living Skills in Young Children I offer 22 concrete activities to help children develop skills of self management and cooperation.
One of the most effective ways to keep an emotionally safe and nurturing atmosphere is to have fun. Enjoy the children, laugh together, plan together, work together and play together. As adults we set the initial tone of the environment and are responsible for maintaining this atmosphere among the children.
Recognizing and affirming the light we see in each child is one of the most effective ways of creating peaceful, spiritual environments at home and school. Modeling love encourages children to be conscious of and manifest their love. When we create opportunities for the children to experience calmness, peace and joy and continually reflect their essential nature of love back to them, they flourish and reveal their beautiful secret gifts given at birth.
Honoring the light of the child is one of the most compelling actions we can take at this time in our history. Children are coming to the earth with great spiritual capacities to share with us and they require sensitive adults who can see them for the amazing spiritual beings they are. They ask for warm and loving homes to live in and safe and supportive classrooms that match their expanded capacities to learn. The children bring great gifts to us. Let us be there for them so they can lead us to a new world of love and peace. As Mahatma Gandhi once said in a letter to Maria Montessori,
“If we are to have real peace, it must begin with the children.” 8
About the Author
Sonnie McFarland is a national and international speaker, consultant and workshop leader on peace education and parenting. She currently serves as a member of the American Montessori Society (AMS) Board of Directors and chairs the AMS Peace Committee. She works with teachers in China and oversees a Chinese Teacher Exchange Program. Her professional background includes over 35 years as a Montessori teacher and/or Head of School. She has written two books, Honoring the Light of the Child – Activities to Nurture Peaceful Living Skills in Young Children, and Shining Through – A Teacher’s Handbook on Transformation.
- McFarland, Sonnie, Honoring the Light of the Child – Activities to Nurture Peaceful Living Skills in Young Children. Buena Vista: Shining Mountains Press, 2004, p. 5.
- Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Oxford: Clio Press, 2988, pp. 57, 60.
- Montessori, Maria. The Secret of Childhood. New York: Ballentine Books, 1966, p.32.
- Carey, Ken. The Third Millenium. San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco, 1991, pp 76-77.
- McFarland, Sonnie, Honoring the Light of the Child – Activities to Nurture Peaceful Living Skills in Young Children. p. 11.
- Wolf, Aline D. Nurturing the Spirit in Non-Sectarian Classrooms. Holidaysburg: Parent-Child Press, 1996, p. 29.
- McFarland, Sonnie, Shining Through – A Teacher’s Handbook on Transformation. Denver: Shining Mountains Center, 1993, p. 27.
- Gandhi, Mahatma in a letter to Maria Montessori. Date and source unknown.
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