The Beginner Department
by Pastor Jack Hyles
(Chapter 13 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, The Hyles Sunday School Manual)
(Written by Mrs. T. D. McKinney, Superintendent
of the Beginner II Department of the First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana.
Mrs. McKinney is also on the church staff as Director of Literature.)
Years ago I was explaining to a friend in another city that I worked in the Beginner Department of a Sunday school. The reply was: “I suppose working in a department of this age is nothing more than a baby-sitting job.”
I replied, “Oh, no. We teach preschool
children. Children of this age ought to be taught as much as children in
school--and they can be taught. As soon as the child reaches his second
birthday he is promoted into the Nursery III Department, where he listens to
a story and learns songs. He is taught the Word of God in the Sunday school.
Since the procedure followed in both the nursery and beginner departments is
much the same, everything in this chapter, unless otherwise indicated, can
be applied to ages two through five, or from the time the child reaches his
second birthday until he enters first grade in elementary school.
Why Teach Preschoolers in the Sunday School?
The operation of these departments is based upon two main principles: letting little children come to Jesus and avoiding in any way offending them so that their faith in Jesus might not be destroyed. Remember the story found in the 10th chapter of Mark. Jesus had been discussing with grownups some very important, weighty doctrinal questions. Suddenly people started bringing their children to Jesus. Perhaps some of these people had been in the crowd when Jesus took a little child and put the child on His knew as an object lesson. Jesus had said, “See this little child? Unless you become like him you shall not enter the Kingdom of God. His faith is not obstructed by any doubt or reservation. he has pure humility. He is not coming to Me on any merit.” Jesus loved little children.
As the parents came, each with the determination that Jesus would touch and see his child, the disciples said, “Oh, no, no, don’t bring the children to Jesus. Don’t bother Him with them. They are unimportant and very insignificant in our society. Can’t you see we have been discussing very important things?”
When Jesus saw the disciples trying to hold the children back from coming to Him, He was much displeased. He said to the disciples, “You let the children come to me. Don’t you tell them not to come.” Jesus reached out to the children, took them into His arms, and blessed them.
As soon as the child has seen Jesus and has learned to love Him, then we ought to be careful in our teachings and in our operations of the Sunday school never to do or say anything to disturb the faith in Jesus. Jesus said in Mark 9:42, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”
Thus we approach the Nursery and Beginner
Departments with a real sense of responsibility and obligation to the Lord
to do the very best job that we can do.
What Is Needed Most in Reaching Little Children in the Sunday School?
Prayer is needed most. Every plan, every procedure, and every activity ought to be saturated with prayer. We need love. We need understanding. We need the power of the Holy Spirit in conducting our departments for our little children. “Lord, teach me to love the noisy child as well as the quiet child. Teach me to love the little child that might have dirty hands as well as the little child who is absolutely clean and beautifully dressed. Help me to understand what they are thinking and how they feel and how they are reading. Help me to remember what it was like to be a child. May each child under my care in the Sunday school someday truly learn to love Jesus and to turn his life over to Him.” This is the ultimate accomplishment of our task in teaching little children--that his entire life might be turned over to Jesus.
What Facilities Are Needed?
Let’s start with the room. The Sunday school room for preschool children need not be luxurious, in fact the more simple the better. The room must be attractive, clean, and bright. Individual classrooms are not needed for preschool children. The entire Sunday school hour is conducted in one room with all of the children together. The room should be furnished with a piano, chairs and tables of comfortable size for the children, a story rug that can be a remnant of carpeting or an inexpensive quilt spread on the floor, sturdy flannelboard, a chalkboard, bulletin boards, and a small teaching table or stand for use while conducting the department.
In addition to furnishings, there is need for a large double or triple-door closet in each room. In the closet are shelves for holding all supplies. Whenever any teaching aids are not in use they are stored here.
Other necessary supplies are handwork needs: construction paper, brass fasteners, glue, Scotch tape, scissors, etc. Every preschool department should also have a constant supply of paper tissues for wiping noses, and a bag of custodial absorbent material for sprinkling on the floor, table, or chair where a child has had an “accident” or has become ill. The departmental workers should know where a custodian is or where his brooms, etc., are in case they are needed. (It is very rarely that problems like this arise, but when they do, they should be taken care of quickly and in a sanitary manner.)
Some underprivileged children come without stockings, even in the coldest winter. A supply of children’s stretch socks has been useful many times. The teacher quietly and nonchalantly puts them on the child’s feet in such a way so as not to embarrass the child.
Now decorate the room. Change the decorations at least four times a year, either corresponding with the seasons of the year or corresponding with the particular program which is being conducted, or perhaps a combination of the two. Children love pictures on the bulletin boards--pictures that illustrate what children do and pictures that set a gay, happy mood. There are some paper plates that have funny cartoon animals drawn on them. Hang pretty decorations from the ceiling or from the light fixtures. This makes the room come down to the child’s size, and lends more color and attractiveness. Whatever decorations are used, keep them clean, pretty, and uncluttered. Change them often. Seeing the children’s reaction as they enter a pretty room and hearing their comments about our pretty room is indication enough that the giving of time, thought, and some money is worth it.
Consider very carefully the arrangement of the
room according to the number of children that will be in the room, the
number of tables and chairs and the space they will take, and the space
allowed for the story rug. The following is a suggested diagram for a room
arrangement for the preschool Sunday school department.
There is no merit whatsoever in setting up what some people call a worship center or interest center. Just by setting the Bible before the children, we will not create in them any kind of desirable attitudes, behavior, or actions. The Bible is a Book to be taught, not a memorial to be set up. The contents of the Bible is our teaching tool.
Just outside the Sunday school room in the hall
is the secretaries’ table. This is a reception center for the children
coming in. New ones are registered. The class number assigned to all the
children is also checked. This is the place where all attendance records are
to be compiled. It is good to keep the business of the secretary center
outside of the Sunday school room.
How Is the Preschool Department Staffed, and What Are the Duties of the Staff?
Let’s begin with the superintendent. The superintendent is the person who oversees the Sunday school department. She is, of course, answerable to the pastor for program plans and for teaching. The pastor is, of course, directly responsible to the Lord for every detail of the operation of the church. In addition to the Sunday school lesson, the superintendent plans what other teachings she would like to see in the department. She plans with the teachers the Spring and Fall Programs and any other special times. She plans the Sunday morning program. It is a goo thing for one person to be the housekeeper for the department, one who files visual aids and who keeps things stored, neat, and ready for use the next time. The superintendent is a good person to be the housekeeper for the department. The superintendent also ought to look upon her teachers as though they are her Sunday school class. She is their leader. She is their teacher. She is just as concerned about each of them individually as the teacher is concerned about each individual pupil. The final decisions about anything in the department depend upon the superintendent to lead the department, so the superintendent depends upon the teachers to build all the classes. There is a closeness of fellowship between the superintendent and the teachers of the department. We all have one common goal. That goal is to teach boys and girls the Bible and to love Jesus. When we are together in our teachers’ meetings, we are all on a first-name basis with each other. However, when we come together on Sunday morning to work in the department with the children, we are quite formal with each other so that the children will be encouraged to show respect for us. For instance, we do not use last names for the teachers in our department. The last names are a bit difficult for the children. We use first names preceded with the word “Miss.” I am “Miss Erma.” Some of my teachers are “Miss Marie,” “Miss Dorothy,” “Miss Eilene,” “Miss Leona,” etc. When we come on Sunday morning, we are careful not to carry on individual, personal conversations with each other. We try to confine our conversation with each other to the actual business at hand. When we address each other, we address each other as “Miss Marie,” etc.
Under the Lord’s leadership a certain kind of personality of teacher has come to the preschool department. This kind of teacher has complete command of children. She sees the need for firm discipline without impatience and without temper. She sees the need for true love for them. She has a rather quiet, not too aggressive, personality to work with preschool children. Because the departments grow, because new children are constantly coming--some frightened, some too noisy, some hard to handle--the teacher of the preschool child has to be flexible to change. She loves the children and she shows it. She tries not to tattle on the children. She tries not to take discipline problems from the Sunday school department back to the parents. She is also careful not to gossip about the child. She might, however, bring up the problem at the departmental teachers’ meeting in order to get advice from co-workers.
Every child is born a sinner and every child is going to misbehave some time or another. If there is a constant problem with the child, this problem indicates a need. Instead of becoming fed up or impatient or disgusted with a child who indicates a need, the teacher of the preschool child should be concerned. By praying for a child, by showing him that the teacher loves him, and by visiting him in his home and perhaps taking him a small gift and showing a little extra special attention, discipline problems can be overcome. If the teacher tattles to a parent about a child, this either puts the parent on the defensive because he doesn’t want anyone to think ill of his child, or it makes the parent discipline or punish the child for bad behavior long after the bad behavior is completed and has been forgotten by the child.
Ernie was a brilliant little boy, far more brilliant than the other little boys and girls in his room. Because things went a little bit slowly for him in Sunday school in order that the other boys and girls might be reached, Ernie reacted with bad behavior. When the teacher caught onto the fact that Ernie was such a brilliant little boy, she started to find special little memory verses for him to learn and to repeat to to hear the next Sunday. She started giving him extra little jobs that he could do to help out until Sunday school started or as Sunday school was ending. This solved Ernie’s behavior problem.
Timmy came to Sunday school the first Sunday kicking, screaming, and throwing a regular tantrum when his mother tried to leave him at the Sunday school door. The superintendent suggested to the mother that she leave and that she was sure that Timmy would be all right. Timmy kicked the superintendent and insisted that he was not going to come into the department. The superintendent almost bodily dragged him into the room, firmly sat him down in a chair, and said, “Timmy, until you can behave properly you will sit her alone; you may not sit with the other boys and girls. We love you and we are glad you are here in Sunday school, but you must be quiet now.” She insisted that Timmy stay in the chair, and she watched to see that her orders were carried out. She gave him a paper, but the rest of the morning Timmy sat alone on that chair. That afternoon the superintendent began thinking about Timmy and wondered if she had handled his problem properly. She prayed much for Timmy that day and all the rest of the week hoping that Timmy would come back to Sunday school and that he would learn to love it so that he might be reached with the Bible teaching too. The next Sunday, much to the superintendent’s delight, her came Timmy. He greeted the superintendent with a smile and said, “Here, I want you to have this.” The superintendent took from his hand an old valentine that his daddy had given his mother. This seemed to be Timmy’s way of saying, “I like you and I want to be a good boy and I want to show you that I do.” Timmy and the superintendent have been fast friends ever since even though Timmy now is of junior age. The Lord knows the thoughts and needs of children, and He knows how to direct the superintendent and teachers even though they don’t understand that particular child’s problem. Without formal education in psychology and without the aid of a psychiatrist the Sunday school teacher can properly handle every problem that comes because the Holy Spirit understands all of these, and He directs.
How many children should one teacher handle? Who can really set a maximum number. If it becomes apparent, however, that a group is growing too large for the teacher to visit effectively and work effectively with the children, then the superintendent ought to suggest to the pastor or to the one who is enlisting new teachers for the department that another new teacher be added to the faculty of the department.
In addition to the superintendent and to the teachers of the department there is need for some good secretaries. Two secretaries should be seated at a reception desk to take down the names, addresses, telephone numbers, birthdays, and ages of the new children coming. The secretary marks the class number or the name of the teacher of the class to which the child is assigned. It is good to divide the class by areas so that the teacher in her visitation doesn’t have to travel from one end of the town to the other to visit her absentees. After the new child is registered in the department it is good to have someone else take that child along with the duplicate of the slip that has been just filled out and introduce the child to his new teacher and to show him where he will sit every Sunday when he comes to the Sunday school. Unless it has been made clear by the person who brings the child to the department that this child is definitely only a one-time visitor, perhaps from a distant state, the secretary during the weeks makes up a class enrollment card for that child and inserts it with the other cards in his teacher’s packet. This card has room on it for the name of the child, his address, his birthday, his age, his telephone number. There are also squares on the card for checking his attendance every Sunday of the year. Because the card is blank on the back, this affords a place for the teacher to make any kind of notation she desires about the child’s home life--things that will be helpful to her in knowing the child and his needs and how to pray for him. The cards in the teacher’s packet are her property.
In addition to this card the secretary makes in duplicate a 3 x 5 card to go into a main file that contains the names and addresses of all the boys and girls who are enrolled in the department. This file is helpful inasmuch as the class number and the name of the teacher to which the child is assigned is marked on the card. It is not necessary to keep an attendance record on this card, for this is just a master file. We need to know the name of every child that is expected within the department. Oftentimes the child comes and cannot remember in whose class he should sit. We ask his name, go to the file that is in alphabetical order by last names, see the number of the class to which he has been assigned, then take the child and say, “This is the class where you sit.”
It is necessary to work with these files weekly. Sometimes the teacher in calling on the children realizes that an address has been incomplete or incorrect. Upon learning correct and new information she tells the secretary so that the teacher’s packet can always be up to date, the 3 x 5 card file is made correct, and the addressograph plate is changed. The secretaries have this weekly responsibility. They also aid in sending out the mailings each time there is a mailing to go out.
In the church office letters are made up, mimeographed and folded. Then the secretaries take these letters, address them by using the addressograph plates, sort them by zip code, count them, and tie them. Then once again the letters are turned over to someone in the church office who actually takes them to the post office for mailing.
In addition to the two secretaries who are at the reception table, there is another secretary standing at the door whose primary purpose is to greet the children. She is holding in her hand an offering receptacle. As the child comes through the door he places his offering in the bank, basket, or whatever she is holding. She is a cheerful lady who also loves children and greets them with a smile and has a little word to say to them as they pass through the door going to their class.
As the department grows, the obtaining of an
accurate head count becomes more difficult. So there is a fourth secretary
standing just inside the door who pins a tag on each child who comes in. The
tags have been prepared ahead of time by someone in the department. As far
as the child knows, the tag is simply a picture or a pennant or something to
represent the special program in which the department is involved. However,
there is a number on the back of the tag, or the pennant, or whatever it is.
The tags are consecutively numbered from one to however many children are
expected in the department that Sunday. The number on the last tag used
represents the number of teachers and children present that day.
How Are the Children Divided Into Classes, and How Do the Teachers and Pupils Become Acquainted With Each Other?
Brief reference has been made as to how the department is divided. More detail follows. Because these are preschool children the classes can be mixed--boys and girls in each class. Names of the children coming into the department are divided by the area in which they live. The superintendent and a co-worker evaluate the size classes by area. The boundaries are determined according to the number of pupils that come from the particular area. The secretaries are then informed where the boundaries are. For instance, a particular area for a particular teacher should go from such and such street on the north to such and such street on the south, from such and such street on the east to such and such street on the west. Of course, it is necessary to have a map to determine this. Then the teachers are informed of their areas.
In the department a table is a class. Because calling should be done two by two, two classes are put together. Two tables are set side by side or end to end. Two teachers work two classes together. This is called a class group. These teachers get to know the children from both classes and during the week they meet and do their calling together. One teacher might have an area in one end of town and her partner might have another area for calling. They determine where they should go that week to do their class visitation.
Because a little preschool child does not always remember where he sits when he comes to Sunday school, it is helpful to mark each class by some kind of picture. For instance, one class might be a class of lambs. The picture of a lamb is painted on the back of his chair. The teacher wears a tag that is a picture of this lamb. She might send the same tag to the pupil in the mail. At Promotion Day especially he wears this tag to Sunday school himself. The teacher, the pupil, and the chairs all match each other. This way the child knows where he goes until he gets acquainted with his teacher and remembers where his class is in the room.
It is very important that the teacher will get
into the home of each pupil just as soon as possible after the pupil is new
in her class. The pupil needs to get to know the teacher. The teacher needs
to get to know the pupil. Interest in the child is an excellent way to get
the foot in the door for the need of witnessing to the parents and other
members of the family also.
How Is the Department Operated on Sunday Morning?
All teachers and superintendents should arrive early enough to greet the first children who come. Our Sunday school starts at 9:40. Ten minutes after nine is not too early for a superintendent and a secretary and at least one or two teachers to be there. The other teachers ought to be arriving soon thereafter.
Sometime during the week the superintendent has made a check on the room to be sure that it is set up properly for the following Sunday. Everything that is needed in the way of visual aids, music, etc., are set out by the superintendent at the time. She is sure that the tables and the chairs are in order and that the room is exactly the way she wants it for the next Sunday.
As the pupils come to the preschool department they are greeted cheerfully, each one being made to feel as if he has been expected and as if the teachers and the superintendent are thrilled to see him. If they are not sincere in this greeting, the child senses this. The pupil goes directly to his class table. If it is a day that he is wearing a coat and hat, he puts his hat with his coat and puts his coat on the back of his chair or the coat could be hung on a hook in the room or a place in the hall. The teacher is at the table expecting the pupil. She talks to him as he comes and lets him talk to her, showing her his new shoes, his sore finger, telling her about the new baby brother or sister in his home, telling her that Daddy has come to Sunday school today, etc. She will listen to everything as if it is the most important news of the day. At the same time she is checking the attendance. She is marking on the card for each individual pupil the fact that the child is present today.
Because some children have arrive so early, the superintendent has started what she calls the “Early Bird Club.” She has the children who arrive so early to come to the story rug after they have been to their table. On the story rug the children are sitting participating in the finger plays that the superintendent is leading, learning new Scripture passages and repeating them with the superintendent. About ten minutes before it is actually time for the department to start Sunday school, the superintendent sends the children back to their tables. This way the teacher makes sure that she did not miss any child in her original attendance check.
Now it is time for Sunday school to begin. The superintendent has a hand bell. It is a pretty sounding bell which she rings. When the children hear the bell ring, they all come to the story rug. If the department has grown very large and the teachers are quite busy taking attendance because of so many children coming in at the same time, the superintendent might have a public address system. She just picks up the microphone and says, “Teachers, whenever you are ready, send your children, please, to the story rug. It is time for us to start Sunday school.” The piano player sitting at the piano now is playing some little tunes while we are waiting for everybody to get assembled on the story rug.
The pianist begins playing the opening song. We might sing together, “Our Sunday school has begun. Our Sunday school has begun. We will ask our heavenly Father, please, to bless us every one.” Then we all want to pray together. We say our little prayer verse: “My feet are very, very still. My hands I fold this way. I bow my head and close my eyes as quietly I pray.” Everyone gets very, very quiet, and the superintendent leads the department in a short prayer asking God’s guidance for the day, thanking Him that so many boys and girls have come to Sunday school, and asking Jesus that they might come to love Jesus, because Jesus loves them. Some Sundays children come to the superintendent and say, “Teacher, would you pray for my daddy? He is sick.” A child once said, “Teacher, my cousin was hit by a car this week and got killed. Would you pray for his family?”
The superintendent has learned not to ask for prayer requests, but because the children realize that she will honor the request, they come to her individually with something that is on their heart and ask her to pray for them. The superintendent also tries to remember to pray for any teacher who might be sick that day or have an illness or bereavement in the family so the children will learn to pray for everything and to be concerned about everyone else also.
Then it is time to sing. Singing the same songs Sunday after Sunday for a certain period of time helps the children to learn the songs. It also gets the song in their hearts and in their minds so that during the week they remember to sing the songs. The songs should be sung as slowly as they need to be for that age child to pronounce the words correctly, to know what he is singing, and to follow along so that everyone is singing together with understanding. In singing songs as well as in teaching, the ability of a child to understand and the progress he is making in growth and understanding should be taken into consideration. For instance, by the time the child is in kindergarten he is singing longer songs than the child in the Nursery Department. He is also singing songs with many different words in them. He is also learning to write his name and to spell his name. So we sing a little song that says, “I can spell a lovely name, J-E-S-U-S.” We are holding up five fingers, pointing to a different finger as we say a different letter. All preschool children love “Jesus Loves Me.” This is the basis of their singing. Preschool children should be learning to sing such songs as, “Trust and Obey,” “Oh, How I Love Jesus,” “Praise Him, Praise Him,” “Who Can Make a Flower? I’m Sure I Can’t, Can You?” “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” “Oh, Be Careful,” and little songs about Bible characters.
After we have sung two or three songs, it is time for the Bible story. To have a Bible story early in the Sunday morning program is very important with little children. We need to teach them while they are still fresh before they get too tired to listen. We insist that they sit quietly and hear the teacher who is telling the story. Since the department is all together for the entire Sunday school time, the teachers take turns telling the Bible stories. A schedule could be drawn up so that the teacher can anticipate when it will be her turn to tell the Bible story. All of the teachers have been taught the Bible story on Wednesday evening by the superintendent, but just one teacher actually prepares thoroughly to teach the lesson. However, they should all know the story and be prepared to answer any questions the child has. It is also a good idea for another teacher besides the one assigned the story to be ready to tell it, for there might be sickness or some other reason why at the last minute she cannot be present on Sunday morning.
At the beginning of Bible story time, the superintendent says, “Children, this is the most important time of Sunday school. Everyone’s hands are kept to himself. Everyone’s eyes are looking this way, and everyone’s lips are closed tight. We are not going to say anything unless our teacher tells us to say something. Today it is Miss Leona’s turn to tell the Bible story. As she comes we will say, ‘Good morning, Miss Leona,’ and then we will not say anything unless she asks us to. Come now, Miss Leona. ‘GOOD MORNING, MISS LEONA.’”
Then the Bible story is taught. The teacher has her Bible in her hand and before she lays it down in order to tell the story she tells the children, “This story that I am going to tell you today is from the Bible. If it is from the Bible, it is a true story. It really happened.” The teacher must be well prepared before she teaches the little children. She must not read any of the story. The teacher needs to forget that there are other teachers listening to her. She is there to tell the children the story. She puts herself completely into it. On Wednesday night at the teachers’ meeting the methods to be used in telling the story have been discussed. If there are objects to be used in telling the story, they have been completely prepared. If flannelgraph is going to be used, it is in order so that the first figure to be used is on top, etc. The flannelboard is there for use before Sunday school begins. If the chalkboard is to be used, it is in its place. If the teacher is going to use children to help dramatize the story as she tells it, she is sure that there is space enough at the front of the room to move around.
The teacher comes prepared to use language that the children can understand. If there is a new word that she wishes to teach the children that day, she has well thought out conversation, objects, or actions that she can use to teach the children that word. For example, “Joseph’s brother threw Joseph into a pit. What is a pit? A pit is a great big hole in the ground. How big is this great big hole in the ground? If someone were down in this pit, he couldn’t climb up.” If any part of the Bible story utilizes words that are unfamiliar to the children, the teacher just can count on the fact that she will lose the attention of the children who do not understand.
Whatever Sunday school literature the teacher uses, the teacher is to remember that that literature is her tool and not her master. She is to take it an carefully consider it in prayer. Does it really teach what the Bible teaches? Does it teach what the children need to know? Does it teach what the children need in their lives? If it does not, then the teacher must alter the lesson to make it what it ought to be.
After telling the Bible story the teacher teaches the children a memory verse. In the Nursery Department the children can learn a verse of about three or four words; therefore, only a part of a Bible verse that is applicable to the story can be learned. In the Beginner Department whole sentences of Bible verses should be memorized.
After the teaching of the Bible verse the superintendent or the songleader can lead the boys and girls in the singing of a song. Perhaps a new song will be learned. This is a good time to introduce the new song. How is the new song introduced? The superintendent sings it alone to the children. “Children, I am going to sing you a new song today.” That is all the time that is given to that song for that Sunday. The next Sunday she might say, “Some of you will remember the song that I am going to sing today. If you remember it, you help me sing it.” Then the next Sunday she will say, “I know a lot of you boys and girls know this song that we are going to sing today.” The song becomes theirs, and it can be used eventually at the beginning of the Sunday school hour before the Bible story is told.
Now the children are tired and need to move around a little. It is not absolutely necessary now that they all remain so still that we can hear a pin drop, so this is a good time in the program to welcome new boys and girls--and new boys and girls need to be welcomed. Here the superintendent depends very largely upon the teachers to help the new boys and girls to stand up. The superintendent can say, “Who is new today?” Some boys and girls do not realize that they are new, and some boys and girls who have been there two or three Sundays already think they are still new. So the teachers need to say, “This little boy is new today,” or “This little girl is new today,” and help them to stand up. The superintendent then says, “We are so happy to have you all here today. We would like to learn your names. What is your name?” She hears the first name of the child, and everybody then says, “Hi, Sandra,” or “Hi, Tommy.” A welcome button is pinned on each new child there that day. Then a welcome song is sung to the entire group of the new children by the children who have already been in Sunday school. “Welcome, welcome to our Sunday school. Jesus loves you and we are glad you are here. Please come back next Sunday. We will look for you. You are welcome here in Sunday school.” The little boys and girls sit back down on the story rug.
Now it is time for birthdays. “Teachers, who has had a birthday since last Sunday?” Don’t ask the boys and girls. Everybody has had a birthday some time or other, and they would all like to be honored. The teachers need to come to Sunday school each Sunday prepared to tell the superintendent who in their classes had a birthday since last Sunday. The birthday children come to the front of the room. The superintendent carefully explains to the birthday children that the cake we are using today is a make-believe cake. We do not use a real cake in Sunday school for birthday time a real disappointment to the children who think you really have cake to pass out. If only one or two children come at birthday time, each child could be honored separately. If, however, the department is large enough that there are five or six or more children who have had birthdays that week, the children need to be honored as a group so as not to take up too much time. IF the children are honored separately, as many candles as the child is old are place on the birthday cake. If the children are honored as a group, there is a candle on the cake for each with them. The pennies are dropped one by one into the slot of the artificial birthday cake. We say, “Jesus loved Tommy one year; Jesus loved Tommy two years; Jesus loved Tommy three years, etc.,” for each child who drops his birthday pennies into the birthday cake. What if a child brings a nickel instead of five pennies when he is five years old? We carefully explain to the children that the nickel is the same as five pennies, and so Jesus loved Tommy five years. The candles then are lit on the birthday cake. We are very careful at this time to teach the children caution about fire. Only the superintendent lights the candles on the cake and the children stand back so as to be are lit, the other boys and girls sing “Happy Birthday” to the birthday children. Then the children count, “One, two, three, blow,” and the birthday children blow out their candles.
The department then has a little inexpensive picture to hand to each birthday child. We prefer to use the picture of Jesus and the sheep as a gift from the Beginner Department. As we hand the picture to the child we say, “Happy birthday from the Beginner Department. You may take this picture home. It is yours to keep. You may hang it on the wall or put it on your dresser.”
Now it is time to talk about the offering that we have put into the offering basket or the bank at the door. We take a container that has been emptied (by this time the money has been taken to the Sunday school office.) We choose a child to come up to the front and hold this empty container, and then we say, “When we brought our offering this morning, did I (the superintendent pointing to herself) get that money? Oh, no. Why do we bring our offering to Sunday school? We bring it that more boys and girls will get to know about Jesus. We use it to buy chairs, etc., (pointing to one or two items on different Sundays that have been purchased with the money that we bring to Sunday school).” Then the child who is holding the receptacle bows his head and he prays out loud thanking Jesus for the offering. The superintendent will say to the child, “Do you want to pray by yourself, or shall I help you with the words?” The majority of the children will say, “I would like for you to help me with the words.”
So the superintendent says to the child in the child’s ear very softly, “Dear Heavenly Father...”
The child repeats, “Dear Heavenly Father...”
“...Thank you that we can bring our offering.”
The child repeats, “Thank you that we can bring our offering.”
“...use it to tell other boys and girls...”
“...use it to tell other boys and girls...”
“...In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
“...In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
Then the empty receptacle is handed back to the secretary and the child goes back and sits on the story rug.
Now all of the children need to stand to their feet and relax. We might just stand and stretch and see how tall we can be or how high we can reach. We might sing a song while we are standing and relaxing from sitting for so long a time. We might repeat together some memory passages that we have learned from the Bible. We need to remember that these are little children and that little children’s attention span is not as long as that of adults, nor are little children capable of staying in one place as long as adults.
After the relaxation time the superintendent says, “Everyone sit down now.” With much enthusiasm she introduces the next time on the program. This is a good time for a conduct story, but she can’t just say at this point, “I want to tell you a story.” If she uses this method of approach to the children at this time in the morning procedure, she won’t get the children’s attention. If she is using flannelgraph figures, she should start out immediately to put a figure on the board and begin speaking with an action sentence or two about that figure. The children will be “with her” if she does it well.
Perhaps the teacher has chosen to teach a conduct lesson with the story with the use of puppets. It is good to give some thought to having a puppet stage in a preschool department, especially as the child reaches four and five years old. The stage need not be anything more elaborate than three boards hinged together behind which the teacher or the superintendent who handles the puppets hide. The middle wooden board needs to have a window in it with a curtain over it. The window needs to be the same height as the teacher’s head. She is hiding behind the curtain and her hands are up in front of the curtain operating the puppets. The puppets could teach such things as: It is not nice to stick out your tongue. You could have a puppet who is an owl and name him Mr. Wise. Mr. Wise tells the children about a friend that he is going to introduce to them that day. Up comes his friend and it is a green frog. Mr. Wise says, “Green, how are you today?” (However, Mr. Wise tires to talk in a real deep voice.)
Greeny just makes a sort of croaking sound as frogs do. Then Mr. Wise ways, “Greeny, I saw you stick your tongue way, way out and then draw it back in the other day. Greeny, why did you do this?”
Greeny croaks. Then Mr. Wise says, “Oh, you do this to catch the food that you are going to eat. A fly landed on your tongue and you brought it back in and you at the fly. That was your supper.”
Greeny croaks in agreement. Then Mr. Wise says to the children, “Frogs stick out their tongues so that they can eat, but boys and girls don’t need to stick out their tongues to eat. In fact, boys and girls should never stick out their tongues, should they?” The children will agree with him that this should not be done. This ends the puppet show for the day with Mr. Wise and Greeny saying good-bye to the children and promising to come back another time.
Before the teacher who is operating the puppet steps behind the puppet stage, she could say to another teacher, “I am going into the woods to see if I can find Mr. Wise. Would you stay here with the children and see that they are all right until I get back? That teacher comes to the front of the room and talks to the children about what they might possible see. This way they are kept in perfect order until the time for the puppet show to start.
Mr. Wise on another day might introduce Silly Willy to the boys and girls. Silly Willy is a wolf who really does act silly and gets awfully wild in front of the children. Mr. Wise talks to Silly Willy about the fact that there are times when it is good to run, play, be loud and noisy, and laugh, but there are also times when we need to be quiet. We don’t run in the church building any more than we run in our homes. We can run outside though, and we can run in the basement of our house. Puppets can teach the children many conduct lessons much more effectively than we can by scolding and nagging at the children.
After the conduct story the superintendent might want to make some promotional announcement about next Sunday’s program and how every boy and girl ought to be there and bring their friends, too. A big aid in making announcements has been a toy mouse. (The toy mouse was used two or three Sundays. Then the superintendent decided she didn’t need to use him any more but that she could use something else in making announcements. The Sunday she did not use him many children said, “Where is Mr. Church Mouse? We would like to see Mr. Church Mouse.” Since that Sunday he has been used almost every Sunday to make announcements about what is going to happen next Sunday in Sunday school.) The children just love Mr. Church Mouse. He stays in a shoe box because a mouse can make his home any place. This shoe box stays on the closet shelf. Because Mr. Church Mouse is in the church building all week long, he sees and knows all that is going to happen there. Sometimes before talking with Mr. Church Mouse the teacher can pretend that she hears a noise. She goes closer and closer to the shoe box where the church mouse is. She picks up the box, listens, and says, “Yes, I think that noise is coming from this box.” She opens the box and tells the boys and girls that there is something in there that they ought to see. Of course, after he has been used two or three times the children will guess that it is Mr. Church Mouse.
“Do you think he is asleep today or awake?” We discuss what he is doing and what he has been doing. Then we take him out of the shoe box for the children to see. Because he is so cute you can just look around at the children and they are fascinated with him without any conversation for a few seconds. Then the superintendent can talk with the church mouse and ask him what special news he has for the children today. The church mouse then whispers into the superintendent’s ear, and the superintendent tells the children what the church mouse wants them to know. Because the children like to pretend so much, the superintendent pretends, too.
Now it is almost time to dismiss Sunday school.
The children are sent back to their tables a group at a time. They are
cautioned repeatedly to go very carefully and to go very quietly so as not
to bump into somebody or to step on somebody. They are instructed to sit
down on their chairs at the tables. The teachers stay at the tables while
the children are being called for by their parents. The people who come for
the children stand outside the door of the room giving the name of the child
for whom they are calling. This is a time when a public address system is
most helpful. A secretary at the door calls out the name of a child. A
teacher at the table recognizes the name of that child and sees to it that
the child goes to the door to meet his parents or whoever is calling for
him. No child is ever allowed to leave the room alone. Either the parents or
another adult relative must call for the child. In the case of a child who
has come to Sunday school on a church bus, the bus captain must come for
him. Of course, bus children do not leave until the church service is over
so they stay for the Story Hour taught in the same room during the church
services. The Sunday school teachers stay with their classes until the Story
Hour workers come in to take their places.
What Do We Do During Special Promotional Times?
For ten to twelve weeks each spring and fall our Sunday school puts on a special effort to reach new people. We work to grow during these periods so that more homes and more lives might be reached with the Gospel. Each department is instructed by the pastor to lay down special plans for this promotional time and then to present these plans to him.
The program is geared to the understanding, interests, and needs of the boys and girls. For instance, we might choose a theme of Christian traffic laws. To encourage the boys and girls to bring their friends to Sunday school, each Sunday they bring somebody they can come to the front of the room and put on a policeman hat. The child who has brought the most boys and girls that Sunday is taken out into the hall or to another room and dressed in a policeman outfit. He is especially honored because he brought the most visitors that Sunday. Then these children who have brought visitors to Sunday school stand in front of the room with their policeman hats and the policeman uniform on the one child. They shake their fingers at all of the children in the room, and they say all together, “We must do right.”
This simple time of recognition is loved by the children, and they work hard to wear the policeman hat or to wear the entire policeman costume. We sing songs appropriate to this theme. One Sunday a man who is a Christian policeman and a member of our church comes into our department in his policeman’s uniform--including the gun. The superintendent interviews this Christian policeman. The children learn that the policeman is their friend and that he is there to help them to obey the laws as well as to help them if they are lost, etc. The policeman explains to the children that the gun is not to be used by anybody but him and that he doesn’t want to use it unless he really has to. In explaining the gun, he doesn’t lift it from his holster. He explains to the children each part of his uniform--the badge, the cap, etc. Then he tells the boys and girls his Christian testimony. He tells that he trusts Jesus and wants to please Him in everything that he is doing.
Another Sunday a Christian magician comes in and does some tricks that have an object lesson about Christian living or about salvation.
We might have a special party time one Sunday when we have ice cream, or we might have cupcakes one Sunday. Before we eat we bow our heads, of course, and thank Jesus for the refreshments. This is teaching the children to pray before they eat at home.
From companies that sell inexpensive notions we order toys and gifts that the children can take home with them. We are allowed a maximum amount of money to spend through the Sunday school funds, and we are to budget our expenditures for our special spring or fall program within this allowance.
One Sunday everyone gets a policeman’s badge to wear and take home. Another Sunday each child receives and wears a mouse pin that reminds him of Mr. Church Mouse. Another Sunday he will receive an inexpensive New Testament to take home with him. Whatever gifts the children take home from the preschool departments, there is some sort of appropriate meaning in connection with the theme for that time of the year. All children receive that gift and all children receive the same gift on the particular Sunday.
Another special promotional theme could be Christian soldiers. Plastic soldiers that look like English guards can be purchased and put on the wall in the front of the room. If a child brings a visitor to Sunday school, he is permitted to march in the Christian soldiers’ parade. He is allowed to choose a rhythm instrument to play. These children march around the room playing their instruments while the pianist plays “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Just to give special honor, or special recognition, or a special activity to the child that brings someone to Sunday school at this age is enough, and is better with this age child than giving him a gift for bringing visitors to Sunday school. The child understands that the visitors that he brings must be those who come into his department with him, so the superintendent and teachers can see that these visitors have actually come. Here again the teachers help the superintendent to know which children have actually brought visitors with them and be sure that the children who deserve recognition get it.
Of course, we seek to reach attendance goals
during these special promotional times. Each number that the department
turns in represents a pupil who has attended for that day. This pupil
represents a home and represents people who need Jesus or people who need a
Do We Teach Special Scripture Passages in the Beginner Department?
Yes, we do. The sooner a child starts to memorize Scriptures and Scripture passages, the more he will know the Bible when he reaches adulthood. The twenty-third Psalm can be taught to beginners. It is taught over a period of perhaps six months. It is taught a phrase at a time, using stories to illustrate each phrase. It is taught using motions. The children start by standing straight with their hands at their sides saying, “Psalms 23. (Pointing upward they say), The Lord (pointing to themselves they say) is my shepherd: (With their hands back down at their sides they say shaking their heads), I shall not want. (Putting their hands together and leaning their faces on their hands they say), He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. (Straightening up and reaching up with a hand as if they were putting it into someone else’s hand), He leadeth me beside the still waters. (Clapping their hands rapidly they say), He restoreth my soul. (Reaching out their hand as if they are clasping another’s hand again and say), He leadeth me in the (and then with their two hands held parallel they gesture straight out in front of them), paths of righteousness... (and pointing upward they say), for His name’s sake. (Then bowing their heads and covering their heads with their arms they say), Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death... (And straightening up with their arms back down at their sides and smiles on their faces they say), I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. (And then as if clasping a rod in one hand they say), thy rod (as if they were clasping a staff in the other hand), and thy staff they comfort me. (As if they were straightening a tablecloth on a table, they say), Thou preparest a table before me... (they are clasping their hands together in front of them)...in the presence of mine enemies:...(as if they were pouring a bottle of oil over their heads they say),...thou anointest my head with oil; (moving their hands in circular motion over and over each other they say), my cup runneth over. (Holding up the index finger with one hand they say), and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: (They clasp their hands together in front of them and then stoop as if they are sitting down while they say), and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
Before and during the Easter season we learn Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, and John 3:16 over a period of a few Sundays. On Easter Sunday we send home with the children a little Easter basket that the teachers have made out of construction paper. In the basket is a handful of Easter basket grass. Nestled in the grass are some jelly beans and a chocolate cross. We talk with the children about the significance of the colors of the jelly beans, using the “Wordless Book Chorus” colors.
We also teach at least the first three verses of Psalm 100 in the Beginner Department. While the passages are being taught conduct stories are told to illustrate the meaning of them. Children who know what we have learned thus far are permitted to come to the front of the room and to say it to the other children or to lead the other children as they all say it.
A promotional letter into the home includes the fact to the parents that we are memorizing a certain Scripture passage. Some parents will thus set aside time to help the child in the home in the memorization of these passages. As with the Bible story the children understand from where these passages come. They are coming from God’s Word--the Bible.
Special effort and attention are given to
explain the spiritual significance of the important holidays of our year. We
want the children to understand especially the meaning of Thanksgiving,
Christmas, and Easter. At times like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July we
want them to learn a special pride in our country. For Mother’s Day and
Father’s Day it is good to teach the children that they should obey Mother
and Daddy and that they should show their love for them. Many times we make
special gifts for them to take home to Mother and Daddy on Mother’s and
What Kind of Parties Can We Have for Our Department?
Children love parties! Preschool children love them just as much as school-age children. At Halloween time everybody is having a party, but we do not have Halloween parties for preschool children. The masks and the costumes destroy so much of the identity of the children for each other that it is frightening to them. The entire party time would no doubt be spent drying tears and trying to comfort the children if they had on masks and costumes before they are old enough to fully appreciate the Halloween party. So while everyone else in the Sunday school is having a Halloween party, we have a circus party. As the children come to the Beginner Department they hear circus music playing on a phonograph. They are greeted at the door by a teacher who hands them a bag of popcorn. They sit down in a chair, eat their popcorn, listen to the music, and look around at the special circus decorations while they are waiting for everybody to come and for the party to begin. There is a clown present who does some tricks for the boys and girls and makes them laugh. Then there is an animal trainer who comes. The animal trainer is a teacher who has made some cages from some boxes. She has cut slits in the boxes to make them look like bars and has painted the boxes brown. These are the cages for the stuffed animals that the teachers have contributed for the use of the animal trainer for that day. The animal trainer takes the stuffed animals one at a time and pretends to do tricks with them. The children clap and have a big time. The party includes time for a story--a story with a special Christian emphasis. Perhaps the story is about the boys and girls inviting somebody else to come to Sunday school the next day with them. Then there are refreshments around the table. The children are led (a few at a time) to the tables so that they do not bump each other around the tables. The table has been set by some teachers who have not been busy with other responsibilities during the party. Big animal cookies that are frosted and a simple punch drink are served. This light refreshment is thoroughly enjoyed by the children by now for they are thirsty, but not very hungry.
Now it is almost time for the party to end. It lasted for one and one-half hours. It is time for the people to start coming for their children. They will come one at a time, however, so we need to do something to keep the children busy while others are being called for at the door. We begin to play simple games. When the children are called for at the door, they just leave the game and go home. The others continue playing until their is called also. We play “Follow the Leader” and do things to imitate different animals. We play “Ring Around the Rosy” or “Farmer in the Dell.” We try not to make the party too strict, nor too complicated, for we like the children to laugh and have a thoroughly good time at our party. We want them to see that the teachers and superintendent can laugh and have some fun with the children.
We have a Christmas party. As the children arrive at the Christmas party they are each given an ornament to hang on the Christmas tree. Of course, they are given very careful guidance by one of the teachers as they hang their ornaments on the tree. Some Christmas carols are playing on the phonograph for the Christmas party. The children sit down and they start to sing with the person who is leading the singing of Christmas songs which they can sing. While the children sit in a circle, one of the teachers reads a special Christmas story to the boys and girls. After simple refreshments the children play games again such as “Toy Shop,” and as they leave they receive a peppermint cane to take home.
Throughout the year individual classes have
parties also. In the summertime the teachers take their classes to the park
where they just swing, serve some refreshments, and take them home. Some
teachers take their classes to the zoo. These kinds of parties are best
conducted on the individual class basis, or two classes join together so
that two teachers can handle the group--asking for help from mothers and
Do We Do Any Handwork During Sunday School Time?
No, there is not time to do any handwork in that period. The handwork is saved for the Story Hour after Sunday school is ended. The children who do not stay for Story Hour receive the unfinished handwork at the door so that they might take it home where someone can help them work on it.
Why Do We Work So Hard on the Planning and Conducting of Our Preschool Sunday School Departments?
It is because it is the Lord’s business and we are answerable to Him to do the very best job we can do in order to influence the entire lives of boys and girls for Christ. We want the children to like Sunday school so that they will continue to come to learn the Word of God and to learn to trust Jesus some day as their personal Saviour.
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