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.

Jean Piaget “Like”

Jean_Piaget Bust 

I like Piaget – so much that I spent nearly 10 years studying his works as the theoretical basis of my dissertation. He makes sense in the world of babies. He broke the mold of thinking that children were simply small adults only less intelligent. He spent his life observing them and pronounced them as “different” thinkers and not “same, but less than adult” thinkers. Many of his observations have been confirmed by sophisticated neuro-imaging that shows the stage-like brain growth he described.   One of the main problems with Piaget is that he wrote so much that most people don’t bother slogging through his works.  And, the “Dummies Guide to Piaget” just doesn’t exist (that I know of).  He was Swiss and wrote in French and his works were translated to English.  His descriptions of the processes used by the thinking child are exquisite.  Here is a quick summary:

The first stage of cognitive development is known as Sensorimotor and includes those from birth to two years of age.  Infants are at first limited to the reflexive movements present at birth but they soon repeat actions and get results from those actions much to their delight.  They build on these reflexes and develop systems so they can apply those activities to an ever wider range of situations.

In the next stage, Preoperational, which spans ages two to seven years approximately,  children acquire the skill to create both mental and verbal symbols (think and talk).  They are able to use simple classifications, but lack generally lack the ability to relate cause to effect.  They are self-oriented and egocentric and can only view the world from their own perspective.

          Following Preoperational, the stage of Concrete Operations arises (approximately ages seven to twelve years) and the child’s reasoning becomes more logical, but concrete in nature.  Children in this stage are able to take another person’s point of view.  They are building the ability to classify objects which is why they are often avid collectors of all kinds of objects.  At this concrete stage, they do not have the mental agility to manipulate abstract problems which requires consideration of all logical possible outcomes.

          In Piaget’s final stage, signs of Formal Operational thinking emerge (beginning usually around 12 years).  Here in Formal Operations, adolescents begin to think logically and abstractly.  They are able to reason theoretically and are able to engage in hypothetico-deductive thinking which makes them a candidate for Sherlock Holmes’ partner.  Piaget proposed that while people would further revise their knowledge base, the developments attained in the Formal Operations stage provides all the reasoning capabilities that would be used through adulthood.

          Multiple studies show that only 30% of all college freshmen are in the Formal Operations stage.  Sounds like a challenge to me.