Sociologists say that there are three basic ways that we learn.
1) Classroom style teaching: Passing on facts, data and information from a teacher/lecturer to a student. This is very familiar to us as our Western educational system is built around this method of learning. Whether it is elementary school or college, we are lectured to and expected to learn what we are taught. Similarly, much of the Bible and the basics of faith are taught to kids in the same kind of way.
I, as the teacher, input information and facts into you, the student, and I, as the teacher, expect you, the student, to be able to re-articulate, what I, the teacher, communicated to you, whether visually, auditory, or kinetic means. One of the reasons this model of education is the primary method of instruction is that it is efficient. You can get more facts and information across through this method than laboriously guiding the learners to discover them themselves. It is also popular because it is easy to assess. Because the tests are largely objective (right or wrong answer) versus subjective (which would take a human to decipher and determine), they can be quickly assessed and the students evaluated whether or not they “learned” something.
This “classroom style” approach is not necessarily how we learn, it is a method of education. Because we have used this style of education we have shaped students to “learn” in particular ways: memory tools and techniques, mnemonic devices and acrostics, “cramming” for the test and forgetting it all the next morning, note taking, etc.
Didactic instruction (I speak, you listen) creates a certain kind of learner. It is not good or bad, it just is, and we have to know and be aware of who and what we are creating based on the techniques we are using to teach.
2) Apprenticeship: You learn to do something by learning from someone who does it well. So if you want to be a surgeon, you apprentice yourself to a surgeon after med school and enter into a residency. You learn by having them show you how to do something. So for instance, rather than telling a child how to pray, we should be showing them how to pray and doing it with them.
This could be called the “Showing rather than Telling” technique.
Definitely not the “do as I say, not as I do” method!
Apprenticeship attaches one human being to another human being. God created us humans as relational creatures (all to varying degrees) and a human touch, human mentors and guides provide something “human” that no computer technology or some other “efficient” learning method can.
3) Immersion: You learn to do things by being immersed in the culture. Children don’t learn to talk by taking lessons. They learn by being around people who speak the same language. They are immersed in a consistent culture and eventually they pick up the language and nuances of the culture. So, if your kids were immersed in a vibrant, consistent church community, they would pick up the behavior, language, nuances and depths of that community.
“Being thrown into the deep end and forced to swim!”
I have some friends who live in Europe and they brought their American children over there with them. While it took the adults years of grueling training to master the particular language of the country they are in, it took their children about a semester of being in that country’s school system as English speaking students to pick up the local language. The kids were teaching their parents the language and speaking it practically fluently.
Another example is my amateur technology prowess. I am asked often to fix, diagnose, or offer technological usage suggestions for various projects and people. Over the last 8-9 years, I have immersed myself in the world of technology. I have technology. I experiment with technology. I read TONS about technology from the experts. I use technology in a variety of ways. Therefore, when confronted with issues and problems related to technology, I find that I have something relevant and tangible to offer because I am immersed in the tech world.
The best learning happens when there is a dynamic interplay between all three at one time, so that what is being “taught” is being reinforced and given depth and meaning in all areas. Perhaps we can put it this way: We want faith to be both taught and caught.
I agree. As with anything, there is wisdom in staying away from the extremes or using one technique to the exclusion of others.
Back to the tech example:
I read a lot of blogs about technology. And not just any blogs. Over the years, I have discovered which ones work and speak the truth, versus which ones are just fluff and want to be cool tech blogs. This is my classroom learning.
However, if I didn’t have a usage scenario or a problem to troubleshoot, all of that reading and learning is good information, but not really applicably relevant. That’s why apprenticing and learning alongside of people who do the kinds of things I want to do is helpful and important.
Furthermore, if technology issues or usage was only every once in a while, like once a month, then the skills and information and connection would wane. It’s the continual immersion with the world of technology that I’m able to keep the continually develop the skills needed to keep helping.
We all know the up and coming children in this digital age do not need to read instruction manuals to figure out technology. In fact, when I got my iPhone, it did not come with a printed manual. It was digital and it was online somewhere. It’s available for people who want it, but Apple is assuming that their product is so intuitive and user-friendly that you should be able to figure it out. Digital immigrants (those that did not grow up immersed in this digital world) need the younger of digital natives (those who are immersed in this technological explosion) to help us understand (and use) these new devices well!
So as we re-imagine Children’s Ministry, we want them to be taught stories, ideas and information from the Bible and basic Christian orthodoxy (Classroom teaching). But we also want them to see how those things are fleshed out in real life by engaging with parents who actively teach them to do the things Jesus did (Apprenticeship). However, the research also showed that there was a significant role that adults outside of parents play in Apprenticing kids. Kids who had adults in their lives outside of just their parents living in the way of Jesus had a much higher chance of having a vibrant faith. Furthermore, it is crucial to be a part of an active community who believes (and thus does) the same things as the parents and other key adults (Immersion).
If I’m reading and listening correctly, then children’s ministry programming that churches offer are one piece to the spiritual formation of children and youth, right?
The other pieces are: children need to “see” the truths, stories, and ethic of the kingdom of God lived out in the lives of their parents (or other significant adult in their life), and then need to be continually part of a community of families or other defined group of like-minded people too see more than just their parents (or other adult) enacting the redeeming story of God and the rescuing of His people. Interesting.
One of the most important things is understanding that faith isn’t a collection of facts that people “say they believe.” Faith is a concrete thing that shows what we believe based on WHO we think we are (God’s kids) and then WHAT we do out of that Identity. It’s teaching kids what we believe reality is and what it means to live in that reality.
More is caught, than taught.
That doesn’t mean we stop “teaching.” It just means we need to stop thinking that teaching the facts of the Bible and the information in the Bible alone is enough, or that this alone is what faith is. Faith, according to the author of Hebrews, is “being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see” (11:1). Faith is hoping and being certain (by living) that what facts you do know and information you do remember is REAL and that reality means that you live your life based on that hope and certainty.
Your thoughts, critique and questions are welcome in the comments below!