Articles From the August 1995 Unification News
How to Start a Sunday School: Children's Characteristics
by Vicki Henry-Minneapolis, MN
Church experiences for all children should be success-oriented. No child should need to struggle to the point of frustration in a skill or knowledge area. The way children learn best is through relationships-perhaps even more than through the lesson itself. Therefore, the primary responsibility of the teacher is being able to relate to each child. When teachers treat children with dignity, love, acceptance, understanding and respect, they build a foundation that makes it possible for children to see themselves as people who are loved by God.
In order for a teacher-pupil relationship to be established, two things are necessary. First, one person should teach a Sunday School grade level every Sunday for several consecutive months, if not a year. Don't rotate Sunday by Sunday, as that destroys continuity and makes relating to the children in a meaningful way almost impossible. The second thing that is necessary is an understanding of children's characteristics at their various age levels.
The chart shows 6-11 year olds' characteristics physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually and spiritually as well as types of suggested activities that are best for each age.
Special Considerations for Pre-School Children
If a Sunday School is on a limited budget, and a choice has to be made as to which class gets the furniture, space and equipment, it should go to the pre-school class. The atmosphere that is created by the physical surroundings and the teacher are the most important aspects of the curriculum for babies to 5 year olds. Pre-schoolers need plenty of room, as well as sturdy, safe, attractive and educational equipment and furnishings. All of that costs a lot of money.
The church can best serve babies by providing safety, security, love and acceptance. When the church provides these things, the parents will naturally feel that the church is concerned for them. This, I might add, is true for parents of children of all ages. If the children are being taken care of physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, then the parents will know the church cares about them and, therefore, will return.
Above all, toddlers and pre-schoolers need room. They should have opportunities to climb, jump, pull, explore and move around. In addition to active play, they need quiet times and lots of rest. It is also an age where they are not only active but noisy, curious, talkative and somewhat self-centered. A balance of structure and freedom is needed to provide security and self-confidence. Praise and appreciation for the child's accomplishments should be expressed freely and sincerely.
Teaching pre-school is not babysitting. Those who teach this age have a tremendous challenge and obligation because children's attitudes about the church and their feelings about God are set during these early years.
The Needs of Teenagers
Teenagers have difficulty talking to their parents-even when the teenagers are good kids and the parents are genuinely concerned and loving. Sunday School teachers who can meet students on their own level, who can be a friend and not a judge, will be the adult whom teenagers will choose to talk to about their problems.
Teens need self-understanding and acceptance as well as understanding and acceptance from adults. They need to discover who they are (particularly blessed children) as well as being able to be independent of their families as they prepare to be married and start a family themselves. Sunday School teachers who are secure in their own beliefs, but not dogmatic and judgmental, are the best kinds of teachers for this age group.
There is also a big difference between a 13 year old and a 17 year old. The younger teenager still prefers more action and doing as opposed to sitting and listening to a lecture. Older teenagers ask more mature and abstract questions which would bore a younger teen. If at all possible it is best to have this age group separated in junior high (7th-9th grades) and high school (10th-12th grades) levels.
The following are some ways that teenagers can contribute to the life of your local church:
1. sing in the choir
3. assist in the nursery (perhaps with special-needs students)
4. visit nursing home residents
5. participate in family nights at church such as doing skits or talent shows
6. contribute financially from their allowance or jobs
7. help during the children's church summer camps
8. service projects
9. help parents in other church-related campaigns
Make the Effort
Children are not miniature adults, so they should not be expected to think and act like adults. I always cringe when I see an adult getting after a 3 year old for not sitting completely still and silent during part of a Sunday service. Children are naturally full of energy. They are noisy, restless, messy and extremely active. They can't help being self-centered. They are still growing. They are not being bad; they are being children.
Successful teachers take advantage of these characteristics by providing plenty of activities allowing children to participate as fully as possible. They go with the flow even when things seem messy and noisy. But they also know that children need quiet times, too-a time for a story and a prayer. The trick is to alternate active times with quiet times.
Children also need teachers who will make the effort to get to know each one as an individual. For teachers to be able to plan effectively for their students, they must know their children's needs, problems, abilities, limitations and family situations. They need to take into account the individual personalities of each and every child.
New Sunday School Teaching Materials!
"How to use Creative Dramatics in Religious Education" (includes tips on the best way to use drama as a learning tool for students, how to make stage scenery and sample plays and resources for plays) $18.50 (incl. s&h)
Knowledge Bowl Game (ages 7-18) (a file card format with names and terms surrounding Bible stories and events, people of the Bible, and Divine Principle; use it for practice lecturing, as a game, or for essay topics) $21.50 (incl. s&h)
Send check payable to Vicki Henry to: 827 6th Ave. N., St. Cloud, MN 56303. Please indicate which item you are ordering.
Vicki Henry is the Minneapolis U.C. Sunday School Director Next month: Inclusion of Special-Needs Children
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