Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

10 May 2012

Teaching kids about God - get them to multitask

Picture by Cathy

A little while ago I came into possession of a document I wrote ten or more years ago called "The Top Twenty Teaching Tips for Children's Church Teachers."  I've just read over it and I'm interested to find that I would probably knock out five, maybe ten, of the tips I listed.  Amazing what a difference a decade will make.  And there is one tip - one that I would put close to the top these day - that isn't mentioned at all in the list.

Get the kids to multitask.

I teach a few Scripture classes each week at our local primary school.  In recent weeks I have had more bad lessons than good.  I take the upper primary classes and in my experience, things start getting difficult with these groups about three weeks before the end of term three - so it was a bit disconcerting when things started going downhill so early on in the year.  It could make for a very long and difficult year.  I decided I had to do something to turn things around.  And quickly.

So I did what I do in Sunday School.  I got them to multitask.

When I teach Sunday School and I need the children to listen for a long time (big story, complicated point to explain, it's a serious lesson and breaking up the talking with a game just won't work) I often bring out a big bowl of popcorn.  Children will listen for as long as you want to talk if they have something to eat.  (You do have to get over the fact that at least one child will eat as if they hadn't been fed for a whole week, but other than that and potential popcorn allergies, this strategy is foolproof.)  Other things that work include playdough or a small pile of Lego bricks with instructions to build a specific thing.

But popcorn, playdough and Lego don't work in a school classroom.  I tried popcorn once.  In small individual bags.  That story is probably best left right there... 

However the principle behind the popcorn still stands.  Something that keeps hands busy and distracts either the mind or the mouth will give the teacher enough time to tell the story/finish a sentence without having to discipline someone/get through five minutes of the lesson with a happy voice and a happy face in order to shift the previously unpleasant mood of the class/______________ (fill in the gap.)

So I went to dear old Google Images and typed in "Detailed Geometric Colouring Pages" and got something like this.

It wasn't this one exactly because every time I google these words I get a completely different set of pictures.  Which is good.  Endless possibilities.

Anyway, I printed one off, photocopied it and went to my lessons.  After a pretty good opening (a couple of rounds of our apple stacking challenge and then the story about how I thought I was going to be killed at the hands of two bikies one evening when I was about 20 and my car broke down in the middle of an intersection at night will hold most children...and yes, it did have something to do with the Scripture lesson I was teaching) it was time to get down to serious business and on cue, they started in on me. 

So I whipped out my pictures, gave the instruction that no two bits were to be coloured in the same colour and kept teaching.  They coloured.  They listened.  They answered questions - without calling out.  And when it was needed, they put their pictures aside to do five minutes of writing in their workbooks.  Because they knew what had happened in the Bible story and they were calm.  The colouring in picture had nothing to do with the lesson at all.  All it did was distract them from the task of winding me up for long enough to get the content of the lesson across.

Twenty years ago (oh my...) when I was a classroom teacher I would read from a novel to my class every day.  Either before lunch or just before the end of school.  And I would make sure they had cleared their desks completely before I started.  There was no fiddling with things, drawing while they were listening, nothing.  I wanted them to do nothing but listen and use their imaginations as I read.  And they did it.  Not because I was a tyrant about it.  They could just do it, with a little bit of training at the beginning of the year.  And that is why mulitasking didn't rate a mention on my Top Twenty List.  It wasn't needed and in my humble opinion, it just didn't help things along.

But I don't know if children would be able to do that now.  Sure, some can.  But not whole classrooms full of children.  Not without lots and lots of training - in concentration and respect.  And the 30 minute Scripture lesson is not the time of the week for that.  So instead, multitasking is a technique that keeps hands and minds out of mischief  and allows for the lesson to proceed.  It won't work every week.  And this won't work week after week.  But, thanks be to God, it worked this week for me.  We had a nice time together and that means that I stand a fair chance of having a good week with them next week as well.



Anonymous said...

oh meredith thank you! That is a revelation!!! I struggle to keep some little boys engaged at church who distract the others and there's only so much cajoling i can do. I'm going to try the lego trick. I half expect they'll throw it around the room or use it to do fart jokes, but it's worth a try.

And as you know, I've referred to your top 20 tips regularly since you wrote them -- and find them so helpful. Looking forward to seeing which ones you're ditching!


Wendy said...

Great suggestions Meredith. I used to colour in the bulletin when I was a kid trying to sit still in sermons (I am a squirmy person). These days in longish meetings I take my cross-stitch to keep me busy (and my mouth quiet). Our mission's finance manager knits in long meetings! When I'm reading to my kids after dinner, our squirmy, intelligent nearly 13 y.o. will often be a problem. I give him origami to do. He also has what we call "fiddle toys" that he uses sometimes at school when he's feeling restless, something to keep his fingers busy and mind on-task. Some kids (and adults) just need something to do while listening.

Mrs. Edwards said...

I love the geometric coloring idea. I've experimented in our homeschool with various things to keep boys (especially) mentally focused and this is one I had not tried. Legos don't work for my sons because they can't help themselves--they imagine scenarios to go with what they are building and are soon adding sound effects. (Admittedly, I had not limited them with a small pile and specific instructions.)


Meredith said...

Hi Sal, Wendy and Amy! Thanks for your comments.

As far as the Lego goes, I only use this very occasionally and only give Lego bricks...none of the fancy bits and rarely any minifigures...and then provide an achievable challenge. Lego is very engaging, as we all know, so I only use it when I am covering something that is already reasonably familiar - because Lego building takes up more brain space than colouring. But it makes a nice change.

Wondering Sal, how Lego would lead to jokes of the type you mention. Probably no need to let me know, even so. If you put it on the internet it might give some other kids bad ideas!

I think if you had a group of older girls you could teach them to knit, crochet or cross stitch and then they could come each week to listen and to make their creations. That is a lovely thought. But like most of us, I am dealing mainly with boys. Ongoing craft activities also work. Once they know what they are doing, they can keep coming to sessions to do their craft while we teach.

This week I gave one of my Scripture classes a word search puzzle featuring fifteen key words from the story I telling - no list of words provided. Just the puzzle itself. I emphasised the key words as I went through the story for the first time and set the challenge to see who could find the most words during and then for five minutes after the story. By the time we had finished the lesson I had told the story three times in the process of revealing the words I used in the puzzle.