"Through it all we are building relationships. Most importantly, we are planting Bible stories in children's hearts where they will bear fruit for years to come."
Teaching Young Children
Do you teach young children at church? Whatever the curriculum or context, there are some consistent challenges and blessings working with the younger age groups. Children this age love Bible stories, games, movement, and simple crafts. They also love rhythm and knowing what to expect.
The following tips come from my humble experience of teaching kindergarten Sunday school for the past few years. I am no expert! I have simply found that having certain items on hand promotes fun and reduces frustration. This allows us to focus on the heart of the matter, which is, of course, sharing God's love and stories from the Bible.
6 Items For Sunday School Rooms
Again, my context is kindergarten age. Some of these items will translate to older groups; others will not.
1. A Candle
When we transition to our circle time, I always light a candle. The flame and light set the tone as we get ready to say prayers and tell a Bible story. For the best effect, use real matches as opposed to a lighter. Even better: 'strike anywhere' matches and a small stone with which to strike them.
2. Grown-up Glue
White school glue is great, but it has some drawbacks – it's runny, not very sticky at first, and takes a while to dry. I bring a bottle of high quality 'grown-up' glue, the kind you use for fixing stuff around the house. It's perfect for crafts, or for our curriculum activity sheets which sometimes requiring gluing. Do I let the 5-year olds apply the glue themselves? Nooo. We just come around and put a small dab where they need it. It dries fast, and you only need a small amount.
3. Carpet Squares
Ok, this is an old idea – teachers have been using carpet squares in classrooms from the beginning of time, or at least the beginning of carpets. But they are so handy for helping a group form a circle with everyone sitting on the floor. Carpet squares with their weight and thickness work much better than pieces of paper or cloth, which get wrinkled or slide around. The squares are also great for a quick game, having the kids jump from square to square, etc.
Extra tip: when we form a circle, I have a new game for making sure that kids are seated next to neighbors with whom they can behave. I turn my back and ask my co-teacher to help the kids 're-arrange' and make me guess where they have moved. "See if you can trick me!" They think it's fun, and when they're done everyone is hopefully seated in a spot where they can enjoy the Bible story.
4. Cotton Balls (or Pom Poms)
For crafts? Nope, these are perfect for quick games! In the middle of Sunday school time, we always do a kinesthetic game to get the kids moving and having some fun together. A single bag of cotton balls is all you need for a variety of such games.
Our two favorites: 1) Pileup. Invite a child to hold their hands cupped like a basket, as the rest of us take turns placing a cotton ball in their hands. Count how many you can pile up before they fall! 2) Find-em. Have the kids step outside the door, and then hide cotton balls or pom poms around the room. Invite them to come back in and hunt, helping/sharing until every person has 3 cotton balls.
5. Wet Wipes
I teach in a lovely classroom, but it's small and there is no sink. So I am usually terrified of activities with glitter, stamp pads, paint, etc. But with plenty of wet wipes on hand, the playing field opens up. We can get our fingers dirty, and then do a quick wipe before those fingers make their way onto church clothes.
6. Clay or Dough
We usually do a craft at the end of our Sunday school time. But sometimes it's hard to find a craft that meets all the criteria: relates to the story, is simple enough for young hands, and can be done in 10 minutes.
Enter playdough! You can use either name brand or homemade. Instead of a craft, we open up a bunch of dough and invite the kids to mold shapes or figures in response to the Bible story. We talk as we work with the dough, usually about things they remember from the story. I have been surprised by the creative things kids have made, often with thoughtful connections to the Biblical characters or theme. The children don't have to take home their dough creations – it may be best to just collect all the dough and put it away for next time.
For me, the key to Sunday school with young children is to keep it moving. Also, we have a consistent pattern that we follow every class. It's not always perfect: we still struggle with short attention spans or activities that don't work out. But through it all, we are building relationships. Most importantly, we are planting Bible stories in children's hearts where they will bear fruit for years to come.
What would you add to this list?
Matthew Kozlowski manages, edits, and writes for Building Faith. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife Danielle and two young daughters. Throughout his career he has been a teacher, camp counselor, school chaplain, camp chaplain, Sunday school teacher, parish priest, and Alpha course coordinator.