Object lessons use simple objects to teach spiritual truths. There is some “obvious” connection between the object and the abstract spiritual principle. For example, take Genesis 28:12 and Jacob’s ladder as the text to explore with the children: Jacob “had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” The object is a ladder. The abstract principle or spiritual truth is that Jesus is like a ladder; He is the way to heaven.
Look children, I brought this ladder to church this morning and put it up against the wall. We can use this ladder to climb way up to the top of the wall. If we put the ladder against the wall outside the church you could climb up on the roof. But your mom and dad probably wouldn’t like you doing that. Some fire engines have long ladders that help firefighters climb way up above a building so they can spray water down on top of a fire. Ladders help you get up to very high places. Hmm, heaven is a place that is up very high. When Jacob had his dream, he saw a ladder reaching all the way up to heaven. Wow! That ladder was really big. You know, children, Jesus is like that ladder. Jesus connects us to heaven. He is our way to heaven. And so, to get to heaven, you must believe in Jesus. Jesus is your way to heaven.
This lesson connects the object, a ladder, to the abstract idea that Jesus is the way to heaven. The Bible makes this connection and the connection seems obvious. Here is the difficulty. “The two- to seven-year-old child judges things by how they look to him rather than on the basis of mental operation. He is dependent upon appearance.” Such children are full of questions. “Parents frequently are overwhelmed by the questions that are voiced by the preschooler. ‘Where is Jesus?’ ‘Who is God?’ ‘Where does He live?’ ‘Where is heaven?’” These children are gathering facts. The best approach to them is to give them facts. The Catechism for Young Children is, therefore, an excellent tool to use with these children. However, these children are not prepared to deal with abstract concepts. They are not prepared to preform the mental operations required to connect an object, such as a ladder, to a principle, like Jesus is our way to heaven. “The clear implication is that using object lessons is inappropriate when the abstract truth is not within the grasp of the student.”
It is also significant that adults love object lessons. The adults see the wide-eyed children looking at the lights, colored balls, balloons, bottles of water changing color, and the other things used in the object lessons. Since the adults readily make the connections intended by the object lessons, they register their approval and delight, but fail to understand the capacities of the children. Older children also begin to make these connections. “It is sad that most Christian educators quit telling object lessons at the very age when they could possibly be understood.” Perhaps old fashioned catechizing is the best method after all.