Monday Morning Celebrations

image by Billy Alexander

image by Billy Alexander

It’s time for another Monday Morning Celebration!  What can you thank God for doing in your ministry today?  How are you seeing Him at work in the children you serve, in the teachers you lead or in your own heart?

Celebration is how we recognize the slow and steady work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  So take a few minutes today to celebrate something about your children’s ministry this weekend.  Share about it in the comments, post it on your church’s facebook page, write a note to the person most involved with what you are celebrating.  In our celebration, we praise God.

Elementary Tip #2

NECC 2009 Sunday Day 1 - 26Asking Questions

When I was taking education courses, a special education professor told our whole class that the most important teaching technique we needed to be successful was the art of asking questions.  The statistics and acronyms I learned in that class are a jumble in my mind, but mastering this technique has been a real game changer in my teaching and leadership.  Asking questions is what can take your lesson from being a nice story to something the children in your class (even kindergartners) wrestle with and learn to apply in their lives.

The Right Questions

Truly transforming questions are not asking about facts.  Asking a kindergarten student “How many days were Noah and the animals on the ark?” might draw many children to answer.  However, asking questions like “How do you think Noah felt being on the ark for so long?” is going to spur more conversation and draw the children in your class deeper into the lesson than factual questioning ever could.

The right questions are questions that make a child stop and think a moment before responding.  If you are teaching about Noah and the flood, asking how Noah felt or how they would feel when they saw the rainbow in the sky could launch a whole discussion about God’s promises vs. human promises- How do you feel when someone makes a promise to you?  Do people sometimes fail to keep their promises?  Does God?  What makes you think that?  Susie, what do you think of what Jason just shared?

Keeping the Tone Safe

What is a safe tone?  It is a feeling in the classroom that the children can share their thoughts and not be ridiculed or interrogated.  If they respond to a question in a way that you feel is biblically inaccurate or off track, you gently correct or re-direct them.  Saying things like “I can understand why you might think that way, but the Bible teaches that…” allows children to feel safe to share their thoughts.  If you ask a child a follow up question (to get more understanding about what they shared), you ask in a gentle, non threatening tone, telling the child you are truly interested in what they have to say.

Keeping the Discussion Moving

No matter how engaging the question, if you spend twenty minutes letting every child answer a question, you will lose the rest of the class.  Kids are just not wired for listening that long.  Two or three responses per question is plenty, particularly if you have a chatty student.  The key is to not keep calling on the same kids.  This might mean asking a child who hasn’t responded yet a question directly.  Be careful with this as some children with learning challenges may freeze when they are asked a question.  I try to make sure the direct questions I ask are a little softer- “Jason, Sally just said that she thinks God always keeps his promises, do you agree with her?”

Application Questions

This is my favorite part of teaching Sunday School.  These are the questions that take the story out of the lesson and place it squarely in the real world.  It is asking questions like “When is it hard for you to be honest?  What can you do to follow the model of [insert Bible character]?”  Sometimes these application questions work as a class discussion.  Sometimes, I ask the kids (particularly older kids) to write or draw about a question in their prayer journals.  This allows them time and space to really consider the question and bring it to God in a form of prayer.

Asking good questions can be the difference between a nice lesson the children forget the moment they leave your classroom space and something that draws the children in our midst closer to God.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/krossbow/3718266912/”>krossbow</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

 

 

Preschool Tip #2 Engage

kindergarteners laughing

We all want a preschool (or any age level) classroom like the picture, right?  Kids completely engaged and laughing, hanging on your every word.  How do we achieve this engagement in a preschool class?  Let me share a few ideas that have been successful for me and other preschool superstar teachers I have worked with.

1.  Get to Know Them

This is a key to gaining any child’s interest- be willing to take a few minutes to get to know your preschoolers.  It seems obvious, but many teachers make the mistake of diving into their lesson and sticking to the materials without ever really talking with their students. Even knowing that Susie’s favorite color is purple (and then mentioning this while teaching) can go a long way towards building a relationship with a preschooler.  I like to have a free play time at the beginning of my preschool lessons.  This helps Mom and Dad ease into the drop off time, but most importantly, this is golden relationship time.  I can talk with my preschoolers and find out what they like.  If free play isn’t an option, you could try a few minutes of sharing at the beginning of class where the children can tell you about their weekend or what they are excited about.  We’ll talk more about sharing time in upcoming posts.

2. Be Yourself, but Pumped UP!

Preschoolers can spot a phony in ten paces or less and will tune out to anything you say.  We’re not talking about an over the top crazy character you have to put on in order to keep a group of preschoolers engaged.  We want to be ourselves, but with a little more upbeat energy than you would use in an adult or even elementary setting.  Allow yourself to be silly and let go of your adult sensibilities, while still remaining true to yourself.

3.  Ask Questions

The best teaching tool I have in my toolbox is a good question.  With preschoolers, we aren’t asking deep theological questions.  We’re asking things like “Have you ever been scared?” or “How would you feel if you saw a bush burning but not burning up?”  Even asking “What do you think will happen next?” in sharing the Bible story can keep preschoolers listening and participating in your class.  If you see a child starting to drift, ask them a question, using their name and they are re-connected with the class.

The trick of asking questions is to know how to manage responses and not spend too much time on any one question.  We’ll discuss many techniques for managing discussion in the coming weeks, but I’ll give you two simple ones for now.  First, tell the children you’ll take three responses to each question, naming the children you are calling on (“Let’s hear what Sally, Joe and Jason think.”).  Be sure that you don’t call on the same children again if there are others raising their hands.  The other technique I use sometimes is to have all the kids respond at once while I pretend to listen to them all at once.  Sometimes I’ll have them repeat themselves so I can “hear them all”.  You can pick out a few responses to address and keep the lesson moving.

4. Keep It Moving

Attention spans are short in preschool, so we’ve got to keep the pace moving briskly.  This doesn’t mean we talk a mile a minute, but that we keep activities moving.  I never spend more than 10-15 minutes on any activity with preschoolers.  Any longer than that and you will have some wanderers among the group and in minutes could have a full class melt down.  Keep the pace brisk and you’ll keep your class engaged.

 

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Elementary Tips: #1 Don’t let the theme be the purpose

Just as Tuesday, we’re all about Preschool, on Wednesday, it’s the elementary classes turn to shine. My #1 tip for elementary kids is:  Don’t let the theme be the purpose

I have seen so many Sunday School lessons, VBS sessions and special events lately that have had an incredibly creative theme that would really draw children in, but the actual Bible content is incredibly weak.  Sometimes the Bible content is there and is strong, but it is so overshadowed by the bells and whistles of the introduction that all the kids talk about at home was the pudding fight that happened before Ms. Amanda taught about David and Goliath.  A theme should be a tool, not a purpose.

If you are writing your own lessons, or creating a children’s ministry event, and a great idea for a theme comes to mind- maybe you want to do a messy day and have lots of messy crafts and games because you know the kids would have fun.  That’s a great launching point, but what’s the Biblical point you want the kids to take home and live with after they attend? If the messy theme receives all your focus and the Bible teaching is weak or nonexistent, the children might as well have attended an event at the local YMCA or library.

As you plan your messy event, pray about what Biblical teaching could be included.  Perhaps you want to have a different messy or gross story (like Namaan being healed, or Jesus using mud to heal the blind man’s eyes) that you share at each station and have a messy craft or game to reinforce the story.  As long as the connection is clear, strong and  repeated over and over again you have the makings of a really fun children’s ministry event

With any lesson, event or activity, continually ask yourself- what is the Biblical lesson I’m trying to impress on these children?  Has my theme become my purpose or is the theme helping to drive home the purpose?

 

Preschool Tips: #1 Over prepare

Preschool Tips: #1- Over Prepare!

Each Tuesday, I plan to share my best tips for preschool leaders.  These tips will run the gamut of extremely practical, hands on tips in leading this unique and sometimes frightening age group to more philosophical ideas and tips for the overall preschool ministry.  Today’s tip is so basic and simple, but so often overlooked when teaching little ones.

My number one tip for teaching and leading preschoolers is simple:  Over Prepare!  This isn’t simply knowing your lesson well, it is thinking through and planning for each part of your lesson.  If you have to spend five minutes finding crayons for the children to color their Bible story picture, that is five minutes for Sally to crawl under the table and start untying her neighbor’s shoes.  It is five minutes for Stevie to remember how much he misses his mom and burst into tears.  Five minutes can be deadly in a preschool classroom.  Over preparation eliminates this problem.

What do I mean by over prepare?

If I am teaching preschool, I start reviewing my lesson early in the week.  I have a pretty good memory, so it doesn’t take me long to have a pretty good handle on the content I’m teaching.  However, if you are someone who struggles with memory, I would suggest dedicating fifteen minutes a day to just reading over the lesson again and again so it settles into your brain and heart.

Next, I take the lesson apart and think through what supplies I need and any other logistical things.  If there is a craft, I break the craft down into steps and think about if there are parts I should prepare for the children (pre-cut pieces for them to glue).  I often put together kits in ziplock bags with all the pieces the children will need inside so on Sunday, I can lay a bag out at each place on the table and not have to waste time passing out supplies.

Finally, I set up my classroom space well ahead of having children in my care.  This might mean arriving at church 30 minutes before Sunday school or before you go to worship.  It might mean stopping at the church on Friday afternoon or Saturday and setting up.  I lay out all supplies within easy reach of my teaching area.  I will lay out whatever craft supplies will be needed on the tables just out of reach for the little ones, but in easy range for me to slide down when they are needed.  We lay out place cards on the tables for the children to find their seats, so I will set those out as well.  Before I leave the space, I pray over each child in my class.

Each of these steps in over preparation are essential to a positive preschool class.  How prepared are your preschool leaders?

Monday Morning Celebrations

image by Billy Alexander

Often as leaders, we jump into problem solving mode on Monday morning.  We start evaluating and nit-picking our Sunday morning children’s programs.  Or if we aren’t caught up in Fix-It mode, we’ve moved on to planning next Sunday, one week done another to prepare.

Both of these things are important.  Evaluation is what helps any leader grow and shape the program they lead week by week.  Preparation is key to success with children.  There is no substitute for either of these things, and they should be a regular part of your Monday children’s ministry work.  There is something else that I think is equally important that many of us forget- Celebration!

I’m not saying you throw a party every Monday morning that another week of ministry was complete.  What I’m suggesting we do each Monday morning is to stop and share one thing that you can celebrate about what happened in your children’s ministry the day before.  What is one thing you can thank God for doing in your program?  It might be a new family that attended your Sunday School or a teacher that tried something new, a child that is usually uninterested that seemed to connect a little more.  There is always something to celebrate.

In the weeks to come, we’ll talk about how to pass our Monday Morning Celebrations on to others.  For today, let’s simply share among ourselves.  What are you celebrating and thanking God for this week?  Share in the comments.

Image by Billy Alexander