We are told that average retention of spoken or written communication is 5-10%, of Media is 25%, of Role play is 40-60% and of Direct experience is 80- 90%. Yet many children’s workers stubbornly press on with learning methods that are least effective. We have to get to the point where we are stressing active learning, ie. where children learn by doing!
1. UNDERSTANDING CHILD LEARNING
Deuteronomy 6:5-9 shows that as they live together, godly parents explain their actions by pointing out the Words of God which guide their responses. This learning is not formal, structured, compartmentalised classroom learning, but informal, spontaneous, irregular, and situation- specific learning. To ensure that you are sharing truth with children in the most effective way, make sure you remember that:
A. CHILDREN LEARN BEST IN SITUATIONS
Children do not learn by taking abstract concepts like forgiveness and applying them to various situations. They do it the other way around. They come to understand the meaning of forgiveness by seeing forgiveness demonstrated in concrete situations. This is called intuitive learning. The secret to teaching children is to link Biblical principles to concrete situations that will serve to guide their responses.
B. CHILDREN LEARN BEST WITH EMOTIONS
Children learn best in the joys and calamities of everyday living. When God’s truth is spoken into the life of children the emotional components of the experience is immediately associated with the concept. We must beware of classroom teaching that divorces concepts from emotions. Leaders should share their feelings with the children to stimulate the learning process.
C. CHILDREN LEARN BEST THROUGH MODELLING
Young children are not capable of moral reasoning, so they trust the judgement of adults who point out to them what is right. We need frequent, long term contact with children, where they can observe how we act in different situations and in the situation provide an explanation of the concept being learnt. Biblical truth must be modelled so that children can understand and learn to apply the concept to their lives.
2. TALKING TO CHILDREN
Preparation of the talk requires hard work. The passage of scripture must be read a few times. Become familiar with what is happening in the story. Decide what God wants to tell the children via the story. The story can be told in the third person, “Benjamin saw the thousands of people dying of hunger, so he decided to give his lunch to Jesus.” It can be told in the first person as if you were actually there, “I approached Jesus and he accepted my fish and rolls. It was great!” It must be prepared thoroughly with a clear framework:
(1) An introduction with something interesting to grab their attention
(2) A body full of actions, vivid words, feeling and exciting speech
(3) A climax where the main point of the story is made absolutely clear
(4) a conclusion to tie up the ends and reinforce the message
Delivery style is crucial. Make sure the children are comfortable, and that you can see the eyes of each child. Grab their attention with excitement, or an object and always keep eye contact with the children. Vary your facial expressions according to what you are saying. You are a visual aid, just as much as your objects/pictures. Make use of your hands to emphasise shape or size and make gestures that complement the talk. By varying the tone, pitch and speed of your voice the story will come across more dramatic. Keep the action of the story zippy and build up suspense to a climax. The younger your audience the more you need to repeat key words and phrases. Children have a shorter attention span that adults so keep the talk between 6-10 minutes long.
You must get to the point where you can tell the story and not read it. The sooner you dispense with notes when it comes to speaking to children the better the results will be. Keep their attention by using visual aids and pictures. Even if they are simple, they will help to keep their attention.
Visual aids are helpful to reinforce the message and keep the attention of the children during the talk. Use pictures, drawings, overhead transparencies, and signs. Hold the object or picture in such a way that all the children are able to see it clearly. Get the children involved in the talk by asking questions about the object and how it relates to the message.
Apply the message to the children’s lives so that that do not go away having heard a story that has no relevance to their lives. Remember the “So what” question. You need to tell children how they can do what you are suggesting.
3. LEADING GROUP DISCUSSIONS
Split children into small groups after the devotion to help them explore truth and how it applies to their lives. Assign a leader to each group with a set of questions about a bible story, passage or topic. Prepare questions on the same theme as the message.
Principles for Effective Group Ministry:
A. KEEP THE GROUPS SMALL
The ideal size for effective group work is between 7 and 10 children. A larger group will be harder to control and less children will have an opportunity to participate.
B. INVOLVE ALL THE CHILDREN IN THE DISCUSSION
Be careful to draw the quiet and shy children into the discussion too. Don’t allow the more outspoken children to dominate the discussion.
C. ASK QUESTIONS ON THE CHILDREN’S LEVEL
Use language that the children can understand. Remember that children are thinking concretely at this stage and need to be shown how the the message relates to their lives in a very practical way.
D. ASK FEELING AND DECISION QUESTIONS
Avoid questions that children are able to answer with a “Yes” or “No.” Ask, for example, “How do you think David felt after he sinned with Bathsheba?” “How?”, “Why?”, and “What do you think?” questions are the most effective.
E. BE AWARE OF CHILDREN READY FOR COMMITMENT
Watch children who are showing a readiness to make a first time or deeper commitment and follow them up after the time of discussion.
F. KEEP THE DISCUSSION ON THE TOPIC
Children have a shorter attention span, so they drift easily from the topic, so keep pulling them back onto track without giving them the impression that what they are talking about is irrelevant.
G. BE PREPARED FOR UNEXPECTED ANSWERS
Children may give wrong or misleading answers. Gently correct and guide them to the correct answers.
H. GET THE CHILDREN TO SUPPLY THE ANSWERS
Don’t show a lack of interest in the replies of the children. Let them come up with the answers by gently guiding the discussion in the right direction.
Techniques for Starting a Discussion:
(1) Direct questions at the group (What do you think...?)
(2) Direct questions at individuals (Jenny, what do you think...?)
(3) Summarise subject on paper and ask for agreement and comment
(4) Divide into small groups with questions to explore and ask for report back
(5) Statements by the group leader (I think that...!)
(6) Use practical examples for abstract concepts (Suppose Joe here...)
(7) Let silence continue for some time, don’t cover it up with talk
(8) Divide the group into sides to make arguments even if they disagree with them
(9) Hand out pens and have children write out answers to a question or comment
The Role of the Leader During the Discussion:
(1) Make sure that everyone understands the topic
(2) Bring out opposing points of view
(3) Make sure each point is understood and restated if necessary
(4) Keep the discussion on track
(5) Give less talkative members the chance to speak
(6) Give information when the group lacks facts (ie. Bible input)
(7) Summarise the groups thinking and state conclusions reached
(8) Facilitate the group coming to some conclusion
Ten Ways to kill a discussion:
(1) Sit at least twenty people in straight rows in uncomfortable chairs
(2) Lecture the group for 20 minutes before the discussion starts
(3) Ridicule anyone who disagrees with you
(4) Let the most opinionated person dominate the group
(5) Be entirely theological and philosophical - never practical
(6) Frequently quote obscure Scripture without using a Bible
(7) Never let anyone express any real feelings
(8) Never allow humour
(9) Let the discussion drag on forever
4. TALKS FOR CHILDREN
A. TIED UP WITH COTTON (Habits as Sin)
Speak about good and bad habits. Good habits: brushing teeth, saying sorry, being polite, etc. Bad habits: cursing, blaming, stealing, etc. God’s Word calls the bad habits sin - What do you think sin is? Sin is something we think or do that is wrong. King Saul had bad habits (sin), He was jealous of David, He went to ask a witch about the future, he even threw javelins at David (1 Sam 18:1-9; 28:5f). Each bad habit starts the first time we do something bad. Someone decides to have a smoke because it makes them look grown up. They don’t like it at first, but it is the cool thing to do. It becomes a habit and then an addiction - a thing they can’t stop. Ask for a volunteer. Tie one thread of cotton around their wrist. Have them break free. Easy? Tie three strands. A bit harder, but still quite easy to break. Choose someone else and start winding the thread around their wrist. Explain the way a habit starts with one action (One turn) then another (another turn) etc. Use the example of swearing. Things didn’t get their way so they said a bad word (a loop). A week later they swore again (loop), and again, etc. After enough loops get the child to try to break free. When they can’t ask if they would like to be free. Bring out a scissors and cut the thread. God has the power to break our bad habits - our sin!
B. THE BLACK BOARD ERASER (Sorry for Sin)
Introduce the talk by telling the children you are going to do some arithmetic on the blackboard. Write 2+2=5. Children will be quick to point out that you have made a mistake. Take the eraser and say, “luckily I brought something with me to change my wrong answer.” Write, “I hate you.” Tell them that is also a mistake, “The Bible say we must say, “I love you.” The eraser takes away a word and leaves a blank space where a new one can be written. Is there anyone here who has never made a mistake? David made a mistake. He was supposed to be out fighting and he saw a women taking a bath and although he had a Mrs David already, he wanted her as well. When he found out that she was expecting a child, he had her husband killed in a battle. Later in life he realised that he had made a mistake. The Bible calls our mistakes sin. We usually feel sorry when we sin, David did. What do you think he did? He said sorry to God (Ps 32). What does God do about our mistakes? (Demonstrate on the blackboard how God erases our sins.) Why can God do that? Because Jesus died for our sins. Jesus is like the eraser. He is able to wipe all our sins away. Challenge: Next time you make a mistake, and reach for an eraser, remember that Jesus is our eraser. He has the power to wipe our sins away so that we can correct our sins. (Give children an opportunity to say sorry to God for their mistakes.
C. THE KEY THAT FITS THE LOCK (Search for the Answer)
Get a pile of keys with key tags attached to them with words like “looks,” “money,” “hard work,” “fun,” “sweets,” “toys,” “friends,” etc. and “wisdom.” Print the word “Wisdom” on a label and attach it to the lock. Place the lock and keys in a sack. Have a contest where the children have to see how quickly they can find the right key and unlock the lock. Begin the lesson by speaking about Solomon. “Solomon was a king, and also a very good man. So God said that he could ask for anything that he wanted and he would get it. What would you ask for? He could have asked for a sweet shop, but he didn’t. He could have asked for a bicycle factory, but he didn’t. He asked for what he thought was the most important thing in all the world. He asked God to give him wisdom so he could be a great king. God was happy with Solomon’s request because wisdom is the most important thing in all the world. Wisdom is “knowing what to do.” If you have wisdom then you will not chase after the wrong things in life. You will know what is the most important thing in life. (Have the contest with the keys)
D. WHAT THE BIBLE CONTAINS (Solution for Sin)
Speak about the boy King Josiah, who found the Word of God hidden in the temple. He was eight years old when the crown was put on his head (2 Chron 34:1). He found the Bible (34:14,19), read it to the people (34:29-33) and they turned to God. Take a Bible and place a handful of dry powder in it. Open it and blow the powder our, then say, “Why do you think the reading of an old dusty book made such a difference?” The answer is in what the book is: (a) Mirror: James 1:21-25. What is the first thing you do when you jump out of bed? Look in a mirror. The bible show us what we are really like. All our weak points are shown up when we look into it. (b) Sword: Hebrews 4:12. The Bible is a sword that cuts deep down into a person. We can’t hide things inside. The sword brings out the bad things in our life! (c) Soap and Water: John 15:3. The Bible does not only show us where the dirt is, it is the soap and water that cleans us as well. (d) Lamp: Psalm 119:105. The Bible is like a flashlight. It gives light so that we do not walk into trees, or fall into holes in the dark. The Bible speaks about Jesus, the way to get to God!
E. THE GIFT (Salvation is a Gift)
Show a well wrapped gift to the children. Say, “We all like gifts. The best day of the year is our birthday, because we get so many gifts. A gift is the expression of a persons love - it can’t be earned or purchased. When we offer a gift to someone and he takes it, its a gift. There are no more conditions.” Offer the gift to one of the children. Say, “This gift could be a joke, or an empty box. But maybe it is a good gift.” Let them take the gift and open it. Tell them that they cannot pay for it, or work for it - it is theirs because you have given it to them, for free. Speak about Jesus who gave his life for us as a free gift. We cannot earn our salvation. It is a free Gift (Eph 2:8; Rom 6:23). The gift of God is eternal life! We will live with God forever. But a gift is not yours until you receive it. have you received Jesus into your life?
F. THE HIDDEN TREASURE
Hold up a section of the newspaper that no one would be interested in. Ie. an advertisement or property section. Try to convince the children of its value even though it seems to be worthless. Offer it to one of the children. When it is claimed the child will discover the R5 note that you have stuck inside the paper with clear adhesive tape. Speak about the value of each child, who even though small is able to go and tell their friends about Jesus and see Him work in their lives.
G. THE UNDERCOVER AGENT
Come in dressed in a long jacket, wearing dark glasses, a scarf and a hat to try to conceal you own identity. Sneak around to give the impression that you are not wanting to be seen for what you really are. Get the children to say that you are an undercover agent, a spy. Speak about undercover Christians - people who disguise the fact that they are Christians. They put the coat or hat on at home or school. Say that Jesus does not need a spy, he already has enough angels. He wants us to be open air Christians. Read Matthew 5:14-16. Living for Jesus means that you let people see that you re a Christian (good deeds) and you tell others that you are a Christian (witnessing). Are you living for Jesus or spying for Jesus?
H. NOAH AND THE FLOOD (God’s faithfulness)
Choose five volunteers to play “Simon says,” to test their alertness and ability to obey commands. Ask the children about who we should obey and who we should not. Pick five different children to help with the story of Noah and the flood. Give each person a hat with a different name on it, ie. Noah, Ham, Shem, Japheth and Hilda (Noah’s wife). Let they put the hats on and unfold the story, handing out various props as you go, ie. Plastic tools to build the ark, an animal checklist for Noah, packets of cereal to represent animal fodder. Then comes the raincoats and hats and boots as the rain begins to fall. Finally the rain stops and sun-glasses can now be put on. The story over, the props are put down and the volunteers return to their seats. Press home the point of the story: When Noah obeyed God’s instructions, he found that God could be trusted. We, today, can put our trust in God and will not be disappointed, even if other people make fun of us. Sing a song, such as “God told Noah to build an arkie.” Lead in prayer.
I. VERY SPECIAL PEOPLE
Produce a plastic “toy” skeleton from a bag, and introduce him as you friend, “Boney.” Explain that we are all just like him inside. Our own skeleton is like a frame, but what hangs on the frame is unique to each person. My skin cannot fit your frame. Mention that each of us has a unique set of fingerprints. Show an X-ray plate of some part of the body and say, “Isn’t that amazing?” Speak about Psalm 139 and refer to relevant parts, such as vs 13-14, using a modern translation. Emphasise God’s knowledge and care of us as individuals. Speak about VIP’s and how that we are VSP’s to God: Very Special People. Sing a song such as, “If I were a butterfly.”
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