prayer spiritual practice Uncategorized

Embodied Spiritual Practices

I have wanted to write about embodied spiritual practices for quite some time, because of their significance in my life. In fact, I have begun writing about them, and stopped, several times. It is challenging to describe the effectiveness of these activities that do not on the surface seem “spiritual” and yet, are essential to my own connection with the divine, a form of prayer that doesn’t look or sound like what we often think prayer is, and yet, engaging them reorients me to God, to myself, and to the world around me.

“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer  

Perhaps this quote from Richard Rohr best describes why I find embodied spiritual practices so helpful. I spend a lot of time in my head. That is my personality, and the nature of my work. Engaging in activities that require my whole body gets me out of my head. Embodied practices enable me to do more than think, but to truly live, with my whole being. And that is a form of prayer.

“What is prayer? It’s not a passport to heaven.
If anything it’s a way of seeing here, a way of being here.”         

 Pádraig Ó Tuama, Being Here: Prayers for Curiosity, Justice and Love

In recent weeks, I have engaged in several embodied spiritual practices that I’ll share here. This is not an exhaustive list, simply a snapshot in time. Some are commonplace things I do frequently, on repeat, and they sustain me. Others are irregular, or even one-off experiences. All enabled me to open myself to God, to be fully present to myself and the world around me, and I emerged from these experiences changed, even in some small way.

Walking: Whether in my neighborhood or in a park or down a busy street, this is the simplest and most accessible way to engage my body, even if only for a few minutes. And this is often when I hear and see God’s work in the world and in my life most clearly.

Making sourdough: This is a practice and a process, but there is something holy about keeping sourdough starter alive, nurturing it, and keeping it healthy enough to serve as leaven in bread. And when it is time to bake, I use my body to measure and weigh, to mix and knead, and then the dough rests…and I am reminded that after work, I must rest, too…and after resting, the dough has changed – expanded and risen – the leaven has done its work in the resting time. And I shape the dough and let it rest again, before baking it in an extremely hot oven. And when it emerges, it is no longer a sticky ball of goo, but the most delicious nourishment, and as it feeds my body, I remember how the process of making it fed my soul.

Ziplining: Last Friday, David and I went on a zipline adventure – hiking with a guide to 5 different ziplines, the longest of which was 2800 feet – and it was AMAZING! I have ziplined once before, through a rainforest canopy in Costa Rica on our honeymoon. That was a lot of fun, but it was also in the middle of planned vacation. This was a random Friday. We put our kids on the school bus in the morning, and to be honest – it was one of THOSE mornings – and then we went ziplining while they were at school. This experience was an interlude amid ordinary life, at the end of a week when I was truly exhausted. It might have felt good to stay home and lounge on the couch, read, perhaps take a nap. But what I needed was something different. And while it required energy, it was truly restorative, and it enabled me to re-enter my “normal” life with renewed perspective – more connected to God, to myself, and to those around me.

Puzzles: It is not unusual for me to have a puzzle in process on our dining room table. Conveniently situated between our home office and the kitchen (the hub of our home life), I pass the dining room numerous times each day. I can easily step into the dining room to spend a few minutes puzzling to re-orient my mind during a busy workday, or to calm my mind in the midst of parenting and running a household. And I am always reminded that everything will come together, one piece at a time.

Solar Eclipse: We viewed the eclipse at our daughters’ elementary school, in a field surrounded by hundreds of kids, family members, and teachers. While it was spectacular to see, the gift for me was being fully present to hear the gasps of children as it got dark, to look around and see the amazement on so many faces, to just be, in the presence of other humans, as we witnessed something we may never see again. For a few minutes, time stood still, and everything else fell away.

Gardening: This might seem like “work,” but gardening form of prayer for me. Pulling weeds is like confession, loosening the dirt to plant is like centering, putting a seed or a seedling in the ground is like an offering, watering, waiting and nurturing is like patiently listening for God to speak, and harvesting food for my family’s table is like thanksgiving.

Standing barefoot on the grass: It is hard to describe just how grounding this practice is for me. I wear shoes almost any time I am standing, and so it is jarring (in the best possible way) to walk outside with bare feet, to feel the cool grass under my toes, and the breeze blowing my skin. To just be still, for as long as it takes, to feel connected again, to realize that the spot where I am standing – no matter where it is – is holy ground.

 “What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human,
trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”

Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

And today, reflecting on all of these experiences, I am grateful, for their role in helping me become more fully human, one day, one practice, at a time. I think I’ll go ride my bike now.

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice Uncategorized


This post is one in a series of reflections in response to the spiritual practices in Beth A. Richardson’s book Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.

Last week, the spiritual practice Beth A. Richardson invited us into was Trust. Admittedly, I had not put “trust” in the category of spiritual practice before. But I certainly practice trust in my spiritual life, even though I had not reflected on it in those terms, or practiced it intentionally. Trust was just something I did when I did it, or recognized when I wasn’t doing it. 

Beth A. Richardson writes: “As followers of Christ, we commit our care and keeping to the Holy One, the Creator of all things. And trust becomes a spiritual practice.” She goes on to quote Daniel Wolpert, who says: “A prayer practice is just that: practice. It is taking time to learn how to listen for God. It is taking time to see the hand of God at work in our lives.” In my experience, this is true of all spiritual practices, which are all a form of prayer. 

This week, we were invited to practice trust by doing a “Trust Inventory” (Walking in the Wilderness, p. 72). When I completed the inventory, I found it helpful because I had never named my fears and how they are getting in the way of my love of God, neighbor, or myself in such an intentional way before. I found it helpful to name them, reflect on them in those terms, and offer them to God. But soon after completing the inventory, I realized my list of fears was incomplete. It wasn’t that I had not named things I feared. I had. But as I moved through the day and the rest of the week, other fears began to surface. Not new fears; rather, fears I had not yet named as “fear.” But whether I called them “fear” or not, they were still present.

Here’s an example: as I began to work on my sermon on Monday morning, I was overcome by a feeling of inadequacy. I began to question whether I could write and preach this sermon. Let me be clear: there is a certain amount of fear associated with the task of preaching that is healthy, and that for me, keeps me humble in my process of interpreting scripture and developing a sermon. But I experience another layer of fear related to public speaking. Often, I wish I could write the sermon and let someone else preach it. In fact, my preference for avoiding public speaking was a barrier to accepting my call into ministry for a time. Like Moses and others in scripture, I said to God “but I cannot speak well!” And as God provided for others, God provided for me – not by giving me someone else to speak for me, as God provided Moses with his brother Aaron (Exodus 4:10-17) – but by reminding me that while I may not be a gifted speaker, I am a gifted writer, and writing is a tool for public speaking. And so I leverage my gift for writing, and I practice, and I am able to preach.

And yet, every time I am scheduled to preach, I am afraid. I had not called it “fear” prior to last week. I have named it many other things: lack of natural ability, anxiety, Imposter Syndrome. And while none of that is inaccurate, fear is at the root of my struggle with public speaking. Fear that I won’t be up to the task, or that even if I am able to interpret the scripture well enough to write a decent sermon, my poor delivery will get in the way of others receiving it. This happens every single time I prepare to preach. It is part of my process. And, I’m aware that every single time I write a sermon, the Spirit guides my interpretation of scripture and gives me the words. Every single time, when I show up and do my part, God shows up and does God’s part. And that includes guiding me through the preaching of the words I have written on the page, which is the most terrifying piece. Even though I am afraid, my experience of God showing up and guiding me each and every time enables me to do it, and to do it again, and to do it again. While I don’t preach weekly, even moving through this process every few months is a helpful spiritual practice for me, an exercise in practicing trust in the Holy One. 

While the Trust Inventory may have been the prescribed practice this week, writing and preaching my sermon was my practice, my exercise in once again moving through the process from fear to trusting God to do what God always does, because God is faithful. 

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice Uncategorized

Lectio Divina

This post is part of a series of reflections in response to the spiritual practices in Beth A. Richardson’s book Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.

Lectio Divina is a spiritual practice of “divine reading.” Beth A. Richardson says “Lectio Divina invites the reader to interact with the text using the eyes and ears of the heart by asking the question, ‘What is the Holy One saying to me in this passage?’” Helpfully, Richardson explains that “in Lectio Divina the scripture is read for formation rather than information.”

I have experienced the formational aspect of Lectio Divina myself. When I was first introduced to Lectio Divina, I was in an intense phase of reading scripture for information. As a college religion major, I was required to read large portions of scripture at a time to prepare for class. In order to write my papers and prepare for exams, I needed to be able to zoom out to look at the narrative arc of a text or the entirety of a biblical book in order to dissect a short passage. I was required to read commentaries and cross-reference, to use the study tools available to help me interpret the text. 

I found that when I was reading large portions of scripture regularly for my academic work, my personal scripture reading became very focused. I found myself reading one verse, or maybe a few more, per day. I read this tiny portion of scripture and spent time contemplating, without using study tools. I retrospect, I was intuitively doing the opposite of what my academic work required because that’s what my soul needed. This is when I encountered Lectio Dvina. I don’t remember how I learned about it or who shared it with me. What I do know is that this practice of divine reading and listening to the text was exactly what I needed at the time. I was already asking the question: “What is God saying to me in this moment?” And this is precisely the question Beth A. Richardson says we are asking when we engage in Lectio Divina. In contrast to my academic studies, where I was primarily focused on “what are the possible meanings of this text, within the historical and canonical context?” I was instead asking God what God had to say to me, in my life, at that time. 

The first time I remember practicing Lectio Divina in a group setting was in my first year of seminary. All M. Div. students were required to be part of a spiritual formation group, led not by seminary faculty (aka: our professors), but by local clergy. Our leaders were people who had been through seminary, and now served in the local church, those who knew the gifts and challenges of a seminary education as well as the realities we would face as we fulfilled our future callings. My group leader felt that Lectio Divina was an important practice for future clergy – not for our work (although, it certainly could be helpful) – for our personal spiritual formation. Our leader regularly led us through Lectio Divina during our group meetings. At first, our texts for Lectio Divina were scripture passages. Then, he invited us to contemplate religious art. He shared poems. He encouraged us to practice Lectio Divina with the front page of the newspaper. He shared music for an auditory version called Audio Divina. Because of his expansive view of spiritual practices and holy “texts,” I encountered God in new and unexpected ways. 

While I have not practiced it regularly, I have returned to Lectio Divina again and again over the last 15 years. I’ve always found it helpful as a means of discerning God’s voice in scripture, and in other texts. It focuses my prayer on scripture and invites me to be open to receiving what God might say. However, I haven’t practiced Lectio Divina in  while…until this week. 

This was an odd week to return to focusing on Lectio Divina, because I was on a family vacation. I have 2 young children, and while time to myself is *always* in short supply, the lack of routine and more compact living arrangements on vacation make it nearly impossible to find time alone. However, I found myself in a contemplative state of mind this week, paying more attention to the world and the people around me, asking God “What are you saying to me through this?” I found that this contemplative mindset enabled me to be more open to God in my daily life.  

Additionally, I did engage in the practice of Lectio Divina twice this week. Once, with Psalm 63:1-4 during which I found myself truly praying the psalm and repeating the phrase “your steadfast love is better than life” (v. 3a in the NRSV version) over and over in praise to God. I also practiced Lectio Divina with 2 Corinthians 5:16-18. I chose this passage because I know it well. God led me to contemplate humanity and my own human-ness. I was reminded that Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation, and God brought to mind a situation in which I am called to be a catalyst for reconciliation between two people who are struggling to acknowledge and accept one another’s full humanity.

These two experiences are representative of my experience of Lectio Divina over the years. Sometimes, I simply hear a word or phrase that sticks with me. Other times, I hear God speaking or calling me in a direction I did not anticipate. I am grateful for this practice – now and throughout my life – as a means of helping me to draw near to God and to ask what God is saying to me in a given moment, whether the “text” is scripture, artwork, music, secular writing, or an event in my own life. God is always speaking, but am I listening? Lectio Divina helps me to listen.

Advent holy spaces Means of grace spiritual practice Uncategorized

Slow to Arrive…But I Am Here Now

Advent began slowly for me this year.

Typically, I dive right in. I get out the tree and put up the lights on the first Sunday of Advent. It’s a burst of energy to start the season. I excitedly pull out my kids’ nativity sets and begin our family tradition of lighting the Advent candles on our dining room table. I finally turn on that Christmas playlist and begin baking peppermint-flavored goodies. It usually “feels” like Advent from the very beginning.

But this year was different. This fall was extremely busy, in a way I did not anticipate. The months leading up to Advent were stressful due to a variety of circumstances. Plus, our family started the Advent season with illness. It was just a cold, but it traveled through our entire family and was followed by strep throat for one of the kids…resulting in one or both kids home 6 of 9 school days in the first 11 days of Advent. It was challenging to muster the energy to do anything, especially when we limped into the season in the first place, stressed and exhausted.

For 2 weeks, I kept saying it didn’t feel very “Advent-y.” Sure, we put up the tree. It took us nearly 2 weeks to get it decorated, working in 5–10 minute spurts, but we got it done.  We hung the lights outside. We put a wreath on the front door. We pulled out the nativity sets and Advent wreath. I wouldn’t say I did any of it with enthusiasm. I was just going through the motions.

But isn’t that where we find ourselves sometimes? I had not thought about the preparation of my house for Advent and Christmas as a spiritual practice before this year. But now I think it is, for me. I say that because I could have chosen not to do it, to put it off, or to be grumpy when my children asked if we could decorate the tree (because, frankly, I didn’t feel like it). But I chose to do it. To say yes. To engage. And at first, it felt like I wasn’t doing anything. I was doing the “work” of preparing a home for what it is “supposed” to look like during this season. But in the process – and I call it a process because it took 2 weeks instead of a few hours – something changed in me. It was like when I pray not because I feel connected to God or because I want to, but because that’s what I’m supposed to do, and in the process of praying, something happens deep within my soul. Going through the motions of preparing our home for Advent this year was a soul practice like that for me this year.

Last Friday, a few days prior to the third Sunday of Advent, I attended a contemplative Advent retreat. It was small and intimate, with a few friends and a few people who were new to me, all of us pastors and/or therapists. I went for a moment of pause. I had planned an individual retreat during the month of November, and my plans fell through twice. I decided that a guided experience at a particular place and time might work out better.

The morning of my retreat, I began the day with preparation. I did yoga, which is a cleansing for my body and mind. I gathered the items I would need for the day retreat. I spent a few minutes putting the finishing touches on the Christmas tree with my preschooler. And I drove the 45 minutes to the retreat location, another type of preparation.

The retreat began with breakfast tacos. After introductions and fellowship, we entered a long period of silence – about 2 hours. A few of the other participants and I set off for the lake, to spend our time in silence near the water. Whether poor directions or poor listening, I don’t know, but we went the wrong way. We walked in silence, each in our own world of contemplation, near enough to see and hear one another’s footsteps but not conversing. And when we finally realized that those glimpses of the lake were getting farther away rather than closer and decided to turn around, there was a lot of backtracking to do. While this might sound frustrating, it was exactly what I needed. It was part of my process. And it was not lost on me that my journey that morning had mirrored my Advent journey thus far.  

When we finally arrived at the lake, I was ready. I had taken an indirect path to get there. But the walking, the movement, the process of going through the motions of walking to the lake without going there at first, had prepared me for when I arrived.

The stress and anxiety I had been experiencing for many weeks prior to Advent had begun to dissipate earlier in the week due to circumstances resolving themselves, but it had not left me entirely. As I walked the wrong direction, and much farther than I anticipated walking, the stress and anxiety continued to melt away.

When I arrived at the lake, the journey I had been on felt much longer than it was. In realty, it was about a 2 mile walk with all the backtracking, but those 2 miles transformed my heart and mind. They helped me to get ready. They prepared me to be vulnerable, laid bare, in the presence of God.

At the lake, I sat down, and I looked out at the expanse in front of me. It was unimpressive, really. The water level was low, far below where I sat, with at least a couple hundred yards of exposed shoreline between the lakeside park and the water’s edge. I couldn’t easily get down near the water, like I wanted to. And yet, as I sat on the ridge overlooking over the water with the wind whipping my hair, I encountered the Holy Spirit. I was reminded of my baptism as I looked at that ordinary and unimpressive lake, recalling that the waters of baptism are extraordinary because of the Holy Spirit’s work, not because the water itself is special. I heard the Spirit in the tinkling of the wind chimes, sounding like bells. I felt the Spirit in the wind, on my skin and blowing my hair. I was fully present.

And I began to write in my prayer journal. The phrase that I kept writing over and over, in the midst of all that I was pouring out to God, was “I am here.” I was so grateful to be there in that place in that moment. Not pulled in many directions at once – body, soul, and mind fragmented by stress and overwhelm as I had experienced for weeks leading up to that moment. And God reminded me that God is always here – no matter where I am, no matter how scattered or fragmented, no matter how high the wall of anxiety and stress is, hemming me in on all sides. God is here. I am here. We are here together.

And in that moment, I realized that I had taken a circuitous path not only to the lake, but to Advent this year. I had gone through the motions, doing the things, and it was the process of going through the motions that enabled me to arrive in this season of Advent, to engage actively in preparing my heart as I had been preparing my home. I am here now, getting ready for the coming of Christ, a miracle like no other…God coming to us in the most vulnerable form as a human baby, saying “I am here.”

prayer Uncategorized

A Prayer for When You’re Too Busy

I’ve been way too busy lately. The start of school is always hectic, as is the beginning of fall programming at church, and I am knee-deep in both. This transition from summer to the school year and the coming fall feels more “normal” that it has in years. In-person events are back, and somehow, there seem to be more of them than ever before. Perhaps we are making up for lost time. My calendar has been out of control the last few weeks. Maybe that’s true for you, too.

One morning this week, as I faced yet another day of back-to-back meetings and events, I scribbled this prayer in my journal. Just the mere act of taking that brief moment to connect with God helped immensely. It changed my day. If you’re too busy, perhaps this prayer will help you, too.

God, I am tired. Worn out from being over-scheduled. Too busy, with no room for my soul to breathe, or to listen to my body. I hate it when I have weeks like this. I feel disconnected from you and others, a slave to my schedule and to-do list, and yet, I consented to this.


I don’t have an answer to that.

But I know you are telling me to breathe, to listen, to be…even if just for a brief moment of reconnection with my body and with you. Calm my mind. Quiet my anxious heart and enable me to be still. Help me to breathe deeply – your breath in my lungs – reminding me that I am yours. May your breath renew me.

For I already know that I need to make changes, that my schedule cannot continue to be this full. Guide me and show me your wisdom, your way, for me to live fully into who you have called me to be. Amen.

blessings holy spaces Uncategorized

Blessing for New Life

I am sharing a blessing today that I wrote in my journal during a retreat last July, while sitting in front of Hope Monument at the Oblate Renewal Center in San Antonio. I will let this image be for you what you need it to be, and I will leave you with this blessing that blessed me that day, word for word as it came to me. May it bless you, as well.

Hope Monument (sculpture by Beverly Paddleford) at Oblate Renewal Canter in San Antonio, TX.
(Photographed by Jessica Petersen on July 23, 2021)

May you remember that
it is the way of things
that new life comes
springing up from the emptiness
where something once was.

For there cannot be new life
without death, loss, grief, sorrow…
there must be an ending for
there to be a beginning.
A period at the end of a sentence,
a space, a breath, before
a new sentence, paragraph, or page.

And in that space, that breath,
where it feels like there is nothing,
there is always God, Spirit, grace.
Because God is in all, through all.

Even when we forget to look for God
in the ending
or acknowledge God
in the beginning,
God dwells in it all.

Weeks or months or years from the day
when an end became a beginning,
we may look back and give thanks
with a tender heart
for the new life that was birthed from death,
for the gifts that came,
even as we grieve and remember.
And may God be in it all.

prayer Uncategorized

I Can’t Find the Words

Lately, there are days when I feel like I don’t know how to write anymore. It’s as if I have forgotten how to formulate coherent thoughts into words and sentences, weaving them together into something that is cohesive and meaningful. It’s not that I haven’t been writing recently. I have. But I haven’t finished anything (with the exception of sermons) in a few months. When I sit down to write, I’m finding it hard to get started, and when I do begin to make progress, I usually need to stop (because: kids, work, other responsibilities, etc). Additionally, the world seems to be moving so quickly that when I pause and return a day or two later, everything I have written seems irrelevant. So, I start again, and don’t finish again, and the cycle repeats. And sometimes I wonder what I even have to say amidst the war in Ukraine, horrific mass shootings occurring with regularity, discriminatory laws against LGBTQ+ persons, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the border crisis, the breakup of the United Methodist Church, systemic racism, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and so much more…

If I’m honest, I couldn’t type that last sentence without crying. It is A LOT, and that list is only a snippet, a tiny percentage, of the pain and injustice, the growing polarization and division, the complete and utter heartbreak that is occurring in our country and in the world. Words elude me to even begin to describe this.

The way I am feeling lately feels similar to something I experienced during my Clinical Pastoral Education internship. While serving as a hospital chaplain during the CPE process is always intense, my situation was unique because one of the long-time chaplains at the hospital where I served was dying of cancer. I was assigned his units to cover, which meant that I spent my days on in the ICU, the oncology unit, and the cardiac unit. Additionally, I spent time caring for staff who were grieving the impending loss of their own caregiver and support person. I was twenty-five years old, fresh from seminary, and it was A LOT. And when it was all beginning to feel like too much, a thirty-two-year-old patient in the ICU was determined to have lost all brain function.

As I approached the ICU to be present with his family, I heard wailing before I even reached the doors of the unit. And when I walked through the doors, I stopped in my tracks. Through the glass walls, I could see the patient’s loved ones gathered (far more than were allowed in the ICU; the room was packed) wailing and weeping and lamenting. I wanted to run the other way. It was too much. But this was my work, what I had been called to that day. When I entered the room, it suddenly became silent. Then, someone asked me to pray. I didn’t know what to pray. I didn’t have words. I bowed my head and remained silent as I tried to find the words and instead tears came…for the family, for their pain and grief, for the impossibility of doing anything to fix or help this situation. And I cried with them and for them and eventually prayed something (I have no idea what, because the words did not come from me but from the Holy Spirit) and somehow, whatever I prayed was comforting, helpful, meaningful to those in the room. After I prayed, the mood in the room was different. Individuals began to talk and share, and I listened. But I didn’t say much, and I didn’t need to. I learned that my words were not what was needed; it was my presence that mattered, my willingness to be with them in their worst moments, to cry and lament alongside them.

I guess what I am saying is that I don’t know what to say right now. But I am here. I am crying, even if you can’t see it. I am lamenting, even if you don’t hear it. I am praying, even if you don’t know it.

While some might think this is a cop-out, what I know about myself is that I have a tendency toward productivity and busy-ness, sometimes at the expense of what God is calling me to. I could put in the time to write a carefully thought-out and polished theological statement (and perhaps that will come, in time) but if I did that today, it would be at the expense of what I really need to do: cry, pray, lament.

So, here I am finishing something I began to write only this morning…800+ words about how I can’t find words. It’s probably not well-written. Perhaps it’s just babbling. But it is finished. And it is my offering for today…as I cry, pray, and lament for the world, for women and girls, for those without the privileges I have, for those hemmed in on all sides and lacking options, for those who simply want to live.

*If you want to read more about lament as a spiritual practice, you can do so here.


Learning from Virtual Kindergarten

Last week was my daughter’s last day of Kindergarten. To conclude the school year, each child was recognized for their unique contributions to the class and then they celebrated outside with sidewalk chalk and bubbles. It was a lot of fun!

I should clarify that this occurred within our home, because our daughter attended Kindergarten virtually this entire school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She and 19 of her friends logged on every day with their teacher, all from their own homes. They have never seen one another in person or played together, but they are friends. They are a community that encourages one another. I am amazed that friendships have been formed and such supportive community has developed among 5-and-6-year-olds, solely online. I had high hopes, but not high expectations, for virtual Kindergarten back in August. Virtual Kindergarten far exceeded my expectations. My daughter has learned and grown this year, but so have I. It has been a joy and a privilege to be a fly on the wall in her Kindergarten class.

While Robert Fulghum has already written a classic on how our learnings in kindergarten apply to the rest of our lives, I want to expand that concept in relation to virtual Kindergarten. The list below encompasses lessons from virtual Kindergarten that are important reminders for adults, here and now, in the 21st century.  

  •  We all need to know how to use the mute button. If 5 and 6-year-old children in Kindergarten can learn to mute/unmute themselves and wait their turn to speak, adults should be able to do the same. Yes, on Zoom, but also, on social media and during in-person conversations. In many arenas these days, it feels as if the mute button is broken. If adults simply employed the mute button appropriately, our social and political discourse, as well as our relationships, would all improve. We would all benefit from more listening and less talking.
  • Brain breaks, play, and moving our bodies is essential to being able to think and do our work well. Have you ever sat in Zoom (or in-person) meetings for hours on end, without taking a break? It’s miserable. Our daughter’s school was intentional about designing a schedule for kindergarten that incorporates plenty of screen-free time and brain breaks throughout the day. Even while on Zoom, her teacher plans activities that involve standing up and using their bodies. I’ve learned that taking regular breaks away from screens – to go outside, to move my body, to play – transforms my ability to work. It increases my productivity, even if my total work time decreases. Give it a try!
  • Paying attention to and naming our feelings is an essential life skill. Every day in Kindergarten, they talk about feelings. They read books and learn songs about feelings. They practice techniques for calming their bodies. They take turns naming their feelings. They identify the feelings of characters in books. Why all this effort toward identifying feelings? Probably because emotional intelligence is essential. We can probably all name an adult who would benefit from increased awareness of their own feelings and emotions. The last year has been a roller coaster of emotions due to the pandemic, the election, natural disasters, plus the specific events in our personal and family lives. Naming our feelings provides perspective and can help us move through difficult moments in a healthier way, for both children and adults. Virtual kindergarten has reminded me that being able to name my feelings in is vital to my own functioning and self-management and has a positive effect on relationships as well.  
  • Perseverance and confidence are the keys to success. Dozens of times every day, I hear a child say “I don’t know how to…” or “I can’t…” and the teacher’s response is always “Try your best! Never give up!” The focus is not on perfection, but on perseverance and believing you can do it. Kindergarten today is what first grade was when I attended elementary school in the early 1990’s. Children are learning and integrating challenging tasks. Guiding our daughter through her assignments has taught me that doing things in small chunks is important, especially when trying something new or challenging. For example: write one sentence a day, and by the end of the week, you have a 5-sentence short story (when it seemed impossible on Monday). That’s what perseverance looks like.
  • There are multiple routes to an endpoint. Having permission to get the work done in whatever way works best for our child was a game-changer. If writing with your finger on an iPad is hard, write it on paper and then upload a picture of it. Having the ability to decide the best approach for our child’s strengths and learning style greatly reduced our daughter’s resistance to completing assignments. Also, I weas reminded that working more slowly or in a different manner than others is not necessarily an indication of intelligence or ability. If you’re beating your head against the wall trying to get something done in a certain way or timeframe, be creative and find another way to reach the end goal. A different approach might change everything.
  • Mistakes grow your brain. In Kindergarten, students are learning the basics: how to read and write, the foundations of math. It doesn’t all come naturally. It can be quite laborious to read a book out loud to someone, to write a sentence and sound out each individual word or to translate a math word problem into an equation. When the kids become upset or frustrated about making a mistake, our daughter’s teacher says: “Mistakes grow your brain!” YES. As adults, we would do well to remember this, to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes, so that we continue to grow.
  • If the plan doesn’t work, make a new one. Flexibility and adaptability are essential to doing anything with children (well, really, anything at all involving humans)! We have all learned in the last 15 months that plans are only figurative. We must be flexible and adaptable at all times. When my daughter’s teacher’s video or screen sharing doesn’t work as planned, she transitions seamlessly to something else, and even turns it into a lesson for the kids on being flexible. It’s never too early to learn these important skills!
  • Be assertive! One of the things our daughter has had to learn in virtual kindergarten is to be assertive and ask for what she needs. With limited screen space, sometimes the teacher doesn’t see her when she’s asking to go to the bathroom or raising her hand to ask a question. She has had to learn to speak up for herself. I think I was much older before I learned this lesson. It is imperative to recognize what we need, name it, and ask for it (while keeping the mute button in mind). It is also important to do this on behalf of others who are unable to speak up for themselves.
  • 4 on the floor. All 4 legs of the chair, that is. It can be very painful to fall out of your chair onto a hard tile floor. Just like we need to look both ways before crossing the street, stay alert for obstacles when riding our bikes, and refrain from looking at our phones while driving, we need to keep all 4 legs of our chair on the floor. It’s an early lesson with relatively minor consequences that can help us learn the skills we need later in life to keep ourselves and others safe.
  • If you make a mess, clean it up. Some days, it looks as if a tornado has passed through our dining room, where our daughter attends school. Markers, crayons, tiny pieces of paper, and dirty socks litter the floor. Her desk is covered in papers for various subjects. She gets frustrated that she can’t find anything. We have worked with her on re-setting her space at set times – putting everything where it belongs, whether in a folder, her school box, the recycling, or the hamper. She feels more calm and able to work when her space is clear and organized. What if adults cleaned up after themselves, especially in public spaces? If we all took responsibility for our corner of the world, things might be different.
  • Wonder. Ask questions. Explore the world. Five and six-year-old children are really good at this. Their curiosity is not easily sidetracked by agendas and to-do lists, as often happens with adults. In fact, when a child is in the midst of imaginative play or investigating something interesting, if asked to clean up, they may throw a fit! One example: our daughter had a science assignment to take pictures of different types of rocks and varying uses for rocks near our house. She made it her personal challenge to figure out how many different types of rocks were on our block and was engaged in it for almost an hour! I was simply along to keep her safe while she wandered and photographed with the iPad. We saw so many things I had never noticed before, on the streets we walk nearly every day. Try following a young child around for a while, letting their curiosity lead you both. See what you discover together, and what you learn about yourself!

While it may seem that Kindergarten is about academic basics, perhaps even more important is the foundation composed of self-responsibility, emotional intelligence, perseverance, self-confidence, flexibility, and learning from mistakes. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone (especially adults), knew these things – deep in their bones – and practiced them in their work and personal lives. Which of these life skills do you need to brush up on or pay particular attention to today?