Any adult with siblings has experienced the age mismatch syndrome. This is the syndrome you dealt with as a kid when you wanted to go where your brother was going, but he didn’t want you tagging along. Or maybe your younger sister wanted to join the game you and your friends were playing, but you knew she’d ruin everything.
The age mismatch syndrome creates similar complications when trying to teach a classroom of children of different ages.
In many churches baptism preparation will be forced to meet the age mismatch syndrome head-on. Even if your children’s program is large enough to separate Sunday School classes by age, usually the number of children preparing for baptism will be a small portion of all of the children in your Sunday School classes. And the children may vary significantly in age.
The only practical approach in this situation may be to teach all of these children as part of a single class.
Your challenge, then, is to provide a learning environment that appeals to older children while still being accessible to younger participants.
What’s the best way to achieve this environment?
A Walk Down TV Lane
You’ve probably had this experience. You’re walking through the electronics area of a discount department store. The TVs are blaring, all with the latest new children’s movie on DVD.
Without really being aware of what you’re doing, you slow your pace as you pass by the animations on the screen. Something about the unfolding story draws you into the action …
… minutes later the realization suddenly hits you that you’ve been standing an embarrassingly long time, totally engrossed in – of all things – a kids’ story.
The Broad Appeal of a Good Story
It’s amazing how a good story can appeal to such a broad range of ages.
That’s why I think the use of story is an excellent way to prepare children for baptism. The fact that Jesus so often explained spiritual concepts using stories further supports this idea.
And this is the method I chose to use in my baptism curriculum Joey’s Baptism. Joey, the main character in the story, realizes that he would like to get baptized. His grandfather, through a series of situations, gives Joey a thorough explanation of the purpose and importance of baptism.
Since stories naturally hold a special fascination for children, my hope is that as Joey’s story unfolds, children will find themselves drawn into the story in a way that allows them to relate in a meaningful way to the childlike questions Joey poses. As Grandpa answers Joey’s questions, children will likewise have their questions answered.
I also believe the story will allow children of a broad range of ages to be taught together. If at all possible I would recommend using a story as your primary way of teaching your lesson. If the curriculum you choose does not include a story, perhaps you or someone in your church can write one based on the material in your curriculum.
Of course in the real world of real classrooms and real children, a story will still have its limits in how effectively it can keep children engaged in the lessons.
3 Additional Ideas
Therefore, here are three additional ways you can increase the chance that you’ll appeal to every age group:
- Use age-appropriate worksheets as supplements to reinforce the material taught in class. While a story naturally appeals to multiple ages, worksheets have a much narrower focus. So you’ll need to make sure you have worksheets available for multiple age levels.
- Allow the older children to help with some of the classroom administrative chores. They might be able to handout worksheets and pencils. They can also be engaged to help the younger children get their worksheets filled out properly. Anything that helps them feel like they are filling a role that acknowledges their higher level of maturity will help them stay more fully engaged in all parts of the class.
- Let the older children participate in presenting part of the lesson. They could read parts of the story or lessons. Or they might even give a short testimonial about how they came to know Christ. A word of caution: Before you ask a child to present her or his testimony, you might want to first ask them questions that would reveal the content of what their testimony would be. This will help them keep it focused. And it will also give you a good indication if having the child give a testimony might be impractical for one reason or another.
The need to conduct a baptism class with children of many ages presents you with an important challenge. The better that each child is engaged in the lessons, the more fully each will understand the value of baptism. The use of story and other engaging techniques can help you overcome the age mismatch syndrome.
Coming Up: In our next mini newsletter article we will cover
‘Your Child Isn’t Ready for Baptism’ – How to Break the News.