How to share Jesus with our children

Two years ago, I took on the task of revamping the curriculum for the 3–4-year-old class at our congregation. In some ways, this job was easy – I had several years’ worth of already created supplies in a filing cabinet and a few boxes from both my mother and grandmother. My goal was to take the kids through the Bible in a year – not every chapter and verse, but a firm foundation. Since the class is 3–4-year-olds, in theory, they will go through this series twice.

My secondary goal was to make it so simple that anyone could come in and teach the class. The most challenging part was finding activities, coloring sheets, crafts, or applications for every lesson. My creativity was tested in this process.

Our congregation is small. Most of the time, I have one student. At the most, I’ve had four or five students, though this is a rare occurrence. The first and most important “rule” in teaching, no matter the age or size of your audience, is your willingness to listen. The second is cultivating critical thinking and teaching how to find Biblical answers to any question.

We open class time with several interactive songs. We drive the cars to Bible class. This usually involves a car for each hand, racing and car tricks that would not be safe in the real world, and crashing. Sometimes my one tells me that’s the way his dad drives. Sometimes he tells me they came in two cars (even when they did not). Then I welcome each person to Bible class using a mirror. My student has been known to change his name every week. Sometimes, he is Cat Boy from PJ Masks. Sometimes he’s Spiderman or Superman. Sometimes, he wants to be a villain. Each of these provides a teaching moment. When he chooses a superhero, I get to share how God makes all of us special and has set aside good things for us to do. When he chooses a villain, I get to share that God wants us to do good things, not bad things.

The opening songs include opportunities for silliness – making animal sounds and being shushed because a little boy is praying and asking what time it is. They teach that we worship because we love God and how to respect God’s word. When we talk about prayer, I emphasize that we can talk to God about anything.

At least five times during the class, a child will ask, “Can I tell you something?” I always stop, make eye contact, and say, “Yes.” Or “Of course, absolutely.” While he tells me whatever is on his mind, I listen and respond. Because he is typically the only student in the class, there have been times when the lesson is disregarded because what he needs is to cry and be held. There have been days when the lesson is shorter and he shows me how fast he can run around the table. When we teach children, we must be in tune with their needs. I still talk to him or sing as he snuggles or runs around the room. He knows he is safe and loved when he is with me, even when I set boundaries.

Before you think having only one student is easy, you might need to know that one student has a strong will and high energy. There are days when he does not want to settle down. On these days, I modify the lesson. Maybe I figure out a more interactive application or let him color while I share the Bible lesson. Even with more students, you can make modifications as needed to match the moods of the room.

How can I know that? Well, I have taught every age group over the years. When we have Vacation Bible School, we have four groups (Preschool, K-1st, 2nd-3rd, 4th-5th) that rotate to different stations. My station for several years is the memory verse and application. With this many ages, I have to modify the lesson – sometimes during the lesson – to meet the needs of the kids in the room. The younger kids have a much simpler version of the memory verse than the older kids. I even challenge the Junior High and High School helpers to memorize the full verse.

One year we did the Full Armor of God. I came up with actions for the kids as they went through each item to help them remember all of the verses. I even had props: A Kevlar helmet and plate that goes in a vest from my husband’s military days and my son’s wooden sword from a market in Germany. We talked about how you aren’t ready if you’re not wearing shoes – every kid gets this because all of them have heard, “Get your shoes on. It’s time to go.” Even the youngest kids knew the Full Armor of God after those short three days.

Another year, we talked about Superheroes of Faith, focusing on Gideon, Esther, and Daniel. For these lessons, our memory verses were Judges 6:12, Esther 4:14, and Daniel 6:23. On the final day, at the end of the lesson, I combined these verses. “The Lord is with you. Trust Him. You were created for a purpose.” One of girls said, “Hey, you mixed them up!” This gave me the opportunity to talk about how the Bible is more than a collection of books. It is one continuous story – the greatest love story in the universe.

One summer, I had the privilege of teaching junior high girls. I used the book of Esther to cover everything from modesty to bullying to Providence. When our summer together ended, I looked at each young lady. I asked which grade and school they would be attending. I addressed each by name. “Who knows that you are not in this grade at this school for such a time as this?” Even for the homeschoolers in the group, I emphasized that we each have a circle of influence and purpose.

No matter what age I teach, I often feel like I gain more than the students. I learn more as I study and adapt to the ages and stages of the children. When I teach, I also learn from them. The observations children make reflect their understanding and experience. Their questions provide opportunities, even for the teacher, to learn and grow.

Everyone has different learning styles and temperaments. The high-energy, kinesthetic learner will benefit from activities with big muscle movements and interactive applications. The more reserved, auditory learner will have no problem listening quietly to the lesson and coloring. The visual learner will need a lot of pictures and descriptive words. Many people have a combined learning style. The more you incorporate each part, the more the students will learn.

Teaching children to love Jesus and follow God’s Will is about much more than the rules or a collection of stories and memory verses. Share what the love of Jesus means to you. Share how following God has challenged you and helped you in your life – yes, even with 3-4-year-olds! Help them write God’s Word on their hearts so that as they grow, they understand and apply the rules and stories in their own lives.

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