by Karen Apple
Definition: A teachable moment is when an abstract concept meets a real life situation.
“What did you learn today at church?” Mom asks Jacob who’s safely tucked in his car seat.
Mom can expect one of two answers, either “Nothing,” or “Well, there was this chicken…”
EVERY child loves that chicken. You sit on it, it bounces and without finely tuned motor skills, it careens into bystanders. This Sunday, Jacob and the chicken go of control, gently knocking his good friend Elli into the outdoor slide. Though not hurt, Elli complains, murmurs and sulks, blaming him and that “stupid chicken”.
This is a day of important life lessons for both Jacob and Elli. The Bible principles “obey” and “friendship” are now RELEVANT and on the way to becoming “MINE” for them because a savvy leader is intentional and knows what preschoolers are ready to learn.
Set boundaries then explain why. It provides opportunities to give personal kudos or point out the consequences when a line is crossed. Jacob’s classroom leader showed him the specific area in which he could ride the chicken and said, “Stay in this area so you won’t bump into any of your friends.” THEN, following the incident, the teachable moment continues.
A classroom leader may instruct the class, “Get busy, little bees. Put all the toys away by the time the music ends so we can have a clear space to play a game.” THEN “Wow, You are the best helpers. You listened and obeyed. Now look, we have a beautifully clean room and enough time to play.”
Consider timing. Three, four and five year olds learn best in the midst of the situation. To wait diminishes the memory. However, a child may not be ready to be instructed if emotions are running high. Our friend Elli needed to be consoled and then lovingly approached if her angry attitude continued.
Notice good behavior. “Wesley washed all the paint off the tables. Now our snack won’t taste like paint. Cheer for Wesley everyone!! YAY, Wesley.”
A guide can give verbal applause to a boy who usually runs and pushes, “I like the way you walked down the hall, Andrew. You would be a great soldier because you follow directions just like Joshua.”
Relate a child’s actions to a Bible lesson. “Tori, You brought snack to your friends just like David delivered lunch to his brothers. You obeyed and you were kind.”
Create A Moment.
- Bring an item from nature. A bird’s nest can be used to teach about God’s creation and loving care while a caterpillar and butterfly reveal a concrete example of change.
- Provide costumes for children to role play the Bible lesson and talk about the Bible concept while they’re in character.
- Let children use kid size puppets to retell the story or ask each other questions about the Bible lesson.
- Present a parallel “real life” story using puppets and let children tell the puppets what the right action should be based on the Bible truth.
Ready to Learn: “Take a child from where he is to where you want him to be” is a basic teaching principle. Physically, emotionally and socially we develop from the center outward. Small motor skills are the last to develop because they’re dependant on the functions of the larger muscles. Expect too much or too little and growth is hindered or the effort fails.
Socially and emotionally preschoolers are centered on:
- My space
- My body
- My things
- My way
Use every opportunity to broaden a child’s world-view. In context, a child sees HOW abstract concepts like kindness or sharing meet everyday life. Even the consequences of a child’s choices and actions reveal the truth of Scripture. A classroom leader who connects actions to consequences advances a child’s understanding of a larger world.
Pay attention to their questions. Don’t be afraid of a preschooler’s questions. It’s his job to ask them and it’s your job to interpret what he’s asking.
For example: Alex notices a picture posted on his grandmother’s refrigerator. “Is that a picture of Jesus?” he asks.
“Yes it is.”
“Did you take it?” is his next innocent question.
Now, my first response might be laughter or “How old do you think I am?” But this grandma knows Alex is certain Jesus is so real and present in his every day life that she could have taken His picture. That’s when the teachable moment begins because Alex is interested and ready to listen and learn.
Now grandmas and classroom leaders need to pay attention because too many words obliterate the meaning and answering with more than a child needs at the moment is confusing. You remember the anecdote about the child who asked, “Where did I come from?” All he needed to know was the city in which he was born.
Preschoolers are concrete thinkers. They understand abstract concepts through concrete examples and situations. For this reason teachable moments are critical to three, four and five year olds. Our Bible stories are full of examples of kindness, sharing, faithfulness, and obedience. A leader with open eyes and ears uses a child’s life experiences to communicate these truths.
Study the examples of Jesus. Jesus took teachable moments to a new level when He spoke during the Feast of Tabernacles. The temple was the center of life, worship and tradition for the Jewish community. On the first night of the feast, in the star lit court of the women, the crowd watched the Illumination of the Temple. Four enormous candelabras were set ablaze. Historians say the flames lit up the night sky and illuminated every courtyard in Jerusalem sparking wonder and animated conversation in the community. It was in this place, during the week long festival Jesus announced, “I am the light of the WORLD.” (John 8:12) The response of his listeners was probably emotional, cognitive, relational and never forgotten.
To measure the effectiveness of your teachable moments, ask yourself, “Are the lives, attitudes or actions of children changed?”
Make Bible concepts “MINE” for preschoolers by using teachable moments.
Karen developed an innovative church children’s ministry which included an “over the top” weekday preschool, a weekend kids camp and a classroom/ counseling program for children of divorce and seperation. She writes and counults for publishers and churches.