7th in a Series on Engaging Children and Motivating Them to Learn
Effective use of review games reinforces students’ learning. Marrena suggests tailoring games to employ the students’ various learning styles. But what about their other needs? Read on!
Being sensitive and flexible, teachers should plan activities that fit their students’ unique needs. Consider that some weeks are simply harder than others for children and that some ages learn better hands-on, while others learn better studying on their own. Be sensitive and pay attention to the needs of your children.
- Learn the children’s interest level and attention span. Then you will know when to change an activity. Is the lesson or game beginning to drag? Change what you are doing! Can you teach a 30-minute lesson to preschoolers? No! You will lose them in five to ten minutes, so break down your 30-minute lesson into smaller bites. For example, throw in a group memory technique after your lesson introduction; then return to your lesson and teach a main point or two. After five to ten minutes, change again and do a song or craft. Then return to your lesson for the application points. Breaking your lesson into bite-size chunks fits the needs of preschoolers.
Create a schedule, take notes, and then adjust your schedule as you learn your students’ attention span. For example, an ideal schedule for a Kids4Truth Clubs for elementary children may look like this:
|Opening activities||Songs, announcements, and prayer||5–10 minutes|
|Main teaching lesson||15–20 minutes|
|Small group time||Reviewing student books and reciting memory work||20–30 minutes|
|Activity time||Review game;
singing, missionary story, etc.
|Award presentation||Recognizing children who have worked hard and earned awards||5 minutes|
- Choose age-appropriate activities. Younger children will not be interested in a page with a bunch of questions to answer, as they cannot write or spell, so they will not know what to do with it. However, crafts and coloring sheets designed for preschoolers or young elementary children will grab their attention, help them to visualize what you are teaching, get them doing something hands-on, and provide a somewhat quiet activity for a few minutes.
At the same time, older children will not be impressed with a preschooler-style coloring page or craft. They do, however, love active, team-style review games. Allow them to cheer their teams on. Encourage everyone to participate and enjoy the game. This can be done by giving teams names, having a team leader, creating a month-long (or longer) ongoing competition (e.g., “Which team will win this week?” “How many points will your team earn this week?”).
- Know what is going on in the children’s lives. It is important to remember that everyone’s life is busy. Knowing what is going on in your students’ lives will help you not only to plan your schedule and activities, but also to encourage and motivate your children. Be aware of holidays, school breaks, school programs or competitions, ball games, and recitals. Make a point to attend some of these events to show you are interested in your students as people.
Knowing when activities are going on in children’s lives also helps you customize your schedule and activities to meet their needs. If you know that the children had a party in school today, limit the length of your main lesson and add a review game (or game time) that will burn off excess energy. At the same time, if you know that the children are on a spring break, at a school program, or at a ball game, you will not be disappointed if attendance is down.
- Add special activities, events, or dress-up nights. These special times keep the program from becoming routine and boring for both children and workers. Dress-up nights are one of my favorite parts of Kids4Truth Clubs. I like to have them in the spring, when the school year is winding down, ball games are picking up, and families are worn out. Dress-up nights provide something new and fun for the children and encourage them to attend. Kids love to dress up, so this is always a winner. Popular dress-up themes include crazy hair night, clash night, backward night, crazy tourist night, and missionary night.
Events can be as simple or as detailed as you like and should always include the entire group. We do not recommend special nights as an award for those who obtained certain levels.
Another option is to add refreshment nights throughout the year. Refreshments could include snow cones, cookies, hot cocoa, pizza, or hot dogs. I often schedule refreshments at the end of the evening so the time can turn into an afterglow and include anyone in the church. This allows us to reach out to younger children, making them excited to join the program in the future, to build relationships with parents and children, and to talk with parents regarding their children’s needs.
Activities such as a Fall Fun Fest, Spring Fling, Hot Diggity Dog Sunday (complete with “carnival” style games), End of Summer Bash, Children’s Christmas Program and Party, and so forth, will give you an opportunity outside your club times to interact with both children and their parents. At the same time, such events bring in visitors from the community who may join your children’s ministry, causing it to grow.
- Be aware of unique needs. No two children are the same, and although many learn the same, some have challenges that call for sensitivity and flexibility. Let’s look at a few children who may be in your class.
The challenged child may need you to be flexible and willing to adjust memory work or rewards to encourage and motivate him. Remember, this child is not being lazy. He has specific needs that should be addressed. Take the time to find out from the parents how their child learns best, what the child’s issues are, and what can trigger a meltdown.
Never mention or call out a child’s issues publicly. Never belittle a child or a parent (to them or to others). When speaking to a worker about a child’s needs, always remain positive in your approach and never speak disparagingly about that child. You will only hurt yourself and the church if you do. Remember, the parent (or child) has valid needs and concerns. You are not living their lives and have no right to judge them.
The unchurched child gives you and your ministry a great opportunity. Remember, however, that this child will need extra assistance and support. Many times, unchurched kids need help in learning how to sit still and listen in church because they have never been taught. They will also need help to memorize the work, as they probably have no help or encouragement at home. They most likely will not know where the books of the Bible are found, so they will need assistance looking up Scripture so they can answer questions in their workbooks. They may need help understanding what is being taught. Spend time to answer their questions and explain terms or concepts when needed.
Do not be afraid to simplify the way unchurched children earn awards, or to add a point system for additional encouragement. Remember, they are not used to Biblical language or memorization, and they have little or no encouragement at home.
As you can, take the time to build bridges of communication with unchurched children. Help them to build trust in you and your workers so that when they understand the gospel, they are willing to go to one of you.
The advanced child should not be overlooked. Be sure to work with precocious children so they work to their potential and don’t slack off or become lazy. This may mean they receive fewer “helps” or are required to be closer to “word perfect” when they recite their memory work. That is okay; it is not unfair to expect them to do more. Remember, “for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). Adjust rewards to challenge and motivate these students. If they complete a section early, allow them to help another child. Many times, a struggling child will learn faster from another child than from an adult, while the advanced child will learn the work more deeply while teaching it to someone else.
- Help older children feel valued in the class. You can motivate and engage older children by using the following ideas:
Give them age-appropriate curriculum. Do not expect them to do the same workbook and memory work as a younger child. When older children use the same materials as younger children, they feel they are doing “baby” work. In an older child’s mind, even doing the same work as a child two grades below him is doing babies’ work.
While some leaders may think it is easier to use the same curriculum for all children, there are curriculums available, such as Kids4Truth Clubs materials, that allow all the children to be taught the same concept. However, the children’s workbook activities and memory work are according to their abilities and potential; the materials are not one size fits most. This allows each child to work up to his potential and, at the same time, keeps him from feeling as though he is doing babies’ work.
Create a special role for the highest grade in the class. For example, if your class has first through sixth graders in it, the role of helper, or junior worker, is reserved for sixth graders only. Even if one week no sixth graders are there, the fifth graders are never allowed to have the special role. Do not let younger children do the junior workers’ tasks. These duties are reserved only for them or adult workers. No exceptions! Otherwise, you break the reward of waiting until they are “in the right grade.” This must be a hard-set rule.
The following are tasks for junior workers.
- Write review game questions. Give junior workers a sheet of paper and a pencil for taking notes during the lesson. Based on their notes, they can write review questions for the game.
- Set up for game time. Either before club or right before game time, junior workers help set up for the game.
- Keep score. Allow them to keep score at the front of the room during the game time.
- Distribute things. Have them pass out fliers, handouts, etc.
- Give suggestions and ideas. Get their ideas for decorating, special snacks or rewards, review and other games, and dress-up nights.
How do you help challenged or unchurched kids to memorize Scripture, questions, and answers? Marrena shares suggestions in “Use Effective Memory Techniques,” next week’s article in the Engaging Children and Motivating Them to Learn series.