Not sure how much one can learn from children? Consider reading a few of these works documenting children’s stories of their experience. The books are a diverse mixture filled with inspiring, surprising accounts of a range of children’s experiences, inner, outer and otherwise.
The Spiritual Life of Children
Robert Coles is a solid, long-standing figure in field research with children. The Spiritual Life… is his work following children’s views (and lovely drawings!) of the spiritual – from God to Gods to inner worlds of spirits. Filled with straight quoted narratives and descriptions of spiritual experiences from children of all ages, it is an excellent starting place for understanding the depth of research undertaken with children. This, unlike some other books describing spiritual experiences of children, does focus on specifically representing children from specific religious backgrounds, as well as the broader psychological and philosophical themes of children’s relation with spirituality.
“Children try to understand not only what is happening to them, but why; and in doing that, they call upon the religious life they have experienced, the spiritual values they have received, as well as other sources of potential explanation.”
Children of Crisis
Children of Crisis is a giant 700 page book that is “selections” from a five-volume series on children growing up in the 60′s and 70′s. Coles writes in a narrative format throughout the book, describing the scenery and context of the children from the “uprooted” to the “privileged.” Among his stories are interviews, drawings and intimate documentation of how children live in the vastly different situations around America. Totally in-depth and a fantastic base for looking at the lives of children.
“Don’t ask me what that word means: culture. I asked the teacher and she explained, and I still couldn’t figure out what she was telling us…. All I’d wanted, anyway, was an explanation from the teacher that all of us in the room could understand and take home to our parents and give to them. What’s so great about living in an igloo, and not having a store where you can get food in the middle of winter, when it’s fifty below and the wind is getting ready to carry the whole village across the ocean?” Mary, age 13, Eskimo.
The Secret Spiritual World of Children
Truly amazing book that gives insight into children’s alternative spiritual practices (meditation, seeing spirits, gods, guides etc.). The insight provided is then used as a platform to give the reader an outline for how to practice ‘hearing’ children’s spiritual insights, especially in the “Spiritual Parenting” and “A Spiritual Curriculum” sections. Much like a well researched guide-book, Hart’s convincing narratives and well thought-out suggestions and interpretations of how we relate to children, are incredibly helpful for those of us curious about how children know what they know.
“No matter what else children must bear in their lives, they must bear themselves. The dark thoughts, shuddering fears, embarrassing acts, and nagging desires need not be shunned, but must be welcomed.”
Take a Flashlight, It Will Be Okay
826LA is a writing workshop center in LA for children. They publish books written by the children from the work they make at the 826LA space. The stories and poems here hilarious, serious, weird, lame; but they are all written and edited by the children themselves. They put out a book every so often, so it is difficult to get a copy of the exact book mentioned here, but they always have new ones! A favorite excerpt from Take a Flashlight is:
The Meaning of Life
by Erik Martinez
Meaning of life cell phone. Meaning of life God. Meaning of life babies.
Meaning of life drink. Meaning of life alien. Meaning of life fun.
The tip of the iceberg as far as books on children who claim to experience past lives goes. Considered to be the mainstream entry reading into the scientific evidence for survival of some parts of us after death, it really orients readers to the powerful results of closely examining children’s experiences and narratives that seem to question normal reality. Before Dr. Tucker, a long time researcher at the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, Dr. Ian Stevenson pioneered interviewing and researching a phenomenon known as children who remember past lives. Life Before Life gives a solid account of the reality of contemporary research and interviews with some of these children. Dr. Tucker’s research is particularly compelling, because the stories aren’t just verbal expressions of abstract ‘ideas of children,’ but often are quite real, embodied and physical experiences of an alternative world view (one that includes the possibility of having another body before this one).
The New Children and Near-Death Experiences
Although P.M.H. Atwater is often considered too new-agey for most, I put this book on the list, because it does catalog the stories of children who’ve had a near-death experience in a clear and thoughtful way. The near-death experiences of children also help identify potential alternate viewpoints on our current perception of how life works, and it is these particular kinds of stories that help re-examine what we need to consider for creating alternative futures. Despite the disparate countries and life experiences of these children, under the circumstances of near-death, their stories often tell a similar thread or share a similar experience, giving undeniable truths to children’s perspectives. It’s helpful for researchers working with children, to have another angle to approach what children say, but it is also helpful for parents or teachers who’ve been close with a child who has had a near-death experience – specifically when it details how children say they’ve changed, and the after affects associated with this particular kind of experience.
Stephen M. Joseph
Me Nobody Knows: Children’s Voices from the Ghetto
Essentially this is a book of poetry by teenage children who live in the American ghetto. There are letters, poems and stories as recorded and compiled by the editor which portray a certain glimpse at the way some children think and live. Unlike the more expansive perspective of some of the spiritual books, the effects of reading this book are more sobering:
V.B. (Age 14)
For what purpose was I born? I don’t see.
To speak words that no one will listen to
No matter how loud I shout them?
To throw up dates, and events
just as I recorded them and be pronounced
a genius? To sit through school day after
day and be referred to as a “good child”?
To hear things that I shouldn’t and then be
instructed to forget?
For what reason am I living? To see
man destroy each other, and we listen
to them preach godlyness and good-will?
To take things as they are and never question?
To live a clean life, only to rot away in your
grave? To have things your soul desires, prohibited?
To be told God is good, but disregard the fact
that the world– his so called “creation”
But these are thoughts I must
not think if I am to survive.
A few other books of interest that discuss children’s inner narratives, dreams and the like:
Editors: Robert Emde, Dennis Wolf and David Oppenheim, Revealing the Inner Worlds of Young Children: The MacArthur Story Stem Battery and Parent-Child Narratives
Melvin Morse, Closer to the Light
Carl Jung, Children’s Dreams: Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936-1940 (Jung Seminars)
Athena Drewes and Sally Drucker of the Rhine Research Center, Parapsychological Research with Children