5 Reasons We Need to Encourage Active Learning

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Imagine a group of third graders in their Sunday school classroom. All are happily engaged—busy hands, feet, and voices—participating in a Bible lesson. This is active learning on display, right?…Maybe, but maybe not. It depends on your definition of “active learning.” Here is a definition from Sally Michael that I think gets to the heart of what we at CDG mean by active learning:

Active learning involves children’s minds interacting with the subject matter; they are thinking—discovering, imagining, questioning, organizing, analyzing, evaluating, drawing conclusions, and applying the material.

Yes, this may at times involve active hands, feet, and voices, but the emphasis is on the mind. Why do our children need this type of active learning? I believe there are at least five reasons.

 1. The text of the Bible requires it. (2 Timothy 2:15)

The Bible communicates its message through…

  • The simple and complex
  • The concrete and the abstract
  • The straight-forward and the paradox
  • Historical narrative and symbolic poetry, metaphors, allegories, etc.

John Piper: “Education is cultivating the life of the mind so that it knows how to grow in true understanding. That impulse was unleashed by God’s inspiring a Book with complex demanding paragraphs in it.” (from “Why God Inspired Hard Texts,” ©Desiring God Foundation, desiringGod.org)

 2. Christian discipleship requires it. (2 Timothy 2:7; 3:14-15)

Albert Mohler: “Christian faithfulness requires the development of the believer’s intellectual capacities in order that we may understand the Christian faith, develop habits of Christian thought, form intuitions that are based upon biblical truth, and live in faithfulness to all that Christ teaches. This is no easy task, to be sure. Just as Christian discipleship requires growth and development, intellectual faithfulness requires a lifetime of devoted study, consecrated thinking, and analytical reflection.” (from “The Glory of God in the Life of the Mind,” albertmohler.com)

3. Active learning is a key motivator and guide for the proper application of biblical truth—true faith and heart transformation.

Learning most powerfully transfers and transforms when the material taught has meaning to the student’s life and experience. (from “Creative Bible Teaching,” copyright©1998, page 115)

Here’s a very simple example: Suppose a lesson includes reading the following:

 Exodus 20:15—“You shall not steal.”

This is simple and straight-forward. It is concrete. A young child can hear this and recite it back to you. But the mind will become more actively engaged and more interested in the concept when it is related to a real-life scenario such as:

What if someone was trying to sneak candy from a store without paying for it?

Now young ears perk up—candy! A child begins to think, “I know about candy. I like candy. There is a lot of yummy candy at the store. But Mom has to pay for the candy before I can have it. Sneaking candy without paying is wrong. But why?”

The mind has now become active. The child is pondering and analyzing. The child is motivated to hear more. Now the teacher has a means of connecting God’s truth to a child’s life. “You shall not steal” takes on a whole new meaning, as it can be applied to numerous situations and circumstances in life. When a child discovers this for himself, the “light goes on” in his head.

The child is excited by what he has learned and will be more motivated to apply it to his own life.

4. Active learning gives our children a strong defense of the Christian faith.
(1 Peter 3:15)

Nancy Pearsey: “As Christian parents, pastors, teachers, and youth group leaders, we constantly see young people pulled down by the undertow of powerful cultural trends. If all we give them is a “heart” religion, it will not be strong enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas. Young believers also need a “brain” religion—training in worldview and apologetics—to equip them to analyze and critique the competing worldviews they will encounter when they leave home.
(from “Total Truth,” www.summit.org)

 5. You cannot love, trust, or worship that which you do not know.
(Mark 12:30; Romans 12:2)

John Piper: “There is an odd notion that, if we use our minds to grow in our knowledge of God, mystery will diminish and with it a sense of wonder and reverence. I call this notion odd for two reasons. One is that, no matter how many millions of ages I use my mind to know more and more of God’s majesty, his glories will never be in danger of being exhausted. What is not yet known of God by finite creatures will always be limitless. You honor this truth more by shameless growth in the knowledge of God.

“And the second reason I find the notion odd that thinking about God and knowing more and more of God jeopardizes our worship of God, is that without knowing him we can’t worship in a way that honors him. God is not honored when people get excited about how little they know of him.” (from “The Life of the Mind and the Love of God,” www.desiringGod.org)

(Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Written by Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson is a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher and author. She has taught Sunday School for over 20 years and writes God-centered curriculum for Children Desiring God.

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