Orthodox Children in Public Schools

I recently received an e-mail from a reader asking if I knew of any books on things we, as Orthodox mothers, should enforce if we have children attending public schools.  The only thing I can remember reading on this topic is in Presbytera Juliana Cownie’s book Young Children in the Orthodox Church.  I’ve mentioned this book before and again cannot express how much I love it.

Here is an excerpt on Orthodox children in school:
Presbytera says,
“To be honest, the atmosphere which prevails in the average public school is not conducive to promoting civilized behavior, much less Christian conduct.  The greater part of what the Orthodox parent tries to convey to the child at home will be quickly unlearned at school because of the child’s desire to fit in with the herd.  Hypocrisy and shame will often see the child leading a double life, if the parents are not extremely vigilant and careful.  Ideally, Orthodox children should be schooled at home, but the ideal is not always attainable.  Accordingly, here are some guidelines for helping a child maintain his identity as an Orthodox Christian within the public school system.
1.  Have your own dress code and enforce it.  Children express their identity by their outward appearance.  Many inner city schools are moving to curb gang involvement and discipline problems by issuing uniforms and banning make-up and jewelry.  Thus far, these methods have been proven quite successful.  Even if your child’s school has not instituted such regulations, you should insist that your child be attired modestly and without unnecessary adornment.  Girls should wear dresses or skirts.  If, for the sake of modesty, a girl needs to wear shorts, they may be worn under the dress.  The use of hairspray and wearing boyish or distracting hairstyles should be discouraged.  Boys should wear clothing that fits them properly and should have hair properly trimmed.  There is a mistaken notion among some Orthodox Christians that boys who serve as candle-bearers or readers must wear their hair long, as a monk or priest does.  This is not true and should not serve as an excuse on religious grounds to violate school dress codes.
2.  Emphasize the importance of keeping fasts at school.  Temptations will be many and will come not only from the child’s peers, but from teachers who want to treat the schoolchildren (almost always on a Friday).  Provide tasty sack lunches on fast days.  It is not usually too difficult to give the child something more desirable than the normal cafeteria fare.  Bring fasting treats to school parties which are held during a fast period.  Let the teachers know about Orthodox fasting practices at the beginning of the school year, so your child will not experience discomfort at having to explain concepts that he may be unable to articulate.  Above all, let your child know you are proud of him when he refuses something he would like to have eaten.  He will remember that encouragement when future temptations arise.
3.  Make the child think always in terms of acting in a Christian way and pleasing Christ with his behavior.  If the child does something wrong at school, he should admit it and be willing to take the consequences.  A child who blames others for his behavior or lies to escape punishment is developing a pattern of moral cowardice.  A parent who blames others for the child’s behavior (“The teacher doesn’t like him.  It was the other kid’s idea.  He just went along with it.”) , or shields the child from the fair punishment he deserves, is training him to be a moral coward, or perhaps training him to be immoral.  Encourage the child to forgive the children who wrong him or tease him.  Help the child to try to see things from the perspective of the teacher who may always seem so grumpy and hand out so much homework.  Never give the child an excuse for not meeting his obligations at school.  If he misses class to attend Divine Services, make it clear that he must make up the work.  Try to have a good relationship with the teacher, so that if problems arise, lines of communication are open to discuss them.
4.  Teach your child that he must never be ashamed of being an Orthodox Christian.  Wearing a cross, saying a blessing before eating, refraining from blasphemy or cruelty-these are all things which set him apart from an unthinking crowd of young people who have no idea who they are.  Do your best to convince him that confusion and fear of ridicule are not enviable motivations for living.
As a parent, do not be deceived into believing that the school owns your child, or has any right to dictate to you how your child should be educated, or what values he should be learning.  If the school is offering a course which you find morally objectionable, have your child excused.  If the school will not excuse your child from the course, withdraw your child from the school. Whether or not you choose to argue the merits of a particular class, your child should not be subjected to morally questionable material or to the ensuing controversy, should you decide to fight to have the material removed from the curriculum.”
I’m so glad to have been asked about this because it’s been quite some time since I’ve read it and with Ace starting school, I’ve reminded of several things to “nip in the bud” at the beginning of the school year instead of whenever things come up throughout the school year.  Does anyone else have any thoughts on Orthodox children attending school?

Proper Etiquette for Young Children in the Church

Mother’s of Orthodox Preschooler’s posted this last month. This is from one of Presbytera Cownie’s books. If you’ve never read one of her books (I believe there are 2) you’re missing out on a LOT of great information. My favorite is the book she co-wrote with Father David Cownie entitled A Guide To Orthodox Life: Some Beliefs, Customs and Traditions of the Church It’s basically an Orthodox Etiquette book covering subjects from proper etiquette when attending Church to how to address clergy in correspondence, etc. I would definitely get my hands on a copy of these books!

Here is an excerpt from her book Young Children in the Orthodox Church: Some Basic Guidelines

Children should be taught from earliest childhood how to reverence icons properly. Their first act upon entering an Orthodox Church should be to reverence the icons in an orderly and pious fashion as they have seen the adults do. Parents should help very small children by holding their hands and going through the motions of making the sign of the Cross with them until they are able to do it by themselves. Small children should be watched carefully and guided as they reverence the icons. If he/she cannot or will not obey, the parent should take the child’s hand and guide them through the proper motions.

Toddlers can be especially trying because they become easily frustrated when their movements are restricted. At first, we may be able only to keep them within arm’s reach and quiet their louder outbursts. While we have to allow them a certain latitude, we must very clearly define specific boundaries to their movements and their behavior. All children (including toddlers) need and crave such boundaries. This defines their world and gives them a sense of security. If no boundaries are defined, a child will ultimately wander aimlessly throughout the church until somebody stops him. This is natural. However, this aimless wandering is unsettling for a child because he has no secure place where he can feel he belongs. So we set the boundary for the child close to us, within arm’s reach, so that we can effectively enforce the boundary. The boundary will be tested, we can be assured of that. The child needs to test his limits to verify that they are real. Expect any limit set to be tested many times. Because of this, consistency is essential. As many times as the child tries to wander, we must bring him back. Any time the child makes a loud disturbance, we must insist he be quiet. If he chooses to persist or become even louder, we must immediately take him outside and discipline him in such a way that he will connect going outside with something unpleasant. We should take note that rebellion does not always manifest itself in a noisy way. Silent sobbing and sullen disobedience are just as indicative of self-will as tantrums and just as spiritually destructive if not corrected immediately.

Food should never be brought into the church in the form of snacks and drinks to keep small children quiet. For one thing, it is uncanonical. The only food consumed in the church is Holy Communion, Antidoron, and the Artos. The eggs for Pascha and grapes for Transfiguration are brought in only to be blessed. Other foods are forbidden by the canons. Besides, it is just not a good idea to bribe children with snacks. This teaches the child an unhealthy attitude toward food which can promote obesity and creates a bad habit which is very difficult to break. Imagine how difficult it will be to teach such a child how to fast for Communion and Antidoron when he is of age.

Babies and toddlers should, of course, commune every Sunday and Feast Day and they require no particular preparation beforehand. By their demeanor, however, the parents convey their personal sense of reverence for the Mysteries to the child. As the child matures, the parents’ responsibility increases. When the parents and the Priest feel that the child is articulate enough and able to understand right from wrong, it is time to have the child go to Confession. There is no specified age when this should occur. Some local churches have arbitrarily chosen the age of seven, but this is merely a guideline and should not be considered absolute. Some children are able to confess at a very early age, while others may need more time. The same holds true for fasting before Communion. The parents should accustom their child to the idea, first of all, by their example. When the parents observe that the child does not seem to require food as frequently (for example, the child is able to play all morning without showing interest in food), they should help the child understand that we do not eat or drink in the morning before we commune. Again, this is a matter of parental discretion but our goal is to strive to teach the child to put off gratification of physical appetites in favor of a higher, spiritual good.

There is no reason to be afraid to set high standards for our children.

When we have high expectations, children not only gain self-esteem by meeting those expectations, but they come to love and respect those who set them. Children want the House of God to be a place of awe and mystery. Though young children may have difficulty being attentive during long services or understanding what these services mean, they yearn to be taught and naturally seek to understand anything for which their parents show a deep reverence.

Mind your manners…

It seems like nowadays more than ever I find myself reminding Ace to mind his manners. Every time we are out in public there are children, literally acting like animals. We were at storytime yesterday and a little boy was licking the back of the chair in front of him and his mother just sat there watching. Ace looked at me looking for an explanation on why this child was doing this and I was looking at him for an explanation on why his mother was just watching. I didn’t want to draw attention to it in the library, but you better believe as soon as we got into the car I explained to Ace how inappropriate and rude that was. I try very hard not to make him judgmental, but I also want him to know what is wrong. Usually I go with the “we listen to what Jesus tells us on how we should behave. He wants us to act with love and good manners”. It usually works.

I keep trying to pound these things (things of the Faith, manners, etc) into his head before he starts school. I really think these values need to be instilled in him while I still have him at home with me all day.

I simply can’t believe some of the books and materials available to young kids today. As we were leaving the library, I noticed a book on display called The Daring Book for Girls. So I grabbed it and checked it out. While, there are some neat crafts and activities in the book overall it gives me a very feminist kinda vibe. I need not mention the fact that it teaches how to “read” a palm. So I am not recommending this book, but it did remind me of how little girls nowadays receive more encouragement to act like boys than girls. It has somehow become uncool to act and dress like a lady, even for us women. So ladies, it starts from home! Go to Target ($1.00 section around Easter) buy some little white gloves for your little girl and set the table with fresh cut flowers and linens and have a little tea party with cucumber dill sandwiches and other dainty little treats! (I will post some recipes in another post) There is something very feminine in holding a tiny porcelain teacup and saucer isn’t there? Give her a little shawl to wear when it’s chilly too, shawls are very feminine and make acting like a lady fun for little girls. Companies like Harney & Son’s and Teavana sell children’s teas. Even in your local supermarket you can find naturally caffeine-free tea. One of my favorites is Tropic of Strawberry by Celestial Seasonings.

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Now you ladies that are like me with only little boys at home, we are not excused from this responsibility. We must teach our little men to be gentlemen. This means holding doors for ladies when possible, giving the girls the best seats in the house and being gentle and polite. There is a time and place for everything, let little boys run free and wild outdoors, not inside. This is something we can all work on together.

It’s also ironic that most of these things are parallel to our beliefs as Orthodox Christians. If we followed the Faith as prescribed by Christ and the saints to the tee, we’d be on target with just about everything. We must pray for His help in doing this.

In the meantime, here are Kate Spade’s Modern-Day Etiquette Reminders

Making others feel at ease is the essence of etiquette, yesterday and today.

There are few words more elementary or more welcomed than please and thank you.

Good moods are contagious. Hopefully, yours will be pleasantly catching.

Be aware and considerate of personal space-physical, visual, and aural.

Showing respect is a gift, one that costs nothing and is endlessly appreciated.

Think of your tone of voice as a telegraph. To the listener it speaks volumes.

A short fuse does nothing but burn. Should you find yourself with one, steer clear of others.

Never underestimate the message that’s sent by your poise and posture.

Clothes count. Appropriate attire is not only respectful, it’s refreshing.

Let common sense be your guide and graciousness your goal.

If you have any manner-teaching methods please share with us!