Numbers & Symbols Group Guide

Volume VI, Number IV

Artwork by Anya Dunaif

What significance do symbols have within a culture? What is the purpose of numbers? These are some of the many questions asked by KidSpirit writers in an issue devoted to the signs and signifiers of our lives.

1. In the Big Question, Sharon Lin takes on the Editorial Board’s inquiry, Are Symbols the Basis of Human Thought? Taking examples from linguistics, literary theory, and even psychology, Sharon says, “Not only would it be unlikely to imagine life without symbols — it would be impossible.” Do you agree with Sharon’s conclusion — can you imagine life without symbols? Are there particular symbols that are especially significant in your life?

Split into four groups and make a list of ten symbols in each group. They could be symbols that people encounter every day (such as stop signs), that represent a particular country (such as a baseball in the U.S.), or symbols found in art, media, or literature (such as heroes or villains). After compiling your lists, share and explain each group’s choices. Discuss what makes these symbols potent and how they could be interpreted in various cultures or time periods.

2. In her Feature article “Color in Art and Life,” Eleanor Goetz describes how colors can evoke powerful emotions. She tells us that the color red brings her back to the moment she scraped her knee as a young child and writes, “It is said that colors do not symbolize ideas themselves, but have become associated with important human events.” Spend a few minutes free-writing about this idea. Is there a color you associate with an event or time period in your life? How do you feel when you see that color now? Does it trigger any emotions, thoughts, or memories?

3. In the Interfaith Connections section, Sanya, a Sikh and Hindu, describes the rich symbolism in both of her traditions. Are numbers or symbols an important part of your faith background or wisdom tradition? Like Sanya learning about generosity from the tradition of adding a coin to a gift, what lessons have you learned through the symbols in your family’s traditions?

4. Paulo Coelho’s PerSpectives article looks at a common phrase: navel gazing. Many people use this phrase to refer to self-absorption, but the navel actually contains ancient cultural references. It symbolizes rebirth, the center of the world, and the universe. As he says, this “small and deep scar” signifies “our connection to each other and the cosmos.” Have you ever encountered a symbol that meant the opposite of what you first thought?