When I was a little boy, one of the favorite games played in our neighborhood was “Kick the Can.” Usually it was played at dusk with all of the children in the neighborhood gathered in one of the yards or orchards where there were many hiding places. The game began with the one who was “it” standing over the tin can with his eyes tightly closed, counting, while all the other youngsters fled to hiding places. He concluded his counting, “ninety-six, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred! “And then he would shout in a loud voice, “Here I come. Ready or not, you will be caught.” And so the game began.
I have thought when observing a teacher struggling with a disinterested class, or watching a parent trying to give an untimely lesson to a youngster, that teaching is something of a game in which we announce through our actions, “Here I come. Ready or not, you will be taught.”
If teaching is to be effective, it must capitalize on the readiness of the students to learn. A number of years ago when I was teaching seminary, a student was killed in an automobile accident on the way to school. There was a pall of gloom and shock over the whole school that day. The students came to class more serious and ready to learn than I had ever seen them before. I was teaching Church history, and we were bringing the pioneers West. But that was not the time for a lesson on pioneering. That day they were ready for a lesson on the atonement of Christ, the resurrection, life after death.
A good teacher will be alert and will seize upon the opportunity to teach when the youngster is ready. Many lessons that we have been anxious to teach our own children have had to wait until they were ready.
One of the major difficulties, and one of the monumental dangers, of sex education courses in public schools is that they disregard this significant principle of teaching. They tell all before the youngster is ready, and in so doing, they often wreak havoc with the spiritual, emotional, and moral stability of the students. They open them to great jeopardy. Things should be done in the season thereof, and there is a time for all things. A wise teacher and a wise parent will be alert to that fact.
Likewise, in programming Church activities we should use great wisdom in considering the maturity and readiness of our members to be taught the basic principles of morality. If we teach the basic principles too soon, they may be meaningless to the youngsters. The matter of teaching morality may be necessary, but the framework in which it is set should recognize the degree of maturity and readiness.
For instance, when the youngster is too young to have been subjected to the urging of physical desires, he must be taught about the subject in an entirely different way than will be appropriate when he is older. There will come a time for some more mature discussion later, but this must always be with reverence.
Information presented to a student must be palatable to him and of such a nature that his learning constitution can digest it. Unfortunately, there is no series of charts or graphs or measures or tests available that will enable the parent or the teacher to gain an accurate profile of maturation of each student and thereby tailor his teachings accordingly. This means that we must be careful and must be quiet observers of each youngster in order to be able to understand when he is ready. This is true of many subjects.
The principle of readiness is important when teaching our own children. Parents are with their children almost constantly and can observe when they are ready to be instructed. From questions or behavior or because of experiences in their own lives, they can sense that it is time to teach. Parents must know when the time for the lesson is now, right now, for their children are ready for it.
My wife and I have made it a practice as parents never to put off a question from one of our youngsters. Regardless of how unimportant the question seems or how busily we are involved, we have always been willing to interrupt anything to respond to the question of a youngster. That is because the question is an indication that he is ready; he wants to know—now.
We have learned something about feeding that intangible, invisible appetite within by comparing it with physical hunger. While our children have been growing up we have made it a practice to feed them when they are hungry. Now that may seem like a very strange and reckless thing to do, but it has been very successful.
Soon after our children come home from school, a hot dinner is waiting for them. About four-thirty or five o’clock they eat. They have been in school all day; their blood sugar is low; they are restless and tired; and when they come home they are hungry.
There are two courses that could be followed. Their mother could serve them cookies and milk or bread and jam in order to tide them over until dinner time, in which case their appetite is usually dulled and they don’t eat as well as they should at dinner. The other course is to feed them the dinner when they are most hungry. They eat heartily, and then the snack comes a little before bedtime.
It is interesting to see them, after they have had a good meal, go about their chores or settle into studying or peacefully play or take care of any other activities.
The question is immediately raised: Well, doesn’t father eat with the children, then? Father has his dinner when he comes home. Often the children sit around and visit. And with a snack served later, it is like family home evening virtually every night.
This has contributed much to the peace and tranquillity of our home because the children are fed when they are ready.
There is, of course, a comparison to teaching in this. Sometimes we give students little off-hand answers, little tidbits that really spoil their appetite for learning, and they come away without being given the nourishment spiritually and intellectually that they need.
The cry from the childhood game, “Ready or not, you will be taught,” is poor advice for any teacher or parent.