Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Teaching Kids the Impossible

I heard my father’s voice the other day, which is an amazing thing since he lives 600 miles away and I wasn’t on the phone. It happened in handbook time during Awana. One of the boys in my group had a lengthy section to pass. It was a review section in which he was so supposed to give four answers to the question “Why did God give us the Bible?” and recite a backup verse for each one. In the Awana book, the answers are listed and the first three words of each backup verse is given. Because it is review, it is conceivable that a clubber could spend a little bit of time looking at the order the answers and back up verses come in and simply recite what they’ve already learned in order. But it is rare that these kids will do that. It is more frequent that they do what caused me to hear my father’s voice the other night.

This particular clubber looked at the section he had to pass and the first words out of his mouth were, “I can’t do this.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“It’s too long,” he said. “Do I have to do the whole thing? Can I just do part of it and come back and do the rest?”

I don’t know why they keep asking. The answer is always the same. “No.” Awana allows for clubbers to pass a section with up to two helps. I don’t remind clubbers of this fact. If they ask to use one of their helps, I’ll do that. But even after they’ve said the verse well enough to meet Awana’s standards, I’ll asked them to say it again and again until they’ve said it word perfect. In my group, it is the rare occasion when the clubber doesn’t pass a section word perfect.

I could tell that this would be one of those occasions, but the clubber kept insisting that there was no way he could pass that section because it was too long. I was trying to help the other boys with their sections and yet I kept hearing this clubber in the background, trying to convince me he couldn’t do it. That’s when I heard my father’s voice coming out of my own mouth. “If you would quit wasting time arguing and just work on the section, you could pass it.”

That’s about as riled as I ever get. Of course I was right. If he had used the energy he was expending in an effort to persuade me that he couldn’t do the work to study the section, he would’ve had no problem at all passing the section. But hearing my father’s voice reminded me of how many times I had been in a similar situation. “I can’t do that.” “It’s too hard.” “Do I have to?” And there was my father saying, “If you would just do the work and get it over with, it wouldn’t be hard.” But in my mind, he didn’t understand.

With several years of experience behind me now, I can see that my father did understand. But the thing is, we can’t just give children that experience. Like us, they have to learn it for themselves. No kid will simply back down and do the work because you told him that if he would quit arguing and do the work he would get it done. He is a kid; it is a completely foreign concept to him. It isn’t his fault he doesn’t understand yet. As the adults in the room, it is our responsibility to find a way for him and kids like him to overcome the mental block he is facing. He believes it is impossible. He really believes there is no way, so he won’t look for a way to achieve the goal. But from experience, we know he can do it, so we must show him the way.

In my case, with this particular clubber, what I did was to write the whole section on the whiteboard. Where the Awana book gave only parts of the verses, I filled it. Then I told him to read it aloud. Again and again I had him read it aloud until he had it down enough to pass the section. It wasn’t word perfect, though I’m sure it could have been if we had had more time. I’ve found that it helps to have clubbers read their sections out loud when they are working on them because they are easily distracted. A kid can sit quietly in a chair looking like he is studying for a long time before you realize he is thinking about something else. But let him roam free while reading aloud and you know when he is learning and when he is not.

Kids can be taught and it is our responsibility to teach them. It is our responsibility to understand the difficulties they are facing in learning and to show them ways to overcome those difficulties. It is our responsibility to show them that what they think is impossible is possible. Think back to when you were their age. Think about the difficulties you faced and how you were able to overcome them. Show kids how they can do the same and you can teach kids far more than you imagined you could.