Dr. Deborah Schein
Dr. Deborah Schein started her career in early childhood education when her own children were young, when she worked as an educator and later as a director in Jewish early childhood classrooms. She decided to move to a low-income urban setting, where she created a classroom based upon the Reggio Emilia philosophy of the hundred languages. "The children were exposed to lots of art, self-expression, dialogue, and projects. I beautified the classroom and brought in lots of natural materials. We went on walks and discovered ladybugs and spiders."
But, still, she felt that something important was missing. "I just could not seem to put my finger on it." And then, something changed.
One day I was outdoors with the children. A small boy came to me with great excitement. In his hand was a worm. In my Jewish classroom I would have been ready with a blessing or thoughts of gratitude. Here, in this playground, I froze. Then I thought, “What is the matter with you? This child deserves to have this moment recognized!” But nothing in my early childhood training had prepared me for this moment. Only my Jewish perspective offered something to give. I went to the computer and typed up different ways of saying children’s spiritual development. Nothing appeared.
Because of this moment, she made a decision to get a Ph.D. at age 56. Now, because of her research, Dr. Schein says, "I have a language for talking about spiritual development for all children, and ideas of how to nurture this development by inviting children to experience spiritual moments throughout their day."
Because she believes that nature has a key role to play in children's spiritual development, Dr. Schein offers workshops for teachers in incorporating spirituality and nature into their teaching. And she has developed a children's toy called a Nattle—a natural rattle—that lets children collect, inspect, and play with natural items of their choosing. While her Nattles are made from plastic tubes with caps on the ends, she says that anyone can easily make one. "All you need is a safe plastic container with a very tight lid, and some beautiful pieces of nature that can easily fit into the bottle or container." Just go outside exploring with a child, put your items in your Nattle, and enjoy. When you're done, just return the items to where you found them. Dr. Schein says, "They help provide spiritual moments for all children any time, any place."
To learn more about Dr. Schein, visit her website Growing Wonder.