Children do not learn in lessons.
Did that soak in? Let me say it again, children do not learn in lessons.
In fact, they learn in layers. The lesson is just the start. It matters not if the lesson happens at home, in school, on a piano bench, or in a soccer field. The lesson does not do the teaching, alone. The lesson is really a small piece of the picture.
After the lesson, the next layer of learning is repetition. Children need to be taught things over and over, again. Their brains take note of things that are repeated as an indication of importance. Learning to tie shoes or park a car is not likely to stick with one demonstration or one attempt. The repetition strengthens the neural pathways involved and that is what creates the learning. The lesson might create a pathway, but the pathway does not last and is less likely to be used if it is not strengthened through repetition.
The lesson benefits from happening in different contexts. As a former kindergarten teacher I can attest to the truth that if school is the only place that requires a child to tie shoes, or practice letter sounds, then learning will be hampered. The brain wants to know that this new skill will be used in more than one setting.
The next layer of learning involves modeling. The brain is continually taking in information about what learning is important for survival. When children see a particular skill modeled for them, mirror neurons will fire in much the same way as when the child performs the action. This is another way that the brain learns that something is important. Children who intently watch an activity might learn it easier when they try it, later.
Engagement in the lesson makes yet another layer in learning. Young children are typically interested in what their parents are doing and that creates engagement. If you are aware of their engagement you can use it to continue the learning of a lesson. Older children may pretend they are not interested, but can still be enticed to participate. The key to this kind of engagement is that the lesson is something you are learning with your parents and not just from your parents.
The individual personality and flair of a child makes up another layer of learning. When children are allowed to be creative and inventive with new learning, they activate more parts of the brain and that creates better learning.
Now let’s apply the layered learning theory to the teaching of faith. This means that a one time Sunday school lesson is not sufficient for learning about God. The Spirit grows faith in your child in layers.
Children need to hear Bible stories, hymns, Bible verses, over and over, again. This can happen in Sunday school, church, youth group, day school, and childcare. It also needs to happen at home as well as with friends and teammates. This provides repetition and different contexts.
Let your children see you pray and worship. Then do these activities with them. Learning happens when children see faith modeled, and find that faith activities are a part of daily routines. Engagement is also created when the faith of a family walks out into the neighborhood in the form of service projects. Let your children help you plan your devotions, prayers, and service projects and they will be able to add in their own ideas and perspectives.
We are blessed that God does not expect us to teach our children the faith on our own. He provides us with the Word and Sacraments and sends His Spirit to make our work fruitful. He layers us with His love. It is worth the time and effort to plan and repeat the little things of teaching the faith. With the help of God you are teaching layer by layer.