What Makes ’Em Tick? How Preschoolers Learn and Grow

by Karen Apple

“Talk, talk, talk. I have more interesting things to do than sit here and listen. I have got places to go and things to do,” thought one four year old. “Look, there is a bug on the wall. Wish I had a jar to…..” Jonathan’s wayward thoughts snapped back to the Bible story when his leader brought out a BIG stuffed fish and a little baby doll.

“Gulp went the fish,” exclaimed the leader and suddenly the doll disappeared and Jonathan was hooked.

THIS leader knew some basic facts that changed the way he did early childhood ministry.

Preschoolers love a story with ACTION and interesting stuff to look at. They remember:

10% Hear

15% See

20% Hear & See

40% Talk about

80% Do

90% See & Do

Because Jonathan’s leader knew these facts, most of the classroom activities and even the music related to the Bible lesson.  Little ears, eyes, fingers and noses were sending signals to their brains about God and His plan for Jonah and for them.

Preschoolers learn best in RELATIONSHIP

I have heard over and over about children who say, “Mr. Mark (put your own name here) told me…”  They were referring to the Bible lesson which the leader was teaching to ALL the kids.  But because Mr. Mark developed personal relationships with each child, even the Bible lesson became personal.

This means consistent leaders in the classroom are essential.  It makes the children and parents more comfortable and Bible lessons more personal.

Preschoolers think CONCRETELY

We frequently choose curriculum which teaches values.  Love, kindness and sharing are abstract concepts and mere words do not make a dent.  But when we point out a child who is being kind, then we give the value a name in context and it becomes concrete.  “Look, Elizabeth is helping Andrew clean up the spilled paint.  She is being KIND.  Thank you Elizabeth for being KIND.”

Three-, four- and five-year-olds love animal puppets.  The animal puppets can perform a skit in which one puppet is kind.  They repeat the word “kind” often and once again the children see the abstract concept of “kindness” put in a situation they might see in real life.

The brain engages when the body moves so introduce play activities which review the Bible concept.  If the children say the Bible words while jumping, hopping or rolling a ball between chair legs, the words are remembered.  Do the activity immediately after “kindness” is observed and real meaning is attached.

My four-year-old niece listened carefully to a lesson at church about kindness.  At home that week, she whined, “Mary is not being very kind to me.”  Jenni, clearly learned the old King James and applied it correctly to her sister.  Applying it to herself came later.

The Bible instructs, “We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).” Kids learn abstract concepts when we do more than talk.   Provide great leaders and kids will “SEE JESUS!”

Karen, a former children’s pastor, writes, speaks and mentors kids’ ministers.  She loves apples, especially her husband, Steve. [email protected], www.1stthings1st.org

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