Monday, February 27, 2017

Helping Pre-Readers Write Primary Talks

Our kids are blessed to attend a rather small LDS Primary. An average week yields about a dozen kids aged 3 -11.  A larger primary (like that of my own childhood) would be awesome as well. However, I've really come to love our little group and the experiences my two older children have because of its small size. They absolutely adore the older children -- who shower them with attention and kindness. Also, they are frequently called upon to say prayers, answer questions, choose songs, and give talks. Last year Nell gave two primary talks as a sunbeam (that's the youngest class). I'm willing to bet that's pretty unique. 

Neither Reid nor Nell read (or write), but they love preparing and giving talks. We've had to think outside the box as we've helped our pre-readers write their talks, so I thought I'd share some of the strategies that have worked for us. Hopefully this can help some other parents of pre-readers prepare their kids to give talks during sharing time as well. 

1. Make sure the child is using their own words, and not yours (or someone else's). 
My goal for my kids, even at age three, is that they will both write and speak the talk themselves. Of course we help them with the outline and structure of each talk, but we encourage them to use concepts and language that are familiar to them. When they each gave their first talk I stood by them to offer encouragement and help get them through any hiccups, but I do not whisper the talk into their ears. The words are theirs and they are comfortable expressing them to their peers. If a child does need the words whispered into their ears (because we all have different abilities), those words should still be comfortable and natural to them. 

2. Study the topic with them every day of the week.
The purpose of speaking in Church is mostly for our own benefit. When we are asked to prepare a talk or lesson we have to spend a great deal of time studying the topic on our own. Then we put together our thoughts and deliver them to our audience. This should be no different for our children. Most recently, Reid was given a somewhat complicated topic, his assignment was: "Jesus Christ created the Earth so I could learn to choose the right." Throughout the week we talked about the two very separate ideas in that sentence. Why did Jesus create the Earth? How can we choose the right? After some good discussions on these two points, we started putting the two concepts together. We kept having Reid flush out ideas and express what he was learning in his own words. The final draft of his talk included comments about dinosaurs and the Mariana trench -- so you can trust me when I say our kids use their own words! We always encourage them to come up with their own ideas, but they can only do this if they understand the doctrine they are asked to speak on. 

3. Create a storyboard for the child to read from the pulpit. 
This genius idea belongs to Reid. As we kept talking about the reason for the creation and the importance of choosing the right, he said something about writing his talk as a picture. That was a real light bulb moment for me. I got out some paper and made six frames; then he and Ben filled it out together. I would highly recommend this method to anyone. By the time they were finished Reid had six concrete thoughts he knew he needed to hit and his talk was built on strong organization. This gave him the confidence he needed to stand at the podium (without me by his side), make eye contact with his audience, and deliver his talk with near perfection. He occasionally made quick glances at each square and then spoke from the heart as he moved from one point to the next. 

4. Use props.
I know props for talks in sacrament are frowned upon, but I think it is okay to make an exception for children's primary talks. I imagine some church members may disagree with this approach, but it worked really well for us when Reid was 5 and asked to speak on The Creation. I created a flannel board story of the Creation and it served as the outline for his talk. This allowed him to tell the entire creation story in his own words, while also offering a visual for his peers.

Props did not work for Nell when she was asked to speak on Christ's birth. I envisioned her putting out each piece of our Little People Nativity set as she told the story, but every time we practiced it at home her retelling of the story just became more and more ridiculous. She was ad-libbing all sorts of junk that certainly would have made her story interesting, but not at all accurate. In the end we just put the nativity out on the table next to us and stuck to simple story telling from the pulpit, which leads us into number five.

5. Practice, practice, and practice some more.
I really don't have any wisdom to offer here, other than what is said: practice, practice, practice. Nell had to run through that nativity talk a couple dozen times. We'd interrupt her when she got too dramatic; we'd remind her of any parts she was missing. We did it again and again and again. Reid also runs through his talks a couple dozen times before delivery. We are sure to go over it several times the morning before church.

6. Always close with a testimony.
When our kids practice their talks we always ask them to include their own testimony at the end. We have never given them instruction for this portion of the talk. It isn't something we correct or persuade. They know they need to close with two or three comments about something they are thankful for and something they know to be true. Naturally, they stick pretty closely to their assigned topic.

I'd love to hear any other ideas that have worked for parents with young children. Feel free to leave them in the comments or pass this post around if you find it helpful.

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