Recently I had the privilege of teaching about the time Jesus
healed the blind man from John 9. While there are several ways we
could’ve explained or even demonstrated the Scripture with actors,
we had kids experience both a temporary sensation of blindness and
the feel of mud on their foreheads. To help kids experience
blindness, we blindfolded them. Kids had no idea what was coming
before crew leaders smeared gooey oatmeal on their heads.
Predictably, the kids were grossed out!
But after all the noisy complaints about having something that
felt like mud rubbed on their foreheads, we heard the real proof
that this experience had impacted the kids. It was in the quiet
reflection and thoughtful answers they shared when asked about what
they’d experienced, about a time they could’ve helped someone but
didn’t, and about how they could help others in need. Immersing
kids in this Scripture in a R.E.A.L. way helped kids experience for
themselves why it’s important to be a light for Jesus and not to
pass an opportunity to shine.
R.E.A.L. learning is accepted as one of the
best, most effective ways to teach kids. When kids take an active
role in the learning process, rather than passively listening to
someone talk about what they know, the meaning of the Scripture
sticks. So what’s R.E.A.L. learning? The four keys of R.E.A.L.
learning are Relational, Experiential, Applicable, and
Learner-based. These are the four keys that make learning exciting
and memorable. By making a few changes to move toward R.E.A.L.
learning, you’ll immerse kids into the Scriptures in ways you never
Make Learning RELATIONAL
Relationships are the first key to unlock kids’ understanding of
faith. Providing time and meaningful relationship-builders are
essential for faith formation. This can be hard for those of us who
like a quiet room where the teacher leads most of the conversation.
But if we’re serious about transforming kids’ lives, we must be
willing to do less of the talking and allow time for child-to-child
It’s as easy as this. Have kids form pairs or trios to answer
questions, share their thoughts, and build friendships while they
process their discoveries together. While it’s important for you to
have strong relationships with each child, it’s also important that
you foster an environment where kid-to-kid relationships easily
form. How can kids learn to love one another if we don’t give them
No matter which curriculum you use, offer time for friendships to
form. In each lesson, include a friendship-building activity or
game to open, multiple opportunities to discuss open-ended
questions throughout the lesson, and an opportunity to pray with
one another to close. Forget the no-talking rule-a truly relational
room can be heard around the corner. Think of the chattering and
giggling when kids talk as the soundtrack of great
faith-transforming friendships. Remember that control and a quiet
room aren’t worthwhile goals of our teaching. When we let go and
trust the Holy Spirit to show up and be present in every
conversation, the body of Christ is bound to form.
Make Learning EXPERIENTIAL
A Chinese proverb says, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I
may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” Experiences are a
powerful key to unlocking kids’ faith. When kids experience a
lesson, they’re more motivated, interested, and better able to
recall what they’ve discovered. Remember to think big. Some
teachers start moving in this direction by providing an engaging
demonstration with one child chosen as a volunteer. This will be
powerful and memorable for the child who experiences the
demonstration, but not for any of the other kids in the room.
Instead, use experiences that evoke emotion, use multiple senses,
and involve everyone.
As you come up with experiences that involve everyone, keep in
mind that the debriefing process is essential after each
experience. When we study the pattern of Jesus, we see that he
always followed his experiences with great open-ended questions
(which means questions that must be answered with more than yes or
no). Put just as much effort into creating open-ended,
thought-provoking questions to follow the experience.
There’s an easy three-step process to great discussion questions
that follow an experience. First ask a reflective question that
helps kids talk about what they just experienced, such as “What was
that experience like for you?” The second step is to ask questions
that help kids relate the experience back to their life and the
issues they deal with, such as “How was that experience like
something you’re facing currently?” The third step is to ask
questions that get kids thinking about how they can apply what they
learned. By asking a few simple questions, you’ve allowed your kids
to make discoveries that’ll help their faith grow.
Make Learning APPLICABLE
Applying the lesson to every child’s daily life is another key to
help kids unlock their faith. Transferring knowledge just for the
sake of filling brain cells isn’t worth it. We must go from
information to transformation. To unlock faith, we must always look
for the connection to our kids’ everyday lives. With everything we
do in ministry, we can help kids answer the #1 question in their
mind: “So what?”
God’s Word is so much more than a textbook that can be memorized
and then quickly forgotten. Our role is to equip kids to know when
and how to apply the power of God’s Word to their lives. We can
help them bring the light of God into even the dark places of their
life. Kids can discover how to apply the discoveries they make on
Sunday to the scars of a broken home, the stress of homework, or
the loss of a friend.
In every lesson you teach, ask yourself what kids will do to
apply God’s Word to their lives. It may be that you want them to
think about something, respond to God about something, or actually
do something. If you don’t know what a possible application is,
then neither will kids. Help them be doers and not just hearers of
Make Learning LEARNER-BASED
Focusing on the child is the final key to unlocking kids’ faith.
Each of us is intelligent in different ways. So there’s a natural
tendency for us to present material to our kids in the way we like
to learn. If we love telling stories and listening to others, we’ll
often choose a curriculum that allows us to use that technique. If
we enjoy music, we’ll often use that as our primary teaching style.
Any one teaching style will likely work well for one out of eight
kids, but the other seven kids would learn more effectively using a
different style of teaching. See the “Multiple Intelligences
Summary” below for a quick snapshot of teaching techniques that
work for every child.
One of the real hallmarks of a learner-based environment is
choice. If you can offer learning centers or stations that give
kids the option to learn in different ways, you’ll see more engaged
and motivated learners. If the curriculum you’re using presents the
lesson for only one or two of the multiple intelligences, then try
adding at least one more technique in your lesson. Try playing
Scripture songs as kids arrive or leave, add a chance to draw or
write about the Scripture they experience, or help kids get the
wiggles out with an active game. Your kids will be more motivated
and therefore more prepared to grow in their faith if you make your
lessons Learner-based.These R.E.A.L. keys are something you can use
at any time in any lesson. Grab the lesson you’re planning to teach
this week and ask yourself these questions:
- What could I add to strengthen relationships?
- Are all of the experiences equipped for maximum impact with
open-ended debriefing questions?
- Is it obvious to kids how they’ll apply God’s Word?
- Is there a variety of experiences that’ll connect with several
R.E.A.L. learning is an adventure. You’re giving up some control
to give your kids freedom to learn. You never know what’ll happen
in a ministry that keeps its lessons R.E.A.L. Kids may come up with
an answer no one expected, or an experiential lesson may go down a
different path than you planned. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s
not scripted-so children are surprised and they make discoveries
that help their faith grow. You make memories, friendships bloom,
and kids’ faith grows. That’s what R.E.A.L. impact is!