Friday, December 03, 2010

Class Divisions in the Smaller Church

One kindergarten student. One first grader who comes only occasionally. Then there is one fourth grader. Two fifth graders. One sixth grader and two eighth graders.

You look at your fingers on which you've been tallying the roster of children attending your Sunday School, then glance in despair at the curriculum catalogue in front of you. How can you follow the guidelines of the curriculum with this hodge-podge of kids? Your heart breaks for that first grader. No wonder she comes so seldom. Every time she comes, you put her in with the fourth, fifth and sixth grade kids and her inability to read and use a pair of scissors slows everyone down.

What class divisions should a small church use?

Some promote the multi-age classroom. One room schoolhouses did it successfully all the time a century ago; why can't the small church too?

We don't really know how successful the one-room schoolhouse was. Schools and parents did it out of necessity for the same reasons a small church must group kids together - not enough children and not enough teachers. You do what you must do, making it work the best you can. If you must have a one room approach, here is how you can make your teaching more effective:

Use older students as helpers. Older children can set out snack, take younger children to the bathroom or perform skits with you.

Use the learning center approach. Younger children can do an art project while older students do Bible research. You can help the younger children while the older children work independently or you can have a helper/apprentice work with the younger children while you work with the older children.

Choose activities that appeal to all ages. I've watched kids of all ages enjoy such activities as singing, carving pumpkins, dying Easter eggs and blowing bubbles. Older kids enjoy adding more complex details to the activities they loved when they were younger.

Think outside the box. I like the age divisions Rosann Englebretson and Marlene LaFever suggest for small churches in their book, "Reach Everyone You Teach," published by College Press.

Birth through two year olds - Toddlers and Twos
Three through six year olds - Pre-K and First Grade
Seven to ten year olds - Second through Fifth Grade
Middle/High Schoolers

Your first graders will feel like big kids with the little ones and won't have to struggle with the daunting task of reading like they would if they were with the older kids. Likewise, your sixth graders will enjoy being part of the youth group. Most schools across the nation are putting sixth graders with the seventh and eighth graders; why shouldn't the church? As your church grows, the group I would divide first are your Middle School and High School group.

Regardless of age classification, identify the unique needs of the children that attend your church. Let go of what you've "always done" or the way "everyone else does it;" instead, sculpt your classes to meet the learning needs of the children you serve. Your desire to meet their needs and give them the personal attention they crave and deserve will in the long run be far more effective.


Mary Kate Warner (Sunday School Lessons Author) said...

In order for children to learn they must be comfortable. You are right when you say that the first grader doesn’t want to come because every time he or she does they are reminded of their inadequacies. While in Sunday school children should be learning that God loves them the way they are, not that I stick out because I can’t read or handle a pair of scissors. I love your suggestion of having the older kids help out with the younger kids because the older kids will feel responsible and the younger kids look up to the older ones and will feel cool that the older kids are helping them out.

Suzanne Charles said...

I like the use of learning centres. I use this approach in both my secular classroom and in my Sunday School class and it is very effective and enjoyable. The children enjoy the variety and the movement from one centre to the next satisfies their insatiable appetite for movement

Beth J said...

In my college education courses I took way too many years ago, I was told that being able to teach someone else is the highest level of learning something. I certainly found that to be true rather I was preparing a science lesson for 7th graders or teaching a Bible lesson at church. I found that having kids work in groups to learn a concept well enough to teach it to the rest of the class was very effective.

While I have not taught such a wide ranging age group I think the same concept of having your older kids present a story/concept in the form of a skit or object lesson would be great for the older kids and the younger ones.

Great topic Karen!