The summer months are the perfect time to help kids learn to appreciate stillness and quiet.
“I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child on its mother’s lap” (Psalm 131).
In order to listen, we must first learn to keep quiet. In order to pray, we must remain silent before God. Education in the Faith is, among other things, an education in silence. Knowing how to keep silence, truly, with your body, is not easy — especially when you’re 3, or 6, or 10 years old. Since the pace of life is calmer than usual in the summer it can be an especially good time to encourage children to discover and learn to love silence by spending time in nature.
Some fun activities to learn how to be silent
A child who, through play, has had a taste of silence, will have experienced what “keeping silence” means and will understand much better how to keep silence before God. Of course, to place yourself in silence, to maintain silence, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to remain quiet all throughout prayer: songs and vocal prayers have their place. And there are some words that, in a profound sense, don’t break silence, which maintain and foster that interior attitude of poverty, of openness, and of listening.
We can help children to discover silence through games and various nature activities. For example:
1. Suggest games of observation that help develop attentiveness, or hide-and-seek games that teach how to move without making a noise and without being spotted.
2. No need to go to Africa to do a “safari photo shoot” — there is much joy in bird or animal watching near your own home … parks, natural areas, or even your own backyard! Your child will be proud to tell all about their discoveries, and all the more happy that these joys were achieved by their own efforts. They will have learned to maintain silence and to remain still and attentive.
3. Take a walk in the evening or at night. For most children, nighttime is a bit frightening; either because they’ve never experienced it or because they’ve never had the chance to let themselves be won over by its silence and mystery. The night is filled with silence. Of course, there are nocturnal noises. But unlike city noise that violates the silence of the night, these are the sounds of nature that inhabit and respect silence.
If the silence of the night is conducive to prayer—as monks who rise in the night for prayer know well—it’s because it is an abandonment, a stripping bare. “You who lay the child down in the arms of his mother … full of secret smiles born of a trust in his mother and in me … you who rest man on the arm of my maternal providence” (Guy de Larigaudie).
To go for a walk at night without a lamp, without noise, just listening (and holding tight the reassuring hand of daddy or mommy), to stay up late round a fire, to observe the stars: these are all occasions to discover and to learn to love the silence of the night. From time to time, one can also do family prayers outdoors, in the night, after an evening stroll or a moment of star-gazing.