If you are volunteering as a Bible class teacher in a large congregation, your class probably only has one age group, like second grade, in it. Smaller congregations don’t have that luxury. Whether it’s from a lack of space, less children or a shortage of volunteers, you may have a wide span of ages in your class.
If you are currently teaching a class with children of various ages, you are probably well aware of some of the issues this can cause. Children can develop greatly physically, emotionally, educationally, socially and spiritually over the course of a year. A difference of four years between adults is barely noticeable. With children, it’s a huge developmental leap.
Which can make it difficult even teaching the Bible story. If younger concrete thinkers are in the class with older children (who are thinking more abstractly), you will have some students who understand abstract concepts and others who will take everything that is said very literally. Even the things they enjoy doing and their life experiences can change the dynamics of application principle examples and activities.
There are some things you can do though to make these multi-age classes easier for teachers to teach and more appropriate for all of your students. Here are a few of our favorite suggestions:
- Carefully plan age breaks. Some age groups really need to be separated if at all possible – even if it means there are only two or three children in the class. It just isn’t very safe or developmentally appropriate to have toddlers in the same room with elementary aged children. Their abilities and needs are just too different and one group is suffering for the other to learn in the ways that are best for them. Natural breaks are easier to manage. Think general groups like toddlers, pre-schoolers, early elementary (kindergarteners can easily go with the pre-school or elementary group in most cases) and upper elementary.
- Make sure the younger students are kept safe. It’s easy to forget about younger students and accidentally allow them to do something that really isn’t safe for their age group. Simple things like serving grapes that haven’t been cut into pieces is not an issue for an elementary child like it would be for a toddler. If your teacher is most comfortable teaching the older group, make sure they know what the younger group of children may need done differently to keep them safe and/or help them learn.
- Explain everything carefully, while acknowledging some may have mastered the concept or skill already. If you must mix concrete and non-concrete thinkers together for example, you will need to explain to the younger students that when the Bible says someone turned “as if to stone”, it doesn’t mean God turned them into a rock. Or if your activity requires a physical skill like cutting or writing, encourage the older students to help the younger ones. Make sure to acknowledge the older students though or they will feel like they are in a “baby class”.
- Plan activities that will appeal to all ages. Many hands-on experiential activities are fun for all ages. We’ve even had teens and adults sneak into classes after they end to participate in the same activity as the kids. This is especially true for activities that help them experience what life was like in the Bible, service projects and activities involving things like cooking or acting.
- Give examples for each age group. If you are giving examples for what the things you are discussing may look like in their worlds, you need to give different examples when those worlds are different. Giving a school test example to a child who hasn’t been to school or taken a test yet isn’t helpful to that child. Likewise giving a pre-school example to kids already in school will once again make them feel as if they are in a “baby class”. Giving an appropriate example for each group will help them better understand the principle or command and help them feel as if they are an important part of the class.
In an ideal world, your congregation is growing and multi-aged classes won’t last long. Handling them intentionally while you do use them is crucial for student learning, growth and safety.