I haven’t really spoken much about what I’ve been doing this year, in terms of my internship. I mentioned it – only to explain how my plans had changed, but other than that, I’ve kept pretty quiet.
I’d like to change that though, as I’ve been learning an awful lot this year, and I think it’d be good for me to document this, as well as share it.
So… what have I learnt?
Children aren’t my strong-suit, and that’s okay.
Since January, I’ve been in my ‘children’s work’ term, and have spent a lot of time with the kids both during the week, and on Sundays. For anyone who knows me, they can vouch that ‘kids’, and any kind of small children are so NOT my strong suit. In fact, I’ve often done as much as I can to avoid them.
I hadn’t really noticed my lack of confidence around children before going to Tanzania in 2016. There, the children were everywhere – and it seemed like everyone’s natural reaction was to gush, play with, and have fun with them.
Everyone, that is, except me.
I was very much out of my comfort zone then, and have been expecting that for the most of this year. One of the things I’m involved in each week is helping at the Toddlers group, and this has been a real challenge. From helping on crafts, to snacks, refreshments or Welcome Desk, each week brings something new. And it’s been a complete learning curve.
Persevering through something challenging is as much of a lesson as loving something new.
As an introvert, being faced with 80 children and about the same again in parents and carers, is almost one of my worst nightmares. There’s nowhere to hide, I’m required to talk and interact with strangers, and all at the same time, look after, and watch the children? No thanks.
From the beginning, I’ve been aware that this isn’t something I ‘know’ how to do. I haven’t been trained as a teacher, and I don’t have the experience as a parent that others do. My own reluctance and hesitance with children has sometimes hindered how I have learnt.
But you know what, I’ve persevered. I haven’t let it stop me from going into work, and although I may come home absolutely exhausted – I’ve got through it. And if anything, learning to persevere through challenges and things that we find difficult is something incredibly important, and I can’t help but feel grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to learn that at this early age.
We need to take time to Slow Down & Listen.
Another thing I have realised, is that it’s incredibly important that we listen.
We need to listen to what they’re saying: be that audibly, or not.
There’s a lot we can learn from them, if only we stop long enough to pay attention.
“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
I sometimes wonder whether as leaders, we can be so focused on what our task is, that we forget to take time to understand things from their perspective.
I’ve been challenged by the story of Jesus inviting the little children to come close, as He listened. And I know He listens to us; so why should it be any different when we’re teaching.
Do we get too caught up in logistics?
Our eyes can be fixed on the lesson, the craft, the games, or the logistics, yet do we sometimes miss the point. Take for example, how children are split up into groups. Are we concerned about keeping them separate? Do the 11-year-olds find being in the same group as 5- or 6-year-olds annoying?
I mean, yes, it’s possible that at times, they do. But isn’t it far more important that we learn HOW to teach them, regardless of what age group we have in front of us, rather than making more logistical problems for ourselves. From what I’ve observed, a lot of the time, they just don’t care. If they’re somewhere that’s safe, fun, and they feel comfortable, then I’ve not seen a problem.
If anything, the interaction between the age groups are quite precious. When we grow up, and we’ve left school, age doesn’t matter anymore. Friends go across age gaps, and it’s no longer a matter of ‘what year are you in?’, but instead, finding your friends where you meet them.
If that’s the case for us, why should we hinder friendships from forming if there’s no visible problem?
Children will be Children. This is a joy.
As someone who is relatively quiet, and have never really been known to get over-excited, or hyper, (or in reality, just act like a normal child), coming into a room full of 5-11 year olds, with a lot of energy and excitement is something that took a while to get used to.
Equally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone SO excited and eager to have their face ‘pied’ with whipped cream, as I did recently with a small group of children. (Who knew that was appealing?!)
But when I realised that excitement is an expression of joy, I start to look at the ‘bouncing-off-the-walls’ in different light.
After all, we live in a world where very often, emotions are kept on the down low. We don’t share – and I know for myself, it’s far easier to just to remain in ‘neutral’: never getting too upset/angry, and neither really experiencing the joy that I KNOW is promised by God.
We’re certainly encouraged to have a childlike faith. To understand how children learn, and without the ‘adult’ tendency to ‘overthink’ everything, we’re in a position to believe The truth as it is. If we were to all shy away from children, especially in a church setting, how are we to ever fully understand what it means to ‘become like little children’? (Matt. 18:2)
I’ll be honest – I’m still not the biggest fan of over-excitable children. But I have learnt some valuable things through observing them, and trying to look at life a little bit more from their perspective.
Teaching children is a privilege.
It can sometimes feel like a chore to take time out of our week to prepare, study and teach young children. Teaching is hard, especially when faced with a large number, and a variety of ages. In my case, this was sometimes overwhelming, and I didn’t know where to begin.
It took me a while to get into it – and as I got to know the children more, I worked out more ways of how to handle sessions. It was vital to understand how to phrase questions, how to keep them (for the most part) focused, and also, when to just let them have fun.
As hard as teaching is, I’ve also realised how much of an honour it is. It’s a privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
What we have, is an opportunity to share with children the news and story of the hope we have. That there is a God who loves us unconditionally, who is our Father, and that there is a promise of salvation. We can share that hope, and those promises: that He knows the plans for us, and they’re ones that are for our good.
Teaching children is also a blessing. To see them coming to understand new things, and the joy that comes across their faces when they understand something new – that’s something really special.
I’d also say that through it all, we’ll learn things from them. Not only is teaching a privilege, but it can be an interesting insight into the lives of children. As I’ve said before, we’re all called to have ‘childlike faith’, and to be like the little children. So why would we not take the time to learn from them: their perspectives, their attitudes, and their behaviours.
It can be very telling to see how children respond to us – and sometimes, it’s all the more powerful. Children sometimes ‘just GET it’. None of this faffing business. But they can just grasp it – if we speak in the right language.
“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.”
They can make you laugh
Now I’m aware that this has gone on quite a while – but I just had a lot to say. So, to break it up a bit (and hopefully bring a smile or two to your face), I thought I’d share a few statements/anecdotes that have made me chuckle…
- Being referred to as ‘Miss Trunchbull’ while teaching on a Sunday morning…
- (Followed swiftly by another child calling me ‘Mrs Nice’)
- When asking about how people used to send messages to each other (trying to hint at ‘letters’), I heard a random shout of ‘BIRDS’… consequently, I was left trying to explain messenger birds, and also move on.
- A favourite game became ‘Port/Starboard, ‘Captain’s Coming!’’ (you probably know the one)… But it soon became infested with toilet humour, and other strange alterations. We had ‘poop deck’, ‘Scrub the poop deck’, and ‘Starbucks’ as new found favourites of the children. The giggles that erupted every time an instruction was shouted was well worth my embarrassment at shouting them out!
There have been many others (some that are more fleeting, but definitely brought a smile to my face at the time.)
One thing I’ve definitely learnt though, is that however much you plan, prepare and work out how you want things to unfold…it will NEVER go to plan! As an organiser, and a (somewhat: I promise I’m learning) perfectionist, this can be hard. But it’s a case of learning to be on your toes, quick-witted, and to embrace spontaneity.
Sometimes, you just need to let go!
At the heart of it all is love.
And finally, when you least expect it, something crops up which reminds me that all in all, they’re really not that bad. Children have got large hearts, and a lot of the time, just want to share that.
I’ve spent time getting to know some of the children, and as a result, know them better. And it’s a delight when they start to respond too, through talking more, (even if it’s random gabble), spending more time, or even just coming and hugging your legs. There are small little things – that are all they have – but is a sign of their appreciation.
That’s something we can never take for granted – and I think some of the most special moments from the last term consist of these.
And that’s a wrap!
You’ve made it! (If you’re still with me, congratulations!!!) I know how long this has been, but I really wanted to share some of the valuable lessons I’ve learnt from spending time with the children and young people over the last few months. If any of you have experience yourself, and have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them, so please get in touch!