Creating the best Sunday school ever. It’s gotta involve screens and lots of games and non-stop action, right? You might be surprised to find out that children respond even better to a few much simpler tactics. And they require almost no money!
Often, we assume we need the latest and greatest, most exciting programming to engage children. However, the truth is less is almost always more, especially in a world where children are saturated with input. We hope these ten simple tactics help equip you in preparing an environment for children to engage deeply in the exploration of faith.
Laying a Foundation for the Best Sunday School Ever
Create a covenant together. First, talk with the children about ways that we show each other respect. Discuss with them what a covenant is. Next, work together to create a poster of ways you’ll all show respect and kindness. Then, find a place in the room to put it up.
This practice can even be done with pre-schoolers. Children as young as 3 understand appropriate and respectful behavior. And they thrive in such an environment.
Prepare the lesson thoroughly. With thorough preparation, you’ll feel less anxious and more present to the children. And they’ll respond positively to your sense of calm.
Also, children feel your investment in the material. Not only that, but you’ll also be able to dig into the lesson more on your own. Then, you’ll uncover things of your own to add to the discussion.
Greet each child. First, at the door, before each child enters the classroom, greet them by name and give them a hug, handshake or pat on the back. Then, ask the child if they are ready to enter the classroom. If they’re ready, they can enter the classroom. Though if not, they don’t have to until they are.
Every few weeks, it can be helpful to ask the children how they know when they’re ready. Ask how it feels in their bodies and minds feel when they are ready.
This practice at the door is helpful for several reasons. First, children have the chance to focus on Sunday school. Second, each child gets to feel important. Third, teachers have a chance to learn names of children individually.
The Best Sunday School Classroom Ever
Discipleship rather than discipline. First and foremost, point out positive behavior. Children want to be recognized and will get attention however they can. Help them strive for positive attention.
Second, if behavior needs addressing, speak to the whole class, and use empathy. For example, if children aren’t keeping their hands to themselves, the teacher could say:
“Sometimes, isn’t it hard to keep our hands to ourselves? And when we’re sitting close to each other, isn’t it even more difficult? But it can be hard for our friends to listen when we aren’t keeping our hands in our laps, isn’t it? I wonder if we can show our friends respect by keeping our hands to ourselves. Can we try that together?”
If the behavior persists, without any frustration in tone, tell the child that it seems they aren’t ready. Then invite them over to a designated place in the classroom to calm down.
This may be a chair by the door with a couple of books. Alternatively, a table can be set up with a sensory meditation sand garden.
Maintain a clear and consistent routine. Go through each morning with the same rhythm. The time frame for each portion of class may vary week to week. However, the portions should be done in the same order.
Children thrive in predictability, as it contributes to their sense of safety. Also, they will begin to take ownership of their experience and their classroom when they know what is up next.
Use calm, quiet voices. In spite of what we often assume and of which our culture has convinced us, children actually want a calm environment. Children are barometers for the energy around them. Consequently, if the energy is calm, they’ll more likely be calm.
A state of calm allows all of us to learn more readily. The calmer the environment, the abler they will be to listen to others and take in information.
Offer children ways of taking leadership. Each week, randomly pick a child to be the morning’s helper. For example, use popsicle sticks with the children’s names on them to choose a new helper every week. Place all those who have already helped in a jar together, so each child gets a turn.
Children feel important and are invited to step up to their level of capability. Additionally, they sense the adults in the room respect and need them. Too rarely do children feel this in their lives, and you can offer them this experience.
Transition smoothly. Time and attention are lost when transitioning poorly from one portion of the morning to the next. Therefore, have a few short time-fillers at the ready when something isn’t quite ready.
For example, discuss the highs and lows of the children’s weeks, give positive feedback to the group about today’s behavior, or ask them an open-ended question about God that invites their thoughts and reflection.
Approach to Children in the Best Sunday School Ever
Cultivate a culture of inquiry. First, this allows children to engage their minds and life experience in their faith. Also, children will pay more attention if they know that they can share their thoughts.
Furthermore, if the Church encourages children to question and explore theologically without rigidity, children will be more likely to maintain their faith as life becomes complicated.
Rigidity in the interpretation of biblical texts and religious dogma often leads to frustration and confusion later in life. Ultimately, this can create lots of dissonance, maybe too much to reconcile or overcome. Consider faith education a process of discovery rather than indoctrination.
Take children’s ideas and thoughts seriously. Children and teachers, in a healthy learning environment, educate each other. Every person in the room, no matter their age, is in touch with the Divine even if the language isn’t available for expressing it. Therefore, all become connected to God through hearing others’ thoughts.
Additionally, Jesus took children very seriously. He tells us that we must become like them to experience the reality of God. As a result, adults have treasures to gather from the ways of children.
To the Best Sunday School Ever!
We hope you’ve found these steps helpful. Make them your own as you integrate them into your unique context. And many blessings as you teach and learn, learn and teach together with your children!
What’s been working for you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.