The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
— Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
At the beginning of 2009, Nora was in the 2-year-old Sunday School class in our church, taught by a beautiful woman named Desiree Holliman. Desiree had been masterfully teaching toddlers at Victory for many years, and we greatly appreciated her. Unfortunately, she decided to step down soon after Nora “graduated” to the 3-year-old class.
With Jacob’s 2-yer-old birthday around the corner, and no replacement imminent, Marlene and I started to consider teaching the class ourselves. It wasn’t an easy choice. At the time, we had been active in the adult Sunday School class for more than 10 years, and we were concerned that our relationships in that group would suffer if we were to leave.
After a period of deliberation and prayer, we eventually decided to volunteer for the position, and I can tell you that it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Teaching a room full of toddlers isn’t the most glamorous of jobs. When asked to list pivotal roles in a congregation, few people would mention the 2-year-old Sunday School teacher. And yet for a certain segment of the population, a safe, engaging, and fun environment for their young ones is an essential element of a church’s repertoire.
The following factors contribute to a classroom that caters to the needs of 2-year-olds and their families:
A safe environment
This is absolutely essential. The classroom not only needs to be safe, but also needs to feel safe to both parents and children. This includes not only the obvious things such as age-appropriate furniture and toys, but also the more subtle things like drop-off and pick-up procedures, and good security practices.
Parents should feel confident that:
- Only approved adults will have access to their children while they are away.
- The staff can and will contact them in an emergency.
- The teachers know and can support their child’s needs including:
- Diaper changes and / or potty breaks
- Food allergies
- Special comfort items
Consistency plays a big part in creating an environment that feels safe to children. If they see the same faces and do the same activities every week when they come to church, then they will feel more comfortable when their parents leave them.
An engaging environment
Many 2-year-old classrooms substitute babysitting for teaching. Adults frequently underestimate what 2-year-olds are capable of. Marlene and I have made age-appropriate-learning one of our teaching goals.
In the 75 minutes that we have the children in our room, we incorporate a wide variety of activities that provide learning opportunities, including:
- Sing songs – Some songs are Bible-related, some are generally educational, and some are just fun.
- Prayer – We pray at least twice during every class.
- Tell a Bible story – The story is always very short (just a couple minutes) and has a very simple moral, repeated multiple times.
- Review – We are always sure to recap some of the morning’s activities, to help with retention.
- Simon says – It’s a “dumbed down” rendition, but even the youngest in the class are able to copy a leader’s actions.
- Coloring – Each week we color a very simple picture related to the Bible story we discussed earlier in class.
A fun environment
Toddlers require fun. It is absolutely essential. If they are not enjoying themselves, then everything grinds to a screeching halt. Two-year-olds are not able to patiently wait for the conclusion of an uninteresting activity.
In order to keep things running smoothly, it is a good idea to switch things up frequently. Alternate between periods of activity and quiet. Limit each organized segment of the class to about 5 minutes. That’s about as long as their attention span will endure.
Here is a rundown of our class schedule:
- Free play (30 min)
- Clean up (5 min)
- Circle time (15 min)
- Prayer (30 sec)
- Sing sit-down songs (5 min)
- Stand up and stretch (30 sec)
- Sing stand-up songs (5 min)
- Story (2 min)
- Prayer (30 sec)
- Review morning (1 min)
- Snack time (5-10 min)
- Simon says (2 min)
- Coloring (2 min)
- Free play (until parents arrive)
Attitude is key
Of course not all children are the same, but the majority of toddlers respond well to an adult who is:
It’s important to be constantly monitoring my attitude, and its effects on the class. For example, if I’m overly enthusiastic, I could scare some of the more reserved children.
Have a backup plan
Children are full of surprises. Some classes go quite smoothly, but some weeks are so disorganized that I wonder if maybe I should throw in the towel.
It is essential to be prepared for disaster. Then, when it inevitably happens, I am better equipped to deal with it. Some situations to consider are:
- What to do if the children who need attention exceeds the number of adults in the room? This includes unhappy, hurt, and naughty children, as well as children who need a potty break or a diaper change.
- What if an unhappy child simply won’t calm down?
- What if a child gets seriously hurt, or goes missing?
- What to do if a child has a bathroom accident or gets sick?
- What to do with an overly aggressive child?
- What to do if you are unable to cope with the class for whatever reason?
Reaping the rewards
Teaching young children can be very rewarding. I have met many lovely families in our church through my teaching position.
I have also formed some strong bonds with the children of Victory. Many of them remember me and say “hi” or give me hugs in the hallway several years after they have moved on from my class.
My favorite blessing, though, is when parents tell me about what their children have learned in my class. I am thrilled when I hear that a child is able to recount parts of a Bible story, or sing songs about Jesus to their family.