4. COME EARLY
Some people make the mistake of thinking that their teaching responsibility starts when the church service starts. As a result, they show up five minutes before the service begins and think nothing of it. The truth is, if you want to do a truly great job, not only teaching Bible stories and playing games, but making children feel loved and important, you have to come early. At a minimum you need 15-20 minutes to get accustomed to your classroom, set up your supplies, adjust the temperature and the lighting, and connect with your teammates before the first child arrives. The earlier you come to your classroom, the more stress you eliminate, the more fully you’ll be able to engage the kids and as a result, the more enjoyment you will receive from being with them.
5. OBSERVE YOUR STUDENTS
As the shepherd of their souls, you’re somewhat of a detective. You will be surprised how much you can learn about your children through simple observation. Study them. Pay attention to their mood and reactions. Watch their interaction with peers. Notice their language. Listen to their stories. Take note of how they play and who they’re friends with. Try to figure out their temperament and personality. Pick up on the unspoken cues we call non-verbal communication.
When you see one of your students withdrawn or upset, find out what is going on. Take the student aside and ask probing questions to get to the heart of the matter. Show sympathy and let students know that you are there to listen when they need you. Often just the simple act of taking the time to listen is enough to show a student you care.
Keep in mind that the end goal of observation is always action. After you have assembled the clues, listen to your heart and follow the prompts of the Holy Spirit. You might joke with this child, give a high five to that child, offer to pray for another child and on and on and on. This is love in action, but it all starts with the practice of observation.
6. TALK TO THEM
No matter what your Sunday looks like, make sure that you do not overcrowd your schedule to the point that you don’t have any time to greet each child and simply talk to them. Talking to your students can range from a conversation about their dog or favorite sports team to something as simple as asking how their week has been.
Don’t underestimate the power of a simple conversation. It will open the lines of communication between you and the students, letting you get to know them personally and letting them get to know you. Most importantly, these conversations will help create a safe, loving and relaxed environment for your students, letting them see that you’re approachable and excited to have a role in their lives.
In order for a good conversation to take place, we need to be curious about the lives of our children. Just like tourists or missionaries go to a foreign place and they’re intrigued and fascinated by the people whose language, traditions and way of life they don’t understand, we need to be fascinated by the children we minister to. Each child is their own unique universe and one of the best ways to explore this new territory is by asking thought-provoking, yet non-threatening questions. Here are some examples:
- What is your favorite hobby or game? How and why did you start this hobby?
- What do you like the most about being a 5th grader?
- What do you hate the most about being a 5th grader?
- What is your favorite gadget? Why?
- If you were a teacher, and the kids in your class would not listen to you, what would you do?
- What is the hardest thing about being a kid?
- What is your nickname? How did you get that nickname?
- If you could change your name, what would you name yourself?
- Who do you look up to? Who is your hero?
- What animal would you like to be, if you weren’t human?
- If you could be invisible for a week, what would you do?
- Do you believe in God?
- When did God become real to you?
- Is there something about God that doesn’t make sense to you?
- What is the one thing you would like to learn how to do and why?
- What are five things you wish I knew about you?
- If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
7. LOVE THE CIRCLE
No matter what size room you have or what furniture you have in that room, be sure to tap into the power of the circle. I suggest that you regularly take time to have everyone sit in a circle and participate in a guided conversation. You can have a soft toy (class mascot) or a silly toy (rubber chicken) or another object that children can hold and pass. When the object comes to the person, it’s their turn to talk. (You might want to have one question that everyone answers.) While one person talks, everyone else listens—with their ears and their eyes. Circle time is a perfect opportunity to train children in self-control, respect, expressing themselves and listening.
No need to draw this time out and wear the children out, but you do want to give them plenty of time to talk and listen. If you do it regularly, this “family talk time,” can become something that they’re looking forward to. You don’t even need to be creative with this time. Every week kids can share a highlight from the previous week or something that they’re looking forward to in the coming week, or one way they saw God work in, through or around them.
During this time you might also want to ask about prayer concerns and then pray for the children. Follow up the next week on whatever the prayer requests were. Let kids know that you’ve been praying for them.