Church Babies – CTRs (Choose the Right-ers)

IMG_3099 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.

Ballast for Babies

Todd Raft Trip 1-1







The concept of ballast was discovered early in seafaring days.  Ballast is material that is placed in a ship or structure to provide stability.  It determines the ability of a vessel to right itself. Ballast is often unseen and remains below the waterline of a beautiful sailing ship.  Ballast can be redistributed to adjust to sea conditions.   It can increase speed, adjust the center of gravity or increase buoyancy.  When rough seas are encountered, ballast will determine how soon and how well the vessel is righted.

Babies need ballast.  The world will send rough seas and high winds into the lives of our babies that will send them reeling to and fro.  Inside of each budding human, there are ballast areas that can be filled to provide stability. I look at it as three compartments for parents and caretakers to fill and tend to.  These containers serve as ballast to the human being.  Each represents a different and separate area which act in together for the stability of the whole person.


       Mental                Physical                Spiritual








We fill the Mental with knowledge, schooling, tidbits of wisdom from our superior experience with life.  We instruct in impulse control, emotional intelligence.

We fill the Physical with food, exercise, clothing, care and medicine in sickness and all kinds of healthy practices that make a body grow.

And with what do we fill the Spiritual?   What is the spirit?  Where is the soul?  Filling this cylinder with a belief system and anchor to things outside the self is important to stability.  Even those who profess no belief in a higher power often have some religion – a profession of respect for forces of nature or powers outside of self.

We can fill small minds with great knowledge and yet have an empty spiritual cylinder.  We can build bodies to near perfection, and neglect the other containers.  Balance is key to ballast.  Some things fill all three – for example, music.  Knowledge of the instrument, physical agility through practice; both spill over into a spiritual experience that only music can deliver.

It is important to note is that a spiritual cylinder can be full in the face of near empty physical and mental capacities as in those born with imperfect bodies and minds.

Spiritual filling comes from a different source than mental.  The filling of the spiritual comes through a very personal journey and the exercise of faith.  A willingness to admit we are not the center, but that the center is outside of us and stands ready to guide us toward perfection.  Spiritual filling requires humility and recognition that our desire for faith is indeed the size of a mustard seed.  But, the promise of endless growth is clear for those who choose to exercise those spiritual muscles.

Religion and spirituality has been neglected as a positive force by health professionals in the past, usually only mentioned in relation to pathology.   However, more current research is pointing to the benefits of a rich spiritual life and the positive effects on mental health(1).  Practices of prayer and church attendance have been shown to significant positive health effects (2).

Babies need a model for the filling of all three containers.  By teaching them that there is a need to feed and fill these areas, we create a schematic in their brain.  A framework is provided for building and filling their own ballast cylinders.   Even if they later choose to toss out a ballast container – or half-fill them, they still have the framework.   Ultimately, all Babies model parental guidance for a while, and then they strike out on their own journey and make their own decisions about what to put in their ballast containers.

And we just sit back and watch them.


1  Levin, J. (2010).  Religion and mental health: Theory and research.   International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Published online in Wiley InterScience  ( DOI: 10.1002/aps.240

2  Koenig, H. (2012).   The Handbook of religion and health (2nd Ed).Oxford University Press.

Church Babies – Sunbeams

Church is good for babies. They learn many things. Babies at our church are

CC Max leavesexpected to stay with parents until they are 18 months old and then, from 18 months to three years, they are in Nursery class. Nursery is a lot of play with a little lesson. This is where they learn the beginnings of sitting on tiny chairs, singing songs and listening to brief stories with lots of pictures. When they reach the age of three, they graduate to “real” Primary, where they have a 45-minute classroom lesson and a 45-minute “Sharing and Singing” time where they join the big kids in the big room.

I teach the three-going-on-four-year-old church babies called Sunbeams. A Sunbeam’s job is to learn the ropes of being a kind, attentive, and reverent class member. We start slow. Very slow.

Sunbeams are in Piaget’s preoperational stage of thinking. They are fully egocentric and of course they are the center of the universe. “Look, Mom – the moon is following me!  They are also grounded in animism – that is they give life to inanimate objects. The bottom line is that they still can’t quite tell what is real and what is not at times. And they are trying SO HARD to control their impulses. That’s why I strive to make Sunbeams a friendly place – no scary stuff.

One of the first things we learn is the social magic of chairs in a semi-circle. If the semi-circle shape remains for five minutes, I consider it a success. They like to turn them upside down, stack them, and then place them in a straight line for running an obstacle course. With all this chair movement, however, one must never make the mistake of thinking they don’t know which is THEIR chair. They have an acute sense of chair ownership.

Learning the rules of social groups is a beginning skill for this age. Developmentally, they are ready to learn some manners like taking turns and how to follow simple directions. The also can engage in cooperative (I use the word loosely) play. They are, however, not ready to do any of these things for very long or with great consistency. It is as if one hour they are two years old and the next hour they are four or five years old. But that is the nature of child development – no straight lines.

Should you aspire to the ultimate church calling, I include the following:

 Qualifications for being a Sunbeam Teacher:

  • A testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Lots of prayer and intention to carry out God’s will.
  • A set of Sunbeam clothes – wrinkle and cookie residue resistant – free enough to allow lots of movement.
  • Interesting but sturdy jewelry – preferably something that doesn’t break easily and fling beads all over the floor. Trust me on this one.
  • The ability to get on the floor – and to get back up.
  • Some kind of singing voice.
  • Lots of songs in your memory repertoire.
  • A flannel board and figures to tell lots of Bible and Book of Mormon stories.
  • Vanilla wafers and small cups for their dispersal
  • Versatility – the ability to change plans in a heartbeat.
  • Preparation – Know the single most important concept to get across the children without looking in the lesson manual.
  • Eye contact – you turn away and they go sideways – for sure.
  • A Sunbeam Bag (with roller wheels) containing:  Knotted Rope (for walking activities not for tying them up), Crayons, scissors, glue sticks, Hand sanitizer and wet wipes and a variety of paper for coloring or to make paper airplanes when times are desperate.

We encourage and praise their efforts to be civil and social. We also teach them about God and his Son, Jesus Christ. That is the easy part because Love is at the heart of all teachings and lessons – just as Jesus intended. Children respond to Love. Children are Love.

I Love my Sunbeams.