I truly appreciate Group Publishing’s philosophy of education which can be described with the acronym R.E.A.L. It stands for Relational, Experiential, Application, Learner-based. This does not imply that as learners mature into adulthood, that the theoretical cannot be introduced. It does mean that theory takes root more deeply with the nourishment of relationship, personal experience, authentic application to life, and in a context with causes the student to learn. Having said that, I offer below a brief “seed” idea (pun intended-insert laughter here before moving on) for making education R.E.A.L. to children based on a specific passage of Scripture.
Consider the parable of the sower. Jesus used real agrarian situations to which his audience could readily relate. As he told the parable of the sower he was able to point them to the examples of seeds fallen on various kinds of soil. I imagine him digging his hands into the soil and running it through his fingers as if to make the point of distinguishing good soil from bad. What might we learn from Jesus’ example?
I think we should limit telling people in an abstract propositional sense what to believe and maximize inviting them into narrative which shows them and allows them to experience personally points of application from Scripture to their lives. This will open up for them a sense of wonder and curiosity as they realize that Scripture is living and God-breathed, sharper than any two-edged sword. This is true for education at all age levels, but especially for kids.
Consider trying this experiment with your kids next time you teach on Mark 4.
Procure a small packet of Snake Plant seeds or some other type of seed for a flowering plant appropriate for indoors.
Take four pots.
Pot 1: Keep it empty. No soil. No nothing.
Pot 2: Fill a pot partially with rocks and a thin top layer of good soil. Pack the rocks together so the soil does not fall through too readily.
Pot 3: Have a pot with good soil, but fill it with transplanted weeds. For our purposes, go ahead and avoid anything with thorns or that will be harmful to children since they likely will want to touch the plants.
Pot 4: Prepare a pot with good soil, ready to provide ample nutrition to a seed.
Go through the parable of the sower, placing seeds in each pot at appropriate points. Consider having different children help to place the seeds in each pot. Water them as well to emulate rain fall. If possible, place them in a spot where they can receive some sunlight if necessary.
In the following weeks, investigate with the children the progress of each pot.
Ask them how the empty pot with seeds and a little water is doing. Is it growing? Why not?
How is the pot with a thin layer of top soil doing? Did it grow for awhile but then falter? Why?
How about the pot with a thick tangle of weeds? How is the plant from the seed faring? Is it being choked off due to the competition?
Now consider the plant which is in the good soil. How does it compare to the others?
How is this like real life and our relationship with God? Invite the children to make comparisons. Older kids will be more likely to identify the spiritual connections. Younger children, in their literal point of view, will need assistance making the most basic connections. Yet many will still be able to see how good soil will be more likely to produce a good plant.