For small churches, it may be the best option. Many churches combine age groups because they don’t have enough people to staff individual classes. Others combine their groups for special events or activities. If you combine age groups, how can you ensure a good experience for all ages?
We talked to Lois Keffer, author of the mixed-age-group curriculum All-in-One Sunday School series and the All Together Now Sunday School series. Here’s what she said about how to successfully combine age groups.
CM: Why combine age groups?
Lois: A lot of times it’s just a matter of practicality, because you don’t always have teachers for all the age levels. [In small churches], it’s more fun for kids to be in a larger class than just to have one or two at each age level.
CM: What activities would you have mixed-age groups do?
Lois: Well, everything from songs to any kind of active learning. We’ve just done all kinds of things. I remember one time we went into the parking lot of the church and had the kids toss [an unopened]pop can. And each time they caught it, they had to tell what made them really angry. And all the kids were able to do that. Everyone got into it from the 4-year-olds up to the seventh-graders. And then we popped the well-shaken-up pop can open, and it went all over the place. And we talked about “How is that like what happens when you get mad?” And it was a really wonderful session for all the kids, and everybody learned something.
CM: What are some of the benefits of combining ages?
Lois: The benefits are when you put kids together, the older kids help spur thought processes in the younger kids. It’s just like when a real accomplished musician and a beginner play together; the accomplished musician elevates the play of the less-skilled person. And that’s how it works with older and younger kids. The older kids think of things in a different way and they express their thoughts and it helps to make a bridge for the younger kids from abstract concepts to real, life-changing learning.
When you have older and younger kids working together, they develop an appreciation for each other. And a lot of times, for instance, with writing or reading activities that might be too difficult for the younger kids, the older kids can act in a tutorial role. It gives the older kids a strong sense of self-esteem-that I am really able to make a difference for this little kid. And the little kids enjoy the attention.
CM: What are the drawbacks of combining age groups?
Lois: You have to be careful about not letting mouthy older kids dominate. You need to be skilled in bouncing the discussion from one child to another. And if there’s a particular age group that feels intimidated, you need to draw them out. When you do active things, you have to warn the older children to be gentle. You just need to remind the older kids that they are much larger and stronger, and that they need to have consideration for the feelings and the size of little ones.
CM: When are special times to combine age groups?
Lois: I think it’s real good to do it on Sundays when you know attendance is going to be down-like sometimes the Sunday of spring break.
It’s good to combine any time you’re going to have a special Sunday in the life of the church. And then it’s really fun not only to mix children of different age levels, but to add adults into the mix and do a completely intergenerational approach just because everybody enjoys a change. And the same benefits that apply to older and younger kids work with adults and children.
Also combine for the opening of Sunday school or for the opening of a Wednesday night club where you don’t want to start off the classes right away because you know that stragglers will be coming in.