Russky Pastyr No 4, 1989


On Parish School Studies with Children

On 1 October 2003, Matushka Elena Alekseevna Slobodskoy (nee Lopoukhine) died in Nyack, NY. She was the wife of the renowned author of “The Law of God,” Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy. During the lifetime of Fr. Seraphim, she was his closest helper in the harvest-fields of parish and school life. After his repose, she continued until the end of her life to labor at the parish school of Holy Virgin Protection Church, with her innate talent and love for children, helping also in summer camps for children and participating in the publication of the only children’s Orthodox journal, “Trezvon.” In 1982, the Russian Orthodox Youth Committee published an Alphabet, written by Elena Alekseevna, which drew the following appraisal from Metropolitan Philaret of blessed memory: “This Alphabet of the Russian language, prepared for the teaching of children in the family and school, is in all senses the best of all existing textbooks of this type and kind.” Below is an interview given by her to the journal Russky Pastyr in 1989:

What approach do you feel is the most successful in teaching the youngest children?

In essence there should be no difference in teaching younger or older children. The only difference is that older children have deeper and broader comprehension. Younger children have not yet lost their purity and for this reason they should not have separate subjects; all that is taught to them should be infused with faith in God, that is, with the Law of God. In teaching them, one must live their life, live with their interests. Not condescendingly towards them as children, but seriously and plainly. One must pray together, work together, draw, sing, take walks and the entire time draw the childrens’ attention towards the beauty of the world that God created.

What properties of childhood need to be dealt with most of all?

The attention span of children is very short (not only in little children, but in older ones as well). For this reason, one cannot prepare university-level lectures for them. Discussions and stories should be brief, clear, plain and interesting. One must take into acount that the variety of studies makes them more interesting.

Besides that, the greater the number of physical sensory organs that participate in the absorption of learning material, the deeper this material will remain ingrained in a child’s memory. During the preparation of studies, this must be taken into consideration, and one must always show them something (a picture, a map), let them draw or write something, etc.

Does the approach to teaching small children the Law of God differ from that of other subjects? If so, how?

Little children (everywhere, I think) must be taught the Law of God without separating it from life. Everything must be presented with vitality, especially the Law of God, to impart the sense of good and evil so that they could resist earthly temptations.

In our present emigre world, there are often children who speak Russian freely together with those who speak almost no Russian. Teachers are faced with a difficult task.

What do you suggest in such cases?

I think that to benefit both types of children, they should be separated and worked with that way.
We have small parishes where there are no parish schools.

What advice can you offer to families with little children who have no schools and are far from neighboring parishes?

For these children, the family itself should become a school. Materials and textbooks can be obtained by parents from existing schools, and at Holy Trinity Monastery. The textbook of Protopriest Seraphim, “The Law of God” was specifically written for school and family. This book has a great deal of material. It should be taken as a starting point and studied gradually, section by section, chapter by chapter.

Are there textbooks for the law of God, Russian language and history for children studying at home?

Again, parish schools have published many textbooks--our Nyack school, for example–with which one could easily teach children at home, in the family. Many Russian children grew up studying at home, and very successfully at that (one only need apply oneself).
Often, children who a reared in small parishes feel alone. What measures can be taken by parish rectors and parents to help such children preserve their faith and culture and overcome the feeling that “I am different than everyone else?”

It is good if at least a few families live in close proximity. They can get together socially. They can spend Orthodox holidays together. They can organize gatherings, walks, trips, readings, games and projects togethers. Vacations can be spent where there are Russian children, Russian colonies and camps. I think that if parents and family think it is important, then they will find ways for their children to socialize with similar Russian Orthodox children so that they do not feel isolated.

Your husband was a priest, and you worked together with him with children for many years. Many parents ask their priest: how do we prepare our child for confession? How would you answer?

I feel that one must first serve as an example. If adults prepare themselves for confession and communion, then the child will feel the importance of this moment. Their first confession is a very important step in the life of the child. He enters the conscious path of struggle with sin. A new phase of life begins, from childhood to youth. It is good to mark this crucial day in the life of the child–give him an icon, a prayer book or a book of the Law of God with an inscription (I do this for my grandchildren). It is good to have a discussion of confession, but it is better for the priest to do this, so that a spiritual bond and level of trust develops between the child and the spiritual father.

Do you have any thoughts on how to vitalize parish life?

One must increase the participation of children in the parish, they should serve in the altar, sing, read in church. In general, one should attract families with children to parish activity. The parish should have the sense of family.

Do you have any other thoughts or wishes you would like to share with the readers of Russky Pastyr?

As I wrote to you in my earlier letter, it would be good if our pastors elevated their interest in working with children. Every parish should have a school. Also, that they begin studying with children at an earlier age–nursery school age–families with pre-school children should get together and learn.

Home Page |News | Dioceses | History | Our Legacy