Life Lessons From the Classroom.
teaching by faith
By Rachel Martin Atwood
She tilted her face towards me with beautiful, chestnut brown eyes. I gently tucked her long bangs behind her ears as she asked with all sincerity, “Miss Rachel, where does Jesus live?”
She's heard me talk about Him often, and every Sunday the other kids bellow out songs with His name in them, but she has never seen Him. After all, Savannah has been blind since birth. I scrambled to find the right words for this child to whom words mean everything.
“Well, Savannah, He lives in my heart,” I replied.
The sudden puzzled look on her face told me that another question was coming.
“Well, is He ever gonna come out?”
I tried not to giggle as I searched for words that would reassure her. “Nope. If He ever comes in, He will never go out.” I went on to explain to Savannah that she too could have Jesus in her heart. Her face lit up as she asked me how.
I teach Sunday School at Landmark Free Will Baptist Church. Many of the children in my class come from broken families and have never spent much time in church. At times, I feel discouraged, and I wonder if they are listening and understanding the lessons. I know I'm not alone; I’m sure most Sunday School teachers have felt this way at one time or another.
When I first started teaching, I tried everything to get the kids to listen. After many failed attempts, I have begun to learn what works and what doesn’t. Perhaps you’ve heard the familiar teacher’s adage, “If you don’t have a plan, the kids will plan for you.” I thought a routine was a must, but after only a few weeks into my familiar pattern (singing, lesson, and snack), I discovered that the children were sick of the routine.
In order to keep their attention, I switched to “popcorn teaching,” a fast-paced classroom style that moves kids quickly from one activity to the next, and keeps teachers from getting stuck in the rut as well. The kids never know what we're going to do first, and it keeps them excited about Sunday School.
Sometimes we start with singing or playing a game. A jumping jacks contest is a great way to wind them down! I often use an “ice breaker” or object lesson to start the class—both great ways to get kids excited and ready to learn.
Turning snack time into craft time is another valuable idea to consider. For example, if you're teaching a lesson on David and Goliath, consider using a bag of licorice and malt balls. Ask the kids to build a slingshot, and pretend that the malt balls are stones for the sling. If you have the blessing of teaching a child with a disability, they will enjoy snack-crafts because it gives them an opportunity to use their hands. In addition, Play-Doh or beaded puzzles are great tools for children who face vision challenges.
If you are dealing with disciplinary issues, try implementing a set of simple rules. My class knows that they only get so many warnings before there are consequences such as: no snack time, going into the preaching service with an adult, etc. Whatever rule you set into place, always follow through.
In contrast it is nice to reward good behavior. My class knows that if they behave, they might get a token for the day. They save these plastic tokens (available at any dollar store) to shop in the “candy store.” They can “purchase” a few pieces of candy per token. I also reward the loudest singer, the most attentive listener, and the biggest helper in each class time.
At some point during each class, we “pop” back into our seats for the lesson—once my biggest challenge. My popcorn approach doesn't stop with the lesson. Children like a change of pace—PowerPoint presentations with colorful visuals, videos that relate to the topic of the day, or a simple circle to teach them with Bible in hand. All are great methods to use. Variety is the key.
Certain topics are harder to cover than others. It is easy to teach them miraculous stories about Jonah and the whale or Moses crossing the Red Sea, because they have wild and vivid imaginations. Faith, on the other hand, is challenging for young children to understand. For little Savannah, however, faith is all she knows. On that particular Sunday, she helped me realize that my lessons were getting through, making all my efforts worthwhile.
What is the best tip I can give to Sunday School teachers? Have a servant's heart and a faithful spirit. We are never too big to serve, and if we plant the seeds, God is faithful to give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). Nothing is more satisfying than leading a child to the Lord. Their innocence and faith is so humbling.
After I prayed with Savannah that day, she smiled, and her next comment was even more satisfying than her beautiful prayer.
“Miss Rachel, is He speaking to you?”
Stunned, I replied “No, Savannah, is He speaking to you?”
She replied nonchalantly, “Yep. He’s saying ‘Don’t be afraid!”
For a moment, my heart stood still. Never had I felt so clearly the importance of my job. I had just led a five-year-old blind girl to the Lord, and she felt His peace.
About the Writer: Newlyweds Rachel (Martin) and Nathan Atwood work alongside parents, Jim and Sylvia, associate missionaries in the Rochester, New York home missions church pastored by Dana Booth.