Guest post written by my sister, Chris Houghton. Chris teaches music to children ages 3-11 each week during the children’s meeting (Primary) on Sunday. This class is split into two groups: ages 3-7 and 8-11. Each class has an average of 40-50 children.
Being a chorister for children is hard! Let’s face it. What other volunteer position asks a person to stand up each week in front of 10-100 children, teach them an entire song in 15 minutes, maintain reverence, be entertaining, and bring it home with a spiritual message at the end? None. That’s right, none.
Every week my Fitbit thinks that I have done two 20 minute workouts! It congratulates me every Sunday for getting in my workout. It’s exhausting, it’s terrifying, and it’s one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
Some weeks we spend hours preparing lessons and other weeks, just minutes. Some lessons are amazing and you can just tell the kids were soaking in what you taught and other weeks you go home feeling as useful as a snow shovel in July.
You are important and brave. You are filling a role that most would have said no to in the first place. So, pat yourself on the back. Yea you!
As the Aunt of special needs kiddos, I have a special place in my heart for the “hard kids” in Primary. However, when we call them “hard kids,” are we referencing our perspective or theirs? I saw one nephew be born with autism; that’s hard. I watched another be born addicted to meth; that’s hard. I watched a niece discover she had learning disabilities because her birth mother drank every day during pregnancy. She has fetal alcohol syndrome; that’s hard. In the most kind and loving way, I want us to remember that we have them for a few minutes on Sunday, and that can be “hard.” But they live with their “hard moments” every day, all day.
As the Aunt of these kiddos I have several suggestions that may help with the “hard” days.
Work on the Relationship
As the teacher you need to be willing to build trust and a caring relationship with the children.
- Pay special attention to them.
- Praise them if they show the slightest bit of reverence.
- Compliment them for coming! Sometimes that is all they can manage that day.
- Call or visit them at home to get to know them.
- Ask them pick the opening or closing song. They will feel so special.
- Catch them on the way out of primary and tell them you love them.
It may take months, but be patient; you can win them over.
I bring a bell to Primary. When the kids get too loud, I bring out my bell and tell the kids they can be loud until I ring my bell. When the bell rings, I need to see “my choir.”
“My choir” has:
- eyes on me
- nothing in their laps
- lips still
Then I tell them to be noisy again. They can talk to their neighbor or wiggle or jump (for about 5 seconds). Then I ring my bell again.
We will do this several times. It allows them to get their wiggles out, but quickly refocus. They love the bell! Not because it makes them be quiet, but because they get 30 seconds of fun from it.
Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Allow them to have fun. Make them feel important.
When I prepare a lesson I always try to put something in the lesson where the kids can move. It is hard for them to sit quietly for 15-20 minutes. Can they clap? Can they stomp? Can they shake? Create opportunities for them to move.
This is especially important for the “hard kids.” When everyone is moving, their inability to hold still becomes less noticeable and they can blend in a bit. You are giving the “hard kids” a gift by providing an opportunity for them to feel and act just like everyone else.
If You Can’t Say Something Nice…
Compliment them. Every week I tell “my choir” how amazing they are. Somehow when they feel amazing, they become amazing. It’s natural to want to become what you are told you are.
If a child has one minute of reverence, thank them. Next week you may have two minutes. If they sang nice and loud without shouting, thank them. Next week you may have them sing even better.
I have a young girl on the spectrum in our primary. She has a “helper” sit with her each week. Because of my nephew with autism, I understand how hard it is for her to be there. Sometimes when she is getting loud or I can tell she is upset, I will have the class sing I Love to See the Temple. This is her favorite song. When we sing it, she will often calm down. (Do you know your “hard kids” favorite songs?)
I have provided some props for her to use. One is a soft, silky scarf. She runs it through her hands to calm herself. She waves it to the music.
I also brought her some sensory toys that she likes to play with (I’m not saying you must do this; I had them around the house).
This young girl also likes to use a dry erase marker on a binder. One week I noticed that the marker was dry so the next week I brought her a new marker. Her helper told me that it didn’t matter if the marker was dry. She just likes the feel and sound of the dry erase marker on the plastic. Find out what might calm your “hard kids.” See if it can be provided during Singing Time.
If a lesson is bombing, it may be the energy in the room that week and not your lesson. Don’t take it personally. Be willing to scrap it and sing fun songs and get silly. Then try again next week.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have the children know every word to every song, but that really should not be our goal. Our goal should be to help them feel the spirit of the music we sing. It is not about the number of songs they learn; it’s about the way you make them feel!