When Children Can be Children
Like many grade schools, high schools, and colleges, Sunday schools have adapted to significant changes due to COVID–19 restrictions. They have fewer meetings and far shorter time periods than do other schools, and some have gone virtual or have been canceled.
“We wanted to avoid going full virtual in our programs because children are already involved in so much virtually, such as for school and extracurriculars,” says Jennifer Pizzirusso, ministry assistant at the Salvation Army’s Bedford Temple in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Screen time seems to be the majority of their time nowadays.”
Even before the pandemic, they had seen their Sunday school numbers decline.
The smaller numbers of students on Sunday, combined with ample space at the church, made social distancing and mask wearing easier to manage.
In November 2020, the leaders started a program called “JAM” (Jesus and Me) on Thursdays. They used lessons, games, and songs that would normally be reserved for Sunday. Children from the afterschool program made time for homework and studying and JAM.
“We see firsthand how children are craving social interaction,” says Pizzirusso. “We are glad to be able to safely provide that for them, even for one afternoon a week.” Sunday lessons come with questions from students that are relevant to a COVID–19 world. The pandemic is on their minds as they relate their lessons to today’s circumstances.
“Our students know that the building where they attend Sunday school is home to a food pantry and a soup kitchen. The same leaders who teach them are also helping their neighbors during this pandemic,” says Pizzirusso. “They know what we do, and what we all ask of each other.”
Pizzirusso says that teaching Sunday school during a pandemic has made her realize how much children need to be in each other’s presence, and to see an adult there who can guide and teach them.
“We have a child in our Sunday school who tells us Sunday school is the only time he’s allowed to leave the house,” says Pizzirusso. “If it was up to some people in our church, we’d do everything on a screen, and wouldn’t meet at all,” says Pizzirusso. “Pandemic or not, our world is getting more and more digital, and there are benefits to that. But children need interaction, and they need us to provide a safe space where they can be kids.”
Tips for a successful Sunday school class
Study your Bible. The centerpiece of your lesson will always be the Word of God. Before each class, spend time reading passages and researching ideas and lessons. Pray that God will guide you as a teacher.
Make your class interactive. When Jesus shared Truth, He used miracles. For instance, He fed a crowd of 5,000 with just a few fish and loaves of bread. He turned water into wine for wedding guests. Use your imagination to create a teaching opportunity out of something a child can hold in his or her hand. Use a mirror to show how we are all created in God’s image. Inflate a balloon to show how His love can grow inside us. Have children write their own unique prayer to carry with them.
There is power in stories. Stories are how children learn and listen. They’re also the reason why Jesus taught in parables. He knew that a good story could visualize a lesson in the minds of others. After reviewing a Bible lesson, tell a story that shares how you’ve experienced that lesson in your own life. Let the students tell their stories that are related to the lesson.
Share the responsibilities. If the students feel that they are an integral part of the class, they will be more engaged. Make responsibilities a part of the Sunday school experience. Allow your students to help you collect papers, keep the classroom tidy, or take
Keep parents informed. Make sure that the contact information on your students’ parents is current and keep them updated. Let them know in advance if any special materials are needed for an upcoming class. Ask parents to sign their children’s Sunday school homework or schoolwork. This may encourage more conversation between students and parents at home.
by Hugo Bravo