Friday, March 01, 2013

Delight in the Lord

Last October, I recapped my efforts at helping children find awe and wonder in the Bible in our church's afterschool program. Our goal was to read the Book of Daniel together. We will start chapter nine next week and are on track to finish the entire book by the end of the school. Over the past couple of months, our group has grown from last year's nine students to this year's twelve, sometimes fourteen. New pupils have folded into the group seamlessly, which amazes me since a Charlotte Mason style of learning is so different. I continue to follow the method described in this post on Bible study.

Very rarely do we have an "off" day. These children are high-energy, and some have labels which means nothing to me because they are all persons first! We do everything we can to let them burn off steam through free play and snack time before lessons begin. Our rhythm of song time and prayers usually settles them down for the Bible lesson. Last week, two new pupils came and the rest, even those who have been coming for years, had a bad case of spring fever. A couple of students were talking, a few looked half asleep, and the others struggled to focus on the text. Instead of slogging through the reading and encouraging more inattentiveness, I cut it short and we shifted to the craft.

I brooded and pondered about what I should do. While I assumed it was a one-time incident, I did not want to let one "off" day lead to more "off" days and eventually the habit of inattention. I also wanted to avoid relying on lectures, artificial rewards, or token systems to encourage better behavior. As pointed out in the New York Times article "Train a Parent, Spare a Child", "offering short-term incentives to elicit behavior is unreliable, ineffective and causes 'considerable long-term damage.'" Why? Once the reward is removed, the desired behavior disappears. I agree with Charlotte Mason's belief that such measures turn children into pawns in a game. She wrote, "Our crying need today is less for a better method of education than for an adequate conception of children,––children, merely as human beings, whether brilliant or dull, precocious or backward" (Page 80).

Not only did she avoid direct manipulation of behavior, Mason had concerns about indirect ways of trampling upon the dignity of a child. Clearly, we all agree upon the dangers of influencing children through fear. What about love and approval from a teacher? Surely, a positive emotion cannot be harmful? The admiration of a teacher often leads to lessons learned, proper behavior, good will, and the development of virtues. But, what happens when the teacher is no longer in the life of the student? Because these positive reactions depend upon an outside influence, ground gained may be lost. What determines lifelong character is ideas that live inside children and inspire them. If nothing has been done to sow ideas that make acts worthwhile, then we undermine their ability to act independently.

The article on parent training offers lame advice: make sure children understand why what you're asking them to do is important, show interest in their point of view, and admit that it is really not but give them a reason why they should do it anyway. Oh, yeah, if you can reward them after the fact, sparingly, preferably something that the child picks (money, treats, or quality time). Blah, blah, blah!

Mason discounted suggestion, persistent influence, emulation, etc. What is left? Letting children fall into slipshod habits may be the greater of two evils. The answer lies within the student. "The work of education is greatly simplified when we realize that children, apparently all children, want to know all human knowledge; they have an appetite for what is put before them, and, knowing this, our teaching becomes buoyant with the courage of our convictions" (Pages 89-90).

I began to realize that spreading a feast of awe and wonder every week had sharpened their appetite for knowledge of Daniel. They desired to know; they had proved to me their habit of attention. However, they needed to take responsibility for managing it.

Then, I began to think about the reason why I study the Bible and how the brain stores memory. Those two big ideas lead to my plan, which worked like a charm!

Before the Bible lesson, I explained to them that Daniel had lived six hundred years before Jesus was born as a man. Since Jesus was born two thousand years ago, the book of Daniel was written about twenty-six hundred years ago. Their eyes grew wide. I added, "That means God kept the book of Daniel safe for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years—just so we could read it." I asked them, "Why do you think God protected this book all of these years?"—which lead to a wonderful conversation. Some of the kids enjoy writing notes on the dry-erase board after we do our craft. I just love this reflection:

Once they realized how precious this book was, I explained to them how memory works. When I asked if anyone had ever made paper chains for Christmas trees, hands flew up. I explained that the mind links together memories just like we make paper chains. "The reason why we talk about what we learned last week is so that our brain know where to put the next link. Every time we read the next part of Daniel, our chain of memory grows longer." We talked about what happens if we miss a week or if we are not paying attention. Our chain will have a broken link. Eying the strips of paper lying on the table, one of the boys asked, "Mrs. Tammy, can we make some chains about Daniel?" Before the reading, the kids drew what they remembered about the sheep and the goat. After the reading, all but two drew more links for their chain. One added links for the previous dreams. Another asked if we could do this every week.

I love how Leslie Laurio paraphrased Mason's conclusion to this chapter.
Knowledge for its own sake is pleasing because it's so fulfilling. When you see evidence that a student in your class shares your delight in knowing, and shares your pleasure in expressing what he knows, and shares your affinity for some wise philosopher or brave hero, you both connect and share a kind of bond. A student who has that kind of satisfaction from learning is less likely to have a compulsive need to be better than everyone else.


amy in peru said...

absolutely brilliant, you are.
you are one of my heroes.

con muchísimo cariño,
siempre tu amiga...

walking said...

¡Muchas gracias, mi amiga en Cristo!

And you are one of my heroes, sharing the love of Christ in Peru!

Lanaya said...

I am inspired by your experiences in teaching children the Bible. We're trying a Charlotte Mason approach in our Sunday School at church. I must say I've never enjoyed teaching Sunday School so much! I feel a little over my head, but I do like the way things are going (though it's a little hard to sell to other adults). Your posts really teach me a lot; thank you so much for sharing.

walking said...

Lanaya, I didn't have to sell. Nobody seemed to care as much about Wednesday afterschool (less limelight than Sunday school). The teacher had to leave for health reasons, I stepped in at the last minute, and there was no set curriculum.

Yesterday, we started Daniel 9. Since they had no context on Jeremiah, we studied paintings of Jeremiah by Michelangelo and Rembrandt. I explained to them why he was called the weeping prophet. And, when we read together about Daniel's mourning, one child exclaimed, "That is exactly what Jeremiah did!"

Children are indeed longing to know.

The adults who have spent time in my class get it. They have definitely supported me. Hopefully, when the adults you know see how beautiful and nourishing it can be, they will get it.