A teacher of two-year-olds
was teaching them how to pray.
She would say a phrase,
and they would echo her.
At the end of the prayer,
she said, “Awh-men.”
All the children said, “Awh-men.”
One little girl added, “And no women.”
Turning on the Light
Learning occurs when experience touches truth. Mommy says, “Keep your hand away from the oven door. The oven is hot.” That is a truth. What happens when the child touches the oven door? He has an experience. He learns a truth: The oven is hot.
But there are some truths we don’t want children to experience. We want them to believe us when we tell them it’s dangerous to cross a busy street by themselves. We hope they trust us when we say drugs will damage their bodies and minds. We don’t want them to experience truths in areas that would be destructive to them. So we rely on the relationship of trust we’ve built with children. My father used to say, “A wise man learns from experience. A wiser man learns from someone else’s experience.” So sometimes we back up our instructions with stories in hopes that our children will learn from someone else’s experience. We do the same as we teach spiritual concepts. We use stories, which we’ll discuss in the next chapter, and we use experiences that touch the truth we want to teach.
What is an experience? It’s something that happens to us involving our senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. The more of the five senses we involve, the stronger the experience and the memory of it will be. Let’s look at how an expert taught using experience.
The Master Teacher
“Jesus was walking by Lake Galilee. He saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Simon’s brother Andrew. The brothers were fishermen, and they were fishing in the lake with a net. Jesus said, ‘Come follow me. I will make you fishermen for men'” (Matthew 4:18,19, ICB).
What did Jesus do? He used a sensory experience to teach a truth. What kind of experience did Peter and Andrew have? They could see the sparkling waves of water and the wiggling fish. They could hear the waves sloshing, smacking the sides of the boat. They could feel the rough nets and the wet fish they tossed into the boat. They could smell the fish. All this was part of their experience that day. Jesus simply wove a truth into their experience. He said, “From now on you can fish for men.” He could have said, “Follow me, and I will show you how to win souls for God’s kingdom.” Instead, he linked truth to experience.
Do you suppose that on other occasions when Peter and Andrew saw those same sights and smelled those same smells, their minds went back to the memory of what Jesus said? Their experience had touched the truth Jesus was teaching. To say it another way, Jesus taught toward their experience.
On another occasion, Jesus told his followers, “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns. But your heavenly Father feeds the birds. And you know that you are worth much more than the birds. You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it. And why do you worry about clothes? Look at the flowers in the field. See how they grow. They don’t work or make clothes for themselves. But I tell you that even Solomon with his riches was not dressed as beautifully as one of these flowers . . . so you can be even more sure that God will clothe you” (Matthew 6:26-30, ICB).
Jesus taught the truth of God’s care while his followers experienced nature. They could see and hear the birds. They could smell and touch the flowers. Their experience touched the truth Jesus was teaching. He taught toward their experience.
One day, Jesus was traveling through Samaria. He was tired, so he sat down beside a well. It wasn’t long until a Samaritan woman came to the well to get water. Jesus asked her for a
drink. The woman was surprised. “How can you ask me for a drink?” she said.
“You don’t know who asked you for a drink,” said Jesus. “If you knew, you would have asked me, and I would have given you living water” (John 4:10, ICB).
Why didn’t Jesus say, “I am the bread of life?” Because she wasn’t having an experience with bread. She was having an experience with water. She could smell the dank, wet well. She could hear the splash of her jar dropping into the water. She could hear the water dripping as she pulled the jar up. She could feel the water on her hands. She could see it slosh from side to side in the jar. She probably tasted some of it to quench her thirst. Jesus used her experience to teach His truth. When her experience touched His truth, she learned. How many times would she go to the well again, draw water, and think about “living water”?
In the previous examples, we saw Jesus using experiences that occurred naturally. But in Matthew 18:2-4, Jesus created an experience for His followers. “Jesus called a little child to him. He stood the child before the followers. Then he said, ‘I tell you the truth. You must change and become like little children. If you don’t do this, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The greatest person in the kingdom of heaven is the one who makes himself humble like this child'” (ICB). Jesus’ followers could see, hear and touch the child. Their experience touched the truth Jesus was teaching. He created the experience and taught toward it.
Perhaps my favorite example of all is in John 13. “It was almost time for the Jewish Passover Feast . . . during the meal Jesus stood up and took off his outer clothing. Taking a towel, he wrapped it around his waist. Then he poured water into a bowl and began to wash the followers’ feet. He dried them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” Jesus created another experience for his disciples. They saw him kneel with the towel around his waist. They felt the cool, wet, cleansing water. They felt the towel massage their tired feet. They heard the water drip back into the bowl. With this experience, Jesus taught them about servanthood. “I did this as an example for you. So you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15, ICB).
How It’s Done
Linking truth to a child’s experience is easiest to do in the process of parenting. That’s because the experiences come naturally. You can do what God told his people to do long ago. “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6,7). You can take the experiences that happen every day and link God’s truths to them. There are three steps involved.
1) The experience.
2) The truth.
3) The challenge.
For example, you and your child hear thunder. That’s the experience. You teach a truth toward that experience by saying, “The Bible tells about a time when people thought they heard thunder, but it was really God talking.” (See John 12:29.) Then you challenge the child to think about God: “What do you think God’s voice sounds like? How does God speak to us? How do we speak to God?”
In the classroom, we do this procedure a bit differently. We create experiences to which we link the truth we want to teach. These experiences are called activities. We teach toward the experience children have during the activities. The same three steps are involved: 1) Experience, 2) Truth, 3) Challenge.
For example, let’s say we want to teach preschoolers about sharing. Our story is about Abraham who shared food with three visitors. So we create an experience: eating and sharing apples. We give every other child two apple slices. That leaves half the group without apples. We ask each child to share with the child sitting beside him. That’s the experience. While the children are having this experience, we tell them the point we want to get across, the truth we want to teach: “Abraham shared. God is happy when we share.” Then we challenge the children further by asking leading questions: “How do you feel when someone shares with you? Why is sharing a loving thing to do? Why does God want us to share? Is it always easy to share?” We guide children’s thoughts and conversation during or immediately after the activity. In a lesson plan, this may be called “Discussion” or “Guided Conversation” or “To Talk About.”
With an older class, the experience might be passing around anise seed and asking each student to take a pinch and chew it. As they chew on the anise seed, you tell them that people in Jesus’ time had no toothbrushes or toothpaste. They often chewed anise seed to sweeten their breath. So when Mary and Joseph made the trip to Bethlehem, they may have packed a small bag of anise seed, in the same way you would pack your toothbrush and toothpaste.
One very important area of active learning is works of service. Children can serve in a variety of very real, meaningful ways. They can collect food and make food baskets to take to needy families. They can visit homes of the elderly. They can help rake leaves and mow lawns. Older children can help teach younger children’s classes. There are dozens of ways they can serve. They learn as they serve and in the process, they gain a sense of belonging and competence.
After Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he told them to serve others. To do what they had learned. An old Chinese proverb says, “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I know.” Jesus said, “You should do as I have done for you.” A few verses later, he says, “If you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.” Jesus’ disciples experienced his lesson with their senses. They heard Jesus’ truth. Now they needed to do. That is learning.
How did you come to be a teacher? Here’s what often happens. The call goes out at church: There’s a need for teachers. You volunteer. Then in a group meeting, or maybe just a spontaneous “meet-you-in-the-hall” connection with the supervisor, you are handed a booklet and/or a large envelope or box. This is your lesson plan book, a packet of “visuals,” and maybe a booklet of “handwork.” Sometimes the material includes a box of toys.
Where do you go from here? First of all, let’s take a look at your lesson plan book. It’s part of the curriculum your church ordered. What is curriculum? It’s a map. It tells you how to get where you want to go. It will have overall goals for your age group. Through the year, the lessons will take you toward that goal. Lessons are the points of interest you pass as you travel the route on the “map.” Each lesson you pass puts you one step nearer your overall goal. In fact, each of these interest points (or lesson plans) has goals of its own that fit into the bigger picture.
However, lesson plans are simply suggestions for what to do during class time. Not having a lesson plan is very likely to frustrate you. You will have a hard time reaching your goal without a plan. But being glued or locked-in to your lesson plan will likely make you just as frustrated, because the people who write lesson plans cannot know your specific situation. Your situation is different from mine. Plus, your situation may change from year to year.
I used the same curriculum, the same lesson plans, for eight years. Each year was different. One year I had twelve children in my class. The next year I had twenty-eight. One year my students included several foreign children. Another year I had a child in a wheelchair. One year the kids listened eagerly at group time. The next year, they were into rough-and-tumble wrestling instead of listening. I’ve taught in tiny classrooms and huge classrooms, in churches with few materials and in churches with resource centers where workers had my requested materials stacked and ready to go when I dropped by before class. I’ve taught in situations where I had only 45 minutes to complete the activities, and I’ve taught in classes where I had 90 minutes.
Can one lesson plan cover all these possibilities? No. That’s why a lesson plan is a group of suggestions for you. When you get your lesson plan, read it and ask yourself some questions:
- Does this fit my class needs?
- Does this fit the time schedule I have?
- Does this fit the materials available to me?
- Does this fit the abilities and interests of my children?
- Does this fit the space available to me?
Delete or add activities according to your answers to these questions.
How do you find activities to add? You need resource books. Good activity books broaden your choices. You may also think of some activities on your own. Avoid coloring books and lick-and-stick “handwork” since these require no original thinking, and everyone’s pictures look just alike. If you are really going to be child-sensitive, you’ll opt for more original arts and crafts as well as other types of activities.
Use visual teaching-aid pictures sparingly. There are many more active, interesting and fun ways to involve children in the lesson. The last thing you want to do is bore the children. God is not boring. Life in Him is an adventure. So learning about Him should be an adventure too.
If you are excited about what’s going on in class, chances are the children will be excited too. If you’re bored with it, chances are they’ll be bored too. Ask, “How can I use my special gifts and talents to enhance this lesson? How can I make it exciting?” For example, if you’re a good cook, you could do a cooking activity with the students. If you’re a gardener, you might bring flowers to examine or seedlings to plant. What do you have that would help communicate the theme of the lesson?
As you think about the activities you need, remember to “Take AIM.” Make your lessons
Children want to be where the action is. Where the excitement is. Where it matters. Where you care. And they know you care when you spend the time to help them enjoy the lesson through age-appropriate, interesting, meaningful activities.
–from Child Sensitive Teaching, by Karyn Henley, Chapter 13
© Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Exclusively administered by Child Sensitive Communication, LLC.