Have you ever had your worship dance class turn to chaos?
Have you ever tried to teach a group of children who weren’t interested in what you had to share?
Have you ever wondered how experienced teachers seem to effortlessly engage children and hold their interest when it seems like a mystery to you?
Have you ever failed at something you thought you were good at?
I have all done each of those things recently. In this post, I’m going to share my experience and what I learned that is helping me move forward.
First, the background:
Because I’ve put my worship dance class lessons on paper and make them available to others, people think I’m an expert on working with children. Sometimes I start thinking this myself, which is, of course, dangerous. As it says in Proverbs 16:18, Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
Let me tell you about my fall.
Just over a week ago, I had a class that brought me to my knees. I was ready to cry at the end of the day. You know how it is when someone asks you how your day went, and you feel a lump rise in your throat, tears pool in your eyes, and you know that if you tell the story, they will start streaming down your face? That is how it was for me.
I have the privilege of teaching two worship dance classes this fall, one to a group of four and five year olds and another to a group of first and second graders. I have been crazy busy this summer working administratively to prepare for the start of a wonderful homeschool co-op my children and I are part of. I let preparing for this class fall way down on my list of priorities. After all, I reasoned, I can teach worship dance to kids in my sleep, and these are only 40 minute classes. How hard could it be?
I found out on the first day of class. First of all, unlike other classes I’ve taught, this time I’ve got a group of children that are enrolled in classes all day. They don’t necessarily choose my class. It’s simply what is offered to them, if their parents want them to have a full day of classes (and they do because these mothers of young children love the break they get on this one day of classes). Eighty percent of the students are boys, and I get them at the very end of the day.
By the time they got to me, the children were tired of following directions. They were skeptical about worship dance, and they didn’t know me from Adam. I had their attention for the first ten minutes and then struggled to keep it for the next thirty.
When I told the children to sit in a circle, they sat in an odd shaped blob, pressing up against each other or giggling as they spread way out around the room. I asked them to kneel or sit and some of them started lying down!
I prayed, pulled out all my tricks, and anxiously watched the clock. It was painful and humiliating (another way of saying, it hurt my ego). But it also humbled me, which is, of course, the precursor to growth.
I gave myself the afternoon to just nurse my wounds. But over the next week, I reflected; I prayed; and I listened to the Lord and to others. I prepared differently for the next week. (It’s not that I hadn’t prepared for the first week. I did prepare. I had a plan. But I was not prepared. There is a difference.) I went into the second week of classes prepared with a new plan, and better prepared in my heart.
Here’s what I did differently:
I focused on building relationships and establishing order in the classroom, and I planned several short activities, including back up activities, in case my plan didn’t hold their interest.
To establish order in the classroom, I did two things that helped tremendously.
First, I created a routine by which the children were to come into the class. I asked them to leave all their belongings at the door and come sit in the circle. (The previous weeks they had their backpacks and lunch boxes next to them in the circle, a source of constant distraction.) I talked with them, listened to them, asked them to raise their hands to speak, and insisted that only one person speak at a time.
Second, and this is so simple it’s funny, but I purchased vinyl spot markers and placed them in a circle so that the children knew where to sit. It worked like magic. On the first day, one of the most frustrating things was that kids would sit in front of each other, or super close to each other and push each other, or they would spread way out, thinking it was funny. Without me saying exactly where and how to sit (criss cross on a spot, unless otherwise instructed), they could not, would not, have self control. Once the spots were out, they knew where to be. These spots were useful later, too, when I wanted the children to spread out around the room to learn a movement sequence.
To build relationships, I set aside time to listen to the children as they entered the room. Very young children love to share. They don’t want to listen to us unless they know we will listen to them. So, I took time to ask them how they were, to comment on their shirts, or shoes, or skirts, to notice them. I also planned for refreshments. These kids don’t really need food, but they need rest and fellowship by the end of the day. So, I set aside ten minutes to have some sparkling water together.
Lastly, I asked the Lord and my friends for creative and varied ideas for very young children. The Lord reminded me that kids love mysteries. So, I introduced my lesson about honor by pulling special objects out of a trunk one at a time and asking them if they could tell me what word all these objects reminded me of. They were captivated.
A friend suggested having them blow straws across the floor, as an activity. It reminded me of the scripture, Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord. Psalm 15:6 Before teaching them a short devotional dance, I had them blow straws across the floor. Then I told them that, since they could breath, they needed to be praising the Lord.
Another friend reminded me how tired they are at the end of the day. So, we took some time to lie on the floor and listen to a praise song. It provided quietness and rest that centered their hearts.
Lest you think I now think I’ve got this teaching worship dance to children thing down, I want to say I don’t. We never arrive. There is always something to learn. Unexpected events and circumstances pop up and challenge us.
For tomorrow, I’ve been listening and praying. I have a few creative ideas that I’m excited to try. I’ve got a couple of back up activities in my pocket. And I’m aware that I could have an amazing day or a tough day, but my heart is set on loving these children and finding ways to teach them to show love to the Lord.
Now I hope you’ll join the discussion. I’d love to hear from you. Please share in the comment section.
Have you had a time when you thought you were prepared but your plans completely flopped? How did you regroup?
If you teach children, what are some strategies you have learned to keep order and hold their interest?
If you teach boys, what kinds of activities do you do with them that you might not have had to use if you were just teaching girls?