“Like any work of art, families need inspiration, fresh infusion of hope, and imagination.”
- Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting
While this book does not directly relate to faith and children’s spirituality, I am writing a post about it for two reasons. First, the topics it addresses, namely the rhythm and environment of childhood, have a far-reaching impact on the spiritual development of children. Secondly, it is one of the best parenting books that I have read in a long time.
In this book, Kim Payne, a Waldorf educator, advocates using the power of simplicity to bring security and stability to children. He addresses simplicity in the areas of material possessions, daily rhythm and environment. Western society is based largely on acquisition and consumption and children learn this at an early age. Often, they have so many toys and clothing that they cannot enjoy any of them, because their rooms and living spaces are too cluttered and the effect is that they end up overstimulated and weary.
The same applies to daily rhythms. Our generation of parents is so concerned with giving our children every educational and entertainment option that our children are often so stressed out that they cannot benefit from any of it. Yes, each child has a different capacity, and we as parents need to be sensitive as to how much is too much and how much is just plain healthy.
Environment is also a huge factor. In homes where the television or computer games are allowed too much time and influence, children lose the ability to imagine and interact with their world. They become passive spectators and the wonder of chidlhood is robbed from them.
Our family has experienced periods of excess and imbalance in all of these areas and I am happy to say that we are taking a closer look at these things and asking God for wisdom. We have always had a policy of getting rid of old toys when the children get new ones, but after reading this book, I got rid of half of their other toys as well as clothing and many books. The result is that my children play with what they have more, have an easier time getting dressed in the morning, and read more books. I probably still need to get rid of a lot more, but it’s a start.: )
Also, I have seriously taken a look at my children’s schedules and capacities. Intuitively I have always strongly believed that they should not be over-involved in extra activities. But when our son started to show signs of being stressed at school, we dropped one of his activities for a while and I made it a point to pick him up earlier more often in the week.
This leads me to another great point in the book. The author states that just as children have physical fevers, they also have “soul fevers”. Just as we intuitively pull our children close and nurse them when they are sick, we need to do the same thing when they are emotionally or psychologically stressed. Sometimes the soul fevers are short, but sometimes they last for longer periods of time. Our children are only little once and they only have one childhood, It is worth it to pay close attention to their emotional health, and in doing so we are a living example of God’s heart for them.
One part of the book that I do not fully agree with is the chapter entitled “Filtering out the Adult World”. By this, Payne means deliberately sheltering children from the anxiety over the adult world that they come into contact with through mediums such television or their own parents’ conversations, While I do fully agree that limiting television and monitoring what we as adults talk about in front of the children is extremely important, I do feel it is appropriate and even vital to their spirituality to allow children the opportunity to learn (within reason) about people in need, natural disasters and crises. Children who are encouraged to have a relationship with God then have a place to put their worries in prayer and can leave the worries there rather than constantly carrying them around. They also learn to think about others and situations beyond themselves and have an opportunity to see God answer their prayers. My own children saw people in difficult situations in Uganda and this caused them at an early age to experience genuine compassion for others. We as parents discussed what they had seen over and over again and helped our children pray for the Ugandans we met. Later on, we helped our son start sponsoring a child on a monthly basis to help put his faith in action.
I definitely recommend that anyone involved with children read this book whether you are a parent, teacher or children’s ministry worker. When we intentionally cultivate the beauty of “doing life” in children, our entire society will benefit from it.