(Part 1- Learn Content with the Spirit)
I know what you’re thinking. Especially those of you who, like me, teach primary-aged children. How can you keep young kids’ attention if you don’t plan activities? Stick with me on this one. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since we’ve started this new program and want to share a few thoughts that I’ve had.
Let me start with a personal experience I had about 12 years ago, as a brand new, excited, but also very nervous, 4th grade teacher. While preparing for a lesson about the water cycle and forms of matter, I found a great idea for a learning activity that included oobleck. For those of you who haven’t heard of oobleck, count your many blessings. It’s basically homemade slime that sometimes acts like a liquid and sometimes acts like a solid, depending on how fast you touch it. It’s also the messiest thing in the whole wide world. Especially when you give it to a whole bunch of 4th graders. As soon as I began the activity, I quickly realized that things weren’t going to end well. I had no idea what the kids were actually supposed to learn from this, so, naturally, neither did they. But they did know that it was fun to play with. Before I knew it, green slime was dripping all over the place. On the desks, on the chairs, on the floors, just about anywhere you can imagine. By the time our science time was up, the room was a COMPLETE disaster, I was exhausted, the kids hadn’t learned a thing, and, despite my best efforts to clean up as much as I could, I’m sure the custodians hated me from then on out.
My point in this story (besides the fact that I should have done a better job of preventing the mess that happened)? Instead of focusing on the fun ACTIVITY, I should have focused more on the CONTENT of the lesson. Don’t get me wrong, I think that a lot can be learned from free-play, and it has its place. And kids absolutely learn better if they’re having fun. But I don’t think a single student that day learned a thing from this activity. Had I planned better and began by thinking more about the CONTENT of what could be learned from this oobleck activity, then maybe I would’ve felt better about this particular lesson and felt like the mess was worth it.
How does this tie into the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum? Whether we are primary teachers or parents of young kids, our FIRST question needs to be, “What can I learn from these chapters?” and, “What could the kids I’m teaching learn from these chapters?” (CONTENT). Then, AFTER you have a solid understanding of the content, find the best way to get this message across to your learners. And yes, to help young children learn the content, activities can be absolutely necessary. With my own kids, we rely VERY heavily on activities because that’s what helps them learn better. If you look at the lesson plans my husband and I have made for teaching our super young girls, you’ll notice that they’re actually packed full of pictures and activities. Their attention spans are very short and they need that in order for them to stay engaged and learn this curriculum.
But I strongly believe that when we get the order mixed up and start by trying to find and think of ACTIVITIES before we’ve figured out the CONTENT, it takes away from some of the power that could be in our lessons. So yes, activities are great and lots of times absolutely essential, but I think our mind frame needs to be geared first and foremost toward planning content. Plan the CONTENT and what you think your learners really need to hear, and then see if there are any activities that enhance whatever it is you’re trying to teach. And always, always, always pray for guidance.
One thing I love about the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum is that each lesson starts out with the phrase, “Begin by reading the chapters,” and then it gives you space to record your impressions. It doesn’t say, “Begin by searching for ideas on Pinterest” or even, “Begin by reading our outline that we’ve made for this week’s lesson.” The emphasis is put on each of us reading directly from the scriptures for our own understanding and figuring out what our own impressions are for each of these chapters. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I get this order wrong. But I have learned (and am still learning) that when I spend the majority of my time studying, seeking the Spirit’s guidance, and writing down my own impressions (all before I look for other resources or plan activities to go along with the content), things come together a lot better and it’s easier to visualize ways to teach the lessons.
So don’t plan activities. Plan content. What do I learn from this? What do the kids I teach need to learn? And then build off of that to figure out which, if any, activities can help teach the content.