When my children were little, I was determined they would be grounded in spirituality. To that end, I took a lengthy, weeks-long workshop from a local woman who was making a name for herself in early childhood religious education, particularly as it pertained to sustaining the natural sense of wonder with which preschoolers are naturally endowed.
The workshop was a huge commitment of time, but the instructor was charismatic. Many evenings I returned home in a feverish pitch of thankfulness to have four opportunities be the best mother I could possibly be. And, indeed—my children, then ages one, three, four, and six greatly benefited. One of our favorite family rituals—the Stay-up Night—evolved from the teaching of that inspirational woman, Veronica Beacom Dreves.
Bonnie, as she was known to her friends and students, was passionate in her determination that young children NOT hear any Bible stories in Sunday School. No one should acquire a childish understanding of such grownup topics as scripture! She was full of examples of the distortion that occurs when concepts acquired in childhood impede adult faith, so the Sunday school that my young children attended in the ‘70s was as enlightened as any program offered anywhere in the country.
Helping children think about concepts they would later attribute to God and matters of faith, such as the capacity of unconditional love, the importance of each person, and the reverence nature deserves, comprised the essence of early religious education for those of us who adhered to Bonnie’s philosophy. By reinforcing the magnificence of the natural world with preschoolers, teachers were laying the foundation of spirituality in adulthood. Bonnie's curricula included a lot of ways to develop and enhance self-esteem in children, especially necessary in a world where they often feel powerless.
I thought about Bonnie a week ago when I picked up the newspaper and misread a headline. You see, one of my favorite memories from those Sunday school days is a lesson called the “Power of Small,” and that lesson came back to figuratively smack me over the head as an old woman. First I skimmed the headline, then began reading the article. Huh? My expectation was completely wrong. Why? I had skipped over one tiny letter—“a," the smallest word in the dictionary. Here I've copied the headline to show you what I accidentally read.
In the “Power of Small” lesson, the Sunday school teacher brought in cloves of garlic to the classroom, one for each child to hold. Oh, the little organic cloves . . . so tiny and insignificant. Beneath the radar . . . yes? Then the children were told to crush the garlic. Ee-ew! How evident power of tiny, small, insignificant—every piece, every component in the universe matters. Most importantly, how important are the small people . . . people who are four or five years old!
The next part of the lesson involved examining individual kernels of unpopped corn. And then . . . the grand finale . . . you guessed it. With plenty of mother-helpers and a closely supervised hotplate, the teacher popped a batch of popcorn with the lid off the pan. The visual impact of the energy in a small amount of those kernels is spectacular.
So it is with the tiniest word in our language, the simple stand-alone “a.” It can change the meaning 180 degrees. Wow!