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 childrens 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
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 childs
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
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 examplewith 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
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 childgive 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 agenursery school agefamilies
with pre-school children should get together and learn.