I made my teaching debut in middle school, if I had to guesstimate…nine or ten years old? My sister and I were both homeschooled and with supervision, my Mom allowed me to “teach” my little sister some of the fun pre-kindergarten things. I don’t recall exactly how it came to be but I must have expressed an interest somewhere along the line. I do vividly remember my excitement over hand selecting a few choice workbooks to correlate with my lesson plan at the annual homeschool fair. Yes, I was THAT kid. It all ended fairly quickly because there was some speculation over whether I was more of a possessive big sister or extremely passionate teacher. The jury is still out on that one. Just don’t ask my Mom.
A few years later, I raised money (traditional style: yard sales & lemonade stand–Shark Tank wasn’t around then) for and operated a five-day camp for my little sister and a few of her friends. It went so well that I decided to expand the next summer and brought my newfound bestie on as a co-leader. The next year, the bestie situation worked out. The day camp did not. Again with the boss lady accusations. As if I’m controlling. Please.
A few years after that, I discovered the role of Sunday School teacher and it’s been my thing ever since.
I would teach any age but I’m pretty biased towards the littles.
Teenagers, my husband is a natural meanwhile I love ’em but I have work at being “cool.” The little kids, we just get each other and it doesn’t feel like work. I’m not sure if it’s the mutual fondness for Play-doh or the appreciation of brutally honest conversation–all I know is we have fun & learn lots on Sunday mornings.
A lot of my “tricks” come from the world of Pre-K through 3rd grade but I like to think that they’re pretty adaptable for whatever age you’re working with.
Now, I’ll tell you what I’m not. I’m not a licensed teacher. I’m not coming off of decades of experience. And I’m not a sage of Sunday School teaching wisdom. I have friends that are all of these things and they are amazing human beings who blow me away with their creative abilities. Me? I’m just someone who loves to teach & play with play doh.
Here’s a few things that I’ve learned along the way and have found to be helpful.
MAKE YOUR ROOM EXCITING
Decorate your room in such a way that is welcoming, fun, and exciting. It’s a superficial thing but it translates a lot to your kids. Putting a little elbow grease into your room shows that you care–not just about the material but about the kids. Plus, it creates a unique & memorable environment that they’ll want to keep coming back to.
I try to make my room useful, fun, and also convenient–there’s a place for the youngest kiddos to go play without distracting the older ones and it’s easy for me to change the decor with the seasons. In the winter, I’ll swap tablecloths, trade leaves for snowflakes, and pull the tissue paper out of the tree. You don’t have to Pinterest level or be the next Joanna Gaines of Sunday School rooms to give your kids a great room. Just aim for colorful & fun, the rest will follow.
GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO BE CREATIVE
Of course, give yourself time to prepare so that you’re not rushing or stressing at the last minute. But equally as important, give yourself time to be creative. Creativity equals cool, unique projects and more fun for your kiddos. You need to give yourself time to have those lightbulb moments that inspire the projects and fun. At the beginning of a new season I get all of my printing & organizing out of the way and simultaneously, I’m logging a general overview under my belt. Then each week is a matter of review and deeper study.
I make my best effort to get my weekly review in early so that throughout the week the ideas can linger in my mind and I have time to act on them–experiment, buy supplies, & change plans if I need to. The creative process & ability to act on ideas is really limited if you’re only working with an hour the morning of. Which, by the way, it happens. I’ve been there. I’ve run out of time at the end of a crazy week. I’m come up with last minute solutions. We all lived and come out only slightly scarred.
ORGANIZE YOUR STUFF
By now you know that I like to organize, maybe even a little too much. But for efficiency’s sake, organizing a little at the beginning of the season helps me to avoid last minute craziness. Not to mention, it actually saves time because I don’t have to backtrack. Each curriculum is different but our current study comes with a resource CD that we utilize to print off coloring sheets, memory verses, and teaching aids. The first few seasons, I had the best of intentions to print everything off early & get organized but time got away from me and before I knew it I was going week to week, preparing just what I needed to get through that Sunday. I was determined to change that around and relieve some of my stress, so I made it my prerogative to print everything off at once and get organized from start to finish.
I have a tote bag devoted to only my Sunday School paraphernalia–containing some of the essentials that I might need in a pinch (a pen, extra point cards, extra coloring sheets, scissors, glue, a Bible) and that week’s lesson. After I print off all of my materials, I make all the necessary cuts, paper clip each project together, and stick the projects by week into a respective plastic baggie. I can’t tell you what a huge relief it is to know that the bulk of my time consuming, prep work is already done and ready to go. It frees up my time to not only do other things on my to-do list but also on other, more fun aspects of the lesson.
AIM FOR VISUAL & HANDS ON
Everyone learns differently. But when it comes to kids I think we can all agree that in order to keep their attention and make something memorable, you can’t just talk at them. They need to create, move around, and look through colorful pictures. This is especially true for the younger kiddos but even teenagers benefit from these principals. It’s easier to perceive things in color, so I always try to have my example project completed for them to look at and follow.
Most curriculum kits include colorful posters and/or story boards so I don’t have to work as hard to find colorful pictures for the story portion of our lesson. But if I don’t have those as a back-up or I want to elaborate, it’s so easy to find online printables, utilize a DIY felt board (easily print your own felt characters), or share pictures from a children’s Bible.
It can be so difficult to explain certain principles that parallel with life experiences that they haven’t experienced yet. As a solution, we can participate in group object lessons to help the stories become more tangible. I highly recommend Pinterest–so many creative SS teaching aids. The bulk of my ideas have started by searching there.
CHANGE THINGS UP
On that same train of thought, change things up. Some of my kids love to color while others tolerate it. And even the ones who do love it, don’t want to do it EVERY SINGLE WEEK. If it were you, wouldn’t you get bored?
So rather than always handing out the crayons, pass out the watercolors instead. Spend one week focusing on cutting & pasting, one week painting, one week matching, and after that come back to coloring. It keeps things exciting from week to week while simultaneously holding their attention to see what will happen next.
CREATE OPPORTUNITIES TO ENGAGE
I try to avoid talking AT the kids. Obviously I have to teach the lesson but I try to scatter questions throughout to keep their minds engaged. If they can’t answer, we take a minute and talk about it together. I also like to ask a few questions that allow discussion. They each have unique perspectives and it’s so interesting to see what they come up with on their own.
Aside from asking questions, I incorporate intentional activities that involve the whole group. For example, each week before class starts, we go around the table and come up with one thing that we are thankful to God for or one thing that we can pray for God’s help with. We write our answers on tags, like the fall leaves above, and hang them on our wall from week to week. If they are older, rotate through certain types of prayer: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication. I like this practice because it helps us to not think of prayer like a christmas list but as a conversation, a personal relationship. It also gets everyone involved–each person gets to talk and give their own, unique answer.
This idea can be applied to games, object lessons, selecting “assistants” to help with the lesson. The list goes on and on.
LAY EVERYTHING OUT & KEEP THEIR HANDS BUSY
I always lay everything out before the kiddos arrive on Sunday. As in, each place has already been decked out with the necessary tools for them to start working. Then I’m not shuffling around trying to hand things out while they’re sitting and waiting. It’s a smooth transition and I haven’t lost their attention before I even start.
Circling back to the idea of hands on projects…a lot of kids pay attention best when their hands are busy. I know I do. I can’t just sit and watch a show or listen to someone talk. I need to doodle, write, or craft. If my hands are busy with a simple project, I’m not antsy which frees me up pay attention. It sounds contradictory, but it works–promise.
Painting a picture of a lesson that we are currently learning about helps us to visualize & understand it better. So we always color or paint while I’m reading the lesson. Just remember, keep it simple so that their brainpower can focus on hearing the lesson. If it’s a more involved project, we do that after the lesson.
When it comes to kids, you have to be flexible. If you’re a parent, you understand that on a whole other level. It seems like some weeks everyone gets along, the project is a big hit, and each kid is raising their hand to answer. While other weeks, two of the group can’t sit next to each other, the project is over too fast, and nobody wants to answer. Some weeks I push through while other weeks, we just put the usual routine aside and do something spontaneous that will be more productive like: a pop quiz with rewards, a memory verse activity, play group games, or even act out the lesson. If the kids aren’t able to pay attention to the lesson, I feel like I’m wasting an opportunity for them to learn. I would rather change my plan and come back to the lesson next week than push through it with little or no profit to the student.
MAKE YOUR HOUR COUNT
Sometimes it can seem like such a small thing…one hour, once a week. It’s such a short amount of time and it can cause you to wonder if it’s really making much of a difference in your children’s lives. But let me tell you, some of my favorite memories as a kid happened right in Sunday School class. I loved attending SS all throughout my childhood. It was only one hour out of my whole week but it was one of the highlights. I would actually cry if we were too sick to go. I can’t remember every little detail of what we learned but I do remember certain details like: personalities & attitudes of the teachers, memorable projects, what the rooms looked like, and a few specific takeaways that I learned & applied.
That one hour does make a difference. So take advantage of this amazing opportunity to reach out to your kids. Make it memorable & make it personal. Do the cool projects, play the games, work on the memory verse, use the lesson to share the Gospel, let loose and play with the play-doh.
One of my kiddos, loves coming on Sunday morning because it makes him feel like a big kid. That same kid, blew my mind last week because he knew the memory verse we’ve been working on by heart and he’s technically not even Pre-K yet. Another little girl remembered all sorts of random details during our mid-season review, down to the number of days the Israelite spies hid outside of Jericho and who Gideon & his 300 men “fought” off–the Mideanites, FYI. Big word status, folks. These little things mean so much to me because it means they’re learning! They’re being little sponges and soaking up all that information on Sunday mornings–which is better than I, who needs coffee to function that early on the weekend.
I promise you that it didn’t always seem like they were paying attention in the past few weeks. In fact, both of those kids gave me a lot of reason to doubt that they even heard one word of what I was saying. So be encouraged, because even when it seems like you’re talking to the wall know that they are there and they are absorbing, learning, and growing. They won’t remember everything that you say but it will impact their life one way or another.
In my next post I’m planning to share our ongoing, Sunday School “pocket project” with you so stay tuned! In the meantime, I want to hear about your creative teaching process & ideas. Leave me a comment below, hit me up on Instagram, or post on FB.
Thanks for stopping by the blog today! xx