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
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 compassion.
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.