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Here’s the Science Behind Making Scripture Stick With Kids

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Are you using the most effective methods to ensure that Scripture sticks in kids’ hearts? Here’s what you need to know about helping kids learn Scripture—for life!

 

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters…” Psalm 23:1-2.

She was 6. Her short, sun-lightened hair curled softly around her face as she stood beside the gray metal kitchen table with the wings folded down, reciting the 23rd Psalm to her parents. They smiled and nodded. “You’re so quick,” her dad said as she crawled up on his lap. This was fun, she thought and started in again repeating those long sentences filled with awkward words.

That memory is faint; there’s no beginning and the end fades into the years. That little girl, you see, was me. I was one of the lucky ones — memorizing things was never very hard for me — in school, at church — anywhere.

But for many of us, memorizing facts and information is a difficult task, which often leads to failure. Even things we know today seem to leak out of our memory banks as we sleep, because we certainly don’t remember them tomorrow, let alone next week — or when we really need them. And these are memories that usually don’t matter much.

There is something that matters, though. We need to remember what God tells us in his Word. When we’re tempted to lie. When everything goes wrong. When we have a fight with our best friend. When we fail a test. When someone says something untrue about us. When we need to make a big decision. In almost every situation of life we need to have God’s Word “hidden in our hearts” so we can respond the way God would want us to.

I’m sure I don’t have to convince you. As someone involved in children’s ministry, you already believe it’s important for children to fill their memory banks with verses that jump quickly to the front of their minds or slip easily off their tongues when needed. They need words that make sense and shape the way they think and react to the events of their everyday lives. Are you sure, though, that you’re using the most effective methods to ensure that Scripture sticks?

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HOW MEMORY WORKS

Close your eyes for a minute and think back to your childhood. What memory comes to mind? How old are you? What are you doing? How are you dressed? Who’s with you? Where are you? How do you feel about what’s happening? Why did you remember that memory so quickly? What triggered it? Did you hear something or smell something around you right now that brought that certain memory to mind? Are you eating something or in a place that seems to have triggered your memory? Was it connected to my story of learning Psalm 23? Did it happen with your family or in a kitchen? Could you smell dinner on the table? Are you curled up safely on someone’s lap?

Recent advances in research technologies such as PET scans (Positron Emission Tomography) and fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) help us better understand how and where memories are stored in the brain. Scientists can actually see information being stored and retrieved. What these studies teach us is that short-term memories must move to different storage areas of our brain to make them permanent. So let’s take a quick look at the five main memory paths and discover how we can create learning activities that’ll make it easier for children to store — and later retrieve — God’s Word.

SEMANTIC MEMORY

There’s a good chance most of the methods you already use to help kids memorize Scripture are semantic memory activities. Semantic memory is formed through visual or verbal processing of words.

School classrooms and most Christian education ministries rely heavily on activities intended to help children learn important factual information. Now research is showing us that two things are critical if we want to help move factual information learned through verbal and visual word-based methods down the pathway to the permanent storage area for semantic memory in the brain. First, the new information must be connected in some way to existing knowledge, and second, it takes repeated processing of new information to make those connections strong enough to deposit the information into long-term memory.

The brain is constantly trying to make sense of information. If that information isn’t meaningful to us, we can repeat it over and over, and our brain won’t send the information into permanent storage. So, while repetition is one useful tool, meaning is far more influential. When you help children make associations, consider comparisons, and see similarities between the new information and matching information already in their long-term memory banks, you’re creating meaningful connections that move semantic information into long-term storage.

Amazingly, even though we tend to rely heavily on semantic memory methods in schools and our children’s ministry programs, this path actually takes more effort to establish permanent memory and to access it when we need it.

SEMANTIC MEMORY-MAKERS

  • Repeat the verse many times throughout the lesson to explain its meaning.
  • Have children say the verse every time the leader says its meaning.
  • Play word games that help children understand the meaning of the words in the Bible verse.
  • Ask children to explain the verse in their words to be sure they understand what it means.
  • Have children write or draw a picture of how they’ll do what the memory verse tells them to do in the next week.

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Children's Ministry Magazine is the most read magazine for people who minister to children from birth through sixth grade. We're partnering with you to make Jesus irresistible to kids.

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