One of the challenges in any classroom is engaging students with what is being taught during their “free time” inside and outside of scheduled class periods. A great way to engage students who come to Bible class early, whose parents come late to retrieve them or who are in the building at other times is to set up permanent learning centers where the aspects within the center can be changed periodically to keep them fresh for students who use them.
Museums and historical tourist venues like homes and castles often have great interactive children’s exhibits that can easily be tweaked to include content from cultures and time periods found in the Bible. You can also find examples of interactive exhibits that are designed to teach principles like recycling or preserving history. These too can often be adapted to reinforce biblical character traits, scripture comprehension and memory and a host of other Christian principles. Many museums also have interactive exhibits to teach children new vocabulary words and geography facts.
There are some basic principles to consider as you begin creating these micro environments in your Bible classrooms and other ministry environments.
- Find locations to use that won’t be in the way during times the room is in use, but are visible enough to draw in students. If the exhibits have to be constantly moved, they will eventually annoy volunteers. If they are too hidden, they won’t be used.
- Actual hands-on activities work the best. Computers and worksheets aren’t actually the best learning vehicles for this purpose.
- Make everything as sturdy and “kid proof” as possible. Hopefully, your centers will get a lot of use and your volunteers won’t always be able to monitor what is being done at them. Very young children can unintentionally destroy things, so make everything as indestructible as possible.
- Set up centers where you can use the same type of activity, but change the content frequently. If you have a center where children have to guess various scents from the Bible, only have a handful available to guess at any one time. Then change the content to different scents on a regular schedule. If you keep a spreadsheet schedule for yourself, you can cycle through the same scents over the course of several months or a year.
- Change the content in every center regularly. If you don’t, after children have tried every center, they will grow bored. Notice patterns of use and factor in the number of centers to come up with a schedule for changing them.
- Advertise when content has been changed. Not subtly, but like you are Coke with a new product to sell. Generate excitement and buzz. You will know you are on the right track when teens and members without kids are checking out the centers!
- Have an introductory session where children and parents are taught how to use the various centers and any rules you have for them. Sometimes things aren’t as intuitive as we think. Teaching how to do a center (not the answers, but the process) will help minimize frustration.
- Put printed laminated instructions at each center. Every center should have two sets of instructions, one for that particular center and the other to remind everyone of the basic rules of use. For non-readers, you may also want to provide picture instructions.
- Regularly remind children and parents about the exhibits and encourage them to come at various times to help enhance their children’s Bible knowledge and comprehension. Once again, this shouldn’t be subtle advertising. People forget or new people attend. Keeping the buzz going (“What new surprises can be found in our interactive learning centers next week? Come check them out and tell us what you found!”) is crucial.
Interactive learning environments are a great way to reinforce what your students are learning in class and to teach them information you don’t have the time to cover in class. In our next post, we will give you several ideas to try based on our recent visits to museums in the United States and Europe.