On Managing Your Sunday Church School Class

Already it is midsummer, so believe it or not, it is time to begin thinking about getting back into the school and Sunday Church School routines! Whether your parish has Sunday Church School year round, or takes a break over summertime, the new church year is a good time to implement changes and/or begin new routines. This week’s note and subsequent posts will address classroom management and suggest ideas of ways to prepare for and run your Sunday Church School class.

Prepare, prepare, and prepare for each lesson!

  • Pray for your students.
  • Ask God and the saints to help you with your general classroom preparations as well as with each of your lessons.
  • Keep your students in mind while you prepare each lesson (this gets easier as the year goes on and you discover how each of your students learns best).
  • If you’re telling a saint or Bible story, study it well; perhaps even gathering a few props to make it more interesting; and then think through questions to ask to engage the students.
  • If you’re doing a craft, no matter how simple/straightforward it may seem, try it ahead of time. This will assure you that you have all of the necessary items, reveal any weakness in your directions, and give you a sense of how long it takes and/or what’s the most difficult part of the craft.
  • If you’re playing a game, be sure to know the directions inside and out, thinking through possible scenarios of questions that may arise and how to answer them.

Create a welcoming space!

  • Be sure there is enough space in your classroom for all of the students on your roster. Since enrollment changes from year to year, this year’s class could be much smaller or larger than last year’s! You want to be prepared for all of your students.
  • Decide where/how the students will sit/stand/play, at which part of the Sunday Church School class, and set up the room accordingly.
  • Decorate the room with posters/bulletin boards/items that give an overview of what you will study during the year; and be sure to include at least one icon as the focal point during prayers. These decorations could actually go up throughout the year, during the course of your studies, or they can be already posted from the beginning of the year, as “teasers.”
  • Consider having one display area in the room that is decorated with help from your students (for example, have each of them draw a picture of themselves, and then post the entire paper “class” together somewhere in the room).  This display can change periodically, or stay up all year.
  • Consider changing the space where the children sit and/or work, from time to time, in order to keep it interesting. (Of course, if you have a large classroom, you can change where they sit/stand throughout the course of the class itself; ie: they can sit on the floor to hear a story, then work around a table for the craft/activity pages/etc.).
  • Post classroom rules where it is easy for everyone to see them, so everyone knows what is expected of them. (They can be written together as a class; but need to be posted so that you can refer back to them if necessary.) If you write these together as a class, be sure to have planned ahead and thought through what all you want the class to include in this list of expectations!

Include everyone!

  • The Silent One – Speak to the child outside of Sunday Church School, assuring them that you are glad they’re in your class, and that you value their answer/opinion, as much as anyone else’s. Plan with the child a hand signal or even a wink that can double as a “backup plan” to answer your question if they don’t feel comfortable speaking in the classroom context.
  • The Hand-Waver – Set guidelines with your class about expectations regarding answering questions; encouraging politeness and turn-taking. If one of your students insists on waving around their hand in attempt to gain more attention in class, consistently ignore it. And then, outside of class, speak with the child about why you do not reward that behavior, reminding them gently of your guidelines. Be sure to reward polite behavior when students comply!
  • The Chatterer – Your classroom guidelines should include something about when it is appropriate for students to talk; and when they should be just listening. Encourage chatterers to follow those guidelines. If they don’t, have a plan in place for responding to them: maybe just to  ignore the chatter, or to give the student a specific assignment in which they need to talk (ie: “when I’m finished explaining this, I will need you to read this to the class” or “after I have finished talking about this part, you can tell us in your own words what is the main point of today’s lesson”).
  • The Class Clown – There is often at least one of these in every class: so plan ahead, and teach your students about being respectful to others and that Sunday Church School is not the place to try to draw attention to themselves. Think of creative ways in each lesson to allow for humor and/or dramatic flair, so that all of the children have the opportunity for this sort of creative/comic outlet. If you have a plan to incorporate this into your lessons, the rest of the lesson, you are able to simply say, “It’s not time for that, yet; but later in the lesson, we will be (acting or doing something funny or otherwise dramatic), and I will need help with that. Let’s work on this (whatever the current activity is) and I’ll be watching to see who can best help me, later.”
  • The Gigglebox – Some children are easily amused, and will giggle at everything, especially the class clown. Remind this student of the classroom rules about when it is time to be quiet (yes, laughter is noisy, just like talking!), and encourage them to save the giggles for later. You will need to get to know your students, to see who can sit together and who can’t; who makes who laugh; etc., and plan accordingly. Chances are, the Gigglebox shouldn’t be right next to Class Clown!
  • The Wiggleworm – It is difficult for some children to be still. Especially if they have just stood for the Divine Liturgy, your students may just need some wiggle room. Find a way to incorporate a little movement into your class times. A few examples: sing a song with motions. Have a set of “wiggle buster” stretches that you always use to begin class, which ends with standing still to pray. Ask review questions from past lessons in which the children “move three seats to the right if you think the answer is a, two seats if it is b, or one seat to answer c,” and yes, you may end up with a few children piled in the same chair. You get the idea. If you have children that simply must move all of the time, consider providing them with quiet movement activities they can use while listening; such as a fabric marble maze (http://www.playeatgrow.com/2012/03/play-homemade-toys-marble-maze.html) or some other quiet finger-busying device; or provide a short piece of pool noodle to put under their feet that they can roll around quietly to give their legs something to do as they listen (http://cazanoova.blogspot.com/2011/09/pool-noodles-part-2.html).
  • If you need some ideas, you can find other discipline tips at http://ministry-to-children.com/kids-ministry-discipline-tips/.

As we look to the year ahead, let us do so with joy and gratitude for the gift God is granting us in each of our students. As we plan for the year, may we do so carefully, that we be well prepared to manage each moment with those students. Most of all, may God grant us love for each student, wisdom to teach them well, and strength for each class of the upcoming church year!

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