Titus 2:3-4 tells us that older women are to train the younger women in various things. Most of the time when we think of this, we think in terms of adults. We think of the women whose children have grown coaching new mothers and such. And that is an important element of these verses. I can remember being shocked to realize, when my oldest children were preschoolers, that I was an “older woman” to new mothers. I could coach them in things related to babies. But recently I realized that this concept begins much, much earlier. In our family we have all girls, so the gender of the text “fits” and I’ll be using girls in this post, but I think many of these concepts carry over to boys and mixed genders as well.
When my older girls were preschoolers they had a couple friends who were 4-5 years older than them. These lovely homeschooled girls were sooo sweet to make my little ones feel wanted, included and “big”. And my girls doted on them. As my girls got older, their little sister and her friends started following them around, imitating them, doting on them. Understandably, that sometimes annoys the older girls, especially when it’s little sister who is ALWAYS there. Many times I’ve reminded them how much they loved “playing with” their older friends when they were little. It helps them think about it from the littler ones’ perspective and be more patient, though obviously we also sometimes need to remind little sister to let her older sisters do their own thing.
Just recently Little Sister got to experience being an “older woman” to a younger child as well. When a newly 4 year old joined our Kindergarten Sabbath School, I noticed that she watches my daughter and her friends and imitates them. If they are singing and doing the motions, she does, if they aren’t, she doesn’t. So on our way home from church I talked to my daughter about what I’d observed and explained her responsibility to set a good example.
- Multi-age curriculum. This year the science curriculum that my 12 year old, Lexie, chose is a curriculum that’s designed to be used for a wide age range. When Lexie chose it, I suggested that she could “teach” her little sister the first grade portion while doing the 7th grade portion independently. Both girls loved this idea and are having fun doing science together.
- Hands-on learning. My other 12 year old, Ashlyn, loves art and gardening. For a couple years now, she has shared these passions with her little sister, teaching her, not only the “how to” of these things, but the love of them as well. The two of them have “art time” together. And when Ashlyn goes out to work in the garden she calls her little sister to come with her. She has her own watering can and gardening gloves and when they come in both girls tell me about their garden. Lexie loves to cook and does most of the cooking these days. She often gets her little sister to “help” even though it takes longer, so she is sharing her love of cooking, and her cooking skills with her younger sister.
- Chores. When I set up a new chore chart I make sure to give my youngest some chores that she will do with one of her sisters so that they can train her in that chore. Other times I’ll give her a chore in the same room as a sister. So while she’s cleaning the bathtub she can observe her older sister cleaning the rest of the bathroom and begin learning those skills. I also give her chores that I help her with so that she’s learning chores from all three of us.
- Observation. In addition to the above intentional ways of older mentoring younger, perhaps my favorite is the unintentional ways it just happens. Little Sister is always watching her big sisters and learning from them. Recently while doing school together, Lexie asked her “what did God make on the 3rd day of creation?” Little Sister responded with “wait, let me look it up!” She went and got the iPad and opened the YouVersion kid’s app that reads Bible stories to you (one of her favorite apps). She went to the creation story, and figured out that God made plants on the third day. While I’m pretty sure that if she’d thought about it she’d have been able to answer without “looking it up”, I was most impressed with the fact that she’s seen her sisters “look things up” so she wanted to look things up too, and could think through where to find the information, and do so. I’ve always felt that more important than memorizing facts, is knowing how and where to find information you need, so she’s already started learning that skill, mainly by observing her sisters.
All of these, and I’m sure others I haven’t thought of, are great ways to encourage older children to teach younger children, a valuable tool for you, and a valuable skill for the children!