Tips & Tricks
Motivating Your Primaries
Motivating yourself to teach can be difficult enough: every week you must somehow manage to get to Sunday school or club with lesson prepared, crafts ready for assembly and your patience braced for the inevitable confrontation with the third-grade bully. But what’s even more daunting is the prospect of summoning the energy—and finding the time—to motivate your learners as well. Children don’t arrive at your classroom door ready to learn. They need your help.
Help Them Focus
Each learner comes to church or club with a mood or distracting issues that began at home or at school. I once taught a class of first graders that included a girl who arrived each Sunday morning frazzled and tearful. For weeks I bore the guilt of thinking the anticipation of an hour in my class made her hysterical before she even crossed the threshold. One morning I arrived at church just as her family’s car pulled into the parking lot. Out spilled a harassed dad, an irritated mom, two angry older siblings and my student. The mystery was solved. The girl had been upset by the hurried and harried drive to church, not the thought of an hour with me.
Part of our job as teachers is to help distracted kids focus on the lesson objective. Catching the learner’s interest from the start is part of motivating him to learn. Greet each child warmly as he arrives. Establish an atmosphere that encourages him to share his ideas and feelings, secure in the knowledge he will not be scolded or teased.
The first activity should begin with the earliest arrival. This activity should be designed to help the learners preview the lesson topic. By the time the whole class has assembled most of the learners will have been exposed to the lesson aim.
One example of a primary-level approach would be to make posters from animal photos torn from nature magazines. These posters will help the children think about the animals God has made and prepare them for a lesson on creation.
Overcome Their Fears
Some learners are reluctant to participate in class by reading aloud, memorizing verses or answering questions about the lesson. Children who lag behind in reading and writing skills can be dealing with learning disabilities or undiagnosed problems with vision, hearing or speech. Rather than be humiliated in front of the rest of the class, they will keep silent.
Motivate these learners with questions they are sure to answer correctly; e.g., “Who was taller, David or Goliath?” One right answer from a shy child gives you a chance to affirm him, boosting his confidence for the next question. Subsequent questions should be more open-ended and lead to answers kids can apply to their own lives, like “How was little David able to win over the giant?”
Don’t ask the children to take turns reading aloud from the lesson text. This approach turns the session into a reading lesson. Telling the story is your job. Hear verse recitations individually and praise effort as much as accuracy.
Joy is Contagious!
Remember the important role of joy in learning. Children are motivated to participate in pleasurable activities. Plan hands-on projects that encourage maximum participation. Take breaks for rests, snacks and large-muscle movement. Never laugh at the children—always laugh with them.
The last key to motivating learners is your example. If you drag into class unprepared and less than enthusiastic about presenting the lesson your attitude will be picked up by the children. Turn that attitude around. Demonstrate the joy of teaching God’s Word and your children will know the joy of learning.
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