I love going to museums, historical and educational sites and watching how parents interact with their children. You can actually learn a lot about the best ways to encourage children to enjoy learning in their leisure time. Many of these lessons can be applied to the learning opportunities we provide children and teens in ministry settings.
- Passion for a subject is contagious – over time. I have to smile when I hear little ones whine as they are practically dragged into an art museum or historical site. Because I’ve seen it happen so many times, I know the parents’ enthusiasm for art, history or some other topic means that child will eventually be influenced by the enthusiasm of his or her parents. In a few years, the child who is whining now, will often be the catalyst for a family visit to a new museum or site. Why? It’s a variation of the new food principle – very young children, exposed to a new food multiple times by someone who loves the food, will eventually learn to accept the food – if not love it, too. You can’t force parents to be passionate about God and the Bible, but you can choose ministry volunteers who are.
- Consistency matters. Taking a child to a museum once does not usually result in a child who loves art and museums. Parents who raise children who love art expose them to it consistently over time. Finding ways to expose even children who attend Bible classes rarely to scripture consistently can improve the chances they will become interested in learning more.
- Early exposures are in small regular amounts focused in part on the child’s interests. Parents who love museums don’t insist their children see every piece of art in a museum in one day. They start by focusing their children’s attention on a few pieces they know their children will find interesting and a few they know are important. They know if they surround their kids almost daily with art or history and begin with things their children will find interesting their children’s focus for longer periods of time will come. With reluctant Bible learners, it can help to start them on Bible stories that match their interests and add in a few other key scriptures. After a time, they should be more attentive to other Bible stories and for longer periods of time.
- Independent research is encouraged. Are their kids showing interest in a particular person, style or era? Savvy parents help their children find age appropriate materials to do independent study or research on the things that spark their interest. When that research causes the child to want more resources or to visit a particular museum or site, they try to make it happen to continue to feed their interests. Recognizing when a young Bible student becomes curious about someone or something in the Bible is crucial. Helping encourage their curiosity by suggesting resources they can use to explore that area independently is key to feeding their interest in learning more about God and the Bible.
- Give room for students’ questions, but be very careful how you answer them. I was waiting in line behind a family to enter a castle museum. The little girl wanted to know why there was a guard house for the guard. The father told her it was so the guard could hide if he saw a spider, with all seriousness. I’m not sure why he said that, but the child was probably four years old. She believed what he said – or in this case, was bright enough to know it didn’t sound quite right. When she eventually learns the truth, it will undermine the credibility of her father. Give young Bible students lots of opportunities to ask questions. Answer them honestly in age appropriate ways or tell them you don’t know the answer. Never just make something up. Bad answers can not only undermine your credibility, but make children later question the reliability of Christians, scripture and even God.
Using these strategies can help your Bible students become lifelong Bible learners. Try them and see what happens.