Put the ‘S’ Back on your Chest with these 9 Insanely Smart Sabbath School classroom Fixes
by Karen Taylor
One of the fondest memories I have of my childhood growing up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church is Sabbath School. I loved Sabbath School. Everything from the songs like ‘The trees are gently nodding’, ‘Peter, James and John in the same boat’, and ‘Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam’, to the bible study lessons made me excited to go back week after week.
When it was time for lesson study, my eyes would light up with excitement. Back then, I didn’t have television at home, so I grew up on stories my parents told me and those I found in books I borrowed either from the Library Service Book mobile when it rolled into my little community, or from the public library in the town of St Ann’s Bay near to my school.
But stories have always fascinated me. Each week, my Sabbath School teacher would enthral the class with stories filled with Bible heroes from our quarterly, a weekly lesson study guide for children which we all received on the final Saturday in each quarter. (I don’t really remember if they looked as colourful as the current ones below.)
This final Sabbath is what we call Thirteenth Sabbath. It’s a Children’s Ministry tradition in the Adventist Church. On this day, the Sabbath School Department also presented a children’s programme for the Church called the Thirteenth Sabbath Programme.
Boy, were we excited about 13th Sabbath. That is the day we would stand before the entire Church and recite the Bible verses we had studied weekly in the quarterly for the past 13 weeks. We would have studied a memory verse assigned to us by our teacher weeks ahead. By the time I got to church and stood before the church with the other kids, butterflies would be chasing each other around my stomach. Each child would say their memory verses loudly and confidently, and the church would say hearty ‘Amens’. We loved to hear the hearty ‘Amens’.
Parents would have wide, proud grins pasted across their faces as their toddlers recite verses ten words long without a hiccup. In those days too, most times we had to say all thirteen verses, which was no easy feat when you’re six and trying to remember a string of words and cite where they were from — Leviticus or Habbakuk or Obadiah — at the same time trying to keep a straight face and concentrating amidst muffled giggles and snorts after the kid before you pronounced ‘Abimilech’ ‘Abimileach’ or commit some other gaffe.
But thanks to the stewardship of parents and teachers who understood the long-standing value of planting the the word of God in the hearts of children, we did it quarter after quarter, year after year after year for the range of my time spent in Children Sabbath School.
After church, we’d collect wet sloppy kisses and bear hugs from the older folks, pats on the back and people marvelling about who had said their verses and, as we say in Jamaica, “nuh buck’ (meaning ‘done flawlessly’). No doubt about it, Thirteenth Sabbath was our ‘feel-good’ day. We were proud and happy little pilgrims back then in the 80’s.
Thirteenth Sabbath was also when we got a brand new quarterly magazine, filled with more exciting stories to gobble up. My siblings and I treasured the moment when a crispy, new magazine with clean, crispy, dog-eared-free pages were placed in our hands. We walked with it home proudly, as though it were rare gold.
I couldn’t wait to get home to start flipping through the pages. Most times by the time it came around to the next Sabbath, I had already read all the 13 stories in it.
Then there was the Mission story: awesome stories about mysterious places that fascinated and stretched our fertile imaginations begging for imagery. We didn’t have Discovery Channel those days, so many of these distant lands and animals and people we heard about seemed exotic. We heard of missionaries in countries we never even knew existed, saving souls from witchcraft and idol worship, and children who had no church or school to go to. Stories always ended appealing to us to start saving an offering to give on Thirteenth Sabbath.
And we gave … ten cents and one cents and five cents, we gave it to the Lord for the building of schools and churches we were told it would help come to fruition for the nine-year-old Swaamis of Africa and 13-year-old Negoshis of Euro-Asia because we wanted those children to experience the blessings of having a church and Sabbath School experience like we had.
I wanted to share these recollections with you about my time as a child and the impressions Sabbath School and what we now call Children Ministry has left on my mind three decades later for this reason. If you teach Children Sabbath School or Sunday School in your church, you should be aware of the power of God through your ministry to plant seeds in the hearts of children. These seeds if watered properly can give children a strong spiritual foundation, the kind that will keep God close to their hearts long after they leave the rooms of Children’s church.
I am still in the church today because of the impressions my teachers and Sabbath School experiences made on my young mind. In early adulthood I strayed away from my faith but quickly returned to my roots. Why? I missed the feeling of being safe; I missed being home where my first positive memories as a child were formed and ingrained in my value system. That little church in Hampstead, St Ann was where I fell in love with Jesus through the stories of Abraham, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and where I found structure and mentors that made me into the woman I’ve become. In the last decade, I have had fallible episodes, but I have never left the church, and never will.
The Thirteenth Sabbath tradition still holds pride of place in the Adventist Church today. As a Sabbath School teacher, I enjoy seeing the faces of my children as I read and sometimes dramatise the stories from their quarterlies on a given Sabbath. Lots of hugs, smiles, icecream and kind words are a part of my ministry to children today because that is how I was engaged in my early Sabbath School days.
Unfortunately, the tradition of memory verse reciting and Thirteenth Sabbath seem to be fading fast. Some churches do not have a Thirteenth Sabbath programme at all; lesson presentation has become stale, and the videogames are starting to make an appearance as children react to the boredom.
Parents and teachers are habitually late or absent from Sabbath School and often fail to prepare children to learn their Bible verses, thus missing a wonderful opportunity, probably the best opportunity we have, to etch God’s word on these impressionable minds.
Other distractions to lesson study come in the form of after-school programmes that go way into dusk, tons of homework and just the fast pace of life overall. These compete with the work being done by our ministry. Parents too are busier than ever, and have little time to study the Bible with their children.
All this now leaves the burden on us, teachers. The only time some children will hear about Jesus and take up a Bible or their quarterlies this week will be on Sabbath or Sunday morning. As we head into the final quarter, the enthusiasm many teachers might have experienced earlier in the year is waning. Unprepared, uninspired Sabbath School teachers; teachers working with limited or no resources only add to the problem.
If you are one of these children ministry leaders and teachers I just described, then this section is for you. If you have been zealous for much of the year, but have now become jaded, lost that spark or run out ideas (call it what you will) then listen here. Keep your focus. We have the responsibility of upholding that tradition of Bible-teaching in Children’s Sabbath School. Shake things up. Create new opportunities to motivate children to engage with the Bible. That may mean finding fun ways to make storytelling come alive and marvellous again in our classes as the teachers of our childhood did.
Today we are blessed to have a vast array of media to choose from. We are competing with brain-melting video-games and cable tv and Facebook. Our children’s brains are on fast forward because this is their reality. The cosmic battle for their souls is on in earnest. And we need to prepare to meet the challenge.
If we expect children to learn, and we are to minister effectively, I believe adopting and integrating the best practices of earthly teachers and the Supreme Teacher, Jesus may be the best strategy to apply in the Ministry classroom. Educators have long known this, and you might have even seen the statistics pointing to this fact: Students learn more when they see, hear and do. That might mean switching things up in the classroom to engage our children’s attention more. Create new opportunities to motivate children to engage with the Bible; find fun ways to make storytelling come alive and marvellous again in our classes as the teachers of our childhood did.
If we expect children to learn, and we are to minister effectively, I believe adopting and integrating the best practices of earthly teachers and the Supreme Teacher, Jesus may be the best strategy to apply in the Ministry classroom.
Here are some ways to do this:
1. Be guided by the Standard Curriculum
The Gracelink curriculum is currently the standard curriculum for Seventh-day Adventist churches. The quarterlies you now use are examples of what I mean by curriculum. A quick check online pulled up the following GraceLink curriculum resources:
- Beginner Lesson Resources in English, French and Spanish.
- Kindergarten Lesson Resources in English, French and Spanish.
- Our Little Friend Magazine Lessons, Games & Activities, Stories.
- Primary Lesson Resources in English, French and Spanish.
But there are other more structured curricular materials than the GraceLink curriculum provides that teachers can use as supplementary materials. When you’ve finished reading, just scoot over to Sabbath School net and have a look at the additional curriculum available. How many of these materials can be sourced in Jamaica is the question that is begging to be asked. I do not know. You’ll probably need to visit an Adventist Book Centre (ABC) to find out or shop for supplies online at ABC.com.
2. Plan Ahead
As a classroom teacher, one of the oft recited mantras in my field can be summed up in six words: “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” Plan your Sabbath School lessons in advance. It’s difficult when you are a working mom or dad and have a family, but it’s worth the effort.
You can make a monthly, fortnightly or weekly plan. Start planning at the beginning of the week or two weeks in advance. First work out the class goals or expected outcomes, activities that will help meet those goals, and then decide on the resources you’ll need. Write a timed outline of your plan and then, if you can’t do it immediately, make a note on your time planner on when you will devote time to gathering your resources for your class. Once you have a plan, you can then tweak your lesson to perfection during the week. Having a Plan B in anticipation of any hiccups won’t hurt either.
3. Animate your Storytelling
Animate your story telling. Think role play, character voices, facial expressions, movement, and props.
Caption: Observe the animated body language of this story teller from my local church while telling the story of Swami and the Crocodile to children at a recent children’s programme.
4. Use Visual Aids.
Show pictures from the story, or print and bring colourful images of characters. Make and hang charts, posters, photographs, and children drawings in your classroom. Make everything colourful and bright.
One great resource that has an an abundance of Children Ministry visuals is Pinterest. Children ministry teachers can browse through the hundreds of children ministry boards for ideas. Many come with instructions. Find what is relevant for the age group you are working with. I’ll tell you more about how to set up and use a Pinterest account for your own ministry in a follow-up post soon. SDA Children Ministry resources can also be accessed from http://www.gcchildmin.org/resources/children.html or your local ABC Bookstore found on most Conference properties.
5. Engage through Active Learning
Engage children through active learning by increasing their participation, varying the lesson, giving positive and early feedback, adding incentives and making the lessons applicable for your students. Start by blocking off a 10 minute segment of your teaching time (after or before you have taught your lesson) and let children engage with the story and lessons you want them to learn.
Here are some examples:
Always have a way for kids to interact with the memory verse of the day. Talk to children about what the verse means before getting into the lesson. To reinforce, before class prepare a set of, say, five verses you want them to learn on a hanging mobile, then in class play the ‘I spy’ game, or provide fill-in-the-blanks worksheets for them to complete after reciting the verse. There are also craft projects they can make using fudge sticks (Search for a ‘books of the bible’ craft pin on my Pinterest page to learn more about this idea).
Many of you are already using colouring pages and worksheets. Instead of recycling the same old pages this weekend, why not find some new ones? Search through this bonus assortment of printable (some are even editable) colouring pages at the Ministry-to Children.com website. They are free.
To add more variation to your lessons, integrate games, quizzes, word puzzles, craft projects, guest speakers and nature walks into your lesson to keep kids fascinated and interested in what you have to say. Some weeks, bring costumes and props and create skits around the story you’re presenting.
Here is a borrowed photo of kids roleplaying David bringing the Ark to Jerusalem from the Hosannakids blog.
6. Can’t read it ?… can’t understand it. Bible Literacy fixes for Sabbath School
- Do you have children in your class who always shy away from reading aloud, or stumble over words in the story? Who don’t know who Jesus or Daniel is? You might be dealing with a Bible literacy problem in your classroom.
As a Children Ministry teacher, you automatically sign up to be a Bible literacy teacher. Children who have difficulties will not understand what they read. They won’t know the Lord’s prayer or what John 3:16 says. These children become adults who avoid the Bible as well. While you might not have all the required skills to deal with children’s reading problems, there are some things you can do to help children engage with the Bible from an early stage. Here are some simple recommendations on how to embed Bible literacy into your Sabbath school lesson:
- Always preview your story. You can do this by asking questions around the title and pictures to get children to predict and anticipate what they are going to learn, (that preamble above the story found in many quarterlies is an example of what previewing or an anticipation guide is). Flip your introduction with three to five Multiple Choice or True/False questions about the lesson, and you’ll have an excited bunch ready to delve into the lesson. This idea could be even more effective to encourage your children to study next week’s lesson if you try it at the end of the class.
- Go over pronunciations and meanings of difficult words in the story.
- To increase understanding and foster active learning, allow children to read and write in some classes. These can range from a key word from the story you want them to focus on like Prayer or Faith or Reverence to a short composition done in class or given as homework to fun poetry about story heroes or themes, done individually, in pairs or created by the entire class. You could ask kids to also write letters to the story hero and share them in class. Round Robin reading (each child reads a small section or paragraph in a story before the next person picks up and continues), Word study, oral presentations, class discussions and Bible spelling Bee as regular features in your classroom to promote Bible literacy and make the Bible less intimidating to children. Either way, make sure to include a Bible Literacy activity for your next lesson. And remember: no stress, make everything fun.
7. Connect with Children Object Lessons
Kids love object lessons. They are great ways to make abstract lessons and principles concrete, visual and real. Make an object lesson from the story you are studying this week, or borrow one from this awesome collection that Pinterest has already curated for you:
8. Spice things up with a GraceLink Animated Podcast
Last, but not least, one of my newest finds that has become a staple in my class because my children absolutely love them is the video podcast of the weekly lessons found here at GraceLink.net. These are animated stories based on the GraceLink. net lessons. They are free via YouTube, Podcast, GraceLink.net, and on iTunes. Each video lasts for an average of four minutes. The podcasts are available in English, Spanish and French, as well as Braille. Can you believe it? Braille.
Using my YouTube downloader, I usually download the YouTube video of the podcast I want (I found a free YouTube downloader here) to my computer and show the class right from my laptop monitor. These are great to use these for Sabbaths when you have Children’s Church, as I did recently when I was invited to teach Children’s Church at the Portmore SDA Church. If your church has a projector, then by all means use it to add the big screen movie effect, and Va-va-Voom, your kids won’t be able to contain their excitement. Make sure you promote it in church and ask kids to invite many of their community friends.
The site has tons of other Children Ministry resources you can check out. What I also love about this particular resource is that you can use the videos at home in family worship or as bedtime stories. Here’s one from the playlist. The link should also take you to the entire playlist on YouTube. They are free to watch and use to your heart’s content.
If you want more ideas and resources from Seventh-day Adventist sites, head over to http://kidsministryideas.org,and http://www.gcchildmin.org/resources/children.html.
9. Plan Big and Hearty Thirteenth Sabbath Programmes
We have not exhausted the ideas on how to make your Sabbath School and Thirteenth Sabbath programme an exciting experience where children spend time getting to know Jesus. Look for more great ideas and resources in my upcoming posts on how you can revitalize your story telling and make Sabbath School and falling in love with Jesus a more positive and exciting experience for your boys and girls.
In the meanwhile, your next big event is Thirteenth Sabbath at the end of this month. Prepare your children. If you haven’t yet done so, send home the memory verses this weekend, and talk with your parents about helping to prepare children to shine on this special day.
I want all boys and girls to feel those butterflies in their stomachs when this Thirteenth Sabbath comes around; I want them to hear your church say hearty ‘Amens’ and collect sloppy kisses from everyone to encourage and inspire them.
Most of all, challenge yourself to do more to etch that positive life-changing impression of Jesus on the mind of each child sitting in your classroom this weekend.
Happy Thirteenth Sabbath when it comes. Shabat Shalom. Happy Sabbath.
Do any of my childhood memories of Sabbath School and Thirteenth Sabbath or the teaching frustrations and fixes I’ve recommended resonate with you? Share your recollections with me in the Comments box below.