Tag Archives: Classroom

Pursuing Church School Success: Encouraging Class Participation

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

 

Student participation is an important aspect of success in the classroom. Therefore, as we actively pursue student success in our Sunday Church school classrooms, we must consider the level of participation invited and encouraged in the class. This post will challenge us to do so.

Think for a moment about your Sunday Church school students. How well do they participate in class? Do you invite them to participate? In what ways do you encourage participation? How could you better welcome their input and ideas?

We discovered various links and articles that we thought may be helpful to you as you evaluate and grow the level of participation that happens in your Sunday Church school classroom. Each is different from the others, so we encourage you to read all of them, to see what strikes a chord with you for your class. We also encourage you to consider asking your students for input: what do they want/need you to do to better encourage them to participate in class?

Here are some links on the subject that you may find helpful. What has worked for you? What related resources would you recommend to the community? Please share them below!

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“Starting on the first day of class, arrange the room in a way that encourages active engagement.” So begins this helpful piece that offers practical suggestions for building an environment that spurs participation: https://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/resources/teaching-methods/participation/increasing-student-participation/

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How do we define classroom participation, how can it be encouraged, and what is a good way to assess it? Find the answers to each of these questions here: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/assessing-student-work/grading-and-feedback/promoting-effective-participation

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Warm up your minds at the beginning of class; use movement; encourage collaboration — these are a few of the tips this author offers to teachers desiring to grow class participation: https://www.edutopia.org/classroom-student-participation-tips

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Here are ten practical, active suggestions of ways to encourage students (most of the video examples are of secondary students) to participate in class: https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2018/01/18/10-top-notch-strategies-12-min

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This blog offers four common reasons students don’t participate, followed by several techniques to solve each of those problems: https://www.teachhub.com/top-12-ways-increase-student-participation

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Good teachers will know how to deal with all types of answers that students offer in classrooms where participation is encouraged. Here’s an article that discusses the most common types of answers kids give and suggests ways that teachers should respond to these answers: https://wellequippedvolunteer.com/2015/05/25/one-way-sunday-school-teachers-can-encourage-active-participation-in-class/

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In classrooms where there is more student-directed learning and less teacher-directed learning, it is still easy for teachers to be talking more than they need to. This article offers 8 ways that teachers can talk less and allow their students to talk even more: ://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/2014/09/8-ways-teachers-can-talk-less-get-kids-talking.html

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Pursuing Church School Success: Evaluate the Environment

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

 

We will begin our look at classroom success by considering the environment that your students step into when they arrive. The hospitable classroom climate that we referred to in our last post is influenced by the both the physical environment and the teacher therein. Your room and your influence as a teacher are foundational to the success of your class, so we encourage you to start by evaluating both.

Begin by taking a moment to think about your classroom. Is it welcoming? Is it interesting to look at? Is there adequate seating, or room to otherwise accommodate your students? Is this a room you want to come to? If you were your students’ age, would you feel the same way? What is working well in your room setup? What could you improve in order to better serve your students?

Now take a moment and think about yourself,  from the perspective of your students. What do they like best about you? What do they not like, and how can you work on that? Are they able to understand what you are telling them? Are you speaking and acting in ways that help to get your message across? How well does your body language support what you are trying to communicate with them? Do you treat them in a way that you would want to be treated? Do you remember that they are icons of Christ, and treat them as such?

We have gathered a number of general hints and tips from other teachers, ranging from classroom practice to student management. Most of these are not specifically written to a Sunday Church school teaching audience, but we are confident that you will find them helpful. We will share some links of ideas that teachers have shared about their own classrooms. We will also add a few links that can help you to think a bit more about your own teaching style.

Our goal with this series is to help your students succeed. Crafting a success-inducing environment which is led by a caring and communicative teacher, is a very important place to begin, in pursuit of student success. It is our hope that some of these tips and suggestions will be helpful to that end.

 

Here are some links on the subject that you may find helpful. What has worked for you? What related resources would you recommend to the community? Please share them below!

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At this link, you will find a pictoral list of 35 helpful tips and tricks tried by teachers. Included are suggestions for classroom organization, classroom displays, ways to help students who need to move, and even suggestions of ways to help students manage their phones during class. The article is written for a general classroom, so while many of the ideas here are applicable to a Sunday Church school class, some may not be. https://www.buzzfeed.com/nataliebrown/brilliant-classroom-ideas-from-real-life-teache?utm_term=.mpXbY3nw3#11610181

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This teacher suggests reviewing procedures by writing questions about your class’ daily procedures on separate pieces of paper, passing one of those out to each student, and one at a time during class, asking that one be read and answered. This is a painless way to review the classroom procedures with your class, with everyone having a turn to read and answer. This method could be applied to other things besides daily procedures, as well. https://teacherthrive.com/2017/07/simple-way-teach-classroom-procedures-expectations.html

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Here is a teacher’s description of how she organizes parts of her classroom. Again, some of the ideas will work for a Sunday Church school class, and others may not. We especially liked the code word for movement idea, the two-helper job chart, and the hand signals. Check them all out here: https://www.primarily-speaking.com/2018/05/11-practical-classroom-management-tips.html

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“When discussing class values with my students, I obviously have values that I want our class to embody, but I also let my kids choose. We create the list together. We sign a class contract. These values become a part of who we are and who we will strive to be each day.” Read more about this from the teacher who does not have class rules, only class values, here: http://www.building-brilliance.com/2018/03/why-i-teach-class-values-instead-of.html

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“Children crave someone to guide them so that everyone can feel safe, secure, loved and wanted. When you take the time to work on the structure of your group (and sometimes your own heart!) you will achieve a learning environment that works.” Read the rest of this article to find some Sunday-Church-school-specific ideas for classroom management: https://buildfaith.org/classroom-management-sunday-school-style/

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Find colorful, beautiful, and inspiring classroom setup ideas here: https://chaylorandmads.com/2019/08/03/classroom-ideas/

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Many of these secondary-student classroom setup ideas will not necessarily apply to a Sunday Church school classroom, but they are all inspirational and a few of them would work! We especially liked the flexible seating and the agenda/but why? ideas. https://www.readingandwritinghaven.com/classroom-setup-ideas-for-secondary/

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“In my childhood (in the world of the pledge), there was often talk of living a ‘Christ-like life.’ This was largely portrayed as a highly moralistic life. It also seemed completely boring and unlike anyone I had ever met or admired. The virtues cannot be acquired through models that hold no attraction. Mere morality can never be virtue… As a priest, I’ve never expected children to be ‘little adults.’ However, I want them to see the love of God in the adults around them in such a way that they are not repelled… If you want a child to pray, they should see you pray. If you want them to love God, they should see you love God. If you want them to be able to ask forgiveness, they need to see you do it first.”~ Fr. Stephen Freeman encourages us Orthodox adults to model more than we teach in this blog post: ttps://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/08/28/whos-minding-the-kids/

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Are you a great Sunday Church school teacher? You may find it helpful to weigh yourself against these 8 qualities of an effective Church School teacher: https://disciplr.com/8-qualities-great-sunday-school-teacher

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“I learned that it was up to me to be happy. It wasn’t up to my students to make me happy, or my coworkers, or anybody else. Being happy was my job. So what if this year was a little tough? I needed to roll with it, continue to love my students, and move on. I needed to CHOOSE to be happy.” ~ Read more about teacher Teresa Kwant’s tough students, one year, and how she chose to face their time together, including 5 practical choices in which you can choose happiness, here: https://teresakwant.com/choose-to-be-happy-teacher/

 

Pursuing Church School Success: Offering Hospitality in the Classroom

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. We will share some tips for classroom management and ideas for increased student participation. It is our hope that this series will benefit Sunday Church school teachers and students of all ages.

 

Begin with Hospitality

The Church School year has already begun for many of us. The beginning of the year is an excellent time to take a look at how well we welcome our students into our classroom: not just at the start of the year, but every time they attend our class. Thus, we will begin this series by taking a look at hospitality in the classroom.

In order to consider the effectiveness of our hospitality as it is extended in our classroom, it may be helpful to take a moment to think about hospitality itself, to make sure we are all on the same page. What exactly does “hospitality” mean? There are multiple definitions. Dictionary.com’s definition is easily applied to a classroom setting. It defines hospitality as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.” (1) Mind you, our students are likely only “strangers” the first week or two of class, until we’ve really gotten to know them, but after that, we do well to treat them as though they are honored guests, every time they are in class.

Besides thinking about hospitality’s definition, let’s take a moment to consider how we extend hospitality outside the classroom. What about in our own home? For the most part, when we have visitors, we tidy up before they come, prepare a comfortable space for them during their visit, prepare food for them to enjoy, and have a plan for how we will entertain them while they are with us. We expect similar treatment when we are guests in others’ homes. When we go on vacation, we seek lodging and food based on what looks to be a comfortable match for our needs. All of these are our framework for “hospitality”. We know how to offer it, how to receive it, and what it looks like from afar. But how well do we apply these concepts to our Sunday Church school class and classroom?

Dr. Margo Turner’s article “What we get to do: Hospitality in the Classroom”, written for brainbasedlearning.com, suggests that friendliness and mutual respect, paired with generous service are what we expect hospitality to look like, whether we are extending it or on the receiving end. Dr. Turner suggests that this holds out in the classroom, as well. “Hospitality in the classroom that allows students to feel welcomed is an important learning tool for all…” (2) Her article goes on to mention that studies have found that students who feel included in the classroom are better empowered to learn. So hospitality in the classroom is not just a nice idea: it actually sets the stage for improved learning ability!

It seems logical that students who feel welcomed and wanted in their classes are better able to learn. But how do we extend hospitality in a classroom? We can begin by looking at our classroom itself with fresh eyes. Does it appear engaging and welcoming? Is there anything that we could add (or remove) that will make it feel more like a place where people want to spend time? Once we are certain that the room is welcoming, we can look at our interactions with our students. Do we physically and verbally welcome them to class? (Dr. Turner sends each of her students an introductory letter, complete with a picture of herself, before the school year even begins, to begin building a relationship before they even arrive on day one! Other teachers have unique handshakes or welcome gestures that they extend to each student at the door before each class begins!) Do we involve our students with the creation of class rules and goals? Do we consider our students’ abilities (or different-abilities) and interests as we plan and present our lessons? There are many ways in which we welcome (or do not welcome) our students into our classroom. Perhaps the above questions can be a good starting place for us to honestly evaluate our hospitality towards our students, so that we can find ways to improve.

Hospitality is important at all levels, even in a classroom setting. Let us take a moment to consider the level of hospitality in our classroom, and find ways to make our classroom even more hospitable. Opening our students’ minds to better learning by extending hospitality to them builds a healthy foundation for a successful Church School year.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Hospitality. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hospitality
  2. Turner, Margo. “What We Get to Do: Hospitality in the Classroom – Brain Based Learning: Brain Based Experts.” Brain Based Learning | Brain Based Experts, Jensen Learning Corporation, 5 July 2017, http://www.brainbasedlearning.net/hospitality-in-the-classroom/.

 

Note: We will be sharing more about Brain Based Learning, mentioned above, in a series of articles in the spring.

Here are a few resources that may be helpful as you look for ways to improve the hospitality offered in your classroom:

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“We can use every interaction to communicate to the student that he/she is important.” Read the rest of this article in which an educator compares classroom hospitality to her experiences with hotel hospitality: http://ditchthattextbook.com/2014/12/11/4-hospitality-principles-that-can-transform-our-classrooms/

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“I’ve taught in both traditional and nontraditional settings for nine years. However, only recently have I begun to understand hospitality as part of that work. When I started to reframe teaching as the work of welcoming, of stewarding a space, of receiving my students with unconditional presence, my classroom and my students’ learning changed.” Read this, and the rest of the article on classroom hospitality from which it comes, here: https://www.edutopia.org/article/work-welcoming

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Help your students feel more at home in the classroom by providing them with opportunities to share about themselves. Perhaps this “there are four items that tell about me in this bag” idea would work well for your class? http://alove4teaching.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/all-about-me-bag.html

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If you are looking for ideas for creating wall displays that can help your classroom feel more inviting, check out the series of bulletin board ideas we gathered, beginning with this one:    https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/ideas-for-classroom-decorations-part-1-general-classroom-decor-information/

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Here are a few tips and shortcuts for classroom bulletin boards. They may be helpful as you continue to make your classroom more inviting and hospitable:                                                                                                                                                                                                            http://theappliciousteacher.com/bulletin-board-hacks-to-save-your-sanity/

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Extending hospitality in our Sunday Church school classroom can begin with something as simple as a greeting at the door when the students enter. What if we would take the time to build a personal greeting for each student? It might look something like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0jgcyfC2r8
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Inviting our students’ input in creating classroom rules can be another way to extend hospitality in the Sunday Church school classroom. Here’s a suggestion of basic rules to keep in mind as you work together to create your own set: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/creating-classroom-rules-together/
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Helping our students know and appreciate each other is another way to extend hospitality in the classroom. Need some ideas of ways to help students get to know each other? Check these out: https://homeschoolhideout.com/ice-breakers-for-kids/

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Hospitality is not just something nice we can offer to our students: it is part of our Faith to live hospitably! This article offers many scripture verses that encourage us to be hospitable. (It’s geared towards families, but the scriptures apply to all Christians!) https://inallyoudo.net/teaching-children-hospitality-using-scripture/

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Excerpts from “Getting Ready for Your Best Classes Ever,” an Article by Gerry Clonaris

Gerry Clonaris’ article “Getting Ready for Your Best Classes Ever,” published in PRAXIS, Spring 2016 issue, pp. 16-17, offers practical ideas for ways that Orthodox Christian Sunday Church School teachers can begin preparing over the summer for the year ahead. Here are a few bites of the article, to give you a taste of what it contains. First, he offers this encouraging challenge:

“What a blessing that we have been… chosen to lead the way in this most important ministry. And that is the very reason why we need to start our planning now for our coming year. St. Paul says it best in Philippians 3:12-14: ‘…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…’ Everything in our world is moving forward and if we are not also moving forward, we are moving backward. And that is something that we as catechists cannot accept.”

He goes on to offer a list of ideas of ways to prepare for the year. Here are three of them:

Lay out a plan for the year. Decide now how you want your class to develop and where you want it to go. What are you going to do differently to improve your program?

Include parents in the plan. Parents are key to your success. Plan to meet with them at the beginning of the year. Let them know what you will be teaching and encourage them to discuss each class session with their children. This one step will make your class a true learning experience and not just an hour of entertainment.

Read two books. Find one book that relates to your class topic and then also read one book on our Orthodox Faith.

He offers additional suggestions of ways to prepare, and concludes, “Serving in this great ministry is a true honor and a great experience for all of us. But it also comes with a great responsibility on our part… Planning and continual education are essential to our role as catechists…”

To read more, see the article in its entirety on pp. 16-17 of the Spring 2016 issue of PRAXIS. Visit http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/praxis for subscription information if you do not yet receive this helpful resource!

 

The following are some of the books listed as “suggested summer reading” in the article:

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A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, by St. Nicholas Cabasilas, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997. “…This work is… invaluable for all those who wish to understand more about the theory and practice of worship in the Orthodox Church.” Read more at http://www.svspress.com/commentary-on-the-divine-liturgy-a/.

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The Roots of Christian Mysticism, by Olivier Clément, New City Press, 2013. “By linking together a series of brilliantly chosen texts from the early centuries of the Church, the author lays bare the roots of the deeply mystical spirituality that has flourished among Christians throughout the ages.” Read more and find the book at http://www.newcitypress.com/roots-christian-mysticism-2.html

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Encountering Women of Faith, edited by Kyriaki FitzGerald, Holy Cross 2009 and 2011. Women theologians who have studied the lives of female saints write about their learnings, including how studying the saint’s life has affected their own personal life. Find the books here: https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/encountering-women-of-faith-set?variant=1018121227

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The Orthodox Faith by Thomas Hopko, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2016. Thousands of people have read these books by Fr. Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory) and have found them to be a helpful resource both to catchumens and Orthodox Christians. Read more about each of the four volumes here: http://www.svots.edu/orthodox-faith-series

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St. Nectarios of Pentapolis and the Island of Aegina, by Cleopas Strongylis, Holy Cross, 2012. Read about the life of St. Nectarios, as well as many of his letters, in this two-volume set: https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/st-nektarios-of-pentapolis-set

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Encouraged By the Scriptures: Essays on Scripture, Interpretation, and Life, by
Theodore G. Stylianopoulos, Holy Cross, 2011. A well-known Orthodox Biblical scholar offers his take on some of the scriptures. Find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Encouraged-Scriptures-Essays-Scripture-Interpretation/dp/1935317229

 

Ideas for Classroom Decorations, Part 2: Bulletin Boards Based on Scripture

Prepare your Sunday Church School classroom by dressing its walls with bulletin boards and/or displays. These can act as teaching aids to help your students focus on what they are learning in class. The displays can be very simple or ornate: it depends on your time and abilities, as well as your students’ needs. This mini-series will offer ideas of ways to decorate your classroom with decor which is useful, yet will also enhance the learning environment.

This second blog post in the series focuses on bringing the scriptures to light through classroom displays. Perhaps you wish to select and highlight a theme verse for the year. Or, if you are so inclined, reserve one display area/bulletin board as a scripture passage display that changes throughout the Sunday Church School year. It is up to you how often you change the display!

Here are a few resources for scripture-based display ideas. May they inspire you!

Clearly, these suggestions are only starting places. Base your classroom displays on what you are studying or whatever scriptures your students need to take root in their hearts and minds. If you’re not the artsy type, ask another member of the parish who is so inclined to help you think of ways to add scriptures to your classroom. Take full advantage of having the children learn in your classroom by adding visual displays that support what the students will be hearing and learning from you.

The following are display ideas based on specific scripture verses:

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Check out this display based on Matthew 5:16 (let your light so shine before men…) which can be put on the door to your classroom: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/7f/7f/68/7f7f68d60044b606d5f626d4000eba20.jpg

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Display Mark 10:45 to encourage your students to have a servant’s heart: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/c56c3-img_4149.jpg

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Don’t have a bulletin board? No problem: create a display with a whiteboard. See this example, where 2 Corinthians 4:7 is directly written on a whiteboard, and then combined with individual clay pots (which your students could decorate). It is a simple yet beautiful display. https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/f9abb-img_2727.jpg
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Craft a Hebrews 13:8 display for your Sunday Church School room, using old calendar pages: http://web.archive.org/web/20130512030934/http://www.houstonpark.org/Bulletin%20Board%20Archives_files/image049.jpg

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Matthew 7:24 is alluded to in this display for the Sunday Church School room: http://web.archive.org/web/20130512030935/http://www.houstonpark.org/Bulletin%20Board%20Archives_files/image059.jpg

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Make a Galatians 6:14 display for your classroom about boasting in the cross of Christ: http://web.archive.org/web/20130512030935/http://www.houstonpark.org/Bulletin%20Board%20Archives_files/image069.jpg

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Isaiah 40:8 makes a great fall bulletin board for the Sunday Church School classroom: http://web.archive.org/web/20130512030936/http://www.houstonpark.org/Bulletin%20Board%20Archives_files/image073.jpg

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Here is a great display idea for the Sunday Church School room: a bulletin board based on Hebrews 6:19. “We have this hope as an anchor for our souls:” https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/cc/e0/e8/cce0e8f018ad37198f9fb880dc1ab287.jpg

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Ideas for Classroom Decorations, Part 1: General Classroom Decor Information

Prepare your Sunday Church School classroom by dressing its walls with bulletin boards and/or displays. These can act as teaching aids to help your students focus on what they are learning in class. The displays can be very simple or ornate: it depends on your time and abilities, as well as your students’ needs. This mini-series will offer ideas of ways to decorate your classroom with decor which is useful, yet will also enhance the learning environment.

This first blog post in the series will focus broadly, on general displays for the classroom. In forthcoming posts, look for ideas for scripture-related displays and saint-related ones. Most of the display ideas featured will be bulletin board displays. Consider reducing the ideas to poster-sized (if you have a small or mobile SCS space) or enlarging them to cover an entire wall, if you have that much space!

1. Find or make a display area. Here are ideas of ways to make a display area:

  1. Begin to build the display with a background covering. Here are ideas of basic coverings for that display area:
  1. Unless you are super neat and can make perfect edges around your display area, finish off the edges of the display with other edging. Here are ideas of edgings for your display area:
  1. Add words to the display. Here are lettering ideas for your display:

Here are ideas for basic displays that can be included in a Sunday Church School classroom:

As you can see, it is up to you what you do to decorate your Sunday Church School classroom. Even the smallest of meeting areas can contain regular decor to personalize your space and enhance the environment while helping the class learn. May this series inspire your creativity and enable you to find ways to make your classroom more beautiful and a better learning environment!

The following links offer more ideas for classroom displays:

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Find a variety of DIY bulletin board making ideas here: http://www.brit.co/diy-bulletin-boards/

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Make a fabric-covered bulletin board as demonstrated here: http://makinglemonadeblog.com/how-to-make-a-large-bulletin-board/

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Although these ideas are geared to a general classroom, some of them could be tweaked for a Sunday Church School classroom as well: http://corkboardconnections.blogspot.com/2014/09/25-bulletin-boards-all-year.html

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See a gallery of photos of Christian-themed bulletin boards that feature using a variety of spaces, bulletin board covers, and edging ideas here: http://www.apostolicfaith.org/Library/SundaySchool/BulletinBoardIdeas.aspx

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Find ideas for Sunday Church School bulletin boards, including many that the children can help to create, here: http://www.lessons4sundayschool.com/index.php?pr=Christian_Bulletin_Boards

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Find general ideas for bulletin boards in this blog: http://www.juliabettencourt.com/helps/bulletinboardideas.html

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On Organizing a Sunday Church School Classroom

We are nearly at the beginning of a new Church year once again. This is a good time for Sunday Church School teachers to take a moment to look at the Sunday Church School classroom and see if there are any improvements that can be made to the way in which the classroom is organized. Those of us in the northern hemisphere whose parishes have taken the summer off from Sunday Church School may have a little more time in our schedules right now to do so. Regardless of which part of the world you live in or what season it is, take a moment to tour your classroom, evaluate it, and see what can be done to better organize the room so that you can more effectively serve your students.

Walk into the classroom and look around, and consider the following:

1. Look at the students’ sitting space in the classroom. Is there an inviting working space with a place to sit down for the children? Since the children have just come from (or will be going to) Divine Liturgy where they were/will be standing, it is important that they be able to sit comfortably in the classroom if they want to, and/or it works with what you are doing together as a class. If you do not yet have comfortable seating, consider purchasing a rug, large floor pillows, or even making hand-cushioned crates for seating in your gathering area. Perhaps the classroom already has a table with chairs, or desks, or comfortable mats for them to sit on. If it does, and that is what works best for your students, then you are in good shape!

2. Look at the focus area of the classroom. Is there a whiteboard or chalkboard? This is often the focal point of the classroom, since many times we write questions, illustrate points, or have students write answers on a board like this. The board is a quick way to easily show the whole class something at the same time. If the room does not yet have a whiteboard or chalkboard, purchase one. You could also paint part of the wall with chalkboard paint and write on that space.

3. Look around at the walls/partitions that surround your room. Are you effectively using the display space in your room? Sunday Church School rooms do not need to look glamorous or elaborate, but a little thoughtful decoration will go a long way to enhance the learning environment.

Consider including the following on your classroom wall:

  • a calendar – This can highlight the Church year, remind your class when the parish has special services, display students’ birthdays or name days, and/or be a place to commemorate the saints
  • a bulletin board (or more than one) – This can be a display that goes up at the beginning of the year and stays all year (ie: self-portraits labeled “Our Sunday Church School Class Family”); a bulletin board that changes to illustrate what you are studying; an interactive learning center featuring activities for children to work at if they arrive early or finish something else before everyone else does; etc. The possibilities are endless.
  • a display area for student artwork/papers – This could be as simple as taping or pinning up their work right onto the wall; it could be bulletin board strips with pins to hold the work; it could consist of clothespins hung on a line on the wall; or it could be made of empty frames hung on the wall where the students’ work can be inserted.

4. Turn your attention to the supplies that you use during class. Is there an easy way to access and store these items? Perhaps there is a closet, cabinet, cart, or set of drawers in which you can keep supplies. If you do not yet have any storage space, find or create some. Then look at the supplies themselves, and consider how they are being stored in that space. Are they easy to access and put away? Is there a better way they could be stored that will make them easier for students to use and/or put it away?

5. Before you leave your Sunday Church School room, look at the room as a whole. Does it look inviting? If not, consider what could be done to make the room feel more friendly. Does your classroom communicate to all who enter it that the learning that happens in Sunday Church School is important enough to warrant a welcoming classroom? If not, how can you improve?
Do not feel discouraged if your tour of your Sunday Church School classroom generated a long list of things you ought to change. Instead of being overwhelmed, look at the list as an opportunity! Think about ways to enhance the Sunday Church School experience for your students by making their environment more conducive to learning. Then prioritize your “to-do” list and get started. Do a little at a time until you’ve improved all that you can. Organizing your students’ study area (and thereby minimizing distractions from the environment) can go a long way to keeping the focus on the reason your class meets together every Sunday: to learn more about God and His Church!

Here are links to websites that can give you ideas of how to better organize your classroom:

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This link shows how to use inexpensive plastic bins for organizing your classroom, demonstrates the use of plastic crates with stuffed fabric “tops” for stools; etc: http://tupelohoneycaro.blogspot.com/2012/01/my-classroom.html

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Purchase a “let the little children come unto me” oval rug featuring a colorful world map surrounded by  international children: http://www.cmresourceco.com/Let_the_Children_Come_Rug_p/joy-1513.htm

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If seeing other classrooms inspires you with ideas, check out this page of pictures of many different classrooms. The bottom of the page includes links to online classroom setup planners, as well: http://www.theschoolsupplyaddict.com/room-setup.html

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See what one teacher did with her Sunday School classroom here: http://www.myprimaryparadise.com/2015/05/22/sunday-school-room-make-over/

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Here is one storage idea that features using fabric bins in metal cubbies: http://lisatilmon.blogspot.com/2012/04/organization-of-classroom-supplies.html

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Find a list of brilliant DIY ideas for organizing a classroom on a very low budget here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/peggy/money-saving-diys-for-the-classroom#.niBEy1oO9

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Consider painting a wall or door with chalkboard paint for prayer requests, scriptures, etc. as demonstrated here: http://sohldesign.blogspot.com/2010/09/new-kind-of-chalkboard.html

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Find a variety of great ideas for Sunday Church School classroom renovation/organization here: http://childrensministry.com/articles/inexpensive-classroom-makeover-ideas/

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Here’s a blog about important things to keep in mind when organizing a Sunday Church School classroom that will include special needs students: https://specialneedsministry.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/organizing-the-special-needs-classroom-physical-environment/

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If you choose to set up your classroom with learning centers in addition to or instead of traditional lecture and response classtime, here are some ideas: http://www.sunday-school-center.com/support-files/tt101-sunday-school-learning-centers.pdf

Art Projects for Sunday Church School: 3 Dimensional Art

This series of blogs about including art in the Sunday Church School will offer a variety of art techniques and ideas. Each week will focus on one medium, offering a tutorial for one project (which can be used at multiple age levels), as well as several other suggested ways to incorporate the medium in other projects. The purpose of the series is to offer Sunday Church School teachers ideas which they can keep in mind for future reference as they plan to use art in their classroom. Each technique can be applied to a variety of lessons, whether Bible stories, Church history, lessons on the Faith, etc. For the purpose of keeping it simple, the cross will be used in each illustration throughout the series.

Creating three dimensional art in your Sunday Church School classroom is a fairly easy process: but it will require a bit of planning ahead of time in case you do not have all of the materials needed for the project. 3-D art can be created for its own sake (to practice the creativity God has given each person), as a response to a lesson, or even in advance of the lesson (for example, if you are creating sculptures or puppets that will be used to present the lesson itself).

One way to create 3-D art in your Sunday Church School classroom is to allow students to sculpt with air-drying clay. This clay is easily attained at a craft store, dries in the air (doesn’t need to be baked), and can be painted when it is finished or just left as it is.

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Before giving your students the opportunity to sculpt something with clay, cover your work surface and gather all the items you will need. For this cross project, we will need air-drying clay, a cardboard cross shape, a bottle or block to roll the clay flat, a plastic knife, a piece of cardboard, newspaper, and some toothpicks (or other clay-decorating tools if you have them).

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Begin by rolling the clay to a ⅛” to ¼” thickness on the piece of cardboard.

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Place the cardboard shape on top of the clay.

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Cut around the shape with the plastic knife. Remove excess clay from the shape; set it aside for later use. (This is a good time to have your students write their name on the piece of cardboard where their cross will be drying.)

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Use the excess clay to decorate the top surface of the cross: roll it between your hands to create long “strings” of clay that can be used for lines or coiled for concentric circles and then gently pressed into the top of the cross. Or create small balls of clay that can be smashed to create clay disks to be used in the decorating. It is up to you and your young artists!

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If desired, use the toothpicks or other clay tools to finish the detail work on the cross.

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Set the cross aside to dry. When the crosses are dry, you can leave them as they are, or paint them: it is up to you and your students! (You can also glaze them to better preserve them if desired.)

 

Note: this project was inspired by this one: http://emmeticeramiche.blogspot.com/2011/09/in-otto-semplici-mosse.html?spref=fb

Following are a variety of ideas to incorporate 3-D art in the Sunday Church School classroom.

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One way to use 3-D art in your Sunday Church School class is to have students make “people” that can be used to act out the week’s Bible or saint stories. Here are a few ideas of ways to do so:

They can create the actors by crafting “paper friends” downloadable from Making Friends: http://www.makingfriends.com/f_Friends.htm (the Bible-time costumes for the “friends” can be found at http://www.makingfriends.com/friends/f_spiritual.htm).
The actors can be crafted from cardboard tubes as found here: http://happyhooligans.ca/toilet-roll-nativity-set/ or here http://www.redtedart.com/2012/03/25/cardboard-tube-people-pirates-grannies-robbers/

Or, they can be crafted from recycled plastic bottles as suggested here: http://www.freekidscrafts.com/recycled-bottle-people/

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Clothespins can be used to create 3-D art: animals, people, angels, etc.: http://kidsactivitiesblog.com/64885/50-creative-clothespin-crafts

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Colorful duct tape can be used to create so many things, both useful and just-for-fun: http://kidsactivitiesblog.com/62648/20-duct-tape-crafts-kids-will-love

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Create 3-D art with your students by allowing them to sculpt with sticks:

They can make actual stick people a la http://www.danyabanya.com/stick-people/.

Or, they can make popsicle stick puppets as shown in the picture here: http://teawagontales.blogspot.ie/2012/08/miss-lolly-dollyhow-to.html.

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You can allow your students to create art with seashells: http://fun-a-day.com/summer-art-for-kids-shell-craft/ or http://fun-a-day.com/shell-painting-easy-ocean-art-for-kids/

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If one week’s Sunday Church School lesson includes animals, no problem! Use paper, cardboard, etc. to make some 3-D animals as demonstrated at these pages: http://kidsactivitiesblog.com/61715/25-zoo-animal-crafts-recipes, http://kidsactivitiesblog.com/63924/paper-plate-birds-movable-wings

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Create beautiful sculptures with plaster of paris:
Hand squeeze free-form shapes in balloons which can be painted when they dry: http://www.firstpalette.com/Craft_themes/Colors/plasterfreeformsculpture/plasterfreeformsculpture.html or this http://artfulparent.com/2014/01/plaster-balloon-sculptures-with-kids.html

“Freeze” God’s own beautiful artwork by making leaf prints with plaster of paris as demonstrated here: http://artfulparent.com/2012/08/leaf-casting-with-plaster-of-paris.html.

Art Techniques for Sunday Church School: Using Crayons

This series of blogs about including art in the Sunday Church School will offer a variety of art techniques and ideas. Each week will focus on one medium, offering a tutorial for one project (which can be used at multiple age levels), as well as several other suggested ways to incorporate the medium in other projects. The purpose of the series is to offer Sunday Church School teachers ideas which they can keep in mind for future reference as they plan to use art in their classroom. Each technique can be applied to a variety of lessons, whether Bible stories, Church history, lessons on the Faith, etc. For the purpose of keeping it simple, the cross will be used in each illustration throughout the series.

There are many techniques for using crayons in the Sunday Church School classroom. Here is one of them: create a colorful picture in dots of melted crayon. To do so, gather your materials. You will need newspaper, paper, pencils, candles, matches, and crayons.

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Prepare your work area. Cover the area with newspaper. Peel wrappers from crayons, leaving only the wax. Place a votive or tealight candle between two students, or provide one per student. Provide each student with a piece of sturdy paper (drawing paper or cardstock) and a pencil. Encourage each student to use the pencil to very lightly draw a basic shape, or write a message on the paper. When you are ready to begin, light the candle(s).

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Show the students how to hold the crayon near the flame of the candle. (You may also want to show them the black soot that gathers in the melted wax if they put the candle INTO the flame, so that they can avoid making that mistake.)
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Demonstrate how to carefully move the crayon, about to drip, to the spot on their paper where they want that drop. Allow the wax to drip from the crayon onto the paper.
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Every color melts and re-hardens at a different rate. Reassure your students that it is okay to drip wax in the candle (it makes the candles pretty!). Also let them know that it is okay for wax to drip on the paper at a place they were NOT planning to have color. That is the nature of this project!

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Repeat the melting and dripping process many times, with a variety of colors, until your image or message is covered in melted wax drops. You may only want to cover the outline of the shape (as shown), or you may want it to be completely filled it. Each artist can decide how they wish their project to look, and drip the wax accordingly.
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Blow out the candles and set the art pieces somewhere for a few minutes to finish cooling before sending them home. Encourage the students to handle their piece with care. The pooled wax can easily fall off.

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Suggestions for different age levels:

Preschool: This project will be difficult for a large group of preschoolers. If you have a small class that follows directions well, you may wish to attempt it, with additional helpers on hand. If not, this may not be a technique you wish to use. Read on for others that would work well with preschoolers!

Elementary: Elementary school students as a whole enjoy this project very much. The younger grades can get frustrated with the labored pace of the project, and with how easily the crayons drip at the wrong place. Consider limiting the number of colors for younger grades, suggesting that each child select a few with which to work. Small pieces of paper and/or large shapes/words to cover with dripped wax will work best for this age group.

Middle/High School: Older students will be able to carefully plan this technique to create a fairly detailed finished project. The students may balk at hearing they will be working with crayons, until they see that they will also be working with fire. There’s something about melting things that students of this age enjoy.

For more information and/or inspiration on this method, see https://everythingburger.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/burger-158-melted-crayons/ and/or http://www.piecesbypolly.com/2011/09/melted-crayon-art-and-pointillism-books.html.

Crayon-related helpful tips:
To quickly remove the wrappers from crayons, simply soak them in warm water for about 10 minutes. The wrappers will come right off, according to http://www.happinessishomemade.net/2013/08/18/recycled-crayons-back-to-school-with-crayola/.

To remove unwanted crayon marks from the walls of your Sunday Church School room, check out the tested methods in this blog: http://www.whatsupfagans.com/2014/03/how-to-remove-crayon-marks-from-walls-pinterest-experiment/

To create a simple art-related gift for your students, check this out: http://www.smallfriendly.com/small-friendly/2012/02/no-sew-crayon-wrap.html

 

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Following are additional techniques for crayon art:
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Crayon-related art projects that could double as gifts:

  1. Use crayon pieces to make a Christmas ornament! Making these melted crayon ornaments would require a Sunday Church School Teacher to hire a few helpers to handle the blow dryers. It would also require pre-cut crayon pieces, and a glove for each child to wear as they handle their warm ornament… But what a pretty result! http://www.meetthedubiens.com/2013/12/melted-crayon-ornaments.html
  2. Color a design on fine sandpaper, then iron it onto a tshirt, napkin, or other fabric to make a crayon print: http://alphamom.com/family-fun/crafts/sandpaper-printed-t-shirt/
  3. Glue the crayons themselves around a bowl or picture frame: https://feltsocute.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/holiday-gifts-for-teachers/.  Or cut them to size (if needed) and then glue them onto a canvas to form a shape or picture: http://the3rsblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/project-21-week-23-crayon-alphabet/.

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For Pascha, draw on hot, just-boiled eggs with crayons. The crayon melts on the eggshell and leaves a colorful (and waxed shiny) surface! http://www.diyhangout.com/1624/create-colorful-easter-eggs-using-melted-crayons/

Or, at other times of the year, allow students to draw on hot rocks with crayon. (You will need to have a well-covered work area, a way to heat the rocks beforehand, and a way to handle the hot rocks safely.) http://twigandtoadstool.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/wax-rocks.html

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Here’s a simple crayon art idea (especially useful for very young students): create a scribbled-crayon tape resist! Create a shape on paper using painter’s tape (ie: a cross), and then allow the children to scribble all over the page. Remove the tape to reveal the finished image! http://www.linesacross.com/2012/02/scribble-card.html

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Use crayons to scribble a block of intense, solid color onto a piece of cardstock (or a paper plate, as shown here), cover the color block completely with black crayon, and then scratch off the black to reveal the image in the colors beneath. http://nurturestore.co.uk/wax-crayon-pictures

Or, color a full sheet of paper with intense, solid colors, then lay that page upside down on a blank sheet. Use a ballpoint pen or a sharp pencil to draw on the white side of the colorful paper, The crayon will be impressed onto the blank sheet beneath, leaving a colorful drawing! See http://tinyrottenpeanuts.com/crayon-transfer-technique/ for a tutorial.

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Rub the sides of peeled crayons over paper-covered items* to create a beautiful rubbed image. Try natural items such as leaves (see http://www.firstpalette.com/Craft_themes/Nature/Leaf_Rubbings/Leaf_Rubbings.html) or create your own images with hot glue on cardstock (as demonstrated here http://www.freshlyplanted.com/2013/01/create-with-kids-valentines-week_8726.html).

*For an accurate image, keep both the item being rubbed and the paper still, so that neither moves during the rubbing. Consider affixing the to-be-rubbed items to a clipboards, and then simply clip a piece of paper over the item(s) before rubbing.

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Iron crayon shavings (you know your Sunday Church School kids want to help you sharpen your classroom crayons anyway, right?!?) between pieces of waxed paper; then cut shapes from the finished product. See http://buggyandbuddy.com/crafts-for-kids-make-a-sun-catcher-with-crayon-shavings/ or http://hazelnutgirl.blogspot.com/2010/02/crayon-and-wax-paper-hearts.html for tutorials.


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.)