"Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." Colossians 4:6
Communication skills are vital for the Christian community. The media will challenge our children. Colleges will try to indoctrinate them. Failing that, they will punish them for their beliefs and try to keep them from expressing them. We need to teach our children how to respond when their faith is questioned, challenged and mocked, because it isn't a matter of if it will be, but when and how.
Communication is so much more than just manners or speech making. We communicate our faith in the way we carry ourselves, what we stand for, and how we share with others. We need to train our children to respond in boldness tempered by grace. They need to understand the tactics of those who hold to different philosophies in order that they may overcome the stigma the mainstream media puts upon Christians. They need to understand how to tailor their message of faith to the individual because one message (or, more precisely, one presentation of the message) does not fit all.
Unfortunately, resources intended to teach communication are rare. Most courses only teach speech or debate. Very few are offered from a Christian perspective, and fewer still approach the subject in a fun, hands-on way. Worse, focusing so much on public speaking, they can be quite intimidating to a child or even a shy adult. After all, the number one fear in America isn't death—it's public speaking!
Many parents do understand the importance of teaching communication and so they buy a speech course or enroll their shy child in a debate class and ask them to "grin and bear it" just for one semester. After all, they did! Parents often tell me how they were forced to take a speech class in high school. What do they tell me about it? They say they "got through" the class, but to this day they don't feel comfortable speaking their mind. Many tell me that afterward they vowed never to speak in public again!
The point isn't to "get through" a speech course. The point is to get speech communication skills through to your child. It's a lot like learning to swim. When you throw children into a lake and tell them to swim, half of them will get to the other side and marvel at the experience. They realize they made it and that swimming can be fun. The other half get to the other side vowing never to step one foot in the water ever again! Which one will attain mastery?
About five years ago, when a fellow homeschool mom asked me to teach a communication course that her painfully shy daughter would feel comfortable attending, I began by looking at my college textbooks. Though I remembered the classes with fondness, I couldn't say the same for the textbooks—they were very dry reading! It was the teachers who made these concepts "come alive." It was her presentation. It was his funny examples.
How do we gain our children's attention long enough to ease them into practicing the very skills that will help them strengthen their faith and share it with others? One of the best ways is through humor! Why is that?
Studies show that humor is a powerful teaching tool. It breaks down barriers and allows you to approach threatening subjects in a non-threatening way. It entertains and makes learning memorable and fun. The more fun a child has, the more he will be willing to learn and the more he will remember what he has learned.
A picture is worth a thousand words; humor is worth a thousand dollars. Comedians make good money. Is it because they solve world hunger? No. It's because they solve world boredom! The good ones make us laugh and the great ones make us think. Using humor in our teaching of an intimidating or boring topic can make any class fun.
The best way to teach children anything is to make it fun and involve as many of their five senses as possible. Here is a list of ten games and activities that will foster effective communication skills in your children.
- Play Telephone
This is the classic game in which a message is given to the first person, who then whispers it to the next person, and so on. The more the merrier. This old elementary school game is a delightfully fun way to develop your child's listening skills. This game is perfect for any age. Begin with a simpler message for the younger children and gradually increase the size and complexity as they get older.
- Directions to Fun
Have your older child write out directions from your house to somewhere fun: for example, the ice cream shop. Preferably give the directions to a third party who is unfamiliar with the area, and have him follow the directions precisely. Did you get there? If so, have an ice cream cone! If not, talk about what went wrong in the communication. What could be changed that would help get you there the next time? This is a wonderful exercise to help children from 4th through 12th grade learn to give better directions. However, it also is a lesson about communication. In order to effectively communicate what you want, you must learn to say what you mean so that others can fully understand.
- Dress for Success
Go to the store or any other public place dressed in your Sunday best. Notice how you are treated. Next go to the same store or a similar location dressed shabbily or inappropriately for the occasion (i.e., to a Mercedes dealership in old jeans and a worn out T-shirt). Notice how differently you are treated. This illustrates that nonverbal communication has consequences. You can also do some instruction by pointing out to your children how other people are dressed. Paint them a picture of the consequences of the communication that is sent when people wear skimpy clothes or dress like hoodlums. Tell them what their choice of clothes is saying to the average person—to a prospective employer, for instance. Give them the facts on how this will impact their lives a year, two years, or ten years down the line. Explain to them what could happen tomorrow if someone draws a conclusion based on those clothes that puts them in harm's way.
- Talk 'n Listen
Have your child sing Yankee Doodle while another person recites the Pledge of Allegiance. See how long they can go without flubbing it up. If your child can do this too easily, have each one read from a different book. Tell them to take turns relating back what the other reads. This helps illustrate the old saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we talk.
- The Um Contest
Have your child talk about a familiar topic, for example, his or her favorite activity or book. See how long he or she can keep from uttering "um," "er," "uh," "like," or "ya' know." This develops the child's confidence as well as eloquence. Eliminating these "words" in your child's vocabulary will cause him to focus on becoming more articulate and increasing his vocabulary.
- Feed Me Applesauce
Okay, this one is a bit messy, but fun. Blindfold someone and have that person feed applesauce to another blindfolded person. Have a third person who is not blindfolded give the directions to both parties. This teaches students to give directions more effectively. (Note: You will want to make sure that your children are not wearing good clothes, and that this activity takes place on a bare floor and not carpet.)
Have your child give a presentation of sorts to a local retirement home. This can include giving a craft demonstration, giving a short musical recital, singing, or reciting a poem. This teaches your children how to present themselves. This can be done with children of all ages. The sooner you get your child comfortable with talking in public, the better. It will become like second nature to him and he may be able to avoid the biggest fear that most people have—public speaking. Studies show that people who enjoy speaking in public are more successful than those who do not. So get them out there using the talents God gave them!
- What's Going on in the Picture
This one is great for the little ones. Have your child tell you what he sees in a picture. Encourage him to describe the scenery, the people, the colors—anything at all that he sees. For older children, have them talk about what they think might have just happened before this scene and what they think will happen after. This gives them practice in formulating ideas in a logical manner that others can easily understand.
- Finish a Story
This one is also very good for different age groups. Kids love stories! You start off a story and have your child finish it. For very young children, you can tell a nursery rhyme and have them make up an alternate ending or add on to the story. This exercise is great for teaching beginning verbal communication skills.
- Impromptu Speech
This exercise is wonderful for children of all ages. Pick a topic that your child is familiar with or just loves and ask him or her to speak for about two minutes on that topic. After a while, have your student graduate to speaking on more difficult topics and/or for longer periods of time. You can start them off by talking about their favorite book or hobby, and eventually graduate them to more in-depth or controversial subjects, such as political issues or current events.
The more fun your kids have learning communication skills, the more likely they are going to be willing to practice them to gain mastery. Studies show that good communicators do better in school, have deeper relationships and more successful careers, and make more money than their less articulate counterparts. But the most important reason to train our children to be great communicators is because the Lord expects that we will raise our children to serve Him and to survive as politically incorrect Christians in a politically correct world.
"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." 1 Peter 3:15
*This article first published on September 27, 2007.
JoJo Tabares holds a degree in Speech Communication. Her Christian and humorous approach to communication skills has made her a sought-after speaker. She is the author of the Say What You Mean communication curricula, including Say What You Mean: Defending the Faith. Grace Talk Soup is her latest project. JoJo and her husband live in Southern California where she homeschools their two children. For more information, please visit www.ArtofEloquence.com.
This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct '07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more details, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com