Use the five senses to “wow” kids in your Sunday school with these ideas and the amazing truth of God’s Word.
Stop for a moment and close your eyes. Think about a time — in ministry, in school, in your life — when someone or something truly took your breath away. For me, it was a college psychology class when, on the very first day, the professor took role. No big deal, except that he already knew everyone’s names and birthdates — and for almost all 50 of us, it was the first time we’d ever laid eyes on him. Maybe it was a “slight of hand” trick — but whatever it was, I still remember it and the feeling of awe it gave me. It was a “wow” experience.
Have you ever looked around your ministry and wondered what effect you’re having on kids? How do you wow kids? You can infuse your ministry with awe by tapping kids’ senses — and their sensibilities. Read on for wow success — from the very smallest to the very largest experience your kids will have in your ministry.
Step into your kids’ shoes and take a walk through your classroom and ministry. Think minute-by-minute. What do kids experience each moment? Now that you’ve taken the tour, use the following “sense-sational” recipe to create awe-inspiring experiences for kids.
Images produce some of our most profound impressions. So what do kids see when they enter your classroom? your ministry? Besides the obvious — a clean, fun, inviting, and kid-friendly environment — how can you wow kids through their eyes?
Here are 4 ways to create a visual sensation that’ll stick with kids long after they leave your classroom.
• You and Me—Make poster-size digital images of your kids and display them around your classroom.
• Gotta See—Create a focal point in your classroom that draws kids. Whether it’s an interactive prayer tree or a Bible times village house kids can play in, make your focal point attractive and high-quality.
• Get Hip—Bring kids’ culture into your classroom with tech tools, cool furnishings, and hot décor.
• Ask a Question—Use your décor to challenge kids to think. Imagine a WWJD? wall painted top to bottom. Or a wall with 21 questions that’ll help kids know God better when answered.
“I’ve challenged myself recently to see ways our church can improve, and to look at ourselves through ‘new’ eyes,” says one anonymous church member. “My ‘new’ eyes were dramatically opened last Sunday when I saw a little boy walking through the hallways holding his nose. He’s right—our church building has an unpleasant odor.”
Adults may overlook things such as a stale-smelling room or auditorium — but kids won’t. They’ll react in ways only kids can. Generally speaking, unpleasant odors can be eliminated. But challenge yourself to go beyond the antiseptic smell of air deodorizers. What are your favorite smells from childhood? How would kids react if they entered your room to the delicious smell of bubble gum—or chocolate chip cookies?
How about incorporating smells into your lessons? How much more would letting kids smell the unforgettable scent of nard bring John 12:3 to life for kids?
If you use smells to:
- entice kids,
- arouse curiosity, and
- make kids feel welcome and relaxed,
they’re more likely to want to stay.
Try these ideas:
- What Stinks? For a lesson about anything fishy, open a can of tuna or sardines and let kids take a whiff.
- In the Manger It’s easy to find stickers that smell like manure, hay, frankincense, and myrrh. Simply google it. All of these are great ways to help kids experience what it was like when Jesus was born.
- Sin’s Stench A great way to help kids experience how Jesus cleanses us of our sins is to wipe a cut onion on their hands and then wash it off.
Even overpowering or offensive smells can be used for specific purposes, as long as they’re kid-appropriate and applicable to what you’re teaching. A great example: One teacher brought seaweed in a plastic container to give her landlocked kids a whiff of a fisherman’s life when they studied Matthew 4:18-19.
You already know that most kids are bottomless pits when it comes to food. So tap into their tastebuds to give them experiences they’ll never forget. Snacks are common—your task is to make them uncommonly cool.
• Eat What?—Bring food kids don’t normally associate with snacks. Chocolate-covered “bugs” are a surefire way to get a reaction.
• For Thought—Serve food samples related to what you’re studying. Wheat, grapes, olives, olive oil, bread, fish, and more all have direct ties to Scripture. As always, be cautious with foods that can present allergy concerns.
• Mm, Mm—Do blindfolded taste tests. Choose foods that look alike and have similar textures to challenge kids and drive home Bible points. For instance, did you know it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between small slices of apple, potato, and onion when blindfolded?
• Old Habits—Follow ancient customs when serving food. For example, have kids wash their hands before and after eating, as was a Bible-times custom.
• This and That—Compare kids’ favorite foods today with favorite foods from biblical times. Give them a taste of barley, figs, and pomegranates.
Textures and textural sensations are often overlooked as one of the best ways to grab kids’ attention and get them thinking. Imagine what preteens would learn about the clothes Jesus and his disciples wore when challenged to make their own clothing using muslin scraps, thread, and sewing needles. Kids could try to fashion their own sandals using leather and leather laces.
Kids’ experiences in your classroom are influenced by what they touch. If you only have them touch a desk top, pencil, and paper, you’re missing out on a great opportunity. Leave kids with a powerful impression when they hold nails like those that may’ve held Jesus to the cross, or a rope like the one that Joseph may’ve used to lead the donkey Mary rode on.
Textures can be more than just props—you can incorporate them completely into your lessons.
• Feelings—Blindfold kids and recount a biblical event using only textures.
• Special Because—Challenge kids to find or bring items that have personal meaning.
• Hot or Not—Use temperature control, fans, humidifiers, and more to create an environment similar to the one you’re studying so kids can feel on their skin what you’re talking about.
• Without—Invite kids to remove their shoes for one class to imagine what it might feel like to be poor or transient.
Sounds, much like smells, instantly grab kids’ interest and attention. Whether you want to spark enthusiasm, get kids moving, or create a somber mood, sound can help create an experience that fills kids with awe.
One of my most memorable classroom experiences was centered around the anxiety we felt due to a sound. Our preteen class crawled into a black “cave” (a black tarp thrown over chairs in a darkened room) to imagine what it might’ve been like to be Daniel in the lion’s den. In the darkness, our teacher retold the story in hushed tones and then said, “Imagine what it would be like to sit in the dungeon, waiting for the lions to eat you, all alone as the seconds tick by. Let’s imagine it.” Then we heard the sounds of a timer—tick, tick, tick, tick. We sat in silence, easily able to imagine how it would’ve felt and what we would’ve done. It changed our perspective.
Give your classroom experiences the wow factor by capitalizing on the power of sound.
• Get Moody—Use music to involve kids in the lesson. Play snippets of a variety of songs to introduce different moods.
• Play Along—Let kids become part of the atmosphere — by using their voices to sing, provide sound effects, and enhance lessons.
• Shhh—Silence is powerful, too. It can incite kids’ curiosity and establish authority.
• Snap Along—Musical instruments can be elaborate or simple. Kids snapping their fingers or tapping on the table with a pencil is as effective as a mini-ensemble and just as fun.
Jennifer Hooks is managing editor for Children’s Ministry Magazine.