A Rock, the Earth, the Universe, and a Child's Biggest Questions
By Kari Kopnick
For seven years I served as the religious educator for a wonderful Unitarian Universalist congregation in West Seattle, Washington. During my early years there we would trek down to the rocky beaches of Puget Sound for an annual “Solstice by the Shore” celebration. We would collect a pile of rocks and bring them back to our little, rented church space. The big, green bucket of rocks from Alki Beach was always there to be drawn on, glued to, or used for whatever our classroom volunteers came up with. We added to it each year until our congregation grew too big to pile kids in our cars and head to the beach.
For many kids, rocks are the perfect physical connection to the earth. It’s like a little piece of the earth’s crust can fit right in your hand, because that’s exactly what it is! In learning about rocks, the earth, and the seasons there were always analytical kids who asked about the rotation of the sun and the earth and how the whole gravity thing works. There were the young mystics who felt the turning of the seasons in their bodies and wanted to mark the time with silence, the lighting of a chalice, and some guidance on thinking about the big questions in life: Where do we come from? Why are we here? What happens when we die? I had to be careful, though, because even the six-year-olds do not want the answer given to them. They just want to sit together and ponder.
Our children liked to learn how much of the matter on our earth was formed when stars exploded. Even more, they were amazed to learn that our bodies are made from star stuff, matter formed from the explosions of ancient stars. It’s simple science, really. We eat food and it becomes “us,” but that food is also made of exploded stars. The heft of a stone in the small hand of a child is a real, physical reality. A child can quickly understand, “This rock is made deep in the earth and the earth makes the food that grows and I eat it and that becomes me.” It seems like magic, but it’s not, it’s just what science teaches us! The perfect heart and mind connection!
The wide, open hearts and minds of children are humbling. In the blink of an eye, a child can go from thinking that a rock is just a rock to connecting with the grounding spirit of where the rock came from, imagining that journey, and relating it to themselves. Children have much to teach us about being whole and open spiritual beings—just as we are, just like a humble, small rock.
- An all-ages project: Collect stones from your travels about your own town and beyond for a rock garden filled with meaningful stones. Then, when something important happens, you will have a place to go and be with the rocks that hold your history. A physical place to be spiritual can be powerful for children and allows us to bring to the front of our minds a part of us that isn’t often recognized in our busy days. For more ways to nurture children spiritually through interaction with rocks, see the Families section of the Fall 2014 UU World magazine.
- Introduce the children in your life to "star stuff." Explore the We Are All Star Stuff curricula, videos, and other resources for kids, on Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd's The Great Story website. Here you will find pages (PDF) from The Kids' Book of Awesome Stuff by religious educator Charlotte Brotman; this book is available for purchase at Amazon.com.
- Watch on YouTube: The Most Astounding Fact, by Neil deGrasse Tyson
- Find a good Pebble Meditation, also on YouTube.
Kari Kopnick is serving for a year as the Family Ministry Specialist at the Church of the Larger Fellowship working closely with Family Quest online resources. Previously, Kari served as the Director of Religious Exploration at the Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Seattle, WA. Kari has three grown sons and two crazy little dogs. She writes a Unitarian Universalist-themed blog.