Sunday, July 10, 2016

Parenting: Serve and Return

The church where I work is being patient with me and trying a new experiment for summer Sunday school. I have lessons in bags and families stop by, pick a bag and take it to a room to complete the activities with their children.

Each bag contains a Bible story and verse to memorize. Art activities, games, puzzles, and discussion questions give the families some choices that allow them to custom design the lesson for their children.

I sit in the entrance area for our Family Summer Sunday School and check families in and out. During that time I hear voices coming from the classrooms and what I hear warms my heart.

Curiosity abounds as bags are opened and Bible stories are read. There is laughter as activities are attempted and retried. Today one child smiled a mile wide as he told me he loved the finger traps. Another child kept at the marble paint activity until the blue and red made purple. Some families finish in 20 minutes and others have to be gently shooed out at the end of the hour. 

My favorite bits of conversation are something developmental psychologists call "serve and return." It is the interaction between parent and child. Serve and return begins in infancy when parents melt in front of their newborns to instinctively indulge in baby talk. Mom talks to baby and baby responds encouraging Mom to initiate more conversation. This continues as the child grows. A toddler asks Dad an obvious question and Dad responds serving a question of his own. To the casual observer the conversations barely seem useful, but for the child’s developing brain this type of interaction is pure gold. It allows them to test new information as they absorb information by learning patterns.

Babies are essentially born into an alien world. They know nothing, cannot speak the language, and are on a steep learning curve to get things figured out. Serve and return is a process that wires the child's brain creating and organizing important neural pathways that become the basis for all learning. Each child's brain must figure out its world and the serve and return process gives essential information allowing sense to be made of everyday happenings.

In addition to academic benefits, this process teaches language, social skills, and stress coping strategies. Furthermore, serve and return builds trust as children learn over and over again that their parent's response is dependable. The ability to trust is essential to learning as well as emotional health. There is a lot happening in this game of verbal tennis.

The best thing about the Family Summer Sunday School brand of serve and return is that it happens in the context of faith learning. Through the blessing and power of the Spirit, these parents are building the brains of their children with the bricks and mortar of faith.That faith will be a part of all future learning. 

That's pretty powerful stuff.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you  also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 
Ephesians 2: 19-22, ESV

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