In this article, I will be limiting myself to teaching children the Bible in the classes arranged by the local church. The basic need for parents to teach their children at home is not in this purview. Also, my comments are mainly directed to the classes for children up to about eight years of age; that is, for that age group in which so many "activities" apart from actual Bible instruction are commonly employed.
What used to be Bible class has in recent decades deteriorated into classes for physical activities. As a result many children of the present generation are not learning the Bible in these classes. At best they are learning some things about the Bible, but not the Bible itself! That which started out as "helps" for Bible study has supplanted the Bible study, and now the "helps" are in the forefront and the Bible is in the background as far as emphasis and actual involvement is concerned. We have put the cart before the horse! Today's children are all hyped up, overly excited, and conditioned to constant motion, physical activity and noise. They do not know what quiet, attentive, Bible learning is. Most young teachers don't know themselves! Today's environment in many Bible classrooms consists of circular tables (which are not conducive to a child's concentrating on the teacher's presentation), desk tops covered with crayons, scissors, construction paper, paste, craft items, and other such "helps." Children move about the room freely, working in group projects, talking, chewing gum, laughing and handling different materials for the "project." Teachers' helpers are running back and forth to a "resources room" to get supplies, run the copier, laminate, and do other similar tasks. (These helpers ought to be in adult Bible classes, learning themselves!) When the class is over, the children gather up their crafts or hand-made projects and head out to show to their parents "what we learned in Bible class today"!
The thrust of this article is to call attention to the substitution of the Bible class with what has become more properly a kindergarten, an entertainment period, an activities hour, and a manual arts session. Bible learning with the mind has been supplanted by creativity with the hands. We need to ask ourselves, what is it all about? Is it a Bible class, or an activities class?
It should be noted that there is a place for "helps" (large Bible maps, charts or posters showing the books of the Bible, and the like). I am not advocating a classroom devoid of all visual aids. I am not saying that there is no place for a workbook of some kind. However, aids to the Bible have taken over the Bible itself and often the children do not even recognize that they are related to some Bible story. What should be foremost in a Bible class is the Bible! How can we instill a greater love and reverence for the Bible to our children when we teach them in our Bible classes? We can do it by using the Bible itself as our "workbook," so that it is primary in our minds, and by limiting other materials to mere helps of little comparative significance.
An Actual Case History
A. On an occasion I was asked to take the children's class (7-9 year
olds) for a time.
B. How it was when the class was first taken:
Some General Observations
(No special importance is implied in the following order.)
A. Shortly after taking the class, it was common to hear this type of
comment as the class was about to begin: "Mrs. Reeves, will you
read us a story out of the Bible today?", (after that I had
begun to teach their class, reading to them about Daniel). On one
occasion, after mentioning the patience of Job, Jas. 5:11, and
commenting on him, a student asked, "Next time will you read to
us about Job?"
The Bible stories must be read in a way comprehensible for the age group being taught. Difficult words must be explained in simple language, but the text itself must be read!
B. In reading Job chapter 1, I told the class, "Listen carefully to the number of children which Job had, and to the number of the different animals which he had". Later I asked, "Now, how many sheep, how many yoke of oxen, etc., did he have?" After reading to them the last chapter, they were amazed at how many of these animals he then had! "Twice as much," they exclaimed. They even remembered that the number of sons and daughters was the same before and after his experience of trial. Bible study can be very, very interesting!
C. There is a need for godly parents to instruct their children that the purpose for attending church services is to honor God. It is not a social activity such as going to school or visiting a friend's house! Often children are brought to services dressed in play clothes so they can feel free to run outside and play with others after the services are over. (Yet the same children many times are more dressed up, and are made to be quiet, when they attend a wedding or a funeral! What is this teaching the children?)
Some children come to class with a wad of gum or hard candy in their mouths. No wonder they cannot properly recite or read the memory verse. (They can be taught to anticipate having gum to chew if they wait until after worship service, while in the car on the way home. The same can be said for candy.) It is the parent's job to instruct children ahead of time concerning the importance of worship, and the conduct which is expected of them. At the beginning of a quarter when I taught a first and second grade class I asked them to refrain from playing after services in the church building, running and playing tag, as well as playing on the grounds around the building. I explained to them that young trees (which they were climbing) could not survive their being trampled or climbed, that they were breaking limbs, etc. Several heeded my exhortation; others let me know that they had permission from their parents to play outside, "...just don't play in the building." So, the problem was not with the children but with the parents (who didn't want to be bothered with supervising their children, but wanted to be free to converse with friends).
D. Another failure in parenting: many children are not being taught to take care of their personal property. In the case of the class which I inherited, the children had been given new workbooks at the beginning of the quarter, and had been instructed to work on only one lesson at a time. At the end of the month the cover of one was missing, and another one had been left outside after an evening service and had been rained on. There was never a class where at least one student couldn't find his book at home in order to bring it to class.
Besides, all of the students had been so caught up in the activities part of their books that they had worked ahead on some of the activities, and not understanding the directions, had messed up so many that the activities were useless (when we finally got to them). Because of this, I recalled all of them and kept them in the class room. I handed them to the students only after I had read the particular story from the text (Bible). Now they really enjoyed working to fill out the blanks because they understood the text! The children simply needed discipline and direction, which thing they had not been receiving. Children are to be led, not left!
E. Pictures (in workbooks) don't need to be colored in order to make a point. If the child wants to color a picture, tell him to take it home and color it! Bible class does not mean art class! Let mothers at home teach the child to color pictures, if so desired. Crayon coloring is entertainment, not Bible study. (I am reminded of a similar situation in adult classes, in which it is customary to have everyone present read a verse of the chapter being studied. Some can read well, others cannot. But all must be permitted to participate! So, valuable time is spent in what is only an exercise in reading, instead of the teacher spending that time in teaching!)
F. Once my husband was to preach for a small group and I was asked to teach the Bible class. No literature was in the class; I carried my Bible with me and went to teach this one class of children (of a wide-spread age range). There we were: the children of all ages, I, and the Bible! A preacher's wife and their four children, from age 5 to 14, were visiting the congregation, and the children were in the class. The 14-year old (a rebel-in-the-making) continued to provoke the youngest sibling (an adopted child), and all four of them were in constant agitation. I separated them, putting each one in the four corners of the seating arrangement. I proceeded to read to them from the book of Daniel, and to teach them some valuable lessons from that book. (The accounts in Daniel are more thrilling in the divine story than any man-made story every written.) They were listening and learning. At the conclusion of the class, the "rebel" asked me if I would teach them a class like that each night of the gospel meeting!
G. I know of one class of 7 to 8 year olds which prepared birthday cards for an elderly sister in the church. (If the Bible lesson had to do with "doing good deeds", the teacher could have suggested that the children at home prepare and send cards to such a one.) In the case above, one minute was spent teaching the children to do good, and 44 minutes were spent making the cards! The Bible class was turned into a crafts class. This case is not an exceptional one. In many places it is the common practice. Call it what you may, it is not a Bible class!
H. One of my earliest recollections of Bible study is about an event which happened the summer I was seven years old. My uncle who was a preacher came to visit us on our farm in Ohio. He asked me to find my Bible. Turning to the index in the front that listed all the books of the Bible he challenged me to learn all 66 of them before he had to go back home a week later. It sounded like a fun game to me. Three times a day after each meal we drilled by divisions: the five books of law, then 12 books of history, etc. Then came the 27 books of the NT. I could say them by the time he left. He told my mother to have me repeat them at least once a week. On his next visit I had learned them so well that I could take a deep breath of air and release the air so slowly that I could recite all 66 books before taking another breath. With a little practice I can still do it!
Around that same time my mother taught a Sunday afternoon Bible class in our house and invited the children from our neighborhood. Some ten or so, between the ages of 5 and 15, came to the class. She taught the life of Christ, using the Bible and a map of Palestine. After two summers four girls were baptized. For several years they rode with us to church services, until we all left home for work or college.
There were no "helps" then, mainly because of the depression, and none were needed. Many of the school houses were one room buildings. Textbooks belonged to the state and had to be properly cared for by the students, checked out and checked in for the school year. Parents had to pay for any abused or missing books, so parents saw to it that the children gave the books proper care. This is what is lacking in our day and time, as churches buy the "helps" and little teaching is done by the parents concerning care for the printed materials.
When I am asked to teach a children's class, I want the students to have the same familiar feelings that I as a child had for the Bible. So, I read them the accounts directly from the Bible text. It doesn't matter which workbook, if any, we might be using at the time.
I. On one occasion, my husband went to El Salvador, Central America, to give a series of all-day Bible studies to adults. They, along with their children, had come from a number of different towns to attend the three day series. This is a very poor country, of course. He told me that, while he was presenting his studies to the adults, two or three teenage girls were teaching about 30 children of all ages. They had no "helps" of any kind, not even maps! There they were, all of them in a big room off of the main auditorium (the whole building was simply what we call a "pole barn" - poles holding up a roof)! The children's class went on for hours, just as the adult class did. (They all had brief "breaks" every hour and a half.) These teen girls taught the children all day long, using only the Bible. The children were sitting in view of their parents. There was no moving around to get drinks or running to the bathroom. What and how much do you suppose the children learned during that class situation of three days? Maybe in El Salvador that strange disease, called Attention Deficit Syndrome, or Disorder, hasn't arrived yet! For many there, never having had all the "helps" (crayons, workbooks, paste, scissors, etc.), their poverty has been a great blessing to them!
Parents: concerning the Bible classes in the local congregation, love your children enough to see to it at home, long before the class hour, that the children have their Bible class lessons ready, that they understand why they are going to the classes, what is expected of them, and otherwise show your interest in their learning great lessons from the Word of God. After each class, ask them about what they learned and encourage them in making application of the lessons. Finally, exalt the Bible before them in your own daily use of it.
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