Using Art to Enrich Your Lessons

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From Blues Clues to box office hits, video games to McDonald’s bags, our kids are encountering an explosion of eye-catching images every day. How does that affect the way they explore and express their faith?

In a recent workshop I attended, Gretchen Wolff Pritchard, author of Offering the Gospel to Children, shocked me with this statement about how kids express their faith: “In our visual society, our kids are almost mute." According to Pritchard, kids today have too few images to draw on to help them think about God or share God’s story with others—they need to develop a “visual vocabulary of faith.”

If what Pritchard says is true, it’s more important than ever for us take advantage of the art and design that appears in curriculum, and to try ideas like these to spark kid’s image-ination:

Symbols that Speak

Scour your sanctuary for Christian symbols to bring into your classroom. Think beyond the cross and the manger—what about the baptismal font, the cup and bread, a crown of thorns, a basin of water and a towel, a pile of stones, a burning bush? (Okay, that might be going a little too far!)

Art can offer insights and raise questions; it can help us wonder about God or about the people in God’s story—their intentions, their hopes, or their fears. It can help us relate to the story and respond to it. So be on the lookout for portable treasures, like the lovely little pottery sculpture of Jesus that sits on the end table in my living room. Pull those pieces off the shelf, or borrow them from a friend for various lessons or seasons throughout the year. Then ask kids questions like these:

  • What catches your attention in this piece?
  • Does it make you think of anything new?
  • What do you think of the expressions on each person’s face?
  • Is this how you imagine the story/scene?
  • What would you change about this artwork?

Proceed with Caution

As you use art be aware of the subtle but powerful negative messages it can send. In one children's storybook, all of the angels are pictured as tall, caucasian, blond, broad-shouldered men with huge, perfect smiles. What does that say about heaven and who is a part of God's kingdom?

Connections Kids See

Consistent Costumes                                                                  

If your kids enjoy options that include acting out the story, boost your costume box with a few special pieces that identify regular characters. Incorporate items like a megaphone for angels, plain sashes for disciples, shiny sashes for kings, and a crown for Jesus. Simple props make it easy for kids to keep track of common figures or ideas. They also help kids make connections between people like David, the great king who wears a golden sash, and Jesus, the greatest king, who wears both the golden sash and the crown!

Motions that Match

Singing with kids is another great place to help kids see connections. Try to use the same movements or gestures every time you sing common words like praise, love, joy, God, Jesus, follow, power, see, me/I, and so on. The simplest way to do this is by using sign language or choosing motions that mirror the meaning of important words.

As repeated words stand out in each song, kids will have a growing understanding of their meaning and importance. And, if you choose common gestures, they just might find themselves humming the songs throughout the week as they notice someone looking up, pointing to themselves, or flexing their muscles! Added bonus: if you keep key words consistent, you’ll be ahead of the game each time you introduce a new song!

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