Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Parental Involvement and Mother's Day

Teaching resource Internet sites are quickly gearing up for the next big holiday - Mother's Day. This week, you'll find all kinds of craft ideas that kids can make Inside the Classroom for their mother. Here are some suggestions:

Ministry to Children:
Family Fun:
Danielle's Place:

One of my guiding principles in teaching is to make sure everything I do fits my overall mission in children's ministry and my specific learning goals. It's wonderful to get kids involved in making gifts for their moms - but ask yourself, why are you doing this other than to honor your moms? How can you help your students grow in their faith and knowledge about Jesus by making a Mother's Day craft? Better yet, how can you extend your ministry beyond the child to the entire family using Mother's Day as your implement?

Recently, my teaching partner and I have become separately convicted of our need to involve the parents. I've been reading the book, Building Faith at Home by Mark Holman. My partner was impressed one day by 1 Corinthians 3:6: "(Paul speaking) I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." Before church one Sunday, we shared our mutual convictions, that we need to work more in tandem with parents in helping children grow in their faith. Our ultimate goal should be to see families living out their faith daily in their home life. (Guess what passage of Scripture the minister mentioned later on that day in his sermon!!)

This year, we are using Mother's Day to involve our moms. We've planned a Mother's Day tea for them, inviting them to join us during our Children's church hour. We've spent the two weeks before Mother's Day making invitations, party favors, verse cards and gifts. Two days before The Day, the older boys will help me set up tables and chairs. As we work, we have asked the children how their families are helping them know about Jesus and we are helping them write thank you cards to Mom, specifically thanking their mothers for the role they have played in building their faith. (One is already done and it will make one certain mother cry!) At the tea, we'll take a moment to share I Corinthians 3:6, emphasizing to the moms that we consider our work to be a team effort in partnership with them and to encourage them to pray with their kids, read the Bible with them and to be bold in talking about faith issues with their children.

I've never done this before. I've never heard of anyone else doing it either. With any new venture, it might be rough the first year. Still, it's one step in our efforts to involve the parents, to show them what we are doing in our children's ministry and to encourage them to build on what we are doing throughout the week in their own homes.

How can you use Mother's Day to build the faith of the families you serve?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Effective Teaching

More than anything else in my teaching Inside the Classroom, I want to be an effective teacher. I want to see results. I want to see the "Ahha" look on my student's faces. I want to hear exclamations of delight over discoveries. Most of all, I want to see changed lives, lives that stay faithful to Jesus for a lifetime propelling them straight into the eternal bliss of Heaven.

An overabundance of resource exist to help children's ministry workers become effective teachers. We have more and better resources available to us now than in any other period of history. There's published curriculum with more ideas than you can ever use in a single session. There's whiz bang state-of-the-art multi-media presentations that will have your kids' eyes glued to the front of the stage. All kinds of tips and creative ideas are tucked into the recesses of the Internet. Then there are a growing number of blogs that will give you all kinds of advice on how you can be more effective in your teaching.

Yet my answer on how to become an effective teacher starts from one simple verse in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:17 says, "so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." Oh yeah! I want to be thoroughly equipped! I want to be prepared for everything that gets thrown my way. I want my work to be good work.

The verse before, a familiar one to Bible students, tells us how: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). In the previous verses, Paul tells Timothy to continue in what he has learned, namely growing in his knowledge of the Scriptures "which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (v.15)."

The first step, a giant step at that, in becoming an effective teacher is to become thoroughly familiar with God's word, the Bible. It is our Source-book. It has the content we need to teach. We cannot be satisfied with curriculum guides alone, for they are just that - guides. God's word has four purposes: 1)teaching, or showing us the way to go, 2) rebuking, explaining how we got off track (the biblical term is 'sin.') 3) correcting, or showing us how to get back on track, and 4) training in righteousness, or telling us how to stay in track.

According to Paul, we cannot depend solely on what we learned about the Bible as children. We can't even rest on our laurels if we've been to Bible college. The study of God's Word is a continuing process, a lifelong pursuit, a daily activity. We will be effective teachers if we commit ourselves to faithful, consistent study of the Word of God.

I love those "God moments" when a child asks a question that has nothing to do with the lesson in my curriculum guide, but it speaks directly to something I've read in my personal study in the past week. I wouldn't have been ready to give a good answer if I hadn't equipped myself! Then there are the times that my lesson will dovetail my personal devotion time or the passage for my ladies' bible study will fit with what I teach the children. Two weeks ago, my teaching partner shared a verse she had been mulling over to encourage me in my teaching. She and I sat together in church that morning and guess what verse the minister referred to? We looked at each other, mouths open, eyes glowing as we reveled in the God-moment. Those moments can only happen, however, when we get into the Word for ourselves.

As a teacher:
How much time do you spend studying the actual passage on which your lesson is based?
Do you have a time of daily Bible reading?
How much do you interact with what you have read - do you incorporate your reading into your prayer time, memorize any verses or spend time mulling over and meditating what you have read, applying it to specific situations in your life?

If we don't study the Word of God, the Holy Spirit won't have a well-spring from which to draw. But if we do immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, letting it seep into our very being, it will flow out of us into our teaching. Then we will be thoroughly equipped for every good work inside and outside the classroom.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Classroom Management: Discipline or Redirection?

After two months of teaching Sunday School, I still had knots in my stomach every time I entered my classroom. Controlling my class was my greatest fear. How could I make this lively group of first, second and third graders sit down and listen to me?

It was the era when the time out corner was the MO of child discipline. Dennis the Menace ensconced in his corner clutching his teddy bear was etched on the mental disciplinary action plan of every teacher and parent. As a new teacher, I kept the corners of my classroom swept clean, ready for occupancy.

I don't even remember what horrible infraction those poor boys did that day to incur my wrath. First one, then another, and finally a third trudged to the designated corner at which my accusing finger pointed. I looked at the two remaining girls. "I have one corner left," I announced. "Who's it going to be?"

You could have heard an eraser wipe chalk off a blackboard.

I told this story recently to a friend. "Would you do things differently today?" she asked. No doubt! First I probably would have laughed at whatever goofiness those boys decided to do. Now, I have the experience to keep kids busy so they don't get into trouble. Finally, I've learned how to "redirect" kids so the issue never blows up into an issue.

In a church setting, our hands are tied as to how much discipline we can meter out to our kids. Parents are all too ready to hit the panic button if you dare make their child unhappy in your class. Unlike a public school, attendance is voluntary at church and a child and their parent can vote with their feet out the door never to return. We can't let public opinion deter us from doing right but as teachers, we also need to work hard to find other ways to control errant behavior before we get tough.

Redirection works best with preschoolers. Sometimes all it takes to get a disruptive child to stop taking toys from others, playing with toys when he should be listening or picking on his neighbor is to get him busy doing something else. But this works well with older kids too. If a child is too full of energy to settle down to your planned activity, refocus that energy into letting him be your helper. If your group squirms and wiggles, flailing arms like a demented octopus during story time, they are probably bored more than intentionally disobedient. Make your story more interactive. Have the rowdiest child help you with hand motions. Get the kids to act out the story.

If the chemistry between two children is as explosive as a warm, well shaken can of Coke, redirect one of the children to another group or another side of the table. Don't say anything about the misbehavior. Instead, put your hand on the shoulder of one child and say, "Why don't you come over here with me? Let's see if we can work on this word puzzle (or whatever project you are doing) together?"

A year ago, I had a child in my class who put capital letters on the term free spirit. No matter how I tried to involve him, he was intent on doing his own thing. I almost reinstated the Time Out Chair when he screamed in the middle of prayer, "He touched me!" referring to the boy next to him. Unfortunately, or fortunately, parents were starting to arrive. The next time he came, as he and the other boy started to roll their eyeballs at each other, I called my Free Spirit over to me. "I need a partner to stand by me," I invited, encircling him with my arm. I expected him to resist; instead, all through the prayer, he nestled against my side.

My prayer partner's reaction reminded me that often discipline problems occur not because we have bad kids, but because we have kids who are crying out for love, attention and activity. By redirecting their attention, we give our kids what they need most and we don't lose precious moments by stopping the teaching clock to reprimand the offending child.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

God's Part in Lesson Planning

Easter and Christmas Sundays are exciting times in children's ministry. Of all times, that's the Sunday to have a children's program and to make it your best. Your lesson is predictable - the Christmas story for Christmas and the story of Jesus' resurrection for Easter. The challenge, however, is to present those well known and time worn stories in a fresh and meaningful way to a part of your audience who has heard it all before without leaving out important details for those who haven't.

I decided to put a new twist on my Easter lesson. While I was confident my group knew very well of Jesus' death and resurrection, I didn't think they were familiar with the story of Moses and the Passover. I was sure they had never been taught the connection between the sacrificial lamb at Passover and Jesus' sacrificial death in our behalf. I planned to show the clip from the Disney movie, "The Prince of Egypt" that covered the account of the ten plagues culminating in the Angel of Death passing over the blood-stained door frames of the Israelites to kill the first-born of the Egyptians. Then I planned to have the children draw the scene of an Israelite family eating dinner while standing, framed by door portals outlined in red markers. They would turn their papers over and draw a picture of themselves with the frame of a red cross arching over them. I would explain that just as a lamb had to die in order to save the Israelites from the Angel of Death, Jesus had to die to take our place so we could have eternal life. We would finish the lesson by making homemade Communion bread.

Was I presenting too much too quickly, I wondered. Would they understand the backdrop of the ten plagues and the need for the Israelites to be freed from slavery enough to then make the connection to Jesus' death for our salvation? I prayed that God would help me explain everything simply yet in enough detail so my children would understand.

God was a step ahead of me! He knew my children's needs even before I prayed. As I turned on the DVD, several children said, "Is this 'Ten Commandments?' We watched that last night." One girl told how they were watching 'The Prince of Egypt' in school as part of a unit on Egypt. (Catch that! In the public school! Kudos to that teacher!) The small clip I showed acted as reinforcement to what the kids had already seen without being boring or repetitious. They were with me the rest of the lesson. To put the crowning touch on the morning, an elder showed up with Communion for the teachers and baptized students just as I finished explaining about Christ's sacrificial death. The timing was God-orchestrated.

As you prepare your lessons for the children you teach, you have no idea what they have seen and heard in the past week. But God does. Even now, He is preparing their hearts to hear the lesson you will teach next. A crisis might happen in their lives that makes them long for something more in life. A movie, a song, something a classmate or schoolteacher says might dovetail perfectly with your coming lesson. Parents might allude to a scriptural principle that you repeat, giving that necessary reinforcement.

God's Word says, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3, 4)." This week, pray specifically that God will till the soil in your students' heart, that they might be ready to add to their knowledge (2 Peter 1:5). Pray that He will bring situations, other people, and yes, even movies, across your children's paths that will make them hungry for God's word, ready to learn what you have to teach, and equipped to make the connection from knowledge to action. He can do it. I know He can.