Monday, April 02, 2012

Is That Kid Paying Attention?

Philip was one of those kids who would've been kicked out of school unless we put him on Ritalin.  He was bright.  He had an awesome memory.  He could problem-solve like nobody's business.  But he wiggled.  He touched everything.  He bounced.  He had to move.  If you're homeschooling, it's no big deal.  "Hey, Philip, go run across the field out back, and run back."  Some large-motor use, some exercise, some calories spent, and he was ready to play with Matchbox cars while I read some more history to him.

His father knew this.  And yet, even his father came home one night from confirmation class, frustrated as all get out that Philip couldn't sit still during class.  (Now, I realize that some people think that it's far more important for kids to learn to sit still, behave properly, and not be a nuisance to others.  But I am a bad person, and at home I cared more about whether he was absorbing the books we were reading and whether he was learning to think critically.)

Back when Philip was about 9, Gary would try to drum up discussion at the dinner table on Sunday about the sermon.  What did the kids hear?  What was the story?  What did Jesus do for us?  One Sunday, Gary directed his first question to Philip: "So, what was the sermon about today?"  The quick and innocent answer was, "I don't know; I was being good today." 

Gary looked at me quizzically.  What was this all about?!

I knew!  I was surprised Gary didn't.  It took SO much effort for Philip to sit still, to stand still, to not wiggle wiggle wiggle his way through church, not poke his sisters, not turn around and check out where everybody was sitting, etc etc, that he couldn't listen and be good.  It was one or the other. 

Is that good?  Probably not.  Do lots of people disapprove?  Probably so.  But that was the reality of his childhood. 

So, now Katie has said things to Alia's Sunday School teachers, expressing appreciation for their efforts.  The teachers don't seem to think Alia pays attention.  She is the youngest one in class.  She sometimes walks around during the lesson.  To all outward appearances (especially if the observer expects calm, compliant, classroom behavior) Alia couldn't possibly be getting anything out of class.  Her outward behavior is not consistent with what most teachers expect from a child who is paying attention.  But what she says at home to her mommy shows that she's absorbing the stories fabulously.

Yesterday the children processed with palms while they sang "Sing Hosanna to the Son of David."  Alia didn't exactly stop right where she was supposed to in the line-up.  Alia sang sometimes and didn't sometimes.  I'm sure many people would've thought she was clueless.  But just before the kids sang, "Wave your palms and sing your praises; blessed is the king who comes," Alia began waving her palm branch vigorously. 

She knew where they were in the song.
She knew what the song was saying.
And boy, she was ready to wave her palm!

(Guess what?  She's paying attention.)


  1. I struggle with this. I teach Sunday school to three three-year-old girls, and one of them is very wiggly. She's always getting off her chair, getting on her chair, getting off her chair, getting on her chair, kicking another girl under the table, waving around craft supplies in the air, and so on. It's distracting to ME, whether that's how she's paying attention or not. I'm not sure how to deal with it. Then I watch her in church with her daddy, and she's calm and still and doesn't make a peep.

  2. I know what you mean. There's got to be some balance between the kid being distracting to others and the kid being unable to comprehend anything going on in class because all his attention is focused on controlling his wiggles. And I don't know where that balance is. I remember saying gazillions of times to my kids that their "job" in church was to make it easy for other people to listen and pray. And yet, I know that there are some people who can't tolerate ANY sign that there is a child in church, not even the slightest peep or the sound of a toy being dropped even once. That's not right either.

  3. I have always been a doodler. I concentrate better on what is being taught when my eyes are focused on the piece of paper instead of looking around the classroom or meeting room, checking out what everyone is wearing, staring at the clock, watching interactions between people, etc. Everyone always thought I was just taking notes. Perfect. One time, however, my boss caught a glimpse of my doodles during a meeting, and he just shook his head and said, "It's to be expected from you artsy types." I was flipping through my old catechesis binder, and all the worksheets were covered in doodles, some of which were really good, like sketches of Pastor. Made me laugh.

  4. Whatever happened to "Better Late Than Early?"

    Jane S

  5. Jane, "Better Late Than Early" is certainly not in style these days, is it?!

  6. I wanted to keep my kids "out" of Sunday School for just that reason. I dare anyone to "just" attend church (and Catechesis) without getting some pressure for the little ones to join something.


  7. And wave it she did! :-)