For the Spiritual Life of Children

One of my sisters’ children saw an angel in his backyard a dozen years ago, when he was five or six. I lived a thousand miles away and seldom saw my nephew, but I fully believed my sister’s account. I hadn’t thought of this for years—until yesterday afternoon in my religious education class. For the third time in two months, I was confronted with the spirituality of children. If one of my fourth-graders had begun describing an angel in his or her backyard, I would have stopped everything to listen.

I have been living under a complete misconception about these kids. I have imagined that they are all but unruly, that I have to muster up every ounce of energy and vocal authority just to keep them quiet. It’s a defensive reaction, I know, and comes with a sense of powerlessness. It turns out that all the power is the Lord’s; all I have to do is ask the kids to bring a rosary to class.

I should have learned my lesson when I took these sixteen ten-year-olds to confession in early December. Or when, with the help of my pal Ferde, I took them to Eucharistic Adoration a week later. On both occasions, as you can read in the linked posts, a deep silence and an openness settled over the group.

For yesterday’s class, I asked them to bring rosaries. All but three remembered, and one boy, M., my little seminarian in training, brought extras without being asked. For 30 minutes I set the table, talking on about the Blessed Mother, while the kids commoted. Then I asked them to get out their rosaries. Instantly, their fingers found the beads and their lips went silent.

A reader of this blog suggested that I read The Spiritual Life of Children by Robert Coles. I bought it in early January; last night, I got it out and began reading in earnest.

I would like each of my fourth-graders to see a video recently posted by The Clay Rosary Girl, and I may show it to them next week. Meanwhile, you can view the video here.

  • Janet

    That is a lovely post, Webster. I have been teaching PRE at my parish for several years now and I'm always so touched by the faith of my students. I think that in many ways catechists over the last 30 years have not given the kids enough credit. PRE classes have become, basically, crafts, when my experience is that the kids love to be really taught the truths of the Faith. And they love the liturgical life. I always take the class into church during the Sundays of Lent to pray some of the Stations, and they LOVE it. If for some reason we are thinking about skipping it for a week, they beg to go. And it's just as you said. The minute we start to pray the Stations, they are quiet and reverent. And, I don't used dumbed-down versions of the prayers either. They like to pray like adults.

  • Frank

    "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father." -Our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 18:10)


    Robert COles, M. D. is the famous psychiatrist of the Civil Rights Era who observed and interviewed hundreds of black and white children who were being integrated into the schools of the Deep South. I have his entire series of books on my shelf. These books served as an adjunct to not only my spiritual formation, but my training as a physician. Coles was an amazing and astute man, brilliant really. His books have travelled with me for over thirty years — book-to-bookshelf: North, South, East and West! Children really do have the most amazing inner lives and, only that we adults could glean from children their simplicity of faith and their profundity of grace. PS: Pray the Family Rosary with your children!

  • Sarah Harkins

    Thanks for using my link with your blog :) I am convinced that teaching the Faith to children is one of the highest callings and greatest honors to us adults. They are so impressionable and you never know what little thing you say or do, they will remember all their lives. Teaching the rosary is especially important to do with little children as they may not learn it from their parents, and it's those simple prayers that they can remember and take with them on whatever path they choose. One way to get children excited about the rosary is to make a rosary with them. I taught my fifth and sixth graders how to make their own beads and rosaries as well as many important things about Mary and the Rosary. I often heard that this was the highlight of their 5/6th grade year. I look forward to doing another rosary workshop this spring with a new class. God Bless You! This blog is becoming one of my favorites :)

  • Webster Bull

    Sarah, That's a great idea, the children making their own rosaries. Can you share tips with me/us? I have to think up a year-end project for our class, and this might be just the thing!

  • Maria

    Webster: Hope you are enjoying the book. I got interested in Coles because I am a psychotherapist and did therapy with children for years. The spirituality of children, as you know, fascinates me. As a child, my poor Mother kindly drove me to daily Mass for several years. I was just in love with God and truly wanted to be a nun. I was later crushed by the " avalanche of my own sin", as I have described it, down the line. I think people just don't realize what goes on in the heart of a child and how they can love God.As you know I have been immersed in Hardon SJ. I devour him as a starving man would. Never at a loss on any subject, he offers this gem: "Forming the conscience of a child is training that child for happiness. The greatest joy on earth is to be faithful to a well-informed conscience".I wanted to send you an article that was written in 1908 by a Jesuit called "Why We Should Have Missions for Children"; however, I lost your E-mail address. Send it to me and I will try to send the link. My address is

  • Sarah Harkins

    Sure, I'd love to share what I did. Making simple polymer beads is so easy to do and all you need is an oven to bake them in- so if you have access to an oven or even a toaster oven, your kids can make their own beads and their own rosaries. Of course,you can always buy beads and string them together, but my kids really liked the idea of their own creations on the rosary. You can buy Fimo, sculpey or any other kind of polymer clay at a craft store. The kids can swirl the colors together any way they like (showed them how to get a little fancy, but you don't have to), then make a long snake shape. You would have to do the slicing with an exacto knife or sharp blade. Then the kids can punch holes with a paper clip. Throw the beads on a cooking sheet, and bake them. You'll have to either make crosses and Mary beads or buy them. A simple mary bead you could try would just be to press a metal Madonna (from a different rosary) into the clay before you bake it. The impression will be on the clay, then if you want to show it off more, put some paint on it and wipe it quickly off. If you have questions about stringing the rosary, you can email me. (I think this is getting a little winded!) Good luck!

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks to Maria for this link to "Why We Should Have Missions for Children". Haven't cracked it yet, but it's now on my list.