Imparting Buddhism to children should be in accordance with the Dharma and appropriate to the character of the children.
(a) In accordance with the Dharma—Dharma lessons should not be contrary to the Dharma. Those who assume the duty of teaching Buddhism to the children should know the Dharma well and always continue their research in the Dharma field. We know that some children are very intelligent, of a curious nature, and may put embarrassing questions that can baffle the teacher himself. So those who teach Dharma to children must know how to answer the questions so as to enlighten them and not to lose prestige before them. Never be proud of your knowledge of the Dharma, for the Dharma is infinite like the limitless ocean, and children’s nature is fathomless like the bottomless sea.
(b) Appropriate to the character of the children—children are not grown up persons ; Buddhism taught to them must not be the same as that taught to grown up persons. Teaching them too much about the suffering of humanity, depicting the horrors of human nature, has a devastating effect upon their tender minds, and may develop in them pessimism, perplexity and disgust. The result would be disastrous to them, as this way of teaching poisons their tender minds. We often come across people who take a morbid delight in depicting the loathsomeness of the human flesh, especially that of the fair sex, and this before batches of children listening with mouths wide open. Lord Buddha taught this, not as a truth in itself, but as a method of meditation to those who are prone to bodily attachment. Moreover, boys’ and girls’ disposition are not alike and the way of teaching Buddhism to them cannot follow the same pattern. Experience tells us that among the five virtues to be imparted to the children, girls are rather prone to the virtue of Compassion, while boys take delight in the virtue of Exertion, but both share the same attachment to the virtue of Joy and Equanimity. We narrate to both of them the Jataka story in which our Bodhisattva, in one of his previous lives, saw a tigress tormented by hunger and on the brink of devouring her cubs. Moved by pity and out of compassion for those creatures, he threw himself as a prey before her to save both the tigress and her cubs.Boys applaud at the act of the Bodhisattva sacrificing his life to the tigress, but stop short there without proceeding further, but the girls not noticing the act of bravery, keenly feel the atrocious suffering the Bodhisattva had to undergo, when torn to pieces by the hungry tigress.
A good narrator generally draws applause from the boys and tears from the girls with the same story. Both boys and girls cherish the virtue of joy and equanimity. They are in the age of smiles, of a thousand flowers. When observing them playing, shouting, singing, so innocently and so prettily, we think it a crime to mar their innocence and cheerfulness by teaching to them suffering and all that is connected with the horror of human nature. We should also notice that among boys and girls, their temperament is very complex, subjected to frequent change, in accordance with their age, their knowledge and background, so that those who teach Buddhism to them must know their temperament and character and impart Buddhism to them accordingly. Do not try to teach them too much; teach little, but suitable to their temperament and character.
(2) Invite monks and nuns now and then to teach Buddhism to children—in districts and places where monks and nuns ‘who know Buddhism well and who understand children are available. Their life, deportment and conduct have a tremendous influence upon children, help them to understand .Buddhism and, what is more important, induce them to practise what they learn from Buddhism. The same lesson taught by one who really understands and practises Buddhism yields more influence upon children than the same lesson taught by one who has no practice to his credit. Better to invite monks to teach boys, and Buddhist nuns to teach girls, at least once in a while.
Source: Buddhist Sunday School lessons by the Venerable Sumangala