Sunday, March 17, 2013

Q&A - So They're Just Not That Into You...

For many of you, the title of this post will have no relevance - you have totally "got" this calling:  you have the kids eating out of your hand every week, they love everything you do, and when they see you in the halls or the grocery store or in the carpool line they spontaneously burst into angelic primary song singing splendor.

But for some of you others, it kind of stings a little bit because you have actually felt this once or twice, or maybe even all the time.  Before I get any further into this post, I want to reiterate that these musings are only my opinions and are based on my own experiences.  Of course I am not implying that any of you are lousy choristers, because that is absolutely the furthest thing from the truth.  I guarantee it.  The fact that you accepted this calling proves that you have the stuff it takes to be great at what you do.  So, this post is to help you maybe identify what the problems might be (if there even are any), and a few ideas on ways to change your image, so to speak.  So here goes.

Reason they might not be that into you #1:  They're bored.

I am not a huge fan of elaborate singing times.  Just peruse my archives and they will prove that.  Simple is really good almost all of the time.  However, it is really easy to slip into a rut of easiness.  Please don't think that simple = easy all the time.  Planning a successful singing time takes time and effort each week - don't get stuck in the "oh, I guess I have to do singing time today...let's see, what do I have in my church bag that we can play hot/cold with..."  I know that happens sometimes, trust me - I've been there.  But prayerfully and carefully considering what those kids need is a time-consuming process.  One thing I will tell you that I cannot stress enough...just because they're bored, that doesn't mean you're boring!  See how I put that in red so you would actually read it?!  Here are some ways to combat boredom.

-Use a singing time schedule.  You don't have to use the one that I made, but find one that works for you. ---Stagger your birthday and welcome songs so you don't sing the same ones every week.
-Use a wiggle worm jar.
-Follow the 5-10-5 rule.
-Don't take the program songs so seriously that you forget that there are hundreds of other killer songs out there that you can spend time teaching.
-Don't be afraid to deviate from the plan - if things are just going off track and you're losing them turn things back on them.  "I can see that we are in the mood for something else - what do you guys think would be fun?"  or "You know what?  I'm bored.  Are you bored?  I'm bored.  I think we need to switch gears.  How about we do a little bit of stretching...then we'll sing Suzy's favorite song.  Then how about we try this again?"

Reason they might not be that into you #2:  They smell blood.  And they are starving, chorister-eating animals.

Are you scared?  Shy?  So far out of your comfort zone that you're searching for your 72-hour kit?  Are you overwhelmed because your primary is so big it has a nose-bleed section?  Oh, you can't sing?  And you stopped being creative in kindergarten?  And the last chorister was the best EVER and you'll never live up to her?  And all of the adults are staring at you and judging you and uploading videos of you doing Head Shoulders Knees and Toes onto Facebook?

Okay, so you're scared.  I get it.  I have mentioned in a few posts now about my exponential use of deodorant and anti-diarrheal medication during those first couple of months.  We all get it - there are a lot of things to be afraid of, but you have to gird up your loins, people.  If the kids smell fear, they will exploit it.  It's just the nature of children (no, children are not inherently evil, they are just really good at finding a weakness and never letting you live it down.  and that's a true story, in my opinion!).  Be assertive.  Set rules and follow through on them.  Expect good behavior.  Remember - they might be the carnivores, but you control the food source.  Show 'em who's boss!  And don't forget - you can't have fear and faith.

Reason they might not be that into you #3:  They're too cool for singing time.

Here are some thoughts on boys.  Many of those ideas can be applied to girls and younger kids, too.  If you have one or two or several kids that just flat out refuse to sing, maybe give them a break.  Enlist one of them to be your helper for the week or month.  Get them involved and you might see a difference.  Sometimes just separating problem pairs can work wonders.  There is no reason that children can't be paired up with different classes or ages.  If Bobby and Dave won't sing when they're together, then Bobby stands up at the front picking helpers and Dave gets to sit with the Sunbeams and help them learn the song.  Think outside the box and try to figure out how to reach them.  And it's okay that they're growing up or feeling insecure - it happened to all of us.  If they're being downright rude, involve the presidency, teachers, and/or parents.

Reason they might not be that into you #4:  They're tired/hungry/hot/cold/excited/stressed/miss their mom/etc.

Sometimes some things are just out of your control.  Aside from setting up a buffet of peanut butter sandwiches and singing them to sleep, there just might be nothing you can do.  On those days when things are just out of control, throw caution to the wind and sing fun songs.  There's always next week!  When I mention stress, that is a very real thing for some of these kids.  If they are feeling pressured to learn songs and stick to a schedule, it takes the fun right out of it.  Don't ever let them feel like they are not meeting expectations.  Their only job is to have fun and learn a few things along the way.  You're a facilitator, not a headmistress!

Can you think of any other reasons that kids may not be that into singing time?  How do you overcome the most challenging days?  Here are a couple of issues that some of our fellow choristers are having...what advice do you have?

"I have a few kids that get so mad when they aren't chosen to help every single time. If another child gets chosen twice they interrupt the song and walk up to tell me they should have another turn also. I tell them I won't pick the kids that disrupt me. Then they stalk off and stop participating."

"I have a few teachers that do not enjoy their calling. They sit in the back and roll their eyes at me all sharing time. There is one that always corrects my mistakes and makes suggestions on games etc. I'm not sure if I should include them more with my review games or just keep pretending they don't exist."

"What do you do when the kids are starting to get out of control (especially the new sunbeams)?"

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  1. How often are you choosing a single child to participate or lead? Is it every/most every Sharing Time? Like the Mythbusters say <--THERE'S your problem.

    Music Time should involve as many kids as possible as much of the time. Sometimes you will need to have one child do something, but whenever you ignore a group of 40 to help one kid choose a special flower from the magnetic ThingYouMade, you're inviting disaster.

    I've observed teachers in the "I don't pick you if you are disruptive" mode of teaching in Church. It just encourages misbehavior. The underlying assumption is that kids are bad, and if they finally show their worthiness, *then* they can participate. It creates a classroom culture of the Good Us and the Bad Them.

    Kids below the age of 8 (and some older than 8) can't completely connect their actions to consequences yet. That's why it's called the Age of Accountability. And it's also why when-you're-FINALLY-good-LONG-ENOUGH-you-get-to-play doesn't work in Primary. Small children can't understand why they aren't being chosen. In their minds, they *were* being good when they raised their hand to volunteer, even though 10 seconds ago they punched a neighbor in the ear. "If being good doesn't get me chosen," they think, "why bother?"

    You might write each child's name on a craft stick. Paint or mark one end of the stick red and the other green. Choose a name for and put that stick with the red side up. Each child gets chosen once, for prayer, for song, for helper, or for whatever, until everyone has had a turn and all the sticks are red. Then flip the sticks and go through the list again. Everyone gets a turn. It also eliminates the problem of certain boisterous kids getting all the options to answer questions or pray, while quieter or naughtier children never get to participate.

    The last thing you want in Primary is for kids to get the idea that they can't receive love/forgiveness until they are good enough or have suffered long enough. That's not how the Atonement works. Let's show them a little grace (unmerited favor) when they're small so they can understand it when they get older.

    Some serious behavior issues do require other remedies, but generally speaking, Primary problems are just kids acting like kids.

  2. For those with adult hecklers, I had an art teacher wisely say "If you can't fix it, feature it!"

  3. I agree with familyoligist ^
    If you "feature" whatever your problem is, it can be addressed in one way or another. For example today I had my usual senior primary boys who are "too cool" to sing, which I totally get. I have been 11 before and I remember being in primary thinking the same thing. So I tried my usual, be silly and get real close and see if they will join me and it wasn't working. So I decided to make them, my special helpers. They got to help it "rain" today in primary, which they loved....and they gladly participated the rest of singing time. My initial thought was to call them out and make them come up and sing solo......but I took a few seconds to come up with something creative, and I am glad I did, because my initial thought would have backfired and they would have been annoyed and I would have been frustrated.

    I think most of all, don't worry what everyone thinks about you, and teach the spirit of the song in a fun way, and the kids will remember it forever. You won't always have the time to involve everyone, and every once in awhile someone will find it unfair.....and that's okay. They will have a chance next time.

  4. Craft sticks with the children’s name on it are a great idea. You can put the ones who have been picked in a separate container so you can start over only after each child has had a turn. You could also ask the teachers to choose a child from their class who is being reverent. It’s not bad to expect good behavior. Just go easy on them. For some kids being reverent for 20 minutes is no problem all. For others 20 seconds is an accomplished. Praise them for their efforts however small they may be and you will most likely see improvement.
    Kindness and praise go a long way with children and adults. Thank your teachers for their input and try to find ways that you can involve them. Find things about what they do or about their character that you like and offer genuine compliments. Sometimes all you need in order to want to try harder is to recognize that you have something to offer. It’s always nice to be appreciated.


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