Got extra time on your hands and a room full of kids—but you’ve used up all your lesson? Here’s your indispensable guide to turning extra class time into extraordinary learning time for kids.
You’ve just finished a terrific morning in your ministry. The lesson went well and the kids’ crafts are drying in the corner of the room. You expect parents any minute—when one of the ushers pops his head in the door with news that the guest speaker isn’t finished with his message and the service will be 15 minutes longer today. Oh boy…You sweep your hair behind your ears as your mind races. What am I going to do for the next 15 minutes? Do I reteach the lesson? Our craft is done! Now what?
You’ve been there! That place where you have both time and kids on your hands. What do you do? How can you make the most of those moments? How can you take those unexpected extra moments and turn them into great, relational memories for the kids entrusted to your care?
Start by thinking of your values. Does your ministry value creativity? How about worship? Relationships? Serving others? What about…fun? Take all those important values and turn them into activities and ideas you can pull out of your hat (or creative head) when you have an unexpected few minutes with kids. Brainstorming extra-time ideas based on your ministry values before you need them will help you dodge the kid-dreaded busywork, which often isn’t relevant or ministry-enhancing.
Brainstorming is always best when more minds get involved, so we’ve put our heads together to start a list of ideas for you. Read them, spice them up (or down), and add your own—and presto! You’re well on your way to turning unexpected time into unexpected joy.
Here are 13 values-based ideas that’ll help you transform extra time into extraordinary time with your children.
5 Minutes of Extra Time
1. Have a Ball!
Have kids sit in a circle and pass around a ball (or any object). Whoever has the ball is the one who gets to talk. Ask kids to pass the ball around the circle and share one thing they learned from the Bible that day. If everyone has a chance to share, go around the circle again and have kids share something they’ll do about what they learned.
2. Who Am I?
Have kids each find a separate place in your room; then let them draw a self-portrait on one side of paper. On the other side, have them write things about themselves, such as their characteristics or favorite things…but not their names. Gather the papers, and form a circle.
Take turns holding up each self-portrait and reading the characteristics on the back. After you read the characteristics, ask, “Who am I?” Let kids try to guess the person. For added fun, include a “self-portrait” of the main person from that day’s lesson.
10 Minutes of Extra Time
3. Key to Happiness
Grab a set of keys from your purse or pocket, and have kids form a circle. Have one child sit, eyes closed, in the center of the circle. Place the keys at the child’s feet. Now have everyone be silent while one child from the circle tries to sneak the keys from the child in the center. If the center child hears the keys being taken and points in the right direction, the sneaky person is caught. Rotate who gets to be in the center, and after everyone’s had a chance, discuss with kids different ways to listen for God every day.
4. Get Your Body Praisin’!
Turn on kids’ praise music. Form a circle and get kids moving by calling out different body parts: “Let’s praise with our (insert body part, such as right hand, left hand, head, shoulders, legs, or feet)!” Or turn up the praise music and play Limbo.
15 Minutes of Extra Time
5. Can You Name It?
This game is a twist on I Spy, and it helps kids learn each other’s names. Invite one child to start the game by choosing an object within sight in the room. First, the child shares his or her name and then describes the object using just one clue: “My name is Jane, and my object is white. Can you name it?”
Next, other kids try to guess the object by saying the clue-giver’s name and then naming the object they believe she’s describing: “Jane, is it the whiteboard?” If no one gets it after two guesses, then the clue-giver must add one more description such as, “I spy something white and square.” The clue-giver continues to give clues, stating her name each time she adds a clue. Play until someone guesses correctly, and then that person becomes the clue-giver. Kids will enjoy the interaction and will definitely learn one another’s names.
6. Two Truths and a Hope
This activity offers a new take on the old game Two Truths and a Lie. It’s a fun game and good for letting kids get to know one another a little better. (Many aren’t comfortable with the lying version, so we changed this to a hope.)
Form a circle and give children each a chance to share three things about themselves-two things that are true and one that’s not yet true because it’s just a hope. The child on the left has to guess which thing is the hope. Move around the circle until each child gets a chance to share.
30 Minutes of Extra Time
7. Noah’s Noisy Animal Ark
Place a sticker on each child’s back so they can’t see what’s on their own sticker. (Each sticker needs an animal name or picture of an animal.) Challenge kids to mix and mingle, with the ultimate goal of discovering which animals they are by going around the group and asking only yes-or-no questions.
To keep things moving and kids talking, allow kids to ask only one question at a time of each person. For example, two children may pair up and one may ask, “Do I have four legs?” The child who’s asked will look at the first child’s sticker and answer the question with a truthful yes or no. Each child gets to ask one question of the other, and then they switch roles. As soon as children learn which animals they are, they run to Noah (you) and say, “I’m a (name the animal)! May I board the Ark?” For an added twist, create two of every kind of animal, and then make the goal for pairs to find each other.
8. My New BFF
Give kids 30 seconds to meet and interview someone they don’t know very well in the group. Then each pair has to introduce their partner in this way: “This is my new best friend, (name), and here are three things about (name) that make him or her special. Everyone, please welcome my new best friend, (name).”
9. Shared Skittles
You’ll need a bag of Skittles candies on hand and a premade Skittle Share Card. The card is a decoder, with colors representing something kids have to share with the group. For instance, red means kids tell their favorite food; yellow means kids share one thing they learned from the Bible today; orange means kids share how they can apply what they learned today at home.
Form a circle, and pass around a bowl of Skittles candies. Let each child pick one candy in his or her favorite color but not eat it. Now show your group the Skittle Share Card. Go around the group letting kids each share according to the color of Skittle they chose. After kids share, they get to eat their Skittles. Once everyone has shared, let kids eat the rest of the Skittles.
10. Colors of My Week
A box of crayons is all you need for this great sharing activity. Form a circle, and open a box of crayons. Pass around the box. Have every child take one or two colors that represent something that happened or a way the child felt during the week. Red might remind a child of a grade on a paper. Blue might describe something they’re sad about. Yellow might make them think of something happy they’d like to share. Once everyone has a color, take turns sharing why they chose that color before putting it back in the box.
11. Room Scavenger Hunt
Form teams of three. Create an off-the-cuff list of items to hunt for on a sheet of paper or whiteboard. On “Go!” let teams try to be the first to find and collect all the items on the list and bring them to you. Your list might include some of the following items: a Bible open to John 3:16 (or the Bible verse for the day), a red crayon, masking tape, paper clip, image of Jesus, and so on.
60 Minutes of Extra Time
12. Let ‘Em Act Up
This idea might come in handy if you find yourself with a lot of time on your hands. Pick a familiar Bible story and read it or retell it. Form groups (maybe even according to interests). Have groups each take part of the story, work together on this section, and then come back together to act it out. Some kids might depict a scene of the story with puppets. Others could act with thrown-together costumes. Some could build a set with items in the room. Another might draw or create art based on the story. Others might work on a song or rap to tell the story. Then let them present and perform for each other in the order of the story. If you have a video camera, record this impromptu stage event so everyone can watch it together.
13. Overtime Tote
Whoever coined the phrase “Expect the unexpected” may not have been referring to children’s ministry, but it certainly applies. So why not be prepared for unexpected moments by preparing a great resource for yourself or your leaders with a tote full of “overtime ideas”? An overtime idea tote includes items such as the following:
- A Parachute: (A bedsheet works, too.) Add instructions for favorite parachute games. (playparachutes.com)
- Talk Starters: Throw in some Throw & Tell Balls, which are great to get kids laughing and talking.
- Childhood Photo: Include a photo of yourself for a great story starter. What was it like for you at their age?
And of course, tuck this article into your tote too, so you can pull out fresh ideas whenever you need them.
Todd Hair has been in youth ministry for 13 years and is Dad to seven kids under age 11. Debra Vos is a teaching coordinator for kindergarten through fifth grade, Mom to four kids, and has served in children’s ministry for 15 years. Both are on staff at Crossroads Church in Schererville, Indiana.