By Dawn Heckert
In presenting the topic “Tiny Tots, Big Thoughts” for the Children’s Pastors Conference in Nashville, I had planned on sharing a multitude of ideas focusing on how Sunday school leaders can connect toddlers to Jesus. I had gone through my bag of tricks for games, activities, stories and sensory moments that could be used to draw toddlers to know Jesus. But the point of the seminar was “Big Thoughts”. “Big Thoughts” come when you are allowed to experience, examine, explore, and process learning through conversations. So let the conversations begin.
In Nashville, I had an enthusiastic and playful conversation with a wonderful group of children’s ministry leaders. When I asked them to define a toddler the words flowed out of them like a thesaurus. While each group had created a different definition for the word toddler, one thing jumped out to us all. Toddlers are busy! They are extremely active, loving, and playful. However, as we examined our classrooms and the learning structures we had put in place, we discovered the hidden trappings of the metaphors used to describe our tiny tots.
Although toddlers by our own definitions were highly active, we found we were inclined to use passive metaphors to describe their learning styles. We were quick to portray our toddlers as like a sponge, soaking up knowledge. Or like wet cement that we leave our imprint. They are even referred to as blank slates or clay to be shaped. Each of these metaphors described an item that remains still, but that was not true about our toddlers. So, are there active metaphors to match active toddlers, which lead to “big thoughts”?
Yes! We found we would much rather see children as sheep being cared for by a shepherd or as a pilgrim on a journey with a guide. What if we thought of our toddlers as actual disciples and us as their friends? These new active metaphors reflected the busy, natural curiosity of our tots and offered opportunities for them to share their own “big thoughts”.
Determining an accurate definition and a matching metaphor leads us to examine our Children’s Ministry in a whole new way. Do we carefully select curriculum materials that reflect toddlers as active learners wanting to experience, examine, explore and process over time? Or do we pick materials leading toddlers to just watch, listen and repeat the objective? Training our volunteers in the previous would reflect a new understanding of the active metaphor and would lead volunteers to be guides and friends. Parents would be coached on how to engage in conversations with their children building on the thoughts the child has shared rather than parents being seen as the authority. Redirecting the way we define, see and teach our toddlers might just lead to you and your tiny tots having “big thoughts.”
Dawn is the Director of Children’s & Youth Ministry at Christ Church Anglican. Recently, Dawn toured the country with Cook Ministries, offering strategic and creative ways to enlarge the partnership between families and the church. You can reach her at [email protected]