One of my favourite parts of teaching is conversation. There are times in a normal classroom setting for children to quietly listen while I share a story, read from the Bible or give instruction. But, as far as I am concerned, I have not done my job as a teacher if I have not interspersed that lecture style with plenty of opportunities for good conversation between the students and myself. I don’t want to always be the one talking. I also want to listen. I don’t accomplish this every time but it is my goal to engage with each child that I teach.
This is one of the reasons I love simple activities like the ones below.
In these activities the teacher and students draw simple pictures and participate together in discovering the important words and ideas in a Bible story.
One beautiful summer evening, years ago, I held my sleepy two-year-old son in my arms as we gazed at the twinkling stars in the night sky. He peered intently as I pointed out constellations with my finger and reminded him that God had made each star. I was touched that we were sharing this special moment together until I realised that, in actual fact, he was not looking at the stars at all. His full attention was concentrated on my hand! He was trying to make his chubby little fingers bend and point in the same way mine did.
And sometimes that is how it is when we teach children about God. In our minds we are viewing a grander and bigger picture of the Story of God but the children we are teaching are concerned with what is directly in front of them.
In time my son learnt to look beyond my pointing finger to see and appreciate God’s creation on his own. In fact, his knowledge of the night sky long ago far exceeded mine. He still loves his mother but now he has a unique and personal relationship with the Creator beyond what I could have planned for him.
In the same way, the children we teach will eventually see far beyond the individual Bible stories and begin to appreciate how each fits into God’s Greater Story. I know it is your prayer, like mine, that they will understand how they themselves fit into that story. I hope this will be far beyond what you and I could plan for them.
We ourselves need to remember that, at its core, God’s Story is more than facts, heroes, doctrines, moral lessons or even how children can live happy lives. These things are pointers but the grander and bigger story is about The One who creates, restores and reigns.
Helping Children See the Bigger Picture
Learning the Stories of the Bible will provide children with a strong spiritual foundation that will continue to shape them throughout their lives. But to understand an even grander and bigger picture of God children also need to understand how the Bible fits together as one continuous story.
A friend of mine drew the simple figures above as memory joggers so that children could draw them and tell the basic story of the Bible: creation, law, kings, Jesus, the church and the final coming. The pictures are intentionally simple so that children can easily draw them.
Other teachers have painted these pictures on their classroom walls as a timeline. Pictures of individual Bible Stories are attached to the appropriate places on the timeline so that children understand the chronology and how the stories fit together.
Whatever methods you use to share God’s Story may God bless you as you point children toward him.
Years ago I taught a Bible story to a group of children and we began to discuss the concept of kindness. I wanted the children to understand what kindness really was and how they could practice kindness.
One young boy excitedly gave example after example of ways to show kindness. “We could take food to someone who was hungry.” “Carrying groceries for an elderly person at the grocery store would be kindness.” “We could say kind words.”
After he listed a few examples of kindness I asked, “And how could you show kindness to your sister?
There was a long pause and then, with a horrified expression on his face, he asked, “You mean, this counts at home, too?”
If ever there was an example of “the truth hit home” then this was one!
We must share the Bible with children. There is nothing that we could say that would have more eternal impact than the words God speaks. But we cannot be satisfied with only conveying a set of facts or teaching memory verses. God’s word is meant to be lived! Children need to learn and understand ways to live out the things they have learnt in every part of their lives.
One helpful way to help children explore ways to live out their faith is to use a simple method I call Things Matter. Simple items (things) from around your house can be used to draw out conversation about everyday applications of God’s Word.
Obey God’s message! Don’t fool yourselves by just listening to it. If you hear the message and don’t obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror and forget what they look like as soon as they leave. But you must never stop looking at the perfect law that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don’t just hear and forget. James 1:22-25, CEV
I was recently entertaining some children at a church in Texas while their parents were in a meeting. We were playing a game where picture cards were passed out. Some of the children began to complain that the cards they had been dealt were not as good as the ones the other children had received. One child even reached out and took what he considered a “better” card away from a smaller child.
Just as I was about to sit everyone down for a little lecture about fair play and kindness one of the younger children stopped everyone in their tracks by piping up with the perfect reminder in a very thick Texas accent, “You ‘git’ what you ‘git’ so don’t throw a fit.”
Oh, how we all need to be reminded to be content with what we have! I later learned about a children’s book with the title “You Get What You Get” but an even earlier source might be something Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11-12…
…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
This is certainly not just a lesson for children. How often do we say things like:
If only I had a classroom I could be a good teacher.
I wish those other people would start teaching.
Why don’t my church leaders ever thank me?
What! Only one child came today? Why can’t I have a big class like that other church?
It is a lesson for me. “I ‘git’ what I ‘git’ so I won’t throw a fit!”
Helping Children Understand Contentment
Contentment has long been something that has eluded mankind. The Israelites certainly dealt with this after they left the “comforts” of Egypt and followed Moses into the wilderness.
In teaching the story of the Bronze Snake on a Pole I love to help the children role-play various situations where they must be content with what they have. My favourite scenario is a birthday party. We pretend that we are at a birthday party opening presents. I take the first turn and act out being “discontent” by pretending to open a gift from my grandmother and saying “Oh, no! I didn’t want the doll with the PINK dress. I wanted the one with the PURPLE dress.” (I lose all pride when I teach so I add a lot of drama. The children love it.)
We then discuss how the grandmother might feel. I carry on the discussion talking about how some little girls might not even have a birthday gift. After discussing this I act out the scene again modelling contentment and thanking my grandmother for the gift. Usually all of the children want to take a turn at being the one opening a gift.
It is my prayer that the children I teach will learn to apply this lesson of contentment to other life situations just as the little boy I told you about. This is such an important life lesson. No matter where they go and what they do in life the children will “git what they git”.
Some people treat the bible like a book of fairy tales where each story always ends with the villain being punished and the good person being declared a hero. But the bible is not a fairy tale. There will eventually be a great day of eternal reckoning but, meanwhile, choosing to follow God comes at a cost and good people suffer along the way.
As much as I would like to protect children from this harsh reality of life I know it is my responsibility as a teacher to begin preparing them for the weapons Satan will relentlessly use against them.
Situation Cards are a simple way teachers can help prepare children in a way they can easily relate to. It extends a bible lesson beyond facts and memorization to application to everyday life.
Non-threatening, age appropriate conversations in the safe environment of a children’s bible class is a great way to help form the faith of a child. This formation of faith begins in childhood as the Apostle Paul instructed the young man, Timothy:
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:12-17, NIV