Updated: May 25, 2022
There’s a problem...
We want to train up our children to learn God’s Word (and indeed, a variety of subjects) on their own, yet we often don’t know how to accomplish that goal. As a result, we purchase resources to help us, but what happens when our children have their own families? Will they be able to teach their kids on their own, or will they be reliant upon resources? Is there a way to use resources so that we are eventually freed from their use?
I enjoy helping kids to develop motions for memorization. I’m fairly good at it, and the process is natural to me. I've worked in an individualized, homeschool setting, but I've also worked in larger group contexts, like in our home church. The classroom leaders in our home church did not always have access to myself or to my other lead worker, Cleo. In order to give them the benefit of what I enjoy doing on my own, I created some verse sheets for them to use. These resources would allow my teachers to show the students physical actions to use while memorizing Scripture, but would not require my teachers to plan or put together verse actions on their own. At first, the verse sheet resources worked great. Then, the inevitable happened: I failed to get verse sheets to my people one Sunday, and they were forced to adapt. Thinking quickly, our volunteers had the kids help them to make their own actions, and drew them out on blank sheets of paper. When I made it back to the classroom, I saw four or five mini-posters stacked in order on the table we kept up front. Of course, I had failed my workers by not getting them the resource at the right time. However, beyond the immediate opportunity I had for improvement, something very interesting had transpired:
The students had practice making their own actions!
Think about that for a moment...
Having resources at the outset gave our students an opportunity to build a repertoire of actions to use, an opportunity to see how to use the resources, and even an idea on how they might be designed. Then, when they’d already been given lots of experience with the verse sheets, the resources were removed, and the classroom leaders helped them to make their own.
What do you think just happened? Children were shown a resource, and then given practice making their own resources that, frankly, were just as effective as mine! In fact, it was more effective because they had ownership. When I asked the students to show me the actions for the verse, they taught me! The next step, of course, is for them to do this on their own with whatever Scripture they want to memorize, and we’ve seen that happen!
So, the conversation naturally presents itself: when are resources useful, when ought we discard them, and what is a resource, really?
Resources are useful when children (or adults!) are memorizing content or beginning to learn a skill. To find the difference, ask yourself, “Which is absolute: the resource or the information it is intended to teach?” If the resource IS the information, then there’s no need to abandon it. The ABC song is memorized precisely because it is a lifelong tool to remember vital information. Eventually, it may be discarded by the learner, but the information remains. All resources can eventually be discarded, but only when mastery is achieved. Obviously, the children do not need to carry verse sheets with them wherever they go for the rest of their lives. Providing verse sheets initially helps students to have a context for review, but an instructor might be well-served by providing them for a few weeks for their students. Then, they could provide all of the verse sheets and actions for the verse except for the final page, and have their student(s) come up with their own action. Then, they could take away two verse sheets, and so on, until the children are making their own actions.
We need to think about what we are actually trying to teach. Are we wanting a child to learn a very specific pattern or mnemonic? Then we can inundate their classroom environment with those things with such intentional multi-sensory tools as posters, songs, and actions so that by constant exposure, they will master the tool and how to use it. The Big Bible Story Song and the ever-popular ABC song are both examples of this sort of universally useful tool. But, if we want kids to be able to build their own resources for lifetime learning, to have the skill of building their own, then perhaps we can start with a resource, but we can incrementally remove it and give more and more of the responsibility of providing resources to the children rather than the instructor. In so doing, we will produce kids that are capable of building resources and be lifelong learners rather than be limited by the crutch of having to have resources. They will be strong and confident as they teach their children in the same manner, and perhaps, if God wills, the resource conundrum will disappear.
One more note for church and group leaders: If you are working in a larger-scale program and you want to ensure that all children are doing the same action, you will either have to 1) not let individual classes innovate their own actions, 2) bring everyone together during verse time so that everyone is on the same page, or 3) not care about everyone knowing the same actions.