This article is intended to help readers better utilize the new Teaching in the Savior's Way manual that was recently released.
Teach the Children
The U.S. government has taken the stance that they are the primary teachers of our children, but that is not the Lord’s view. Parents always have been and always should be the primary influencers and teachers of their children. Even if a child’s main exposure to the gospel is in church, as teachers we need to help and support the children by supporting the role of their parents.
Just as it is appropriate for home teachers to counsel with the parents of the home as to what should be taught to the children during the home teaching visit, so too is it appropriate for teachers of children to talk to their parents about what the needs of their children are at church. You can tell them what you will be teaching in the upcoming weeks and counsel with them about how best to approach their children.
Knowing something about the home life of the children in your class can help you be more sensitive to the Spirit when deciding what to include in your lessons. Frequently, it is the faithful children who end up bringing their parents back to church. Never underestimate the power, influence, and testimony of a child. But also never underestimate the importance of their parents in their lives. We need to honor their position as parents at all times.
Use a Variety of Teaching Methods
Children and adults are alike in many ways. Just like adults, children need variety in how they learn. Give them too much of the same thing week after week, and they will stop listening and act out in class.
Each age group in Primary requires a different level of simplicity of instruction. It may take some practice to learn what is age-appropriate material when telling stories and giving examples. Much of what a child can consume will depend on what they have been exposed to at home. Some of your class members will have had very little formal gospel teaching, while others will be having regular scripture study and family home evenings at home.
The challenge which all teachers face is to gauge how much their students know and what they still need to know so the gaps can be filled in as much as possible during their short opportunity to study the gospel at church. Home is where their real gospel education should be taking place, often it just doesn’t happen there.
As you use a variety of materials, like songs, visual aids, pictures to illustrate stories, puppets, whatever, remember that the goal is to invite the Spirit. Teaching the children what it is like to spend time in the presence of the Spirit is a life-saving activity. We don’t forget what it is like to feel the Spirit once we have had it identified to us. Teach them how to feel the Spirit and how to seek the Spirit.
It is not uncommon for adults who have been away from the church for decades to hear a primary song and still remember the words and melody. The Primary songs are powerful. Use them in your teaching.
Give the Children Opportunities to Express Their Creativity
Children are tactile. They learn from doing, feeling, touching, and moving. These are their mainstays as they grow. If you can help them tie their learning experiences to the principles of the gospel, they will remember them for the rest of their lives. “Play” is how children work and learn.
Encourage Children to Ask Questions
It is true that some children, just like some adults, will ask questions that seem completely outside the topic you are trying to teach. That doesn’t negate the need to continue to encourage children to ask questions. Too often we learn to just accept the doctrines of the gospel without asking how they work, what we are supposed to do with them, or how they help us.
It is important to teach children how to ask useful questions. By modeling question-asking that leads to discussion and discovery, the children will learn how to seek answers on their own. This is like we mentioned earlier in this lesson about helping people look for information as they read a passage so they know what you want from them. You can ask what color hair Heavenly Father has, or you can ask the ways we can tell Heavenly Father loves us. Teach them how to ask questions that will help them in life.
When we try to answer a child’s questions by finding a scripture or words of a prophet that answers that question, we teach the child that these are the places to go for answers. The teacher may know the answer, but we need to be teaching the child to look to the scriptures and the prophets for answers.
Invite Children to Share What They Know
You will never know what I don’t know until you let me speak my mind. This is true of anyone. Children come to class with a wide array of knowledge, and a wide array of misconceptions. When their mother and father explained something to them, they may have said they understood but until you get them to teach it to you or a neighbor, you won’t know if they really understood correctly.
One of the joys of teaching children is their ability to see things simply and to uncomplicate matters. Plan on being surprised by some of their observations and statements. It is a perk of the job.
Address Disruptions with Love
An important point to consider when dealing with disruptive children is that the child can only make so many changes. Eventually, their immaturity and lack of social skills prevent them from adjusting to your expectations any further. At that point, it is the teacher who will have to make the changes.
If you have worked with a child, spoken privately to them, spoken to their parents, etc., you may need to look at changing the dynamics in the room. Perhaps making them a teacher’s helper will give them a better opportunity to focus or feel needed. Not all behavior problems are the result of being a naughty child. Many children are bringing their baggage from home into the classroom. The teacher needs to deal with everyone’s baggage, not just their own.
Whether or not you believe in medication for physical or emotional needs, the fact remains that as their teacher you will have to deal with those who either need meds or are on meds. No matter what the problem with a child is, handling the problem always involves love. Love for the child must be part of the solution.
Teach the Youth
Teaching the youth of the Church is a unique privilege because they are part child and part adult. You can, in some ways, reason with them like an adult but they still view the world, in many ways, like a little child. Sometimes they will flip flop between the two states in the same conversation. I’ve seen my niece yell at her mother for not treating her like a grown up, and five minutes later I saw her crawl up and snuggle in her dad’s lap like a five year old.
Each generation of youth become more capable than the last. The Lord places great trust in our youth to be able to handle the trials of the last days. Their faith is simple. Their conversations direct. They still have many questions, and should be encouraged to think about life as they are experiencing it then ask questions about how to approach the situations in which they find themselves.
Just like children and adults, we need to steer the youth to the scriptures and to the teachings of the prophets for answers. They need to learn at this age how important it is to find comfort and knowledge from prayer, and the scriptures. They also need to see that we trust and uphold the living oracles of God.
Sometimes, when we have spent a lot of time with someone’s child, it may become easy to forget that they are not our child and that we need to help them by being supportive of the child’s parents. When we have a child who will not listen to us, as the parent, we hope that there is another adult out there to whom they will listen.
But we need those other adults to share our beliefs and to uphold our family rules. If I as a teacher have no knowledge of how little Johnny’s parents are raising him, it will be difficult for me to support them in their raising of little Johnny. Teachers of the youth should become familiar with their charge’s parents as well.
Sometimes young people are so busy trying to become their own people they forget that their mother and father still love them. Some families have difficulty in demonstrating love for each other. It can be a lifesaver if the teacher encourages the idea that a youth’s parents still love them and that they should continue to listen to their parents.
Set High Expectations and Patiently Help the Youth Fulfill Them
Sometimes people will tell you that children can’t adapt. If they are unruly in one class they will be unruly in every class. This is not necessarily true. If you look at how children behave at school, it is not uncommon for a child to be a terror in one class, and very well behaved in the next class. It is the teacher and the teacher’s expectations that make the difference.
Children will conform to an adult’s expectations. They first need to see that you are serious and that you will be consistent. Once they see that you will not bend on your fair rules and expectations in class, they will learn to work within those rules. Note that your rules need to be fair and reasonable.
It is important to remember that the youth of the Church are very capable. We don’t have to treat them like little children, though many of the same teaching techniques work equally well. They will have many of the same questions that little children have, but will also have many questions about the adult world they are entering. This is an age of inquiry and insecurity.
We can help the youth of the Church feel more secure in life by teaching them how to find answers in the scriptures and in the words of the prophets. Encourage questions of all kinds and tie them back to the lessons from the scriptures and the words of the prophets. The Savior said that the scriptures can tell us all things that we need to do. Trust that counsel and start searching the scriptures.
A young person’s self-confidence will grow by leaps and bounds when an adult demonstrates that they have faith and trust in their ability to make good decisions. If a young person messes up, don’t condemn or berate, but lovingly help them find a better solution in the gospel. They will be eternally grateful for being taught with a non-judgmental attitude. They get enough of that at school.
Give Youth Opportunities to Teach Each Other
Some youth will have a great grasp on their thoughts and vocabulary. They will have spent time learning how to speak their mind. Others will be very clumsy and afraid to try to put their feelings and thoughts into words. Learning to teach each other the principles of the gospel will prepare our youth for missions and the callings they will all have in the Church as adults. These are basic skills that need to be reinforced time and time again.
Start small, perhaps with just opinions. Then, when they are more comfortable, have them talk about a principle in a discussion setting. Eventually, you can help them prepare something to teach others or in a one-on-one setting. All of this takes patience and practice by both the teacher and the student.
As they see you be honest about your teaching experiences, they will gain more confidence about being able to do it themselves. Get them talking. Keep them talking. Try to focus their talking on what matters.
Help Youth Develop Spiritual Self-Reliance
The needs of the youth are the same as the needs of the adults when it comes to learning to have spiritual self-reliance. They need to gain confidence that they can find answers through prayer, pondering, scripture reading, and study. All of these resources need to be taught.
Getting answers to questions needs to become a journey of self-discovery. When someone asks a question about the gospel or how to handle a situation in life, it is the teacher’s duty to help them learn how to turn to the scriptures and begin to find answers to their questions. Just giving the easy answer is quick, but it doesn’t always help them in the long run. The youth need to learn how to find these “easy answers” for themselves.
For example, as the teacher, do you know how to use the Gospel Topics section of lds.org? Do you know how to use the concordance, Bible dictionary, Topical guide, Gazetteer? Do you know where the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is located in your scriptures? These are all the resources we should be turning to in order to find answers to our questions. We also need to teach these to our youth.
Of course teaching daily prayer, daily scripture study, fasting, temple attendance, etc., are all part of our questioning and answer finding. We need both the skills and habits of the righteous soul to get the answers to the questions we seek.
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