Students up to about fifth grade in age respond very well to the Equip (or grammar/knowledge) Phase in Bible Quest. However, while the system is built to be a biblical learning platform for any age, as children grow older some may begin to resist the program methodology. After all, many people in our culture have labeled memorization, songs, and actions as "juvenile" or "immature," leading some older kids to begin to feel like they might be doing "little kid" tasks. Additionally, fifth and sixth graders are entering a very dialectic phase in their development, and so it can be beneficial to approach older children a little differently. If you find yourself relating to this challenge, never fear! Older children can be effectively engaged through progressive skill development, being recruited to the cause, and being connected to the larger Body of Christ.
Progressive Skill Development
If a student is challenged, it is unlikely that he or she will feel that they are engaging material below their level. As a solution for the “this is too young for me” syndrome that can develop, I would recommend incorporating progressive skill development into your classroom culture. Progressive skill development is simply identifying a Bible study skill that can be increased in difficulty over time, and then challenging older students to master those skills. As they become proficient at the level they’ve been assigned, increase the difficulty. Here are a few activities that could be used; some are Bible Quest program-specific, but others are merely skills that could be incorporated into any learning environment:
Recitation as Review: Challenge students to recite the verse material (the WHAT? in Bible Quest) from last week verbatim. When that’s easy for them, raise the bar by adding the WHO? (a significant increase in difficulty!). After that, add WHERE and WHEN together. Then, when a student has reached proficiency at the entire collection of last week’s material, increase their challenge to the last two weeks, then three, and so on.
Sword Drill Exercises: Up your "game" with some basic Exercises, such as the well-known Sword Drill. Get your students excited about quickly finding Bible verses when they are called out by the group leader. The first student to get to the passage could then be the next group leader, and so on. This is a simple Empower (or dialectic/understanding) Phase exercise that is accessible to students of many developmental categories that can continually be honed, with more obscure passages being called for as students gain confidence and competence.
Question Response Mastery: Ask the prompting question for a particular week’s WHO, WHAT, WHEN, or WHERE and have students respond. This goes well beyond doing actions or singing songs for older students, forcing them to recall Biblical information in response to specific prompts. Of course, the subtle teaching that takes place here is that God's Word contains answers to our questions. Start with the verses (the WHAT?), both because it is the most important, but also because it is probably the most useful, but then slowly begin adding the WHO?.
Recruiting Them to the Cause
In a mixed-age classroom environment, you will find that assigning older students tasks that are at their level but still make a valid contribution to the program an EXCELLENT way to increase their investment and their interest in the program. For good or ill, many sixth graders don't want to sing ‘children’s’ songs on their own (this is less of an issue with the homeschool population that the public school population). However, their entire focus shifts if they are ‘helping’ the younger kids to learn and sing the songs. Then, they can be fully involved doing something that might otherwise seem ‘silly’ to them because they see themselves in an adult-ish ‘helper’ role. As another example of helping in the classroom, older kids (8-10 year olds) can act out skits or do puppet shows of a story that relates to the week’s memory content. We've had success with this method, even in a larger group. However, I have a few tips if you ever choose to use this methodology in your classroom:
Practice: Don't let your helpers read the script cold. When kids aren’t sure of themselves, they often resort to complete silliness as a coping mechanism. Having fun is fine, of course, but I’m speaking of so much silliness that the story grinds to a complete halt. When I’ve had kids practice beforehand, they are more confident and know what they are doing. As a result, things go MUCH smoother, and there is less of a tendency to goof around up front. So, find a time beforehand that you can let the kids practice.
Be Clear: Lay out the expectations you have for them as they share their talents in the classroom. This also helps to limit the goofing around.
Have Fun: Keep the content light and enjoyable! This method works well when the script is fun rather than serious and dire.
Connecting Them to the Body of Christ
Given the 5th and 6th graders' development, we also sometimes gave them extra jobs or learning environments outside of the Bible Quest direct classroom. I recruited a couple of dear sisters in Christ to lead them on these. While the possibilities for these sorts of connections are numerous, here is a list of some of the things we had them do so that they had meaningful investment in the church as a whole:
Bulletins and Notes: Hand out church bulletins before the service and then take notes on the sermon to talk about (with parents, preferably!). They could be encouraged to share what they learned with the general congregation, if your church leadership is on board with this and it works in your context.
Greetings! Greet everyone at the door, and then share the Gospel up front in the main service! We showed them how to share Romans Road, which they already had memorized thanks to Bible Quest. Again, this only works if your church leadership is on board with this sort of program element in the main service.
Promotional Performance: Perform a short, promotional skit for something the church is doing… then hand out visitor bags.
Surprise Guests! Dress up in costumes (angels? Shepherds?) and end the greeting time by going up the middle aisle and singing with the rest of the worship crew! Caroling for the church!
Puppet Power! Have them practice a puppet show to do for the younger kids the NEXT week during your Hands-on Story Exploration at church in Bible Quest.
Congregational Bible Quest: They could teach something Bible Quest-related to the people during the sermon (a Bible verse, etc.). This is a HUGE help in encouraging the congregation and showing them the viability of emphasizing Scripture memorization and learning. When the congregation and your volunteers see something working, that energizes them, so let them have opportunities to see how much the kids have learned, and let the church see how well your volunteers are teaching the kids!!
Take Them Deeper
Of course, older students should not remain in the Equip Phase. They should be given opportunities to move on into the Empower and, eventually, the Expedition Phase (or rhetoric/wisdom). The Equip Phase is valuable, but older children have the capacity for greater challenges, so find ways to allow them to grow beyond memorization and recitation!
Older Kids are a Valuable Asset!
Older kids are in a special place in their development, intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As a result, they are in the perfect place to be engaged at a deeper, applied level. Never cease to teach them God's Word, but don't stop there! As you have opportunity, take advantage of their excitement and willingness to do meaningful ministry as you help to hone their skills, recruit them to the cause, and connect them to the Body of Christ.