My 7-year-old has recently decided to come into worship with me instead of going to First Day school. Last week, his 11-year-old brother (who has occasionally joined us in worship) also sat in worship with us.
My boys are half to a third of the First Day school class. I let the teacher know that they were going to join us in Meeting. I felt a bit bad about taking her students away from her, but I also want my children to experience worship for themselves. Worship, after all, is central to the experience of being a Quaker.
I feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea of First Day school (and also with teen programs that meet during worship). Our culture is always pushing children off to one side instead of letting them participate fully in community life. Children are warehoused in schools and kids' programs with other children their age while the adult world gets on with the business of living.
Throughout most of human history (and, if the behavior of our ape cousins is anything to go by, all of our primate history before that), children have spent most of their time in the mixed-age world of family and community. Only in the last century have children been removed from the larger community and sent to spend most of their time in groups of their age mates.
I don't think this is a good way to raise children. Children need relationships with people of all ages. They need to have contact with babies, with children of different ages, and with adults of all ages. Children can't easily learn the social skills they need from a bunch of children their own age; they need older children and adults to help bring them along.
The flip side of this is that children view the adult world as alien. Having been excluded from most of adult life, they don't apply themselves to learning what adults do. They apply themselves to learning how to get around schools, playgrounds, sport teams, and the other activities they are asked to do.
So, when a Meeting raises its children in First Day schools and teen programs, we're not bringing them into the adult Meeting community. We're preparing a place for children to be while their parents do boring adult stuff.
There's a need for this place, especially for very young children. Forcing children to sit through worship will probably not make kids want to grow up to be adult Quakers. Parents need to know that their children are safe during worship.
There are also other ways for children to connect to the Meeting community. Meeting activities for all ages allow kids to make friends with adults in Meeting. When Friends visit one another's homes, children have the opportunity to connect with people in a deeper way.
Children can also get a taste of worship when their First Day school class joins the adults for the first or last part of worship. First Day school activities and children's programs at Meeting retreats and quarterly and yearly meetings can also help them learn about what the adults do.
Still, I think that we could devote more thought to our children's spiritual development and on how to bring them into our Meetings.
My own inner guidance on this (and, where my children are concerned, my inner guide can be loud and insistent) is to encourage my children in every step that brings them deeper into Meeting. If my 7-year-old wants to sit in worship with me, my inner guide tells me to focus on the opportunity to parent him through Meeting. Yes, my own worship probably won't be as deep if I'm parenting an active boy at the same time. My son, however, will be gaining valuable early experience of worship. He'll start to get a sense of what Friends do in silence, and of the sorts of issues that are important to adult Friends.
It's difficult to both create a separate space for children and still welcome them into adult spaces. In my heart, I hold the truth that our children grow up to be adults, and that they need to explore the adult world as they are ready to do so. The things that adults do are neither so complicated nor so boring that children cannot experience them in small doses.