By Lyn Baker, Director of Family Ministry at All Saints Dallas
Jesus had a singular, loving approach to children, in contrast to his status-seeking, impatient disciples. Jesus welcomed the little ones with open arms and set their simplicity and unselfconscious humility as a standard for all his followers. We can do no less.
Too often Sunday school teaching about the Bread of Life is about as tasty and nourishing as day old-bread: stale and unappealing. This is a disservice to the most amazing story ever told.
Here are a few guidelines for creating lessons that whet the appetite for more.
First, pray. This is God’s work. We are in service to the author of these stories of redemption. After that, here are a few principles that are useful.
The best teaching and writing incorporates a “show, don’t just tell” approach. Using real things to tell a story makes it engaging. We use five real stones to tell the story of David and Goliath, a Seder meal to teach about communion, a path of plagues that children actually walk through to get a sense of the Exodus.
Children are sensual creatures. Using sensory pathways is the best way for them to learn and remember. Lessons should use as many senses as possible. This is a marvelous opportunity to make abstract concepts understandable. In a lesson on the forgiveness of sins, we had a large glass bowl in the center of the table. Each person (including the teacher) wrote their sins on a piece of dissolving paper. After a prayer of contrition, everyone dropped their paper in the water and took turns stirring the papers until they disappeared, leaving the water completely clear again. Engage as many senses as you can when teaching children (adults too for that matter)!
Lessons should be inquiry-based. Allow children to interact directly with the text. Rather than “tell” the children what the story says and what they “should” think, read the story and ask what they think. All our lessons at ASD have wondering questions attached to them.
In the lesson on Joseph telling his dreams to his brothers and being thrown into the pit, we asked, “What are some of the characteristics of Joseph we see in this story? (Answers: “he was smart, had an imagination, bragged at lot.”) Have you ever felt jealous of anyone? (Answer: my little brother who gets to do things I can’t do anymore.) I often say to my students, “Don’t give me the Sunday school answer. What do YOU think?”
Teaching needs to be developmentally appropriate. There is a particular way to structure a lesson for a 2-year-old that is quite different from the approach you would take for a fourth-grade class. As anyone who works with children knows, one needs to take into account attention spans, skill levels and sensory preferences in working with children.
Celebration and fun are an integral part of any good curriculum. Fun is the currency of childhood. We try to incorporate celebration at least once per quarter and fun every Sunday. We often have a Pentecost party in summer to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. Last year we shot off confetti cannons to celebrate. For Easter one year we had a party that began in the dark, and everyone broke their glow stick at the same moment to symbolize the resurrection. Everyone loved it!
Finally, invite the Holy Spirit into the work in a very intentional way. He is after all, the one who is the Lord and Giver of Life.
Lyn Baker serves as Director of Family Ministries at All Saints Dallas. With a deep love for children and God’s never-ending story, Lyn tries to communicate these eternal truths using ordinary, everyday objects from her ordinary, everyday life.