Give a copy of this article: How to Rev Up Preteen Sunday School to your Sunday school teachers.
“Why do I keep doing this? I’ll never reach those kids. Josh already knows more than I do. And AJ doesn’t know any answers and doesn’t really care. Of course Vicki and Emily will whisper through most of the hour. And Todd will do his best to disrupt whatever we do. It seems like we never make any progress.”
If you’ve taught fifth- and sixth-graders lately, you’ve probably had Saturday night thoughts like this. What’s wrong with Sunday school for this age group? What makes it so hard to reach them? What’s lacking in curriculum? Here’s what teachers say — and ideas to help solve the top-4 problems.
PROBLEM #1: IT’S NO FUN
Let’s face it: We all like to have fun! But fifth- and sixth-graders are a bit more demanding about it than adults. They aren’t patient about being bored for an hour in Sunday school when they could be home playing Nintendo or riding a mountain bike.
One problem is that most curriculum and Sunday school classes attempt to pour biblical information into kids’ heads whether they want it or not. As Rosetta McHugh of Bourbonnais, Illinois, puts it: “Many people think Sunday school needs to be cut and dried-the same old stuff every week. But kids need different things each week: Go out somewhere, add puppets, or do some ‘off-the-wall,’ exciting things. Let kids laugh and get involved.”
Having fun in class isn’t just a time-filler. At this age kids’social development is at a critical stage. What better place is there for kids to develop appropriate social skills and attitudes than with a bunch of other kids in the church? And after all, shouldn’t learning about the Creator of the Universe be enjoyable?
So, what can we do to help kids have more fun?
- Do something different each week. Hitting a doughnut shop once a quarter might not be a bad idea!
- Try meeting in a different room once in a while. Meet outside when the weather permits.
- Talk about whatever interests your kids. Let kids tell you what would be fun for them; then do whatever is feasible.
- Allow for something crazy now and then, such as having an air-band contest using kids’ favorite Christian artist tapes.
- Make learning fun. Don’t play games for the fun part and then make kids sit down and shut up for a serious Bible study. Play games kids like, if they can be tied into the class theme. Having fun studying the Bible can get kids excited about scripture.
- Have kids act out Bible stories. Or use creative writing and have kids write advice to Bible characters facing a decision.
Let kids draw, sing, move around and laugh as they discover new things from scripture. If you’ve got your kids sitting quietly in their seats for the whole hour, they’re probably not learning much. And they’ll quit coming the first chance they get.
If we want our kids to develop in their faith and keep attending church and Sunday school as teenagers and adults, it had better be enjoyable for them now.
PROBLEM #2: BIBLE APPLICATION IS WEAK
Another big concern with fifth- and sixth-grade curriculum is the scarcity of Bible applications to kids’ lives. Most curricula are strong on Bible content, but few really help kids make scripture relate to their lives.
Darrin Ronde of Mesa, Arizona, complains: “Curriculum just isn’t meeting their needs. It doesn’t deal with the tough issues-divorce, blended families, violence, drugs, alcohol. These kids are watching R-rated movies and slasher films. Most curriculum is just not real to them.”
“What’s missing,” adds Arlene Linderer of Boise, Idaho, “is how to bring truths into kids’ lives-fitting the learning into their thought processes. We’ve got to help kids ask and answer the question, ‘How can I really use God and his truth in my life?’ Sometimes we need to talk about feelings, like the anger kids have at Dad for never coming around.”
“But wait,” you say. “Our curriculum talks about love and kindness and salvation. That’s application.” Yes, to a degree it is. But does your curriculum directly address issues your kids are facing daily like those Darrin and Arlene mentioned? or other topics like the difficulty of single-parent homes, developing sexuality, too-busy parents and belonging? Does the curriculum help kids work through their feelings and thoughts on these issues and help them see how God’s Word can help them with the difficult time they’re going through? Few do.
Here are ways to build more application into your lessons:
- Listen to your kids. Ask them what they think; what they feel. Don’t settle for pat answers. Kids will talk to you if they know you really care and will listen.
- Find out what issues are really bothering kids, then tailor your lessons to hit those issues.
- Look over the lessons for the coming quarter and decide which ones can be slanted to cover the topics your kids need to learn about. If some just don’t fit, find a different approach. For example, if kids want to talk about the pressure to have the right “things,” take them to a mall for a Bible study on God’s view of possessions.
- Help kids serve. “These kids can be doing things. They can be helping the poor and getting involved in community needs,” says Bonnie Anderson of Maple Plain, Minnesota. Kids are old enough to help others and will love it if given the chance. If you’ve discussed helping the less fortunate, arrange to take your kids to a nearby homeless shelter or an elderly person’s home. Let kids clean, paint, rake, shovel or whatever is needed. And when it’s all over, talk about why they did it.
PROBLEM #3: ACTIVITIES AND METHODS ARE BELOW KIDS
Fifth- and sixth-graders are able to do more than many people think. Sunday school teacher Kathi Beitman of Boise, Idaho, observes: “Curriculum needs to be more ‘grown up.’ It needs to hit kids who are growing up fast. Today’s fifth- and sixth-graders are like the teenagers of a few years ago.” Flannel graph and lecture just won’t cut it. These kids want to be involved, and they’ll learn more when they are.
Unfortunately, most material is teacher-oriented rather than student-oriented. It keeps the spotlight on the teacher, expecting that the teacher’s outpouring of information will fill up kids’ brains with wonderful facts from the Bible. Don’t get me wrong-I believe fully in the wonderful facts from the Bible. But teacher-centered methods just aren’t as effective for learning as student-centered methods.
Fifth- and sixth-graders need to be involved in discovery. They’ll remember longer and apply more fully things they’ve found for themselves. And they’ll be on the road to developing their own faith, not one that is simply a regurgitation of their parents’ or teachers’ faith.
To better involve kids in learning, take a look at how you conduct your class. How much time do you spend talking or reading? How much time do your kids spend digging things up for themselves? How often do you let your kids help each other learn? And how much time do kids spend quietly looking up answers for filling in blanks?
To involve your kids more:
- Give kids responsibility for organizing classroom supplies or leading sections of lessons.
- Get kids out of their chairs. Involve kids physically through energy-burning relays or other non-threatening activities.
- Instead of having children fill in blanks, have them brainstorm answers as you write them on the board. Or have kids draw symbols as answers.
- Have kids act out a scripture narrative as you read. Or have groups prepare skits or art projects to present the message of the passage.
- Play games that help kids feel what you want them to talk about, such as pressure, fear, anger or frustration. Then talk about the feelings and relate them to life.
- Ask kids how the scripture applies to them. And if they don’t answer right away, ask more questions to help them discover how it applies.
- Get groups of kids working together to find an answer to a question someone in the group has.
- Charge kids with responsibility for learning. Children are naturally curious. If we involve them in the learning process, that natural curiosity will create real learning.
PROBLEM #4: IT’S THE SAME OLD THING
Even the most fun, creative, involving idea can get old if it’s used too often. “Kids need variety,” says Judith McKim of New Castle, Pennsylvania. “They get bored with the same old things every week. We need to keep finding things to challenge them.” And sometimes that’s not easy.
For variety in your class:
- Analyze your curriculum to see if the same types of activities are used each week, such as role-plays, relays or drawing. If so, adapt the activities. Perhaps kids can draw a picture each week, but vary the medium by using crayons on paper, chalk on a sidewalk, paint on fabric, tempera paint on glass jars or water colors on leaves.
- Borrow a video camera and capture a biblical drama to replay for kids.
Move your class to a location fitting for the topic-like a lakeshore for a study on Jesus’ disciples.
- Surprise the kids with a fun, get-to-know-you Sunday. Make kids the center of the lesson.
- Look up creative ideas in other books and replace not-so-exciting activities in your curriculum.
- Ask the most creative people you know for new ideas.
- Most of all, don’t cut your own ideas short-if you think of something off-the-wall, try it! Let God be creative through you.
Whatever curriculum you use, liven it up and make it more effective by using these ideas. But don’t think that these ideas alone will transform your class without two other vital parts of teaching: Love your kids and pray for them. If you love kids, they’ll know it. And as you pray for kids, God will make a difference.