Many new converts have Primary-aged children and a few children even join the church on their own during the Primary years. These children present a special challenge and extraordinary opportunities for the teachers and leaders.
Some of the children, especially those who are preschool age, have no experience with organized activities. They won’t know how to sit quietly and they don’t have the nursery experience that prepares most children for Sunbeams. In my ward, newcomers often race around the room, overstimulated by the size of the Primary room and all the new children. They don’t know the songs and often don’t understand the teachings—we might as well be teaching in a strange new language.
The first priority is for the child to have a positive experience. This doesn’t mean you need to let him run wild. It’s easier to set rules from the start than it is to change them later. However, the new child may not be able to reach the level of behavior of the more experienced children. I’ve taught children who, after six months, were up to 20 minutes of sitting before they had to go for a walk.
Give the child as much assistance as possible by having him sit with you so you can help him behave or understand things. In class, be sure to keep your explanations very simple. I once taught the grandchild of a Baptist minister. For the several months he attended my ward, he struggled with the concepts of God and Jesus as individual beings, and of premortal life. Every week, we had to go back to the beginning, showing the pictures of the First Vision to remind him God and Jesus were two people, not one. Things you might take for granted are not easily understood by newcomers.
Be patient with their old traditions. My ward has many baptisms, and when the children are asked to draw pictures in sharing time, the pictures displayed around the room often contain crosses and other Catholic symbols. We say nothing about them. The children will learn soon enough how to draw LDS symbols instead.
Don’t correct a child who doesn’t follow correct prayer patterns. Instead, in future lessons, review how prayer is accomplished and let the children learn as they’re ready. It’s important not to embarrass them or they won’t want to return.
Stay in close contact with the parents, who may be a little nervous about letting you teach their child. Send home newsletters explaining what was taught and offering your contact information. Getting to know the parents makes it easier for you to trust them
See your role as one of a missionary, helping to bring your young students to the gospel or to build on the brand new testimony the child is gaining. Even the very youngest convert can begin to build a true testimony with your help.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.