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The Bible Tells Me So!

Peter Christian Olsen

What kids really know--and think--about the Bible

"The first book of the Bible is called guinessis. God created the world. When he got tired, he took the Sabbath day off."

"All the Egyptians got drowned in the desert. After that, Moses climbed Mount Cyanide and got the Ten Commandments."

A Sunday school teacher spent half an hour telling her class about the powerful kings and queens of the Old Testament. "But there is a higher power. Does any one know what it is?" she asked. "Sure," said one little boy. "Aces."

We all get a chuckle from kids' remarks about the Bible. Their "misinterpretations" can be hilarious, and their confused sequence of events often gives us a humorous new perspective on circumstances. But kids' misunderstanding also provides significant insight: These amusing renditions remind us that what we intend to teach isn't always what kids learn. Let's take a look at some of the biggest mistakes we make when teaching children--and how to fix them.

OOPS #1: Figurative language confuses concrete thinkers.

A young girl visiting her grandmother, who was recuperating in the hospital after open-heart surgery, anxiously asked, "Grandma, did they really open you up and see inside?" "Yes," said Grandma, trying to reassure her. "And the doctor fixed my heart good as new." "Grandma," the girl asked with wonder, "did they see God inside?"

Apparently when the little girl had recently asked her Sunday school teacher where God lives, the teacher answered, "In your heart, my dear, in your heart."

Remember: Kids take your explanations literally. Adults are comfortable with symbolic speech, and we frequently use symbols, metaphors, and other figurative wording to convey information and emotions. We do it so often that we do it without realizing it: "What's up?" "This headache is killing me." "God lives in your heart."

Kids are wired to be spiritually curious, and so as a way to help them grasp the importance of our faith and God's impact in our lives, we resort to detailed, abstract language. But children reason concretely, and this language isn't lost on them. Rather, it sticks like glue. When kids hear figurative speech, they absorb it in a literal and concrete way. When we don't teach with children's perspectives in mind, they hear a confused and misleading message.

Tell it like it is. Use simple, concrete terms when you're teaching. Whenever possible, incorporate tangible examples and images so kids can clearly see what you're talking about. When you're tackling an abstract or hard-to-understand point, break it down into the most concrete terms possible, and check frequently for kids' understanding by asking follow-up questions. For instance, bring a heavy piece of wood to let kids get a feel for how heavy the cross Jesus carried might have been.

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