Children's Sunday school lessons - Composing your own kids ministry material
Why write your own?
There is now a wealth of material written for children's ministry, and yet many leaders still compose or partially compose their own material.WHY? Because children are unique. No matter how much we want to organise, type-cast and categorise them, they will continue to be unique. They were made that way and the bible is pretty clear on that fact.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made
On a basic level even the publishers expect teachers to tweak the material they give them to suit the needs of their students, and good material often gives a variety of activities you can use. Accepting that the children you are teaching for have unique needs and abilities means that in order to teach them well you need to take some time discovering what those gifts are.
"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
- Try thinking about the children you have met with already, what are their strengths, How can they be encouraged to blossom.
- Try researching learning theory, what type of learners do you have in your classroom, how can you reflect that in your teaching.
- Think about the character of your children and the things they struggle with, is your teaching session highlighting their inabilities or boring them
All this sounds rather academic!
Here are some case studies from personal experience, I wonder if you have any Timothy's, or Sarah's, or Marks in your group?
Mark : 'Boys will be boys', and Mark is in no way a girl. He learns best when moving about, he doesn't like sunday groups and would rather be playing football. Once he's in his group he is made to sit at a table for an hour, he never stops moving, the leader always tells him to be still repetitively. He thinks church is for girls who like to do handicrafts and enjoy reading books. Mark loves God and always prays when in trouble, even with his non-Christian mates.
Sarah : When she was little Sarah thought she was stupid, as she got older she was diagnosed with dyslexia. As a teenager Sarah goes to church but refuses to read any bible text, especially out loud. She will happily stay with the younger group, even though she has no particular gifting with children, as the younger group have no reading material. She misses being with her friends and occasionally joins the older group where she struggles to read the workbook and often comments that she's only there to listen. When asked questions she often shows great wisdom.
Timothy : Timothy has spent his life going to church, he knows about God and Jesus and all the stories in the kids bible already. He has little athletic ability and often chose to sit out of games that are competitive. He embarrasses teachers by predicting the set questions during the story. When questioned on his faith he recites pat answers and often responds with adult questions about personal faith.
When written down it's easy to see that Timothy is a child who needs movement. Did you know chairs are bad for our health, really, studies have shown that children respond better to seating arrangements that allow them to sit on the floor or beanbags. Most Sunday school material is written for girls, or for boys who will act as girls! it's usual to only have one short game, and to assign fine motor skills type tasks for responsive activities - like cutting, colouring, and model making. Boys especially like to move, and most will actually learn better if you put in more opportunities for movement and learning to be combined.
HOW? - give them a game at the beginning so they don't feel confined, and follow it up with a short burst game part way through. Act out the story, look for ways to give crafts that mean moving around the room to collect pieces, let the children come write the answers to the questions on the board, or stand up and stick things on the walls. Put in a song and get them to jump about to the beat. Try giving out a small piece of modelling clay at the beginning of the story and ask them to make a shape that reflects the message. Most importantly, let them fidget, it doesn't mean they aren't listening!
Sarah is not an unusual case. Often older children who struggle at school abandon church groups as it highlights their failures. Workbooks are both expensive and very academic. being aware of the content of you material long before the lesson can allow you to tailor your teaching for these kids.
HOW? - Many curriculum's are realising the importance of discussion and when you write your own you can limit the amount of reading by only having teachers notes. Capable readers can always be asked to read from the bible or straight from the teachers notes. Allow youngsters to respond to questions how they feel comfortable, it may be pictorial, or perhaps they may chose to dwell on the thoughts privately. always ask for volunteers to read and try to present important points both visually, audibly, and if possible one other way - e.g. song, acting, game, object lesson, puzzle.
Timothy is possibly the hardest of the case studies, and in some ways the saddest. While for most children bible stories are great and by far the easiest way to teach, the Creedal statement of Christianity goes beyond what is usually covered. When writing material try and be aware of the personal spiritual journey of the children and not just the knowledge you wish them to know
HOW? - be age appropriate, teaching grace to adults is tough, but a five year old simply doesn't have the mental capacity to even start to grapple with it. That doesn't mean a 12 year old is in the same boat though. Don't be afraid to present a little more than you think they can cope with, if they don't understand very little is lost. Try and give time for discussion in every session, it's easy to fill time with activities but discussion is community forming and that community is where the child will go for answers when questions form. Don't be afraid to have open ended questions, presenting a question can be equally as important as answering one. Importantly, try and give a chance for the children to ask their own questions, you may want to schedule this or do it as you go along, and saying you don't have the answers if alright, we all journey together.
Parts of a lesson
- The bible text. The text is a great place to start searching, read the text yourself, read a bit before and a bit after too. Choose where you want to start and stop the story and then hit Google and see what other people have done with the verses.
- The creative element. Many times the craft is the clincher, it's the biggest time consuming factor in preparation and sometimes it's useless. Don't be afraid to change it, look at craft blogs as well as children's work sites to find alternatives. Craft is not the only option, you can be responsive with food or by doing a statement activity as a group.
- The games. Try and keep the games relevant, and really tailor them to your group. don't always use new games, humans love repetition. Try drama training sites for games, and youth work sites for the over 8's, as often games can be simplified. Be aware of competition, are you using it a lot, is it good for the group you have?
- The worksheets and workbook. Is this paperwork helpful, would it be more helpful for the kids to take home, is it creating a school environment? Is this a good time for reflection for the children or not?
- The community. How is this material challenging or forming the community of the group. Do children appear excited to be there, are they eager to bring friends. Is the group a reflection of God's community or a task both children and leaders face reluctantly.
So should we be writing our own?
As someone who does, perhaps surprisingly, I'd say NO.
While some people have the time and resources, educational knowledge and past experience to put together a varied package, many people do not, and the quality of teaching, and hence the children, suffer because of it. Writing your own quality material is not simple, but finding a suitable material as a starting base and then substituting relevant activities is. A pre-written material will give your teaching structure, provide a scope and sequence, and give you a platform of which to base your work, an outline to colour in with the shades of your group.
Where to start.
If you decide to write your own, or just modify then this box shows the 5 areas you need to consider.
There will always be some people who need to write their own, I write mine so that is can be translated easily, and because of other language issues. If you decide to take the plunge and go 100% original here are the 3 points I've found lots of non-professional, and even some professional materials miss:
- Write full notes, if you are not the only leader - giving random sheets of paper can really put off volunteers.
- Be professional - if you can file it for use again and someone else can come lift it out the file and use it then it's worth the investment of time to write it. Grab a digital camera and take a few pictures, make the pages your kids take home look like material they would buy and both parents and kids are more likely to read it.
- Be varied - the same format each week is great, but replica crafts get boring really quickly.
Lastly; do your research, just because you've worked with kids doesn't mean you know everything, We don't give up reading the bible and so we shouldn't stop learning about kids work. The more we learn the more our material will improve.
If you write your own and share it online i'd love to see it. My material, and a grpahic that explains the process of putting it together, can be found at http://www.jesus-without-language.net/how-i-plan-a-kids-ministry-lesson/