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.
Summer 2017 tips:Session 1
You are not alone! Does the time you spend with the children sometimes feel chaotic? You are not alone! Young children are learning how to be in groups, how to share, how to use materials in the room. They have different attention spans and interests. This can result in some children moving from one thing to another very quickly. And it’s common for a mini “emergency” to arise whenever you turn your back. If it feels as if things have gotten out of control, gather the children together as a group. Hold hands and invite children to take several deep breaths. Be sure you do the same! Then have children choose between two simple activities, such as coloring, looking at books, playing with play dough, or building with blocks. These preschool “basics” can help calm children and focus their attention. This can allow for conversation about the Bible story or about children’s lives. Not every session may go as planned, but know that your love for God and for the children shines through and has a lasting influence.
Peace notes. Rather than act out many different animals, choose one or two of your favorites and sing the song several times over so that children become used to the actions and words. Alternately, you may wish to try several actions for the same animal, such as: “Fly like a raven,” “Rest like a raven,” and “Caw like a raven.”
Explore (Move). Especially if your group of children is large, you may wish to reduce the amount of activity in the room. Pair children and give each pair one “loaf of bread” (rolled-up towel secured with rubber bands). One child can act the part of Elijah and another child can act the part of a raven and bring the “bread.” Then switch roles.
Spiritual practice. Instead of using the paper rolls as symbols to represent what the children are thankful for, act out what the children are thankful for. Each person says what he or she is thankful for, then everyone uses their bodies to demonstrate the object or activity. For example, “I am thankful for food.” (Mimic eating food.) Someone could say, “I am thankful for the sunshine.” (Mimic rays of light.) Someone could say, “I am thankful for soccer.” (Mimic kicking a ball.)
Peace notes. To practice sharing in a more tangible way, sing a song to the tune of “Here We Go ’Round the Mulberry Bush” while passing play dough: “I will share things with my friends, with my friends, with my friends. I will share my things with my friends; we’ll take turns.” Pass the play dough as in the game “Hot potato.”
Explore (Create). Rather than make a “project,” simply use the same materials in a more open-ended way. Craft sticks or small sticks could be stacked or placed in the play dough. Stones could be “buried” in the play dough. You could facilitate sharing of the supplies. Free play still allows for conversation about the Bible story or children’s lives, but without focusing on a specific outcome.
Build community. Variety keeps children interested, but familiar routines are also very important in helping children to feel confident and at ease in their surroundings. Instead of introducing a new activity to greet everyone each week, you may wish to repeat a favorite greeting or modify it slightly. For example, you could modify the session 2 greeting as follows:
God is with ________, and ________, and ________. (Repeat until everyone is named.)
I am with you. (Gesture to group.)
You are with me. (Point to self.)
We are God’s family! (Join hands and raise them in the air.)
Create. Rather than make the flaps, simply have children decorate the boxes on page 4 of the leaflet. Play calming music while children make their creations.
Explore (Move). If moving around the building is not realistic given your space, given or supervision issues, stay in your room. Do a movement song in your meeting space to the tune of “The Bear Went over the Mountain.” You may wish to sing this song several times so the children become used to the words and actions.
Elijah went to a mountain, (3x)
he slept safe in a cave. (3x)
A strong wind shook the mountain, (3x)
God was not in the wind. (3x)
An earthquake shook the mountain, (3x)
God was not in the quake. (3x)
Elijah saw a fi-re, (3x)
God was not in the fire. (3x)
Then everything was quiet, (3x)
And then God spoke to him. (3x)
Peace notes. Physical activity is so important for children. Sometimes, however, doing large motor movements like jumping and marching with younger children can result in chaos! Children may get out of hand and have a difficult time returning to a group setting or even focusing for the Explore options. If this is the case for your group, you may want to simply have them do motions that they can do while seated. They can still stomp their feet, pat their legs, reach overhead, and so on, but this can help contain their energy.
Explore (Create). Young children often paint only small sections of the page, so you may need to help them cover the entire paper to be able to see the people you drew.
Explore (Discover). Unless you have an adult who can provide direct supervision, it might be difficult to have a water station with younger children. An alternative is to mimic bathing dolls using damp cloths, sponges, and brushes. Wrap the dolls in small towels. If you do opt to use some water, use a large container with a small amount of water. Ensure that children wear smocks, and have towels on hand to clean up spills.
Explore (Move). To help with “crowd control,” especially if you have a large group, have one person use the ribbons to make a space on the floor for one other person while others sit and clap. You or another helper may assist the child who is “making room.” Continue until everyone has had a turn to make a room and a turn to have a room made for them. For a large group of children, you could also simply have everyone join hands and notice that there is room in the circle for everyone. Then sing the following song once or twice to the tune of “London Bridge”:
“There is room for everyone, everyone, everyone. There is room for everyone in the circle.”
Explore (Retell). “Free play” options are especially suited to younger children. Whenever possible, provide enough supplies so that children can work in very small groups. This will allow all children to be actively involved and will minimize waiting. It will also reduce the number of conflicts between children.
Book corner. Younger children may tire of the large group time or may be overwhelmed by interacting with lots of other children. Create a cozy book corner in your room with pillows, blankets, and picture books. There are several recommended books in Media connections to get you started. Add Bible storybooks and other books about God’s love. This can be a place where children rest, calm down, or enjoy time alone or with an adult.
Early Childhood leaflet. Younger children are likely to need extra help to complete pages 2–3 of the leaflet. If you have a large group, do the leaflet pages during Explore time. Help the older children settle into playing with the supplies in the Discover activity. Then pull one or two younger children into a small group and help them complete the leaflet.
Explore (Move). Instead of using the “May I . . .” format, modify the game to be more like “Simon says.” Hold up the scepter, and say, “The queen says . . .” or “The king says . . .” and then give simple actions, such as touch your toes, turn around, or jump three times. Have fun, but avoid trying to “trick” the children as is common in “Simon says.” Simply try out different types of actions and enjoy moving together.
Explore (Discover). Prepare the snack ahead of time and focus on having the children prepare the table and serve the snack to one another. One person can put out napkins, another plates, and so on. The simple act of passing food to one another is a way to show kindness.
Explore (Create). Limit the number of art supplies you provide. Keep it simple! Too many options can be overwhelming for younger children and can just result in a large mess. Also be aware that it is common for younger children to put one or two items on a project and then be ready to move on. If possible, have another simple activity available that children can do independently. Building blocks or play dough are good options. This allows children who are done quickly to become engaged right away rather than having to sit and wait for others. You may find that they want to come back and add something else to their prayer window after a few minutes of playing.
Conversation. There are two guided conversations today—one in Build community and one in Peace notes. Choose the one that you think will be most interesting for the younger children in your group and skip the other one. Structured conversations can be difficult for preschoolers for a variety of reasons. Over time, children develop the skills to listen and speak in a group setting, but this is a long process with challenges along the way. Keep the conversations short and simple, being sure to allow children to pass if they do not wish to speak.
Explore (Discover). Invite another adult to join you for the window prayer walk. Younger children tend to wander off and will benefit from the proximity of an adult. This also allows you to divide the group in half. Doing so will make it possible to invite children’s own prayers.
Worship together. It may be too challenging for young children to hold an interesting musical instrument still. You may wish to collect the instruments after the Worship together song and use this prayer instead: “Dear God, we praise you when we move. (Wave arms over your head.) We praise you when we are still and quiet. (Freeze in position for a moment.) Amen.” Repeat this prayer several times.
Spiritual practice. Simplify the song and use fewer actions if a lot of movement is difficult for your group to manage. Say the following words or sing them to the tune of the “Yes, Jesus Loves Me” chorus. Use two simple actions, as indicated:
Yes, God is with me. (Hug self.)
Yes, God is with me.
Yes, God is with me.
I know that God is here.
Yes, God is with us. (Hold hands as a group.)
Yes, God is with us.
Yes, God is with us.
We know that God is here.
Peace notes. Depending on the size of your room and group, it may not work well to have children pull each other to a standing position. If so, place one of the People of God figures on its side in front of each child in turn, and give the child a chance to place it upright again.
Build community. For a simpler opening activity, greet children with a song to the tune of “London Bridge.” Sing once for each person in your group.
Jesus loves you, yes he does, yes he does, yes he does.
Jesus loves you, yes he does. He loves ____________ (child’s name).
Peace notes. Use these conversation ideas during Explore time, rather than have a large-group conversation immediately after the Bible story. This will allow younger children to get busy with activities and then talk when they are interested.
Early Childhood leaflet, page 2. You will need to guide younger children in finding the specified house. For instance, call the child’s attention to one feature of the house. “What color is the roof on Matthew’s house? Yes, it’s brown.” (Point to another house.) “Does this house have a brown roof? No. Let’s cross it off.” (Draw an X over that house. Point to all the other houses that do not have brown roofs. Cross them all off. Then point to a house that has a brown roof.) “Does this house have a brown roof? Yes. Maybe this is Matthew’s house. Let’s keep checking. The front of Matthew’s house is orange. Is the front of this house orange too?” Continue in this fashion until you have led the child to find the house.
Build community. If reciting fewer words would work better with your group of children, pass a handbell around the circle. The child holding the bell rings it, and everyone says:
“Ring, ring, ring the bell! _________ is here! Ring, ring, ring the bell! _________ is here!”
Share the story. Active involvement in the story is often helpful for preschoolers. However, for some groups and for younger children, it can be distracting and result in classroom management issues. Rather than put paper chains on each child, just do so on your own wrists. “Walk” your fingers on the floor instead of walking around the room. This allows for some movement, but it will be more contained.
Explore (Retell). Younger children won’t act out the story in the way that adults do. They are unlikely to tell the story beginning to end. Instead, they will focus on parts of the story that are most interesting and meaningful for them. It is fine to talk through the plot of the story, since it is often difficult for children to understand the sequence of events from hearing it just one time. It is also important to allow children to explore parts of the story that caught their imagination.
Planning. The Bible story is the heart of the session, so be sure to let the story take priority. The other elements can be added or omitted as needed to suit the needs of the children on a given day. Don’t expect to accomplish everything in the session plan with younger children. As you prepare, have a general plan, but identify an activity or two that you will skip if necessary. It is wise to also have a “sure to please” activity ready, such as play dough or blocks. That way, if things become too chaotic, you can tone it down and help children settle. You can have plenty of meaningful conversation with children as they play.
Share the story. Use an Early Childhood leaflet to tell a shorter version of the story. Read the story to the children once, and then a second time, having the children say the words that go with the rebus pictures.
Explore (Create). If decorating a small sun would be too challenging for the children in your group, prepare the sun cups in advance and just have children enjoy moving the sun up and down.
Peace notes. Limit the number of colors and shapes, since younger children may not yet know all the colors and shapes. Have only blue circles and yellow squares. Hold up the item when you name it, so younger children can just match their shape to yours.
Explore (Create). Sometimes younger children are hesitant to try new things, or do not like the texture of paints or ink on their hands. Offer the child the option to press a finger in the ink, but if the child resists, then use your own finger to make a bunch of prints on a paper. The child can then add lines to make arms and legs.
Explore (Move). Rather than have children pair up, sing this song to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus” and create your own actions.
The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round.
The wheels on the bus go round and round. I go with God.
The wings of the plane fly way up high, way up high, way up high . . .
The sandals on my feet go flop-flip-flop, flop-flip-flop, flop-flip-flop . . .
The whistle of the train goes toot-toot-toot, toot-toot-toot, toot-toot-toot . . .
The water round the boat goes splash-splash-splosh, splash-splash-splosh, splash-splash-splosh . . .
The engine of the car goes vroom-vroom-vroom, vroom-vroom-vroom, vroom-vroom-vroom . . .
Build community. Use a raised index finger (as for singing “This Little Light of Mine”) instead of candles if the excitement of the battery-operated candles may be too distracting for your group. To simplify the opening rhyme, have everyone hold up an index finger, and sing the following words to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”:
God’s light shines on you,
shines on you today!
Shines on _________ (name a child) and shines on _________ (name a child);
shines on us today.
Retell. If you would prefer to use more structure for the Retell activity, rather than the open-ended exploration activities, say the following words and do the actions. You may also use the objects mentioned in Retell with these words (e.g., flip the cardboard or lift a bowl off the candle)
We are not in the dark (cover eyes);
we’re in the light (uncover eyes).
We don’t want to do what’s wrong (cover eyes)
but what is right (uncover eyes)!
In the world, things can be sad (droop arms),
but God helps to make us glad (raise arms).
We are not in the dark (cover eyes);
we’re in the light (uncover eyes).
Discover. If the hole punch is too tricky for little fingers, prepare some black papers with holes in them before your session begins. You could also precut some larger shapes from dark paper, such as hearts. Then children can play on the light table with the frames and the solid shapes you have cut out.