Saturday, February 21, 2009

Teaching Children Wisdom

Recently, I was teaching a lesson to my Junior church students on the commitment of John the Baptist to forego everything else in order to proclaim the message about the coming Messiah. “How do you put Jesus first?” I asked my group. I was expecting answers like “Be honest when others aren’t,” “Watch movies that aren’t violent or that put Jesus down,” or “Be kind and reach out to other kids who are being left out.”

Instead, my group answered with the three following answers: “Pray,” “Go to Church,” and “Read the Bible.”

I felt frustrated . How could I ask the question so they saw that following Jesus is a 24/7 venture, that our faith is not just some basic rules that allow us to barely slip into Heaven? I probed. “What more do you need to do than just read the Bible?” They stared at me. Finally one child answered tentatively, “Think about what you are reading?” That was a start, at least!

“What about doing what the Bible says?” I asked. “What does the Bible tell us to do?” More blank stares. I gave the answers I listed above. I’m not sure they got it. What’s wrong with these kids that they don’t understand that what we are teaching them is to be applied to their every day life? I wondered. I was more frustrated than ever. But I shouldn’t have been.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Gene, a fellow worker on my mission trip to Austria last spring told me to emphasize the word, “beginning.” Our job as teachers is to move kids beyond the beginning point of wisdom. The beginning of wisdom is knowledge of Jesus. That’s the point my group of students were at. Wisdom is knowing the difference between right and wrong. The greatest form of wisdom, says Gene, is to take what you know and apply it to everyday life.

Teaching children about Jesus is a progression. It doesn’t happen all at once. We first teach who God is, who Jesus is and that we are to honor Him as our Lord. But we don’t stop there, assuming the kids will figure out the rest. We must continue to guide them in gaining wisdom by giving them example after example of how to take what you know and apply it to everyday life.

That’s extra work. That takes some thinking and creativity and lots of prayer for . . . wisdom. Whoever said teaching was easy?

We can’t presume kids will make the connection between knowledge and life application, biblically known as wisdom. Sometimes we have to spell it out, use examples, give them practice in a sheltered environment, patiently remind them and cheer for them when they get it right.

God promises to give wisdom to anyone who asks for it. Start praying now that God will give you wisdom in teaching your children and that He will create a desire within each of your students for the wisdom to know how to apply what you are teaching to their everyday lives.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Teaching Preschoolers: Interview With Brenda Nixon

Last week I shared part of an interview with Brenda Nixon, author of the “Birth to Five” book, a great reference for rearing a preschool child.

Granted, it’s important to start teaching and training a preschool child as early as possible. Some teaching, like potty training or eating habits, is a "Well, duh!" But studies have shown how important it is to give our little ones lots of discovery and exploration time in building their gross and fine motor skills, to introduce them to books and music and art, to give them math based problem solving questions within the scope of play.

But what about their spiritual development? When is a child ready to learn about God – and how much are they ready for? Brenda shares her insights with us this week.

Karen: In your book, you have a chapter on the development of a child’s faith. When should a parent start teaching their child about God?

Brenda: Parents teach from day one! But the "teaching" must be age-appropriate and natural. Just think; when Mom immediately responds to her crying infant with love and nurture. She is already teaching her baby that parents are trustworthy. As the infant ages, and Mom and Dad set rules, boundaries, and limitations on behavior, they're teaching that parents love enough to discipline. When a tot falls down and parents say, "ouwie," they teach empathy. Are these not the qualities of God?

Then, around the age of three - when preschoolers begin to understand concepts like friendship, trust, love, empathy - parents can begin talking about God and how He cares for them in these ways.

Oh, one caution; be careful about too broad of concepts such as sin and redemption, which can still confuse some adults.

Teaching a tot about God isn't limited to reading scripture, teaching a hymn, or telling a Bible story. It's being the parent who expresses relationship with God. Hopefully, we (and I include myself) create a thirst in our kids for relationship with the only Perfect Parent.

Karen: What are some ways parents can incorporate teaching about God into the everyday flow of family life?

Brenda: To answer this question, I'll quote from one chapter in The Birth to Five Book. "As the parent of a tender, impressionable child, you have multiple occasions to teach your child about God. It’s sobering to realize that from birth to 18-years – when he graduates – 85 percent of a child’s waking, learning hours are spent in the home. The home, not the school, is a child’s major class and parents are the first and most important teachers…
Around your home, place visible reminders that testify to your faith in God. I remember the bronze cast of praying hands Mom and Dad had for years in our living room. The well-read family Bible remains on their coffee table today. Now, as a parent, I tape up Bible verses on mirrors, the refrigerator, and even on my car visor. The ones in the car humbly remind me that my children are watching my attitudes towards other drivers. Ask yourself, “Does my home have visual symbols of my faith?”

So, again, you don't have to be perfect to be your child’s spiritual equipper. I also encourage parents to participate in regular church attendance. You want to keep your children surrounded by faith-filled people.

Karen: Since a child can’t see God and preschoolers are concrete thinkers, why should we start teaching them about God? Shouldn’t we wait until they are old enough to understand?

Brenda: Yes and no. How's that for a quick answer? We want to continually and naturally live out and verbally teach our beliefs so children absorb the lessons. If the reverse logic were applied then we wouldn't teach children about concepts such as love or safety until they were in elementary school.

Karen: As you said in your article, “Make Your Child Thirsty...for God,” parents are the primary source of spiritual education. How can a child’s Sunday School or Worship teacher be more helpful in equipping parents or partnering with parents to do this important job?

Brenda: For the Sunday School teacher or children's pastor, I say, remind parents that their participation in church sends a message to their children. It’s a message that they value their community of faith. Church attendance must become a habit of the heart. Encourage parents of your church children to daily teach about our Heavenly Father as commanded in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy.

Urge parents to weave spiritual lessons into conversations, letters, chores and actions with their kids. Children need to see their parents living out their faith through practices such as; thanking God for nature, reading the Bible, and saying grace before meals. And, of course, I encourage valued teachers to fervently pray for parents and homes today.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Teaching Preschoolers

You need a driver’s license to operate a motor vehicle. But no license is required for guiding another moving object that some parents would vow has more energy than a two-ton pickup – a two year old child. Children don’t come with an operating manual stowed under an arm pit. That’s why books like Brenda Nixon’s The Birth to Five” book are so hot – and so needed.

I love Brenda’s emphasis, that parents can be empowered to lead and train their children at home from the beginning. If parents poured themselves into teaching and molding their preschoolers, the job of the educator becomes so much easier. Any teacher or children’s ministry worker will tell you that children who come from a stable family where values have been taught and where the parents have done their job in teaching their children about God saves time and energy, decreases discipline problems and creates a more receptive audience.

But many parents feel overwhelmed and unqualified to teach their children whether it’s how to use the potty, how to share toys with a sibling or answering those impossible questions about God a preschooler must stay up at night concocting just to confuse his parents. Usually, all parents have to go on is what they remember from their own childhood. If a child comes from a dysfunctional family background or was the youngest in the family and doesn’t remember their preschool years, they can easily feel like they are floundering. That’s why parent education is just as important as preschool education and why we need books like Brenda’s “Birth To Five.” Book.

Author, speaker and educator Brenda Nixon has dedicated her career to empowering parents. Brenda severed as the parenting expert on FoxTV in Kansas City. “The Birth to Five Book” is her second parenting book. Recently, I caught up with Brenda and asked her about her new book:

Karen: “What led you to write “The Birth To Five” book?”

Brenda: “Years ago I was writing a monthly parenting column for a local paper. Because I was a speaker as well as a writer to parents, I often had audience members come up to me following a presentation asking for help on a variety of childrearing issues. This demand for information led me to give parents words beyond the platform. That's when the idea struck to collect those columns which focused on the early years and put them together in a short, concise book of answers. Since the foundation of the parent/child relationship is laid in the first five years, I believe that's the critical time to empower parents with practical education and encouragement.”

Karen: “What do you love best about preschoolers and their growing awareness of God?”

Brenda: “I love a youngster's innocence and inquisitiveness. Preschoolers are fun, energetic people with lively imaginations so it's fun to be around them, read to them, and engage them in conversation. They accept what adults say as gospel. That's why we must be careful how we phrase explanations about God and our faith. For example, never say "Holy Ghost" when referring to the Holy Spirit, because children link a ghost to something spooky and unfriendly. Many times preschoolers teach me about faith through their simple, steadfast confidence in God.”

Next week, Brenda and I will talk about the importance of teaching preschoolers about God, when to start and what a preschooler needs to know about God.