Manual for Sunday school teachers
This manual is based on public domain material from the Mass. Bay RE Team 1994-2003. All other text, except where noted, is Copyright (c) 2015 Dan Harper.
Section 1: Goals and Visions
1-A. Mission Statement
1-B. Four Big Learning Goals
1-C. Volunteer job description: Sunday school teacher
1-D. Teacher responsibilities, lead teacher and assisting teacher
Section 2: How to teach a Sunday school session
2-A. Setting the stage
2-B. Beginning: How to lead the opening circle
2-C. Middle: How to use your curriculum book
2-D. Ending: Closing circles
2-E. Back-up activities
Section 3: About teaching and learning
3-A. Stages of development
3-B. Learning styles and multiple intelligences
3-C. How to use games, songs, movement, and more
Section 4: Procedures and policies
4-A. Substitutes — taking care of yourself — spiritual growth as a teacher
4-B. Supplies and equipment
4-C. Behavior and discipline
4-D. About our child and youth protection policy
4-E. About our emergency and health procedures
4-F. Communicating with the Assoc. Minister of RE
Why we do what we’re doing!
Sunday school teachers should be guided in everything they do by the mission statement of their congregation. The mission statement for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto is:
Transforming ourselves, each other, and the world.
After the mission statement, Sunday school teachers should be guided by four big learning goals:
(1) We want children to have fun and feel they are part of a community.
— How to achieve this goal: Opening and closing circles in Sunday school; allowing time for fun and games; overnights; etc.
— One way to measure this: Track attendance as a percentage of enrolment. 50% attendance is average; 70% attendance is excellent.
(2) We want children to gain the basic religious literacy expected in our society.
— How to achieve this goal: Work from the curriculum books, or plan lessons based on the master list of topics for religious literacy.
— Possible ways to assess this: Children present evidence of what they’ve learned either during a Children’s Sunday worship service, on bulletin board displays, etc.
(3) We want children to learn the skills associated with liberal religion, things such as public speaking, singing, basic leadership skills, interpersonal skills, etc.
— How to achieve this goal: This goal may be incorporated into regular Sunday school curriculum. It can also be addressed in other activities such as a Children’s Choir, attending the first 15 minutes of worship, etc.
— Possible ways to assess this: Children demonstrate their competence in class, in a worship service, by making presentations at meetings, etc.
(4) We aim to prepare children to become Unitarian Universalist adults, should they choose to become Unitarian Universalists when they are old enough to make their own decisions. To this end, we help children to become sensitive, moral, and joyful people, people who have intellectual integrity and spiritual insight.
— How to achieve this goal: Young people learn about this best by living their religion and by spending time with appropriate adult role models.
— We typically assess this when children go through the Coming of Age program.
Goals of this volunteer job:
• The overall goal of our Sunday school is to help children meet our four big educational goals: have fun and build community, gain religious literacy, learn basic religious skills, and prepare children to become UU adults should they choose to do so.
• To grow spiritually and religiously yourself, to deepen your own Unitarian Universalist faith.
• Working in a team, serving as a Sunday school teacher on Sunday morning 1 out of 2 weeks (i.e., about 15 times), for an average of 2.5 hours a week when you are lead teacher, one hour a week when you assist (i.e., total of about 30 hours over one year). Scheduling to be arranged directly with your teaching team.
• Teachers are asked to commit to serving for at least one church year (September through March).
Statement of Accountability:
Sunday school teachers report to the Associate Minister of Religious Education, and are also supported by the Children and Youth Religious Education Committee, the Board member whose portfolio includes youth ministry, and adults who provide logistics support.
• Sunday school teachers help children feel a part of the UUCPA community.
• Teachers meet educational goals through using appropriate curriculum resources.
• Teachers concern themselves with issues of safety and logistics. Safety includes emotional and physical safety, and teachers must attend an annual safety training session.
• Teachers pursue their own personal spiritual growth by attending worship services when possible.
• Have fun!
Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities:
• Willingness and ability to do ministry with children.
• Willingness and ability to grow and develop as a Sunday school teacher.
• Teachers should take advantage of in-service trainings when offered, and/or engage in self study of teaching in a religious education setting.
Benefits and opportunities:
• Opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of children.
• Expenses for workshops and trainings paid upon prior arrangement with the Assistant Minister of Religious Education.
• Direct access to Assistant Minister of Religious Education for support.
Volunteers who work with legal minors must receive annual safety training, and must agree to and sign the Code of Ethics. UUCPA requires background checks of volunteers who work with legal minors.
The job description above gives a general idea of what your responsibilities are. Below are more specific listings of your responsibilities, along with a suggested schedule you can follow that will make it easier and more pleasant to be a Sunday school teacher. You’ll see that there are two listings of responsibilities. When you are a lead teacher, you are in charge of preparing a plan for the session. When you are assisting a lead teacher, you do no preparation.
1. When you are the lead teacher
The preceding Sunday…
a. If possible, check in with this week’s leader or teacher to see what your group did (to make sure you don’t do the same thing over again)
b. If you are using a printed curriculum, read the lesson plan for next week. Begin thinking which of the activities you will actually have time to use next Sunday. If you are creating your own lesson plan, write an outline of what you’ll do.
c. Begin gathering any books or other materials you will need next Sunday.
During the week…
a. Review your revised lesson plan, and put it into its final form
b. Make sure you have back-up plans ready to go
c. If you have any problems, send email to Minister of Religious Education by Thursday afternoon or (if you wait until the last minute) call and leave a message on the Minister of Religious Education’s office phone.
The day you teach…
a. Arrive at least 15 minutes early to organize room and materials; pick up the notebook for your group, check in with your assisting teacher, have some coffee or tea.
b. Attend the first fifteen minutes of the worship service.
d. Before the end of the lesson, be sure the children have helped you clean up (remember, they need to learn to take responsibility for their space.)
2. When you are assisting a lead teacher
The preceding Sunday…
a. Check in with the lead teacher.
The day you assist…
a. Arrive at least 15 minutes early to help the lead teacher set up.
b. Attend the first fifteen minutes of the worship service.
d. Before the end of the lesson, be sure the children have helped you and the lead teacher clean up.
The 2014-2016 week-by-week, lesson-by-lesson curriculum plan is available online
You should refer to this curriculum plan as they plan your classes — it will suggest a lesson for each week in the year. Ideally, you or someone will enter these lesson on your team teaching calendar. A blank Team Teaching Calendar is available online here.
Yes, you may diverge from this curriculum plan to accommodate the interests of their class. However, if you choose a different lesson, or if you create your own lesson, make sure that you don’t cover material that has already been covered, or will be covered this year or next.
If you want to plan your own lesson, or if you want to learn more about how a lesson is structured, here’s a blank session plan form for you to use as you’re planning your session. And the following information will help you better understand how to plan your lesson, even if you use lessons straight out of your curriculum book.
Every Sunday, everyone goes into the Main Hall for the first fifteen minutes of the worship service. Church school participants usually leave during the last verse of the first hymn. Then the children all go to their assigned rooms, and every group starts with an opening circle (more about opening circles in a moment).
But what do you do in those two to five minutes as some of the children tear into your room, and others drift in slowly talking to their friends? Those first two to five minutes can set the stage for a wonderful, cooperative session that’s enjoyable for teacher and children alike. It is important to engage the attention of the children at the very beginning of a session. Here are ten ways for you to “set the stage” for a dramatic opening to your session:
1. Greet each child as she or he arrives… “Welcome! I’m glad you’re here!”
2. Enlist the help of the early arrivals in getting ready for the others.
3. Have “straggle-in” activities ready to engage interest and energy… Something to do!
4. Have a new picture on the wall, or an interesting object… Something to see!
5. Play a recording of music or speech… Something to hear!
6. Begin with a startling statement or question: ” How do you think that…” or “What if I told you that…” Something to wonder about!
7. Begin with a mystery or a puzzle…. Something to figure out!
8. Have things to pick up and handle: a chalice, a menorah, a prayer rug… Something to touch!
9. Begin with a game that gives everyone a chance to meet everyone else… Something to play!
10. Start with a song… Something to sing!
(adapted from material by Ann Fields)
All this is to set the stage. But also remember that children are ritualists. Where and how will that need be met? Keep reading for one way to create comforting ritual with your group….
We feel that every class should begin with and opening circle, typically involving some kind of sharing or check-in. Here are four reasons to use the opening sharing circle as an important addition to your teaching toolbox:
1. An opening circle helps provide a regular age-appropriate worship experience for children. A sharing circle is like the sharing of joys and concerns in the adult service, and if you include a short reading, it will feel even more like a worship experience. Children like the sense of stability in having the same thing happen each week. Even though teachers change week by week, even if a child misses a few weeks, he or she will know at least one thing will remain the same.
2. Everyone has an equal chance to be heard in sharing circles. Statistics show that even in the most enlightened classrooms, girls are not given as much time to be heard as are boys. Giving everyone an equal chance to be heard also improves group dynamics by helping children learn to affirm the personal concerns of each other.
3. Sharing circles calm children down after their mad dash to get to the classroom. Calm children tend to be better-behaved children. In addition, important personal concerns brought up in the sharing circle can help group leaders understand weekly changes in behavior. Begin every class with a sharing circle and you will have fewer behavior problems!
4. Sharing circles help meet one of our big learning goals, to make children feel they are a part of a community.
How to lead a sharing circle
Have a the children sit in a circle, on the floor, or in chairs depending on their ages and on the room you are in. In the middle of the circle, place an unlit candle or an unlit flaming chalice. (It helps the children settle in if the carpet squares or the chairs and the candle are in place when they arrive in your room.)
Important: Before doing anything else, take attendance!!!
After you have taken attendance, invite the children and all adults to sit and participate in the opening circle. (To help build a truly intergenerational community, adults participate in the sharing circle with the children.)
Light a candle or flaming chalice. Most Sunday school classes use the following words (adapted from words by Rev. Ginger Luke), and hand motions:
We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian
[hold up one hand with thumb and forefinger in a “U” shape]
[hold up the other hand with thumb and forefinger in a “U” shape]
the church of the open mind,
[put hands to forehead and open them as if opening a double door]
[hold out hands, palms up, in front of you]
and loving hearts.
[put hands over heart]
As group leader, you next state the rules for the sharing circle. You can say something like this:
“In just a moment, we will go around the circle, and each person will get a turn to speak. When it is your turn, begin by saying your name. Then you may tell us one good thing and one bad thing that has happened to you in the past week. You may also choose to pass, which means you only say your name. Only one person speak at a time, please.”
At the beginning of the Sunday school year, often you or one of the other adults will share first so you can set the tone. Know in advance what you will say, so you can set the tone for everyone else. When one person is talking, you should make sure no one else talks (including yourself).
Note that some classes have their own specific variations on the sharing circle. Ask the other teachers on your teaching team if there is a specific ritual that they have used in past years. Some examples:
• The Red Class (preschoolers) have used a picture of a smiley face and a frown-y face. Children point to the smiley face and say a good thing that has happened to them, and/or to the frown-y face and say a sad or bad thing that has happened to them.
• The Purple class (middle schoolers) have used three jars of water, one with a smiley face, one with a frowning face, and one that says “I wonder.” The middle schoolers each get three marbles, and they drop a marble into each jar while they tell about a good thing, a bad thing, and then finally something they wonder about.
Your curriculum book contains lesson plans that can be useful, but you have to use them well. Here are four tips for using the lesson plans in your curriculum book:
(i) Many curriculum books provide an opening activity. You may skip over the curriculum book’s suggestion for an opening, and use the standard opening sharing circle as described above, to provide consistency throughout the year, and from year to year.
(ii) Most curriculum books have lesson plans designed to fill 60-90 minutes. At UUCPA, we have 45 minutes for lessons. Therefore, don’t try to fit in all the activities — for any given lesson plan, you should pick out the activities that you think will work best with your group.
(iii) When you’re picking out activities from a lesson plan, here’s how to prioritize: If there’s a story included in the lesson plan, read or tell the story, then add one or more activities that reinforce the story. (If there’s no story, then figure out what the key activity is, do that, then add activities to reinforce the key activity.)
(iv) As you plan which activities to use, keep in mind a basic class schedule, something like this:
• 9:30-9:45: Everyone attends the first part of the worship service.
• 9:45-9:55: Take attendance, do an opening sharing circle.
• 9:55-10:20: Do activities from the curriculum book:
Introduce the topic.
Tell the story, or do the main activity.
Do one or more reinforcing activities.
(N.B.: When you plan activities for the day, a useful rule of thumb is that the attention span of the group in minutes equals the age of the youngest member of the group. Thus, if you have eight-year-olds, plan at least three eight-minute-long activities.)
• 10:20-10:30: Clean up and play games: If there’s clean up to be done, the children should help out. If there’s time, you can all play games together in your classroom — plenty of ideas for games here. Snack: Hong, our RE Assistant, will provide a simple snack (pretzels, water) if you request it.
• 10:30-10:35: Closing circle. If parents are present to pick up their children, invite them into the closing circle.
While you should plan your lessons carefully, don’t worry too much if you diverge from your plans. A Director of Religious Education from the First Unitarian Society, Columbus, Ohio wrote: “The most important thing that happens in our religious education program is the interaction of adults and children. If you don’t get to the planned lesson because the children were very involved in discussing something important to them, great! Our children are more important than our curriculum.”
Why a closing circle?
In terms of group dynamics, a group needs to come together as a group one last time before they go off to whatever they are going to do next. Children, and adults, like to have a formal closing.
In terms of educational strategy, a closing circle gives you and the children an opportunity take another look at what you have learned together. A closing circle is your chance to ask the children to tell you what they learned — this gives you immediate feedback on how well they absorbed the lesson.
In terms of religious community, a closing circle allows you and the children to say together the same unison benediction that is used each week in the adult service, which helps tie all ages together in one religious community.
How to lead a closing circle:
Everyone stands in a circle. You, as the teacher, then ask each child to share something they learned or did. For example:
• You can ask each child to show something that he or she has made in class that morning, e.g., hold up a picture they drew and tell the group what they drew. — OR —
• You can do a simple review session, asking easy questions of the whole group, and repeating back to them the correct answers, e.g.: “What did we learn today, anyone remember? Who was the person we learned about? John Murray, right! And what did he do? Got stuck on a sandbar, right!”
After leading the closing circle, help the whole group say together some closing words. At UUCPA, we use the unison benediction that is said every week in the adult services:
Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.
Sometimes even the most experienced teachers find that the session they had planned just doesn’t work out. No one knows why this happens — maybe it’s something in the water supply, or Mars is retrograde, or all the children had two servings of sugary cereal for breakfast — whatever the cause, even the best teachers find have session plans that don’t work out. But the best teachers always have a back-up activity ready to go in case the main session fails. Here are some suggestions for back-up activities:
- Active games are always a good bet. (Think of playing active games as a way to build community.) “Duck, Duck, Goose” is great for just about any age, and can go on for an hour or more. You can find lots of games on the Games section of this Web site.
- If you or a co-teacher is musical, singing usually works.
- Reading aloud usually works.
- Over time, you usually discover that there is some activity that always works with a certain group of children. I remember a third grade class that loved to draw, and you could always get them to settle down by bringing out paper and crayons. Another group of fifth and sixth graders really liked to do guided meditations, so I always had a guided meditation ready to go. Another class loved to build with Lego brand blocks. If you can find what it is that they love to do, back-up activities are easy to plan.
Scroll down for a chart summarizing some ways to think about developmental stages in Sunday school.
What are developmental stages? Anyone who has spent time with children knows that they change as they grow older. Developmental stage theory says that certain developmental changes take place at somewhat the same age, on average.
Jean Piaget did the groundbreaking work in developmental psychology. Piaget said we could predict with a fair degree of accuracy when most children would gain certain cognitive abilities. Since cognitive ability is only one of the areas we work on in church school Piaget is of limited use to us, but is widely used in weekday schools.
There are a number of models for psychosocial development. While models by Erik Erikson and Robert Kegan have proved to be useful in church school settings, no model of psychosocial development has sufficient experimental proof to be considered a well-established theory, and substantial debate continues in this area.
There is one model of so-called “faith development.” While it is used by some religious educators, including the UUA’s Department of Lifespan Faith Development (formerly the Religious Education Department), I’m not convinced by the evidence accumulated so far. James Fowler is the originator, and best-known proponent, of faith development.
Religious education scholars like Gabriel Moran and Robert Pazmino have been critical of any developmental theory as applied to religious education. Pazmino and Moran argue that anyone, of any age, can have direct experiences of God (or, as we might say, of the transcendent mystery of the universe). Moran has also argued that the very concept of development leads to the uncomfortable sense that children aren’t fully “developed,” and therefore may not be fully human.
In another criticism, a number of scholars have argued that any developmental theory should be able to accurately predict developmental changes. Yet since all developmental theories are really designed for large, statistically valid, groups of individuals, it is not clear whether developmental theories can be usefully applied to individuals.
In spite of the criticisms, developmental theory can be a useful tool for Sunday school teachers. It can be useful to have a general idea of what to expect from different age groups. And developmental theory can help us to understand which types of activities work best with which age groups.
|Social skills||Cognitive abilities important in regular schools||Skills and abilities important in UU congregations||Religious experiences||Good choices for Sunday school activities|
|Babies||Focused on self and parents||Begin to talk||Love and joy||Security, love||Loving care|
|Young children (age 3-5)|| • Parallel play develops towards real friendships
• Family very important
|•No strong division between reality and fantasy|| • Sing simple songs
•Listen to stories
• Sit in some worship services
• Ask to go to church
| • Lots of questions about “God” and other big religious issues
• Probably have transcendent experiences
• Hear stories
• Lewarn how to be in a group
• Ask questions and be listened to seriously
|Primary (ages 5-7)||• Peer friendships
• Imaginary friends
• Boys and girls strongly separate
• Church and school as institutions begin to be important
|• Beginning of reading and writing||• Know songs and hymns
• Sit in worship services
• Guided meditations
• Memorize things (e.g., congregation’s covenant)
|• Transcendent experiences, including direct experiences of “God” or similar
• Early under-standing of what it means to be part of a religious community
• Hear stories
• Guided meditation
• Simple yoga
• Ask questions and listen to answers
|Elementary (ages 7-11)||• Best friends important
•Self-sufficiency and competence
•Institutions and persons held to standards of fairness and justice
|• Can read and write easy texts
• Can listen to lectures
|• Participate in meetings
• Understand worship services and sermons
• Know facts about religion
• Ask good questions about fairness and justice
• Initiate social action projects
|• Experience religion as institutional
• Experience common worship and other communal experiences as communal
|• Play group-building games
• Hear stories
• Discussions about their questions
• Social action projects
• Learn facts
• Perform plays
|Intermediate (ages 11-14)||• Family and institutions begin to become secondary to shared internal experiences with peers and trusted adults
• Girls and boys begin to mix again
• Sexuality re-emerges as a powerful force
|• “Concrete operational” thinking — understand complex concepts||• Question things that are “givens”
• Understand and act on feminism
• Come to terms with homophobia
• Do social justice
• Open to new ideas and concepts
• Speak in public
• Basic leadership
|• Experience the religious dimensions of friendship
• Experience the religious dimensions of sexuality
• May have profound religious experiences that they want to make sense out of
• Questions and question boxes
• Social education, social service, and even direct action
• Group-building games and initiatives
• Worship services
• Spiritual practices
|High school (ages 14-19)||• Progressive social separation from family of origin
• Progressive integration into peer group and (ideally) wider community
|• Full abstract thinking develops: “formal operational thinking”|| • Serve on committees
• Participate fully in worship
• Hold their congregations to high standards
(Essentially same as adults)
|Same as above, same as adults||•Building community
• Worship and spiritual practicies
• Leadership development
• Classes and discussions
For many years, educators recognize that individuals differ in the ways they find it easiest to learn, and we say that people have different learning styles.
Howard Gardner, a psychologist at the Harvard School of Education, has done research into learning styles over the past two and a half decades. Gardner started out interested in assessment, or testing. Most assessment has been done with paper-and-pencil tests, but Gardner started to question whether paper-and-pencil tests were always effective. For example, if you ran a baseball team and were trying to find the best pitcher for your team, would you give potential pitchers a paper-and-pencil test to find out how good they were — or would you ask them to throw some pitches at your best batters? Similarly, if you were the conductor of a symphony orchestra and you needed a new flutist, would you give a paper-and-pencil test to potential flutists — or would you ask them to play a piece of music for you in an audition?
From asking these questions, Gardner began to grow interested in the different ways people learn. He began to research brain physiology, and he looked at experts in a variety of fields. Gradually, he came to believe that there are at least eight “intelligences” that human beings can have, rather than the one so-called intelligence that is tested by the usual paper-and-pencil intelligence tests. According to Gardner, each of us can have a different mix of strengths among these eight intelligences. He began to talk about “multiple intelligences,” and it is through this term that his theory is best known. His theory has been widely criticized for lack of experimental evidence, yet at the same time his theory has been embraced by practicing educators who find it a useful model to help understand how different people learn in different ways.
The eight intelligences that Gardner believes he has identified are listed in the table on the next page, along with a brief description of each intelligence, an example of an expert who rates high in that intelligence, and some activities that educators can use to reach persons strong in that intelligence.
Howard Gardner’s theory is useful for those of us who are Sunday school teachers. Most Sunday school teachers will be personally strong in two or three of the multiple intelligences. For example, Mark, a Sunday school teacher I worked with some years ago, worked as an architect, and he had particularly strong spatial, linguistic, and interpersonal intelligences. Yet Mark was less strong in musical and bodily/kinesthetic intelligences. Not surprisingly, Mark did lots of art projects in Sunday school, and he also liked discussions and group activities. Multiple intelligence theory helped Mark understand that he tended to neglect musical and bodily/kinesthetic intelligences — yet there were children in his group with very strong bodily/kinesthetic and quite strong musical intelligences. He was then able to plan activities that would play to the strengths of those children. For the bodily/kinesthetic children, he planned building projects that involved manipulation, and he also planned active games that promoted cooperation — thus combining his strengths with the strengths of those children. He felt he was absolutely hopeless at music, so he made a point of inviting another adult to visit his group and sing some songs.
The net result for Mark was very positive. He came to realize that some of the behavior problems he was having were with the children who had strong bodily/kinesthetic and musical intelligences. When he helped them use their strengths in church school, they became much more involved and created fewer behavior problems. Second, he felt he was doing the right thing. We Unitarian Universalists say we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and using multiple intelligence theory can be a way of valuing the peculiar strengths of each child in your church school group.
|Name of intelligence||Brief description of this intelligence||Experts who rate high in this intelligence||Activities to use in UU Sunday schools|
|Linguistic||“sensitivity to spoken and written languages, ability to learn languages, capacity to use language”||Lawyers, speakers, writers, poets||Tell stories, lead discussions, ask questions, give children opportunities to speak (in worship, in front of class)|
|Logical / Mathematical||“capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, investigate issues scientifically”||Mathematicians, logicians, scientists||Use worksheets and puzzles, offer logical presentations of materials, count things, argue|
|Musical||“skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns”||Musicians||Sing songs, listen to music, compose songs and raps, play rhythm games|
|Bodily / kinesthetic||“the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body (like the hands or the mouth) to solve problems or fashion products”||Dancers, athletes, actors, craftspeople — To some extent also: surgeons, mechanics, bench-top scientists||Play active games, use dance and creative motion, act out skits, manipulate or make objects|
|Spatial||“the potential to recognize and manipulate the patterns of space”||Navigators, pilots, sculptors, chess players, graphic artists, architects||Do art projects (e.g., make drawings), explore church buildings, make forts or hiding places, draw maps|
|Interpersonal||“a person’s capacity to understand the intentions, motivations, and desires of other people, and consequently to work effectively with others”||Salespeople, teachers, clinicians, religious leaders, political leaders, actors||Group problem-solving and initiatives, group games, diversity or anti-racism activities, worship services|
|Intrapersonal||“the capacity to understand one’s self, to have an effective working model of oneself”||(Religious leaders?)||Meditation, worship services, silence, personal growth activities|
|Naturalist||capacity in “the recognition and classification of the numerous species — flora and fauna — of his or her environment”||Naturalists, biologists, hunters, anglers, farmers, gardeners, cooks||Plant seeds or bulbs, cook starting with basic ingredients (i.e., not from packaged mixes), watch animals, go outdoors|
Multiple intelligence theory (see above, section 3-B) suggests that teaching must be more than lectures and discussions. Lectures and discussions are great for people with a strong linguistic intelligence, but lectures and discussions may not reach children with, say, strong bodily/kinesthetic or naturalist intelligences.
Since different people have different strengths when it comes to learning, the best church school teachers will plan a variety of activities over time. With that in mind, below is my list of the top five most-neglected teaching methods in Sunday schools today. Try some of these, and see what a difference it can make with children.
• 1. Acting, skits, and plays — When you act out a story or skit, you can reach just about every one of the multiple intelligences. Since we can’t always assume children can read, the church school teacher can narrate the skit or play, or children can memorize simple lines.
• 2. Play cooperative games — See the Games section on this Web site. For books of games, I like The New Games Book and its sequel, More New Games — it is out of print, but available in many libraries and via online used booksellers like Alibris.com. Also useful are Win-Win Games for All Ages by Josette and Ba Luvmour, and Team Building Activities for Every Group by Alanna Jones. Cooperative games work well at developing interpersonal intelligence, and can also feed bodily/kinesthetic, spatial, logical/mathematical, and other intelligences (depending on the game).
• 3. Sing songs — 40 years ago, music used to be a central part of Sunday school, but it has become neglected. Many of the standard curriculums have songs included, or ask me for suggestions. If you can’t sing, find an adult who can help you out. If you want to learn how to lead songs for children, an excellent resource is the book Sing and Shine On by Nick Page and the associated song book Sing With Us — ordering information available here.
• 4. Do creative movement — You don’t need to be a dancer to do movement with children. You can do silly hand motions with songs, create weird dances together, take stretch breaks. If your congregation has the old Haunting House curriculum, it included a booklet on doing creative movement with children. Also useful, though dated, is the pamphlet Using Movement Creatively in Religious Education by Pat Sonen (Unitarian Universalist Assoc., 1963), sometimes available used through Alibris.com.
• 5. Go outdoors — Unitarian Universalists claim to value the interdependent web of all existence, so go outdoors and experience it with the children. If you wish to go off church property, you should follow all policies regarding field trips.
The information in this section is specific to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto.
If you need a substitute at the last minute, here’s what to do: First, call the other members of your teaching team to see if they can fill in (call, use online chat, or something where you get an immediate response). Then if you can’t get through to anyone, contact the Minister of Religious Education or Religious Education Assistant directly.
Spiritual growth as a teacher:
People who do religious education with children and youth should also attend to our own spiritual needs. We are role models to the children in our classes, and one of the best things we can do is show them that living our faith is a matter of joy and pleasure. For many of us, teaching Sunday school or serving as a youth advisor is in itself a form of spiritual growth. One thing many teachers say, when asked why they teach, is that they want to get to know the kids at church, so perhaps you can make that one of your spiritual goals: play games together, talk together, have fun together, spend time just getting to know each other.
While curriculum and content are important, it’s most important that you and your class live your faith together, rather than just talk about your faith. If it’s a gorgeous day, it may make sense to take the class outdoors — it may mess up the lesson plan, but you will all get more joy from being outside on a beautiful day. (Having said that, if you do go outside, for safety reasons it’s crucial that you let someone know exactly where you are going to go.)
For yourself outside of class time, do whatever it is you do to grow religiously and spiritually. When you do religion yourself, it comes through to the children, for you will be close to your spiritual center.
Basic supplies should be in a rolling cart in each room.
Other consumable supplies are available in various places. The most commonly used supplies are in the Religious Education Office, Room B. More specialized supplies are in the closet in Room 5. Games are in the closet in Room 6. Children’s books may be checked out of the library, which is in behind the church office.
How about buying special supplies for a special project for your class? Our budget for supplies is fairly tight, and I have to approve any purchases in advance. (Also, we may already have what you need.) Once I approve the purchase, you can go out and buy the materials, submit a reimbursement form to me with all receipts attached, and I’ll get you the check. Or if you give me enough advance notice (2-4 weeks), I can order supplies for you.
Audio-visual equipment is available by contacting me a week in advance. I will reserve the audio-visual equipment (TV and DVD player on rolling cart, LCD projector and screen), and get office staff to place it in your room on Sunday morning. Honestly, though, I have found that our Sunday school groups are small enough that we can all gather round my laptop to watch videos, etc. Streaming video: There is wifi throughout our campus, though it can be slow and streamed video will often freeze.
Snacks and food
At UUCPA, we do not have snack on a regular basis.
Sunday school classes have baked fantastic things to share with others at social hour: cookies, cake, bread, etc. Children enjoy sharing baked goods with parents and others. If you need the kitchen, we do need to arrange well in advance to make sure there are no conflicts with other groups in the church — the more advance notice, the better.
Our philosophy on discipline assumes that everyone has a role in preserving harmony.
Teachers create a comfortable, inviting environment. This means that you should prepared in advance for each session, and have back-up plans ready in case your main plan does not work. Since every child has different abilities and a different learning style, you may find that frustration with or inability to do a project can lead to behavior problems; thus you should have independent projects or books available in your room.
Teachers set firm limits. You need to make clear what your expectations are, and what the consequences are if children do not live up to your expectations. Standard guidelines for behavior are set out below, in “Setting limits.”
Children should help to develop and agree upon a set of expectations, and consequences. Children can be allowed to help one another to engage in “right action,” by reminding one another which actions are acceptable and which are not.
Teachers can help children learn the most important rule: No put-downs. Some UU teenagers used to phrase it this way: “No harshing on anyone’s mellows,” i.e., no put-downs, statements that disparage others, or any actions that hurt someone else’s emotional well-being. These teenagers developed this rule, and were quite firm about enforcing it — if anyone (including adults) transgressed, they would be required to say three nice, affirming things about the person whose mellows they had harshed.
Making a covenant
Children should have a hand in setting rules for the classroom. While you may develop a group consensus over time without a formal procedure, I recommend that you establish a written covenant of behavioral promises in the first session. In some cases, you may find that you need to spend an entire session with the children developing behavior guidelines, perhaps even inviting me, as Minister of Religious Education, to sit in and assist all concerned.
There are some non-negotiable rules for everyone in the religious education program. You should make these rules clear to the children in age-appropriate ways:
- No interpersonal violence (or “No hitting”)
- For reasons of safety, children must ask an adult before leaving the room (“Ask an adult if you can leave”)
- Be good stewards of the church property (“No breaking things or wasting materials”)
- Everyone waits their turn to speak
- Everyone cleans up their own messes
- Disparaging comments are not appropriate to a church setting (“No put-downs”)
If the above expectations are not met, you, the teacher, should use one of the following techniques. They are listed in approximate order of severity:
(1) Remove the disruptive child from the group for a while by having them work on a quiet independent project, or read a book quietly.
(2) Give the child a “time out” in a quiet corner of the room.
(3) Get the Associate Minister of Religious Education involved.
If you run into behavior problems and discipline problems, be sure to tell your co-teachers exactly what happened and what steps you took so that we can keep a consistent approach. At the same time, remember that children, like adults, have bad days and grouchy days, and that as they grow their whole attitude can change very quickly.
Finally, if you expect children to be troublemakers, eventually they will turn into troublemakers. If you expect them to become better behaved, they will become better behaved.
Our entire safety policy, as approved by the UUCPA Board of Trustees, is available online here. Similar to most organizations that work with legal minors, UUCPA requires all volunteer teachers to do an annual safety training, to sign the Code of Ethics, and to undergo a criminal background check.
Each year, all teachers review our emergency and health procedures during the mandatory annual safety training.
How do you keep in touch with the Associate Minister of Religious Education? I am always happy to schedule a face-to-face meeting with a church school teacher or youth advisor. Please call or email to set up an appointment. Sunday school teachers and youth advisors are my top priority, and you should always feel comfortable about scheduling a meeting with me.
One thing you should know about me: If you tell me something important during Social Hour, or in that crazy time just before church, chances are good that I will forget it later. So if you need to tell me something important, tell me — and then write a note and put it in my mailbox in the office, or send me email.
You must take attendance and fill out the attendance from in your class notebook. You can find the class list in your class book. If a child’s name isn’t on the list, please write in names on the attendance form. The attendance record is really easy to fill out–just check off children’s names! By filling out the attendance record, you can immediately know if there are any newcomers to your class. Also, in case of an emergency evacuation, bring your attendance record so that we will know when all the children are safely out of the building.
Second, I love to hear how your class is going, and what you’ve been doing. The best way to reach me is via email. You can tell me about the exciting things that happened in your class that day; you can tell me about what worked and what didn’t work in your lesson plan and in the printed curriculum; you can ask for help if you need it. If you use email, you can copy it to the others on your teaching team so they, too, know what’s going on.
One format for telling me about how today’s class went — copy the text below into the body of an email message, and answer the questions.
Date and Time:
Your co-teacher’s name:
1. Objective for today’s session:
2. What did you do today?
3. Reactions from kids?
4. Your reactions?
5. Any problems or anything I could help you with? Any suggestions for improving the program? Other comments?
Reporting first aid:
If you or another adult have to administer any form of first aid, including just putting a band-aid on a child, you must fill out the “Ouch Report.” One copy of the form then goes to the parent or guardian of the child, and a second copy gets attached to the “Note to Dan.” More information is available here.
An optional form, to use if it helps you, is the one on planning a Sunday school session. Some teachers use them regularly, some never do — it’s your choice. Session Plan (PDF)