God created the mind of the young child to learn by absorbing the world around them. They also learn through all of their sensory gates simultaneously. The words of the simple song we sing in Sunday School actually teach a profound truth: “Oh be careful little eyes what you see, oh be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down with love. Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.”
A few years ago Drs. Jamie Ostrov and Douglas Gentile conducted a study that involved the effects of certain types of programming on children. They studied not only programs that contained violence and physical aggression but believe it or not, educational programs, as well.
Their findings were quite surprising. The most unexpected result of all was that some educational programming had a higher direct correlation with relational aggression in children’s behavior than violent programming had on their physical aggression.
You, like me, are probably thinking that this does not make sense. What kind of education programs and why? How?
Keep reading and we will unpack this.
What this means is that while certain programs with a more violent nature will have an effect on children, the effect is even more pronounced with educational programming in relation to the child’s relational aggression.
Relational aggression is not the realm of hitting or biting. Rather, it is the area of name-calling, telling other kids they can’t be your friend, and various verbal putdowns.
These are the words that certainly hurt just as much as sticks and stones; often more, and for longer periods of time.
THIS IS WHAT WENT WRONG:
What this study and other follow-up studies found was that these educational programs sought to correct certain behaviors like name-calling, but they often only solved the problem at the very end of the show. So, inadvertently, most of the program dealt with demonstrating the wrong behavior, showing children what not to do.
The thing is, for younger children, they are not always able to distinguish in advance what the theme of the lesson is. While older children can anticipate the purpose of showing negative behavior, younger ones are simply downloading the actions and words straight into their memories. As mimickers, they’re simply doing what they’ve always done and mimic the example they’ve seen.
APPLICATION FOR OUR SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASSROOMS
This has a direct impact on how you teach lessons to children. As well as what videos you show.
For example, if you are doing a skit about talking back, you do not want three-fourths of the lesson displaying the incorrect behavior – especially if your audience is younger than 10 years old.
Children learn many of their put-downs and sassy talk from television, even shows that are trying to teach that such language is hurtful and sinful.
So if you do a skit, you want to balance and juxtapose the different forms of behavior next to one another, showing immediately the different types of reactions the different words produce in others, from hurt friends’ feelings to disappointed parents and teachers.
Children do well with comparison. The contrast helps eliminate confusion and prevents the whole lesson from balancing on whether or not the children can grasp the abstract theme. They have concrete evidence of the lesson.
Also, make sure you don’t make the bad behavior too appealing. Sometimes in order to get their attention, we want skits to be funny. So we make the “bad kid” popular and funny. All that does is raise their appeal in the eyes of the audience.
Of course, in real life this sometimes happens. And in real life there will not always be a nicely structured lesson to help kids know which behavior is desirable and which is undesirable.
However, that is the purpose of lessons and stories and educational programming for younger children. Not to hit them over the head with the lesson but to make the contrast apparent so they can more easily recognize these same contrasts in real life.
It’s like drills in sports. Rarely will a layup in basketball look just like layup lines. But without the layup line, we won’t be prepared for the game situation.
TIPS FOR TEACHING SUNDAY SCHOOL
So as you teach younger children, be aware of how you portray the negative behavior, whether in a personal story you tell, a Bible lesson, a skit, or a video.
Ask yourself if the bad behavior is glorified in any way. Ask how much time is spent showing each type of behavior. And ask yourself if the contrast would be clear for your age group.
Spend a lot of time showing the correct behavior and the results that follow naturally.
As agents trained to spot counterfeit money do, study the real thing. Then the fakes will jump out at you. We want to model for our children what we want them to do and to be just as scripture teaches. Then the wrong will be obvious and jump out for our children.
So, we must always go back to the big question, just as I did in a previous blog on Jesus as our Model Jesus.
HOW DID JESUS TEACH?
Jesus employed variety and creativity in His teaching methods. He told stories, lectured, led discussions, asked questions, used life situations, and met one-on-one with people in order to best reach and teach everyone. He is my ultimate example for teaching with variety, creativity, and learning styles in mind.
Jesus utilized teachable moments. He found unique opportunities to teach that others may have missed, and He did not let teachable moments slip away when they presented themselves to Him. As seen in his encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus’ teaching was timely as well as timeless.
Go ye and do likewise.