Learning from Jesus, the Master Communicator
by Betty Belue Haynes
Are He-Man and his heroes
more real to your children than the True Master of the Universe? Too
often parents and teachers have to answer a revealing "Yes" to this
question. The appeal of fast-paced, colorful TV programs for
children can make even a real live giant killer pale in comparison.
Jesus' reminder, "The children of this world are for their own
generation wiser than the children of light," is plainly
demonstrated by people who produce children's TV shows. They
carefully analyze their audiences to decide what "works." Surely we
need to do the same--we need to use whatever we know about
children and how they learn.
After all. our goals are much higher than tempting them into
the nearest toy store!
But, "Forewarned is forearmed." More specifically, Jesus Himself
provides us a model as the Master Teacher. His understanding of
human nature and how to communicate ideas effectively is wonderfully
demonstrated in the teaching He did among men. All
good instructional strategies can be
traced back to his methods in one form or another. Our task, then,
becomes one of adapting the general principles found in His example
to our teaching/learning tasks, both at home and in class.
One outstanding feature of Jesus' teaching is the importance he
placed on the individual. Surely if the Son of God thought it
worthwhile to take time to teach a Nicodemus or a Samaritan woman
one-on-one, we can see that the number of children we have in our
charge-- one or twenty--does not really matter. And whether we are
working with children in our own family or teaching in a class
setting, the principles apply.
Perhaps most basic to His approach was His "starting where people
were"--in their interests, in their knowledge of the subject and in
every other way that is important to learning. Jesus Himself might
have lost his "teachable moment" with the Samaritan woman if He had
begun with a tirade against the Pharisee's pride instead of
addressing the subject that was on her mind right then.
And so our first task, too, is getting and holding the attention
of children. Sometimes this is dismissed as something beyond our
control since most young children have short attention spans. It's
even possible to conclude prematurely that restless children are
hyperactive. But psychiatrist William Glasser points out otherwise.
He suggests observing children before the television set. If they
can sit through a half-hour (or a whole Saturday morning), of
cartoons we have to admit the problem is not one of short attention
span: it becomes a problem of how to present material in a way will
capture their attention.
For a beginning, we know children are most interested in
things concerning them. We see that God in His wisdom opens His
revelation with an explanation of how that world came to be, the
origin of man and even an account of the beginning of our problems.
He then gradually develops an understanding of His eternal purpose
through descriptions of families similar to families today. So in
our teaching, we will begin with these things that have strong
interest-appeal for children.
Another great motivator for children is the undivided attention
of adults who are important to them. Studies show the
shockingly small segments of time devoted to children by both mother
and father during the course of day-to-day contacts. Children will
go to great lengths to please someone they love. Having that person
take time to show his own regard for the truths of the Bible and his
desire to have the child come to share his regard can be a powerful
incentive to listen and learn. What begins as a desire to please
later becomes a desire to find out more--and make
application to one's life.
We know children learn with all their senses through first-hand
experiences. During childhood they are developing a larger
understanding, speaking and reading vocabulary. They need to
see, hear, feel, smell and/or touch
the real thing whenever possible to relate them to the new
concepts they are
constantly meeting. Helen Keller's teacher demonstrated this
principle very well--she had Helen feel water at the same time she
was introducing the word.
And Jesus referred often to his hearer's own experiences. e.g.,
calling to their minds visual pictures
of the birds of the air, and the flowers of the field.
Again we see the value of Jesus' example. In his use of
questioning, he did not merely stress details as we so often do, but
helped his hearers synthesize their leanings and arrive at a more
complete understanding for themselves. Thus the use of "Why?" and
"How?" questions are as important as the
"'Who", "What?", "When?", and "Where?"
Participation through questions, activities and other methods is
also important for giving adults feedback as to the child's level of
interest, how much he is learning and seeing where he needs
additional help. If children are never given an opportunity to take
part spontaneously. how will we know what's going on in their minds?
We know children need repeated exposures to ideas for concepts to
become part of their body of knowledge. "Drill" gets boring--but the
use of a variety of activities allows the adult present the same
ideas in several ways. Think of the different parables hat Jesus
used to teach similar truths--for example, in Luke 15. Games are
especially good for this, along with songs, pictures. role-playing.
and other techniques mentioned. We should never take for granted
that a child has internalized an understanding just because he can
parrot it back to us after one hearing. Most children need several
repetitions of the same material.
Children will need help in seeing the continuity and
relationships so important for an understanding of the Bible as a
whole. Many times we concentrate on the topic at hand and fail to
make connections with what has gone before or what will come later.
As a result. children "know 'Bible stories" but do not have an
overall view of the unity of Bible teachings.
Not only are visual aids such as timelines useful in helping
children see the flow of Bible History-when we begin new subjects,
we can review the connecting links from past discussions and lead
them to anticipate "What will come next?' When we use games for
follow-up we can include questions that go back to pick up crucial
threads of continuity which are woven throughout the Bible.
The unity of Bible teaching about the nature of God, Christ, man,
Satan, sin and law is also fully appreciated only when seen within
the entire context of the Scriptures. We all come to understand the
infinite power, wisdom. love, providence and mercy of God. along
with His just wrath. as we learn
about His dealings with man throughout the ages. And we can all know
more about ourselves as human beings as we see how others have
reacted to situations like those in our own lives.
In His frequent admonition "Take Heed how you hear", Jesus
stressed the importance of his disciples making application for
their own lives. And He usually ended a session by helping his
hearers draw conclusions about implications for themselves
personally. A "Bible story" about something that
happened to someone else in another time and place may be
entertaining. But it has little permanent meaning unless insight
into one's own experiences is encouraged.
Finally, we see Jesus, the Master Teacher cared deeply about each
person he taught. His contact with the rich young ruler in Mark
10:21 was apparently limited to the exchange described. Yet we are
told that when Jesus looked at him, he had feeling of love and
Children sense whether or not we are truly concerned for their
welfare. Surely our hearts will be touched when we consider the
years before them. That realization will help us accept their normal
immaturity in order to accomplish our goals. What can be more
sobering than an opportunity to equip them for the challenges ahead?
After all, we know we are not teaching for time only-we are teaching
for eternity as well.
Yes, we are equipped for this good work of teaching children by
Jesus' wonderful example. We need to study that example carefully,
looking for ways to better emulate It In our own teaching. Then,
enlisting the help of our Heavenly Father through prayer, we can
approach our task with confidence that His Word will accomplish the
purpose for which He gave It.