Whenever I ask Christian educators what their fifth and sixth graders do during the education hour at church, I get a wide variety of responses: they attend a regular Sunday school class like the younger kids; they volunteer as classroom leaders for younger kids; they attend their own youth group; they take a nap in the youth room; they volunteer to set up and clean up social hour; they volunteer in the nursery. For comparison, whenever I ask churches what their first and second graders do during the education, I pretty much get one answer: they go to Sunday school. So, why is it such a challenge to find the right fit for fifth and sixth graders at church?
Preteens are “so over” classic Sunday school. Many kids in fifth and sixth grade have been attending Sunday school since they were little. They’ve done the art projects, played the games, heard the Bible stories, and sung the songs over and over again. A classroom model that works great for a first grader doesn’t necessarily work well for a sixth grader. Instead of including your preteens in a program that uses a curriculum created for preschool to sixth grade, find a curriculum that’s created just for 10-12-year-olds. The content, pedagogy, humor, activities, and learning level will be a much better fit for these kids than a curriculum that’s been “aged up” so they can be included as part of the larger program.
Fifth and sixth graders are ready to dig deeper. Ask a first grader to tell you about the story of Noah and the ark, and you’ll hear about a big boat, pairs of animals, a rainstorm, and a rainbow. But by fifth grade, kids are starting to wonder about all those other people and animals that weren’t included on the ark. This age is prime time to help kids begin to build their biblical knowledge of the stories they’ve heard their whole lives. Yes, Noah is a story about a big boat, animals, and a rainbow, but it’s also a story about sin, forgiveness, obedience, and covenant. Instead of trying to teach these stories using the same central message you teach to younger kids, give preteens the tools they can use to explore the Bible now and as they grow.
They’re wondering what church has to do with everyday life. Developmentally, preteens are at a stage when their brains are developing and making connections at lightning speed. Instead of allowing them to place church in a Sunday silo that’s separate from the rest of their lives, help them make the connection between faith and life. How do they actively live out their faith at home, at school, and during other activities like sports, leisure time, and clubs? Help kids discover that Jesus walks with them in each moment of every day, and they are called to seek out ways to share the love and life of Jesus through their actions and words—no matter where they are.
Preteens are pushing boundaries. Preteen brains are hard-wired to push boundaries. Thousands of years ago, this instinct was necessary for survival. You had to learn to fight, explore, and discover how to survive in the world around you. In today’s world, preteens can struggle to find an outlet for this boundary pushing behavior and may end up being disruptive, disobedient, or getting themselves into trouble. At church, this behavior often surfaces as disinterest and skepticism. Why should I believe this? Is anything in the Bible even real? How do I know God is listening to me? Instead of letting these questions break down kids’ faith, look for a curriculum that confronts these questions head-on and helps them build a foundation for wrestling with questions they’ll continue to encounter as they learn and grow in faith.
They need prayer. For most kids this age, the people who know most about what is going on in their lives are their friends. Preteens know who is depressed, who has a crush, who failed the math test, and who got their feelings hurt at the lunch table. They also know their own insecurities, anxieties, and celebrations better than anyone else. There are endless reasons to teach kids the value of prayer. They’re able to actively care for their peers. They grow in their own relationship with God by talking to God. They learn how to use language to process their feelings and experiences. They can connect with adults and peers by praying together. No matter what’s going on in their lives, help kids learn that they can pray.
Despite what they might tell you, fifth and sixth graders are filled with curiosity about how God works, what the Bible means, and how faith fits into their lives. While opportunities to volunteer and naps in the youth room are great, preteens still need and want the chance to grow in their relationship with God and learn more about their faith. Lead the way by sharing your faith, and enjoy watching as these kids discover the wonder of being in relationship with God.
Sparkhouse Resource Developer