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Teaching Abstract Concepts to Concrete-Thinking Kids

Use age-appropriate terms. Iris Mears, executive president of Children’s Christian Ministries Association in California, explains that children may have difficulty with some terms. She uses the term “Boss” instead of “Lord” with children, and they understand that. She suggests referring to the Bible as “letters from God” and being extra sensitive in the way we describe salvation. Rather than focusing on eternity, she says, “I try to approach it not so much as living eternally as to the importance of a love relationship-that God loved us so much that he sent his son Jesus who showed us and told us about God the Father.”

Kids may not pass a theological vocabulary test, but they’ll begin to understand the concept better.

Provide faith manipulatives. One of the newest mathematics teaching methods is the use of hands-on manipulatives: kids use blocks, rods, or other objects to learn addition and subtraction. Long, orange rods may each represent 10. Short, red rods each represent one. When a teacher asks a child to make the number 45, the child pulls together four “10” rods and five “one” rods to create 45.

Christianity is relational; we have a relationship with God and with each other. The hands-on material of our faith is our relationships. Rather than just talking about kindness, model it in your relationships with children and other adults. And point out abstract qualities that children display, such as “Thank you for being patient, Deziree.”

Expose children to the abstract concepts of our faith, but don’t rush them. As children mature, concepts will meld with their cognitive growth. Follow the example of Jesus-the master teacher. He understood that people need mental hooks to hang abstract concepts on. Even to crowds of adults, Jesus used concrete parables and object lessons to explain abstract concepts.

You are a guide on your children’s route to a deeper understanding of abstract faith concepts. You may feel as if you’re just erecting meaningless billboards along the way with only some kids grasping concepts. But if you apply these principles, some day your kids will arrive at a full understanding.

Adam and Eve

Read aloud Genesis 3. Then have kids act out the story. Afterward, have kids visit the following learning centers in different areas of the room.

Set out a platter of grapes. Allow children to touch and smell the grapes, but forbid children to eat any. Then have children talk about how difficult it is to look at the grapes but not eat any.

Ask: How do you think Eve felt when she saw a beautiful fruit she couldn’t eat? What is something you’ve wanted but someone said you couldn’t have? How did you feel?

Set out a glass-caged (non-poisonous) snake. Let brave kids handle the snake. Have kids practice crawling on their bellies like a snake. Then have children talk about how the serpent must’ve felt when he was cursed to crawl on his belly.

Ask: Why did God punish the serpent? Why did God punish Adam and Eve? Have you ever been punished for breaking a rule? How did you feel?

From a pile of scrap materials or sheets of newsprint, have children make new clothing for themselves as Adam and Eve had to. When children are finished with the learning centers, play a game of Hide and Seek with the children hiding from “God” (you can play the part). Discuss how it felt to hide from God.

Ask: Have you ever done something wrong and wanted to hide so no one would find out? What did Adam and Eve do wrong? Why did God want them to follow his rules? (Focus on the fact that God loves us and wants us to be happy; following God’s rules is the route to happiness.)

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Christine Yount Jones is Content Director for Outreach Media Group. She has published several books and hundreds of articles about ministry in the last three decades. Before his death in 2003, Michael Yount and Christine had three children. Now, she and her husband, Ray Jones, together have five grown kids.