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Hands on Faith: An Interfaith Experience for Children

The purpose of Hands on Faith is to help children deeply rooted in the prayer and signs of their own faith to develop understanding and respect for other traditions

The sacred signs of a tradition are like a language children begin to learn at their parents’ sides. They serve as a window into the Great Mystery, perceived through sacred objects, gestures and words. When children have a good foundation in their own sacred “language” they can begin to appreciate the deep meaning of other traditions’ sacred signs.

Our thirty year experience in Christian religious formation with children ages 3-12 using the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has allowed us to observe that at ages 3-6 the child’s spirituality is deep and personal. At ages 6-9 this spirituality becomes interpersonal, with communal prayer and the moral implications (effects on the community) becoming very significant. The focus of 9-12-year-old children's widens to include the world, with interest in the both the wider context of their own tradition as well as the existence of other religions.

Most interfaith efforts focus on adults or students in high school or college. Hands on Faith is unique in its work with children starting at the age of nine, when their eagerness to explore the world and desire for unity among all people is at its height.

A Sensory Experience of the Sacred

These children are open and eager to begin to experience the world's religions. Rather than rely on descriptions and pictures of religions, we use materials that can be handled. This sensory experience invites the child into the mystery embedded in the sacred sign. 

The realm of the Holy is beyond our capacity to grasp with our hearts or minds. In every faith tradition sacred signs are used as a means of connecting with the Holy. Signs offer an experience of a story, object, or gesture that is imbued with meaning. In Christianity, Jesus says that the tiny mustard seed is a sign of the Kingdom of God. In Islam, the posture of kneeling with the head touching the floor is a sign of submission to God. In Buddhism, the lotus flower is a sign of karma, and of life renewed. In Judaism, the mezuzah, found on the doorposts of Jewish homes, is a constant reminder of God’s presence.

 

Our materials are based on signs such as these. Building on the method of Maria Montessori, concrete and manipulative materials embody abstract ideas so that they become more accessible to children (and adults). With the help of Montessorians who follow these different traditions, we are developing materials for use by older children and adults.