In Ministry with Karen Apple: Teaching the Littlest Learners

by Amanda Brady

Children’s Pastor, Amanda Brady is a guest writer for INCM.

All children’s ministers cringe when they hear the word, whether it is coming from the mouth of a parent, a pastor, or some other person that just doesn’t have a clue.  Come on, say it with me: childcare. Another word that gets a similar response babysitters, as when our volunteers are referred to as the babysitters who watch the kids while the parents go to church.

When it happens, we resist the urge to shake the person and yell: “We do more than just have a snack and play back there!”  Instead, we smile politely and explain we do ministry—they are learning about Jesus too.

But how much are we really teaching them? Of course, we have great lessons and activities for our school-aged kids, but what about the littlest learners? What are we actually teaching our preschoolers, toddlers, and those in the nursery? What can we teach these littlest learners about God, and what are some tangible ways we can teach those concepts?

Karen Apple shared her insights with me regarding these questions.  Karen is a seasoned children’s minister who knows the importance of beginning to teach these little ones early on.

The Power of Our Voice

Hearing the word of God taught at an early age by a voice kids know, trust, and love is important. Karen believes that when children hear biblical concepts from that voice, they will learn to love God and the Scriptures.

As early as Karen can remember, her mother taught Good News clubs, actually beginning when Karen was only two. Then, when Karen was in first and second grade, she heard another voice of another someone she loved sharing God’s word with her. As a result of these two influences, she came to know Jesus as her Savior.  She attributes her passion to teach God’s Word to hearing both of these individuals share their love of Jesus with her.

It is important that we begin teaching kids about God as early as possible. The younger we start telling children about God, Karen says, the more likely they are to understand and follow God throughout their lives. What children hear and learn from birth through two years of age prepares the ground and sets the framework for these littlest learners.

Children are growing and changing on a daily basis, so giving them a consistent message is essential. We need to spend every moment we are given with children telling them that Jesus loves them.

The Basics

What are some basics that the littlest learners need to learn? Karen points out that it is essential that we keep the concepts simple and tangible. Teach truths such as: God made me, Jesus loves me, and Jesus wants to be my friend. These are the roots of everything else our faith is built upon, so they are good starting points for our littlest learners.

Often we do not spend a great deal of time teaching these littlest learners because so many biblical truths are abstract and hard to grasp.  Karen explains that we can help kids learn these abstract concepts through concrete relationships. It is an abstract concept for a child to grasp that a God that we cannot see loves us. But when a child sees and hears someone she loves talking to her about Jesus and how He loves her, a connection is made. So make a connection with things that the little ones can see and do. Make God’s Word come alive in tangible ways.

We can do the same with babies to set an initial foundation. For example, when diapering babies, you can sing songs or say words about how God created them and how much he loves them. Or when looking out the window, you can say poems about how God made everything in the world.

Sometimes we can get self-centered and worry about what others may think. But when we get creative and stop thinking about ourselves, a light goes off not only for the little ones but also for others in the room too.

Group Activities

Karen points out that large groups can be used with the littlest learners. These gatherings help them develop skills such as listening and following directions. Group activities are best done when you build a pattern for the kids so that they know what to expect. Use activities that will be routine and characters that will be familiar to your kids.

Break a story up into small sections, and include activities that allow the kids to become involved in the story. Kids do not do well just sitting. Do something spontaneous in the midst of the story to keep their attention. This makes the lesson into more than just a listening exercise.

Never forget: No dead air! The minute you stop doing one thing, move on to something else. Use fun activities to get their attention, such as clapping in unison in short bursts, and then stop and be completely still.

Train Volunteers

Often it is difficult to get volunteers to work with this age group. These littlest ones intimidate many people. To alleviate some fears, allow potential volunteers to shadow so they can see things in action. Give them small jobs to start with to help them gain confidence in their ability to work with this age group. It is important to tell them why you do something instead of just telling them what to do. When you show them the big picture, they become aware of the importance of their role.

In the end, Karen points out, it is important to remember that God is the one; he is the one who works in the kids, not us. He has a plan for them, even the littlest ones, and he will provide what we need. When we realize we are investing in God’s plan for these little ones and not our own, our efforts are worth it.

Karen Apple mentors women in ministry. She listens to their needs and gives them insights and assignments to help them grow. She encourages them to become the women God has designed them to be and to continue developing what God has created in them.

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