Sometimes a good children’s ministry worker looks like a ringmaster at a circus. With confidence and a flourish or two they expertly engage their audience and direct their attention to the right attractions. The whole kids’ program feels like a circus, with an array of characters in costumes and amazing displays otherwise known as object lessons.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for all this. A well-prepared object lesson can illustrate a key biblical truth brilliantly. But sometimes it feels like we get lost in the action and fun. In a world of special effects and superheroes, we feel the pressure to make the Bible lesson entertaining. We think: will kids get bored if we just read the Bible to them?
So, is it really possible to explore the Bible with kids in a way that keeps them involved and engaged?
Let me share one way I’ve found that is surprisingly simple.
The Swedish Method
When the traditional Swedish Method is used in a small group setting, people are given a page with the Bible passage printed out. After reading through, they mark the text with:
Light bulbs for key stand-out ideas
Question marks to indicate parts that raise queries, and
Arrows to mark personal application points.
The group then discusses each of these in turn, taking time to learn from each other’s insights, problem solve and discuss the questions or difficult parts.
Some include extra symbols, such as a heart to mark the heart of the passage, a cross to denote parts that point to Jesus or a speech bubble to encourage readers to think about who they can talk to about what they’ve learned.
Using the Swedish Method with kids
You might be surprised to hear this method works surprisingly well with children. Giving kids the permission to write, underline and ‘decorate’ the text, and allowing free exploration of ‘hard bits’ and questions as they think about what it means can be a powerful way to help kids hear God speak through his word.
Here is an adapted version of the Swedish Method for kids. I have seen this used with young readers from Year 3 up with great success. It asks them to be actively involved in the process of understanding what the Bible says.
The adjusted version of the Swedish Method for kids begins with the question mark. As the text is read slowly, kids can mark parts that they don’t understand or have questions about. Each of these is then discussed, allowing the group to find their own solutions as far as possible using context, careful comprehension or perhaps a dictionary.
The leader encourages the kids to interact with the text and work out the answers for themselves as much as possible. This involves gentle guidance at times, not providing all the answers straight away. Every answer needs to emerge from the text, and leaders keep directing the kids back to the text to find answers.
The next step is marking the text with feeling faces. Allow the kids a few minutes to read through the passage again by themselves and mark happy faces for parts they like, sad faces for sad bits, and so on.
This is a really effective way of revealing how a child is responding to the text personally. One child might put a sad face next to a sentence about Jesus’ death, while another child might put a happy face next to the same line. The first child is thinking of how sad death is, while the other is thinking of the implications of Jesus’ death for our salvation. Allowing each to explain why is important because it gives both kids the opportunity to articulate their understanding, and in listening to another perspective, each child’s understanding is deepened.
Now to add the light bulbs! At this point, the kids are searching to find the big idea of the passage and big ideas that stand out to them.
There may be several big ideas in a passage, and the discussion about why they think there is one, two or three, is more important than the number decided on. The leader might share their thoughts on what the main point is to start the discussion or redirect it if necessary.
Bringing it all together
The hard work is done and the last stage is consolidating what has been learned and helping kids direct their response appropriately. As you draw together all the ideas from the discussion, kids are invited to write one or two sentences under the text about what they have learned.
Allow time for kids to put together their own thoughts and time for sharing them in the group.
Now it’s time to talk to God about what they’ve learned in prayer. This is not the time for sharing unrelated prayer requests but for responding to God in light of what has been learned. Leaders can encourage kids to see how God’s word might change the way they think or act or speak, and ask for God’s help in changing.
Leaders can model with simple prayers like, “Please Father God, help me to remember to say thank you to you for all the good things you give us”.
Lastly, the speech bubble: who might this be shared with? It is always good to encourage kids to share what they are learning with their parents. But imagine the impact if they also shared with friends, siblings and other family or congregation members. The speech bubble is an important element to include so that time in the Bible is related to daily life, and because kids are often a great blessing to their older brothers and sisters in Christ.
A few final tips
The Swedish Method does require a leader to be well-prepared! Working through the steps in advance allows a leader time to anticipate tricky bits and think about how they might gently guide the group in the right direction.
Use a kid-friendly translation of the Bible such as the NIRV or ICB. Work on small chunks of text so that there is time for discussion and exploration. Ten verses is usually plenty. Remember to leave space around the text for kids to write and draw.
This method is particularly helpful for New Testament letters such as Ephesians or 1 Peter. The entire book might be printed with one passage per page to be worked through over a number of weeks. Or, stick up one page each week after the discussion, so it can be referred back to the following week.
Use colour! Each of the symbols could be done in a different colour. Light bulbs will be yellow of course, question marks might be red, you get the idea.
Are you good with technology? Instead of printing the passage on paper, use your tablet and a big screen, and allow kids to ‘write’ on the text with a stylus. They love seeing their contributions on the big screen and it allows for a bigger group to be actively involved.
It can take time. Some kids will love this method straight away, others will take a few weeks to get used to it. It is worth sticking with it for a term or more.
I’ve found the Swedish Method helps kids learn that the Bible is not ‘too hard’ for them, and they can read it for themselves and find out amazing stuff! We want them to be actively engaging with God’s word, and once they get the hang of it, then perhaps the ringmaster can lay aside their top hat for a while.