"Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it. Prov. 22:6"
In one of his epistles to Timothy, the apostle Paul observes that “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15, NKJV). It is clear that Timothy had experienced a kind of religious education that was more than a mere knowledge of facts. It had resulted in faith and wisdom.
As an extension of the family of God, each local congregation has a responsibility to provide for its children and youth the best possible atmosphere for learning of God’s love. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has developed for its children a system of religious education focused on faith and wisdom as well as on knowledge of facts. The GraceLink Curriculum is designed to lead them to be active in developing their spiritual values and to invest actively as members of the remnant church. GraceLink is a 12-year curriculum comprising 624 lessons, all firmly grounded in Scripture and supported by Spirit of Prophecy.
For the first time in the history of Adventism, the official Sabbath School lessons for children have been formulated with the use of current educational theory and methods. Curriculum consultants directed the production of the original curriculum plan and outlined the teaching methods to be used. Writers from every world division followed these plans as they participated in the development of lessons. Same message—new methods.
Today we know that learning activities must involve a variety of methods. Children remember about 30 to 35 percent of what they hear, about 40 to 50 percent of what they see, and about 90 percent of what they do. The emphasis in GraceLink is placed on all three. Children are often guided through activities that incorporate hearing, seeing, and doing—and require activity. Thus today’s Sabbath School classes often nurture an exuberant atmosphere in which children actively pursue learning under the direction of a leader or teacher.
These activities are reinforced through the debriefing process in which children are led to consider “What did you learn?” “How do you feel about it?” “What are you going to do about it?” This process deals with knowledge, emotion, and application. Educational research tells us that people remember more when they are emotionally involved and that pleasant emotions enhance positive learning. Debriefing is essential to active learning. It is a means by which children (and adults) understand and apply what they have learned.
The four dynamics incorporated in the GraceLink curriculum provide a balanced program and form the core of the curriculum. These are:
• Grace (Jesus loves me). Grace is the demonstration of God’s love for us. He sent His Son to die in our place, to redeem us, and to accept us unto Himself that we might live with Him forevermore.
• Worship (I love Jesus). Worship is our response to God’s love. Because He first loved us, we love Him. Because He gave His Son to die in our place, we worship Him. We worship Him through praise, through our lifestyle, and through our stewardship of all that He has provided for us.
• Community (We love each other). Community involves our relationship with those around us, with our immediate family, our church family, our friends, and with other Christians who know God’s love.
• Service (We love you too). Service is our outreach to others, to those who may not know and love the Jesus we serve. It is to them that we give the invitation to become a part of the family of God. It is to them that we take a message of hope for the future.
Educational research has determined that each individual learns best through one of four particular styles of learning. Although each person may use all four of the identified styles or ways of learning at one time or another, most of us depend on one major application. These four learning styles are incorporated into every GraceLink lesson. This makes it possible for every child to grasp the point of the lesson and to understand it in her or his own way.
The four learning styles are:
• Imaginative. The imaginative learner asks, “Why should I learn this?” The “Readiness Activity” in each lesson appeals to this type of learner.
• Analytical. The analytical learner asks, “What do I need to learn?” The Bible Lesson section deals with the content of the lesson, the memory verse, and small group Bible study—it offers the facts, the knowledge, that the analytical learner seeks.
• Commonsense. The commonsense learner wants to know, “How does this work in my life?” The “Applying the Lesson” section offers the opportunity to explore how the lesson can be applied in practical ways.
• Dynamic. The dynamic learner wants to know “What can I do with this? How can I share this idea with others?” Opportunity to explore this option is given in the “Sharing the Lesson” section of each lesson.
Past programming for children’s Sabbath School was rarely designed to complement the topic of the lesson for the day. About 40 minutes was spent on material unrelated to the lesson topic. At the most, younger children spent 15 to 20 minutes sitting in their chairs, listening to a teacher tell the lesson story as she or he placed felts on a felt board. The GraceLink curriculum provides total-hour teaching, in which every activity focuses on the central message of the Sabbath School lesson for that day. Objectives are clearly stated in the teaching guides. Activities are carefully outlined to teach to the stated point of the lesson. The entire lesson focuses on one carefully determined objective for the day.
Every lesson plan includes a section that calls for sharing what the child has learned with someone else—a friend, teacher, parent, relative, neighbor, or other person with whom the child frequently comes in contact. The child is often asked to make something in Sabbath School to give that person, and while giving it tell the person something about the story or lesson they have studied that day. The goal is to help children become so comfortable with sharing what they have learned—with witnessing—that they will continue doing so throughout their lifetime.
BIBLE STUDY EMPHASIS
Every lesson in every level of this 12-year program includes Bible study appropriate to the age of the child. Even the very youngest children learn that the Bible is God’s Word. Teachers at that level are asked to open their Bibles when teaching the memory verse and show that verse to the children, to identify the Bible as God’s Word as they use the Bible to teach the memory verse. In addition the teacher is directed to show the children the verses on which that day’s Bible story is based and to read those verses aloud, pointing to each word or phrase as she or he reads. Children learn that their stories come from the Bible and how to find and read texts that provide a background for the lesson of the day and/or lead to more discussion of the lesson objective. As they grow older, they are directed to individual daily Bible study to learn more of the story or to apply concepts taught.
Every Adventist doctrine (except the 2300 days) is taught at some point during the 12-year curriculum. Even very young children learn of baptism by immersion, state of the dead, the Sabbath, and other essential doctrines. These and others are taught through stories and reinforced through activities during the Sabbath School hour. The bedrock Adventist message is taught at every level with the most effective methods of instruction.
Throughout each lesson children are invited to make decisions — how would they apply concepts studied in their own life. How could they use what they have learned to help themselves, their families, their friends? Questions such as “What could you do...“ or “How important is this to you and/or your family?” are frequently asked throughout the entire teaching/learning experience each week.
Through the full utilization of the GraceLink Curriculum, the Sabbath School in the local congregation can now provide a rich and creative program of religious education that nurtures the faith and wisdom spoken of in Paul’s epistle to Timothy. As children grow into maturity, it will be truly said that from their childhood they have “known the Holy Scriptures.”
Patricia Habada, Ph.D.
Retired GraceLink editor
Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department