rebelling against low expectations

Any advice for teaching Sunday School?


TALIA WRITES: So, I am hoping for some advice here. I am 16, and I teach Sunday School at my church. We go to a small church, so there aren’t a whole lot of kids, and this makes the age range pretty big, with the youngest being 5-years-old, and the oldest being 12. I LOVE teaching, but it is very difficult to keep the kids engaged. There are two main problems:

1. The material isn’t that great.

Usually I have to change about 50% of the lesson so it isn’t so dumb. The information is basic, and the activities don’t add much to the lesson. It also keeps the kids thinking at a very low level, and doesn’t have a whole lot of depth.

2. The kids aren’t interested.

My youngest ones are struggling to keep up with everyone else, and the oldest ones are bored out of their minds.

I really want the material to be meaningful, and not just another boring class. But with the age range, it’s hard to help everybody. And I don’t want to make it all deep and “spiritual” all of the time, because they don’t focus that long, but I also don’t want it to be only fun and games.

The main thing is, I love these kids with all my heart, and I’m struggling to figure out what’s best for them. I can’t tell that they talk much about it at home with their parents, so I want to make my one short hour with them as meaningful as possible.

Any advice?

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  • Hey, Talia,
    First off, thanks for your question!
    I am 15 and teach a class of 7th graders every six weeks. They are all about 12-14 years old.
    I also went on a Missions Trip last June and taught 10-12 year olds. So I sort of understand where you’re coming from.
    Something my parents learned while working at CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship), is that this is not an ideal situation, but the best thing to do is teach at the younger kids’ level and have the older kids help. You would be surprised what a 12 year old can do to contribute, if given the opertunity.

    This is not the perfect answer, but it’s the best I got for this situation.

    In this situation, maybe see if you could get someone else to teach the older half or younger half while you teach the other?
    God bless,
    – Trent

  • Hi Talia,

    I’m 20 and teach 7th grade girls at my church every week. One thing we do is every week we have a question regarding the topic that each girl goes around and answers. Asking questions is a great way to get kids involved.

    You mentioned that you wanted to make your short hour meaningful. I know we struggle with this at my church as well. During our leader training, we talked about how parents have thousands of contact hours with their children, but the church only has 50, if we’re lucky, each year. So what we focus on is teaming up with the parents. Sending home discussion questions that parents can work through throughout the week with their children, as well as verses they can memorize, are a couple ways we team up with parents. Also – lots of prayers that God would use us πŸ™‚

    Akron, OH

    • Thank you so much Madison!
      I was wondering, what sort of questions do you ask in your group? Is it about the material (like, facts and such), or more about the meaning behind what you learned? I agree, asking questions is super helpful for discussion.

      I REALLY appreciate your advise for connecting with the parents. That is something I’ve been trying to figure out how to do, so that has proved very helpful to me. πŸ™‚ Thanks!

      • Hi Talia,
        I ask both. After we read through a passage, I’ll start out by asking very literal questions (IE, Jesus said…?). Then I ask questions about what we should learn from the passage, how what we read should change us, etc.

  • Hey Talia (Just as a random fact, I LOVE your name!)
    I teach the Preschoolers at my church once a month, for about an hour and a half. Something that has saved my life about a million times is keeping them active and not having to strict of a schedule. Like, sometimes my class could sing all day long, and other times they want to color.

    So some advice would be just go with the flow.
    Also, Love on them. If you have to rule with an iron fist, then they are probably not going to listen as well.

    I hope this helps!

    • Lol, why thank you. πŸ˜€
      And thanks for your response! Loving them is sometimes all I feel I can do, but it’s good to be reminded that that is still a valuable use of my time. πŸ™‚

  • Hi Talia,
    That is a tricky situation! I wonder what it would be like if you taught the lesson, then divided up the group based on ages: 5-7 and 8-12 year olds? You could print out age-appropriate discussion questions for each group, and bounce between the two groups to make sure they are on track. Also, you could have the older students take turns leading the younger small group.

    In regards to the curriculum, I understand that it may not be great. My own church had to search hard to find a good curriculum, and they ended up finding a good one that went chronologically through the bible with a different story each week. Could you talk to you pastor about purchasing a new curriculum?

    To get the parents and kids talking about their lesson, you could send home a sheet each week with more discussion questions, a memory verse, or a challenge to do during the week, and you could use prizes as incentives.

    God bless you as you help train a new generation of Christ-followers!

  • Hey Talia,

    I help with a class of 4-6 year olds at my church, so I hear you re younger kids attention spans. πŸ˜‰ Reading through the other comments, it looks like you have already been given some great advice, so I will just add, could you see if your church could get you new curriculum? I have heard good things about the Answers Bible Curriculum. Answers in Genesis stuff tends to be fun, yet solid. If so, I would recommend getting the one in your older students’ age range – it is easier to dumb something down than it is to add to it (as you sound like you are well aware πŸ˜‰ ). Here is a link, just in case (scroll down the page to see individual sets).

    And just pray for them a lot (as I am sure you already do). I’ll keep you in my prayers, too, if that is okay. πŸ˜‰ God bless you! He has given you a wonderful mission.

    • Oh. my. word. THANK YOU. This material looks much more along the lines of what I’ve been looking for! I’ll have to bring that up next week……
      And yes, I am beyond ok with that. πŸ™‚ Thank you. I’ll admit, I am have not been the best at praying in that regard, so thank you for the reminder.

  • Great question! The fact that you’re teaching younger ones is great. They’ll naturally respond better to someone your age because you’re the age they look up to. I teach a Sr. High class, so my group is a bit different from yours, but I’ll try to share what I’ve learned:

    1) Remember that your job is not merely to teach, it is to inspire your students to seek the Lord for themselves. My vision for my class is that, if someone were to walk in, they wouldn’t be able to tell who the teacher is, because everyone is actively helping each other grown in Christ, as is true fellowship.

    2) Don’t be afraid to change the lesson plan. Obviously you’re already seeing this. Children that age are much more capable than you might imagine, and sometimes they’ll learn better when they’re learning directly from the Bible through a passionate teacher than from a lesson that you’re just “using.” Don’t be afraid to get to some deeper, more influential stuff.

    3) Utilize all your “people-resources.” Give them something that they’ll talk about with their parents. Let them discuss with each other. With guidance, let the older ones give advice and explain things to the younger ones. Make this theirs, not yours.

    Again, I’m coming from a Sr. High class thought-process, but hopefully some of these things can help you. (I’m beginning to think I don’t have the ability to write a short comment… but I have to do hard things, I guess, right? πŸ˜‰ Hopefully I’ll get better at this…)

    • Haha! I appreciate the long response, no sweat.
      That is so helpful. It reflect a lot of my vision too. I want it to be something the kids grab and run with, and encourage each other with. As opposed to them feeling like it’s “just another class”. Because it isn’t! It’s God’s story about what he’s done for us! I’m looking for ways to help them catch that vision…..What you said about making it theirs and not mine was an idea I hadn’t really thought about before, so I’ll have to pray about applying that. Thank you!

  • So, I realize that other people have already suggested new curriculum, but if you are considering new curricula I would suggest you check this link out:

    These videos go through the entire Bible. It is supposed to be for younger children, but I and my three siblings, aged 19, 18, 16, and 12, all watch it together and have gained a lot. They first just made regular DVDs, but have recently made church editions, I think, specifically in mind for Sunday Schools or Children’s Church.

    What I think really make these videos stand out, is the balance between humor (which keeps the kids attentions) and really teaching the nitty-gritty.

    Whatever your decision, I wish you well, Talia, and I am praying for you!

  • Hey Talia, my advice is this: pray earnestly about it and read the Bible until you receive an answer from the Lord.

  • Talia,
    I love what you’re doing and it looks like you have a lot of support here to keep you going! One thing I’m learning about older students is that they need wiggle time just like little kids do, something that’s easy to forget when they’re ‘capable’ of sitting still. (Sitting still does not mean they’re actually taking in the information presented) We started a new routine in our homeschool class of 7, ranging in age from 15-3.

    Each day begins with a short parable (this tell kids we’re ready to start and they don’t want to miss the story so they finish chores and come to ‘class’).

    Next, we say the Pledge of Allegiance, at this point I really have their attention because they all participated and our minds are on the same thing. Perhaps you might recite a class verse, the same one for a whole year or something.

    Then, Calendar: we review the date, weather and any important announcements for the day. You might have one student share a time when they saw God’s hand moving in their life that week. I really love it when kids recognize that God is part of their life every day! This is the ultimate point of Sunday School in my mind. πŸ™‚

    Finally, we have stretching time, just a few minutes of various movement: Reach for the sky, touch your toes, some stretches are really difficult and challenge the older boys in a surprising way. You could search for appropriate ones on YouTube if you wanted to.

    It might take 10 or 15 minutes, but by doing these routine things, I’ve brought them together and they are all ready to work on whatever assignments I give them next. It is time well spent and makes the rest of the time far more productive than when we skip it.

    God bless you for all you do. I have been praying for your heart and your students. Wish you were teaching at our little church!!

  • I am an assistant for the pre-k/k class at my church. I have been blessed to be able to teach the lesson on several occasions. I have a very large class – 15 kids on a normal to low day! I have seen that low attention span! with the younger kids, I like to do a ‘bible story game’ that I came up with one morning. the basic idea is to choose a story and then give hints until a child can guess the story. I then allow the child to select a story and give the hints. the kids absolutely A.D.O.R.E this game!!!! it holds their attention well and even works with older kids. this could be a good option for game time πŸ™‚ also, about the lesson, have seen that the kids grasp a TON more than they let onto. I am shocked by how much they really get it!
    do not grow weary in well doing for in do season, you shall reap!

  • I have been the teacher’s “right hand” in the class (2 & 3 year old kids) at our church for 2-3 years now and I have struggled with the same problem. All the stuff they’re giving us to teach the kids is so “on the surface”. sooo…..

    My mom was a Bible teacher in the Philippines for several years (that’s where she met my dad! :)) and taught when she got back to the States so she has tons of teaching stuff, including the giant Abeka flashcards of Bible stories. I haven’t been able to do this much since I have been studying (or trying to, it’s getting hard and I only have a week left – please pray for me!) for Bible Bee but I like to ask the teacher (which in this case, you wouldn’t need to, right?) which story we’re going to do the next week so I can bring extra pictures or whatever. She decided not to follow the material the church gives because some of the stories were just a little over their heads (ex. the guy who fell out the window during Paul’s teaching and Paul raised him back to life. Great story, but I don’t think they understood any of that well.), especially since they moved all the little ones up from the nursery into our class, even though they’re only 18-20 months old…. (yikes!)

    So, I guess what I’m saying is: See what the story is for the week. Build on it. Go deeper – they understand a lot more than we give them credit for sometimes! Give them details – one of my brothers was aggravated because in his class they told the story but they didn’t give any details — and he wanted details! Anyway, This is a really long, rambling post, but I hope it helps!

  • Following what Trent has to say; I frequently work with a wide age gap. I tend to pitch the lesson hard enough to keep the kids in the middle age gap interested and ask the older ones to help explain or answer questions the little kids have… I do have classes that tend to be upwards of 70 kids so appointing the older children as teaching assistants is a great way to keep order and keep the older kids interested at the same time. I break them off into smaller groups after my big lesson with a “teaching assistant” in charge of each group to discuss the lesson and ensure that the activities are done within that group. Parceling out responsibility is a great way to raise up the next Sunday school teacher. I now have three of my former “TA’s” teaching groups of their own.

  • Talia,
    You are amazing! *Internet High-Five* Seriously though, you handle a lot of responsibility, which is super awesome. But you also are asking for help, which shows wisdom.

    I go to a bigger church, not a mega-church.
    My family and I serve with pre-schoolers, teaching them the lesson and doing activities. But I have worked with many ages, and my mom is amazing with kids so I have learned some things from her, not that I’m amazing.

    I have worked with kids of many ages and how you relate to certain age groups is very important. This is sometimes hard to do, but older kids are easier to talk to and you can talk with them almost as if they are your age. Younger kids you have to be energetic and happy, but if you treat them more as equals, they will want to pay attention to you more and listen to you. This is just a recommendation, I don’t know what those kids are like so this may not work the best for you. My church has a really good curriculum, its based off of this book written by one of our pastors:
    “The Gospel Story Bible: Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments” by Marty Machowski
    There is a separate curriculum, but it requires a lot of people and is expensive. The lessons are somewhat family-based, but go through important bible stories and how they relate to Jesus.

    Songs with motions like “The Wise Man and the Foolish Man. ” Are good “time-wasters” in case you need something to distract them for a little while.
    I respect you so much, not to give you pressure, but you teaching those kids about the Bible is an amazing thing and it will lead to great things in their lives and yours.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Get creative and let them be hands on. For example you can teach about good friendship and get a blanket. Then have a kid lay in the middle and have the other kids try to carry him by lifting the blanket. Let anyone who wants a turn in the middle go. Then teach them about the crippled man who had his friend carried him to Jesus, in Mark 2:1-12.

  • Try giving one of the older kids the lesson for the week ahead and have him/her teach the lesson. Then not only are the older ones engaged, but the younger ones will concentrate better because of the change in teacher (little kids get bored easily). Also when the little ones are doing their activities, you can talk with the big ones about deeper topics. You would be surprised about how much the older kids will like having a break from shallow discussions. Even if you do this once a month as a change up, it will still help.

  • I feel your pain. I am not a huge fan of the curriculum my church uses so I try to jazz it up quite a bit and make it more interesting. I want the kids to love the Bible and enjoy hearing about it, so I put a lot of time in to try to hold their attention each week!

    I’ve typed out a handful of lessons so far, most of which can be seen here:

  • When you are teaching such a range, it is important that you know their names and have something all can relate to from Noah’s ark, which the little ones are learning and the older ones know about and allow the older ones who have attended church and SS for a while to help with the younger ones. Pray about it. You can work it out.

rebelling against low expectations

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