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R.E.A.L. Impact

Dave Thornton

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 have before.

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 talk.
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 relationship-building opportunities?

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 the Word.

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 different intelligences?


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!

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