This article is third in a series that answers the question "What are we doing?" You can read Yes, Jesus Loves Me to understand the big picture.
Preschoolers love action.
They want to play, sing, dance, tie their shoes, write their names, create and recreate games and stories, and build block towers only to knock them down again. How fitting, then, that these same children—between three and five years old—are able to learn that God and Jesus are active, present, and do amazing things! Jesus doesn't merely exist, but he walked on water, calmed storms, healed sick people, and came back to life. He even continues to love and help us today.
Of course none of this is news to you or me—but it can be wildly exciting stuff to learn for young kids. We, as children's ministry workers, will build up Jesus' importance in the minds and heart of preschoolers when we focus on what he's done and what he wants us to do. In other (simpler) words that summarize this concept: Teach preschoolers that "Jesus loves," and that we can love, too!
Before jumping straight into the Bible lessons to teach young kids, let's take a quick look at a more subtle, less talked about concept. Here's what I mean: One way preschoolers experience Jesus as an active, loving person is through feeling secure when they hear about him; a big issue when you're small. Around age three, kids become prone to separation anxiety because they're old enough to realize that mom and dad just left them in the care of someone else—and yet they remain young enough to fear mom and dad won't come back.
Our ministry strives to have consistent leaders and teachers in the rooms to promote emotional security among the kids. Here's how this works: When kids see the same faces week after week and learn that these adults are here to play with them, teach them, and take care of them until mom and dad return, then they will start to piece together the fact that church is a safe place. It's then that youngsters can begin to trust these adults and what they're teaching—as well as associate that feeling of safety with the person of Jesus.
Leader consistency heightens the ability for preschoolers to learn because the kids' energy turns from focusing on their anxiety to hearing and participating in the lessons. Not to mention the fact that the concept of "Jesus loves" is much easier for kids to grasp when the same teacher they've learned to trust not only tells the kids verbally, but also demonstrates it with his/her commitment to them.
Does your ministry highlight consistency among your volunteers as a high value? Have your volunteers bought into the concept of "being Jesus" on a regular basis for their kids?
Okay, now let's look at how preschoolers experience Bible stories taught each weekend. Sure, they hear that God and Jesus exist. But they also hear about the incredible active roles God and Jesus play in these stories. We reinforce the ministry and magnificence of Jesus through a single key concept for each lesson—the one phrase kids walk out the door saying each week that reinforces the day's Bible story.
Up through age two at our church, kids have heard about Jesus, God, and basic truths from the Bible articulated with simple statements: Jesus loves me all the time, God made me, God gives us friends, the Bible has true stories, and many more. Jesus and God are present in these early key concepts, but at an introductory level—meaning we introduce kids to the fact that God and Jesus exist.
Starting at age three, the lessons make a definitive shift. Key concepts build on those introductory truths and now describe who Jesus is through what he does and what he wants us to do: Jesus wants us to love others, God always keeps his promises, Jesus can do anything, and I can trust him.
Each key concept purposefully contains a personal application—what Jesus wants us to do—that serves as another step in laying a foundation to help kids eventually walk into a personal relationship with him. Oh, how preschoolers love to learn what they can do and how they can act! And to build on that desire to actively participate in learning, we also add simple motions to our key concepts to reinforce each lesson (pointing up for "God" and "Jesus", giving ourselves hugs for "love"). The physical movement helps kids remember what they learned, and enables the lesson to repeat the key concept in various ways to make it fun and challenging.
A Lesson That Stuck
A few months ago, we taught the story of the Good Samaritan to our preschoolers. The key concept of the day was "Jesus wants us to be kind to everyone," and in small groups the kids explored different ways they could be kind to others (sharing, helping, taking turns, giving a hug).
The next week, I was playing with a group of four and five-year-olds at an activity station before the program. The kids near me were busy constructing towers of chutes and loops and flying their marbles through their personal obstacle courses. Soon all extra pieces were used up and kids who wanted to play had to wait until someone decided to leave. I watched one little boy who had patiently built up his marble course. As he was about to send his few marbles down the chute, another boy twice his size came up next to him. He whispered something that made the smaller boy smile, open his hand, and offer his marbles to another boy waiting for a turn. The new player took a marble, noticed I was watching them, held it up, and pointed to the first boy, saying, "He is letting me play with him! He's being kind to me!" I affirmed how polite and kind they were to each other and asked if they knew who else wanted them to be kind. Both of them answered, "Jesus!"
I don't know how many details those boys remembered from the previous week's lesson, but they sure embraced the key concept. And they were so proud of the fact that they were doing something Jesus wanted them to do! While some Bible stories focus on specific actions of Jesus, this story illustrated how he wants us to love others. But wait; Jesus did do something in this story—he told the story. Why? To teach a lesson. A clear example of the key concept that "Jesus want us to be kind to everyone."
Does your ministry challenge kids in fun and intentional ways to be like Jesus and to do what he teaches us to do?
Kids in the three to five-year-old ages enter the stage of life where they begin to choose how they act. We have the opportunity to encourage them to act as much like Jesus as possible. So let's make a concerted effort to teach our preschoolers that "Jesus loves" and that Jesus wants us to love others, too. Because the simple, pure faith of preschoolers, when nurtured to be like this Jesus who they've heard so much about, can easily grow into a lasting, active relationship with Him.
And preschoolers love action.
Laura Hebling teaches and develops lessons for the age four/five room in Promiseland, the children's ministry of Willow Creek Community Church.
Copyright © 2007 Promiseland.
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