Children thrive on ritual. Just think back to your own childhood. Did you recite the same prayer every night before falling asleep? What about asking your mother to read the same book over and over again “just one more time”? Or perhaps your family opened presents every Christmas Eve after the candlelight service.
When I was a little girl, every Friday after school I would go to my grandmother’s house and spend the night there. We had great fun making fried egg sandwiches for dinner and then watching my favorite program on TV. The next morning, Grandmom would accompany me on the two-mile walk back to my house. During this time together, we forged precious memories that still warm my heart to this day, over 60 years later.
So, what is ritual and why is it important to a child?
The word ritual derives from the Latin word ritus meaning rite. Dictionary.com defines rite as “any customary observance or practice.” By extension, a rite is an established custom or tradition whose purpose is to mark a specific and meaningful point in time. We all know of rites of passage specific to different cultures, such as the ceremonies of Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah among the Jews.
While rituals are traditionally associated with religious ceremonies, a ritual can be any practice that is intentionally repeated for a particular purpose. Any activity, therefore, in which we intentionally engage again and again has the makings of a ritual, even though our purpose may not specifically be to establish a special tradition. The establishment of a custom or tradition is simply the natural outcome of practicing the ritual.
One such ritual that I have established for my grandchildren is my Reading Hat. I wear this large and colorful hat when I read to one or more of my grandchildren. Whenever we go upstairs to the bright yellow room I’ve designated as our Home Library, my grandchildren immediately pick up my Reading Hat and hand it to me as a signal that it’s time to enter the sacred and delightful world of Story. When I don my Reading Hat, the exciting adventure begins.
And, oh, what fun we have as we cuddle together on the big, bright sofa strewn with piles of my grandchildren’s favorite books!
Rituals accomplish many things in a child’s life. Here are a few:
1—Rituals give a child a sense of security.
2—Rituals teach a child that there is constancy in the midst of change.
3—Rituals give a child a sense of belonging.
4—Rituals feed a child’s soul by creating and nourishing long-lasting memories.
5—Rituals instill an appreciation for the deeper things of life.
Rituals, in short, have the power to shape a child’s life.
As a grandmother, I now have the wonderful privilege of establishing rituals in the lives of my grandchildren. To them, my Reading Hat has become a ritual. Not only is it forging in their young hearts fond memories of a fun and whimsical Nonna, but it is also serving as an anchor of love for their tender, impressionable souls.
Copyright 2017 by MaryAnn Diorio, PhD, MFA. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. MaryAnn Diorio is a widely published, award-winning author of fiction for children and adults. Her latest children’s picture book, The Dandelion Patch, won the designation of “Best Book of Juvenile Fiction” in the 2017 Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards Contest. To purchase The Dandelion Patch, please click here. For a complete list of MaryAnn’s books, please click here.
To learn more about Dr. MaryAnn and her writing, please visit her at www.maryanndiorio.com.