Tuesday, April 28, 2015


It's nobody's favorite thing to do, but discipline is important if you want to have an effective ministry.  As everyone has their own way of doing things, I'm just going to share with you the things that have worked for me and that I use within my own department.

1) You need and authoritative name. 
     This might seem like a small thing, but it's actually pretty important.  At my church I am Pastor Toni to the kids.  This sets me apart as the one in charge.  I'm not just "Toni".  Toni sounds like their friend and I am not there to be their buddy.  I am their Pastor.  I love them, I want to know them and what is important to them, but I can not be their pal and be in authority over them.  All of my volunteers also have titles like Ms. Cindy, Ms. Dorothy, or Ms. Helen.  It is important that the children see them as authority figures as well and those titles help with that.  So, choose your title and then teach the children to use it.  As I said, it might seem like a small thing, but it makes a big difference.

2) When you make rules, stick to them.  EXPECT the children to follow them.
     We have very few rules in my department, but the ones we have are important and I am a stickler about them.  They are as follows:

*No running unless we are playing a game that requires it
*No talking when I'm talking
*If you brought anything with you, it goes under your chair.
*Go to the bathroom and get a drink during the 5 minute warning because it is not allowed during service (unless it is an emergency)
*After you have been signed in, you may not leave the children's department until you have been signed out.

      It takes a little time for the kids to learn the rules, but once they do, they are expected to follow them.  I have learned over the years that what I expect out of children is what I will get.  If I expect them to behave and they know that expectation, generally they will live up to what it expected of them.  Some kids you have to take aside and be a bit more firm about what is expected, but most of the time, you will get the behavior you expect.

3)  When necessary, be firm.  NEVER yell.
   There are times when I will have a child whose behavior needs some work.  When I can, I will take that child aside and very firmly tell them what is appropriate and what is not.  Never ever yell.  They will turn you off immediately.   I tell them that I do all I can to plan really fun things to do in children's church and if they want to be a part of what we do, they WILL behave, or they will not be a part. And then I stick to what I said.  If they don't change their behavior, I calmly ask them to sit out of the activities or games.  The choice becomes theirs then and once they realize that I mean what I say, they hopefully will make different choices. 

There are times when I can not take the child aside because of the situation.  I try not to call out children in front of others, but if it becomes necessary, do it quickly and firmly, and then go right back to what you were doing.  Do not let that child's choices change the dynamic of the service for more than a few seconds.  For example, if I were in the midst of telling a story to the children and a child was continually interrupting, I would stop, turn to that child, change my demeanor to one of sternness, and say, "Fred, I need to to stop that right now. Now is the time for listening." Then I would immediately go back to "story mode" as if nothing had happened.  Fred got the point, but the class was only disrupted for about 10 seconds.

4) Games are a powerful behavior modification tool
   On occasion, there are times when the children just seem to be a bit squirrelly.  They don't want to pay attention.  They talk out.  They are disruptive.  Early on, I told the kids what was expected of them and then I said, "If you're not paying attention, we won't be able to get through all that I have planned and if I have to cut something because of your behavior, it will ALWAYS be a game."  So, when I have those days where the kids are not paying attention, I simply lean back and stand very quietly.  When the kids notice what I'm doing I'll say, "It's alright, I can always cut a game." Nearly every time they will quiet down because they do not want to lose a game.  And they will even get on others when they start to act up.  I've heard them say, "Be quiet, she'll cut a game."  Of course that means, you always need a game you can pull out to play at the end if there is time, but generally that is not difficult to do if you plan for it.

Over the years, I have learned one thing about children and discipline.  The children who I tend to have to discipline the most, are the ones who seem to like me the best.  I am not mean, but I am firm.  And I treat all the children with respect, but I mean what I say and they know it.  And they also know that I discipline them because I care.  I want them to learn and I want them to grow and to do that, they have to behave.

I'm not saying that I never have a discipline issue, but the above tips have helped keep them at a minimum.  I hope you find them helpful too.

Till next week. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Family Sunday

Our children's services are set up where they are with me the entire service (as opposed to starting in "big church" and then leaving part way through).  However, once a month is Family Sunday and we are all in the Sanctuary together.  We do this for a couple of reasons.  We want the children to have opportunities to be a part of the sanctuary worship service so that they can learn how the adults worship, we want them to see that they are a part of a bigger body of Christ, and also it begins to prepare them for when they are no longer in Children's Church.  Plus, it gives all the workers the opportunity to be in church as well.

On Family Sunday, we do two things to try and include the children in the service.  First, we include a time in the service specifically for the kids.  We do a "Sermon in a Sack."  If you are unfamiliar with this, it is pretty straightforward.  I give out a sack to a child the week before that they can put anything they like into, as long as it follows three rules:
                    1) It's can't be alive.
                    2) It can't ever have been alive
                    3) It can't make a mess
Then on Sunday, at the appointed time, the children all come up to the platform and sit down.  I am given the sack and I have to pull out whatever is in it and come up with a brief sermon about it.  It sounds like this might be difficult, but usually it's not.  For example, last month, a child brought in a box of Band-aids.  I talked about how we only use those when we get hurt and that sometimes people treat God that way too.  They only come to Him when they are in trouble or hurting.  But God is not a box of Band-aids.  He wants to be in our lives all the time...not just when we want something from Him.  If you practice with things around your house or walk around a store looking for how God could speak to you through the things you see, you will find He can use anything to teach us if we will listen to what He's saying.

The second thing we do is to put together a worship packet for the children.  Since all the children will get this packet it has things for the young as well as those a little older.  I include a prize page that has review questions from the previous month's studies in Children's Church.  If they bring it the following week to Children's Church, they can get a prize.  If I know what the Pastor is preaching on that day, I try to make two or three pages of the packet follow his sermon.  Including a coloring page from the text and possibly designing a puzzle around it as well.  You can make up your own puzzles for free at Discovery Education.  I have used it often and it is very easy to use.  Then I include mission pages from our denomination as well.  The packet usually ends up about 6-7 pages long.  However, it is important to note that we DO NOT give out the packet at the beginning of service.  We wait until after the "Sermon in a Sack."  Otherwise, they may finish it before the sermon and since it is supposed to go along with the sermon, that would be a problem. 

If you have not instituted a Family Sunday at your church, I would encourage you to do so.  It is a wonderful way for all ages to worship together.

Until next week...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Preschool Helps and Coloring Pages

When it comes to Preschoolers you really can not have "too much" to do.  It is always better to have too much planned than not enough.  They like to move, they like to help and they like to learn.  But putting together an hour long lesson for them can be incredibly time consuming because you often need several different activities if you want them to stay on task.  And because preschoolers are all at different stages in their development, you can easily find that your 3 year olds and your 5 year olds do not respond to the same things.  This week, I'm including some books that I have found useful over the years.

Before I talk about the books, let me just advise that when planning your lesson, make sure you include some time for them to play.  If they have a few minutes to get their wiggles out, you will probably find them easier to teach.  So whether it is at the end of the service, the beginning of the service or maybe a ten minute break right in the middle.  Give them some time to play.

Here are three books that I really like when I'm putting together preschool lessons.  They can be used alone or you can mix and match lessons to fit your needs, but they all offer great ideas and activities that will engage and excite your preschoolers.  If you want to know where you can get these books, simply click the name and it will take you to a site that sells them.

Instant Bible Lessons for Preschoolers
This book is great because it has 8 full lessons in it and each one has eight activities that you can choose to fit your service.  Games ideas, crafts, story time, and even snack are all included.  There is also a ninth chapter with 6 miscellaneous activities.  I'll admit that I am not a fan of every activity in the book, but that's okay.  There are so many to choose from that you are bound to find some you and your kids will enjoy using.  Plus there are several volumes of these Instant Lessons, so if you like this book, you might want to check out some of the others as well.

More Toddlerific!
This book from David C. Cook, contains 12 lessons and it also has tons of activities with each one that you can choose to make your lesson work best for you and your kids.  This one is geared toward younger preschoolers, but if you have all your preschool ages combined (as most of us do) generally you can make it work with kids a little older too. A big plus for this book is that it also has a take home page for each lesson that the parents can use to reinforce the day's teaching when the children get home.

The Humongous Book of Preschool Ideas 2 
This book is from Group Publishing and it has 45 lessons covering both the Old and New Testaments.  It also has several activities with each lesson (though maybe not quite as many as the other two books mentioned) and so makes another great addition to your library when you are trying to mix and match activities for a service.

Now that you have some ideas for the lessons.  There are times that you still want a fun coloring page to finish out your service or perhaps as part of your free time.  Below are a couple of fantastic reproducible coloring books that are great additions to any lesson or activity center.  They are great for kids of all ages because many never really outgrow coloring completely...at least I know I haven't.  :-)

Bible Story Coloring Pages
The title is pretty self explanatory, but what I love about this book is that not only does it cover pretty much every book of the Bible, but along with each picture, there is short story explaining the what it happening in the picture.  It really is a wonderful resource. I use it a lot.

Buck Denver asks...What's In The Bible Coloring Book
This is a resource that I discovered recently and it is just full of fun pictures that the kids will love coloring.  Just like the videos (which are also awesome and I will talk about in a later blog), this book is fantastic and filled with things that will draw the children in and help them get excited about the stories you are sharing with them.  It also covers both Old and New Testaments.

That's all for this week.  I hope you find these resources as helpful in your ministries as I do in mine. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Before and After Services...Ideas for those minutes prior to or after church.

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:

Coloring table
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. 

Puzzle table
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.

Games table
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. 

Toys table
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...