Like a lioness waiting in the tall grass for her prey, I swear they could smell the fear. I walked through the door and 10 pairs of eyes stared up at me from their seats. How bad can this be? I thought to myself. They look harmless enough.
Sitting there quietly around a circular table playing with Play-Doh, the 10, two and three year olds seemed content and well behaved. I’m not sure what I expected… I think something resembling pure pandemonium, but much to my surprise, they were sitting still. I spoke with one of the other teachers. She gave me some instructions on what worked and what didn’t. She told me some ways in which to prevent all hell from breaking loose—which I really appreciated. And then, she closed the door behind her and headed toward the sanctuary.
OK. I’m alone with 10 kiddlets. TEN. That’s… A LOT. I take a deep breath. And I am alone with them for over an hour. An even deeper breath. Exhale. “Hi kids! My name is Joanna and we are going to have some fun! We’re gonna play, listen to some music, then hear a bible story, and play some more! Doesn’t that sound like fun!?!” They’re just blinking at me. WHY are they just BLINKING at me? Isn’t anyone excited?
Frantically, I rummage through the papers I’ve been given. I am supposed to tell these little ones the story of Abraham and Sarah. “Who wants to hear a bible story?” I say with as much excitement as I can muster while thrusting my hand up into the air, hoping desperately that they’ll catch my enthusiasm and do the same. More blinking. Not a single hand goes in the air. OK, now I’m positive they can sense my terror.
Let me just take a moment here to interject that I am not very good with kids. I don’t have kids. I don’t watch other people’s kids. I’m never around kids, save for nieces and nephews. And they don’t count because they have to love you no matter what… that or you can usually just buy their affection with candy & video games and stuff. So when I was asked to teach the 2s and 3s class during the church service every 3rd Sunday of the month and actually agreed to it… I really had no idea what I was in for. OK… back to the story…
“So NO ONE wants to hear a bible story!?” I try for a second time to get them excited about this. However, one by one I watch the children get up from the table and just… wander off. Where are they going? I ask myself. What are they doing? I am dumbfounded at the fact that they are TOTALLY IGNORING me. Initially I try gathering them back to the table but soon realize that this, like herding cats, is a totally useless endeavor.
I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! I hear one girl whine from a far corner of the room. She is pulling blocks off of the shelves. Another child starts putting plastic grapes on a toy plate and waddles over to a… MICROWAVE? Surely it isn’t plugged in. Surely it is there for preparing snacks or food during the regular school week. Surely he can’t reach… Oh @#$%! It IS real, it IS plugged in and he CAN reach it because he is now microwaving plastic grapes!
“OK, Jeffrey, we aren’t going to PLAY with the microwave. That isn’t safe.” I hear myself say as I take him by the shoulders, remove the plastic grapes from the appliance (thank God they aren’t on fire) and redirect his attention elsewhere.
Mercifully, my sister enters the room then. She is in charge of the church nursery, plus is raising 7 children of her own, so any advice I can get from her at this point would be welcome and appreciated.
“How’s it going?” she asks. “Ummm… good… ummm… (my eyes are darting around the room peeled for inevitable disaster) they… uh… don’t seem to want to listen to me…” My voice trails off as I take MORE things away from Jeffrey who seems to only be interested in contraband.
My sister recommends that I try counting down from 10 minutes to Bible Story Time. Let them know that in 10 minutes we are going to put the toys away, come back to the table and listen to a story, and then go to 5 minutes, 3 minutes, etc. until it is time. This, she says, prepares them for what is to come and therefore it doesn’t become a big “issue” when it’s time for the story. I don’t see how that is going to work any better, but I’ve got nothing to lose. Meanwhile, she offers to bring down some snacks for the kids to have later. And she leaves.
I do the countdown thing, announcing every few minutes how much time we have left just as she suggested. I have no idea if it is working, but we’ll find out. I also turn on some music hoping it will calm me down and lighten the mood.
I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! I hear the same girl cry out from a different corner of the room. What do these kids have rockets on their butts? How are they moving around so quickly without my noticing?
I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! Another girl yells out. What a sweet little angel.
“6 minutes! In 6 minutes we’re going to pick up our toys and listen to a bible story!” I announce again. By now, my teenage nephew has joined me… much to my relief. My sister, sensing my panic, has sent in reinforcements! God Bless her!! It is another set of eyes, ears and hands to help me corral these little ones for story time.
I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! She cries out again from the toy kitchen.
I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! My precious little angel answers back.
“4 minutes! In 4 minutes we’re going to pick up our toys and listen to a bible story!” I announce again. My nephew informs me that it has been much longer than 2 minutes since the last time I reminded them of the countdown. “What does it matter Cameron… they don’t know the difference! Just so long as the number keeps getting smaller!” I hissed at him through a plastic smile. And Cameron just shrugs while helping 2 little guys make baseballs out of Play-Doh.
“Nuh-uh!” A boy says to me… “I know it’s been longer than that!” And I think to myself: Since when does a 3 year old know how to SUBTRACT!?!
I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY! She cries out from inside of a bookshelf.
I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! My darling, adorable, peaceful angel answers back.
Since the one little boy is onto my “fudging the numbers” with the countdown thing, I point to my watch and say: “When the BIG hand is on the 12, we’re going to pick up our toys and listen to a bible story!” And he comes over and grabs my wrist, examining my watch to see just how long it is going to be.
I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A BIBLE STORY. She says a little quieter now while standing right beside me.
I WANNA HEAR A BIBLE STORY! My giving-me-hope-and-keeping-me-sane angel answers back.
“OK! It’s time! Cleanup, cleanup everybody do your share…” I sing the song as I gather up Play-Doh and blocks and plastic food. Cameron makes quick work of the cleanup too and surprisingly the children are joining in! It’s working!!! “Time to come sit down at the table now everybody! We’re going to hear a story about Abraham and his wife Sarah!” I practically sing as the children are miraculously doing what I’ve asked! The countdown worked!! It actually worked! And even my little Bible-Story-Protestor is magically seated at the table. I turn off the music.
I’ve been given a packet of materials for story time which includes the story (of course), some worksheets and several large, paper cut-outs of the biblical characters and their props in order to “act out” the story for them with visual aids. I begin telling the story by showing Abraham first. I talk about Abraham and then give him to one of the children to hold. I figure this will keep them interested if they get to interact with the teaching tools rather than just sitting there empty-handed.
They seem to like holding the paper characters and they even raise their hands to be the next child to receive one to hold. However, they won’t simply HOLD the paper cut-outs like I’ve shown them. Instead, as I work my way through the telling of the story, I see that Abraham is standing on his head, the shepherds and their sheep have gone missing and Sarah is crumpled into a ball. So much for that idea.
Something I want to mention here that I have observed over the years is that young children who have been exposed to church and Sunday school have 2 standard answers that they will give NO MATTER WHAT THE QUESTION IS. They are (in this order): “God” and “Jesus.” Every time. No matter the question. So if I ask them: “Kids, what does it mean to make a promise?” The answer will always be: God! And when I hesitate and say: “Noooo… try again…” Then the answer will be: “Jesus!” And they seem NOT to answer with anything else until they get a bit older.
Of course this case is no exception. Every question I asked them during the story, the answers they gave were always: God and Jesus. And that, folks, concludes the question and answer portion of our time together. After what has seemed like an hour (though I know by my watch it has only been 10 minutes) I reach the end of the story. I think we are all relieved. I pass out the worksheets and TRY to help them fill them out. I figure I have GOT to send these kids home with something to show for their time spent in here. We haul out the crayons and no sooner do I attempt to tackle the first illustrated question… I notice that they have ALL scribbled ALL OVER THEIR PAPERS.
It’s time for potty-breaks and snacks.
Potty-breaks and snack time go over rather smoothly save for the boy who is “helping” pass out the animal crackers by giving everyone else 3 a piece while stuffing 6 more into his mouth each time. That and there was the little girl who wanted so badly to be helpful by giving everyone a paper towel for their crackers… that she eventually pulled ALL of the paper towels out of the dispenser and onto the floor one at a time.
So with one crumpled Sarah… a paper-towel, crayon, worksheet and Play-Doh scrap strewn floor… A boy running around with a death-grip on the animal cracker box… A table covered in crayon marks and cookie crumbs… And three kids arguing over a plate of microwaved plastic grapes… The first parents arrive to retrieve their children. I have no idea what the expression on my face must have been, but it could not have been one of a confident, competent and comfortable child-care provider.
And as each parent left with their child in hand, one by one they asked me: “So how did it go? How was <insert name of child here> today?” their anxious faces desperately searching mine for the truth. And straightening my sweater, I answered each parent by replying: “Oh. It went just great. <said child> was such a good little helper and a good little listener. They played nicely with the others and they picked up their toys when I asked.” In other words… I totally lied. Yeah. I broke one of the commandments. BUT, the relieved parents then smiled and happily walked out the door with their children.
And it was then that I thought to myself: You know… actually… it went just great. The kids were pretty good little helpers and good little listeners (for a few minutes anyway). They played nicely with each other and they picked up their toys when I asked. And a month from now, when I do this again… I probably won’t change a single thing… except for maybe laminating Sarah.