Religious education: Orthodox pre-school education
Orthodox pre-school formation as a priority in education
"Formation is the holiest of all the holy works"
St. Theophanes the Recluse
Childhood is the time when all the powers of a person, both spiritual and physical, are developed, the time for acquiring knowledge about the world around, the time when a person's moral skills and habits are formed. In the pre-school period, a child accumulates the moral experience intensely, and it is in this period that his spiritual life begins with moral self-determination and self-awareness. If started in his early childhood, the systematic spiritual and moral education of a child ensures subsequently his adequate social development and harmonious formation as personality.
A rich experience of organizing pre-school formation has been accumulated in our country. Once, about 70% of the pre-school children were involved in public education in Russia, with this portion reaching 90% or even more in some regions and cities.
By the mid-80s, the need arose to restructure the pre-school education, leading to the development of a Concept of Pre-school Education to meet the contemporary demands of society. This Concept promoted, among other things, the variety of pre-school education, which stimulated the emergence of a system of Orthodox education.
Beginning from 1992, an opportunity has been opened up in Russia for establishing a network of Orthodox pre-school institutions with the aim to educate children for Orthodox values from the earliest possible pre-school age. It is important to do in preparing a child for entering an Orthodox school, such as gymnasium, a pro-gymnasium or a lyceum so that continuity may be ensured in his formation and education.
Within a relatively short period of time, the Orthodox pre-school education has traversed a long way of search for various approaches to the organization, forms and subject-matter of work in pre-school institutions and groups.
The system of Orthodox pre-school education is focused on the following:
In most of the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church, Christian kindergartens and Orthodox groups have been opened. Each of the 130 dioceses has from 2 to 15 such institutions. Orthodox groups have been formed in federal and municipal institutions, and the network of culturally orientated schools and kindergartens is growing, with Orthodox cultural clubs and optional courses set up in some of them. Many Orthodox groups in pre-school institutions in Moscow, Alexandrov, Stupino, Dubna, Podolsk, St. Petersburg, Smolensk, Kaliningrad, Obninsk, Pechory, Novosibirsk, Saratov and other regions and cities in Russia have marked their 10th anniversary.
Still, these institutions are regretfully few if you look at them on the national scale. The information coming from the leaders of diocesan educational departments is incomplete and inaccurate. We need clear statistics on these institutions in our annual consolidated report.
As the network of these institutions expands, a demand grows for instructive methodological materials and specific aids on organization of pre-school institutions and educational work with children and families. This need is also dictated by the fact that kindergarten mentors are still trained in secular vocational and higher educational institutions with atheistic curricula. Unfortunately, there are no schools whatsoever for training teachers for Christian kindergartens.
Educators who start working in this area have to face the fact that the existing curricula on the formation and education of pre-school children are lacking any section on moral formation, which has been substituted by "social development tasks".
The Russian Orthodox Church Department for Religious Education and Catechism in cooperation with a wide range of scientists, psychologists, social educators, clergy and pre-school workers has undertaken to improve the subject-matter of educational work with pre-school children.
In 1993, a Concept of Orthodox Pre-school Education was developed. It has been constructive in developing the system of Orthodox pre-school institutions. Its conceptual affirmations have been used to work out the contents and methods of educational and formational work with pre-school children.
In recent years, a number of author's curricula and methodological aids have been developed. Among them:
Standing apart is the Program for Senior Pre-school Children in the new curriculum on Orthodox Culture, worked out by the Kursk Pedagogical University specialists led by Prof. V. Menshikov and the Orthodox Culture course produced by educators from Noginsk near Moscow, led by Archpriest Victor Dorofeyev.
Several comprehensive and partial author's programs focused on Russian cultural traditions were submitted to the Federal Experts Council under the Russian Federation Ministry of Education. Noteworthy among these materials are the programs on the Birth and Raising of a Healthy Child and Towards Family Through Kindergarten developed by the Medial Academy of Post-Graduate Education in St. Petersburg and the set of programs called "Family Harmony" produced by the Rozhdestvo (Nativity) family club of parental experience in Moscow, with A. Kriachko as the leader.
Some of the above listed materials were united in collected works entitled "Orthodox Education of Pre-school Children", "Church Feasts", "The Nativity of Christ", "Easter" and others, which were published and have been used in practical work in kindergartens.
At present, a series of books on the spiritual and moral education of pre-school children, which can be integrated in the work of secular institutions, is being prepared and published step by step. To this end, a Methodological Aid for Orthodox Education of Pre-school Children edited by A. Alekseyeva has been published. The aid offers a model curriculum for children's Orthodox education intended for three age groups from minor to senior pre-school age. It gives specific recommendations for using the curriculum in ten issue sections, namely, "Child and his milieu", "God is the Creator of the World", "Prayer is communication with God" and others. This aid has as its aim to help develop a child's personality taking into account his individuality and to help him come to the knowledge of God and find his way to Him.
The Education Through Fairy-Tale program edited by L. Gladkikh and the Gift for a Feast program edited by O. Potapovskaya, published in this series, reflect pre-school children's basic activities, expounding the profound spiritual and moral potential of the fairy-tale and work for the personal development of a child. Both programs help to use the rich traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church in the spiritual and moral education of children and in the formation of their spiritual family milieu.
The Family Sitting-Room and the Mum's School programs edited by L. Gladkikh are devoted to the revival of traditions of Orthodox family education and way of life. Both programs were developed and tested in pre-school institutions in the North-East District in Moscow. Their task is to help educators involve young parents in the educational process, to promote the spiritual and moral growth of all members of the family and to harmonize their relations.
In cooperation with the Academy for the Advanced Training of Educational Workers under the Ministry of Education, subject courses, such as Russian Traditions of the Spiritual and Moral Education of Pre-school Children and Basic Orthodox Culture in Pre-school Educational Institutions intended for various pre-school educators were developed and tested.
The annual Christmas Educational Readings have proved very important in propagating and systematizing the experience of work in the Orthodox pre-school education. A special place in them is occupied by the section on Orthodox Pre-school Education. Participating in this section are our colleagues not only in Russia, but also in Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. It has become a tradition for the section to present new academic and practical materials and to develop and clarify guidelines for work with family and for training personnel.
This year, the session of the Orthodox Pre-school Education section of the Christmas Readings met at ethically and culturally orientated Kindergarten No. 2365 in the South District in Moscow. The choice of the kindergarten was not accidental. For five years it has used in its work with children the richness of Russian culture and the family way of life based on Orthodox values. Along with the civil and natural calendar, this kindergarten has built its life on the Orthodox church calendar and the contents of its games on Russian Orthodox cultural traditions. The use of this rich material makes it possible to move gradually to the Orthodox education. Accordingly, the aim of the section was to introduce its participants to the work of this kindergarten.
The section meeting was attended by over 200 people from various regions in Russia, Lithuania and Belarus. Significantly, this year there was an unprecedented number of young teachers who specialize in the spiritual and moral education of pre-school children. Some 20 reports were made, noting the growing number of curricula developed for pre-school institutions and the more refined technique of spiritual and moral education for Orthodox tradition.
O. Potapovskaya, a leading researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Family and Education, analyzed the process of establishing of a normative, legal and content-wise basis of modern education. She justified the need to define more clearly the notions of spiritual and moral education, building on fundamental philosophical and psychological research. She singled out the three components of basic personal culture: moral or ethical, esthetical and religious as focuses for spiritual and moral education.
A great interest was provoked by the remarks of T. Feoktistova who spoke about the efforts to work out criteria for determining the level of a pre-school child's breeding with the help of certain diagnostic methods. This experimental work is carried out in cooperation with Chelyabinsk Pedagogical Institute.
The Rozhdestvo family club of parental experience presented its program called "Tradition". It is intended for children from 1,5 to 7 years of age and presupposes an active participation of parents. It represents a year-long plan of subjects to be studied in children's workshops. It helps to introduce children through games, fairy-tales and handicrafts to the world of moral values predominant in the traditional Russian culture.
Other speakers enlarged on this theme, all ultimately emphasizing the spiritual and moral education in the kindergarten as a basis of the revival of Russian culture. This kind of education, they stated, has entered a qualitatively new stage in its development when the spiritual and moral contents should be integrated in the everyday life of the kindergarten, in all children's activities and all traditional methods of pre-school education. They also noted as very beneficial the organization of creative workshops, such as Ethnographical Museum, Christmas Present, Issue Dialogue.
The section participants saw pre-school institutions as one of the resources for the spiritual regeneration of the country and the restoration of her age-old Orthodox traditions.
A lively discussion was stirred up by the problem of the Orthodox Culture course to be introduced to educational institutions. But this question applies only to general education schools and universities, whereas, as is common knowledge, the basics of this culture should be instilled in children in early childhood. Children should be educated for Orthodox values in their attitude towards their parents, friends, native land, nature and their homeland.
At the same time, an analysis of some published methodological aids on Orthodox culture for pre-school institutions has shown that their contents does not often correspond to their name. Most of them are confined to a religious instruction course incomprehensible for pre-school children. The contents of most studies is calculated for the children who are well prepared for church life, whereas in many families parents and children have just begun to learn the values of Orthodoxy.
Unfortunately, all the directives issued by the Ministry of Education so far with regard to Orthodox education do not apply to the work of kindergartens of various kinds, while the Russian Federation Law on Education does include pre-school education in kindergartens in the public education system in our country. Those who are engaged in developing normative curricula should be concerned over the need to give a legal status to Orthodox education beginning from pre-school age.
The pre-school institutions which just begin their work in this area need competent guidance from the clergy. However, they often feel neglected both by the public education system and the Church. Indeed, the clergy are those who can say the word so needed not only by the child but also his parents and teachers and create an atmosphere of devotion, morality, Christian love, etc., but they do not always have an opportunity for doing this work because of work overload and the shortage of personnel.
In this connection, what is needed is the systematic training of the clergy for pedagogical work. The Orthodox Pedagogy course introduced in theological schools requires the inclusion of separate sections on Family Education and Peculiarities of Spiritual and Moral Formation of Personality in Early and Pre-school Age. It is desirable that secular secondary and higher pedagogical educational institutions should introduce special courses and optional studies on the spiritual and moral education of pre-school children according to Orthodox cultural traditions.
Unfortunately, the pedagogical skills of not only parents but also teachers working with pre-school children have deteriorated in recent years. This is manifested in shifting emphasis in developing small children towards early intellectualism, while natural patterns show that the age till 8 is a sensitive period in which a child develops his sensory, emotional and moral abilities. It is the age that should not be missed in forming the child's ideas of good and bad, morality, moral behaviour and relationships.
Another matter of concern is an overload that the child's organism suffers in a situation of mass experiments and author's curricula. To overcome this problem it is necessary to arrange for a strict expertise to review educational and methodological materials and aids.
What is also alarming is the increasing scale on which the mass media, especially television, propagate evil, cruelty and violence so damaging for the child's mentality.
Orthodox education at the town of Stupino
The Little Red Flower Kindergarten
"We cannot wait for the time when our children will grow up and understand that their path leads to the Church, for they may not understand it or may grow rude, and the path to the Church may become hidden or closed forever. Children should be led to the Church from their early childhood… Not from their youth, but earlier, children should be nourished with the beneficial powers of the Church so that the heart of a youth may not become deaf when the time comes for a creative search".
Archpriest V. V. Zenkovsky
In recent years, the Russian Orthodox Church has again received an opportunity for educating children from the earliest possible age. In many regions in Russia, Orthodox pre-school institutions and groups have been established at state kindergartens.
Orthodox groups have existed in Kindergarten No. 10, called "Little Red Flower", at the town of Stupino for several years now. In addition to other exercises in which the children are engaged, an inchurched mentor conducts talks with them on spiritual and moral issues. A priest comes to the group once a week to help mentors with religious education and to talk to both children and parents. The children who attend these classes receive knowledge about Orthodox faith from early age, are introduced to church life and learn the traditions of the Russian people. The children in Orthodox groups differ from other children. They are more modest and obedient to their parents and mentors. Their unity and solidarity is manifested in everything, be it a lesson, a walk or help to others.
In addition to ordinary lessons, the children participate in prayer. Celebrations are organized for them on Orthodox feast-days.
On July 2, 2000, celebrations devoted to the 2000th anniversary of the Nativity of Christ were conducted at Stupino. The Little Red Flower Kindergarten welcomed guests. Among them were His Eminence Metropolitan Juvenaly of Krutitsy and Kolomna and Bishop Tikhon of Vidnoye. The children gave them a joyous welcome and showed them a small performance devoted to the festive event.
The Little Red Flower Kindergarten has had two Orthodox groups graduated. After leaving the kindergarten the children have not parted but have gone together to the same class in the same school, thus showing again the unity and solidarity of the Orthodox.
The experience of work with children in Orthodox groups in Kindergarten No. 10 has already begun to be adopted by other kindergartens at Stupino, as well as other towns in the Moscow Region.
For several years the Little Red Flowers Kindergarten mentors have taken an active part in the work of the Orthodox Pre-school Education section of the Christmas Educational Readings in which they share the technique of work in Orthodox groups. In January 2001, the section met at Stupino on the initiative of Archpriest Mikhail Redkin, dean of Stupino district, and the chairpersons of the section, Rev. Dimitry Razinsky and Alla Alekseyeva, leading researcher of the ROC Department for Religious Education and Catechism. The participants came from 12 regions in Russia and neighboring countries. The children from the Orthodox group gave them a warm welcome, clad in smart Russian folk dresses. Traditionally, the section began its work with a general introduction of the participants. They were mostly workers, mentors and methodologists from pre-school educational institutions. Each spoke briefly on his or her work.
During the meeting of the section the participants attended an open class in the Orthodox group conducted by Galina Patkina, a highly qualified teacher. She had been engaged in the spiritual and moral education of children for six years. After the class, the participants saw a commented film on the life of the Orthodox group and were introduced to the methodological aids used in the kindergarten.
The formation of pre-school children in the spirit of religious and moral enlightenment is a guarantee of the future revival of Holy Russia and a foundation for the prosperity and consolidation of our people.
Rev. Oleg Ovodkov
Basic approaches to spiritual and moral education in the Skazka Kindergarten
Having been the director of a kindergarten for 25 years, I have come to the firm conclusion that it is impossible to educate children without a spiritual and moral foundation. Moreover, its absence is harmful both for children who will graduate pre-school educational institutions having no clear idea of good and bad, and for us, adults, for we commit a serious sin when neglect the most important thing in the development of a child, which is the nourishment of his soul.
Our kindergarten has been engaged in the Orthodox education of children for over ten years. Our work is supported by the Education Directorate and Administration at Stupino because the Orthodox education does not contradict the tasks set by the established secular educational standards, but rather enriches it and the pedagogical process with unique traditions of Russian pedagogy and brings spirituality into the life of the kindergarten.
Our principle is that children should rejoice over life. An Orthodox Christian has special reasons for joy, and we, pedagogues, explain them to children. We know that there is God Who loves us. We know that there is no death. We know that we are guarded by angels. The God-created world is beautiful. And this world can and must be adorned with good works for the benefit of both adults and children. These truths should come home to children in the very beginning of their life path. They should not be allowed to wander in this world, given to sin and despair.
In systematizing knowledge, we have greatly benefited from the Christmas Educational Readings in which we have been lucky to participate for 11 years. The Reading's section on pre-school education works combining practical materials and theoretical knowledge. It helps us, teachers, to highlight key-points in our work for spiritual and moral education, giving special attention to the revival of Russian culture imbued as it is with Christian spiritual values.
The adequate Orthodox formation and education of a child requires everyday effort to raise children in love of God and their neighbours. We take comfort in seeing the fruits of our work manifested in the life of our children.
Here is an example. A disaster happened in the group: Annie fell seriously ill. She was taken to a hospital in Moscow for surgery. The children are upset. They are unusually quiet. After breakfast they began to make gifts for Annie. Some made drawings, others applique work, still others wrote letter in block letters. After they gave in their pieces, the group's mentor Marina Dolgaya and I read one of the letters and it filled our eyes with tears. "Anna, please recover. I am praying for you", the child wrote. Will such a response of a child's soul to the misfortune of her neighbour be possible without Orthodox education? Anna's surgery went well. We believe, not only doctors but also children's prayers served their purpose.
Or, another example. Once I bought a beautiful icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, called "It is meet and right…". I hastened to the group to share the joy with the children and suggested that they make the sing of the cross, kiss the icon and tell the Mother of God their fondest dream. Certainly, I thought the children will ask for various gifts, sweets, toys. But what a shock it was for me when the very first girl to stand before the icon said quietly, "My dad drinks". I said, "then make the sign of the cross, kiss the icon and ask the Mother of God that your dad stops drinking". She did so, whispering her petition, and stepped aside gravely. And the children raised a noise, crying out, "And my dad drinks", "And my dad drinks vodka", "And my dad and mom drink and smoke!"
"Good Lord!" we changed glances. "What is all this? Are there any normal families at all?" On that day all the children prayed at the icon for their families. Nobody asked for sweets or gifts. And they were only children of four!
In the evening, I came across the father of that girl. He walked light-hearted, assured and drunk as usual. I said to him, "And your daughter, she prayed today for you and asked the Mother of God that you stop drinking". The smile instantly vanished from his face. He looked confused and somehow helpless. He murmured only one phrase, "That's all, I will drink no more".
Strange as it may seem, he drinks no more! For a third year in a row! Wonderful are the deeds of God! Powerful is a child's prayer. There are many such examples in our life. They prove we are right. We are right that spiritual and moral education should begin from the earliest childhood, without missing unique opportunities for improving and developing a pre-school child.
L. N. Veremeychuk
Post-graduate training courses for teachers of spiritual culture
Courses for training spiritual culture teachers were held from July 4 to 10, 2003, at the Moscow Theological Academy in St. Sergius' Laura of the Trinity at Sergiev Posad. They were organized by the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary, the Pokrov Center of Pedagogical Studies and the Sholokhov Open Pedagogical University in Moscow.
The courses were attended by educators who teach in general schools such subjects as Basic Orthodox Culture, History of Orthodox Culture, Orthodox Culture, Basic Traditional Spiritual Culture, etc. There were over 240 students from 40 dioceses in Russia, representing regions from Karelia to North Ossetia and from Smolensk to Irkutsk.
The students were welcomed by Archbishop Eugene of Vereya, rector of the Moscow Theological Academy and Seminary. He outlined the principal fields in which the students were to be trained, including an introduction to basic theological, psychological, pedagogical and cultural knowledge and an instruction on the principles and methods of teaching Orthodox culture in secular schools.
In their reports, Dr. M. Belogubova of the Russian Federation Presidential Staff and Dr. K. Chernega, a lecturer at the MTAS, spoke in detail about the main problems of cooperation between the State and the Church in education.
Prof. A. Osipov, MTAS, and Rev. Pavel Vilikanov gave lectures systematizing the basics of theological scholarship. Their very clear and vivid presentations were highly appreciated by the students and provoked a lively discussion.
The remarks made by Father Andronik Trubachev on hagiology were found inspiring, as studies on Lives of Saints and the history, flora and fauna of holy places may be supportive for regional ethnic studies through the prism of spiritual culture.
Prof. M. Dunayev of MTAS, Dr. S. Makhnach of the Russian Orthodox University, Prof. V. Medushevsky of the Chaikovsky State Conservatoire in Moscow, who are highly qualified professionals in their fields, offered a well-considered Orthodox approach to the Russian literature, music and history.
Archpriest Eugen Shestun, head of the Orthodox Pedagogy chair at the Samara Seminary and the author of a text-book on Orthodox pedagogy for secular and ecclesiastical schools, in his lectures, justified the need for regenerating Orthodox traditions in Russian pedagogy.
The teachers showed a great interest in the educational and methodological set of aids on Orthodox culture intended for preliminary school. Developed by Dr. L. Shevchenko, it is made up of a text-book, an album of illustrations and audio-cassettes. By the beginning of the next academic years, the Pokrov Center will have it published and distributed in many copies to the Belgorod and other cities and regions which have offered to become a testing ground for this educational aids set. The students also examined other methodological aids published under the editorship of Archpriest Victor Dorofeyev, who offers a different conceptual basis for teaching basic Orthodox culture in pre-school institutions and preliminary school. General appreciation was given to the text-book on Basic Orthodox Culture by A. Borodina intended for the secondary and high schools of general education, as well as lyceums and gymnasia.
S. Martyshin, director of a rural school in the Yaroslavl Region, shared a unique experience of practical work. For 8 years now, his school of holistic development has taught Loving-Kindness. Orthodox culture, he said, is a pillar of the entire educational work in his school. It becomes an integral part of the life of rural dwellers after they finish the school.
Ms. T. Dovgiy, deputy head of the Smolensk regional education and youth department, explained to the students the ways in which all the schools of her region introduce children to Orthodoxy using regional ethnic studies through the program and text-book on History of Basic Orthodox Culture in the Smolensk Land. This course will become compulsory in the academic year 2003/2004 in the general education schools in the Smolensk Region. In addition, her department recommended that other educational institutions in the region include studies on the history of Orthodox culture in the regional component of optional educational courses. The Council of Smolensk, an assembly of representatives of all social groups and confessions, which dealt with the spiritual health of the people in Smolensk, approved the decision to introduce a course on Basic Orthodox Culture to state educational institutions.
Teachers from St. Petersburg presented a program called "Luminaries and Shrines", which has been successfully implemented in a number of schools in Russia for a 10 years now.
Dr. Abramenkova of the Russian Academy of Science Innovations Institute, spoke of psychological problems encountered in moral formation, drawing the students' attention to the harmful tendencies affecting the development of children, such as a cultural intervention of new patterns and values which tend to make children mercantile, victimized and spiritually corrupt. She called upon the teachers to be vigilant in choosing games, toys and celebrations for children and reminded them of the words of Theophanes the Recluse that "education is the holiest of the holy works".
The time of the course coincided beneficially with St. Peter's Fast, which set the tone for most of the students. They were happy to have an opportunity for confession and communion in St. Sergius' Laura of the Trinity and to attend divine services at the shrine of St. Sergius and in the Laura's cathedrals.
The students of the course worked very intensively, from 8 o'clock in the morning till 10 o'clock in the evening. They were to present in writing a report on their personal experience in teaching spiritual culture. Discussions in small groups helped to identify the most interesting and significant papers, which were presented to the plenary. This material will be used by the Pokrov Center for compiling a data base systematizing the most interesting pedagogical experience in teaching spiritual culture in Russia.
In conclusion, an interview was held with every student to help him or her assess the level of his or her own theological and methodological knowledge. Depending on the results of tests and interviews, students received various kinds of advanced training certificates.
His Eminence Eugene and Hieromonk Cyprian Yaschenko were the soul and driving force of the courses who, with the help of the Pokrov Center and students of MTAS and St. Tikhon's Theological Institute, succeeded in organizing full-fledged and high quality training. They also ensured a rare opportunity for the course students to venerate the shrines in the Laura and in Moscow, too, by crowing the course with an excursion to churches and monasteries in the capital city.
Both the organizers and the students expressed hope that such courses will be conducted on a regular basis and their graduates will use the knowledge they gained in their work in various educational institutions.
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