real kids real faith book cover

Practices for nurturing children’s spiritual life

What a great book! Karen Marie Yust gives great insight into how we can create an environment in which our children are given the opportunity to develop a real and deep spirituality. It reminds us that faith is a gift from God that transforms us, that children can become history makers, that we can in simple ways provide children with the tools to create a rich and meaningful faith life and support them as they grow in this relationship with God, the Holy One.

This is an easy to read book, clearly set out and based on solid research. Throughout we are reminded of children’s stages of faith, how to value children and how to help them create a spiritual world and religious language.

Providing religious images, stories and practices for children exposes them to possibilities for a faith identity that might not otherwise be available for exploration.

Real Kids, Real Faith is based on an understanding of spiritual formation in children that is based around the concept that faith is a gift from a gracious God. This faith informs our lives and that spiritual practices facilitate faith’s transformative work as they link us with God. Our response to God’s gift is to be faithful – to live out the faith God has given us in all aspects of our lives.

Yust opens up the idea of our children belonging to two cultures, our everyday community, schools, networks of family and friends, and our religious community, family spiritual practices, local congregation and wider church events. Yust suggests ways in which parents (and by extension faith communities) can help children negotiate the overlaps and tensions between these two worlds so that children can become genuinely ‘bi-lingual’.

Examples are given of the way we can provide children with tools to develop a religious language and everyday spiritual world. Simple ideas like providing a mix of everyday and Christian music in your CD collection, having religious art on your walls (that you talk about), stories on your bookshelf that have biblical content, providing toys and puzzles that depict biblical stories as well as dinosaurs.

Providing religious images, stories and practices for children exposes them to possibilities for a faith identity that might not otherwise be available for exploration.

In the same way Yust describes the way in which you can provide the tools for children’s spiritual imagination – providing wicker baskets for dolls to image Miriam placing baby Moses in the reeds; a boat and fruit netting to allow children to have Jesus and disciples fishing on the sea of Galilee; stuffed animals for Noah’s ark.

Yust continues to talk about the way in which providing children with a religious language assists them in naming God’s presence in their lives. Providing children with the chance to become ‘bi-lingual’ gives them greater opportunity to have a rich faith life, to explore concepts, imagery and symbol, to be critically aware and to connect with the Holy One.

A great gift Yust offers in this book is to remind us of the many ways we can pray with children. Children are often underestimated in this area of their faith life and Yust provides us with the concept, the words, the reassurance that children can listen for God in silence. Perhaps it is us who are ambivalent about silence and thus hesitate in encouraging children to seek out silence for themselves. Examples of centring prayer, meditation, using art as prayer, practicing lament, intercession, thanksgiving, prayers of discipleship are given and we are reminded that for children and adults it is prayer that draws us closer into relationship with the divine. Real Kids, Real Faith is well worth reading.

Reviewed by Bec Wilson (Thanks to Chris Barnett Children’s and Families Ministry Coordinator, Centre for Theology and Ministry Uniting Church in Australia).

Children's & Families & Playgroups Newsletter, Term 4 2008