10 Lesson Helps
Julie K. Nelson
Before planning a primary lesson, there are some critical considerations for every teacher. A lesson is just a road map you use as a guide during that 50-minute weekly journey. But remember, we teach children, not lessons. We keep the individual child in mind as we plan the lesson ahead of time as well as following the Spirit and needs of the children as the situation dictates in class. Here are 10 items that I feel are most important to having a successful experience:
1. Invite the Spirit. The Holy Ghost works best with those who are ready and available to receive inspiration. Therefore, living a life filled with spiritual preparation is absolutely essential. I receive inspiration through righteous living, repentance, obeying the commandments, reading the scriptures, praying and pondering daily. I do not bring my “gift to the altar” (Matthew 5:23) unless I have been reconciled to my family members and the Spirit.
2. Prepare in advance. The Holy Ghost works best with those who have prepared with real intent (see Moroni 7:6). Seeds of ideas need to be planted early and tended throughout the week in order for us to offer beautiful, mature fruit from the Tree of Life to our class members. Too many teachers pull out a dry, hard, handful of seeds from ill-prepared lessons on Sunday morning. Not very appetizing, is it? Plant ideas early, and nourish them through prayer, pondering, reading the scriptures and study guides, getting appropriate materials ready and visiting with class members and their families.
3. Value your calling. As a primary teacher, you may feel less valued than someone teaching older students or someone in a leadership position. Not true! I have served in every kind of church position, yet this calling has offered me some of the most profound, soul-searching, tender, spiritual, fun, and meaningful experiences. You get out what you put in. I was called to teach the Sunbeam class right after teaching Gospel Doctrine for 6 years. Both were incredible experiences. Yet, teaching the Sunbeam children has offered a unique dimension of reaching my students and their families in a very personal way. These are God’s precious spirit children possessing the pure love of Christ and every week and I am “filled with this love” (Moroni 7:48). What could be better than that?
4. Use the manual. I hesitate to post my lesson plans for fear that teachers might not use the Sunbeam lesson manual as their primary source. Do not substitute these lesson postings for the manual! The manual has been approved by the LDS church curriculum committee which is an inspired body under the direction of the First Presidency. If you want to have the Spirit in planning and teaching, use church-produced materials that are founded in truth. This includes not only the Sunbeam manual, but also the LDS church website, Friend magazine and other church resources. I will post supplementary lesson ideas since filling a 50-minute class time can be difficult while keeping young children’s attention. Use what the Spirit prompts you to use from all the good and available resources we are blessed to share.
5. Personalize the lessons. I urge you to consider that the primary lesson plans are general ideas given to every teacher throughout the world. They are to be a template as you create a specific road map. We have been asked to use what is culturally and personally relevant within the context of the gospel. We are to use what available resources we have at hand that would be most meaningful for our students. Christ did that when He taught His listeners using parables and object lessons from their culture and everyday living. We are to personalize the lesson with stories from our lives and our students’ that add meaning and application to those from the scriptures. Each time I teach, I pray about my children and what they need to feel, know, and experience. I never read from the manual; rather, I create my lesson outline and know it so well I just need to glance at it once in a while so I am fully engaged with the children during the lesson.
6. Establish routines. Young children thrive on routine and your 50 minutes will go more smoothly if you keep a general structure to your class time. Since we have Sharing Time after sacrament meeting in our ward, we take a break between the second and third hour before going to class since the children have been sitting so long. We will always go to the bathroom and get a drink. Even those still in diapers will wash their hands in the bathroom (essential if we offer a snack or food experience in class). You can stop by the library and have the children check out scriptures at that time. It is good to establish early the habit of having scriptures in class. On good-weather days, we might go outside and run on the grassy area for a few minutes to work out some energy and exercise their large muscles. I always make sure there are chairs set up in the classroom before we enter so the children know where to sit and what to do. You might also have a routine of using classroom helpers, singing an opening song, or talking for a few minutes about what is important in their lives.
7. Establish expectations. My Sunbeam children know they are “big” now and need to be well behaved in order for us to all learn from each other and have a good experience together. In order to participate, they must demonstrate good behavior. For example, if we have been doing an outside activity, I stop the children at the door as we come inside. We talk about what our behavior will be once we walk inside to our classroom (we put on our “quiet shoes” so our feet will walk slowly, we will use “inside” voices, we will remember this is Heavenly Father’s house). If the children do not do what is expected (begin running inside), I will have them go back to the door and practice again until they know what is the desired behavior. Since they have just come from nursery and sitting on chairs can be a new and difficult experience for them, I only expect them to sit on chairs for a short time at first, and then lengthen how long they sit as the year progresses. I also let them choose who to sit by unless they are not behaving properly. If they misbehave, I will quietly move them to a different place.
8. Involve all children. Class time can be very discouraging to young children if they have to wait too long to participate. As you plan your lessons, think about how long each child has to wait to be involved in some way. How can you vary your lessons so the students have times of brief instruction followed by engaged participation? There should be frequent shifts of energy from quiet, low times, to moderate and high energy times (singing, marching and dancing; role playing and dramatizations, games, etc.). The gospel is meant to be experienced individually and young children internalize the gospel best through active involvement.
9. No empty seats. One of the blessings of a Sunbeam teacher is to be involved with the children and their families. If you have anyone on your roll who does not come to church or is less-active, one of the reasons you have been called is to help strengthen them in their spiritual growth. By making a weekly effort to contact the child(ren) who did not attend, you can let them know they were missed, they matter, and that Heavenly Father loves them and wants them to come to His house of worship. I have learned through personal experience that to have no empty seats, it may also involve picking up children who would not have otherwise attended. Jesus Christ showed us how to love children by not excluding them from coming unto Him. When His disciples tried to do just that, “he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).
10. Evaluate. During your lesson, remember you are teaching children. Their responsiveness will give you feedback on the effectiveness of your lesson. They will help guide you to know in what direction to go during that hour. Some activities might go really well. Repeat or sustain the activities if you see their attention is focused and the Sunbeams are enjoying the experience. Some activities may not go as well. Skip over them and try a different direction. Keep your heart and mind open to the specific needs of your children as well as what the Spirit dictates. After class is over, take a look at your lesson plan and evaluate how it went. What were the weak parts? Strong parts? Learn from your experience and make notes so that each week you are a better, more confident teacher.