If you have ever spent any time working with children, you know that any free time without a plan, is a recipe for disaster. But the hardest time to plan for are those few minutes before services or Sunday School begins and the time after church when you are waiting for the parents to arrive. Because those times are not actually a part of the service you are planning and, especially when we are talking about after service, you don't really know how long you will have. If the Pastor's sermon goes long or the altar is full in the adult service, you could have 20 or 30 minutes you need to fill. The kids often can get a bit squirrelly when you don't have something planned and it is during those times that you probably have the most behavioral issues. But there is a way to help curb those issues...at least they have worked for me.
I have found that if I set up activity stations for the kids, that helps immensely. They have something to take their attention until it is time to start service (or until their parents arrive) and also gives them an outlet to use up some energy before church. The nice thing about activity stations is that they can be put into literally any environment. Whether you have a dedicated space for your children's ministry, or if you are in a shared space, these are things that are quickly set up and taken down whenever necessary. And can be tailored to fit your children's needs. They do not have to be expensive either. For $20 you can set up several stations that your kids will be playing at for weeks.
Here are a few examples of stations that you can use:
Needed items: coloring books, plain blank paper, crayons and/or colored pencils. These can be purchased nearly anywhere and if you shop around back to school time, you can get enough crayons and colored pencils to last the year for next to nothing.
Needed items: puzzles My suggestion here would be to have several available, but nothing over 50 pieces unless you are going to have more than 15 minutes of free time. Puzzles can be purchased at the Dollar Tree so they are easily replaced inexpensively if the pieces are lost.
Needed items: games of all sorts There are all kinds of games that you can get for relatively low costs if you are on the look out for them. Local department stores like Walmart or Target will have sales on common games like Chutes and Ladders, Don't Break the Ice, Cootie, or Candyland at various times of the year. Places like Five Below will carry a large variety for $5 or less. A couple of card games like Old Maid or Go Fish can be great too and inexpensively purchased. A game of Memory is generally a hit as well. The important thing is that you have the games already set up. If the children see them sitting there ready to be played they are more likely to use them.
Needed items: Any sort of manipulative type toy. Stacking cups are a hit as well as large Legos (Small ones are easily lost), Tinker Toys, or Lincoln Logs are great too. Admittedly, this area is more pricey if you decide to include it, but if you ask around, you may find that there are people in your congregation with used toys like these that they would be willing to donate to the department. Looking at places like Goodwill is also a great way to find manipulative toys. Sometimes you can even find fun toys on sites like Orientaltrading.com.
And don't forget the music. When your kids enter the room, if it's quiet, it's not terribly inviting. Playing some fun music (we use Christian music videos for kids) is a good way to make the area more comfortable. It doesn't have to be loud to be effective, but it is important. Because my parents were in evangelism for most of my growing up, I have been the "new kid" in hundreds of churches. Yes, hundreds. And I can tell you from experience that when you walk into a room that is stone quiet (except for the sound of the kids talking), it can be VERY intimidating. But if there is music in the background, somehow it seems less threatening and more a place you want to be.
After church, we show fun and/or funny videos while we wait for the parents to arrive. But, we also sometimes use the activity stations then as well.
You want to do whatever works for your church and your kids. But, those are a few things that have been helpful for me.
Until next week...