Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thoughts on Tradition and Learning Styles

King Amos, Queen Lydia by paynehollow
King Amos, Queen Lydia, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

Tradition can be a fine, fine thing. We can learn from traditions, benefit from traditions, pass on traditions and these can all be good things.

But tradition itself does not guarantee a practice is a good thing. There are good traditions and bad traditions and those in between.

I say all of this because I was recently reading a person on the internet who was wrong. (ha!)

This person (and there are many like this person - again, it's the idea that I'm speaking of, not the person) was bemoaning the fact that churches don't tend to keep children in their church services. Instead, they coddle them by taking them out for their own "special service," and thus deprive them, they contended, of the benefits of learning to sit through and endure a church service that means very little to you.

The reason, of course, this person wanted to see kids sit through church services was because the Bible is so clear on the point. "Thou shalt keep the little ones in the synagogue, yea even though the little ones are bored out of their skull..."

No, wait, that's not right. In fact, there is no biblical demand to keep children in a service or, in general, to treat them as adults to make them learn by sheer repitition the value of sitting through something that makes no sense to them.

No, the reason that this person wanted children to sit through services was because of all the pedagogical studies that show the benefit of forcing children to sit still and listen to stuff that makes no sense to them in the learning process.

Wait, that's not right, either. There ARE no such studies.

In fact, as far as I can tell, there was one reason and one reason alone that this person wanted children to remain in their church service: It was the way they were brought up and if it was good enough for kids back then, it's good enough for kids today.


This person said...

I come from an older generation. When we were kids, we went to church with our parents. We sat quietly and listened or doodled or something, but we sat there.

Me, too. I'm from that generation, as well. I remember that tradition.

But what is the logical or biblical or pedagogical reason for this? None, so far as I can determine.

I mean, the reasoning is, "IF they learn to sit through this and be still now, while they're kids, then they'll be able to sit through boring sermons in the future, too."

And there IS some value, I think, to learning patience and to endure through things, even things that are extremely boring and irrelevant to you. But is forcing kids to sit quietly through a service a good way to do this?

I don't think so.

This person reasoned...

I don't believe it's because the kids won't understand the preaching. I think it's because the kids will disrupt the preaching. I don't think it's because the children aren't mature enough to understand. Nor do I think it is less than valuable for them to remain. It's my conviction that the primary reason children are dismissed from church services at the edge of the sermon is that they lack the discipline not to be a distraction to the people around them. It's not a maturity problem or even that kids are better taught at their own age level. It's a parenting problem.

Of course.

This person goes on to concede...

You know, under the age of 1 with nursing and all, I can imagine the need for a nursery. I was thinking more of the age where kids are being taught, not simply present.

So, at 18 months, apparently, this person thinks that children can be effectively taught something in church services and they lament that parents no longer see the value in raising children as this person was raised.

The thing is, EVEN THOUGH, learning to sit and learn can be a good thing, we don't ask five year olds to sit through a physics class, insisting they be relatively still so the adults around can learn what is being taught. We don't ask two year olds attend and sit quietly through a medieval history class. There is the concept of age-appropriate material and teaching styles that are suited for children of particular ages.

When we force most kids to sit through class after class (in a church service or a school or wherever) and endure something that is being taught in a manner that is over their heads, time after time, most kids DO learn something: They learn, "BOY! That's boring! I don't want NOTHING to do with that!"

How much better to take children out of a church service (or other adult-themed class) and teach them something they CAN learn in a teaching style suited to children, not to adults? My concern would be that we're teaching kids the wrong things when we teach them in the wrong way.

There is something to the concept of age-appropriate teaching and just because it isn't in your tradition to have age-appropriate teaching does not mean that your tradition is right.

I think a good question to ask is, "Is there any logical, biblical, study-based, common sense reason to believe this tradition is a good one?" and if the answer is No, then perhaps it's time to let that tradition go, or at least quit suggesting that people are wrong for following a tradition simply for tradition's sake.


Alan said...

There are many ways to separate out the discipline of patience/behaving like a well-mannered child from the educational part of being in church.

I sat through church services not because I learned how to sit through services, but because I'd already been taught how to behave in such situations before I got there.

And, because my parents didn't treat me like an idiot, after a while I learned that I got more out of the sermon than Sunday school, so I eventually made to decision to go to services instead of Sunday school much earlier than most kids in the congregation.

I think that most kids do not know how to behave in adult situations because we all-too-frequently sequester kids away from such situations. That isn't necessary, it is simply convenient for parents who haven't bothered to teach their kids how to interact with adults, how to keep themselves occupied and entertained, etc.

Marty said...

I think kids learn more in church unless you’ve got an excellent children’s ministry. My church has a great youth ministry…but children…not so much. I keep a grandkid almost every weekend and make every effort to take them to church since they wouldn’t get to go otherwise. Neither one of them likes to stay in the nursery, so I don’t force them. My granddaughter is 2 ½ years old and my grandson is only one. My granddaughter loves the music, claps her hands and sings. It’s so cute to watch. She is old enough now to understand things and she will sometimes respond and make comments that tells me she is listening. My grandson usually goes to sleep during the music. He’s a laid back kind of guy. I bring paper and crayons, snacks, etc. to keep little hands quietly busy. I always have a binkie and a blanket on hand. It works out well for us.

Marshall Art said...

I don't see the purpose of church service as one of education, even though a good sermon can teach us many good things. The purpose of the church service is worship. We come together to worship God in a communal fashion. Indeed, a sermon isn't even necessary. The kids are part of the community and ought to be part of the worship service.

Bible school, whether for kids OR adults, should take place at a time other than that set aside for worship. Aside from the infant stage, the sooner a child can witness (and hopefully be influenced by) the reverence that should be present in any worship service, the better. The example set by the adults will be the best education for the purpose they could possibly receive. This can then be enhanced and supported in their Bible study classes.

It seems to me that one unfortunate reason why kids are taken out of worship services is to reduce the time spent on a Sunday (or the rest of the week) dealing with educating the kids in Bible study. It's a "kill two birds with one stone" approach. My church used to separate the two, with the kids' class before service. Some parents saw it as a burden on their personal time and it was changed to coincide with service time. The church to which we are gravitating has Bible study for both kids and adults at times other than worship time. Some just do not want to spend more than an hour per week on God.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Personally, I don't like the practice of removing children from worship, unless they are being actively disruptive. That would include, I guess, a screaming infant who, either over-tired or underfed, can't be consoled to silence. By and large, though, I say keep 'em in the worship service. Both my kids have sat through entire worship services, some of them quite lengthy, all their lives. It does them much good, and others no harm at all.

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks, AJ, and everyone else. Looks like I might be the odd man out on this point. Let me explain a bit more what I'm speaking of and see if you all still think I'm crazy...

1. I agree with everyone, even Marshall, that keeping children in worship is a good, blessed, wonderful thing as a general ideal. We include children at Jeff St in a way few churches do, they are very much a part of our worship.

1. Nonetheless, a two, three, four year old simply does not have the learning capacity nor the endurance to sit through a 20-25 minute sermon aimed at adults. The words and terms won't mean much at all to a child that young. That's not talking down to children, that's recognizing developmental stages (and, at least in my case, that's from being familiar with developmental stages, not a throwback to Greek philosophy).

3. We DO offer many other learning opportunities for children, so removing children to children's church is not to substitute for all other learning instances.

4. I fully support individuals making the choice as to what's best for their child - if you find benefit to keeping your two year old through the sermon (or any other part) of a service, fine. Some of our parents to, too.

5. Nonetheless, I don't see what is especially helpful keeping a young child through a sermon that won't mean anything much to them, when they could be in an age-appropriate learning opportunity. I see NO biblical mandate or logical reason to consider the practice a bad one and see benefit to it, myself.

But maybe that's just me, since I seem to have found a point no which the Left and Right agree. At least that's something!

George W. said...

I think that bringing your children to church service should be based on the child. Parents know their children best, and they should have the final say.
At the church I attended, we had Sunday School class during service, and classes for the first half of our Harp and Bowl. On Sunday, the kids would spend the morning first reading a story, then making puppets before putting on a play for the congregation at the end of the service, or memorizing a song that we sang at the end of the service, or something similar. But they always were involved in the service at the end. Even if it was just a Q & A. This was meant to "meet children where they are", and help them form friendships and bonds with other kids, much the way that adults benefit from a community as well.
It was often the case that the supervisors worked with parents to decide when it was appropriate to have the kids "graduate" to the adult service.
I guess it really depends on whether your service is interactive and engaging enough to make the kids enjoy it. Church should be fun.
I don't have an issue with kids in church services, I just think that there is a greater benefit in making it appropriate and engaging to them.

Marty said...

Dan: "if you find benefit to keeping your two year old through the sermon (or any other part) of a service, fine"

I probably wouldn't find any benefit if the alternative were a learning environment rather than just babysitting.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

With respect, here's my position: Worship is just that. If children are going to develop the habit of worshiping, the only way to do that is . . . worship. While disruptive children should be removed, as I wrote, making it an institutional policy - such as was the practice in my home church growing up, with "Junior Church" beginning after the children's sermon, led by a well-intentioned woman who used the old felt-board and figures to teach the same three Bible stories over and over until it was time to color - sends the message that children are not welcome, because they are children.

Cindy BK said...

All I know is that those 2 kids in the picture at the beginning of the post sure are cute :-)