One of the challenges in teaching the Bible to kids or teens is that there is often an extremely wide range of knowledge and abilities within each class. Some students may appear to know more of what is in the Bible than many adults, while others don’t know the most basic stories. Young people with strong independent spiritual practices are in the same class with peers who have never opened a Bible or prayed outside of church.
What often happens is that the curriculum addresses the “average” student in the mind of the author. Usually, that means advanced students are bored, while students without a strong background feel frustrated and embarrassed.
Differentiating curriculum for the needs of each student is the best solution, but not always practical for untrained volunteers to achieve during a short class period. Challenges are a great way to differentiate without placing too much stress on teachers or students.
Challenges can be given as the activity for the lesson or to encourage independent spiritual learning and growth outside of class. Ideally, there should be three levels to any challenge. The first level should be designed for students who have virtually no Bible knowledge and little exposure to Christianity. The second level challenges should be designed for that “average” Bible student for whom curricula is designed. The third level challenges are for kids who are exposed to the Bible at home and possibly school, as well as church.
The challenges should be similar, but with a varying degree of difficulty. Naming them something generic – for example with a number or animal name – can keep students from worrying too much about the possible implications of the various levels.
Students should be allowed to choose the challenges they wish to complete. If for some reason a young person is consistently choosing a challenge you believe is too easy, you can have a private conversation with the child encouraging him or her to choose more difficult challenges.
Don’t worry about providing incentives. Try to create a learning atmosphere that encourages and celebrates the spiritual growth of each individual, without comparing students to one another.
Creating challenges takes some extra time and effort, but make it more likely each student will be participating in activities more likely to help him or her grow spiritually. It is the best thing you can do to help each student grow from where they currently are to their potential.