Don’t you love the preschool ages? They are so much fun! Of course, they can be a challenge, too. And even scary for inexperienced teachers suddenly thrown into the lions den…errr…3 year old room.
Regardless of the challenges, we have to remember that this is one of the most critical age groups when it comes to spiritual formation. What happens during this developmental stage will largely shape who they are and what they believe for the rest of their lives. Now, ideally, much investment is being made at home by their primary spiritual influencers – Mom & Dad – but here are a few tips for teaching preschoolers in the church:
- Truth matters We’re not going to go into great detail from the Bible with this age group, but I’ve seen this understanding translated into “Well, it really doesn’t matter how we tell the story.” Yes, it does! The truth of God’s Word is just that – truth! And it matters in our teaching regardless of the age of the audience…even preschoolers.
- Brevity rules A good rule of thumb is that you’ve got about 1 minute worth of attention per year of the child’s age. So you’ve got roughly 3 minutes with a 3 year old. Of course, it varies and a truly engaging activity or a well told story might extend the time frame. But this means that, in planning your teaching, you ought to plan on moving to a new activity within these parameters.
- Flexibility rocks The name of the game with preschoolers (and really, any age group) is flexibility. If you’ve ever taught this age group, you know that they ask some amazing questions! And they are capable of understanding far more than we often give them credit for. When a great question happens, or when an activity is obviously failing, or when circumstances are different than expected (class size is much larger, you’ve got a “screamer” in the class, etc.), be ready to flex.
- Questions abound As I said, this age group can ask some amazing questions. What’s your plan? Be ready to know how you want to respond to unexpected questions. A good template might be something like this:
- Affirm the question positively
- Answer briefly if you can
- If it’s a significant question (ie. regarding salvation), “flex” and take the class in that direction in order to share the truth with all of your kids
- Follow up with the child later, either to answer more completely or ensure understanding
- Share with the parents what the child asked so they can continue the conversation at home
- Repetition reinforces I’m so glad my boys are teenagers now, if for no other reason than I don’t have to watch The Lion King over and over and over and over … you get the idea! But there’s a reason why they loved to watch things over and over – it’s a “learning mechanism” that helps reinforce what they are seeing or hearing (often for the first time). So, in your classroom, keep the main point short and simple and find ways to reinforce it through repetition over and over again. Do different activities with the same point. Tell the story and let them act it out, then watch a short video – all with the same point. Let your conversations lead back to the same point throughout the session. Repetition reinforces learning, especially in this age group.
I’m no expert when it comes to preschoolers, but I’ve learned these few ideas really do work.