On Spiritual Education

November 12, 2004 | 29 comments
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About 10 minutes after my first positive pregnancy test, I was at the bookstore, perusing the shelves of parenting titles, a pastime I’ve continued with some regularity for nearly a decade now. One of my favorite of these books is called 10 Principles of Spiritual Parenting.It’s a little too New Age-y for me; I can’t quite bring myself to do guided meditations with my children. But what I really like in the book is the perspective that spirituality is innately present in children, and that it is something to be cultivated, rather than instilled.

In Primary and in much of the Mormon approach to teaching children, I find a different underlying assumption–that children need to be taught what to believe and how to be spiritual. While we pay lip service to the idea that children have access to the light of Christ and spiritual gifts (unfortunately, this often comes in the form of sentimental imaginings about what infants would tell us, if only they could speak), most of our time and energy in Primary is devoted to getting children to be quiet and listen to us, so we can teach them. And our teaching is directed almost entirely to the children’s *intellect*; we talk and talk and talk at them, and we believe that they are understanding spiritual concepts if they can talk about them. We love to watch them perform in Primary programs, which often consist of them repeating words they can barely understand, reading parts their parents and teachers wrote for them. Even the beloved anthem of Mormon childhood, “I am a Child of God,” is completely beyond the understanding of most of the children who sing it. (I can’t be the only person who ever thought the words were “Teach me all that I’m a stew” or “And so my knees are great.”) It’s a great song to learn, but I think it’s hard to truly appreciate the doctrine it teaches until well after Primary graduation. Much of the Primary curriculum is driven by an adult agenda, carefully mapped out on floor-to-ceiling green chalkboards in a room of the Church Office Building. The overriding concern in this agenda is to make sure all the important doctrines are “covered” in Primary–a noble goal, but one that fails to adequately respect the natural curve of children’s development.

There is almost no room in our approach for quiet, unarticulated wonder or gratitude. We are always in such a hurry to attach words–our words–to our children’s feelings. The result, too often, is the ghastly spectacle of the 5-year-old bearing “his” testimony with his mother whispering in his ear: “I love my mom and dad; I know the Church is true; I know that Gordon B. Hinckley is a prophet; inthenameofJesusChristamen.” Cute, maybe; good practice, possibly. But really, really unlikely to reflect the authentic spiritual feelings of the child. Worst of all, I think that teaching children to parrot adult understandings, praising them for singing and saying the words we most want to hear, can sometimes deaden their capacity for genuine spiritual experience–if we teach them too soon to think and talk in adult terms about what they sense and feel, they will more and more have only those experiences we have told them are acceptable. The Spirit that “blows where it listeth” may be harder for them to sense, when they become teenagers, and we think we have finally crammed enough information into them, and we turn them loose to “gain their own testimony.”

Of course, there is a delicate balance to be achieved–if we don’t teach our children anything, they have no framework in which to understand their deepest spiritual experiences. I wouldn’t turn a kid of mine loose to express herself on the violin without plenty of instruction in basic technique and some hours logged practicing scales. But I think in some ways we do things exactly backwards in our teaching of children. We’d be better off to tell the younger children more stories from the scriptures, without always telling them in explicit terms what the moral of the story is; we should sing more songs about flowers and Jesus and fewer about pre-mortal existence and the Atonement. Then when they’re teenagers, they would have more spiritual experiences to which they’d just need to attach words and concepts, rather than having to try so hard to produce the kinds of spiritual experiences we’ve taught them they’re supposed to have.

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29 Responses to On Spiritual Education

  1. diogenes on November 12, 2004 at 3:42 pm

    Mondegreens
    ! When I was growing up, the words to the song seemed to be:

    Has given me an earthly home
    With parents kind of weird . . .

  2. Taylor on November 12, 2004 at 3:50 pm

    Hey, I know Mimi Doe! She lives in Lexington and is really nice. Her daughter is really smart too.

  3. J. Stapley on November 12, 2004 at 3:50 pm

    Great post Kristine. I am a father of two, one of which, most pertinent to this thread, is a three year old boy (Andrew). I concur with the points that you have made, except I am a little more belligerent – I find the coaching of children’s testimonies not “cute� but rather very disturbing. This doesn’t preclude me, however, from asking Andrew to pray and have him say the same prayer that he always says (for the 100th time), and what is the difference really?

    My parents were very much doers of the word. My understanding of service and love came from seeing my parent’s actions toward each other and to those in their community. My understanding of the Priesthood came not from any teaching moments (I don’t think there ever was one), but from seeing my father use it. Yes I was told not to drink and to pay my tithing. But I had to find out for myself why. I like this approach (the idea of a formal interview and teaching moment with my son seems quite ridiculous, at least at his current disposition).

    However, like the many posts on meritocracy of late, I think that there is a pressure to teach the skills early lest all be lost (I mean this is the greatest generation ever!!). As a side note I wonder when they started telling the youth of the church that they were “chosen� and the “greatest generation� yet to be born (I’ve heard testimonies of people born back in the mid sixties who were told this).

    So while I believe in showing a good example, fostering an environment conducive to the spirit and teaching the basic commandments, I feel compelled out of a pathetic quasi meritocratic fervor to teach my son to pray with meaning, comprehend the atonement, and be a theological prodigy by the age of accountability.

  4. Kristine on November 12, 2004 at 3:55 pm

    “people born back in the mid sixties”

    Yeah, those old fogeys are like, five years older than me :)

    The greatest generation rhetoric has been around longer than that; at least my dad claims to have heard it occasionally.

  5. Ben Huff on November 12, 2004 at 4:24 pm

    I was really excited two Sundays ago when one of the kids in my primary class said, “I want to teach the lesson!” I figured they’ve been through this manual three times already (it’s listed for ages 4-7), so why not? Two of the three then gave lessons to the rest of the class, completely impromptu. One taught on the theme for the month, about strengthening families (her choice of topic), drawing on the board and asking us questions, leading us to the point she was trying to get across. The second taught on the topic from the manual for that day, the sacrament. When we hit some points she was fuzzy on, I took over for a bit. The kids asked for pieces of paper and started scribbling while we talked. I thought, “I wonder if I’m boring them by going on about all these details of what the sacrament means, how it was instituted . . . I wonder if I should be making them sit still instead of letting them draw, not even looking at me . . .” Then suddenly I was confronted with paper bread and water, set in trays made from the lids of our art supplies containers, and voila! we were ready to walk through a pretend administration of the sacrament! Their idea. What a great way to make the learning concrete! I’m still dizzy since starting to teach a few weeks ago, putting together my sense of where they’re at and how best to teach them. But I’m convinced now that I want them to have a hand in deciding how they learn the gospel.

  6. Rosalynde on November 12, 2004 at 4:40 pm

    This is wonderful, Kristine, and it’s really made me think about the way I teach my children. (Although clearly the lyric is “And so my knees are *gray*”.)

    Could we be idealizing a kind of “authentic spirituality,” though? After all, our highest form of worship in the temple is largely performative. And Elena’s preferred form of learning seems to be ritualized verbal repetition (begging to hear the same stories over and over, repeating the same imaginative scenario, that kind of thing).

    Still, though, your lovely phrase “quiet, unarticulated wonder or gratitude” deserves a much higher place in my own spiritual pedagogy.

  7. Kristine on November 12, 2004 at 4:51 pm

    “Could we be idealizing a kind of “authentic spirituality,â€? though? ”

    Yes. That was what I was trying to bow to in my caveat about practicing scales. My children are not noble savages (though they can be plenty savage) who will come up with some lovely natural religion if I just leave them alone. If there’s no intellectual or doctrinal framework for spiritual experience, then you end up with yucky New Age “spirituality, not religion” and the expression of one’s authentic spirituality becomes no more meaningful than the choice of what color crystal amulet to wear. I just think we should be careful to build the scaffolding *around* the possibility of something that comes from the child’s experience, rather than crushing that budding experience by building on top of it.

  8. Russell Arben Fox on November 12, 2004 at 4:59 pm

    Beautiful post Kristine, and one I agree with fully. I’m in Primary now, teaching 10 and 11-year-old boys, and one of the things which is most apparent to me is the degree to which a child who has been through six years of primary has had so much that he or she doesn’t understand already crammed into their brains; they can quite easily string together sentences and explanations of doctrines, and respond to questions without a thought, because they already know, in a general way, what’s expected. I don’t actually have a problem with route memorization–I think a disciplined kind of instruction is often vital–but when it’s effects become apparent in such subjective areas as testimony-giving, it distresses me.

    I’ve taught Primary a lot before, and I like the age which Ben is teaching at now. 10-year-olds are harder; they’ve lost a lot of their “spiritual curiosity,” as it were, or at least the sort which can be activated in a church classroom during a 45-minute lesson. (Of course, they’re still kids, and can still be opened up like kids, especially on camping trips and the like; but in our littl broom closet of a classroom, not so much.) I hope most Primary teachers are like Ben, and like the sort of teacher I’m trying to be–telling the stories in a way which catches them off guard, gives them something they haven’t heard before, so they can come up with a reaction or response that hasn’t been (intentionally or otherwise) already hammered into them. We acted out Nephi preaching from his tower and identifying the chief judge’s murderer, and then how everyone just wandered off afterwards; what do you think about that? We built dioramas with little houses on sand or bricks, to make visible the whole “wise man and the foolish man” thing. Anything to minimize all the talking, because as we all know very well, most kids (like most adults, in priesthood or Relief Society or sacrament meetings) aren’t so much listening after a while as going through the motions. Worthy motions, certainly, but just motions all the same.

  9. Shannon Keeley on November 12, 2004 at 5:21 pm

    Okay, we all know that the real lyric is “Has given me an erflama.�
    I wasn’t sure what an erflama was, but I pictured it as some type of ear muff accessory that could also double as a muppet or stuffed animal. How nice of God to give one of those to us!

    I really like this idea of working more as a facilitator for our children’s spirituality rather than dictating or prescribing everything with “adult language.� In a recent primary program one of the classes with kids preparing for baptism drew pictures of someone (in most cases it was an older sibling) getting baptized. Each child had verbally explained their picture and a teacher had written down the children’s words; then in the program the teacher helped the child recite back their own description to the audience. It was very effective, I thought, and you could certainly tell that the children were using their own language to try to express what they understood about baptism.

    The only problem is that it takes a very dedicated and talented teacher to generate the kinds of classroom ideas and activities that would put into practice this approach. The primary manuals are certainly not geared to help teachers achieve this type of teaching environment. Frankly, in our ward we are lucky if the teachers show up at all, and if they’ve actually prepared something, that’s an extra bonus!

    I admit, last time I was asked to sub for primary I dragged Brian along with me and tried to do throw together a puppet show that was supposed to exemplify why we should all keep rules. When we finished our puppet show we asked the kids what they thought about it not a single one had gleaned the “message.� .I know that their response (or lack thereof) doesn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t get anything out of it. . .I guess it’s just that the “results� or “answers� we get from this other type of teaching approach are difficult to quantify.

  10. Kaimi on November 12, 2004 at 5:29 pm

    For the longest time, I thought that the line from “Jesus Once was a Little Child” was:

    So, little children, bless you and die . . .

    I wasn’t quite sure why those little children were blessing me and then dying, but it seemed terribly sad and sort of vaguely guilt-inducing as well (those poor little children!).

  11. MDS on November 12, 2004 at 6:15 pm

    Kristine,

    This all begs the question at what point teaching doctrine becomes appropriate. A personal anecdote may best illustrate. Upon returning from my mission, I was asked to substitute teach for several weeks in the Gospel Doctrine class of the ward I grew up in. I was excited to have the opportunity to discuss the doctrine of the church with those I had grown up admiring as teachers and leaders. I was shocked at the responses I would get to fairly basic doctrinal questions. It became clear over time that there was a lack of understanding of the doctrine of the church. I lamented this to my father, who told me I should be thankful that I had grown up at a time when the church focuses more on teaching doctrine to young people. He felt that his instruction (both in Sunday School, and in seminary) as a youth had focused too much on stories, and not enough on doctrine. While he had gone on a mission, and thus been immersed in doctrine, those who hadn’t had that much time to dedicate to gospel study on a daily basis for an extended time never quite caught up. (his observations, not mine).

    I guess I’m intrigued by your observation, but not quite clear what you are advocating as a solution. Surely we all agree that we don’t need to haul our Sunbeams up to the pulpit with us to parrot our testimonies, but what should be the alternative. What would your ideal age-appropriate curriculum look like?

  12. Andrea Wright on November 12, 2004 at 6:15 pm

    Kristine, very interesting post. I’m not sure if I completely agree. (I certainly could have misinterpreted your thoughts, though, and if so I apologize for wasting everyone’s time by writing this :)). I have three young children, the oldest is six and I have been so amazed by their capacity to grasp the basic doctrines and principles of the Gospel at so young an age. I also serve in Primary and continue to be amazed. I think you’re right in that many times we don’t work enough with what these children already have and understand on some level and instead we try to tell, rather than teach. I do think though that because the Light of Christ is so much with them still when they hear a teacher or leader teaching about the Atonement or premortal life it resonates with them as truth, which is definitely something on which to build as their understanding broadens.
    Also, I think that the leadership of the Church believes and understands that children need to have their innate spirituality tapped into more than pushed on them. All of the training I’ve received (from the general presidency/board at workshops) and from our Stake backs that up. It’s those of us on the front lines that while well-intentioned sometimes take the wrong approach.

  13. Andrea Wright on November 12, 2004 at 6:20 pm

    Okay, now I’m paranoid about this whole children-bearing-their- testimonies issue. As I stated above, my oldest is 6 and I’ve always been grateful that she hasn’t asked to bear her testimony during Fast and Testimony meeting because I certainly don’t want to discourage that feeling, but is she ready? Well, last week she leaned over and said she wanted to go up and tell about an experience she’d had that week recognizing the Holy Ghost. I told her she could, but she wanted my help. I went up with her and whispered in her ear the things she had told me of her experience earlier that week. What should I have done?

  14. Joel D. on November 12, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    Re: children understanding lyrics.

    In “Love One Another”, as a child I always wondered what a “shameno” was (“by this shall men know”).

    Also, in “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer”, I wondered what raptures and bosoms were.

  15. John H on November 12, 2004 at 6:33 pm

    Great, great post, Kristine.

    BTW, the First Presidency’s written at least one letter discouraging children bearing testimony in Sacrament meeting. Now THAT I can get on board with.

  16. J. Stapley on November 12, 2004 at 6:46 pm

    Andrea, I think the general consensus would be to mock scornfully the desire of your child, thus creating a lasting antipathy towards public professions of faith ;)

  17. Dan Richards on November 13, 2004 at 1:53 am

    Often when kids do learn some doctrine in Primary, they learn it slightly skewed. I had the following conversation with my 5 year old, who’s struggling with nighttime potty training.

    Dad: Did you keep your bed dry last night, Eli?
    Eli: Nope–had an accident.
    Dad: Why do you think you’ve been having so many accidents lately?
    Eli: (pause) … I think Satan’s at work!

    We’ve never talked about Satan in FHE or other family gospel discussions that I can remember. He must have picked it up at Primary

  18. Dan Richards on November 13, 2004 at 1:53 am

    Often when kids do learn some doctrine in Primary, they learn it slightly skewed. I had the following conversation with my 5 year old, who’s struggling with nighttime potty training.

    Dad: Did you keep your bed dry last night, Eli?
    Eli: Nope–had an accident.
    Dad: Why do you think you’ve been having so many accidents lately?
    Eli: (pause) … I think Satan’s at work!

    We’ve never talked about Satan in FHE or other family gospel discussions that I can remember. He must have picked it up at Primary

  19. Kristine on November 13, 2004 at 9:53 am

    Andrea, I’m sure you did exactly the right thing for your daughter–you’re the only one who could know.

    Also, I think you’re right that children understand a lot. But they’re also really good mimics and (with the exception of my eldest son:)) very eager to please their parents and teachers, and I think that sometimes they figure out what we want them to say, or they repeat what they’ve heard. Then they get praised so much for that behavior that they start trying to do it all the time. My concern is that we may mistake the ability to use words about complex doctrines for actual understanding.

    I think the General Primary Presidency and board members have often been quite attuned to the needs of children; many of them have training in child development or education. However, they also work under serious constraints imposed by Correlation and the curriculum committees, and I’m not convinced that the problem is entirely “on the front lines.”

  20. Kristine on November 13, 2004 at 9:54 am

    Dan, that is a *great* story, definitely something to share at his wedding reception ;)

  21. John H on November 13, 2004 at 5:37 pm

    MDS,

    The only problem is, your post begs the question: What is doctrine? Are we talking about doctrine as it’s currently accepted today? Or are we talking about the doctrines that were taught by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, many (but not all) of which we don’t necessarily accept or stress today.

    I’m not trying to suggest discussions and lessons on doctrine are inappropriate, or that children shouldn’t learn Mormon doctrine as best they can. But I often hear people online or in other forums lament the lack of teaching “doctrine” in the Church. That’s fine, but such complaints are usually done under the assumption that there is a cogent, consistent Mormon doctrine that has come unmolested from God and that we’re just neglecting it. We can teach children doctrine, but I suspect what we teach them tells us more about current Mormon culture than it does about eternal truth. Kristine’s post suggests that they will have plenty to teach us as well, and I think we should listen more, instead of telling them to be reverent, fold their arms, and listen to a teaching that may have come from James E. Talmage and not Joseph Smith, for example.

  22. Keith on November 13, 2004 at 7:51 pm

    First, some of my own song stories. I used to sing, confidently and clearly, “Jesus wants a humble bird.” I wasn’t completely certain why, but I knew he wanted me for a sunbeam, so it wasn’t out of the question that he’d also want a bird. In that same hymn (I’ll have to apologize to brother Pratt someday) I also sang “Once he suffered grease and pain.” I had see “The Greatest Story Every Told” and the images from the movie likewise fit this. Lastly, one of my students told how she grew up singing the line from “The Golden Plates” as “Ug-ugly man.”

    Now to comment on one of the issues at hand. I’m probably in greater agreement with Kristine’s thought-provoking blog than not, but there is an issue or two I wonder about. It does seem to me that some degree of a basic theology, a certain framework by which one sees and interprets the world is needed. Much of this will be through stories/narrative, including telling stories and giving explanations of good things that make our Father and us happy and together, and bad things that make our Father and us unhappy and farther apart, and what we can do to make up and say “I’m sorry� for bad things. How we teach that, of course, is the crucial question. I’m not certain we should stop teaching certain doctrines simply because we sometimes misconstrue what is being taught or sing the wrong words to lyrics. We probably do this all our lives. Even on a blog like this, we could all probably cite a line or two of scripture, or a line from a hymn, that would be misunderstood or vague to most.

    Kristine writes: “we should sing more songs about flowers and Jesus and fewer about pre-mortal existence and the Atonement.” But couldn’t songs about _any_ of these (from flowers to atonement) be written and explained in a way that young children could understand or which could be written in a way far beyond their understandings. So why diminish those in the latter category, rather than speak of them on a level understandable and appropriate to their understanding? (When it comes down to it, I guess I’m concerned about lessening the place of the atonement.) Of course, with all of this, some things that can’t be understood at four can be understood at eight, and we always have a large variety in age and understanding in primary. Elder Maxwell in his final conference talk said: “In my Primary days, we sang “ ‘Give,’ Said the Little Streamâ€? (Children’s Songbook, 236)—certainly sweet and motivating but not exactly theologically drenched. Today’s children, as you know, sing the more spiritually focused “I’m Trying to Be like Jesusâ€? (Children’s Songbook, 78–79).â€? This later song is among those that deepen with our understanding and experience.

    In short, I’m not certain it’s a bad thing to teach or sing about doctrines at a child’s level, and to even start early with some things that may be a bit over a child’s head–we usually catch up with them. This seems to me to be good spiritual education. After all, we have to deal with over our head things all our lives.

  23. Keith on November 13, 2004 at 7:57 pm

    Sorry for two posts in a row, but I didn’t send this with the last.

    A number have also raised the issue of children bearing testimony. The First Presidency about two years ago or so, issued a statement that was to be read in Sacrament Meetings, urging leaders to teach members to bear brief and gospel focused testimonies so that many could have an opportunity to bear witness on Fast Sundays. They urged parents to teach their children about appropriate testimony bearing and essentially said children should bear testimony when they can do it on their own, have a better sense for what it means, etc. There are no doubt too many of the whisper in the ear kind (and I think Andrea’s situation is different). At the same time, I’ve heard some children say amazing things, including the eight year old girl baptized the day before who essentially said how grateful she was to be baptized and for her covenants and generally, mostly indirectly, chastised the members of our slothful Wasatch front ward for not taking their baptismal covenants and their membership seriously. Her parents sitting in the audience were as taken back, amazed, slightly amused, and genuinely edified as all of us.

  24. Kristine on November 14, 2004 at 6:31 pm

    Well, I think I disagree with Elder Maxwell (she says, trembling slightly). I think the child who sings “Give, Said the Little Stream” in Nursery and Jr. Primary, and who learns songs like “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” a bit later may end up with a deeper understanding of what it means to be like Jesus, as she recognizes that the world she loves is blessed by a Creator who made not just the water in the stream, but also offered the living water that she can take and freely share with others.

    I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t teach doctrine, only that we should teach children as they can understand. I think there’s a reason that we talk about the “age of accountability” at 8–lots of psychologists and educational theorists agree that around 8 or 9, children’s capacity for moral reasoning and abstract thinking makes a huge leap. Before that, I think it makes sense to keep things simpler, to let them play and enjoy the world and experience the divine through their sensual pleasure in the world around them; there’s plenty of time to give them an intellectual framework when they’re developmentally ready for it.

  25. Tanya on November 15, 2004 at 2:07 pm

    Re: children bearing testimonies

    I’m one of those who finds parents whispering the “testimony” into their childrens’ ears disturbing, but it is easy to fix. FHE should be the time when a child can learn what a testimony is and practice expressing a genuine testimony to an audience. Then the child can share a true testimony in fast and testimony meeting.

  26. Keith on November 15, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    Kristine,

    We both agree that we should teach things that are fitting to one’s age. In fact I think we agree more than not. Probably in practice we would agree on what is too much and what isn’t.

    But our (minor) disagreement may be over how much is too much. In your original post you wrote “Then when they’re teenagers, they would have more spiritual experiences to which they’d just need to attach words and concepts, rather than having to try so hard to produce the kinds of spiritual experiences we’ve taught them they’re supposed to have.”

    What I might argue in response is that there is something to be said for giving a framework already in which they understand their experiences. It seems some of this is necessary for them even to recognize an experience as an experience. You seem to acknowledge this in post 7 comments about noble savages, natural religion and so on. So then we probably agree that some framework is needed. I certainly agree with your concern about not cramming their experience into our self-made boxes. So there must be a way of giving a framework (and some of that framework will be prescriptive) without stifling their wonder and their experience.

    We seem to disagree on what, how much, and how early the framework should be given. Probably we’d find in practice that we’d be pretty close on this, case by case. But it does look like I’m probably more in favor of slightly more framework early on (age appropriate, yes) and you of slightly less.

    I’m not averse to children saying or singing or learning things they don’t fully understand (slightly beyond, not miles beyond). There will be plenty that they do understand. As when we learn language growing up (or even to behave as the ‘grown ups’), we parrot and imitate, saying and doing things that we might have a sense for, but will understand more fully only later. So it’s a delicate balance of language and experience, both integral to each other. Perhaps our difference (and as I say, it’s probably minor) is that I’m leaning more on the language side and you more on the experience side.

    I want to add also (so I’m not misunderstood about the complexity of the framework given) that the doctrine that children should be taught (and actually adults for that matter) is extremely simple and limited to some very basic things. These basic things are those that keep giving and growing deeper with experience–not the sophisticated, mysterious things that we find intriguing and to which we think we are entitled because we are adults now.

    (I was a bit surprised, by the way, that you wanted to save “I’m trying to be like Jesus” for later in one’s primary years. Don’t you think this one could be appreciated (on different levels, no doubt) by children of all primary ages?)

    Thanks for the discussion. If you want to respond to this, that’s fine. Or if you think it’s now been killed to death, that’s fine, too.

  27. Kristine on November 15, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    Keith, how about a compromise–the little kids can sing “Jesus Once Was a Little Child,” and the 7 (6?) and up crowd can sing “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus.” Trying to be like Jesus is fine for little kids–they can understand (at some level) kindness and controlling one’s temper (“vexed” takes a good bit of explaining for Sunbeams, though), but many of the words from the song called “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” are just too far outside the realm of a 4- or 5-year-old’s experience, imo. (e.g. “At times I am tempted to make a wrong choice, but I try to listen as a still, small voice whispers… or “be gentle and loving in deed and in thought” I’m not quite sure I know what it means to be “gentle” in thought. (Adam, Nate, if you’re reading this, don’t say what you’re thinking :))

    Keith, I’m sure we mostly agree–you can be in my Primary Presidency any time :) I just think we talk too much at the kids, and they don’t learn as much as we think they do from talking. (Picture the Far Side cartoon with the dog hearing ‘/’/””’\][]Fido[[]”,/””/) Or maybe I just have dumb kids, and everybody else’s are doing fine ;)

  28. Keith on November 15, 2004 at 4:53 pm

    “Keith, I’m sure we mostly agree–you can be in my Primary Presidency any time. I just think we talk too much at the kids, and they don’t learn as much as we think they do from talking. (Picture the Far Side cartoon with the dog hearing ‘/’/â€?â€?’\][]Fido[[]’’,/â€?’’/).”

    This is a good point, and I really should quit talking and get back to work. But . . .

    When we first moved to Hawaii, I was called to be the teacher for the Valiant 9 class. This lasted for a few months until I was called to the High Council of a Student Stake, then to be the Bishop over one of the student wards. I’ve taught virtually every class there is to teach in the church, and I teach religion at the university. Despite this, or because of this, I dreaded the first weeks of teaching primary because I had a sense for what should go on, and knew I wasn’t quite up to it. The first week was a disaster, compounded by the fact that the other Valiant 9 teacher wasn’t there and I had double the number in a tiny, muggy room. I spent too much of my time getting kids to sit down, quit teasing each other, etc. But you pray lots, love, and prepare and things work out. Eventually they did. By the time I moved to the High Council, many of the kids were actually visibly sad the day when we talked about my having another calling now and that I wouldn’t be able to be with them at primary. Some, of course, didn’t much care. They knew somebody else would be there next week.

    It takes tremendous thought and preparation to teach primary–to speak to their level, to have them interested and engaged, to help them focus, to be open to the kind of things children will do unexpectedly (along the lines of what Ben mentioned), to have activities that genuinely engage them but that don’t simply deteriorate into meaningless hollering and running, to have what you do revolve around them and what they should learn and not you the teacher. And the challenge above all is to do this with the Spirit in a way that will give them as much experience and knowledge in the gospel, of the encounter with the love of Christ, even his person, as they are able to receive. (Come to think of it, the above actually counts for all the teaching we do–primary just has its distinct challenges.) So hats off and genuine salutations to folks like Kristine who work diligently and with such care in Primary.

    One last thing. It really is true that, given their level of understanding, singing is one of the few ways that the younger children in primary can worship together. It forms a foundation for much that comes later.

  29. Liesl Buskirk on November 15, 2004 at 8:32 pm

    re: testimony bearing

    In our primary, after the letter on children bearing testimony came out, we invited anyone interested to bear testimony instead of having a talk scheduled for fast sunday. Some weeks nobody volunteered, which was fine. But on a number of occasions, children excitedly came to the front and told in very simple terms the things they were grateful for and learning. Admittedly, there were some parroted phrases, but for the most part, they were just kids talking to their peers about things they could all understand. We had a number of parents thank us beacuse their kids were no longer begging to go up in sacrament meeting. We were glad it worked out so well in our little group.