Strategy 5: Value Learning Styles

Some years ago, when I was a volunteer in our church in Winnipeg, Canada, I was asked to do a short training about learning styles. I actually knew very little about learning styles myself, but I guess they figured I knew about this. So I looked into this subject, and made some eye-opening discoveries. I have been tailoring my lessons to these learning styles ever since. It has given me a tremendous motivation to make my lessons much more interesting and engaging for all children, and for myself as well!

God has created each of us in different and unique ways, and just like the colour of our eyes and the shape of our noses is different, we also have different ways in which we learn best. There are different ways to classify learning styles, but I want to look at three basic ones that will help us understand our kids better, and will help us strategize how to reach all the children in our classes, and not just a few of them.

Auditory (Hearing) Learning Style

These children learn well by listening. They love to listen when a story is told, and often remember specific words that were used. They love things like sound effects and word jokes. They also may be good at coming up with very specific words to describe situations or feelings. When they tell a story they are expressive and they can mimic voices of different characters. They do well when verbal instructions are given. They may love music and can detect when someone sings off-key.

Since most teachers love to talk and talk and talk, the traditional way of teaching works well for these children. These kids are the ones who can sit still in class without a problem, who listen well and can answer questions the teachers ask. They probably cause the least amount of problems in your class. This is usually a smaller group of children in your class.

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Auditory children are distracted by sounds, so ringing cell phones, whispering children and noises coming from outside your room will be a distraction for them.

Visual (Seeing) Learning Style

These children learn best when they can ‘see’ things. They primarily remember the things they see. If there is something for them to see, that will be the thing they will remember. So if their mom asks them after church, “What did you do in Children’s Church today?” they’ll think, “Eehhmmm… o, yes, the teacher was wearing a scarf over her shoulder… I remember now! It was about Joseph!” When they tell you a story, they may add detailed descriptions of what things look like.

Adding visual things to your lessons will greatly assist these kids in remembering what was taught. Think about using props, science experiments, costume items, puppets, pictures, maps or charts. All these things serve as great hooks for their memory. If you use an illustration of how something works, they will be able to figure it out. Having a visual like a picture, an item, or a diagram helps them to understand and remember what is being taught. They also pay attention to your room, the decorations, the types of building materials used, the furniture and the seating arrangements.

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These kids also pay attention visual things that are not important, like the clothes the teacher wears. Carefully look at your teaching space to discover what they will notice. Decorations can be a great help for them – or a great distraction. If someone moves in your room, their eyes will be drawn to it and they will automatically notice. You can imagine how their thoughts will wander away as well: “What is that person doing?” Minimizing the visual distractions is very important for your visual learners. It’s important to pay serious attention to these things, because the largest group of children in your class will be visual learners.

Kinaesthetic (Hands-on) Learning Style

These children love action! They often struggle to sit still in class, and easily become bored or distracted if nothing “happens” in class. Engaging these children is perhaps the hardest, but if you put an effort into reaching these children, you will have the most creative, interactive and fun lessons, and you can be sure that you will engage all the children in your class.

When you ask for volunteers, the hands of these kids shoot up first. These kids love doing the actions to the praise and worship songs, jump the highest when they are excited and their eyes start to glimmer whenever you say, “We’re going to play a game!” Often these kids loves sports and drama and running. When they tell a story, they move their hands as they speak and, if possible, their bodies as well. When your time with the kids only involves sitting and listening, they will be the first to become bored.

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So how can you reach these active, bouncy kids? It may seem intimidating, but it’s not impossible at all! Include them. Make them part of what you are doing. Make sure your praise and worship includes lots of jumping and challenge them by doing fun, different actions that require their attention. Once they got rid of some of their energy during Praise & Worship, it’ll be easier for them to sit down and engage with a Bible story. When you tell the story, often use Creative Teaching Methods such as Audience Participation so they can channel their need to move in an acceptable way. Let them help out by collecting the offering and when it’s time for things to be handed out, let them be your helpers. Make sure you play games in Small Groups that require doing something, even if it is small like picking up cards or playing a board game (connected to the Main Point of your lesson – not just games to kill time or even have fun only).

Sitting still will push these kids to misbehaviour. They are not bad kids, this is simply how God made them, and so it’s our responsibility to ensure that we teach in a way that will help these kids learn and enjoy learning.

Combinations

Some people may have a combination of two learning styles, and all combinations are possible. Some people may not have a dominant way to learn but utilize whatever learning style fits a particular learning environment. Regardless of your own particular style or styles, it is important to be able to recognize the characteristics of all three, and to tailor your lessons to them so that all kids will be engaged and will enjoy learning.

Learning Style Barriers

As we looked at these styles and how we can tailor our lessons to help them learn, we already saw some of the specific things that make it more difficult for children to learn – the barriers. Here are a few more possible obstacles to consider:

  • Have the teaching area on the opposite side of the door if possible. Anyone who comes through the door will be a distraction if the door is on the same side as your teaching area. If people enter the room from behind the children, it is less likely for them to be distracted.
  • Avoid having more adults in the teaching area than necessary. It is distracting for children if there is a second or even third teacher who is just standing there. The problem is that the teacher won’t just stand there, but moves and has facial expressions. Every movement will be observed and will distract from the actual teaching. Every facial expression sends a message, and even a blank expression communicates, “This is boring”.
  • Make sure cell phones are switched off, and do not let teachers answer their phones. If a teacher starts to answer a cell phone or text a message where children can see it, they will immediately think, ‘I wonder who she is talking to!’ It inadvertently sends the message that the phone call is more important than what is happening in the room.
  • The other teachers should move around as little as possible during the lesson, because whenever someone gets up and starts to walk, heads of the children will turn and they will be distracted easily.
  • Children often bring things into the room. Have a rule about where they should put their stuff. You may tell them to put their things underneath their seats so that they cannot see them and cannot touch them – and won’t be distracted by them.

The goal of this strategy is simple: we need to design our lessons in a way that will engage children with all these different learning styles so that learning will be fun for all of them. We want them to enjoy coming to our Children’s Ministry programs. Let our lessons be fun and engaging for kids with all learning styles, so that each of them can grow in their faith!

Coming up next – Strategy 6: Value the Uniqueness of Childhood

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Strategy 4: Value Creativity

Another way to conquer the Barrier of Boredom (Barrier 2: Church is Boring) is to highly value creativity. Present each lesson, each week creatively. There are tons of ways to do this. In our lessons we always use at least one (but usually several) Creative Teaching Methods. These methods can include using props, drama, audience participation, drawing, puppets, science, special messages, games, and more. Lessons are never just a delivery of information to be deposited in the brains of the kids. They always, always use creativity in the delivery. This keeps kids engaged and curious. They want to discover new things in new ways or even old things in new ways. Creative Teaching Methods are like a hook to draw the children in. Once they are ‘in’, once you have their attention, you can speak into their lives.

Let me give you a few examples. One of my favorite tools is drama, and one of my favorite ways to use drama is to step into the role of one of the characters in story, and “visit” the classroom as that person. This can be done in several ways.

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First of all you can simply visit the kids. “Hi, kids! My name is Matthew and I am one of Jesus’ followers. Let me tell you what happened to me the other day. I lost my job! It was awesome! Maybe you think I’m crazy for saying that losing my job was awesome. Let me explain….”

A different way is to conduct an interview. Have another teacher interview you and ask you to tell the kids about the event. You can change this by having the teacher interview more than one person from the story to get different sides to it, let’s say Matthew and one of the taxcollector. Or the teacher may interview a person who was present but was not actually mentioned in the Bible, for example one of the servants in Matthew’s house who served the food at the dinner party and overheard the different conversations that evening.

Another really fun and engaging way to present the story through drama is by playing all the roles in the drama yourself and switch between the roles as the story continues. You move to the different places where the characters are, and show the emotions of all the people involved.

Props are also an easy way to add interest to your lesson. And they do not need to be complicated or expensive. Our lessons only use easy-to-find materials. Scarves are great, because you can use them in many ways as a costume item. Wrap it around your head, drape it over your shoulder, tie it around your waist, or hang it over both shoulders like a cape. Look for items you can find around the house and outside. Use a stick as a walking stick to add something visual to your presentation.

Many children love to participate in your lesson in some way. They can become characters in your story, each with one very short line that is repeated throughout the story. Or perhaps you give them very clear, specific instructions on what sound effects they will add as you tell the story. You can also let them participate in games, activities, interviews and contests. There are tons of options.

One last note on this subject. It may sound like I am the expert on creative ideas, but I am not. As I have been writing these Children’s Ministry lessons, I have come to realize that my ideas and creativity are very limited. But God is our Creator, and He is full of creativity. He is the One who gives us creative ideas. I often think, “O, I am not sure if I can come up with anything for this story…” So I pray that God will give me an idea. Usually I leave it and go do something else, and very often, while I am not thinking about it and I am doing this other thing, suddenly an idea pops up in my mind. “Thank You, God!” is all I can say. I believe God enjoys it when He sees the desire in our heart to teach creatively, and He is always there to guide us and give us the ideas we need. So when you draw a blank and your creative juices seem to have evaporated altogether, pray and He will help you.

Coming up next – Strategy 5: Value Learning Styles

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Strategy 3: Value Fun

We just talked about Barrier #2: Church is Boring. And we talked about Strategy 2: Value This Opportunity. Isn’t that just so exciting? So… what do we actually do? How do we go from having a boring program to having a non-boring program? Beside never losing our excitement about This Opportunity, the second thing we must highly value is FUN. We must have fun with our kids! Our kids love to have fun. In fact, learning is easy if it is also fun. But mostly we have fun because we want to show the kids that we enjoy being around them, and that we appreciate and value them.

So what do you do to have fun? There are so many ways to have fun! Joke around, give out random prizes for crazy things (Who has the most orange in his clothes today? You will receive today’s prize!). Use fun, cool actions in the songs that you sing with them. Do the actions with them and do them BIG, even if it initially feels weird or uncomfortable. Make them giggle and laugh. Do not be serious all the time. Play fun games. Use water, balloons, magic tricks – kids love these things. Celebrate with them. Have fun!

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I do want to bring a word of warning about fun. Sometimes fun becomes the only objective in ministry settings, and that is not a good thing. Our main objective is not to have fun. We simply have fun as we are building relationships and learning about God and growing in our relationship with Him. We must balance fun with our other values, so that we do not become “just another entertainment option”.

Coming up next – Strategy 4: Value Creativity

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Barrier #2: Church is Boring

When I was a kid, our church was boring. Was it ever boring. It didn’t matter if we were in church with the adults, or if we went to the kids program. It was just plain boring. I remember this one day that I went to Sunday School, and this guy showed up whom I had never seen before. He sat down, put his feet on the table, leaned a bit more to the back and said, ‘So… what do you guys wanna do? I don’t have anything prepared. I was just told to go here. The person who was supposed to be here never showed up. So they told me to go and keep you guys here, in this room. What do you guys normally do? Do you want to color or something?’ The rest of the 20 minutes in that room were pretty rowdy. Kids were running around and playing with the curtains on the stage, inventing a new version of tag. You see, we didn’t want to be bored, but it was terribly boring. So because the adult was not doing anything to make it less boring, we took matters into our own hands, and we came up with things to do that made the boredom go away. If we needed to choose between boredom and misbehaving, we’d choose misbehaving. Every time. Guaranteed. I truly believed that this guy did not care. He didn’t care about us and he didn’t care about what we thought of church. So why would we listen to him?

I believe that many behavioural problems in children’s ministry settings have much to do with the fact that the program is actually boring. Kids don’t like to be bored, so if they are, they’ll find a way not-to-be-bored, and they’ll misbehave or become disruptive if that is what it takes.

It’s actually really sad that Children’s Ministry programs can be quite boring. I do not believe for a second that the disciples were ever bored when they were with Jesus – ever. Something seems to have gone wrong in how we approach this thing called Children’s Ministry, and much of it has to do with how we see this ministry and how we see the kids. As you could tell from my story, the people in my church did not take Children’s Ministry seriously at all. They saw it as a babysitting service, and the only people benefiting were the parents, because they could listen to the sermon without wiggly kids around. And the kids did wiggle if they sat with them, because – you guessed it- they were bored. So how do we change this? How do we move away from having a boring ministry? What should we be seeing?

Strategy 2: Value This Opportunity
I strongly believe that if our eyes can be opened to the opportunity God has placed before us, the passion that then grows in our hearts will be so strong that we cannot ever and will not ever allow ourselves to have a boring program for our kids. Ever! THIS is our opportunity. THESE one or two hours per week are our opportunity to reach the hearts and lives of these kids. An hour or two, that’s hardly anything! So grab hold of it! Don’t let anyone take this opportunity away from you!! It is your chance to show the kids God’s incredible love for them. We are the ones to tell them that God has a plan for their lives. That He longs to have the coolest, most amazing relationship with them. That Jesus died on the cross for them to forgive their sins, and that His resurrection power is available to them! They can live their lives for Him! They can serve the Most High God! They can experience His presence and His gentle love in their lives! He wants to transform them and make them grow strong and loving and kind so that they can reach out to those around them. God has adventures in store for them. There is so much… and then so much more… THIS is our opportunity!

Coming up next – Strategy 3: Value Fun

 

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