Ready for some good news? You’re not alone—there’s a whole group of wannabe teachers in your room who are ready to share the teaching load. That would be your kids! It may not make mathematical sense, but here’s a good equation to remember: 2 teach is 2 learn 2 times!
Here’s another way to express it: When your kids have opportunities to practice their learning by teaching others, they learn even more.
In his book Help! I’m a Sunday School Teacher! (Youth Specialties, 1995) Ray Johnston lists further benefits that come from giving your children an opportunity to do some of the teaching:
- It combats apathy. Kids who are actively involved don’t have a chance to become bored or disruptive.
- Children (especially older ones) often listen better to other children than they do to adults.
- Being placed in a teaching role can help kids discover potential gifts of leadership and teaching.
Start small by inviting kids to take turns praying, choosing songs, reading Scripture, and doing other things you’d normally do. Give specific instructions ahead of time and be sure kids understand that you’re counting on them. You might say, “Maria, I’d like you to lead the opening litany next week. Here are the words—please take them home and practice them this week.”
Review activities also provide a good opportunity for kids to try their hand at teaching. Invite them to retell stories in their own words and to create visual aids to accompany the stories. Look for lots of ways to invite children into review activities: writing story questions, composing review quizzes, serving as referees for games of Bible baseball, operating audiovisual equipment, and more.
Don’t forget that teaching is not limited to words. Skills such as art, music, drama, and social interaction are learned through observation and imitation. Assign partners in ways that benefit both—pair a weaker reader with a stronger one, a social child with a shy one, a “wild child” with one who’s more disciplined, an artist with a child less gifted in that area, and so on. As pairs work together on projects or assignments, they’ll become models and helpers for each other.
Occasionally challenge kids with specific assignments too. For example, if you ask children to bring items for a food bank, ask one or two kids to be in charge of publicity, making posters and writing a notice for the bulletin; others might create a goal chart and track donations; others might be in charge of signing up drivers and arranging for deliveries.
Take a risk; share the load. At the very least, kids will gain new appreciation for your job and all it involves. Chances are, your efforts will communicate to the children in your group that they indeed are the church—right now!
In his book Theology of Children’s Ministry (Zondervan, 1983), church education specialist Lawrence Richards suggests that children are most likely to embrace faith and make it their own if they receive the following from their church:
- A sense of belonging: “This is my church, and I’m valued here.”
- An opportunity to participate in the ministries of the church: “I can do something for God.”
- Faith models: “The people in this church are showing me how to serve God.”
- Opportunities to learn about faith outside the Sunday school class: “My faith grows when I serve at the soup kitchen or help clean up the parking lot.”
- Teaching about making good choices—and support in making them: “I can learn how to say no to temptations; if I fail, someone will help me figure out how to do better next time.”
These are ideals we all aspire to. The following are some creative, practical suggestions, gathered from those who know and care, for incorporating them into the life of the church:
- Invite kids to create bulletin covers or brochures to advertise children’s ministries offered by your church.
- Invite seniors to a special Dwell session; pair them with children and invite the seniors to show kids pictures of their youth and share their stories.
- Include in your church’s newsletter or on its website pictures of kids and teachers in their Dwell sessions.
- Invite children to help deacons pass offering baskets.
- Form a group of children who pray for sick members of your congregation.
- Pair fifth- and sixth-graders with mentors who get to know them and meet regularly to share stories and talk about faith.
- Invite children to take turns providing snacks for and interacting with another group in your congregation (for example, a Friendship Group made up of members who have cognitive disabilities).
- If your church provides nametags for members, make sure kids have them as well as adults.
- Provide children’s bulletins aimed at helping kids understand and participate in worship.
- Invite families to take turns baking (or bringing) bread for communion.
- Make sure coffee and juice are served during the fellowship hour.
- Introduce a question box for kids’ questions; ask the pastor to read/answer them in worship from time to time.
- Hold an annual “Creation Care” service outdoors, followed by a guided hike.
- Encourage church committees to include a member who’s a child, or to solicit kids’ input on some of their decisions.
- Start a church garden on the grounds and involve kids in its care and harvest; give the produce to a food bank.
- Plan an intergenerational church retreat.
Not bad for starters! You’ve probably got other suggestions for incorporating kids into the full life of your congregation. As a Dwell teacher, you’re an advocate for this process. Grab the opportunity and rejoice in the results—it’s a way of building God’s kingdom.