What Are Preteens Thinking?

We need to teach our fourth and fifth graders with a unique approach as to where they are and what they’re learning. Typically, 9-11 year olds are transitioning from ‘what they think’ to ‘how they think.’ In my church’s 4th & 5th grade ministry, we consistently announce that if you’re sharing a belief in something from the Bible, you have to know where it is in the Bible. Not knowing is ok! We just want to foster a pattern of thinking or belief based on their own findings in the Bible, rather than what they’ve been taught or told.

Traditionally, when teaching in a children’s environment, we want to teach concrete details, have a well thought-out outline, have those 2-3 main key points, and really drive them home! But what happens when that fourth grader asks a question they think is on topic, but is not in the slightest? Embrace the distraction! Follow up their question with a question! What are these preteens thinking? They’re asking questions about everything, because at this point in their life, their brain is allowing them to question!

So, bring on the questions. Having answers for everything is an adult way of thinking. Asking questions on a typically understood statement or belief is powerful!

Take this video, for instance. Young children, preteens and adults were all asked the same question, “What do you think about swimming in water where there might be sharks?” As an adult, I can quickly answer that with a “NO WAY!” It’s obvious, right? Even the young children in the video knew this answer. Now the preteens? The preteens were the ones who questioned the question! They challenge us with their thoughts because they think so differently.

Why are preteens questioning? Because they can! It’s stated that “in early adolescence, the young adolescent body undergoes more developmental change than at any other time except from birth to two years old.”* When babies learns to crawl, we praise them for their attempt. But when a preteen is awkward in their questions or seems like they are ‘pushing the envelope’, more often than not, we scold or correct them for not following the status quo. When in reality, they’re attempting something they’ve never done before!

For example, about a year ago I was teaching a lesson to a group of preteens. The intro to this lesson had an object lesson to get their minds primed for the subject. The object lesson was splitting them up into small groups with each small group receiving a bag of Legos with specific instructions. There was no talking, and the first group to finish would win. What the groups didn’t know was that only one group could win. One group’s instructions said all they had to do was sit there, not open the bag, and they would win. The rest of the groups were given incomplete instructions. When I brought everyone back together, and told them that this one group won, there was one particular preteen who was furious. He erupted with, “That was horrible!” I had a choice: 1) scold him for yelling and being rude, or 2) enter into his questioning with him. I chose number two. And through that I was able to help him, and the rest of the preteens, to understand what it means to follow God’s instructions. What would have happened if I scolded him for his outburst? His intrigue may have been stifled. His thought process may have been halted. His idea of what is proper in church may have been shifted to the status quo. That’s not what I wanted. My goal was to embrace the eruption and redirect it to become a learning experience.

When teaching preteens it’s important to learn to love to hear the deep questions, as well as entertain the not-on-topic ones! Whatever they’re thinking, give them freedom to ask their questions. Who knows…maybe in doing something new, they’ll learn to crawl. Maybe we’ll help develop a generation of people who can embrace freedom in following Christ. Preteens are willing to try things that most people are not ready to do. What would happen if we tried something new in how we interact and teach preteens?


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