Communicating Abstract Ideas to Concrete Learners

Helping kids grasp biblical truths

by Cindy Grantham/ August 6, 2015

We’ve all been there. Sunday morning, teaching kids’ church, passionately theorizing the story of the “Good Samaritan,” explaining the politics of the day and just why the Samaritans hated the Jews and vice versa when in the middle of the lesson, you realize you’ve lost the young audience. They’re talking, fidgeting, and generally disinterested. They’re just not getting it. It’s a story that happened two thousand years ago and it doesn’t apply to them. 

The above scenario can be discouraging, to say the least. We know what we want to articulate, but sometimes it doesn’t feel as if it’s sinking in. We feel an inherent responsibility as children’s ministers to present the gospel in ways kids can relate to and understand. Otherwise, what is the point? None of us want to simply go through the motions!  

For decades psychologists and sociologists have studied how kids best learn. Today we recognize four different types of learning styles: visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic. To teach to just one type of style is a disservice to the others—especially when the spiritual concepts and stories that we relate to our kids are often of an abstract nature. How can we be sure we are effectively communicating to each child?

There is simply not one best way to present what we’re trying to teach. For maximum impact, we should offer the meat of the story in several ways to reach each type of learner. For example, a short video presenting the “Good Samaritan” story followed by a few minutes of engaging Q & A review would be most effective. When four volunteers reenact the Bible story, you’ll really have their attention. Lastly, following up with a few minutes to journal and/or doodle the main points of the story will help the kids to focus and bring the main points home. Each aspect appeals to a different type of learning style.

Lastly, never underestimate the power of personal stories to convert the abstract to concrete. A real-life situation draws children in and helps them apply the spiritual truths. I once had a longtime children’s ministry volunteer who wasn’t your ordinary “kid-person,” but he is arguably the best storyteller I’ve ever heard. For every spiritual lesson I was trying to present, he was prepared with a personal story exemplifying the spiritual truth. The children were riveted to every word. They could remember the application weeks later. It was an eye-opening experience for me as a young leader.

Because it takes work to help kids understand, does that mean we should never introduce the abstract? Absolutely not! When we can couple the abstract idea with concrete examples, personal stories and hands-on activities, the ideas come alive and are more easily ingrained into the child’s memory. What’s more exciting than seeing the Word of God come alive in the heart and mind of a child? Nothing.

Do you consider the four learning styles mentioned above when developing lessons for your kids? What are some different communication methods you can incorporate into your lessons?