March 30, 2016
Sunday School is a tough challenge for smaller churches. There are Sundays with no kids in church. There are Sundays with one baby, two toddlers, an 8-year old, and a middle schooler. Neither scenario lends itself to an easy classroom scenario, even if we had a consistent pool of volunteers, and someone to organize curriculum, prepare materials, etc. Those are issues too…
To further complicate things at St. Mary’s, we are a congregation that has been mostly English speaking for the last fifty-plus years, and now most of the kids come to the Spanish service. So even when the English-speaking parents who grew up with traditional Sunday School get together to try to revive Sunday School, there are issues of timing, and varying cultural expectations about what to do with kids in church.
What we have come up with is not perfect. But it’s quite a bit better than nothing. We created a kids’ corner. It’s at the back of the church, using a cozy-ish space that was previously used to store folding chairs. It’s immediately visible when you walk into church. We added a rug, a rocking chair, a small table with colorful little-people-sized chairs, bookshelves with donated books, an old wooden giraffe from a long-ago carnival set-up, a kid-sized altar that the Sunday School used to use, some colorful biblical art, and lots of paper and crayons.
Here’s what’s great about it:
- It cost next to nothing. We were able to scrounge most of the supplies from what we already had.
- Kids like it. Many kids, of a range of ages, make a beeline for the corner, whether they have ever been to church before or not. They know right away that it is for them. It sends a message that we were expecting them; that they have a comfortable place to be.
- The kids can be in the corner while still hearing, feeling and smelling church. They pick up songs and prayers and rhythms that they would be missing if they were off in a Sunday School classroom.
- It’s low-key non-digital entertainment, something many of our kids don’t get enough of.
- It provides a middle road between total removal and forced pew sitting for squirmy kids.
Here’s what’s not so great.
- It can be loud or chaotic. Most of the time, especially if an adult sits back there with them, the kids are pretty quiet. But sometimes they need reminding. I don’t mind reminding them, and also reminding the parents about the whole adult presence thing. But left entirely to their own devices, 7-year-old boys can do unspeakably creative things, especially with the rocking chair.
- Adults have mixed feelings. Some parents want their kids to be “learning” in a more structured, content-driven way.
- Some parents would prefer to have their kids sit with them in the pews, and consider the corner a distraction.
- Some parents would like to go to church and have their kids go somewhere else.
- Some people without small kids find their very existence distracting.
You can’t please all the people all the time.
Could you find room for some visibly kid-friendly space in your sanctuary? Perhaps a table with some small chairs and drawing supplies? Is there a middle ground for kids in your congregation between pew-sitting and total absence?
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