Spring 2017 tips:Session 1
Names. Children love to hear their name, and to have their name remembered by adults. During this session, make an effort to say each child’s name at least three times. Not only will it forge a positive connection between you and the children, but it will help you put their names in your memory! You might say things such as “Thank you, _______, for passing the crayons” or “I thank God for you, ___________.”
Counting. On page 2 of the Early Childhood leaflet, skip the suggested counting activities unless you have enough adults to do this one-on-one with younger children. Younger children are not yet able to count specific numbers of objects, so they may just be lost if you are trying to explain it to the whole group. For the Create activity, invite children to tear off bits of play dough to pretend to be fish and bread, rather than specifically count five and two.
Early Childhood leaflet page 3. A younger child can be overwhelmed when looking at a page that has multiple pictures. Simplify the look of the page by covering all the items in the left column except one. The child can then draw a line from that “gift” to one of the people in the right column. Continue in this pattern, covering all the gifts but one each time.
Personal space. It can be helpful to put a small piece of tape on the floor to help each child know where to stand or sit. This is especially true when doing movement activities. These markers provide a quick, concrete place for you to refer to as you remind children where their space is. While children do not need to remain on that spot all the time, if a child is bothering or getting in another child’s space, this allows you to indicate specifically where you want the child to stand.
Explore (Create). Color hand over hand to help the child feel the amount of pressure needed to get the desired effect. You may need to cover the child’s hand the entire time, or just as a demonstration. If the child is not interested in the activity, you could trace around the outside of the branch and have the child color it or paint it.
Explore (Move). At your cue, have children move the entire way across the room rather than stopping periodically. They will likely be unable to control their enthusiasm for moving, so allow them to move as much as possible. Give each child an opportunity to wave the palm branch to cue the group when to begin moving.
Build community. Skip having children draw a family picture on the leaflet page during the Build community portion, especially if you have a large group. Younger children will likely need one-on-one help to complete the drawing, so this is something a child and family member can do at home together.
Spiritual practice. Simplify the spiritual practice for younger children. Draw sad faces on paper circles, one per child. Have the children lift the circles up as you pray, “Thank you, God, for being with us when we feel sad.”
Explore (Create). Younger children may make brushstrokes on the paper, as opposed to drawing specific pictures. Encourage them to paint freely, without asking them to draw an event or person. Talk about the words happy and sad as children paint, or play music that evokes happy or sad feelings.
Supporting children in the large-group setting. For younger children that struggle to remain seated during the Bible story, consider making a supply of “fidget toys.” Put several beads on a key ring, and fasten the ring. Keep these with your story materials to give to children as necessary. They can touch the beads or slide them around the ring while listening to the story. Allowing this small movement can reduce children’s desire to walk around the room.
Explore (Retell). Limit this area to one or two children to minimize interpersonal challenges. For larger groups, it can help to set a timer so children know when it is time to move on to a different activity.
Explore (Move). Use just the movement for the woman and for Jesus; skip the movement for Simon. Lead children in doing the movements multiple times before playing it as a game. Demonstrate it more times than you think you need to! Younger children often observe for a while before participating. They also can easily forget what to do with only a verbal instruction, so keep doing the movements as the group plays.
Gather. This portion contains a variety of structured movement activities. Younger children may struggle to follow the movements while also listening to the words. They may also become overly excited and may not return to the group setting well. Modify the movements slightly so that they can be done while children are still seated. For instance, make your pointer and middle fingers “walk” and “jump.”
Wonder and reflect. As you engage in the time of wondering each week, allow ample time for younger children to respond. It may feel uncomfortable to have a pause of silence, or to see that children are moving around restlessly. Silence is not always a negative thing, and wiggling does not mean that children aren’t thinking! Children may need a moment to let the words soak in before they can verbally express their response. It may be best to ask only one or two questions right after the story; save the rest for Explore time.
Discover. Board games are difficult for some younger children. Rather than using the Field and table poster and pieces from the resource pack as described, use a variation. Set out the game pieces and have one child at a time lay the food circles on the baskets on the poster.
Story symbols. If you anticipate that it will take you too long to draw the story symbols during the session, draw them ahead of time on individual sheets of paper. Then during the session you can just move from one to the next. This may be better suited for the attention spans of younger children.
Explore (Create). Spread a thin layer of glue on the cross using a paintbrush so that younger children are just pressing the paper pieces onto the glue. Some children may only want to add one or two pieces initially. Allow children to move on to another activity, but to come back to the cross if they want to add more pieces.
Explore (Move). Simplify this game for younger children. Play music. When the music stops, have each child find a partner and give that person a hug or high five. As you continue to play, encourage children to find a new partner each time.
Spiritual practice. Simplify the prayer so that younger children are just saying “Alleluia! Jesus is alive!” Before beginning the prayer, show children several different ways to safely use the ribbons. (“Stay in your own space. Do not touch others.”) Invite children to watch your movements during the prayer, but encourage them to use the ribbons in their own way as well. Say this several times, moving the ribbons in different ways every time you say it. If a child is not being safe, immediately remove the ribbons for a brief time, restating the safety expectations. Then invite the child to return.
Explore (Move). If your meeting space does not have places to hide eggs, use this modification: Put sets of the cut-up Easter egg cards from Additional resources in differently colored eggs. For instance, put one set of cards in yellow eggs, another set in green eggs, and so on. Mix up all the eggs and lay them on the floor. Give each younger child an egg color and have them find all the eggs of that color. (Some younger children won’t know their colors, so give each child an egg to hold and then match it to the eggs on the floor.)
Early Childhood leaflet, page 3. There are several activities during the session that involve ordering the events of the story. For younger children, it is most important for them to know that Jesus died and then rose again. Focus on these details. If children are interested in additional details, explore those as well, but keep the focus fairly narrow so children can remember the most important things.
Explore (Create). Have children color the pictures during the session, but just send home the well portion. Younger children won’t have the small-motor skills to pull the strip through the well without ripping the well.
Explore (Move). Skip having children move from corner to corner in the room. Simply call out an animal and enjoy making the sound and moving as that animal moves. Give each child an opportunity call out the animals.
Strengthen relationships. Consider making a “warm fuzzy jar.” Have children decorate a simple non-breakable container, such as a plastic tub, with stickers. Purchase small pom‑poms from a craft store, or use cotton balls. During each session, when you witness a child helping others or showing kindness, put a pom-pom in the jar. When the jar gets full, children can work together to glue pom-poms to a mural paper to make a group banner. Unlike traditional reward systems where a small prize or candy is earned, this allows for a joint project that can continue to build your group’s community.
Language development. Your simple, direct words can help younger children who struggle to master language and be understood. Talk about what you are doing and what is happening in the room even if children aren’t talking much yet. For example, “I’m pouring the water into the cups. I’m pouring just a little bit in each cup so it doesn’t make a big spill.” “I wonder what teddy bear is thinking. I bet he is happy to see you.” If you are giving instructions, limit them to one or two steps at a time. Avoid saying multiple instructions at the same time, such as “Put the markers away, push your chair in, and come over to the rug.” Many younger children will not remember or be able to accomplish all three items.
Bible memory. Rather than waiting until one child finishes the whole verse, just keep younger children moving through the line. This will keep children active, while still allow them to hear the verse multiple times.
Explore (Discover). Younger children are often hesitant to try new foods, or may outright refuse to take a bite. Do not force children to taste unfamiliar foods. Set out the foods and encourage children to try them if they would like. If not, just spend the time talking about what they notice about the foods.
Explore (Create). Precut the pictures of fruit in the Early Childhood leaflet. “Paint” thinned glue onto the bowl pictured in the leaflet so that younger children can just stick the fruit pictures in the bowl.
Actions and consequences. Young children may struggle with cause and effect, as their brains are still in the process of developing. One tip is to use “if, then” language when working with a child who is struggling. For example, you might say, “If you hit, then you will sit with me,” or “If you throw toys, then we will have to put them away.” This allows children to start learning the connection between their actions and the consequences. It also helps adults remember to give redirection in a clear and concise manner that is understandable to children.
Simplified story. Use the following story for younger children:
Two armies were fighting. The king of Aram said, “We will attack the army of Israel. It will be a surprise.” Elisha knew about this and told the king of Israel. The army of Israel was safe.
This made the king of Aram angry. He sent his soldiers to get Elisha. But Elisha prayed to God, and the soldiers became blind. Elisha took the blind soldiers to the king of Israel. God opened their eyes.
The king asked Elisha, “Should I kill these soldiers?”
“No!” said Elisha. “Give them food and water and send them home safely.” So that is what the king did. The king of Aram and the king of Israel did not fight anymore. They lived in peace.
Transitions. Younger children may at times struggle with transitions. Give a signal two to three minutes before changing activities so children have time to prepare for the transition.
Explore. Whenever possible, offer open-ended activities for younger children. The kitchen area and playing with a toy doctor kit from today’s session are examples. These types of activities allow children to use materials freely without a lot of adult assistance. The role of an adult can be to sit with children and help with interpersonal conflicts that arise, rather than to direct what children do.
Bless. The end of the session can be chaotic as you help children prepare to leave. For simplicity and brevity, choose either the Pray or the Send activity today. You may want to also kneel near each child and simply say, “_________, you are special to God. You are special to me. God bless you.”
Gather. If the children in your group are not particularly interested in music, change the Build community activity. Play “If you . . .” Say something that is true of children in the group and then give them a movement to do. For instance: “If you’re wearing red, then clap your hands.” “If you have blue eyes, stomp your feet.” “If you are a boy, jump high.” Continue playing until each child has been able to move multiple times.
Explore (Create). Some younger children may be sensitive to unusual textures and may not like having paint on their hands. Offer to trace their hand on the mural paper. Supply them with paint and a paintbrush to paint the drawn handprint.
Early Childhood leaflet, page 2. Use a piece of paper to cover the page so that only the pair of plates the child is working on is visible. For instance, cover it so only the red-rimmed plates are showing. Help the child count the pieces of fruit on the left. Then work hand-over-hand to draw the correct number of berries on the plate on the right side. The child can then color in the berries you’ve drawn together.
Background knowledge. Younger children who live in rural areas may have no concept of what a city is like. If this is the case, focus the activities on places that are familiar to children. Rather than make a cityscape for the Create option, make a rural scene. While the scripture text focuses on a city, younger children will benefit most from imagining a peaceful world that is connected to their own life experiences.
Intergenerational connections. Building a network of loving adults is so important for young children. Look for an opportunity to have parents, grandparents, and other church members join the session. They can read with a child individually, share a snack, play with toys, and so on. These simple interactions will help the child feel loved and a part of the broader church community.
Bible memory. Because younger children are not typically reading yet, it’s not going to be particularly meaningful for them to match words. Instead, have them run in place, or walk around the room as you say the verse several times.