By Joe McDowell
Many elementary children enjoy Sunday School when they attend. Some children attend regularly while others attend sporadically. Of course, we would like to see all of our children attend regularly, but that is somewhat out of our control. So, what can be done to get more out of Sunday School for both regular attenders and sporadic attenders?
If the Sunday School lesson goes home with a child in a way that it will be put into practice and validated within a few days at home, the lesson will have more of an impact. Many children’s Sunday School teachers send activities home with their children. It may be something the children have colored or perhaps made from construction paper and/or Popsicle sticks, etc. These send-home activities are great! Parents often ask their children about them, followed by a short conversation. The colored picture may end up on the refrigerator for a little while or whatever was constructed might be enjoyed until it falls apart or gets thrown in the garbage when no one is looking.
Children’s Sunday School curriculum publishers like Lifeway, Group, Orange, and others have taken steps to provide children’s ministries with take-home discussion guides and activities for parents to use with their children at home. The intent is for parents to use these materials to continue the biblical learning that began on Sunday morning. Many of the take-home materials produced by the various publishers are very well done. Certainly some parents put these materials to good use with their children later in the week as intended.
While I do not have any hard statistics regarding the use of these materials, my experience tells me these materials are often not used as intended. Over the years, I have asked parents about their experience with the take-home materials. Most of the parents surveyed do not utilize them. The children may see the materials displayed or carry them around for a little while, but the hope of deeper learning is typically not accomplished.
Parents indicate the normal issues – lack of time and motivation – as the reason the materials are not used at home. Some parents have not looked at the materials closely enough to realize how good some of them actually are or how to implement them into conversation and continued learning for their children.
As church leaders, we cannot do much of anything to impact the time issues a family faces; but perhaps, we can impact the motivation issue. If a child really wants to use the materials, and asks his or her parents to sit with them and complete the activity, discussion guide, etc. they will more than likely do it.
The question then arises, “How can we motivate the children?” One thing is for sure, simply sending the materials home doesn’t seem to work. Following are some simple suggestions to increase the likelihood of send-home materials being used.
- Mail the material to the child so that it arrives approximately mid-week. Children love to receive mail! A personal note from the teacher explaining the material and encouraging them to complete the task will motivate a child to ask Mom and/or Dad for help.
- If you cannot mail the material and must send it home on Sunday, follow up mid-week with a note to the child giving instructions on what to do with the material they took home.
- Call the child about mid-week and encourage them to ask Mom and Dad to assist them with the take-home materials. Children love to receive a phone call from their teacher!
- Take time the following Sunday to ask about the children’s experience with the take-home material. Be consistent with this. It will motivate the children to do the take-home material.
- Set up a simple reward system for those who complete the take-home material. Children love stickers! They also love special treats and special activities. Make sure your expectations for the percentage of completion of the materials is reasonable for the larger rewards.
A little extra effort from the Sunday School Director to set up follow-up system and to train the children’s leaders and teachers; and, a little extra effort from Children’s Sunday School teachers to follow through with the system can stimulate family interaction that will help children and their parents go deeper into God’s word and in the knowledge of their relationship with Him.
Prior to that, Joe served for almost 20 years as an Education Pastor at several large churches in the Charlotte, NC area. Joe also owns Revolutionary Families, LLC — “Helping families meet the challenges of today’s culture through individual, couple & family coaching.”