This is the first in a series of posts on nurturing the inner life alongside young children. You may like to read this brief introduction to the series before continuing.
Stop and see: Attentiveness
Attentiveness is an essential skill for the nurture of our inner lives.
It is in stopping – and seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, feeling – that we begin to sense God at work around us.
How much passes us by when we are caught up with worry and busyness and self-interest?
We might think that kids are always on the go.
We might say that they are the least attentive among humans.
But it’s not true.
Kids love to focus on the tiny detail of one particular thing, even if only for a moment.
Kids love attentiveness, because when we practice it with them, they have the whole of us for themselves: undistracted, focused, together.
Kids love to be with us more than anything, and a focus on something simple keeps us from wandering from them.
There are a million ways to practice attentiveness with children. These are things that work for us:
- Nature walks:
Counting how many insects we can see on one area of pavement
Collecting different shades of green leaves
Looking for butterflies and bees
Learning about different flower names and colours – and then looking for similar ones and/or seeing what they smell like
Looking for different types of trees (confession from this country girl: I had to buy a book to learn)
Watching the squirrels scamper
Splashing in puddles and watching the ripples
Squelching through mud
Collecting stones/sticks/pinecones of different shapes
Looking for creatures in a pond
Looking at seeds, at young plants, at old plants. Talking about how things grow and flourish and fade.
- Lying in a dark room with a small torch, watching the shadows. Or with a small lamp that projects rainbows onto the ceiling. Or just in the dark. Listening to our breathing, whispering nothing of importance, singing.
- Handing over my phone and letting the kids take photos. Noticing what they choose to photograph – where their attention is drawn – and asking about it (and ending up with 200 burst shots of our feet).
- Listening to music, eyes closed, and sharing what pictures we can see in our minds.
- Lighting a candle, sitting close, and watching the flame dance.
- Stroking the dog together, talking about how we care for him and how we feel about him.
- Building a wooden train track. Watching the trains weave around different formations.
- Looking at pictures the kids have painted, talking about the colours and shapes and what they might be.
Attentiveness is prayer beyond words.
As we become attentive, we begin to notice that we are surrounded by God’s presence.
As we become attentive, we become more mindful of God’s hand on everything.
Attentiveness increases our gratitude and gives us glimpses of what God must be like, as we see the tiniest details of life are so intricate and endless.
Kids are highly skilled in attentiveness, if only we could notice it and learn from them.