On Including Art in the Sunday Church School Classroom

Art belongs in the Sunday Church School classroom. It should not be included simply as “an extra thing to do,” or “so we have something related to the lesson to send home with the kids.” Some teachers who feel pressed for time may see art as unnecessary fluff and simply skip doing any artwork during Sunday Church School. But educational research has indicated otherwise. On their webpage at  http://www.artsedsearch.org/students/research-overview, Artsedsearch quotes a variety of studies, stating that research has found increased overall academic success for students involved in programs that include the arts. Other studies have shown improvement in cognitive and creative skills for students who are involved with the arts as well as “traditional” curriculum. Furthermore, personal skills such as perseverance and self-confidence as well as interpersonal skills such as collaboration and mutual appreciation have been proven to be greatly enhanced by students who are involved in the arts. These findings suggest that art is not just an “extra piece” in the curriculum. Rather, it appears that it is imperative that we find ways to incorporate art into our lessons. Including art in the classroom offers a great benefit to all students, not only the ones who learn best by working creatively with their hands, but everyone else, as well.

However, simply knowing that we should include art does not automatically translate into actually including it in our Sunday Church School lessons. Here are suggestions of steps we can take to begin incorporating art into our classrooms. We need to have supplies readily available, select age-appropriate projects, and think through the implications of using art in our classes.

  1. We need to plan ahead, and be sure that we have any needed art supplies ready for use in the classroom. Here is a starting point of basic supplies for Sunday Church School classrooms. The suggestions are listed in age-appropriate groupings:

Preschool: blank paper, construction paper, sturdy preschool crayons, preschool markers (washable), preschool colored pencils, pencil sharpener, glue sticks, blunt safety scissors, clear and masking tape, newspaper, old magazines

K-2: white paper, age-appropriate lined paper, construction paper, crayons, wide markers (washable), colored pencils, pencils, pencil sharpener, glue sticks, craft glue, safety scissors, watercolor paints/brushes, clear and masking tape, newspaper, old magazines

Grades 3-5: white paper, lined paper, construction paper, crayons, wide and narrow markers (washable), colored pencils, pencils, pencil sharpener, pens of various colors, glue sticks, craft glue, scissors, watercolor paints/brushes, clear and masking tape, newspaper, old magazines

Middle and High School: white paper, lined paper, construction paper, crayons, wide and narrow markers (both washable and permanent), colored pencils, pencils, pencil sharpener, pens of various colors, glue sticks, craft glue, scissors, watercolor and acrylic paints/brushes, clear and masking tape, newspaper, old magazines

You may also occasionally need supplies like these: paper plates and cotton swabs (for paint or glue sharing), pipe cleaners, pom poms, wiggle eyes, feathers, notecards, beads, specialty papers (such as rice paper), chalks, pastels, acrylic or oil paints and canvas, duct tape, etc., but that will vary project to project.

2. We need to carefully select art projects that work for the particular group of students in our class. We want to encourage them to try new things, while also being careful not push them beyond what they are capable of doing, frustrating them or setting them up for failure. This website offers helpful ideas to keep projects age-appropriate: http://www.examiner.com/article/how-to-choose-age-level-appropriate-art-projects-for-youth-groups. Here are their practical suggestions:

“Kindergarten: Look for projects that teach them how to use a tool, such as scissors, by cutting on a preprinted line. Glue sticks work better than white glue because they don’t have fine motor skills developed enough to squeeze lightly.

“First Grade: Step up the skills from Kindergarten one notch, such as cutting a curved line. Introduce new materials, such as white glue, by first demonstrating how to use it as a tool. For example, before using markers, show them how the cap can be put on the other end while it is in use, and how the cap should snap shut when it is put back. Teach rules about cleaning up and taking care of the tools. Teach how to use a tool safely.

“Second Grade: When the students begin to write neatly and demonstrate control of a pencil, it is time to introduce projects that use small finger motions such as using glitter or making sand drawings. Girls develop their finger muscles first, while boys develop their arm and leg muscles first. Both can be taught how to use a paint brush, but boys will need something that is painted all one color while girls will be able to paint a smaller area.

“Third Grade: This is a crossroads age level. Third grade is the time when some students decide that they just aren’t good at art, and give up trying. It’s because they are comparing themselves to the professional masters like Michelangelo… Use step by step drawing books where they can compare their art to the one in the book. Use examples of other students’ work that are found in a magazine or saved from the previous year. Let them compare themselves to you by showing them something you made when you were that age. Ask… if they can play baseball as well as the St. Louis Cardinals can, and if that means they “aren’t any good” at baseball.

“Fourth and Fifth Grade: By this age, boys and girls have both developed fine motor skills and are able to do projects that have more detail. Craft projects can include tying a knot, weaving, or using basic hand tools such as pliers, hammer or a saw. At this age level, students want to express themselves. Look for art projects that allow them to tell the world who they are such as a collage of their favorite things, or drawing a picture of what job they want when they grow up.

“Middle School: At this age, students want a practical use for what they are learning. Cover the Principles of Design, but apply the knowledge to a concern they have in their own life. For example, understanding the use of balance can help them arrange pictures on their bedroom wall…”

This is, of course, only a beginning of what is appropriate for each age. Experience will also give a teacher a sense of what works and what does not. Each class will be unique, because it comes with its own set of individuals, every one of which has his or her own gifts and challenges. As you work with your class each year, you will figure out what they can handle.

  1. Successfully incorporating art in the Sunday Church School class requires forethought. Before class, take some time to think through any implications and plan for possible glitches in any project. In order to do so, gather all needed supplies in advance. Once everything is gathered, and well in advance of the class period, make a sample of the project. This will allow you to think through the directions, discover needed but missing supplies, and find potential problems with the project. (Note: consider carefully whether or not to show your sample to your students. Sometimes students feel daunted by trying to match the teacher’s sample at their more-limited skill level. Also, showing them “this is exactly what we’re making” can limit the students’ creativity in using the provided supplies. One solution could be to show the sample to the students to give them the general idea of one way that the project can work, and then put it away while they create their own work.) After making a sample and working out all of the potential problems, all that remains to be done before carrying out a project in the Sunday Church School classroom is to think through what happens after the project. Be sure to have a plan for how/where to allow wet projects to dry. Also, have cleanup supplies available in the room so that you can tidy up any messes that may happen during the project. Have a plan in place for kids who finish their project early (or late). Unless you are sending the work home immediately, you will also need to think of how to display the students’ work in your classroom. A little advanced planning can make the whole process smoother, and thereby more successful!

 

Since art has been proven important to learners of all types and ages, let us do what we can to incorporate more of it into our Sunday Church School classes. Having basic supplies readily available in our classroom will aid us in reaching that end. Carefully planning our projects to be challenging-but-doable by our students will also assist us in this endeavor. Thinking ahead through the projects and planning accordingly will help to guarantee the students’ success as they express what they are learning in their own creative and unique way. And, as we all learn and try a variety of art styles together, we will experience the joy of creating, an ability given to us by God Himself; the Author of all Creation!

Stay tuned over the course of the next few weeks for ideas of art projects for Sunday Church School classrooms. What ideas or resources do you have to share? Please comment with them for the benefit of the entire community. Thanks!

 

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Here are additional resources for the suggestions above:

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If you wish to stay abreast of what is happening in the arts and education field, consider subscribing to this bi-monthly professional art educators’ newsletter: http://www.aep-arts.org/resources-2/artsed-digest/

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For an extensive list of possible art supplies to keep on hand in the Sunday Church Schoolroom (as well as a link to a printable checklist), see http://www.kidssundayschool.com/1236/teaching-aids/materials-and-supplies-what-to-have-on-hand.php. See also http://www.homegrownfriends.com/home/best-materials-for-creating-art-with-kids for further inspiration.

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If your students are preschoolers through age 8, check out the developmental stages and appropriate art activity suggestions in the charts here: https://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200407/ArtsEducationPartnership.pdf.

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To further think through some of the possible challenges with incorporating art into the classroom, read the 10 challenges of an art room listed here: http://www.theartofed.com/2011/02/19/top-10-challenges-of-managing-an-art-room/

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Want to start gathering some ideas? Check out these age-level-appropriate ones that may give you an idea of what your class can handle: http://www.fun-stuff-to-do.com/craft-projects-by-age.html. (Note: these are not religiously themed at all, but can act as a springboard for your creativity as you look for ideas of ways to incorporate art into your Sunday Church School classroom.)

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