One way to engage young learners is through projects. Secular educators regularly use project based learning to encourage elementary and teen students to explore topics that interest them within a particular subject area. This engages learners, encourages them to dive deeper than they might normally into a topic and teaches them the skills they will need to be a life long learner.
We have had quite a few posts over the years on how to use projects to engage students in Bible classes hosted by churches and ministries. Did you know that projects can be used in Bible classes for preschoolers, too? It will take a little more management than when doing it with older children or if you had a full school day, but it is still possible to use projects to better engage preschool Bible students.
The first thing you will need to do is think carefully about your students. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Believe it or not, some three year olds are already reading fluently, while others barely know the names of colors or shapes. Some preschoolers are beginning to work well with others, while others act out if anyone gets near something that belongs to them. Although project based learning is normally 100% student driven, with preschoolers there will be added elements of adult guidance needed.
Now think about what projects your students can do. Do they have the motor skills to create something, plant something, write or draw? How creative are they? Be careful not to underestimate what very young children can do. I worked with a group of kindergarteners who wrote a script for a skit, made the costumes and props and even ran the rehearsals! (It is not something I would ever suggest someone ask a child to do, but the Japanese show Old Enough, shows what two, three and four year olds can do with the right training and support.) Think of several possible options from which they can choose.
Decide how much time you want to allow for the project. It should last more than one class session, but don’t let it go on for too long or students will get bored. You might also want to consider having a time outside of your regular class time when they can work on it or find elements of the project they can do at home between classes. Remember if you opt for having them do some parts of the project at home, you must have full cooperation from the parents or your entire project might collapse from lack of a missing element.
Finally, think about the topics that seem to grab their attention in Bible class. Are they fascinated with the cultural differences? Are they curious about the foods? Do they ask a lot of questions about how they did things? Is there a person in the Bible with whom they are obsessed? Do they get excited about serving others?
Now it is time to talk with your students. Suggest either a few project types or a few possible topics. See which one gets them the most excited. Then encourage them to think about the other part of the equation not initially presented to them. Encourage them to share ideas even if they aren’t sure about them yet. Ask them questions about the topic they choose. What do they know about it? What do they want to learn about it? How do they want to show other people what they learn, so others can learn more about the topic, too?
As the project is chosen and begins, think of yourself as a project manager. As much as possible, ask questions to help them find solutions and answers. Only provide direct assistance when students are becoming visibly frustrated. You want to challenge them, without causing undue stress. In the next post, we will give you a few possible ideas for specific projects for preschoolers.