Fall 2017 tips:

Session 1

Gather. Younger children may struggle to leave a parent or caregiver and join the group. Anticipate this, and invite parents to join you for the opening portion of the session if they think it would be helpful for their child. It can also be helpful to have familiar toys like blocks or play dough available as children enter the room. A short play time can help ease the transition.

Peace notes. Skip the peace walk. Instead, simply say “Peace” or “Peace be with you” to each other and move directly to the Explore options. Younger children are learning about the routines of the group and how the space is used. Taking them out of the room will likely remind them of family members and could create more separation anxiety.

Explore. Keep the supplies and activities very simple for younger children. Unless you have more than one adult, do not attempt to offer multiple activities at once. Take time to show children how to use the provided items. Sit with the children to facilitate any interpersonal challenges that arise.

Session 2

Nonverbal participation. Schools tend to value verbal-linguistic activities over other things like movement or music. While some children enjoy talking in a group, others do not. All the activities in this session are designed to allow children to participate without verbal responses. This means lots of physical movement. Invite children to participate in whatever way they are most comfortable. Also, remember that listening to music without singing or looking at other children who are talking is also participation!

Sharing the Bible story. There will be some trial and error as you and the children get used to enjoying Bible stories together. Props are often helpful to focus children’s attention. However, younger children in particular are likely to want to touch the props. This can be disruptive to the flow of the story. If you have a small group, consider giving each child a prop to hold and add to the scene when cued. Does this work, or does it create more problems? Learn what you can from that experience and alter things as needed for the next session. It’s probably not feasible for larger groups to contribute props throughout the story. Focus on helping children know where and how you want them to sit. This will take many sessions, so be patient! Assure them that they will have a chance to use the props later.

Explore (Discover). Skip the board game for younger children, unless you have one adult who can work exclusively with the children playing the game. Focus on the Create, Move, and Retell options for younger children, as they allow all children to be active participants throughout the experience.

Session 3

Sharing the Bible story. Tell the Bible story once while playing an instrument. (The children would not have instruments yet.) This allows children to both hear the story once and also observe how to use the instruments. Hug the instrument to your chest whenever you are not using it. Then give each child an instrument to play as you tell the story again. Encourage children to “put the instrument to sleep” by holding it close to their bodies when you do. Some children will be able to do this; others will not! Remember that the heart of the story is about praising God. If you end up with just joyful instruments playing because the children are so exuberant, this is okay. There is no need to reprimand children for this. Smile and join them! Sometimes words cannot convey our feelings for God.

Explore (Retell). The psalm is not a story, so it is not something to retell in order. You may want to read the story again as the children play with the play dough. This will help them to hear the images again and perhaps incorporate them in their play.

Early Childhood leaflet. You may find at this point in the year that younger children need individualized attention in order to complete a leaflet page. If this is the case and you have a larger group, you may want to send the leaflets home as activities for families to do together. Or just do one page with one or two children as other children are engaged in another activity.

Session 4

Sharing the Bible story. Because family relationships are very important for young children, focus on the first part of the story and skip the letters. This is the portion that will be most understandable and meaningful to younger children.

Wondering questions. Limit the number of wondering questions to a maximum of three. Read the questions slowly and allow a good amount of time in between. Younger children will need time to process questions and formulate a verbal response, so do not rush them. Also, it’s normal if children do not respond right away. As their verbal skills develop, they may wish to share more thoughts and ideas.

Explore (Discover). Younger children may need one-on-one help to put the leaflet cards in order. Especially if you have a large group, this activity may best be done at home. Focus on having the children play independently with the dolls. Encourage everyone to be nurturing in their play. Listen to soothing music from the Shine Early Childhood Music CD, such as tracks 20, 27, and 29. [May the God of Peace, Peace Is Flowing, Give Light—This note should be deleted after the track numbers are entered.]

Session 5

Sharing the Bible story. Simplify the story for younger children. Focus on the actions and concrete elements. For instance, say, “God made the earth. God made a human to take care of the earth. God made a beautiful garden with trees and plants and fruit. There was a river there to help the plants grow. God made animals and brought them to the man. The man gave each animal a name. (Name some animals.)”

Wondering questions. “I wonder which part of the story you like best” is a great question for younger children. You may want to ask this question every session as a way to develop a routine that children can anticipate.

Explore (Discover). Sensory activities like those suggested in Discover are very appealing to younger children. However, it’s important to limit the number of supplies. Don’t put all the listed supplies in one small bin, for instance. Provide one or two shovels and some seeds to plant in the dirt. This will focus children’s play and minimize mess.

Session 6

Movement. Children need to move! They often struggle to sit in a large-group setting, so movement activities are especially important. However, younger children can also find it difficult to slow down once they have been up and moving. If you notice this, look for ways to have children move while seated. They can move their arms, fingers, legs, and so on without leaving a seated position.

Explore (Retell). Skip the emphasis on counting, since younger children have not yet developed the concept of one-to-one correspondence. (In other words, they do not yet understand that one number relates to one item.) If children are interested in blocks, continue with that. If children are more interested in people and animal figures, use a shoe box as an ark so that they can place the figures inside and move the box around the room.

Explore (Discover). It is challenging for younger children to play structured games that involve waiting for a turn. Change the Discover activity. Give each child a set of cards. Lay the cards faceup and have the child find matches.

Session 7

Gather. There are multiple music and rhythm activities in the Gather section today. Younger children will enjoy these types of experiences, but you may want to choose only one of the suggested items and do it several times. That will allow the children to observe once and then join in when they are comfortable doing so.

Peace notes. Simplify the explanation for younger children. Say: “Let’s work together to build. We can each add something special to our building.” Give each child several blocks. They can build their own small structure and then add it to the larger structure. This will allow them to be occupied rather than having to wait for a turn.

Book corner. Consider setting up a cozy book corner that can be available every week. There are a variety of books suggested today, as well as in later sessions. Include board books so that you don’t need to be concerned about books being ripped. If you see children being rough with a book, sit with the child and show the child how to hold the book carefully and turn the pages slowly.

Session 8

Sharing the Bible story. Younger children love repetition, so it’s likely that the structure of the Bible story will appeal to them. If, however, the children are getting antsy, feel free to just pack and unpack the props two times instead of three. It will still convey the concept of the story, but will keep things moving.

Explore (Create). Trace each child’s feet and allow children to color the footprints using crayons. This will allow twos to participate in the activity without the challenging addition of glue and sand.

Bless. Is the end of your session chaotic? It can be a challenge to bring the children back into the group setting after the Explore activities. You may not be able to complete all the suggested activities in the Bless section, and some weeks you won’t do any of them. Don’t worry! A simple “God loves you, _________ (child’s name)” can also work!

Session 9

Sporadic attendance. It is common for children to miss sessions, which means that they aren’t hearing every Bible story. While this is unfortunate, there are ways to help children see connections. Today’s Bible story gives a brief review of the session 8 story, since the characters are the same. Using the same props will spark a connection for children who were there for both sessions and will give a quick visual summary for those who weren’t. It’s also helpful to show both story pictures as well.

Peace notes. Simplify Peace notes for younger children. Have children show an angry face. Then say, “When I feel angry, sometimes I take several deep breaths to calm down. Let’s try that.” Take several deep breaths. Then say, “When I feel angry, sometimes I walk away so I don’t hurt someone.” “Walk” two fingers on the floor to show that movement. If children remain interested, you could share other strategies you use or ones suggested in the session. The idea is to keep it very short and focus more on tangible actions rather than on verbal responses.

Explore (Move). Eliminate the instructions about counting for younger children. For instance, simply tell children to walk, rather than to take five steps. This allows full participation without making children feel bad if they don’t know how to count.

Session 10

Connecting with individual children. Things can move at a fast pace in a preschool setting. Children are very busy and have short attention spans, so they want to move from one thing to another. It can be hard to find time for individual interactions with the children, particularly if you have a large group. While you might not get to every child every time, try to have a personal moment with one or more of the children each week. It can be as simple as kneeling down at eye level and saying, “__________, I’m glad you are here today. You are very special to me.” Or perhaps you want to ask a question about what the child did that week. Either way, those brief interactions convey your love and care for each child.

“Follow the story” poster. Allow time for each child to trace his or her finger on the line that goes across the poster. This may be a challenge for some children, but a fun one! You may even want to leave the poster on a table during Explore for children to trace all the lines with their fingers.

Explore (Retell). Use a less structured approach for younger children. Set up the tent and provide multiple dolls, blankets, toy food, kitchen items, and other household goods. Feel free to say the lines yourself, going over the basic plot. But do not worry about having children repeat the specific lines from the story. You can comment on what children are doing. For instance, “I see that you are setting the table. That’s just like in our story. Abraham had a special dinner for people. Whom are you making this food for?”

Session 11

Explore (Move). Younger children will likely be unable to walk directly on the yarn for long stretches. That’s okay. Encourage them to try to stay on the yarn, which is a way to slow their pace and help them focus.

Explore (Discover). Skip going for a walk or climbing on ladders, as this would require direct assistance for each child. Focus on making ladders. It will work best to use felt strips. Lay a larger piece of felt on the floor so the children can lay the felt strips on top. This will keep them from sliding around, which could be frustrating for the children.

Books. Reading books with younger children is often a way to calm and comfort them when they feel sad or angry. If a child consistently struggles to join the group or participate in Explore options, consider inviting another adult to come and read books individually with the child. For today’s session, a book well-suited for younger children is Sweet Dreams by Sandy Lloyd-Jones.

Session 12

Routine. Are the younger children settling into the routine? Are they showing growth in how they use the materials and relate to other children? Even the most experienced teachers face challenges with young children. You may periodically need to step back from the planned content for a given session and show children how to use the materials in a positive way, how to sit in the group setting, and how to treat others with kindness. This is the groundwork for the entire year, so even though children might miss something from the session, it will allow for more positive engagement in future sessions. Remember to be patient with the children and with yourself! Growth happens over time.

Peace notes. Skip the first portion that involves counting and discussion of the negative family dynamics. Focus instead on the last paragraph of the section, emphasizing God’s love for every person.

Sharing the Bible story. If you have very young children in the group, you may want to read or sing the Bible story that is on page 1 of the Early Childhood leaflet. Yes, it is very simple, but that would allow you to read it several times. Children are likely to just remember small bits of a story the first time they hear it, so a simple version is suitable.

Session 13

Explore (Retell). You may want to have children retell the story using the storytelling props rather than walking around the room. Sometimes children will get out of control when they start moving from place to place, or will be distracted by things they walk past. Being seated with story figures and other props can be a helpful way to have children actively exploring the story without added movement.

Early Childhood leaflet. On page 3 of the leaflet, you will need to guide children in what to circle. Lead a child through it independently if possible: “You have a mom. Circle one mom. You have one brother. Circle one boy.” The child may want to circle multiple people or may just point to a person on the page. That is okay. The hope is to prompt discussion about how special each child’s family is.

End of the quarter. Younger children often struggle with transition. If you have been the teacher for the entire quarter or even the last few weeks, children will expect you to be there the next time they come! If you aren’t teaching in the next quarter, invite the new teacher to join you for a portion of the session so the children can become familiar with the new person. It’s also important to brief the new teacher about the routines you have established and the things you have learned about the children. Let that person benefit from all your hard work!


Winter 2017-18 tips: (In process)

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.