Q: What can preschoolers learn?

The value and benefits of training preschool children is recognized both in the world and, most importantly, in God's Word (Dt. 6). This section illustrates the  value and benefits of devoting time and resources to training preschoolers. As  parents and teachers we can influence our children for God; however, we may unknowingly compromise our efforts if we overlook some of their high potential for learning.

Early learning capacity
Both educators and others have spent significant time and resources studying the child's learning capacity in the early years. Even though there are variances from one study to another, the following statements represent generally accepted  approximations of a child's learning capacity in three different yet interrelated areas.

  • 3 Years: By age three, a child who has been engaged in constant face-to-face interaction and communication with caring adults understands most of the language used in ordinary conversation for the rest of his life.
  • 6 Years: Eighty-five percent of adult personality is formed by age six.
  • 7 Years: By age seven, two thirds of education is complete, and that school merely provides the finishing touches.

Others think there can be significant changes in later years, but it is certain that the early years are very important. No research has indicated that a child's preschool years are insignificant. With this in mind, we certainly should not neglect the opportunity and potential to pass on proper values and spiritual training to the young minds and hearts that are so precious to God (Mt. 19:14).

Competing with the world
Both parents and churches compete with the world for the attention of children's hearts and minds. The entertainment and advertising world has made large investments to secure our children's attention in hopes of impacting them for financial gain. The world appreciates the value of winning the hearts of children even before they leave home and enter society in the formal classroom. It is no wonder the public arena would try to encroach on time spent with children in the early years more and more without revealing their true motivations. Parents and teachers must not only recognize the competition, but must also strive to overcome the influence of the world by focusing the preschooler's time and activities toward eternal things (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

Moldable minds and hearts
In Matthew 19:14 Jesus tells the disciples to let the little children come to Him and not to hinder them. 
Matthew 18:1-10 has strong instructions and warnings regarding children and the consequences of causing one of them to stumble. 

Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant by the statement that we should become like children (Mt. 18:3)? Children readily and literally accept things they are taught. When God said He made the world in six days, a child accepts that God made the world in six days. They have not learned to mentally limit God by man's philosophies or advances in knowledge. A child accepts God as above these limits with childlike faith. The fact that we can readily teach children God's Word in the early years should increase both the importance and urgency of their spiritual training.

Each child has a favorite way of learning. Those who try to handle everything often learn best through touching and doing. Some learn best through listening, others through watching. As you get to know your children, you will discover their overall best ways of learning However, do not avoid other styles of training entirely. All learning skills will be beneficial as the years go by.

The home is a wonderful place to communicate God's truth in "teachable moments," situations in which the child is experiencing the surrounding world in everyday life. These are times when God's Word an be applied to real life. When a parent's own relationship with God is alive and active, those moments will naturally occur throughout the day. Be available to listen to your children when they are ready to talk or ask questions.

The question concerning the appropriate age to begin teaching children about the value and content of Scripture, or for that matter anything, has long been debated. The best answer is the one regularly applied to such things as language and walking skills - before they are ready. We first begin exposing them to these skills through example; and when they are ready and able, they begin participating.

The same holds true for Scripture. Already your toddler has been listening to your voice of comfort and direction and is beginning to develop language skills. They have learned to understand and respond to many different situations. Perhaps they have seen you reading your Bible. In fact, they already have some picture of the importance of the Bible in your life by your attention, or lack of attention, to it. If you fall into the category of not attending to your Bible as you would like to, today is a good day to begin changing that habit and begin growing along with your child.

Your relationship with God has already begun to show. It is not too early to begin sharing your Bible with your child. There are several ways to introduce your child into a relationship with God through His Word. You can present scriptural truths through such things as stories, short passages themselves, short verses, activities, songs, prayer, pictures, examples, etc. These are explained in more detail in the "Prepare and Present" and "Use Activities" sections.

Preschoolers learn rapidly through all their senses as they begin talking and developing a vocabulary. They are often characterized by short attention spans. However, a variety of means of presenting the same truth not only reduces boredom, but it also provides more opportunity for each child to learn the truth no matter which way they learn best.

Preschoolers usually live in the present; in other words, what they see is what exists. What is not seen does not exist. This is an over-simplification, but it is one reason preschoolers have a difficult time when Mommy or Daddy leaves them under the authority of others.

The lesson under consideration is the important lesson. You may use "matching cards" of pictures from previous weeks if you wish; but keep it fun, not frustrating. The significant threads and themes of Scripture are self-reviewing throughout.

Reviewing stories is not necessary at this age. However, young children do enjoy repetition. They constantly confirm what they have heard and make modifications accordingly. And they will often challenge differences.