Play dates are a great way for children and parents to spend time together socializing in a non-structured environment. But, what about a play date with a more meaningful purpose?
That was the question Glenview mom Edwina Cowell asked herself when her oldest son (now a teenager) participated in a weekly play date with a small group of boys in their neighborhood. Each boy’s mother came from a different spiritual path, including one who had walked away from organized religion altogether. Yet, they all agreed that the question of faith and the topic of God in a modern world were important. They felt it was a conversation that they should begin with their children at a young age
“We all felt frustrated that our kids were either being outsourced to someone else to get a spiritual foundation or they were without exposure to the subject of spirituality at all,” Cowell says.
Cowell and the other mothers in the group began researching different religions and initiated a series of open-ended questions, stories and even calming meditative practices into future play dates, hoping to engage their children in a variety of subjects related to faith. The result was an eye-opening dialogue with the boys that their mothers had never had before.
“I just knew there was much higher purpose in what we were doing,” Cowell says.
The experience left a lasting impression on Cowell, who earlier this year launched Spiritual Playdate, a web-based interfaith program that links parents and mentors who want to explore spiritual faiths (and non-faiths) with children in a non-judgmental setting.
During development, Cowell enlisted the help of educators and faith leaders from around the world to advise and contribute to the program, which provides thoughtful, age-appropriate lesson plans that can be used in the home, place of worship or within a secular organization or group. She was overwhelmed by the response from leaders representing an array of faiths and spiritual paths, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Baha’i and Buddhism, who were quick to offer their guidance in support of the program.
“Many clergy we have worked with tell us they see the interfaith work we are doing as a path to peace, something that is absolutely critical right now to the survival of specific faiths and the plurality of all religions,” Cowell says.
Etan Boritzer is author and publisher of the best-selling “What Is?” series of children’s books on universal life concepts and is on the board of advisors for Spiritual Playdate. Boritzer says what attracted him most to working with Cowell on the program was their shared vision for helping children to develop a more beneficial, multicultural worldview that promotes peace and acceptance.
“Education is the key, the solution to individual hate and greed,” Boritzer says. “Let’s start early to teach boys and girls that we are all friends and can have a better world together, no matter what garment you wear, who your world teacher is or what your rites and rituals are.”
So how does a Spiritual Playdate work?
1. Set a date and time: Cowell suggests small groups meet on average once per week with sessions lasting about one hour.
2. Create a safe and open environment: Adult facilitators open each play date with an affirmation that doubles as a tagline for the program: “I respect and honor you and your beliefs.”
3. Choose a “Soul Talk” topic: An extensive list is on the website where step-by-step outlines are offered to drive open-ended discussions and spark conversation among participants. Each question has answers that support different beliefs according to a variety of religious and spiritual teachings.
4. Go play: Fun activities like stories, role-playing, crafts and music are suggested to support children’s understanding of each topic. Each play date wraps up with an audio meditation and a closing affirmation or prayer.
The “Soul Talks” lesson plans are designed for different age groups: Bright Spirits (ages 5-7), Spirit Pals (ages 8-10) and coming soon, Spirit Teens (ages 11-17). Individual memberships to the program are fairly priced at $2 per month.
Sameena Razvi, a Gurnee mother of three daughters, leads a Girl Scout troop of 40 girls in affiliation with the Islamic Foundation North, an organization that serves the Muslim community in Waukegan. Razvi says incorporating the Spiritual Playdate program into Girl Scout activities is a positive step towards her passion for promoting an interfaith dialogue among the girls in their troop.
“This helps children understand the world,” Razvi says. “Children should be strong in their own faith, but accepting and respectful of others.”
The future of Spiritual Playdate certainly looks bright, with several upcoming events planned, including their participation in the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions, a conference that hosts more than 10,000 attendees from more than 50 faiths around the world. The conference is scheduled to be held in Salt Lake City in October.
“My vision is for this to become a widely embraced global program that serves humanity anywhere on our planet,” Cowell says.
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