Winter 2017-18 tips

Session 1

Build community. Very young children may just be getting used to participating in a group setting, and they may appreciate having the same opening activity each week. Older children may be more used to learning in a group of peers and may prefer more variety. You may wish to use the same opening for all five Advent and Christmas stories. For example, pass a small bell or some jingle bells around the circle and chant the following words, or sing them to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”:
            Ring, ring, ring the bell, say that _______ (child’s name) is here!
            We are glad Jesus was born!
            Our hearts are full of cheer!

Share the story. Help children settle into the story with some simple routines each time. Place a story quilt in a special corner where you always tell the story, or give each child a carpet square to sit on. Sit cross-legged (say “Crisscross applesauce” every time), and use a simple finger rhyme each time you settle in, as follows:
            Up, up, up, hands go up! (Raise hands over our head.)
            Down, down, down, hands pat the ground! (Pat the floor in front of you.)
            Clap, clap, clap, hands can clap! (Clap when you say “clap.”)
            Lap, lap, lap, fold hands in your lap! (Fold hands together in your lap.)

Explore (Move). If your room is very small, or if your group is easily overwhelmed, you may want to take turns with this activity. Line up in a row, sitting down, and have one or two children straighten part of the path and then return to the line to give the next child a turn. The children who are sitting can sing the song and sway while the other children make the road straight.

Session 2

Share the story. After telling the story as it is written on the back of the story picture, immediately involve the children in retelling the story with their bodies by singing the song on page 1 of the Early Childhood leaflet and doing the actions. Sing the song on the leaflet two or three times to have children grasp the most important parts of the story.

Explore (Create). Because a paper envelope could easily be torn, use plastic containers for younger children. Have them drop several handfuls of beans into a clean, clear plastic container. Secure the top and shake.

Explore (Retell). If you have a small group of younger children, you may want to use a basin of warm water during Retell. Set the basin on a large bath towel in case of spills, and have each child wear a smock to keep clothing dry. Provide cups for pouring and talk about the way your own congregation practices baptism. Young children in particular learn through their senses and by association, so they may remember the story of John the Baptist in their own bath time.

Session 3

Build community. To make sure that every child gets a turn promptly, you may want to choose a soft item that cannot roll away, such as a stuffed animal. Pass it around the circle in order. Say the welcome line to the child holding the toy.

Share the story. To help the children distinguish characters, you may wish to ask two adult or youth helpers to read the parts of the angel and Elizabeth while you read the narrator’s parts. Adding costumes for your guest readers would make it even more special!

Explore (Retell). Use the following script to retell the story. Prompt the children to say “Praise God!” by telling them the line, then have them repeat it after you.

Narrator: There once was a girl named Mary. One day, Mary was busy working in her house when an angel appeared.
Angel: You are blessed, Mary! God is with you.
Narrator: Mary was surprised!
Angel: Do not be afraid! You will have a baby. His name will be Jesus. Elizabeth will have a baby too. God can do anything!
Narrator: Mary walked and walked and walked until she got to Elizabeth’s house.
Elizabeth: Hello, Mary.
Mary: Hello, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: When you came, my baby jumped for joy!
Mary: I am so happy!
All: Praise God!
Mary: God loves everyone.
All: Praise God!
Mary: God gives good things to people who are hungry.
All: Praise God!
Mary: God keeps promises forever.
All: Praise God!

Session 4

Spiritual practice. Shorten and simplify the body prayer. Give each child a carpet square or a square marked with masking tape to stand on so they each have their own space in which to move. Hold your hands out, as if to receive a present, and say, “God, you give us good things.” Then raise your hands and turn around in a circle, and say, “Thank you. Amen.” Repeat several times.

Peace notes. Young children may find waiting for a turn to be quite challenging, and they may also really enjoy playing with baby dolls. Take more time with this activity and ensure that there is at least one baby doll and baby blanket for each child. Use small boxes and baskets as beds, and have children wrap their dolls in blankets, put them in the beds, and pick them up again at their own pace.

Explore (Create). Younger children can become frustrated if their drawings don’t look the way they want them to. If possible, provide animal stamps and washable ink pads for children to use in making the Christmas book.

Session 5

Book corner. Create a book corner in your room with a variety of books well suited for younger children. Add pillows and perhaps a lap blanket so children can be comfortable. This can help to calm a child who is not able to participate well in the large group. Or it can be a place that the whole group gathers to share stories together.

Explore (Move). Rather than have children wait in a specific spot, have all the children move around the room as a group. When you ring a bell, have children say, “Jesus is born!” Use a unique voice every time: whisper, shout, say it very slowly or very quickly, use a deep voice or a high voice, and so on.

Explore (Retell). Use the following song as a guide while retelling the story. Add big, whole-body actions to the verses and move as you sing. Choose a place to represent Bethlehem. Sing the song to the tune of “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”:

The angel said to the shepherds (spread arms wide, like rays of light),
the angel said to the shepherds,
the angel said to the shepherds,
“Go to Bethlehem! (Point to Bethlehem.)
Go to Bethlehem!
Go to Bethlehem!

“Find a baby named Jesus (pretend to rock a baby in your arms),
find a baby named Jesus,
find a baby named Jesus,
he’s lying in the hay. (Place arms by your head as if sleeping.)
He’s lying in the hay.
He’s lying in the hay.”

The shepherds went to the manger (run in place),
the shepherds went to the manger,
the shepherds went to the manger,
they found Jesus there. (Point to doll.)
They found Jesus there.
They found Jesus there.

The shepherds went out rejoicing. (Skip, jump, or hop to “Bethlehem.”)
The shepherds went out rejoicing.
The shepherds went out rejoicing
at what they’d heard and seen!

Session 6

Spiritual practice. Holding still can be a challenging instruction for young, active children! Help them develop this skill by providing a focus and counting to five. Try the following guide to help:
            Jesus took time to be quiet and still.
            We put our hands on the floor, and we are still–2–3–4–5.
            We put our hands on our heads, and we are still–2–3–4–5.
            We raise our hands high up to the sky, and we are still–2–3–4–5.
            We follow Jesus.

Peace notes. Some young children find fingerplays tricky. For a simpler way to celebrate friendship, pass a soft ball around the circle and say these words for the person holding the ball: “________ is our friend. Thank you, God, for friends!”

Explore (Retell). A water station may be difficult to manage, especially with a larger group. If you would prefer to try a simpler version, try a “dry” activity. Use the “sea” and fish from Share the story, find a magnetic toy fishing set, or search online for “Printable fishing game” for props.

Session 7

Peace notes. It is far more efficient for an adult to clean up the room. But efficiency is not the highest value when spending time with younger children. Cooperation, helpfulness, participation in a group, and consideration of others are learned over time with much practice. Today is an opportunity for children to spend a few minutes being helpful. This may come with challenges, but it is worth the effort and the extra time to help children build those skills and character traits.

Explore (Create). If weaving is too difficult for the children in your group, print the template but do not cut slits. Use stickers, washable ink stamps, or crayons to make patterns along the strips. Then use transparent shelf liner to preserve their work.

Explore (Move). Coordinating four people to work together at a task may be too challenging for very young children who are just learning how to work with others and cooperate. This activity can be modified to be a solo activity. Give each child a doll to care for as well as a carrier, backpack, or doll sling to carry the doll through a course.

Session 8

Spiritual practice. Rather than using a “paper-pencil” prayer in the leaflet, do a simple movement prayer with younger children:
            Leader: Wherever my feet go (stomp your feet),
            All: God is with me! God is with me! (Clap on each word.)
            Leader: Everywhere and all the time (gesture widely with your hands),
            All: God is with me! God is with me! (Clap on each word.) Amen.

Peace notes. To focus more on the feelings aspect of the story, have children practice making sad faces and happy faces. Then have children stand for a movement activity. It may work best to use masking tape to mark a place for each child to stand.
            Say: “God is with us when we are sad.” (Make a sad face.)
            Say: “God is with us when we are happy.” (Make a happy face.)
            Say: “God is with us when we are still.” (Freeze.)
            Say: “God is with us when we jump for joy!” (Jump.)

Explore (Retell). The Retell activity is particularly good for younger children. Do not expect them to recount the story in order with all its details. Rather, allow them to focus on an aspect of the story that is most meaningful to them. For instance, one child may like pretending to cook a meal for the girl. Another child may want to pretend to be sick. Another child may want to walk up and down a “road” asking for help. The types of choices the child makes in play can be a window into things the child struggles with or enjoys.

Session 9

Build community. For some younger children, making a “boat” by placing the soles of their feet together and gently rocking their bodies in a controlled way may be too challenging. Instead of having them put the soles of their feet together, have them sit “crisscross applesauce” for better balance. Alternatively, hold scooped hands together to form a boat shape. Rock your hands back and forth instead of your whole body.

Fears. Younger children may be afraid of storms. Be sensitive to this as you share the story. While it may seem fun and may capture children’s attention if you dramatize the storm, be careful not to make it too scary. Emphasize Jesus’ love for the disciples and his words of reassurance rather than the gravity of the storm.

Explore (Discover). Keep the number of supplies to a minimum, introducing one item at a time. If you set out a container full of different supplies, you will quickly have a mess all over the table and floor! Skip things that need to be plugged in, such as a blow-dryer or oscillating fan, unless you have two adults in the room.

Session 10

Spiritual practice. If you have a large group of younger children, have each child put only one adhesive bandage on the leaflet page. Individuals can draw in the box while waiting for other children to get the bandage.

Peace notes. If you would prefer not to make the snack mix together, you may wish to make an item, such as cookies or granola bars, to bring in and tell the story of how you enjoyed making it for them. Alternately, this could be an opportunity for a special guest from your church to serve your group by making a special snack for them. Perhaps there is someone with a “famous” cookie, pie, or muffin recipe who could make their special treat for your group!

Explore (Move). If an obstacle course would be too difficult for your group to manage, simplify this activity by having partners assist in individual tasks, such as helping each other to stand up from sitting on the floor or walking hand in hand on a short walk around the building.

Session 11

Early Childhood leaflet. It is common for younger children to only put a few marks on a page when doing any art-related activity. On leaflet pages 2–3, children are asked to draw a line from each person to Jesus. It is unlikely that younger children will want to draw lines from all the people, and the lines may not go directly to Jesus. That is okay. Call attention to the lines the child did draw. For instance, “I see that the boy is going toward Jesus.” Or, “I see that the girl with the blue robe is coming to Jesus.” You can add the line, “Maybe you could help the baby come to Jesus,” to encourage additional engagement with the activity, but do not pressure children.

Explore (Create). Young children are just developing their fine motor skills. If stringing beads would be too difficult, try something larger, such as toilet paper rolls. Alternately, give everyone a paper plate to decorate. Hole punch each one, and hang the plates one below the other on a long ribbon or string.

Explore (Discover). Younger children may find it difficult to look through a paper roll and be able to focus on any given thing. Instead, have children sing the song “Hello, Everybody!” from the Shine Early Childhood Music CD, track 1. This song has children look at specific aspects of self and others (hair color, eye color, clothing, and so on). You may want to provide mirrors as well so children can look at their own hair color and eye color. While we assume children know those things, they may not be aware of their own appearance in the way that adults are.

Session 12

Spiritual practice. If your group is primarily younger children, sing one of the two table graces on the Shine Early Childhood Music CD (tracks 16 or 17) instead of using the leaflet page. The leaflet page would require more individual attention from an adult, so it may be best to encourage parents to use it at home.

Share the story. You may find that using props is too busy and distracts younger children instead of focusing their attention. If this is the case, reduce the number of props to keep the focus on the most essential parts of the story. Use the Fish and bread props from Additional resources and several baskets rather than beans and popcorn kernels. Simply hold up those items when you get to the part of the story where the food is gathered.

Explore (Discover). You may find that younger children can say the numbers one to ten, but cannot count a specific number of objects. This is developmentally appropriate. They don’t yet know that we use one number for each item when counting objects. In light of this, don’t place a lot of emphasis on “correct” counting during the Explore activity. Putting a small amount of play dough on each item on the leaflet page will convey the concept without you needing to teach it. The heart of the story is about the power of Jesus to take something small and make it into enough for everyone, not about specific numbers.

Session 13

Spiritual practice. Rather than work together to build one large block tower, have children build individual structures. Invite someone in the group to name something they are grateful for. Then give a block to every child. Continue in this fashion as long as children remain interested. This allows all children to be actively involved the whole time instead of waiting for a turn.

Retell. To aid in retelling the story, prompt the children using the lines from this script:
            Teacher: Jesus, what is the most important rule?
            Jesus: Love God with your heart, mind, and strength.
            Teacher: Jesus, what is the second rule?
            Jesus: Love other people as you love yourself.
            Teacher: You are right! That’s what we should do!
            Jesus: You understand a lot about God’s kingdom!

Loving each other. Playing games with rules can be difficult for younger children. Keep Explore time simple by providing supplies and toys that children can use together, such as floor puzzles, blocks, dolls, and so on. Use this as an opportunity to talk with children about how to show love to each other. Comment on the positive, loving actions you see children taking. Help children work through conflicts that arise. Sharing, using kind words, taking turns, and working together are all ways that young children can express their love for other people.