A very young child can learn reflection and basic meditation.
Now, a warning, from Dr. Montessori, with which I agree 100%.
A CHILD BEFORE SIX SHOULD NOT BE INTRODUCED TO FANTASY.
That is a shock to those who think little ones need Walt Disney.
No. No. No.
Fantasy must be held off until the child is grounded in reality or the mind will not be properly formed.
Fantasy follows nature studies, learning that when a glass falls it breaks and one has to sweep it up, that birds build nests and some baby birds die, that the pet dog needs feeding and watering and walking daily, that pouring juice without spilling is possible for a three year old and so on. Reality is making Popsicles and watching them melt in the hot sun. Reality is .....
When fantasy is introduced too early, the child will be confused about reality and fiction. Many young people today cannot tell the difference.
Of course, for the Catholic, the Bible is true, real and not mythological. Therefore, Bible studies can be introduced as early as two and a half or earlier with those adorable hard religious books for toddlers.
I knew a four year old, not my son, who was memorizing Scripture passages like I make popcorn, and he understood the passages his parents chose. He was using his own God-given drive to be a saint.
Some children at three get the long years in the desert of the Hebrews if a mom uses bead counting chains.
So, too, anything can be used to explain the Sacraments or sacramentals. What five year old girl would not love dressing up as a little bride, or a little nun instead of a Disney princess?
But, meditation and reflection must be based on reality, and a child is quite capable of both.
Examples: one can take a passage in Scripture and let the young child act it out. Like the finding of the lost lamb with a toy lamb, or even with the farm set on the floor. Like the parable boxes, acting out reinforces truth.
The child can dress up like Bible personages. Kids love this, and if one has a large family, the plays could be highly involved. Some home schooling families put on pageants for others or for other family members as entertainment. I had a dress-up box when I was a child. One should have one in the home school with old elaborate clothes for such use. Children can enact manners.
Having a picture of a saint and asking the child how the saint might think or feel in the picture-like one of St. Lucy, or St. Gemma Galgani. Let the child imitate, enact the saint by a mime. Montessori has exercises in the book I put on a post yesterday and here again. Interpretation of emotions and activities may be applied to religious themes.
Giving the child silence is absolutely essential for spiritual formation. The normal time a three to four year old can concentrate on one thing is 45 minutes. If the child's natural ability for concentration has been ruined by television or ceaseless activities, this is a tragic development. I know parents who say the entire rosary with the children in the car instead of other parents, who have to put in the latest Disney in the car DVD player.
There is no reason why a normalized child cannot be quiet for up to a half-hour thinking about Jesus on the Cross, or the Birth of Christ. Just holding the Crucifix and asking the child How do you think Jesus felt? is a beginning of meditation and reflection. A child might say, scared, or cold, or lonely.
Every Good Friday, when my brothers and I were very young, from 1-3, we had to go to our rooms and be quiet. Now, we did not pray the entire time, of course. We could play quietly, but my mother said that first we must sit down for a few minutes and think of Jesus on the Cross. The entire house was quiet. At three, we went to church.
From early on, I made my son have quiet time in his room. He was encouraged to read and look at saints' lives. I was fortunate that he began reading at four. But, his quiet time was the beginning of reflection, daily. Then, we would talk about his saint, or Moses, or the Blessed Mother.
By five, I was teaching a basic examination of conscience. Did you do anything today which would displease God, or make mum or dad sad? I would encourage this in just the evening, but not everyday. My son made his First Confession at five and knew what to look for making his mental list of little sins. He made his First Communion at six. His dad and I did all the prep, including a book of sacraments, which the son made, starting with his baptism-and he did all the coloring and writing and pasting. I just provided pictures from old bulletins, or cards he got on that day, or photos. He wrote about baptism and confession, and his upcoming First Communion in the album.
Reflection leads to meditation, a practice we all do on the way to holiness. Meditation is based usually on Scripture, but one can, with the child, meditate on the words of a song, or a prayer, like the Hail Mary. One can teach the child to reflect on his patron saint. Very young children love repetition and we learned lots of songs.
Pictures can help and imagining the scene. One can say to the child, for example, Let us think of walking with Jesus to Lake Galilee. What sounds might you hear, or smells or what would you see and so on?
A quiet environment in the home takes planning and time. It means the home schooling parent has priorities. It means no radio or tv, but times for music. It means scheduling.
What the child can do is amazing if we let them do it and provide them with the means, especially the environment.
One of the most successful things I did was make an Icon Corner. This changed according to the liturgical season or saint's day, and even as a teenager, up until college when son went away, that was a little locus of prayer.
One can do this in the children's room as it is safe.
At night, after a mini examen, we said the Angel of God prayer, the prayer of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen for the adoption of the baby in danger of abortion, the St. Michael prayer and a litany of family saints-which changed as one was confirmed and so on.
The rosary we mostly said in church with others, or on our own, after the child learned it. It is important for a child to pray both with people and on his own. I had a set of pictures of the meditations on the rosary which one can still buy. To this day, my son prefers saying his rosary alone-now an "old" habit.
All these things can be started as early as your child is aware, and everything I have mentioned can be done with pre-schoolers on up.
Especially in these days, parents need to help their children be saints.
To be continued...and another on line book. And, here is an Orthodox mom's website of home schooling ideas, including an icon corner, similar to what I had. And, for the fun of it, here is St. Therese, at a later age, acting out a play of St. Joan of Arc. And. one more blog on children dressed up for All Saint\s Day. Cute.