Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Decorating for Harvest

Use harvest season decorations to give your church a new, inviting look for fall. Choose creative church members to select ideas from the following suggestions. They also may have some creative ideas of their own, using items available in your community. The helpers can do the decorations themselves or form a decorating committee. Have your Sunday school classes, Bible clubs, mom's groups and others meeting at your church make harvest decorations to spruce up your church.

Cut leaf shapes in various colors and sizes to use as wall decorations and name tags for your harvest events. Make pumpkin garlands from orange construction paper. Use the garlands along with orange, green, and brown crepe paper around doorways, windows, hung from the ceiling, and as runners across table tops.

Ask families to bring in harvest items from home to decorate hallways, windowsills, shelves, and table tops: pumpkins, gourds, miniature bales of hay, colorful leaves, nuts, apples, squash, dried corn husks, scarecrows, baskets, bushel barrels, cornucopias, colorful rocks, pussy willows, fall flowers, etc. Make a large banner for one or more walls that reads, "The Harvest Is the Lord's." Post a similar banner at the children's eye level for your young students to decorate with crayons or markers.

Have children draw pictures of people for whom they are thankful. Hang the pictures on the walls after they are signed by their artists.

Draw harvest fruits and vegetables onto construction paper. Cut them out and hang them from drinking straws or dowel rods to make mobiles. Hang extra shapes from ceilings, windows, and in doorways.

Collect canned food to give to a local homeless shelter or food pantry. Let your students decorate large collection boxes to place around your church campus. Have bundles of dried corn stalks standing nearby. Arrange pumpkins, squash, and dried gourds around the base. Use these as collection spots for your food drive.

For more harvest decorating and outreach ideas, take a look at A Church Family Harvest Celebration program book with CD-ROM from Christian Ed Warehouse.

If your church holds a harvest festival or other fall event, invite your community to join your congregation. Then invite the visitors to return for worship, Sunday school, and Bible clubs!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Those Precocious Preteens

Preteens are moving toward adolescence but no longer feeling like young children. They long to be treated as teens (or even young adults), but they still enjoy the games and silliness of childhood. Their minds and bodies are growing rapidly, and their emotions seem to be taking them on a roller coaster ride. So how do we help them grow in the knowledge of Jesus when they seem unpredictable, emotional, and overly dramatic one minute and serious, deep-thinking individuals the next?

First, we let preteens take on leadership roles during VBS week. They can assist adult helpers, especially in your preschool and kindergarten areas. They can help with crafts, snacks, games, song time, and much more. They often thrive when given responsibility, as long as the expectations are clear. Provide strong leaders to help guide the preteens with specific directions and clear assignments. Don't give them time to just hang out with friends until the VBS attendees have gone home for the day.

Second, we can use a variety of methods in our Sunday school teaching as we help the preteens focus on the lesson theme or Scripture passage. Object lessons, skits, pantomimes, stories, role-plays, worship and praise music, reader's theater, relays, art projects, games, quizzes, prayer, Bible reading, discussions, and many more teaching methods can be used to capture and hold their attention. Using more than one teaching method each week also gives us a chance to reach children of all learning styles and abilities.

Transition times, moving from one activity to another, can be difficult for preteens, causing them to lose focus, begin talking about unrelated subjects, etc. For this reason, the teacher must be prepared to move quickly from one activity to the next. Planning ahead and going through the lesson the week before will help you to iron out any rough spots before you stand in front of your class. To keep your students focused on the topic at hand, clearly state your expectations before beginning a new activity. Let the kids know if it's okay to talk softly while they work or if you need their undivided attention. If you expect them to raise their hands before answering, tell them. Or, if it's okay for them to just call out answers, say so.

If an activity will get your students up and moving, be sure to explain all the instructions before having them begin to move. Then ask for one of your preteens to restate the instructions. Clarify any  of the rules, if necessary. Finally, ask if there are any questions. Have a student answer the question, whenever possible. If there are no more questions, you're ready to begin the game or activity.

Provide a balance of active and quiet activities to help keep your students attentive, interested, and looking forward to the next activity. If your preteens begin to yawn or lose interest, quickly move on to your next activity or begin a discussion to recapture their interest.

Your older students will appreciate having leadership roles such as handing out pencils, serving the snack, leading the prayer time, etc. But it's still up to you, the teacher, to let your students know what's expected of them for each activity. Explaining your expectations for appropriate behavior up front will help prevent many behavior problems before they start. Lighten up and be prepared to have fun. Now you can begin enjoying your preteens as the interesting, dynamic, creative creatures God intended them to be!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Salt Dough Cross Craft

Let your students make salt dough crosses to reinforce your Bible story about Jesus' death and resurrection. Before your lesson or VBS day, make salt dough by mixing together 1/2 cup salt, 1 cup flour, and 1/2 cup water. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is elastic and smooth. Roll it out to about 1/4” thick. Cut a small cross for each child (one batch makes about 20). Use a drinking straw to cut a hole in the top of each cross. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 2 hours. Cool completely. 

The day of the lesson, cover the work area with newspapers. Give each child paint shirt, a salt dough cross, a chenille wire, and a paintbrush. Let him paint the ornament, initial the back, and thread a chenille wire hanger through the hole. Provide wet wipes for clean up and small plastic bags for taking the crosses home.

As the children work, talk about the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins (the wrong things we say and do). Invite children to talk with you individually if they have questions or would like to join God's family.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Storytelling Tips

By Brenda Mills

Everyone loves a story. Children move to the edge of their chairs when they hear, “Let’s have a story.” Use this method of teaching to reach young hearts with Christ’s love during your VBS program. It’s your responsibility to become the best storyteller you can.

Note that we said storyteller. Reading stories to children is an art in itself to be discussed later. First we’ll concentrate on the techniques of telling the story.

Prepare your introduction carefully. Begin your story smoothly. If you fumble through your first few statements, you’ll become frustrated and may lose your train of thought. If you stammer to a stop and have to start over, you’ll want to leave the room and never return! Never memorize a story word for word. But if it makes you feel more comfortable, memorize the first few lines for a snappy opening.

An introduction with interest-catching appeal will capture your listeners from the first word. “Mac had been Peter’s dog for as long as Peter could remember, and they were real pals.” Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun than “Peter had a dog named Mac?” Use your imagination and knowledge of the group to make your introduction sparkle.

Progress naturally from the introduction, building to the climax or most exciting or interesting portion of the story. Then finish the story with a brief conclusion. Don’t attempt to delay the conclusion, for once the climax of the story has been reached, listeners’ interest drops. A story is a unique teaching tool. Most contain a moral or teach a lesson. Let the story do it! Don’t attempt to tack on your own “sermonette” on the end of the story. Weave the moral into the plot in such a way that your hearers can’t miss it as you tell your story. When you’ve finished telling the story, stop!

Being yourself is important. Thorough preparation and practice will lead to naturalness in storytelling. You’ll probably feel most comfortable if you sit in a circle or semi-circle with your listeners. It suggests intimacy with the group and conversation at their level. If you must stand, due to a large group, stand naturally and relaxed. Never hide behind a podium.

Use gestures such as the shrug of the shoulders, a raised hand, a finger over the lips to indicate quietness. But don’t force or overuse them. And by all means, use facial expression. Raise your eyebrow, smile, frown, show enthusiasm. Try to portray the feelings of the story characters.

Some storytellers show pictures while telling their stories. This is fine, but don’t show 27 pictures during a four-minute story! Have several attractive illustrations to use at the appropriate times. Display them so all can see, then put them aside.

Place your hands quietly in your lap when you aren’t holding a picture or gesturing. Avoid the “gymnastics” of too many hand motions. They only draw attention to yourself. Beware of distracting habits, such as playing with a string of beads or a button on a jacket. Remember, you are the means to help your listeners SEE the story in their minds. The less they see of you, the better! Thorough practice, perhaps in front of a mirror, will help you know where and when to use gestures effectively. If well used, they can add life to the story. If overused, they can distract and spoil the story.

Your voice tells the story. Use your natural voice. By all means avoid a whiny, monotonous, or honeyed tone. Practice to develop variety in inflection. Let your voice reflect wonder, strength, sadness, etc. Imitate noises and sounds indicated in the story, such as “Buzzzz — was the sound Kate kept hearing outside her bedroom window.” Practice these sounds beforehand so they resemble the natural sounds. Pause to impress or to increase suspense. Work on projecting your voice. Record your own voice — it may surprise you!

Use dialog or direct discourse frequently to bring your characters to life. Make them speak to your hearers, rather than always telling your hearers what the characters say. “Hi, Mom!” is much more realistic than, “Jerry greeted his mother when she entered the room.” Change the voice to indicate the different characters. Use action verbs and colorful adjectives to tell your story. Never use words your listeners may not know.

If you suddenly discover that you’ve left out an important point, don’t try to correct it by saying, “Oh, I forgot to say…” Continue on, and if it is an integral part, weave it in. But don’t interrupt your story to apologize for your goof!

When you’re telling a Bible story, hold your Bible so all can see it. This especially impresses little children with the fact that your story is from God’s Word.

“Let’s have a story.” Do your students’ eyes brighten at the sound of those words? Use these helps to make story-time an exciting high point of your VBS program.