If you were to read an article of this length aloud to a group of young children, ages 5–8, you would lose their attention before you reached the end. I am guessing it will take you about 7–15 minutes to read this. Without something engaging to capture their attention, young children can attend to a task for about the same number of minutes as they are years old. For example, a 5-year-old can attend to a task he considers “boring” for about 5 minutes.
However, if you ask that same child to do something engaging, like play a game or act out a story, you can double or even triple the amount of time that child will be able to attend to a task. That means a 5-year-old could listen to you read this article for 10–15 minutes if you somehow allowed him to engage in a few activities.
Do you want to know how this works? Let’s try it!
Every time you read the word “children,” tap your nose. Do not worry, if you are reading this while sitting with other people, just tell them you are learning how to teach young children (tap your nose). You are doing great! Okay, so you might be thinking: “Why does being active help children (tap your nose) learn?”
Well, believe it or not, children (tap your nose) learn best by doing things. If you want to teach a child how to dress herself, you could choose to spend many months showing her how to do this by explaining it, or you could spend a couple of days or weeks allowing her to do it herself. Of course, this will require a little help at first, but she will learn how to dress herself quickly!
Let’s apply active learning to your Sunday School class. If you have 45 minutes each week to teach your children (tap your nose), and you spend 30 minutes talking without engaging the children (tap your nose), they will not remember much of the information. However, if the children (tap your nose) are engaged in activities while they are learning, they will create connections in their brains between the information you are teaching and the activities they are doing.
(Okay, you can stop tapping your nose every time you read the word “children.” You can see how this added element can sustain interest.)
When you teach young children, it is also important not to do one activity for a very long time. Even a super engaging activity will lose the interest of a young child after 10–30 minutes.
Let’s try another example of an activity you might do with the children you teach. I will help you to memorize a verse from the Bible. To do this, follow these actions as you read the words.
But those who trust in the Lord – (Reach both arms up to the sky as you look up.)
Will receive new strength – (Make fists with your hands and tighten your arm muscles as you pull your arms down beside your hips.)
They will fly as high as eagles – (Extend your arms out to the sides of your body and flap them up and down.)
They will run and not get tired – (Run in place, holding your head up high.)
They will walk and not grow weak – (Walk in place, holding your head up high.)
Now, let’s put these motions together. As you read each sentence, do the motion that goes with it. Repeat this process 3 times.
But those who trust in the Lord
will receive new strength.
They will fly as high as eagles.
They will run and not get tired.
They will walk and not grow weak.
– Isaiah 40:31, NIRV
I know it might seem a bit silly for you to do motions to help you memorize a Bible verse, but I would challenge you to do this once each day for the next 4 days. If you do, you will likely memorize this verse.
For young children, movement and other forms of active learning help them to learn. If you want the young children in your Sunday school class to be excited to learn about God, try teaching them using a game or activity and see what happens!