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My son got up today at 4:30 a.m. . . . on his own, no pleading and prompting from a desperate mother trying to get him where he needed to be. What could possibly motivate a fourteen-year-old, sleep-infatuated boy into being excited to face the world at such an insane hour? Let me explain and show how this also applies to how God has magnificently created four-year-old boys too. I’d like to share with you three principles to keep in mind when teaching and motivating boys in early childhood.
- Boys are active. You know that. And you may have guessed . . . my son pulled himself out of bed because he had a sports practice. He likes to run and sweat and get dirty (and now at this age, smelly). So how do you embrace this in the classroom? Preschool-age boys shouldn’t be expected to sit for long Circle Times. Consider whether you offer long periods of time for uninterrupted, child-directed big body play on the playground or in the gym. There is even a growing movement to have classroom equipment that promotes movement (e.g., mats, bouncy balls to sit on, individual trampolines). Use active songs with motions to teach the faith. Tell the boys how God made them strong and made their arms and legs to do so many things. When you teach Bible stories, let the children use pantomiming that corresponds with the story events or let them act out certain parts of the story. Plan ways boys can do something for others to share their faith. If you have longer periods of sitting time, plan for the wiggles by providing fidget toys to finger or floor pads they can squirm around on. Expect and enjoy active boys in your classroom!
- Boys are physical. The first thing my son (proudly) told me when I picked him up from practice was that he knocked four kids over today. He plays soccer, so he faked them out with some fancy moves that landed them on the ground, but though it’s not a tackle sport, even soccer involves a lot of rough, physical contact. Preschool-age boys love rowdy play that involves hard running, rolling, climbing, jumping, grabbing, and yes, even wrestling. I know it scares teachers, but big body play can and should be a part of your day. You may think by squelching the play that you’re teaching boys to be gentle and kind, but in fact, physical contact and rowdy play improves a child’s emotional expressiveness and emotional regulation. How do you embrace this in the classroom? I encourage you to find resources that specifically explain how to set rules and policies, but consider whether you let the children use their large muscles/gross-motor skills during Bible story time. Can they act out God’s magnificent, powerful creation by becoming a mighty lion or gorilla or by becoming a crashing, rolling wave or loud crack of thunder? Can they become the powerful wind at Pentecost and blow across your gym? Can they run away from the Egyptians and imagine truly crossing the Red Sea? We focus a lot on fine-motor skills and finger plays in a classroom setting, but I challenge you to use full-body, boisterous movements in a large playing area when possible.
- Boys love competition and a challenge. My son felt so proud to be one of only two freshmen to make a certain time on his running drills. How do you embrace this in the classroom? Do you envision a bunch of boys who are sad they weren’t at the top? I encourage you to think beyond physical challenges to the thrill of problem-solving challenges, where the children can use their spatial awareness and scientific reasoning skills to discover answers. Consider how you can turn Bible story reviews and Bible Words memorization into a game. Make learning a Bible story into a quest, as the children search for clues or information to piece together bits of the story to create a complete picture. Children are intrinsically motivated to solve a challenge, and the victory is figuring out answers, so provide fun, challenging questions about the stories.
Boys love to be the hero who “saves the world.” Through pretend play, boys are making sense of the world and practicing skills for the future in an age-appropriate way. God’s blessings to you as you share with them the true story of our real hero, Jesus, who has saved the world from the real enemy, the devil. Jesus, who really endured physical pain and even death during His battle, truly was triumphant over even death itself. There was only one winner, and it was Jesus, our Savior. And since we have an active—not passive—God who is at work in our lives, the Word’s power and life continue to course through believers today.
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