We’ve all been faced with that awkward moment at a dinner party: We’ve been through the buffet line and then we’re not quite sure where we’re supposed to go next…we stand, uncertain between the dining and living rooms wondering what to do: Do we sit down and begin eating? Are we going to wait until everyone has been served and then pray together? Is this a “mingling” party where we’ll just stand around and eat? It can be distressing to even the most socially savvy party-goer. We look for clues…are there coasters for drinks on the coffee tables? Do you see place cards in the dining room? The bottom line is that we want our host and hostess to give us clear directions on what to do and where to go.
Planning for Sunday School is not much different from planning for a dinner party. We want our guests to feel welcome and nurtured, enjoy each other’s company, and be enriched and nourished by the conversation and food. Most of all, we want them to leave feeling content and excited to return!
We’re teaching kids in a great era of information. We know more than we have ever known about how children learn and we understand their behavior much more intricately. This allows us to plan more proactively for our classes, worship services, and youth groups. However, before we even open our resource books or curriculum guides, we can plan for successful learning.
We know that many learners with “hidden disabilities” like autism, anxiety and ADHD, can become extremely overwhelmed in large, loud spaces. One student we know entered the children’s worship space, his eyes wide with fear, and ran immediately to the only shelter he could find: a lone table in the corner of the room. He crawled under the table and remained there for the duration of the lesson, in tears.
To prevent situations like these, begin planning your lesson by planning your space. While group worship time may need to occur in a large room, be sure that there are also places for students who cannot manage the stimulation of a large-group experience. While space is often at a premium on Sunday mornings, a quiet corner can usually be found to create a sense of comfort and safety.
If you have your own classroom for Sunday School, think about what your students will experience as they enter the room. Ask yourself:
- Is the arrangement conducive to whole-group activities as well as small-group and individual projects?
- Are areas well-marked so that students know how to access materials and how to properly use the area?
- Is there a quiet space for kids who might need a break from the group?
- Will the students know, by the arrangement, what they are supposed to do as they enter the room?
By proactively planning your space for a variety of learners and their needs, you help students feel welcome and comfortable at church. And, just like folks who have had fun at a well-planned dinner party, they’ll want to come back again and again!
PS Send me your questions/comments and concerns about this issue…every church is different and has its own challenges. Let’s work together!
Excellent advice – but I have one more thought – if you are teaching Sunday school to younger children, GET ON YOUR KNEES! Yes, to pray – but also to survey the room from the children’s perspective. You may see things on your knees that you don’t see at your full height.
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