Nun teaches children meditation techniques

  • Article by: DIANE GILES
  • Associated Press
  • May 12, 2014 - 4:19 AM

KENOSHA, Wis. — Sister Sylvia Leonardi's young students sit comfortably on the carpeted library floor at St. Joseph Catholic Academy. Some recline, stretching out their limbs.

Eyes closed, they are using their imaginations to transport themselves to another place of peace, as the soft voice of Leonardi guides them.

Meditation techniques are usually thought of in connection with Eastern religions, but Leonardi, who is a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis, has found great success with meditation exercises as a gateway to prayer.

She is the campus minister and leader for enrichment intervention at the academy.

Leonardi, who has been a teacher in this building next to St. Mark's Catholic Church since 1974, teaches students in 4-year-old kindergarten through fifth grade. This is the second school year she has used guided meditation with her students.

"It's a time when they can just focus on God," explained Leonardi. "It's just their own special time experiencing God in their lives."

Leonardi learned about using meditation with children years ago at a teacher's convention seminar presented by Jane Reehorst, author of the book "Guided Meditations for Children."

"She advocated helping children take time to just back away from their crowded schedules — school or sporting or whatever schedule — taking time to meditate even if it's for five minutes," Leonardi told Kenosha News (

She purchased Reehorst's book and uses it now on a consistent basis.

She utilizes scripts from it and from a second book with the same title by Sydney Ann Merritt. She may focus them on the gospel Scripture from a previous or the upcoming Sunday's Mass, depending on which is more understood by young children.

Leonardi will occasionally prep the children with a short video from a DVD.

"Sometimes with younger children you have to start with a visual and then take them into a five-minute meditation because little 4-year-olds are not accustomed to sitting still," Leonardi said. "It can be challenging, so you have to be extremely creative."

These guided meditations help the students make the scripture practical in their lives, she said.

Leonardi gets students to relate their challenges to the challenges that Jesus and his apostles had. She used the gospel story of Jesus being lost in the temple as an example of an experience children can relate to.

In the story, Jesus' parents scold him for getting lost and worrying them. In the end, Jesus goes home with his family and was obedient to them.

Leonardi will change her technique, depending on maturity and spiritual understanding and what is happening in her students' lives.

"If it's Halloween, you know that they are full of sugar and you're not going to go into a deep meditation because you're going to lose it," she said, who admits her journey in guiding children in meditation has been trial and error.

The children, Leonardi says, enjoy the activity because there are no tests or grades. She has seen her students become comfortable with the idea of meditation over time.

"Some of our older students who are new to our program this year find it very comforting," she said. "It's a time to get off the merry-go-round and take some time to think about their own personal lives: what's going on at home or what might be the challenges they are facing as they are growing up."

"I'm hoping it becomes part of their lifestyle. It doesn't have to be an hour or half hour. Five minutes for children is plenty. They bring a sense of quietness and comfort to themselves and then they can go on to (do other things.)"

Leonardi has gotten feedback from parents who say students have gone home to tell parents about what they've learned through meditation.

"Hopefully (the students) understand Jesus was a human person as well as God," Leonardi said. "He went through many of these things, too, and we can work through it and we can resolve our difficulties. The problems don't get resolved immediately, but prayer and the sense of quiet do lead us to a resolution."

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