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What are the best kinds of questions to stimulate kids’ imaginations and nurture their faith?

The answer comes in the form of other questions — answer the following as fast as you can:

  1. What is your name, and how old are you?
  2. How long have you been teaching children at church?
  3. What do you like about teaching children?
  4. What challenges you most about teaching children?
  5. How has working with children affected your spiritual life?
  6. If you could make sure kids take away one message from Sunday school for the rest of their lives, what would it be?

Did you find that it was easy to answer the first two questions, but that you needed progressively more time to answer the rest? That’s the way it should be! So you don’t want to ask children factual questions exclusively (like the first two above), for which they’ll come to think the answer should always be Jesus or God.

The questions you just answered demonstrate three kinds of questions you should always try to use during the course of your session:

  • Questions for information (1, 2): These explore the content of the story and are generally factual questions, such as Who healed the blind man? How many people did Jesus feed? Name three of Jesus’ disciples.
  • Questions for explanation (3, 4): These dig deeper into the content, inviting children to draw inferences and process ideas. What was unusual about Abraham’s journey? How did Peter’s life change after he became Jesus’ follower?
  • Questions for application (5, 6): These invite kids to ponder the importance of a story or session focus in their own lives. If you were in the boat with Jesus and the fishermen, would you have been frightened by the storm? What kinds of situations are frightening to you right now? Can you trust Jesus to care for you when you’re frightened by things around you?

If you plan your questions before each session, you can make sure to address each of the different levels of your children’s understanding. 

How can I encourage children to take the time to think about answers?

Your body language can encourage children to think more deeply. As you ask a question, keep your eyes moving around the room. (If you focus just on one person, the rest of the children will often tune out.) After asking a question, lower your eyes to the floor or table for at least fifteen seconds and remain silent. By not making eye contact, you are giving thoughtful children the opportunity to think through the answer, as well as giving the “Jesus is the answer” kids time to reconsider or think more deeply.

What do I do when kids offer an answer that is totally out to lunch?

Accept each answer as though it were a gift. When children answer questions, they make themselves vulnerable to teasing or laughing if the answer is wrong. So even if the answer is way off base, affirm the child’s courage. An appropriate affirmation might be, “Good try” or “Thanks for thinking about that.” Or you might deflect the spotlight to yourself by saying, “Maybe my question was hard to understand. Let me try that again.”

Are there some questions I should never ask?

Never ask a question you would not be willing to answer yourself. You’re a fellow traveler, not an inquisitor. And be careful about asking questions that pressure children to reveal more than they feel comfortable doing. When you want children to think about personal issues, respect their privacy by inviting them to answer the question in a journal. (Tell kids you will only read these if invited to do so.) Or suggest that they spend time thinking about their answers silently.

What if I don’t know the answer to a question they ask me?

Say, “Good question! I don’t know the answer, but I’m going to try and find out.” By doing so, you’re modeling the concept that the Christian journey is one of constant learning and growing — not one of knowing all the answers!

Now, here’s one last set of questions for you: Who loves teachers and classrooms filled with kids? Who is pleased to see God’s kids struggling together to ask big questions? Who said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”?

You know the answer to that one — it’s Jesus, of course!

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