Winter 2016-17 tips:

Session 1

Worship together. Singing a new song while walking and holding a paper candle may be a challenge for some young children. Try singing the song while seated, and then play follow the leader without singing. Alternately, play the song and follow the leader without singing along. This provides a way to become familiar with the music while enjoying simple movement.

Share the story. Shorten the response for very young children. Say, “People of God,” and everyone responds, “Walk in God’s light.” Alternatively, use the song version of the story on page 1 of the Early Childhood leaflet rather than the retelling in the resource pack.

Wondering questions. Younger children may be tiring of the large group setting by this point in the session. If you sense this, ask one question now and then incorporate other questions into Explore time. Another option is to ask younger children to point to a favorite part of the story picture. This approach allows all children to participate, while keeping the group time short. 

Session 2

Spiritual practice. Younger children often observe activities several times before joining in. This makes it challenging to have a call and response reading. Instead, have children give themselves a hug while you say a simple prayer. Show the emotions during the prayer. Pray: “God, you are with us when we are happy. You are with us when we are sad. You are with us when we are calm. Thank you, God. Amen.”

Peace notes. It may be difficult for younger children to sit and wait for the water to become calm again, but this is a good sort of challenge! Help children focus their attention by watching the water closely and counting together in a whisper until the water is calm. It may take more or less time for the water to settle, depending on the size of the pebble. If children aren’t able to count yet, repeatedly whisper “peace” together until the water is still again.

Explore (Move). A lot of movement in a small space can overwhelm some young children. To keep this activity focused, sit in a circle. Sing the song while passing the message from person to person, as in hot potato. Highlight who holds the message at the end of the song, and play again without eliminating any players.

Session 3

Share the story. Sometimes, having a number of props that children are not meant to touch can be distracting. Reducing the number of visuals can help to improve focus. Instead of using the “Story figures,” use only the Mary, Joseph, and Jesus figures from a nativity set. Or tell the story with the Early Childhood leaflets. Place one leaflet in front of each child, and have children walk their fingers on the path between each part of the story.

Explore (Move). Jumping up and down may not work well in a small space with a large group. Modify the activity with “calmer” actions. For instance, clap your hands or pat your legs instead of jumping.

Early Childhood leaflet, page 3. Simplify the pattern game for younger children. Use a piece of paper to cover all but one row so the child knows where to look. You may also want to have the child look for just two animals in a row rather than three. 

Session 4

Rhythm and rhyme. Younger children especially love repetition, and are drawn into activities that make use of rhythm and rhyme. There are quite a few of these activities in today’s session. Encourage children to participate, but don’t be concerned if younger children simply observe or move in different ways than what is suggested. This is age-appropriate. It’s important that children are safe during all movement activities, but the overall goal is for children to participate in ways that feel right and good for them.

Explore (Discover). As an alternative activity to the game, give younger children a chance to play with stuffed sheep and green felt or cotton balls on green paper to represent sheep. In this way, they can connect in an open-ended way to the work the shepherds did, as well as to the knowledge that God is like a shepherd, watching over and caring for each one of us.

Explore (Retell). Use the script below to guide your retelling if you prefer to add more structure to this activity. An adult will read all the parts, pausing after each sentence so the child playing the shepherd(s), angel(s), or Joseph can repeat the words.

Characters: angel(s), shepherd(s), Joseph

Narrator: When Jesus was born, shepherds were on a hill outside Bethlehem. An angel  appeared.
Angel(s): Do not be afraid! I have good news! A baby was born in Bethlehem! He is wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. Glory to God! Peace on earth!
Shepherd(s): Let’s go to Bethlehem!
Narrator: The shepherds went to Bethlehem and found everything as the angels said.
Joseph: I am amazed!
Narrator: The shepherds praised God as they returned to the fields.
Shepherd(s): What we saw was wonderful! 

Session 5

Build community. Using the sticks requires some fine-motor control to tap in a calm way. It also requires impulse control to use the sticks as directed. To simplify, use castanets designed for young children or hand clappers that are often available at dollar stores to make a tapping sound. You may also tap fingers together or use open hands to drum on the floor.

Share the story. To simplify the story, share the song from the first page of the Early Childhood leaflet. Create actions to accompany the song. Then tell the story using the leaflet, singing the song with actions as indicated. This method actively involves children in a simple way as the story is shared.

Create. Instead of painting on aluminum foil, use white chalk or crayons on black paper to make a starry sky image. Tape the paper down so that it does not slide as children work.

Session 6

Peace notes. Rather than moving from place to place to have a snack, have a picnic basket of toy food or empty food containers in your group’s meeting space. This is a space where the children are accustomed to sitting together. Take turns offering something from the basket to someone else in the circle.

Additional Explore option. If the suggested Retell activity won’t work well for your group, use play dough to recreate the story. Children can roll out long snake-like “roads” and move people figures along the “roads.” Children could also use the play dough to create a safe home for Jesus’ family.

Explore (Discover). Rather than sharing information about desert animals, play a simple hide-and-seek game with the plastic animals. Do the motions as you sing these words to the tune of “Where Is Thumbkin?” 

Session 7

Explore (Create). If using glue is a challenge for the children in your group, you may wish to change this option to be a coloring activity instead. Make the scene of Jesus’ baptism on a large piece of paper, such as butcher paper. Glue a strip of blue paper down the middle of the scene to make the river, or use a blue marker to represent the river. Have children add people figures around the river with crayons bingo markers.

Explore (Move). Change the suggested activity to use big actions that expend more energy, rather than fine-motor skills. Instead of using dove spinners, have children move like doves, flapping their arms as wings while you play the song “Peace Be with You.”

Explore (Retell). Sing the following words to the tune of “London Bridge.” The words are simpler and more repetitive than the song in Additional resources, making it easier for very young children to learn. Instead of doing actions, clap your hands and sing.

Jesus went to be baptized, be baptized, be baptized.
Jesus went to be baptized in the river.

John the Baptist baptized him, baptized him, baptized him.
John the Baptist baptized him in the river.

A dove from heaven flew on down, flew on down, flew on down.
A dove from heaven flew on down. God blessed Jesus.

Session 8

Share the story. Point to the lake on the Story backdrop from the resource pack. Say, “This story happens at a lake.” Then tell the story using the Early Childhood leaflet, using the simple repeated song. The children could sing or chant J-E-S-U-S while you sing the rest. For some groups of young children, it is important for them to participate in telling the story to stay engaged and focused.

Explore (Create). Yarn wrapping might be too tricky for some younger children. Instead, sketch the template shapes on large paper and have children decorate the shapes by gluing small squares of paper onto them, adding stickers, or making marks with bingo markers.

Explore (Discover). If you are concerned about spills from a water center, do a dry version. Place cardboard fish in a masking tape circle “pond” or a hula hoop. Use tongs, nets, or scoops to “catch” them.

Session 9

Peace notes. Simplify the activity. Have pairs of children clap hands with each other as you sing the first two lines of the song. Then switch partners and sing it again. Continue as long as children remain interested or until each child has a chance to clap with every other child in the group.

Explore (Move). For large groups of young children, scattering in the room to hunt for hidden objects may be difficult, especially in a small space. You may wish to play this game in a circle instead. Have two blessing tokens, and sit in a circle. Pass the two tokens around, as in “hot potato.” Play your favorite song, and, when the music stops, whoever is holding a blessing gives themselves a hug. Continue until everyone has had a turn to have a blessing when the music stops. Try the game with different amounts of blessing tokens being passed at a time. As a challenge, you could even try one per person!

Explore (Discover). Play dough is a very popular activity with many younger children. It can be soothing and help children focus. Do not be concerned about children making a particular item. Just use the time to connect with the children and learn more about them. Include the wondering questions from the Bible story as it seems fitting. Highlight examples of children being kind, gentle, peaceful, and loving as they play.

Session 10

Explore (Create). Some younger children do not like to get messy. Use regular paintbrushes and washable tempera paint rather than finger paint. Children can “walk” or “run” two paintbrushes across the paper to simulate the movements of the characters.

Explore (Move). To keep this activity orderly and manageable, try the following variations: Place a piece of masking tape on the floor for each child to stand on. Sing the song while children do the named movement while staying on their piece of tape. Or play follow-the-leader around the room, changing your movements each time. This allows everyone to be actively involved without waiting for a turn.

Explore (Retell). Give everyone wooden story figures to retell the story individually. This will be easier to use than sequencing cards. Sometimes, children need a break from cooperative, large-group activities and find it more comfortable to try an activity on their own.  

Session 11

Peace notes. Simplify this section. Skip over the verbal explanation. Have children squeeze their fists and then release them several times. Say, “Sometimes we feel angry. (Squeeze fists.) Sometimes we feel calm and peaceful. (Release fists.) God loves us when we feel angry. (Squeeze fists.) God loves us when we feel calm and peaceful. (Release fists.)”

Explore (Move). Small tokens such as the erasers may be difficult for some young children to handle. A large object would make it easier. Wrap a box to look like a present. Have everyone close their eyes while one child with the present places it behind one person. Take turns being giver and receiver, so that everyone can try both roles.

Explore (Retell). Cooperatively building a special place may be difficult for young children, who are learning how to share and negotiate with each other. You can also do this activity individually. Have a selection of cozy, quiet items such as cushions, blankets, stuffed animals, and books. Each child can choose something that they find comforting and find a quiet place to be. 

Session 12

Peace notes. Making marks on a rock with chalk or markers may be frustrating for younger children. Instead, simply have each child squeeze a rock gently and then place it next to the Mountain of God. Say, “We pray for peace.”

Explore (Move). Younger children are just beginning to work collaboratively. Some may still prefer to work next to other children rather than with other children. Honor these developmental differences by providing each child with a set of building materials to use. Invite cooperative play, but don’t try to force it.

Explore (Discover). Board games are often difficult for younger children. Have an adult work one-on-one with a child to play the game on pages 2–3 of the Early Childhood leaflet. If this isn’t possible, have younger children focus on building and knocking down block houses. Use this as an opportunity to talk about the Bible story. 

Session 13

Spiritual practice. Manipulating the paper may be a challenge for some younger children, depending on their fine motor skills. Instead of using the paper, you may choose to do a whole-body prayer without props. Say, “Praise God” while cupping your hands around your mouth like a megaphone. Then curl yourself up in a ball and say, “Sorry, God.” Lift hands up to say, “Thank you, God!” Wave your hands as if waving for help, saying, “Help us God!”

Explore (Retell). For a non-glue alternative, use a variety of blue coloring materials, such as blue markers, blue pastels, blue pencil crayons, and blue crayons to add different types of lines to the water on page 2 of the Early Childhood leaflet.

Explore (Discover). If making boats is too challenging for your group, have a simple water center available for the children to explore instead. Place a tarp or waterproof mat on the floor. Have a basin of water and some plastic boats available for children to glide over the water.

Early Childhood leaflet. Skip using the slits for younger children unless an adult can work with the child individually. 


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.

Session 2

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.

Session 3

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.

Session 4

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.

Session 5

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.

Session 6

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.

Session 7

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.

Session 8

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.

Session 9

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.

Session 10

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.

Session 11

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.”

Session 12

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.

Session 13

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.