Child Discipleship – How Children Learn

By Wanda Parker

(Now posting on Children’s Ministry at KidTrek Sunday Plus. I will continue to post here on After School Ministries)

“I had to go to the hospital because I had a bug in my stomach,” ten year old Olivia told her Sunday school teacher. When the doctor told her she had a bug his picture of the bug looked very different from the bug Olivia saw.

What we want more than anything is for children to internalize the truths that we are presenting to them. However, how can they do so when we present these abstract truths in ways that their brains can’t yet grasp?


They need to taste, touch, see, hear and smell what is being taught. In other words they need to experience the concept being taught. When the truth is presented in this way it is internalized, the child has an internal understanding that they still can’t put into words.

New studies show us that the teen brain isn’t as developed as once thought but they fool us because of the experiences they have had. They can communicate at a higher level because through living they have internalized concepts.

Elsa, a kindergartener, and her Mom went to visit Grammy.  Upon entering the house Mom said, “Elsa, tell Grammy what the pump is in your body.”

Elsa replied, “My heart.”

“Elsa, tell Grammy what makes you breathe.”  Mom prodded

“My lungs,” Elsa proudly replied.

Grammy quickly asked, “Elsa what does it mean to breathe?”

“I don’t know,” came the hesitant answer

Not to be outdone Mom told Elsa to show Grammy what it meant to breathe.  With that Elsa took two huge intakes of breath.  To put into words what the word “breathe” meant was too abstract.  But Elsa did know what it meant to breathe because she had experienced breathing and thus had internalized the concept. The abstract concept had become concrete to Elsa, she could use the word breathe and know what it meant but she could not explain it.


Our challenge as we present the Biblical concepts is to make them concrete so that the children can understand them.

In Sunday Plus Curriculum we do this through what we call Reality Check. – the first portion of each Kids’ Bible Focus lesson.

Reality Check is intended to bring alive the Biblical truth being taught.  This usually means making abstract concepts concrete – allowing the child to taste, touch, see, hear, and smell the concept being taught.  You are also permitting emotions to become a part of the learning process.  In other words, you are allowing the whole child to experience the truth – bringing reality into the lesson.  The kids will actually experience the concept.

The best way to explain such learning is to give you a couple of examples.


As the children entered the room, there was a large stack of newspapers next to the door.  One of the adults told them they could take the paper and do anything they wanted with it.  However, they were directed towards a table where there was a craft they could make out of the newspaper.

Each child came in and began working on the craft.  After a few minutes, you could almost see the wheels turning in Kevin’s mind as he looked at this “stupid” craft he was working on and then looked over at the stack of newspapers.  He got out of his chair, walked over to the adult, Miss Tish, who was welcoming the children and asked, “Did you say we could do anything we wanted with this paper?”

“That’s right,” she answered.

“You mean I could take and wad up the paper and throw it around the room?” he prodded.

“As long as you don’t hit anyone,” Miss Tish directed.

With that Kevin took one piece of paper after another, wadded it up and threw it across the room.  The other boys, after seeing the fun Kevin was having, didn’t want to work on any “stupid” old craft.  They left the table and joined Kevin in making a mess of the room with the newspaper.  When it was time to clean up the adults helped the children who had been working on the craft.   Those children got their area cleaned up quickly and were given donuts and juice.

“Hey!  How come they are getting donuts and juice?”  Kevin demanded.

“Because they got their mess cleaned up.”  Miss Tish answered.

The whole room was now paying attention to the exchange between Kevin and Miss Tish.

“But you helped them clean up,” Kevin responded

“They were working on the craft,” Miss Tish explained.

“But you said we could do anything we wanted!”  Kevin argued.

“That’s right, and that is called TEMPTATION.” Miss Tish explained.  “In the world people tell you all the time to do whatever you want.  You know what the best things are to do.  You have to make choices.  There are always consequences for the choices we make.  When we give into temptation and choose to do what looks like its more fun or easier, though we know the other choice is the better choice, we will eventually pay the consequence.”

The children were then sat down and immediately told a Bible story which related to temptation.


Miss Marla led the kids in a game of Red Light, Green Light.

The game was played on the honor system.  Miss Marla never turned around.  The winners were given a baggie full of candy, but were told not to open it until the end of class.

Then they had the Bible lesson on honesty after which the adults brought out the video camera that had been secretly recording the children as they played Red Light, Green Light.  Upon playing the video, those children who had cheated had to give their candy back.

Reality Learning also engages the emotions. When does God teach you the most? My experience has been that it has been when he has engaged my emotions – that is when the truth moves from the head to the heart.


Object Lessons

These are both abstract presentations – object lessons in particular.

If you would like to learn how to use Reality Learning in your ministry and also how to create your own I am offering a two hour free training to the first ten people to email me at If you live outside the United States it may mean middle of the night.


5 responses to “Child Discipleship – How Children Learn

  1. Thank you for the information and examples! Very nice article.

  2. Pingback: Child Discipleship – Presenting the Gospel #1 | KidTrek – Walking with kids through life…

  3. These are great examples. Thank you so much for this post. It really has me thinking.

  4. I’m curious about the kids who had to give the candy back. I think it’s a great “reality” lesson, but I can see some of kids pitching a ROYAL fit and their parents being mad about the lesson in general. Any thoughts?

    Lindsey @ Growing Kids Ministry

  5. Pingback: Child Discipleship – Presenting the Gospel #1 | KidTrek – After School Programs

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