Most of the time, we think of the global pandemic as a terrible time for children and learning. School closures, fights about masking, remote classes, unplanned homeschooling – all these things have taken a toll on children and their caregivers. It’s easy to wish that we could just go back to the way life was before COVID-19 upended our usual programs.
Yet some educators also see the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine education. As we move into an uncertain future, we need to rethink our educational priorities and reliance on children coming to physical spaces for scheduled programs. Now is the time to ask hard questions about the purposes of spiritual education, explore new possibilities for engaging children, and take action.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for children to learn how to navigate ambiguity, trauma, and change. That means we need to ask ourselves: What wise knowledge, practical skills, and spiritual attributes do children need to thrive in our complex world? Our answers to this question help set our goals for spiritual education. Make a list and reflect with others on what you will bring forward from the past and what new items need to be added.
One place to look for planning inspiration is this list of competencies for contemporary life, suggested by education specialists: critical thinking, creativity, resilience, intrinsic learning motivation, self-regulation, cognitive flexibility, perseverance, collaboration, sense of purpose, belongingness, and the desire to make a difference. Think, for example, about the role that critical thinking might play in acquiring wisdom and how self-regulation skills might accentuate spiritual practices and reinforce spiritual attributes.
Once you have your answers to the first question, consider: What kind of teaching and learning strategies are needed to help children acquire what they need spiritually? Be creative! Focus on approaches rather than times and places. For example, teaching practical skills involves learning about the reasons and steps for the skills and also practicing them. Where and when these learning activities take place is less important than that we provide ample opportunities for both aspects of learning.
Education specialists also suggest that we think about equitable participation. How do we make spiritual learning accessible to all children? Limiting participation only to those who can show up at a particular time (and criticizing parents if they don’t prioritize family life around those times) hasn’t proved very effective. Brainstorm ways you can meet children where they are rather than require them to come to you.
Which leads to a final reimagining question: How can we leverage technology for spiritual learning? Perhaps we create online spaces where children gather to practice mindfulness, yoga, or guided meditation. Or we set up a bitmoji room where they can role-play participation in a virtual march for social justice. We could upload storytelling videos for families to play whenever they have time, or encourage families to download a mindfulness app. Each of these educational strategies expands our reach and reinforces the idea that spirituality is not just something children do in a particular place, but a part of everyday life.