Monday, January 30, 2012

Sensorimotor Worship: Caring for a Pet

Sensorimotor Worship* can be defined as a spiritual lesson or experience that involves all of the five senses and incorporates visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles.

Animals are a unique part of God's creation and the Christian scriptures teach love and respect for them. From Adam's tender care of them in the Creation Story to the exhortation in Proverbs that " . . . a righteous man cares for the needs of his animal . . . " to Isaiah's prophecy that someday the lion will co-exist in peace with the lamb, one can see that part of honoring God is taking care of the animals that he creates. And whether you are religious or not, you can't easily miss the wonder in a child's eyes when they come into contact with an animal or dismiss the therapeutic effect that pets have on lonely people. Animals are amazing and taking care of them can be a part of showing love to our Creator.

My son received a hamster for his 8th birthday last August. "Hammy", as we call her, has become a member of the family. When Hammy first came into our home, we explained to our son that he was being given the awesome responsibility of taking care of one of God's creatures.  He would be the primary caregiver by daily feeding the hamster and cleaning her cage. Along the way, Hammy has also provided some important spiritual lessons:

Lesson #1: Responsibility for another living thing. Learning the value of being a caregiver as a child can certainly make it more natural when that child becomes an adult. Also, in an age where children are often exposed to violence in the media, caring for a pet cultivates the value of life and the natural world.

Lesson #2: Choosing to love and respect even when you don't necessarily feel appreciated. Hammy was not an easy hamster at first. She bit often and my son ran to us many times with a bleeding finger and crying that Hammy didn't appreciate all that he did for her. (We, of course, explained to him that Hammy wasn't being "mean", but rather signaling that she was scared or didn't want to be bothered at the moment with the only means of communication that she posesses.)

Lesson #3: Consistency. With few exceptions, my son cleans Hammy's cage every other day no matter how tired he is or how late it is. Hammy depends on him, and since our son is not naturally an organized person, this helps teach him rhythm and discipline. (For this reason, many Montessori curriculums recommend pet care for children.)

These are all things lessons that we need to understand and reflect the character of God (no matter how big or small we are!). How fun to learn them through one of His cutest creations!

* "Sensorimotor worship" is a term coined by Dr. Sonya Stewart, co-creator of Young Children and Worship, that is rooted in the Montessori educational philosophy. I use it to describe spiritual experiences involving the five senses beyond the church envirionment.

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