In First Day Stories, both First Day School teachers and parents have been given a tool with which to encourage the wondering that propels children into the very heart of God.
Image credit: Katherine K. Newman
By Ellen Michaud
The light voices of seven small, happy children drifted among the early spring flowers and through the windows of Redwood Forest Friends Meeting in Santa Rosa. Waving the paper projects they’d made this morning in First Day School, the children were walking along the graveled path from their schoolroom to join adult Friends in the final minutes of unprogrammed worship.
A moment later, the Meetinghouse door opened, and the children quietly spilled through the entrance—bashfully sliding into chairs beside the door or joyfully making a dash to their parents and climbing into their laps.
Except for the occasional twitch of lips into small, secret smiles, Friends remained centered, most with closed eyes. The children studied the faces around them curiously, then studied their paper projects, then looked up again at those around them—eyes moving from one adult Friend to another. Their curiosity was palpable as observant eyes shifted from Friend to Friend and their agile little minds absorbed, questioned, and wondered.
Their curiosity and wonder brought tears to my eyes. Because that wonder, and all those wonderful questions to which it gives birth, are what open children to the presence of God in both meeting and their lives.
As a young mother and First Day School teacher, I often worried about how to communicate to young children the incredible experience of sitting down in meeting, centering in the Presence, and joyously opening to it. Yes, that which is God will, in one way or another, reach out to our children. But when the children hear so many in our culture so often deny God’s very existence—and when we Friends are often so reticent about expressing or even naming our own experiences of God—well, I admit that I worried.
Now there is no need. Because with the publication of Katherine K. Newman’s First Day Stories, both First Day School teachers and parents have been given a tool with which to encourage the wondering that propels children into the very heart of God.
Written for children from 3 to 6, First Day Stories includes 12 stories centered around family life, the shared experience of an unprogrammed Friends meeting, and the practices that evidence our faith. Through the eyes of one little boy, one little girl, and the grandparents with whom they live, for example, readers explore simplicity as the children and their grandparents consider whether or not they should get a third pet. They explore peace as it focuses on the little girl’s anger at a friend. And a third story focuses on building community.
In that story, the little girl approaches an elderly gentleman to shake hands after meeting. He doesn’t respond. So after subsequent meetings, the little girl makes no effort to shake hands. When her grandmother asks why she’s ignoring him, the girl explains. The grandmother tells her granddaughter that the elderly gentleman doesn’t see or hear well—and that he might not have realized that the little girl was greeting him. He also might not have been able to see the hand she extended.
After meeting the following week, the little girl goes over to the man and touches his arm to get his attention. He immediately extends his hand, and greets her in a loud voice. “Good Morning! Good morning! Who are you and how are you?” The girl responds and their after-meeting conversations become a weekly experience.
First Day Stories is, I suspect, unique in Quaker children’s literature. It opens our children to thinking about what’s taking place in meeting and to the reasons behind many of our practices like holding someone in the Light. It belongs in every child’s First Day School—and in every home.
Its author, Katherine K. Newman, a member of Sacramento Friends Meeting, has taught at both the University of Houston and Sacramento State University, and spent 15 years developing elementary school curricula in reading, spelling and writing. She has also been a First Day School teacher for over 35 years.