I had never taught children below the seventh grade until the spring of 1986. About three weeks into my new experience at teaching two- to five-year-old children, I discovered the secret of how to put a smile on the face of little children. A four-year-old boy, waving his hand frantically, interrupted my introductory Bible routine with this question, "Reverend, doesn't the 23rd Psalm come next instead of the Lord's Prayer?" I was astonished. Experienced teachers learn quickly to assess whether a child is being rebellious or just acting his age. I read the child's demeanor and was sure it was not rebellion stimulating the interruption, but then the alternative explanation of just acting his age didn't fit any of the textbook predictions of how young children react. The experts who wrote my textbooks tell us classroom teachers that little children despise structure. Structure is an educational term which means routine, schedules, rote activity, and such things. The experts, as a matter of fact, regard anything other than free play as deadening to early child development. Yet here was a child demanding that the schedule be followed more closely.
It was not just in the classroom that this hunger for order, predictability, and structure was apparent. On the playground, the children would ask me to referee. They would put it this way, "Let's play a game or give us a game to play," or they would come endlessly with questions and disputes asking me to bring order to their playtime. They were most happy when they were playing games that were familiar. The more repetition, the more familiar they were with the game, and the more strictly the game's rules were followed, the happier they seemed to be. The same held true for pre- and after school activities. My wife and I soon found that listening to and identifying a familiar music program each day, or coloring papers of familiar cartoon figures, was much more satisfying to them than the random chaos of a room full of children fighting for attention and toys. Therefore, we began to structure their pre- and after school time so that they became more "orderly." We also structured their playground time, keeping their favorite games and slowly introducing them to a variety of new games.
Oddly, we found that new games were welcome only if introduced slowly. The opening exercises with the pledges to the flags, prayer and commandments were all very welcome to the children, provided they came in a very predictable and scheduled fashion. A few months of adding structure to the day of the children brought surprised comments from parents and visitors to the school. One vendor whose job was delivering playground equipment to pre-schools all over the eastern seaboard stood marveling at the children's behavior. He said, "I have never seen children at any day care in America so happy."
Since none of this agreed with the educational experts, I began to look into the Scriptures for an explanation. There I saw the doctrine of predestination from a different perspective. Since God is in total control of the minutest details of our total existence, we can relax, smile, and even laugh at adversity, because faith and godly experience have taught us that everything will come out all right, and there is no need for undue concern. Hence the people that most strongly believe in predestination can laugh. Arminians, or people who believe their personal actions will send people to Hell, on the other hand, find that such enormous, godlike responsibility crushes all humor from life. Because, you see, if God has no hands but your hands, no feet but your feet, no voice, but your voice and your brother is going to burn in Hell for eternity because of your personal shortcomings, life indeed is a terrifying, fearful trial. On the other hand, if the predestinating God will reward you for witnessing and punish you with loss of reward for failing in your duties, that is sufficient burden for a sober life, but should you fail (and we all do), we can justifiably laugh at our shortcomings, brush ourselves off when we fall, and run back into the game, because the ultimate outcome is safely in the hands of an all-powerful Referee. Christ will permit no injuries or losses beyond his all-powerful will. Under such a Referee, the Christian life is a privilege and a very happy one indeed. It is freedom that we cannot handle and cannot understand, with responsibility too great for us to bear, that robs life of its joy.
So, likewise, a four-year-old child faces a world that he cannot predict, cannot control, and can barely understand. As good Christian parents, we present the rules of life, the Ten Commandments, the law-word of God, and we say, "Follow these rules and the all-seeing, all-knowing, predestinating God will make all things work together for your good." The application of this doctrine extends even to God himself for we read in Psalm 2:4, "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: The Lord shall have them in derision." The Lord laughs at the childish behavior of the rebellious men of the earth, because everything lies within his control.
Little children who come from normal homes, broken homes and dysfunctional homes, all alike crave and need structure in their lives.
Teach your child the basic catechism, have meals at regular times, have recreation at regularly scheduled times, reward him for following the rules, and never reward him for behavior you do not want. Be as consistent as you can be, and a smile will be on your child's face. You have God's word on that and our experience at Grace Community Schools. If you are the kind of person who would like to investigate putting a smile on a child's face as a career, write to me for a copy of my book, How to Become A Millionaire in Christian Education, Nicene Press, 4405 Outer Dr., Naples, Florida 34112.
- Ellsworth McIntyre