Greg and I both see teaching our children as one of our most important jobs. We think about what we want them to learn from us, what lessons we want them to come away with from their childhood. One of the biggest questions we ask ourselves is, “How do we get this whole ‘love-God-go-to-church thing’ to be more than a routine or, at worst, a resentment? How do we portray it in a way that is real and life-giving?” With a husband in the ministry, I sometimes worry that my children will grow up surrounded by church, but will somehow miss the heart of what God wants for them. Thus, we try our best to teach our kids about God, even apart from the “routines” of church. Part of that teaching consists of our own examples and words, as well as the spiritual practices we try to incorporate into our family’s lives. And part of that teaching comes in the form of educating them about the rest of the world that God loves so much.
I would love to get your ideas and suggestions of how to teach kids about the world, and how to show them to live outside themselves. In return, I will show you what we have done so far that has worked for us.
Perhaps my favorite “teaching” experience so far has been our Compassion kids. Greg and I first sponsored a Compassion child in 2003, when we first got married. We have tried to get our kids interested in him, but with limited success. It seems that, to them, Duvens is like a distant cousin they have never seen and will never meet. And there is a very good chance that they will never meet him. Duvens is from Haiti, and we really have no connections to that country besides him. Thus, my children seemed pretty indifferent.
That all changed when we sponsored two more children this Christmas. We had been wanting to try this for awhile, and the Advent season seemed like a good time to finally do it. This time, I selected a country that we might actually visit one day, as we have missionary friends there. I also explained the idea of sponsoring children to my kids and then let them each pick a child who was their same age and gender. (By the way, Compassion’s website is wonderful. You can go through the whole process of sponsoring a child online now, and it is so easy!) The kids were really excited to get to pick “their” children. Luke pored over the pictures of little boys his age before finally picking a boy named Andi. In contrast, Anna marched up to the computer, gave the girls a quick glance, and then authoritatively chose Massiel.
I printed out information on our new kids, and that very afternoon, we got to work on some Christmas cards for them. Unlike some of my less successful attempts to make my kids more “others-minded,” this one went over incredibly well, and the kids did not need any convincing to make their cards.
I let the kids write what they wanted in their cards, and I think that including pictures really helped. I know it helped my kids, and I hope it helped Massiel and Andi, too.
Our cool experience with Compassion didn’t stop there, however. The organization has honed their communication skills a lot since 2003, and soon, we received detailed information packets about Andi and Massiel, along with lots of well-presented information about their home country. A few weeks later, we also received informational letters from both of them, detailing the makeup of their families, some facts about their lives, and even some of their favorite things. We found out, for example, that Andi’s favorite food was “gallo pinto with cheese.” We didn’t know what that was, so we looked it up online. Turns out, it is rice and beans. It occurred to me that Luke and Anna might also like gallo pinto with cheese, and that it would be good for them to see what their Compassion friend ate. So I looked up how to make it, even finding a recipe from the kids’ country. We had it for dinner one night:
Luke loved it. His exact words were, “Andi is not crazy at all for liking this!”
The information sheets gave us fodder for things to write back to Andi and Massiel. And with Compassion’s website, we found that writing back was super easy. We do it online, and the kids can pick out their own stationery and easily include pictures. Then Compassion prints out the letters and mails them. We try to write them at least once a month and to always include pictures. In Andi’s last letter, we shared pictures of Luke eating gallo pinto with cheese, as well as his positive review. The whole process of writing both kids takes about 15-20 minutes. It’s great.
An added bonus to sponsoring through Compassion is that they have a free, quarterly magazine just for kids. It is called Compassion Explorer, and it is a wonderful resource for kids. You can sign up for it online, and it comes with your regular Compassion magazine for adults. The magazine is full of great photos and stories about the lives of kids around the world, and it also has stories of kids helping others. Plus, there are craft ideas, recipes, and science experiments. Both the kids and I were big fans of Compassion Explorer.
So far, we have loved having Andi and Massiel as part of our lives. We have learned about their lives and their country, and it has given my kids a chance to think beyond themselves and their own world. We also pray for Andi and Massiel each night, which brings me to our second teaching strategy.
We have always said nightly prayers with our children. Their prayers go in phases. For a long time, they prayed long prayers, thanking God for everything in their lines of vision: ceiling fans, stuffed animals, furniture, and so forth. Their most latest phase, however, has been to rattle off a quick, “Thank you, God, for this day. In Jesus name, Amen.” Usually, I just wait until the phase passes, but this one lasted so long that I decided to intervene. I started by taking prayer requests before we prayed and then divvying the requests up among the three of us. That worked okay, but the enthusiasm was still lacking. I also realized that most of our requests are the same each night. That’s when I hit on the idea of making prayer cards so that we could remember what we were supposed to pray for. I made cards for the usual suspects: our family, our sponsored children, and sick people. Then I got the idea to make a card for “the world.” It’s funny because at the end of last year, had the strong desire to learn how to pray for the whole world everyday. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t picturing an index card with a globe on it at the time, but you have to start somewhere! I also threw in some “question mark” cards where you could put in your own requests.
Amazingly, these cards have been a huge hit with the kids. We have used them for almost two months now, and they love them. We have talked about each card and what to pray for with each one (mainly because Anna’s prayer about sick people started out, “Thank you for sick people!”). The kids love taking turns picking their cards, and it is kind of like a game to us at this point. They have their favorites and sometimes even trade for certain ones they really want. We are still miles away from anything resembling a serious prayer time, but their enthusiasm is definitely an improvement. And I was very gratified last week when Luke hopped into the car after school and announced, “We need to add Mrs. ______ to our prayers. She has missed two days of school!” And he didn’t forget that night, either. Small steps.
Lastly, Greg and I just try to highlight the diversity that is already around them. To be honest, it’s really not that hard in our current environment. Luke is one of two white kids in his class, after all, and his classmates hail from several different countries. Luke’s teacher recently arranged a meeting with the principal, the counselor, the school psychologist, and me, to brainstorm how the school can continue to challenge Luke (because he is ‘wicked smaht,” but I digress). Since Luke was not around to kill me, I concurred with the principal’s idea of special enrichment projects for him to complete. I then suggested that he do projects on each of the countries represented by his class. Inspired by our gallo pinto with cheese experiment, I thought I could even bring a dish for each country when I come volunteer. We are currently working on a project about Burma, and at our super cool downtown library, I even found a Burmese fairy tale:
I’m doing all this in order to make the most of our current environment. Even if you don’t live near a refugee population, like we do, I’m sure there are other ways to acknowledge the diversity of your environment and turn it into an opportunity to teach your kids about others. In fact, I’m interested in hearing your ideas.
Okay, now it’s your turn. I would love to hear how you teach your children to be more small-world-, missions-, others-minded. Do you have any tips or experiences to share?