Combining Age Groups

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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?

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We talked to Lois Keffer, author of the mixed-age-group
curriculum All-in-One Sunday School (Group), about
how to successfully combine age groups. Here’s what she said:

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?

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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.


Lois Keffer is the author of several Sunday School Specials
books. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change.

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