‘Seeing One Tree Can Make a Person Smile Forever’ Research into Children’s Spirituality and Silence

  • Valerie Ellen Duffy-Cross


The study investigated the impact of opportunities for, and attitudes towards, silence and solitude on children’s spirituality. The researcher hypothesised that the paucity of opportunities for children to find silence would negatively affect any expressions of spirituality, with important social implications. 

The research adopted a largely qualitative methodology using an initial questionnaire with 26 children aged 12-13 from a West Midlands Secondary school. This explored daily life, attitudes towards silence and meaningful experiences. The subsequent videotaped, individual 2 half-hour interviews with 10, largely self-selecting, children were informed by the children’s responses to the questionnaire though were predominantly child-led.

In both the interviews and the questionnaire approaches to silence were varied and often contradictory. Many children associated silence negatively with bereavement, and opportunities for seeking silence were often rare and seen as challenging in the context of the time pressures of a personal and societal achievement agenda. Yet despite this, many expressed a desire to find silence, with few completely averse. 
Without exception the children interviewed exhibited a frequent and wide variety of those forms of spirituality already identified by previous researchers, including a sense of connectedness or relationship with the world as identified by Hay and Nye peak experiences and flow, and the expressing of life as a mystery. 
The children manifested profound spirituality irrespective of their access or desire for silence and often in the context of busyness or noise. This suggests that they are accessing and able to live within a non-binary, inner silence. The initial hypothesis of the research was, therefore, not proven, though whether increased access to silence might intensify such spirituality remains unanswered.