If you have been exposed to the Montessori Method of education or child-directed learning, you will probably adapt easily when the children in your Bible class begin to lead everyone off on a tangent. Most of you though, were exposed to a more traditional teacher-led educational style, particularly in Bible classes. Lesson plans were followed and those who tried to deviate were often ignored or corrected.
Letting the children take the class off on a tangent can be really scary. What if they start asking questions about subjects in the Bible that you weren’t prepared to teach? What if they manage to get the class so far off topic, the children don’t learn anything about God? The next time your class begins to get distracted by a tangential subject, I want to encourage you to think about allowing them a little leeway.
When our daughter was pre-school age, we opted to keep her home or as she would say “homeschool pre-school”. She was interested in such a wide variety of subjects, that we believed she would have more freedom to explore at home. Her interests would vary, but when she wanted to learn about something new, we would encourage her as much as possible. This meant lots of library trips, as well as trips to museums, farms, zoos, aquariums and many other places. We made messes in the kitchen as she did kitchen and science experiments and there were times we could barely find her bed for all of the books in her room. Yet, she flourished and developed a love of learning.
So many times our children’s Bible classes are stuck in the educational style of either the 1930’s or the 1970’s. The children are either bored to tears with fill-in-the-blank worksheets or entertained by fun and games where the connections to real scripture and application are confusing and tenuous at best.
I have shared a lot this summer about some of the things we are doing to make Bible stories memorable and the application placed on young hearts and minds for life. An interesting thing has happened along our journey though. The center I am teaching has revolved around making sure the children are aware of the felt needs of the people in the world around them. We have spent a lot of time developing empathy for other people, learning how to serve them and re-enforcing that teaching people about God’s Plan is an essential part of serving people.
As part of the decoration for my room, I went to the local teacher supply store and purchased those large bulletin board type photographs and posters of all sorts of people. I stapled this on the walls all around the room.
I began to notice that every Sunday, as I waited for the children to come into the room and get settled, many of the children were fascinated by the ASL poster of how to sign the alphabet. They would sit there quietly and try to practice while I was getting the stragglers settled. As this happened week after week, I made a radical decision.
Although we had already covered serving people with disabilities on a previous week, I decided to skip a mission field in another country we had planned to explore. Instead, I asked a woman in our congregation who speaks ASL, to come and teach the children how to spread the Gospel by learning sign language.
Had we stuck to the original plan and covered the missions, culture and people of another country, the children would have still had a memorable, Biblically educational experience. For whatever reason though, God had placed a desire in the hearts of many of these children to learn more about ASL, signing and serving the deaf in our communities. This passion, even if momentary, opens a wonderful teaching window. Those children soaked in every word the woman taught them about serving the deaf, signing and sharing the Gospel with them.
Sending home handouts and other suggestions of resources to help the parents encourage their children is another step in this process. Often the teacher can plant seeds, but it is up to the parents to nurture these new spiritual interests and help them continue to grow. Realistically, the hour or two you may teach them a week doesn’t begin to compare to the dozens of hours they spend with their family.
Sometimes it can be discouraging to be a “seed planter”. It seems like you never get to see if those seeds ever take root and produce spiritual growth in someone. Sometimes you even totally lose track of children when they move and you may never know if they even stayed faithful as adults. Rarely, you will actually hear back from a former student and learn that your seed planting did have a positive impact on his spiritual growth.
It has taken some time, but I have finally learned to enjoy planting seeds. It doesn’t entirely remove my responsibility to help nurture those seeds in some children and adults. I have learned though, to enjoy the process of planting seeds. In fact, I like to think of myself as a sort of Johnny Appleseed for God. How many spiritual seeds can I plant and in how many children? Can I plant enough so at least some take root? Can I plant a higher quality seed so it is more likely to take root? (The higher quality is not in God’s Message, which is perfect, but in how accurately and how well I plant it. Trying to make an effort to plants seeds more deliberately so they land on the “good soil” in a child’s heart instead of on the “rocky soil.”)
The next time the children in your Bible class want to discuss something that has spiritual implications, but is off topic, I encourage you to pursue the subject with them. It may mean telling them you will pick it up the next lesson, so you have the time to gather your resources or study the Bible a little more yourself. However you do it, honor their request for more information from the scriptures or the application of them. Follow their passion for learning something new from God. You may be surprised at how well the lesson sticks with them.