It’s a new school year and a great time to develop new good habits. At my congregation, everyone is together for the first half of services. We sing and pray together, then take communion. Following this, our K-3rd graders are dismissed to Children’s Church. But what about my fourth and fifth graders, or even the middle school kids? I looked around the auditorium disappointed. Kids galore were playing on digital devices, some wearing headphones and others simply had the volume muted. They were not learning about God nor were they learning how to behave properly in a worship service during a sermon. Granted, the sermon is above their little heads, but it still a great time to learn how to listen. What to do about it…
Not everyone is on board yet, but I will keep working on it with both the kids and their parents. I saw a number of “sermon notes” options for kids but none that hit all the areas I really wanted to zoom in on. I want kids to listen for scriptures, for things they don’t understand and things they think are interesting. I developed sermon notes pages just for them that I’m happy to share with you. Each week I print out new copies for them to pick up before services. I’ve even got a 3-hole punch next to the forms in case they would like to keep these notes in a binder. I plan on asking our preacher to remind them to pull these out when it’s time to pay attention. By directly talking to them from the pulpit, they are included and will feel important. I’m hoping this helps get them involved.
Now for the part that is required to get participating in
something they really don’t want to- incentive! Honestly, I don’t like
this part, but it’s important. Think about it. You are starting a new diet. You
want to lose weight or get fit but it’s never easy in the beginning. By incentivizing
yourself with a small treat at certain points, you work hard to meet that goal.
It’s part of being human… we will chase the carrot if we want it badly enough. Back
to the kids. After the sermon, we have an invitation song. During that song,
kids who have completed their sermon notes form can be the first to exit to the
foyer where they find me with prizes. They can choose from pencils, trinkets,
gum and more. I keep these things very inexpensive. (Another thought is playground
time. They would have 5 minutes on the playground with friends while services
wrapped up and parents pick them up.)
I would love to hear ideas of how you get kids listening and
learning how to worship. Comment hear or feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve been following me long, you know how much I use hands on throughout a story to teach kids God’s story. I stumbled across these dry erase flash cards and voilà, dry erase stories on a budget! The kids loved them and they are inexpensive and reusable. (Assuming kids don’t bend them and toss them around like paper airplanes.)
I bought a pack of 48 4×6 dry erase cards for $6.99 (July/2019) and the dry erase markers with erasers on top were less than $10 for a set of 24. As kids gathered in the room, they all saw these items in their packages on my table. Nearly every one of them asked what they were for and would they get to use them. Of course!
Lesson time! Each child receives one dry erase flash card and one marker. Now, these are multi colored markers so if you are afraid of fighting for the blue one, search for a set of black. Break your bible story into small chunks, about eight to ten is a good number to cover a 30 minute time period. I often read straight out of the easy reader children’s bible. Read your first chunk, typically two to four sentences. It should be just long enough to make a point but not lose their attention. After reading, either instruct them on what to draw or let them be creative and draw something simple from what you just read. Remind them it doesn’t have to look perfect. If you can’t come up with anything, go with a letter (name of person reading about, city, etc). I like to set a timer for 30 seconds to keep things moving and add some fun. Kids do fantastic and love this.
Engaging children in God’s word can be fun and simple. Just a few little supplies to use from week to week and you’re set! If this sounds like something you may try in your bible class, you may also like Play Through Bible andTeaching with play-dough mats.
Lesson learned after a big fail this past Sunday. I oversee the
kindergarten through fifth grades, an age group that is very easy for me to
work with. They are a great group of kids. I recently took over a combined
group that is supposed to be 4 years through third grade, but it was clear I
had a handful of three-year old’s too.
Apparently, their parents feel they are too advanced for the 18 months
to three year old group, so they just moved them up. (Insert heavy sigh here.) And I was told there are usually eight to ten
kids each week.
So, on week one, I had ten kids, just as expected. I realized
very quickly I needed something more hands on and engaging the next week to capture
the attention of the youngest to the oldest; after all, my third graders are
about to move on the fourth. They begged for Bible Science (we do this on Wednesday
evenings). Alright, for a group of ten or so, I decided to make slime to
accompany our bible lesson. We’d mix it, let it set during a few songs, the go
back to the slime and learn our bible lesson. I brought in a couple of extra
helpers since I had a few younger kids that would need help. So far it all
sounds good, right? WRONG!
That Sunday, kids just kept coming. I had 20 kids! That’s
double what I had planned for. And to make matters worse, the worship leader
let them out earlier than usual so I was not even down to my area yet. I had
kids racing past me. Yikes! We gave it a shot though. What a mess! Glue
mixtures everywhere, including on the little kids Sunday (best) clothes. The one
positive, I had the attention of EVERY kid. Turns out, I had the attention of
some parents too… and their faces did not look happy.
What did I learn from this embarrassing experience? First, lots
of prayer! Then, prepare for more kids. This is an awesome “problem” to run into.
Enlist more help for the children who are too young to be there, but I do not
want to discourage it; after all, their parents are bringing them to learn
about God. And I learned to divide to divide kids up in to the “Little’s” and
the “Biggie’s” so each are engaged with an age appropriate activity. I will
have them together for songs and prayer but separate for the lesson and
activity. We will see how this goes. We live an learn. This was a messy
learning experience but I’m excited to try this new approach next week, hoping parent
will bring their kids back.
I’d love to hear your experiences. What crazy fails have you
run into? And how have those of you with a wide age range handled them?
Disney’s got nothing on God!
His great big story will keep kids on the edge of their seats. A
serpent convinces Eve to eat forbidden fruit. A burning bush suddenly starts speaking. The earth swallows disobedient divisive
men. A king was so fat that his gut
swallowed the sword that killed him and the culprit, God’s representative
escaped while the king’s men thought he was using the restroom. An evil queen had her grandchildren killed so
she could rule. A man was swallowed by a
big fish and spit out three days later.
Our Savior conquered death. This
is all in the bible and there is more where this comes from! God shared plenty of exciting stories that
show us who He is and how He takes care of His people. So why do kids dread bible class and beg to
watch television or play video games instead?
Kids just do not seem to connect with God and nothing is
more important than raising a child to know God, to love Him and to know He
loves them. Their identities need built
on the foundation of Christ so when things get tough, and life always does,
they will turn to God instead of the answers our world offers. The key to engaging kid’s in God’s amazing
story is in understanding how the mind of a child learns combined with what
excites a child. Figure this out and you
have a formula to raise kids for Christ, kids who take God into adulthood and
share the gospel with others.
Growing up I attended bible class and worship service three
times weekly like clockwork. If there
was anything additional, my family was there too. I dreaded it.
Could I recite my memory verse?
Did I bring my bible? We would
repeat the same well known bible stories with outdated story books and flannel
boards. And then there was my all time
not so favorite teacher. Not only was she
incredibly boring, but she was scary to top it off. Every week we would walk into class, pick up
our binders and turn to a page full of questions. We would read a passage of scripture to
ourselves, then quietly write the answers to the questions. How much more unexciting could it get? There was no life to the stories, nothing to
get excited about. As an adult I began
working with our kindergarten through fifth grade teachers and watched lifeless
faces on our children as God’s word was shared.
Something had to change or they would grow up seeing our powerful,
gracious God as boring and distant.
After countless hours researching, I realized the value in
understanding how a child develops.
During their early elementary years, these kids are little sponges
capable of soaking up tons of information.
This is the time to teach them all the stories of the bible, laying the
foundation. The key is in the delivery,
but we will get to that in moment. In
their middle school years they begin questioning things deeper. Why did Eve eat the fruit? Why did God kill people? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why isn’t God answering my prayer? This is the
perfect opportunity to focus on how God’s stories apply to them. And in their high school years, they are
searching for their identity, testing boundaries and striving for
independence. You have given them the
stories and applications, now is the ideal time to share real world issues and
teach them to find the answers in the bible, setting the stage for the rest of
their lives. If they can do this, they
are ready to take on the world!
When it comes to bible class, give kids a reason to get
excited about attending and arriving on time.
You want them reminding their parents on Saturday that they want to be
at church Sunday and they do not want to be late. As kids are arriving, give them something fun
to participate in that gets them thinking about the lesson without giving the it
away. They love trying to figure it
out. This must be fun to work. As an
example, when learning about Job’s patience, kids are given cards and told to
build a tower. As the cards collapse,
they start again working on their patience. When learning about “hearing”
the good news, they played a round of “Name That Sound” listening to and
guessing a series of sounds from chickens to trains and waterfalls. For the story of Balaam’s donkey, kids played
a version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey tossing magnetic darts. Are you getting the idea? This is something fun kids look forward to
that sets the stage for the lesson. They
cannot wait to get into the classroom.
Now for the most important piece, engaging kids in God’s
story. The average attention span of a
kindergartener is approximately 15 minutes.
If you have a child with ADHD that drops dramatically. We typically have
an opportunity to engage our kids in God’s word
for 30 minutes to an hour each week.
What is the trick? No trick. Just God’s perfect design. God created us to be unique. Some learn best watching. Others by listening and speaking and still
others, through movement. Would you be
surprised to hear that 65% of us are visual learners, 30% auditory learners and
only 5% learn through movement? Teach
every lesson with all three learners in mind, keep things moving and you will
be a hit. Kids will no longer have a
glazed look over their faces but instead, they will engage in God’s story. They will retain more of what you teach and
the icing on the cake, I cannot tell you how much your teachers will appreciate
implementing these techniques.
Think about the last time you sat
through an oral lecture. How long was it
before you looked at your watch or started thinking about food? What would have made this more interesting
for you? Let’s take a look at teaching
the visual learner since this is over half the population. They simply need to
see to engage so provide them with something visually appealing to them. This may be a picture book, a short three to
five minute video or a series of objects.
For instance, imagine the impact of the cross when you show them the
size of nail likely used to nail Jesus to the cross. Listen to the squeals and excitement as you
spray a water mist during any one of the stories with a storm involved. Try a puppet show or skit if you have the man
power. And object lesson using science
or magic fascinates them. They engage
when they are interested in what they see and then they hear what goes along
Auditory learners are the next
largest group of learners. You can
easily combine this with the visual learner.
This is where delivery is so powerful!
Kids can tell if their teacher is interested, so tell God’s story with
enthusiasm, a lot of it. Fluctuate your
voice and use your hands. Constantly ask
questions as you go making sure they are listening. Even better, at key points, take a moment to
let them put themselves in the story and wonder. Ask kids, “I wonder what the ark smelled like
with all those animals” or “I wonder what the people of Jericho were thinking
as the Israelites marched around their city day after day.” When they begin to wonder this way, they see
that these bible stories are real.
Although only 5% of the population
learns best through movement, this is often times your ADHD kids making it
essential to spend time in this area of learning. A great way to combine it with the auditory
learner is through verbal repetition. Give them a key word to listen for as you
tell a story. When kids hear the word,
there is an action to accompany it. When
reading the beatitudes, ask kids to listen for the secret word, “Blessed.” Every time they hear the word, they stand up,
turn around and sit down. You can choose
all kinds of fun actions. Recently I
shared a lesson on fellowship and connecting with our Christian family. Each time they heard the word “connect” all
the kids would hold hands and lift them above their heads. They listened very carefully!
My favorite activity to reach my
kinesthetic learners is through play. I
read a part of our story from the bible and then instruct them in creating
something applicable using Play-Doh, Floam, Kinetic Sand, White Boards and
more. We keep it interesting and they
all have their favorites. Children are
using their hands to learn about God.
This prevents them from fidgeting, looking for an escape route or
bothering the child next to them. They
engage in the lesson. This is the
easiest lesson to prepare, share and gets a huge response from all of the kids. Reading about Noah’s ark? A certain parts, they create a boat, animals,
rain, a dove… you get the idea. Wondering
what to create when verses do not seem to have something simple? Roll a snake and form the letter of the name
of the person or city your just read about.
Truly, it does not get any easier than this!
One more technique to make a part
of your program is games. Kids love
playing games. Not only are they fun,
but they encourage building relationships with their Christian family. Sometimes it will be a game where kids are up
out of their seats and moving around.
Other times they will have a set of fun foam dice and their own game
board. How do I use dice? It’s simple and fun. When the bible talks about the number seven,
we may play a game of sevens. Who can
roll the most sevens? Each time you roll
a seven, your game piece moves up your board.
See who can climb to the top the fastest. There are a number of games you can play with
dice if you are limited on space and need kids seated in their personal space.
After playing the designated game make sure to tie it to your bible lesson so
kids connect that game to the bible every time they play. It’s just another way of helping kids engage
with God’s story.
After considering child development
and learning styles, take a look at what you are teaching. These techniques work for engaging kids in
anything you are teaching, but what do we really desire for our children to
learn right now? Growing up, did you
ever feel like the bible was a collection of short stories? True stories, but not really connected to one
other? I did. Especially when it came to the Old
Testament. I grew up thinking the Old
Testament was boring, outdated and did not have much purpose. Boy was I
wrong! It is not only far from boring,
but our Savior is interwoven throughout it.
From Genesis to Revelation, God shared His plan for His people and Jesus
was always a part of that plan. By putting
each story in context and showing children how it ties into the New Testament
when applicable, our kids experience this and see God’s incredible love and
patience. It also becomes more
interesting, like a movie. There is a
beginning, a middle and an end. Better
yet, we see where we fit into God’s story.
Our children love to learn when
they are having fun. Make your bible
class so much fun that kids do not realize they are learning. They will look forward to attending and
participating and in turn, they learn more and retain more. Try it.
A month after teaching kids using the above suggestions, ask some
questions about the lessons and your jaw will drop to the ground. Mine does.
I am still amazed with what our kids now know about their God. And once they begin to really know God, they
begin to really love and connect with Him for life. This is when we know we have succeeded at
engaging our children in God’s incredible story.
Attendance had been low. In fact, it had been so low that I began to wonder what I was doing wrong. Did I need fresh blood? My classes are small anyway with 6-8 kids per class and that is for two grade levels combined. The last several months our numbers for children’s bible classes had shrunk to sometimes as few as three kids each week. This can be discouraging for a teacher and heartbreaking when we think of our children’s souls.
Two things changed and over the past two weeks, attendance changed. I now have my 7-10 kids per class each week. Back on track. What happened? First, we hired a new preacher after a year long search. I do not believe the preacher should make this much of a difference in bible class and worship attendance, but the reality is, it does. People want stability. They want to know what they are getting each week. They want to see passion and energy from the pulpit. Our preacher is excited about God and it’s getting people back through the doors and excited too.
What was the second thing? I started emailing every parent and grandparent of an elementary student at my congregation on a weekly basis. I send them the scripture reference for our lesson, an overview of the bible story and some things to think about. I invite them to attend the adult bible class that is learning the same story on a deeper level. This has shocked me. We have had several people come because of this consistent email. I have had a couple of people tell me that when they could not make it to class or worship on a given Sunday, they printed my email and their family read the story together and discussed. Of course we want to see them, but if they cannot make it, then I am thrilled they are dedicated enough to God and their family to worship at home that week and if I can help, I am glad! We are a church and their to help one another.
If you already have a preacher/pulpit minister, then you are in great shape when it comes to stability. Now it’s time to work on communicating to families and inviting them every week. Get them excited about the topic. Show them in your communications that scripture applies to them today. If I can show families how Hezekiah, Jeremiah and Daniel apply, then you can show them too with whatever you are studying.
And finally, what should be first but often is not, PRAY! You can never underestimate the power of prayer. I am constantly shown God’s amazing power and involvement in our daily lives through prayer. There are days I even think to myself, “Wow! God is hearing me.” When my husband’s adult class shrunk it discouraged him. I prayed each week for his class to grow and gain new energy. Over the next few weeks, it happened! I did not do anything special. I let God take care of His church. (And I know it was not only my prayers, but others too. God heard us.)
Coming soon I will introduce a new course on “The Effective Children’s Bible Class” that will walk you through, step-by-step, how you can grow a bible class where kids learn who God is, grow a love for God and a desire to share him with others. I will share methods I have used to double our attendance and involvement. More on this later though!
There’s always that one kid. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that distracts the rest of the class and just does not want to focus. You expect this. You prepare for this every week. But for some reason, today this child just does not seem to respond. You don’t want to yell at him/her; but you do want the kids to learn about God. What’s a teacher to do?
This happened to me last Sunday while teaching my second and third graders about the crazy prophet Ezekiel, the prophet who had to cook his bread over poop (they loved that). I had one child that decided he was going to stand up on his chair during the lesson. I’m not sure what possessed me but rather than fight it, I decided to go with it.
I said, “Alright class, who wants to stand on their chair?” Of course they all shouted out, “Me! Me! Me!” I told them they could all stand on their chairs, but they had to stay on the seat, no one could put their feet on the backs or this game was over for everyone. (The chairs are short but I still did not want them tipping over.) Now how to tie this into the lesson and make sure they were paying attention….
I instructed them to listen carefully. I was going to read a few sentences then ask them a question. If they answered correctly, they could stay standing and if wrong, they would sit until they next question. It worked amazingly well. They focused because they were doing something in bible class they thought they would never be allowed to do. They listened and they learned! What’s more, we were able to tie it back to Ezekiel. God had Ezekiel do some strange things to get people’s attention and here we were standing on chairs to help us pay attention.
Being a teacher can be hard sometimes when kids don’t fit into a little box of listening quietly, raising their hands to answer questions, and staying seated to do an activity. As teachers, we need to think outside the box. Don’t always fight what’s going on, but roll with it. You will have kids that love being in your class and they will learn more than ever.