One Sunday, I was driving home from church with a precocious five-year-old as my back-seat passenger. She had just attended her church class where she learned that we should always choose the right – meaning choose what is correct. We even sang the song “Choose the Right.” To further reinforce her new status, she had received a little ring with the green shield of CTR stamped on it – Choose the Right was on her finger. She had seriously internalized the concept and was very impressed with the entire “CTR” business. I was impressed with her quick mind and how she had absorbed the concept. Proud.
My understanding was about to be corrected.
We came to a stop light and she observed that my turn signal indicated I was going to turn left – toward home.
“Grandma! Turn right – don’t turn left!”
She then strongly and carefully instructed me how important it was to choose the right and therefore I needed to turn right, not left. “We need to turn right. We should NEVER turn left because we always should Choose The Right! ”
That is when I discovered to check for understanding when five-year-olds are introduced to “Choose the Right.”
A five-year-old is smack dab in the middle of the developmental period coined by Piaget as “pre operational.” Piaget noted that children in this stage are not yet able to consistently reason with logic and generally have difficulty transferring information from one situation to another – that comes next after age seven. The interesting thing is that while these are hallmarks, any individual child may be leaping ahead toward the school-age concrete stage, or lingering in the prior stage of sensorimotor where they touch and manipulate everything. My CTR Baby had learned her right from her left and was firm in that concept. So when someone says “Choose the Right” – it was truly a directional edict.
My mind raced – I wondered how I could every get home with only right turns.
As I tried to explain that the word “right” had more than one meaning, I got the impression that she was tolerating my attempts, but she was standing firm in her definition. I finally assuaged her concerns about left turns with the reason that sometimes left turns are OK if we are trying to get home. Whew – disaster averted with lightening-fast pre-operational thinking.
At age five, the concept of making correct choices in light of personal responsibility is threaded through the church curriculum – increasing in sophistication through classes for six and seven-year-olds. Sunday Primary classes provide children wonderful, developmentally appropriate instruction in the gospel of Christ. They receive that good news line upon line and precept upon precept at the level of their understanding.
All is in preparation for acceptance and choice of baptism at the age of eight. And yes, they do get a choice. The eighth year is when “the age of accountability” is reached – and also the age of reason and logic according to developmental scientists. It is a part of our church doctrine that children before the age of eight are innocent, and cannot sin. Baptism at eight includes the gift of the Holy Ghost, the comforter who is available to guide them in their choices as they develop and grow to adulthood and full accountability. After eight, teaching of correct actions (choosing the right) continues through liberal illustrations from real lives and scripture stories
The great Developmental Biologist in Heaven know how children think and it is comforting that the developmental principles discovered by man are a not in conflict.
I love my church.