I haven’t stepped foot into a Primary class since I left to go to Young Womens as a 12-year-old, and I’m sure I’m missing out on some highly entertaining and moving experiences. Primary doesn’t often come up in my day-to-day conversations with my single friends, but I love talking to people in family wards who observe different experience and thoughts that just don’t regularly cross my path or mind. I listen because I care about what’s happening in their lives, but sometimes, I admit, I really don’t completely relate to Sacrament with a two year old, or sharing time frustrations given that the needs and experiences in a singles ward are well, pretty different.
When I was outside one hot September night, my earbuds buzzed and I answered the phone to catch up with a friend. My stride slowed when the conversation veered to a tough situation that happened in her Primary class the previous Sunday. It stunned me, because I had honestly never thought about – maybe ever – this particular dilemma and concern she expressed. A soft light of need settled in my mind, and a few days later I asked if she’d write down some of her thoughts from our chat.
“I’ve recently had the opportunity to teach the 7-8 year-old kids in Primary. Within a few weeks of teaching, I started to realize that one of the boys was a little more unruly than the rest. He was smart, always absorbing what we were learning in class, but he would often shout things out, jump out of his chair unexpectedly, and do things to get attention or a reaction. This was manageable in our own class, but when we joined all the other classes in sharing time, it became a stressful situation for me. I found myself constantly telling him to ‘sit down,’ ‘sit normally,’ or ‘listen!’ I felt like a nag and worried about what the other leaders thought. I also knew his mom and that she had the same concerns.
I asked my Mom and sister for some help on what to do. My Mom has over 30 years of experience as a special education teacher, and my sister is a speech pathologist who has done extensive research in education theory/practices. Both of them offered a perspective that I was not expecting. I was looking for tips and tricks to make this kid sit still and listen! What I got instead were questions on what have I done to try to accommodate him, or set up some kind of behavioral reward plan with him.
As I don’t work with kids on the regular, I hadn’t even thought of this. And honestly, thought why should we have to? For my Mom, however, this is her all-day-every-day quest. ‘How can I help these kids learn?’ ‘What accommodations do they need to feel seen and valued?’ My Mom explained that for this particular kid, staying still for a full hour, let alone three hours, might be pure torture. I needed to think of a way to incorporate more movement into my class/lesson. I also needed to find ways to help accommodate him during sharing time, so that he would have the chance to move if he were going crazy. Like, let him sit in the back, so he can stand up when he needs to, give something to let him fidget with and keep his hands busy, foster or incorporate different activities outside of the regular structure so they are accommodated while still having experiences and lessons. My sister offered a similar perspective.
As I reflected on their advice, I did some self-reflection and realized that maybe I was a little too worried about what the other leaders thought of me as a teacher- what I thought was a ‘good’ teacher. I needed to concern myself with ‘how can I help this kid enjoy Primary & learn the gospel?’”
My friend’s experience and thoughts have made me more aware of these needs and structures within our church. It is actually the perfect place to model acceptance, love, and improvement with children and people with different abilities and needs. But it does beg the question how we can allow for innovation and alternatives with diverse populations of kids and learners within our systems and structures. I picture Jesus beckoning the children to him, smiling, and modeling love, and that imagery has a way of instantly refocusing all efforts and our purpose in all church auxiliaries.
What do your wards do to accommodate needs while still creating a culture of acceptance and love?