Big Picture

Teaching Little Kids

Oct 4, 2018 | Sunday School Solutions

by Nathan Hamilton

“Why are you eating toilet paper?!” It seemed like a reasonable question, but my toddler didn’t bother to answer as she crammed another piece of (clean) toilet paper into her mouth. (Ironically, this same kid cries if we feed her pork!) If you’ve been around little kids, you’ve probably noticed they do some pretty weird things. They chew on books, put cereal in their nostrils, lick the carpet, and rub guacamole in their hair, but crazy as it sounds this is actually normal! They are using their God-given senses of taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing to discover the world around them.

Kids, especially little ones, naturally learn through their senses and you can use this knowledge to help the Bible make SENSE to them! Think about the Bible characters in your lesson. What things were they feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting or seeing? What objects, pictures, sounds, foods or other things could you use to bring the lesson to life for your class? You don’t have to appeal to all five senses in every lesson, but you can look for ways to incorporate some of them. You can even use the word SENSE to help you! (Because everything is easier when you use cheesy acronyms!)

Skin (touch):

Skin is the human body’s largest organ and is filled with touch receptors that allow a child to experience and discover their environment. Providing objects that relate to your lesson for them to touch will make it more fun for them and help them remember the lesson. Ask yourself, “What could they touch to help the lesson make SENSE?” Maybe you could let them touch a fluffy toy sheep as you talk about the good shepherd or swaddling cloth as you talk about Jesus being born. I often take a walk in my yard right before church to grab some rocks, leaves or dandelions so the preschoolers can hold them while I remind them that God made them and loves them very much. Touch is the first sense a baby develops in the womb, and it is essential to early childhood development. What can you bring to class to help the kids discover the Bible through their sense of touch?

Ears (hearing):

Of course, you will be talking so the children will hear your voice, but are there sounds that relate to your lesson that would make it more interesting? Ask yourself, “What could they hear that would help the lesson make SENSE?” Perhaps you could jingle some coins in a pouch as you talk about Zacchaeus taking money from the people or shake a jug of water while you teach about Jesus calming a storm. Using different tones of voice when you teach to communicate emotion or to differentiate between the story characters can also help the kids follow along with the story. You can even let the kids help you by asking them to make sound effects! They can moan like a sick person (Lazarus), crow like a rooster (Peter denies Jesus), or squeak like a door hinge. (Because nothing is cuter than 15 toddlers saying, “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!” while you teach about Peter’s escape from prison.)

Ask yourself, “What could they hear that would help the lesson make SENSE?”

Nose (smell):

Imagine the smells of Bible times and ask yourself, “What could the children smell to help the lesson make SENSE?” (You could even say you’re helping the lesson make SCENTS!) You can find things like cloves or garlic in your kitchen to enhance a Bible lesson like the Last Supper that focuses on a meal. My wife uses essential oils so I also have myrrh and frankincense that I can use when I teach about the wise men or the burial or Jesus. What other kid-friendly scents do you already have around the house? Flowers, potpourri, scented candles, citrus fruit, and dirt (yes, I’ve brought a bag of dirt to church for the kids to smell and touch—they loved it!) are all things you probably already have. Think about what the characters in your lesson may have smelled. Is there a way you can share a similar scent with your class?

Snack (taste):

Ask yourself, “What could they taste to help the lesson make SENSE?” Try to find one place food could be used, such as when Queen Esther has a feast or when Jesus cooks breakfast for His disciples.  You can have the children eat small food like cereal or small pieces of fruit at that point in the lesson. If you have kids with allergies in your class, do some research and plan ways to include them too. My daughter is gluten intolerant, so I use General Mills Cheerios (generic brands often contain gluten) or Rice Chex as pretend bread when I teach her Sunday school class. Cheerios come in a variety of colors and flavors like fruity, chocolate, berry, apple cinnamon, frosted and even a limited edition peach flavor—Cheerios for any occasion! The snack doesn’t have to match exactly what the characters in your lesson are eating. The kids can munch cereal and use their imagination to pretend they are dining on unleavened bread, manna, or even John the Baptist’s favorite locust dish.

The snack doesn’t have to match exactly what the characters in your lesson are eating.

Eyes (sight):

Hopefully you’re already using your Bible and some pictures of the lesson for the children to see as you teach. (If you need pictures to accompany your lesson, has some that are pretty fantastic.) You can also go the extra mile by adding extra pictures or objects to help the children see what you mean. Ask yourself, “What could they see to help the lesson make SENSE?” Could you use a tape measure to show the height of Goliath or the width of Jericho’s walls? Could you show them a large nail as you teach about the crucifixion? The more things you have for the children to SEE, the more engaged they will be in your teaching.

Thinking through each of these areas as you prepare for class will help the Bible make SENSE to your class.  I rarely teach little kids without stuffing at least three items that will stimulate their senses into my super amazing fantastically cool green bag of amazingness. (Yes, I actually call it that and the kids love it.) If green isn’t your color I suppose you could use a super amazing fantastically cool orange bag of amazingness—the important thing is to bring several things related to the lesson that will stimulate their senses.

Where do you find this stuff?

You are probably surrounded by objects that are just waiting for you to use them as teaching tools. Start in the kitchen! Those plastic plates and cups are just dying for you to whisk them away to Queen Esther’s banquet or King David’s coronation. Check the pantry—you’ve probably got some oatmeal, popcorn kernels, or dried beans in there that the kids could smell, see, and touch while you teach about Joseph interpreting dreams and saving Egypt from famine! Don’t stop there, check out your bookshelves (or even your local library) for books that have pictures of animals, plants, stars or anything else God created. Maybe you can even find books with pictures of the Holy Land! Once you’re finished at the bookshelf, look in the toy box if you have one–it’s a goldmine of teaching tools! With my beloved boy’s blocks, I can topple Jericho’s wall or build Elijah’s alter on Mt. Carmel. My pint-sized princesses have even let their dolls play the part of special babies like Jesus, John the Baptist, or Isaac. If you don’t have a toy box, your church probably has blocks, dolls, play dishes and toy animals you could borrow for your lesson. But before you head to church, don’t forget to stop in your yard and gather five smooth stones for David’s battle with Goliath, flowers to represent the Garden of Gethsemane, or even dead weeds to represent the straw the enslaved Hebrews gathered for brick making in Egypt. With a little imagination, I hope you’ll discover hundreds of ways to bring your lesson to life for the little kids in your class!

By the way, even if you don’t teach preschoolers I challenge you to try some of these ideas with older kids—it makes learning more fun for them. I’ve noticed that it even makes teaching more fun for me! Including these types of things when you teach kids makes the Bible come ALIVE for your students as they use the senses God gave them to discover His truth! So what are you waiting for? It’s time to gather things for your class to touch, taste, smell, see and hear! Why? Because it just makes SENSE.

In Need of Pictures?

If you need pictures to accompany your lesson, you can find visual aids at CEF Press.