Category Archives: Children
I have blogged about this before a few years ago, but now my suspicions – no, fears – are confirmed: school teachers are not adequately prepared to support left-handed children. Being left-handed myself and having two left-handed children, I find it monstrous that in a society where computer use is essential, schools don’t even know you can use a PC (Windows, Mac or Linux) left-handed. All three of the schools our children have attended have not known this basic fact. In two of them, they were receptive when we made an approach as parents. In their last school, the Head flatly told us it was impossible to use a computer anything other than right-handed. She didn’t like it when I then threatened to bring in my brother-in-law, who is in management with Microsoft and who is also a school governor elsewhere. She told us: “Left-handed children just have to adapt to living in a right-handed world.”
Will someone please explain to me why this prejudice is acceptable, when we have long rejected the cruel way in which left-handed children were forced to write right-handed, and given corporal punishment if they didn’t comply? Just what is the difference?
I know this isn’t on my usual topics of Christianity and ministry, but I’m angry that children should be let down like this.
I have told a story on here somewhere before about making a visit to a school with our children, where we witnessed a display in the entrance hall about a link the local community had with a Ugandan village. The local people there relied on growing and selling chillis to eke out a meagre existence. Our kids were 7 and 5 at the time, and we had to explain huge issues, because they couldn’t initially believe that people lived in such desperate straits in our world.
Later, when we got home, Mark (then 5) announced at the dinner table: “I’ve changed my mind about what I’m going to do when I grow up. I’m not going to become an author, I’m going to save Africa.”
Trying not to show considerable surprise, nor wishing to pour cold water on his noble ambition, and secretly pleased, we asked him how he proposed to do this.
“I’m going to open supermarkets all over Africa where people can buy the food they need to live.”
“But where are they going to get the money to buy the food? The people you want to help don’t have much money.”
“That’s easy,” he replied – as only a child could. “I’ll open money shops as well.”
Mark retains his passion for Africa. He still doesn’t spend much of his pocket money or other gifts he receives.
Why am I retelling this story? Because another young boy in a Christian household is doing the same. Read Joel Vs Poverty. The difference is, Joel is getting into fundraising for TEAR Fund as a result. Not only has he written ‘Poor Box’ on an old cardboard Frubes container, he has decided to do a sponsored run on 23rd June. He has a page on Virgin Money Giving where you can donate to the cause.
There is a hashtag on Twitter to help you follow what’s happening, and it’s #TeamJoel. However, the important thing is not only to do clever social media things, but to use them in the service of giving and of changing our world.
No, I’m not being rude. He really does. He says so himself.
But Dave is making a virtue of it. He has linked his personal slimming target to an effort to raise money for a charity called Every Child, which works for the welfare of children around the world. They keep families together, they protect children, and they ensure that children’s voices are heard.
For every pound in weight that Dave loses, he is going to donate a pound in currency to Every Child. However, he is also asking if others would like to donate to his cause. If you would like to, then please go to his Just Giving page and contribute.
Dave will appreciate any support you can offer. So will needy and hungry children around the world.
This video clip from the BBC comedy show Outnumbered has gone viral in the last year or two:
My reaction on watching it again this week is that many of young Ben’s questions to the vicar were all too reminiscent of the attitudes many adults have shown this last week when thumping their fists in the air to celebrate the killing of Osama bin Laden. Why not sort everything out with a quick bit of violence? These attitudes start young.
Probably the best question in the clip is from Karen, when she asks the vicar whether Jesus could have found another way apart from the Cross of saving people.
On Friday, I went into our children’s school to be quizzed by Year 1 and Year 2 children. It was our son’s class. On Thursday evening at the meal table, he told me the class had prepared sixteen questions to ask me. The little so-and-so wouldn’t give me a heads-up on any of them! His teacher was very pleased with that the next day.
Some of the questions were routine: do you marry people? What is a christening about? What does your font look like? Do you pray every day? But some were harder, and especially to give an accurate, succinct answer in understandable language. Why did you want to become a minister? Well, actually I didn’t …
After we got through the sixteen questions, the teacher invited a few additional spontaneous questions from the floor. That yielded one I could only answer concisely, and as briefly as I could in the limited span before playtime: do you believe all the stories in the Bible? A ‘yes’, combined with an explanation of needing to treat different literature differently, pointing to the different styles of books in the classroom.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, while I had questions about baptisms and weddings, I had none about funerals. The questions were about what interested and affected them.
But the honesty and directness were refreshing, and a world away from the spite and hate behind many such debates among adults here on the Internet.
I was taking the bread along a row of communicants yesterday, when I arrived at three-year-old Jake. As is my habit with children, I knelt down to be nearer his height. As is also my habit, I dispensed the formal liturgical words such as, “The body of Christ keep you in eternal life,” and said something like this as I tore off a piece of bread and offered it to him: “Eat this to remember that Jesus died for you and loves you.”
He looked at me and said, “No thank you, I’ve just had my biscuit.”
Priceless. And certainly better than my own seven-year-old daughter, who took one look at the roll on the paten and said, “Is it Kingsmill?” Interesting that Kingsmill Bread’s latest campaign on its home page is Kingsmill Confessions …
My six-year-old son Mark has an ambition in life. At one stage, he wanted to be a famous author. At other times, he has quite fancied being a professional footballer, helping Tottenham Hotspur thrash Arsenal.
But his abiding ambition is even more noble. He wants ‘to save Africa’. In his simple analysis, he wants to open supermarkets across Africa, so that people can buy enough food to live. When faced with the question, “Where will they get the money?” he has a simple reply: “I’ll build money shops as well.”
Sorted. Now take over 10 and 11 Downing Street, Mark. You can do it.
I thought I’d encourage his thinking about world issues. You can’t start them too young when they already care about the poor, can you? So Mark and I set about this afternoon going around the websites of various Christian relief and development agencies, in search of suitable resources to stimulate his interest.
We gathered only slightly more than zilch.
World Vision, nothing. Christian Aid, zero. Methodist Relief and Development Fund, nada. Compassion, you can sponsor a child but I couldn’t find anything for children who are interested in their projects. Nil points.
Only TEAR Fund had anything, and it wasn’t much. It took some devious searching to find a page of ‘children’s resources’, and it hadn’t been updated since 23rd June. All of these organisations had plenty for teenagers. Apparently, you only care when you get into the church youth group.
So come on, Christian relief and development charities, where is your material to inspire primary age children? Mark and Rebekah’s school supports a charity working in Uganda, Chilli Children. Is it that you have resources but they are buried under centuries of rubble on your sites? Or don’t you think six-year-olds know that Jesus cares about the poor?
Maybe someone reading this can point me to what I’ve missed, because Mark and I would dearly like to find some good Christian educational material for primary-age children. It must be there, but where is it?
UPDATE: following a conversation on Facebook, I have now been made aware that the Methodist Relief and Development Fund (possibly the smallest of the agencies I mentioned, except for Chilli Children) has a sister site, World AIMS. I found this site earlier, but was put off by the specific reference to Methodist schools (many of which are fee-paying). However, if you click on ‘Resources’, you can find various items of educational material, classified according to Key Stage. (For non-Brits reading this, the Key Stages are used in the British education system, and roughly correspond as follows: KS1 is ages 5 to 7; KS2, ages 7 to 11; KS3, ages 11 to 14; KS4, ages 14 to 16.) It could be easier to find, and the name of the website put me off the scent.
My ‘big’ birthdays – the ones ending in zeros – always seem to be memorable. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not.
My thirtieth birthday fell on a Sunday during my ministerial training in Manchester. My fellow student John Wiltshire and his wife Judy invited me to their flat for a birthday dinner. I still remember the delicacy they served up: beans on toast. Not that I was grumbling on a student grant.
When the time came for me to head back to the hall of residence, John asked if I wanted to call a cab. Being an experienced city dweller, I declined, thinking I knew the safe ways back. No, actually, it was because I was too mean to pay out for one.
Big mistake. I was mugged on the way by a teenage thug. So much for being city-wise. I recall another student, Martyn Coe, who phoned my bank and got my credit card cancelled, and another, Stuart Wild, a former solicitor, who came to the police station with me.
My fortieth was much happier. It was the day I introduced my girlfriend Debbie to my family. My sister and brother-in-law had booked a table at a French restaurant, and my parents joined us. When Debbie came to order her steak, the waitress asked her how she wanted it cooked. In a memorable reply she said, “Cremated.” It was, she explained, the only way she could ever be sure of getting meat well done.
A year and a quarter later, Debbie was my lovely wife, and my family have had to grow accustomed to her frequent comparisons between spades and shovels.
So to my fiftieth, on Thursday just gone. Debbie and the children had prepared a bag-full of surprises for me, all planned with loving detail. Perhaps most special was that both kids had made their own birthday cards for me. Price doesn’t matter: love does.
After taking the monkeys to school, Debbie and I decided we would drive somewhere for breakfast. Turning the key in the ignition, we heard a strange noise. Had it not been a dry, sunny day, I would have sworn it was the sound of the rear window wiper. But even an absent-minded person like me doesn’t usually manage that.
At a garage later, we discovered it was the exhaust. I couldn’t complain: it was the original exhaust, and the car is eleven years old. Nevertheless, I hadn’t bargained on spending my birthday morning at ATS.
That evening, we were due to go out for a tapas meal. Our favourite babysitter was ready to come, but at tea-time, Mark started complaining that he felt sick.
“Don’t be silly,” I said, “It’s just that you woke up early. You’re tired.”
Wrong, Dad. The bug in his stomach announced its presence in spectacular fashion. No meal out, but fish and chips later from the chippie. Debbie said we should have stuck a candle in my cod and taken a photo.
But who cares? Having become a parent at a later age than most, it’s a small thing to miss a restaurant to look after a child.
Isn’t that one of Jesus’ hardest sayings? Here is a wonderful prayer called ‘The Grow Down Prayer’ that takes up that theme and helps us to pray this through. It is available from the link I have given in PowerPoint format. With the supplied pictures, it could be a useful worship resource.
Today, I took two assemblies in a school- one for the infants (ages 4-7) and one for the juniors (7-11). I was beginning a new theme for this term: heroes. Those of us on the assembly team from local churches had decided to eschew the word ‘saints’ in favour of something more understandable.
Not remembering that next Monday is the American public holiday in his honour I chose to speak about Martin Luther King. In preparation, I found this clip of the entire ‘I have a dream’ speech on YouTube:
I downloaded this, using the free utility YouTube Downloader. As you’ll see, it’s seventeen minutes long, so then I edited it in Windows Live Movie Maker to begin at the ‘I have a dream’ passage (at 12:29, if you’re interested).
After an introduction talking about issues of fairness based on real-life examples (Rosa Parks and tbe bus seat, water fountains, different schools, slavery in the case of the juniors and so on), I showed about one and a half minutes to the infants – up to the point where King says he wants hi four little children judged not on the colour of their skin but their character. With the juniors, I played a few seconds more – to the point where he envisions black and white children playing together and treating one another as sisters and brothers.
And that was when the Interesting Thing happened: when I paused the video for the juniors, several of them broke out in spontaneous applause. How wonderful it was to see the style and substance of King’s oratory make a connection with children in a different country, forty-seven years later.
So don’t tell me preaching is dead. We can legitimately talk about style, presentation and all the rest. But when we have a message to share and can do so with passion, surely the Holy Spirit still uses it to connect. Sure, King’s crusade was about a theme that would command common assent generally today, and when I went through the examples of ‘unfairness’ the juniors roared back their disapproval of what happened. But there is something here.
And it’s also about King’s story generally. Why did I choose King? Partly for this reason. Our chidren have been introduced to one or two famous figures at school via books recently. One was Florence Nightingale. Another was Mary Seacole. As a result, we have borrowed other books in the series from the library and read them with our two. One night I read a simple biography of King to Mark for his bedtime story. Granted, it omitted things like King’s alleged infidelities, but the impact on Mark was fascinating. The next day he told us he had changed his mind about what he wanted to do with his life. Previously he has wanted to be an English teacher or an author.
“Now I want to be a minister,” he said, “And tell people not to hate each other.”
He is only five. But I was only eight when King was murdered. There is real power here.