For the past couple of years I’ve been volunteering as a yard duty at one of our local K-8th grade schools. Twice a week I head to the school for a couple of hours and stand watch while the 4th/5th & 6th/7th grades eat and head out for recess. To say that it’s been fun is an understatement. Beyond the joy that comes from hanging out with a bunch of my kiddos a couple times a week in the (usually) beautiful SoCal weather, my time as a yard duty has repeatedly taught me quite a bit, and reminded me of things I’ve long since forgotten from Jr High. Here are a few things that I’ve learned/ been reminded of in my time working the yard:
Jr High crushes are a big deal. At least they are when you’re in the middle of one. I think as we grow older we forget how utterly confusing it is navigating your way around a crush for the first time, or the first few times. Without the benefit of perspective that comes with age, kids are simultaneously trying to express their hearts, guard their hearts, and grow their hearts. All of this with the potential pressure of friends that have no basis for comparison when trying to offer advice, and adults that can easily limit their influence to ‘you’re just a kid’. A few weeks ago I watched a jr high boy break down because he didn’t like his crush anymore ‘like that’ and had no idea what to say. His tears were only matched by hers when she received the bad news. Hollywood writers can’t even begin to capture this type of heartbreak.
The Breakfast Club begins a lot sooner than High School. It’s amazing to watch kids start to splinter off into different groups and personality types so young. The brain, the athlete, the basket case, princess and the criminal are all right there. It’s surreal to watch these traits develop. Knowing some kids are going to coast through school (and probably life), while seeing signs of kids that are on a much more difficult path, maybe even dangerous, is heart wrenching. The youth pastor part of me is so used to being able to speak into kids lives, to have a certain degree of comfort knowing that they’ve at least heard a Godly path presented to them. Not being in a place to speak into their lives is by far the most difficult transition.
Kids are hilarious. On any given day one of the kids will say or do something that catches me totally off guard. The Yard Duties laugh a lot. Despite some of the difficulties and frustrations that come with the role, any given day has it’s fair share of quotes and memorable moments. My favorite quote comes from the week when the kids were in a Heath & Wellness class, and they were telling me about the film they were viewing. “We had to watch Puberty. It was awful.”
The happiest kids are the ones that just want to play. I’ve always been a big proponent of not burdening families with a crazy youth ministry calendar, and working with kids that have so much of their time structured really drives that point home for me. On any given day I’ll run into a kid stressing about everything they have to do after school. Hint: it very rarely involves the dreaded word ‘homework’. Usually, it’s a sigh followed by the mention of a practice, or rehearsal. I’m all for kids playing sports and being involved in theater and music, but I think given a choice, most kids would be happy with the chance to simply play with their friends. In no way am I in favor of abolishing organized sports or art programs, I’m just saying we as a culture might want to back off the throttle a little bit when it comes to filling up our calendars.
The most prominent, and most convicting observation is how much their home life affects kids ability to navigate the day. Between the classroom, interaction with the teachers, interaction with other students, friends, crushes, homework, recess, who to sit with at lunch, dealing with bullies, and the millions of other difficulties that come with growing up, our kids do have lot on their plates. A solid home, and healthy relationship with both parents provides the foundation that kids need to navigate the day. You can see it in their eyes when things aren’t good at home. You can hear it in their words when they haven’t talked with a parent in a while. You can tell by their walk when they’ve been an afterthought.
My prayer is that we as adults can remember the joy and pain of growing up, that we can speak wisdom into the lives of kids, and have the wisdom when to let them figure things out on their own. May we value their time, thoughts, sense of humor and energy, and respond in kind. May we draw on the Lord for strength when things get difficult, and teach them to do the same. Oh yeah, and may we give plenty of high-fives. Kids love high-fives.
One love, one heart.