The cosmic question! “What do I do about the older boys?” I received an e-mail question asking for specific ideas that will challenge the senior primary and encourage these boys to actively participate and enjoy singing time without resorting to games all the time and avoiding the feeling of needing to entertain the kids.
How I would love to actually answer that question. I have the same challenge and often feel the same lack of creativity to meet it. But, over a long time, I have developed some attitudes and strategies that help me deal with this challenge. These personal strategies may not help anyone else, but I’ll explain what I think anyway.
First of all, I have to tell you that I absolutely love being the Primary chorister. I think it is the most fun I ever get to have in a church calling. I love to sing with the children. I love to see their faces and engage their eyes. I have learned that the children react to my attitude about this calling. When I am enjoying myself, they enjoy singing time too. When I feel the Spirit, I have to trust that the children are feeling as wonderful as I am. I do everything I can so that I feel the Spirit. There are always enough children willing to look at me and participate with me, that, when I send out loving, joyful thoughts as I sing, I feel that love coming back to me from many of the children. This is how the Spirit functions and it feels sooooo good. However, because I purposefully engage their eyes, I necessarily notice the ones who avoid my gaze, those who don’t sing.
These are the children that I try to win over in a personal relationship. I try to get to know them better and try to help them get to know me. When I know them well enough, I begin asking for their cooperation. I try to enlist their help, to invite them to help me accomplish singing time. I always look for a private opportunity to discuss what I need from them and they are often willing to help me, now that they know me and we have a relationship.
I’ll give you a quick example. I’ve been working on one of our older boys for most of this last year. I’ve engaged him each week somehow, usually with a question that leads to a short conversation. Though he has a great voice and likes music, he is often unwilling to sing. He tells me things like “I’m so tired.” “I don’t feel well.” When we were practicing for our program, he was exceptionally ornery and uncooperative. I finally took a little break and invited him to come with me out of the room. I boldly asked him what his problem was! He said, just as boldly, “I don’t want to sit on the front row!” I told him that I would try to take care of his problem and asked him if he would help me by singing. He promised to sing. I went back into the room and asked the counselor in charge to change his seating. She did and the problem was solved. He still doesn’t sing many weeks in primary, but we have a relationship that allows me to continue to work on him. When I'm singing and looking at him, he doesn't avoid my gaze and when I wink, he smiles. So I would encourage you to develop cooperative relationships with the children, especially those with whom you are having trouble.
Sometimes we see the “blah, blah, blah,” roll-the-eyes type of reaction when we introduce our activity for singing time. How do I handle this? Well, I can tell you that I handle it much better now that I am older and don’t care so much about what people, including children, think of me. I have just finally learned the truth that it is not my job to entertain children, but to teach them. If it happens to be entertaining, so much the better. I simply do my best to prepare what I think will be an enjoyable singing time and ignore those niggling doubts that the children were bored. Because I am trying to do everything I can to feel the Spirit, this helps to banish those doubts from my mind. I wish I could help everyone see the truth of this. No doubt, you will in time.
The sweet sister who sent the e-mail also mentions, “I know some of this comes with the age, but I don’t want to use that as an excuse.” I think we cannot call it an excuse. It is simply true that this behavior is typical of the age. To some degree, we just have to ignore their behavior and allow the children to learn better ways to handle boredom, restlessness, or insecurity. During this time, songs may remain unsung. In the meantime, we learn to handle our own insecurities about this. I appreciate the spirit of her statement though. Of course, we can't allow disruptive and disrespectful behavior to go unchecked. Of course, there should be a discipline plan in place and hopefully working with behavior that is truly bad. But I can ignore rolling eyes and audible sighs. It may bug me, but I can get over it. I also recognize in her statement the desire of this sister to be prepared and that is a good thing. To spend time thinking of activities that will interest the children and to ponder ways to allow active participation is something we need to be doing.
As for specific examples of these creative, challenging ideas? I guess I have to respond with the whole of this blog. I will just refer you to my archives and hope that as you read through the different ideas of activities that I have posted, you can think of ways to adapt them in some way to make them more suited to the children you teach.
But, even saying that, I took a personal challenge. I went to my master list and chose one of the simplest activities that I use. I had not yet posted it, so I posted it yesterday, specifically so that I could refer to it. The color grid is a really, really simple choosing activity. One could even see it as overdone and boring. I can easily imagine older boys rolling their eyes at such a thing. I thought and thought about how tossing the beanbag on the color grid could be made more challenging for the older boys. What I came up with is an adaptation of the bean bag. If you look at the picture, you’ll see two bean bags. The black one is tricky. It is half-way between a bean bag and a ball. It is heavy enough that it won’t roll right off the mat, but round enough that it won’t land where you might expect. Tune in next week for a tutorial on how I made this bean-bag not so easy to throw. The basic activity didn’t change and my younger kids will enjoy tossing the regular bean bag, but the older boys might be challenged by the tricky bean bag.
If you have ideas for this sweet sister, please leave a comment or a link to another source. Everyone will appreciate solutions to this common issue. Speaking of comments, don't miss the one Kimber left on this post. She is convinced that the teacher is an important part of the solution and I agree!