Home Equipping Leaders Children 3 Things I Learned: 'When You Wonder, You’re Learning'

3 Things I Learned: 'When You Wonder, You’re Learning'

By Kevin Johnson

Children bible study

Fred Rogers Center Educators’ Symposium’s Closing Keynote Speakers Gregg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski, Authors of When You Wonder, You’re Learning

This keynote address was the opportunity to showcase the authors’ new book and share the wisdom of Mister Rogers. Geared to an audience of educators in the public school or daycare, the symposium included ideas that can be applied to Christian education and children’s ministry.

Behr and Rydzewski talked about how Fred Rogers engineered Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to help children develop the tools for learning that experts now consider essential to children’s success: curiosity, creativity, and communication.

They also discussed how educators can use Rogers’ blueprints to nurture these tools in the digital age, building wondrous, joyful, inclusive learning spaces in which every child can thrive.

1. Curiosity is power

Curiosity creates inquisitive minds that have a desire to explore. When people begin to ask questions, however, the status quo might be threatened. Children innately are inquisitive and ask “why” as a conditioned response. Ministry leaders wonder with children, “What might happen if?” Curiosity begins the most important journey of discovery.

There are some challenges with curiosity, however. Most all of us are born curious, but something happens as we age. Many adults lose their natural curiosity. Curiosity must be nurtured, or it will wane as we grow and mature. Curiosity can be taught and caught. Fear can dampen curiosity. Church leaders must remember to nurture curiosity and remove fear for the families we serve.

Hedda Sharapan, a Mister Rogers Neighborhood producer, offers the suggestion of an “Ask it Basket.” Children ask a question; the teacher writes the question and says, “That’s a great one to put into the ‘Ask it Basket.’” Whether or not the adult answers the question that moment or later, this simple action teaches the child that questions are important and matter.

If curiosity is power, the process of discovery will empower. Embracing this concept will empower children with the freedom to wonder and become more inquisitive with the adults in their lives. Create opportunities for families to become curious. Offer a question-and-answer time during the worship service to discuss what was heard in the sermon. Allow parents as well as children time to inquire and employ their curiosity. You will be amazed at the questions the children ask! Encourage parents to practice in the home. Never rely on the response, “Because I said so.” Wonder together. Through this development of curiosity, a process of discovery and growth will occur. Remember that all questions are important. Don’t avoid difficult subject matter. It is human nature to be curious about scary or bothersome subjects. Don’t panic when asked about such matters, but as a church or as a family, use this process of empowerment through curiosity.

If curiosity is power, the process of discovery will empower.

2. Connection is vital

Relationships are as essential as water and air. Most of us depend on the safety and security of relationships within a group where we feel we belong. There are psychological and physical benefits linked to such feelings of belonging. As Jesus’ disciples, we are sent into the world empowered by God’s Spirit. Therefore, we have the opportunity to build neighborhoods that are inclusive of everyone. To be the church, we are called to practice hospitality and extend the gracious offer of God’s love.

3. Exercise Empathy

I wonder in recent years, if we, as a society, have seen a dramatic decline in kindness and volunteerism. Behr and Rydzewski, authors of When You Wonder, You’re Learning, teach us that empathy can be developed just like a muscle. One excellent way to develop empathy is through storytelling. By learning the stories of others, we better understand our own stories. When we listen to a story from another, we see through a unique perspective. We see beyond our safe and secure relationships in one group and expand our concerns for the world and its injustices.

Empathy does not mean we condone or tolerate everyone’s behaviors and beliefs. When we empathize, we aim to understand and see the world through someone else’s lens. Empathy can be a powerful tool for changing someone’s mind. Often it is that sense of connection and the relationship that persuades a person to change.

Empathy, like playing a musical instrument or coloring a good picture page, is something that must be practiced. We can help our children understand the power of empathy by developing and putting into practice something relatable and strengthening their empathy muscles.

As a church, practice and monitor kindness by identifying those acts when witnessed throughout the church. Incorporate the power of storytelling into worship services, not just within preaching, but in all aspects of church for all ages to develop empathy. Use storytelling within the nursery to teach God’s littlest the importance of God’s stories and hearing those stories through someone else’s sharing of them. Practice these ideas in the home as well. Share stories as a family, volunteer as a family, practice kindness well beyond the relationships of one community or neighborhood.

How is your ministry strengthening your empathy muscles?

Rev. Kevin Johnson is the Director, Children’s Ministries for Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship at Discipleship Ministries. Kevin’s hero Fred Rogers suggests that we, “listen to the children, learn about them, learn from them. Think of the children first.” This quote defines Rev. Kev’s approach to ministry. Kevin, an ordained elder of the Kentucky Annual Conference, has over fifteen years of ministry experience in which he has thought of the children first. Prior to ministry, Kevin worked with children in the hospital setting and in group homes for emotionally and physically abused children.

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