These statements are generalizations and should not be taken as absolutes. All children progress in similar ways but at different rates. Use these milestones as guidelines for considering an individual child's development as well as for handling group interactions with children during Sunday School.
Foundational truths to build on
Parents and teachers must decide whether the child has sufficient understanding to move from "Who is Jesus?" and "What did Jesus do?" to the factual story of "How did Jesus die and how was He raised from the dead?" If a child understands those truths, then he is ready to learn "Why did Jesus have to die and be raised from the dead?" These stages show the progression from knowledge to understanding, application, action, and attitude.
Foundational truths for younger and middle preschoolers
In applying this to the younger and middle preschool years, parents and teachers may choose to use Bible stories such as "Jesus and the Children" or "Jesus Helps a Blind Man See" to answer the life questions "Who is Jesus?" and "What did Jesus do?"
Foundational truths for older preschoolers and younger children
Later in the preschool years and early childhood, parents and teachers can move to the Easter story and answer the question "How did Jesus die and how was He raised from the dead?" This factual approach attempts to give the child correct information or knowledge; it also prepares the child for more in-depth studies of the cross and resurrection. This progression begins to encourage the child to grow from his understanding of Jesus as Friend to Jesus as Savior. The telling of the Bible story of how Jesus died and how He was raised from the dead becomes a step in a process that hopefully will lead a child to the point of conversion and spiritual transformation later in life. During this stage, teachers and parents should remember to:
- Stay with the Bible text.
Teachers and parents may stray into extra material related to Jesus' death that could sidetrack the child from hearing the message of the resurrection story. While details like the whip that may have been used on Jesus or the size of the nails in the cross help adults grasp the depth of Jesus' sacrifice, such details may be too much for children to hear. Avoid making the story so sensational that the heart of the story is lost. Children need to hear the hope of the resurrection as well as the hurt of Jesus' death. Emphasize hope in the story.
- Allow the child to visualize the story.
Children have the ability to create a mental picture of the events of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Boys and girls will create images that are easier to understand and accept than any prop or visual can create.
- Check for clear understanding.
Ask questions such as "Why did Jesus die? How did His disciples feel before and after His resurrection? Where is Jesus today?"
- Ask follow-up questions.
When a child asks a question, always respond with a question that clarifies his question. Often a child does not know exactly what to ask. Use phrases like "Tell me more about what you are thinking" or "What makes you ask this question?"
- Give short simple responses.
Adults can be tempted to tell all they know about a subject. If a child wants more information, she will ask another question.
- Avoid jumping to conclusions.
A request for more information may not be a request for a gospel presentation. Easter is an obvious time for children to ask about Jesus, but be sure to allow the Holy Spirit and the child to set the pace for discussions about salvation and conversion. (For more information check the resource for teachers, parents, and children When Can I? by Thomas Sanders.)
- Clarify terms.
- Angel – a messenger from God
- Cross – a wooden structure where Jesus died
- Disciple – someone who followed Jesus and learned from Jesus
- Savior – someone who saves people from danger; the name Jesus means Savior*
- Tomb – a place to bury people who are dead; usually a cave with a big stone door
- Resurrection – when God brought Jesus back to life and then Jesus went to heaven to be with God*
- Crucifixion – the way Jesus died on the cross*
* These terms are best used with middle and preteen children.
Foundational truths for middle children and preteens
In the middle and preteen years, teachers and parents can begin to answer the question "Why did Jesus have to die and be raised from the dead?" This discussion begins to help children identify the causes and effects of sin on the world and in their individual lives. They can move from more foundational truths to the concepts that Jesus died because of sin and that Jesus paid the penalty for sin. The resurrection story demonstrates Jesus' victory over death and sin, paving the way for Christians to live wonderful lives with Jesus and to be in heaven with Him after they die.
The key here is the same-just because a child has gained knowledge of this information does not mean that the Holy Spirit is moving him to conversion. Conversion is a mysterious and individual process and event. Another important fact is that some children arrive at an understanding and point of conversion earlier than others. This affirms that God works with individuals in and beyond our understanding and development. Three children who are raised in the same house and attend church the same amount will ultimately make decisions in different ways and at different times.
Guiding children toward faith in Jesus is an exciting journey. Knowing each child and her individual level of learning is important. By laying foundations for spiritual conversion through the story of Easter, teachers and parents can become partners with the Holy Spirit as He prepares and calls children to accept Jesus as Savior. By partnering with the Holy Spirit, parents and teachers can tell this story and other stories of faith and then trust God to bring the harvest in His time.
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