Several decades ago, some of the more creative Bible class teachers used what were called object lessons to teach kids and teens Bible concepts. Since I was a child myself, I’m not quite sure why they fell out of popularity. My guess is that teachers were unaware of the possible problems with these lessons and became frustrated over time with how students reacted.
Object lessons, when used properly, can help children and even some teens better understand abstract concepts. I recently had someone share with me a great object lesson that helps explain the Trinity.
My friend took an ice cube and showed it to the children. After having the children tell her it was made of water, she proceeded to melt the ice cube. Once again, the children told her it was water. She then heated the water until steam began to be obvious. Most of the children knew that steam was also water.
Finally, she gathered together the information they had just seen…ice, water and steam are all water…just in different forms. She then pointed out that God is like the ice, Jesus the (living) water and the Holy Spirit the steam.
I have heard many ways to explain the Trinity to children, but this is by far my favorite. While the Trinity is a concept too difficult for the human mind to fully grasp, this object lesson made It as concrete and relatable as possible.
Object lessons can be helpful in a Bible class for children or teens. The key is to remember some best practices before using any object lesson.
- Know your ultimate goal. Why do you need to use an object lesson? To go through the effort of teaching an entire object lesson, you need to know what you want students to learn from it. It’s also important to make sure that there isn’t a better way to achieve the same goal.
- Use object lessons sparingly. No matter how great object lessons can be, if you use them too often students will stop paying attention.
- Minimize the “cute” factor. Some object lessons are like puns, they are so “cute” you just want to groan when the connection is made. Older kids and teens may find these types of object lessons annoying and too childish for them.
- Less is more. Sometimes just holding up an object and making the connection in the middle of telling your Bible story is better than doing an entire object lesson production and minimizing the exposure to actual scripture. For example, if you are reading students the verses about hiding their light under a bushel, it may be better to hide a light under a bushel as you read the scripture rather than doing an object lesson and having a summary of the verse as the conclusion.
- Actively involve students in the object lesson. Ask them questions. Have them guess what happens next. Allow them to handle or manipulate the objects (remember any safety rules). Get them to tell you the scripture or concept of which it reminds them. The more they actively participate in the object lesson, the better they will remember it.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Unless writing object lessons is your gift, use some written by those who are truly gifted to create them. Many can be found online for free or there are books you can purchase. Ask around…older Christians or church libraries may still have books of object lessons from the height of their popularity.
- Consider your audience. Our minister used an object lesson in a sermon several weeks ago. While it was an old one, familiar to most adults, it served as a great reminder. Object lessons are great for most children. Chosen carefully though, they can draw in teens and even adults and give them something important upon which they can reflect.
- Make it memorable. Some object lessons are frankly rather boring and not at all memorable. Avoid those in favor of something that will make a lasting impression. As a teen, a minister used himself as an object lesson. It startled us and I still remember it vividly to this day, decades later. More importantly, I remember the lesson he wanted us to learn from it. As you consider your options, seek object lessons that students will remember long after they are taught.
Object lessons can be a valuable tool when used to help Bible students understand and remember difficult or important biblical concepts. Using them with best practices in mind, will help you use them more effectively.