Teaching the Bible to Children (Part 2): Get Active!
*This article was originally published at ChurchandGospel.com on September 27, 2016.*
Teachable Moments with Your Child
“In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red-balloon and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon. And there were three little bears, sitting on chairs. And two little kittens, and a pair of mittens. And a little toy house, and a young mouse. And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush. And a quiet old lady who was whispering, ‘hush’.” These are words I have spoken nearly daily for the last four years. The words come from a children’s nighttime book called Goodnight Moon.
I find it fascinating that no matter how many times we read Goodnight Moon, my children are always drawn into to focusing on the images of the book as I read. They stare intently at the images as if hearing the story for the first time, studying each and every part of the artwork depicting the room being described in the book.
So what can we learn from a children’s book that can help us as we try to teach an adult book, The Bible, to children? To put it simply, Goodnight Moon does a great job of simplifying its message and engaging children at their developmental state. There are two important aspects to take away from this: know how your child learns – both age of development and personally.
How Does A Child Learn?
Doris Freese, in “How Children Think and Learn” from Childhood Education in the Church (Clark, Brubaker, Zuck, p. 74), outlines seven principles to consider when teaching children: (1) Children learn by experiencing and doing; (2) Allow for hands-on experiences rather than just talking with children; (3) Children learn by example; (4) Be aware of the behaviors and attitudes you model as a teacher; (5) Children learn by repetition with variation; (6) Provide familiar books and use stories and concepts repeatedly; (7) Children learn through concrete language and experiences, and they think literally and concretely.
Teaching a child an abstract principle with you speaking while they listen may just result in them repeating the correct answer without understanding its meaning. However, the child will most naturally learn through discovering, interacting, playing, and manipulating what is around them in their world. This will provide opportunity for the child to have hands-on experiences. As they are discovering, interacting, playing, manipulating, they will be able to use multiple senses and allow them to be involved in the learning process. Utilize multiple sense stimulants like videos or recordings, and interactive elements like role playing, and dramatization. Be sure to provide the children with good examples and role models that the children will want to emulate.
Remember that children learn by observation. They learn by observing peers, siblings, parents, and teachers. The reaction of an adult will teach the child appropriate behavior. Be aware and be involved in the child’s life and help them through this process, because if you don’t, someone else will.
In addition, repetition provides a familiarity and comfort to the learning process. As I mentioned previously, I have read Goodnight Moon more times in the last four years than I can count. My children have now memorized the story as well. Yet we will read the story over and over again. Why do we repetitively read the same story every night before we go to bed? Because the story may never change, but my children do. Therefore, as my children continue to grow and understand the world they are living in even better, the story comes to life for them even more so!
This principle can be used for Bible reading. Take comfort reader that no matter how many days go by, the message of the Bible has been given and will never change! You however are growing daily. Each time you read a passage of Scripture, you read it with new perspective that allows for your other Bible reading, spiritual growth, and life experience to influence how you read that passage of Scripture.
Living Example in the Child’s Life
How can you as a teacher of children assist in teaching children in the larger context of life? Lawrence O. Richards and Gary J. Bredfeldt suggest in Creative Bible Teaching the following: acquaint parents with their responsibilities; keep parents aware of what teachers are teaching; and program leaders and teachers should be made more sensitive to the need for working with the home (p. 284). These three elements are areas Old Fort Baptist Church is working to place as priorities in teaching the children of our church.
On Sunday nights, we focus on the parent/child discipleship process. This time is intentionally included as a part of a daily process of being intentional with children throughout the week working through devotional material. In addition, using Explore the Bible curriculum for everyone in our church provides opportunity and resources to assist parents with engaging their children on what has been learned each Sunday.
Parents, you are the most important person that will impact your child’s learning and development. Other adults in your child’s life will be the second most influential. Be in the life of your child (not just around your children, but invested in your children). Love them. Teach them stories from the Bible in proper context. Make learning fun. Make learning interactive. Be a living example of what you hope your children learn.