Last week I taught the story of Joseph being sold into Egypt by his brothers. The lesson was on forgiveness and the children were supposed to understand that Joseph forgave his brothers even though they had treated him very badly. Unfortunately, thatís not quite how it worked. Thatís not quite how it ever seems to work when I tell that story. When I reached the part about Joseph being reunited with the brothers, and reminded them of the past, I asked, ďWhat should Joseph do?Ē One child promptly said, ďHe should tell his brothers sorry.Ē The problem was that the children know all about sibling rivalry, and many of my little three year olds have younger siblings. They find it totally unfair that Joseph got a cool new coat and the older brothers didnít. They know about little brothers who get too much attention. They saw Joseph as the bad guy in the story and put themselves in the place of the older brothers. They felt the brothers were the ones who should be asked to forgive. Some years, children ask hopefully if you can really sell your brothers if you donít like them.
I often find young children donít see the story quite the way the writers of the lesson manual plan for them to see it. They frequently pull from the story an entirely different message than the one intended by the lessonís stated purpose. When Iím preparing a lesson, I try to see it from the point of a preschooler. I know, from years of experience, that a lesson on telling the truth will lead to a debate on if you must tell the truth even if youíll get into trouble, for instance. (Preschoolers are seldom flexible on this.)
Once Iíve understood their point of view, I try to think of ways to overcome the challenge. I alter the fictional stories a bit to include the expected issue. When telling a scripture story, which obviously canít be changed, I plan questions that will open discussion or I emphasize certain parts in order to make the message more clear. When telling about Joseph, I leave out the information that Joseph was the favored child. Children get completely sidetracked by the unfairness of this information, and the message is lost. Instead, as the brothers make bad choices, I ask the children if the brothers are doing the right thing. While it doesnít always work, at least Iím making an effort to keep the focus on the bad brothers. We have to draw attention to the parts of the story we want the children to remember or pay attention to. They donít automatically know how to find the important parts themselves.
Preschoolers arenít too young for heavy discussion. You might be surprised at how many opinions they have and how firmly they believe their opinions. Ask good questions that donít have a right or wrong answer and you may be amazed at what you learn. Make them feel special by being interested in their opinions and by respecting those views. Practice coming up with gentle ways to handle incorrect ideas, because once a child gets a wrong idea in his mind, itís hard to get it out. Youíll need to quickly correct the misconception, and also let his parents know so they can discuss it as well.
Junior Primary can be as stimulating and challenging as teaching an adult class when we have true discussions with our little students.
Jesus Teaches Me: A Child's Collection of Parables