Thursday, December 30, 2010

Those Older Boys!

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!


: ) Paula said...

Years (and years!) ago when I was in college, a classmate of mine expressed frustration with Church. She had been a member all her life, is an intelligent person, and wasn't faltering in her testimony. (She is still active and has always been.) Her frustration relates to this blog post. She said "It seems like the lessons in Sunday School and Relief Society are nothing but repeats of what I've already learned a dozen times!"

How true is that for the Sr. Primary kids? Every year, although the main theme changes, there are Sharing Time lessons about: Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, missionary work, making good choices, temples, baptism, faith, etc. Repeats of what they've been learning since they were Sunbeams.

In addition to developmentally being at the point where they just want to graduate, leave primary already, and grow up; they are quicker to catch on to the lessons taught and these lessons are repeats.

I had remarkable success with "those boys" in November after the sacrament meeting program was over and it's because they weren't bored in the least. I made posters of the books in the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Pearl of Great Price. We sang the songs and they were challenged to memorize every book of scripture. WOW! They were engaged, excited, learning new things, learning them quickly, and they were singing!

(I put the Pearl of Great Price books to music with the song "Falling Snow" on page 248: Mo-o-ses-, Ab-ra-ham-...)

I think I forget a lot that the Sr. Primary just learns a lot faster, when I have LOTS for them to do and sing about, I have more success with them.

Good luck and thanks, again, for the ideas and encouragement.

Rob and Sara said...

I agree with creating some sort of personal relationship with the boys (and other children too!) I read on a blog somewhere - I don't remember which one, sorry - that the chorister sent cards to kids during the week. She specifically sent them to kids that had behavior problems. I thought this was a great idea and I started sending 2-3 cards per week to my kiddos. I mark them off on the roster so that every child will end up getting a card before I start over. I don't just send them to behavior problems or to the older boys, but to everyone. For the older boys' cards I told them how much I love their singing and how I'm going to miss them when they leave to YM. For behavior problems I tell the kids how much I love it when they are reverent. I send cards to ones that are great singers too and tell them how much I love their smiling faces and how they help me out. As I've done this I have noticed improvement among all of the kids. First of all, who doesn't love getting something in the mail? They feel special that they have been singled out. Several parents have said how excited the child was to get mail and that they carried the card around, had it displayed on their dresser, etc. This has really worked well for me and I think the kids like knowing that they are being noticed. I remember in the blog post the chorister said she thought that each child secretly thought they were her favorite in the primary. :) I don't think this is a magic solution but is just something small to create personal relationships.

(Just as a side note, I debated on whether or not to send a card to just one member of a family at a time or to all the kids in the family. I decided that as long as everyone got one eventually that it was better to send it to one at a time. I think this makes that child feel like they are being recognized rather than thinking that everyone else got one too.)

Anastasia said...

I would like to pass on what I have learned from others...

Boys this age want to move on to another stage. Treat them as if they were older, almost as you would a teen. Don't treat them like little kids, even though they are acting like ones!

These boys NEED a challenge and ways to keep their growing minds and bodies occupied. If you do not offer them challenges, they will create their own challenges (in other words, act up).

What will challenge this age group? Mental challenges for one. If it doesn't challenge you, if won't challenge them! Figuring out codes is one great mental challenge for boys this age. Also physical challenges, such as pattern challenges, strength challenges, or balance challenges. Holding their breath challenges are often a big hit and you can use that in training the children to hold their breath to the end of the line or phrase. Use stories that pertain to their age and stage that have challenges for the main character to overcome. Hand games, which girls of this age love, the boys dislike. How can you turn it into a challenge instead?

Boys' voices at this age are beginning to change and they may be embarrassed about singing because of this. Their voices don't always cooperative like they used to. Take the focus off their singing and onto a challenge. For instance, put emphasis on starting and stopping precisely, on breathing deeply, on emphasizing a word rather than on volume or sound of voice.

Another help: use the church website to lower the key of songs that are too high. Songs that hover around middle C are best for boys of this age. High C's are difficult for a boy's changing voice.

Hope this helps someone. I appreciate other's thoughts and great ideas!

Kathleen said...

Thank you for these great comments. I appreciate the time and thought it takes to contribute!

Betts Family said...

I love love love those older boys in my primary! I remind everyone that we are never to old to have fun and share our testimonies and I challenge them to be missionaries through their singing. I find that healthy competition is a great way to get them involved. I also use "threats" or "invitations" that they can come up and help me with the next part ALL BY THEMSELVES since they already know the songs well enough to not pay attention! This usually gets a response. I have found that the whole strength in numbers idea works well on this age as well. I make sure to utilize my whole group of boys that age to help with various things or learn a phrase all alone or something like that. . .they seem to like to do things like that. I have also found that just reminding them how well they are listening or doing is something they really need. I have tons of fun with my 10-11 year old boys and I have quite a few of them, some are really responsive and some of them look at me like I'm the biggest dork ever. . .I just love them, but I don't allow them to be disrespectful. . .I catch them when they are "fading" and playfully bring them back to reality and remind them that we are sharing our testimonies and that we're never too old to have fun and learn new things! I am proud to say that with a little creativity I can get those boys to even sing popcorn popping! Ha ha. . good luck! I have some fun ideas on my website if you're interested

Emily said...

Thanks for your ideas everyone (I am the sister who sent the email, although I wouldn't classify myself as sweet).

I have certainly realized that my challenge is to challenge the boys. I'm not always creative with ideas as to how, but luckily lots of others are. I have found that if I can get even one boy interested in the activity, the rest usually join in and knowing about the boys' interests certainly helps - I have a couple who speak Spanish and sports are always a winner, especially Vikings football! They definitely like "showing off" their smarts too! I am coming to appreciate these boys more and more - they can be a handful, but they have a lot to offer too.

Mary-Rose said...

Today I was teaching "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" in French, and one teacher offered to teach it in Spanish. It was a challenge for me-- and then to try to go faster in another language is a real challenge! My big boys were right there with me, learning it more quickly than I did! It was a lot of fun.

Kathleen said...

Betts Family, thanks for your link. I wish I could visit your primary because it sounds like you all have a great time.

Mary-Rose, what a great idea! I don't speak any other languages, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of singing some of these fun songs in another language, especially faster. Maybe I could find some help in our branch. Thanks so much!

Jackie said...

Thanks for this post. There are many reasons why an individual may not want to sing and we have come across several. The hard fact that we had to admit to is there are just some that do not like to sing, just as there are some who do not like to dance, who do not like to draw. BUT it doesn't mean that they can not learn. Being distracting or rude can not be tolerated but for those that just sit quietly and politely declined the opportunity to sing, well, we found that their knowledge of the words and messages were near perfect! Singing time is full of music but we've always considered it a gospel doctorine teaching position that uses music as a tool, among many others. Our job was to teach the gospel and while some did not want to sing we found that they might hum, or they liked to play the songs on the piano, or they liked to answer trivia questions, or fill in the blanks, etc. As a mom of a boy who is sooo shy and doesn't usually sing, I will plea with you DON'T give up on them! They are learning more than you know! My boy will sing them at home freely and I thank his teachers who don't take his unresponsiveness as a sign that nothing is penetrating!! My thoughts are that if you find other creative constructive ways for them to participate in, they may eventually want to join in on the singing.

Kathleen said...

You are so right Jackie. There are many reasons that children may not feel like singing on any given week. We have to remember that these children absorb more of the spirit and principles of the songs than we can see the evidence of. I am sure that this is why we are encouraged to include more than one way for children to participate, in whatever lesson we are giving. As I think about it, I am sure that I began to enjoy this calling more and more as I let go of that subtle expectation that I ought to have all the children singing all the time.

Thank you for visiting The Children Sing. Check back soon for more LDS Primary Singing Time Ideas!