Rounding Out Sunday School

Here on this blog, we talk a lot about the different Biblical principles that we teach our children here at Calvary Temple.  But, we’re taking a break from parables this week to talk about something that is very important for any Sunday School teacher.

How do you keep kids from tying you to a chair interested in their lessons?

We have three different church services during the week, and sometimes the Children’s Church schedules can vary based off what class you have.

I have about fifteen 3/4 year olds on Sunday nights, and usually the night services are the hardest.  Some kids didn’t have naps or some kids are hungry or some are just way too hyper.  If you’re not careful, most of the kids can degenerate into little balls of emotion.

I WANT MY MOMMMYYYYYY

As a teacher, I”ve found I have to strike a careful balance between not boring or confusing the kids….

wait, so we’re only sanctified by faith? I thought this was snack time.

And not making the lesson so fun and exciting that they forget what they’re being taught.

I hope to get a good discussion going in the comments section with tips from teachers of other age groups, but here are some things I’ve learned myself (and from other teachers) over the years.

Have a Schedule.  There are times when it’s fun to improvise, but kids like structure.  Even the three year olds in our class know the order of activities every week.  (Although, sometimes they forget and ask about Playdough every six seconds.)

We spend under ten minutes reviewing…much less if the kids are nuts that night.

Once they get too restless, we stand up to sing songs and do our exercises.  (This is where it’s fun to improvise–we do anything from “climb Gummi Bear mountain” to “swim to Disney World” to roar like tigers.)

Once the ants are out of their pants, we have the actual lesson, which again, should be under ten minutes.

Then, they all say their memory verse to get a sticker, and we spend the rest of the class watching Miss Tierney make them Playdough shapes.  (She is very good at snakes, worms, slugs, and eels.)

Use Visual Aids.  We have a bulletin board in the classroom that we use for each unit we teach.  (This month, it’s the Parables of Jesus.)  Whenever we learn a new lesson, we hang up a picture that reminds us of that lesson on the board.  When review time comes around, the kids all look at the board and use the pictures to remember what they learned.  (I became 100% sold on this when I saw three year olds successfully remember every single one of the Twelve Disciples.  Granted, they remember that Peter wears green and Thaddeus always stands next to John, but they still remembered!)

Manage Your Expectations.  Before I became a permanent teacher, I had the opportunity to sub in a lot of different classes and age groups.  While it’s not my place to disagree with teaching methodologies, I saw some teachers that would sit and read the lesson out of the binders to the kids.  That might work for ten year olds, but the four year olds about lost their mind.  Much of it was over their head, and they could hardly stay in their seat.

But…really…can you be upset?  Getting a four year old to stay in their seat and not fall on the ground/lick the table/lick their neighbor/pick their nose is a huge deal by itself.  Add in getting them to pay attention to someone reading out of a book?

Seriously.  Manage your expectations here.  I know it’s easy to read your lesson, but I’ve learned that kids love to be engaged.  Eye contact, hand motions, volume, pictures–think about how an actor or a comedian roams around the stage while performing.  Audiences don’t want to watch someone sit on a stool and read from their binder.

One of my favorite teachers to work with, Mrs. Nantier, has taught me so much about interacting with children.  I’m amazed at how she can break down complicated Biblical principles to kids who can barely tell me what they had for lunch.  (“Uh…uh…when I grow up, I want to be a bear!”  No, that was not the question I asked, but nice try.)

That little anecdote leads me into my next point…

Be Prepared.  You should already be bathing your teaching time in prayer, and seeking the heart of God as to what He wants you to share with these kids.  But, go above and beyond that.  Can you incorporate an object lesson?  Can you draw a picture?  Is there a song that fits?  Can you act it out?  Is there a way you can turn this into a story?

I remember when we were teaching the kids about the Fruit of the Spirit, Mrs. Nantier brought in a different kind of fruit to teach about each kind of attribute.  All the kids remembered that the coconut was about patience…mostly because it took me forever to get that thing open!

Ask for Help.  One thing I’m so thankful for at my church is the abundance of people who have been teaching children for a very long time.  (That wasn’t an old joke! I promise!)  Sometimes if I’m not sure how to communicate something to the kids, I’ll ask another one of the teachers for help.  It’s nice to get a fresh perspective on lessons, and sometimes peoples’ minds work in amazingly different ways.

When we write the puppet skits every week, for instance, we have a team of about five people that contribute to each skit.  Different writers take turns creating the content, and then everyone else will lend help as needed.  It results in clear, concise, entertaining (we hope!) ways to teach children.

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To kick our comments discussion off, I asked Mrs. Carr, who works with the toddlers at our church, to give me some advice for 1-2 year olds.  Her answer?

(in regards to singing songs) Toddlers love motions and VOLUME. ;)

(My note:  YES.  Sometimes, when I don’t know what else to do to reign in the rampaging toddlers, I will just stand there and sing them songs.

It’s like soothing wild beasts.  They’ll just stand there with big eyes and watch while, in the background, the teachers try to pick all the Goldfish crumbs out of the carpet in peace.

Those are some of the tricks that help me!  What about you?  What age group do you teach?  Are there any practical things that work for you specifically?

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