It’s your story … it’s my story. You’re ready to start and kids mosey in one at a time. Each time another little person comes through the door, you feel the need to catch them up on what has happened in the few minutes before. You end up giving away that first 10 minutes, waiting for everyone to arrive.
Out of the 168 hours in a week, God has entrusted you with one of those hours … this one hour … to introduce the group of kids in your care to His Word. The other 167 hours is a topic for a different article. Our responsibility is to milk that 60 minutes for everything we can get out of it. So, I’m not giving any of it away!
1 Corinthians 9:16-17 reminds us:
“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.”
Let me share with you some ways that we can recapture that precious 10 minutes that so easily slips by us as we wait for everyone to arrive. Think about hat first kid who shows up. He wants something to do. He doesn’t like waiting on the others any more than you do. Oh, it’s nice that you can put him to work helping you get things ready, but you should’ve already been ready, and that’s not what he’s there for.
So, create individual learning experiences that can be done one or two kids at a time. And, I’m not talking about search-and-find, hidden pictures, crossword puzzles and color pages. When I did my student teaching, my host teacher had a paper propped up on an easel at the door every single morning, ready for the kids as they arrived. It was pretty much the same paper every day. Boring! She gave them paper work that didn’t mean anything, to keep them busy “until she was ready to start.” We should be ready to start the moment that first child smiles at us, coming down the hall. There are all kinds of tech ideas that you could use, but let’s look at some simple things that don’t take a lot of money or technical knowledge—ideas that provide interaction with leaders instead of a digital device. (Check out the video that accompanies this article to see each one of the following ideas demonstrated.)
This is the perfect time to practice Bible skills. Remember the old Bible drills where everyone held their Bible in their lap? When the scripture reference was revealed, then it was a race to see who could look it up the fastest. The results of this kind of Bible drill? The same child wins every time. The other kids stop trying, because they know they’re going to lose; consequently, they’re not improving their Bible skills. This first 10 minutes is perfect for giving everyone some practice and the opportunity for everyone to improve and be successful.
Verse chart. Get a large poster attendance chart. Down the left-hand side list verses that you’d like the kids to look up. Hop all over the Bible as you list these. Then, across the top, write the names of the kids in your group. Provide some of the tiny stickers. Every 15-20 verses, draw a thick heavy line across the chart. As soon as the kids arrive, they can start looking up verses, beginning with the first verse (or starting where they left off the week before). As soon as they find the verse, they take their Bible to an adult who checks to make sure they found the correct verse and who listens to the child as they read it. It’s important to have this adult present to check (because 1 Chronicles and 1 Corinthians can look alike, as well as 1 John and John being confusing) to prevent the child from reinforcing an incorrect idea. Once they’ve had their verse checked, the child can add a sticker for that verse. Every time they cross one of the thick heavy lines, you can offer them a trip to a treasure chest for a treat. This is also a great way to get other people involved in children’s ministry who don’t necessarily want to teach. There’s no preparation for them; they can help by simply listening to kids read scripture for the first 10 minutes. Then, they’re free to go on to their group/class.
Cup Stackers. Kids love cupstackers (or Speed Stackers). These are specially-designed plastic cups that kids build a pyramid out of. They can start with a base of five cups or four, and race each other to see who can get the pyramid made and back down into one stack the fastest. Provide three sets of these on a table. Once three kids arrive, they can have a cupstacker race. As soon as a player completes the “up and down”, they are given a card with a verse written on it. They try to find the verse in their Bible and show it to someone as quickly as possible, because when they do, they can get back in line to participate in another cupstacker race.
In both of these exercises, the kids are not trying to get meaning out of the scriptures they’re looking up. They’re simply practicing using their Bibles to get fluent at that skill. They’re also not competing against one another; they’re competing against themselves. All kids are engaged, and there’s not one child who wins every Bible drill competition.
Where’s the Beef? You remember that Wendy’s commercial. In fact, they’ve dug it out of the archives to use again this year. We’re going to use that catchy phrase in a game that exercises the kids’ sequencing skills. (We’re tapping into their math smart! Yeah!) Make 50 top hamburger buns and a matching 50 lower buns out of cream-colored card stock. Then, make 50 burgers on darker brown paper. After you’ve cut them out, laminate them. This takes a little time to do, but you’ll have it for years and years. And remember, getting someone to do the preparation is another way to get someone connected to children’s ministry who’s not interested in teaching or leading. Now, go through and write a book of the Bible on the top bun (John), the next book on a burger (Acts), and the next book on the bottom bun (Romans). You’ll group each top bun, burger, and lower bun by three consecutive books of the Bible. Post the matching buns on the wall and put all the burgers in a red burger basket. As the kids arrive, they will pull a burger out of the basket, identify the book of the Bible on the burger, and find the bun that it fits with. They will then say, “Where’s the beef?” and adhere the burger between the buns using poster tack. When the wall is full, you can take it down and start over, but it’s good to put it away for a little while, so you can bring it out fresh. Everybody likes fresh burgers!
Sequencing Board. Start with a scrap of 2” x 4” board about a foot long, but this doesn’t have to be exact. Now, ask one of those wonderful guys at the church who enjoys using his power tools, to cut nice thick slanted slits in the 4” side of the board, about an inch apart. You want these slits to be easy to slide index cards in and out of. Now, create sets of index cards. These can be books of the Bible or sentences that indicate what happened in a story. Give the kids a board and a set of index cards. If it’s a set of books of the Bible, then they will put the card that comes first in the Bible in the first slit. If it’s a New Testament book, then they’ll slide it in a slit towards the back. The nice thing is that these cards can be rearranged as the child works their way through the set. You can do the same thing to review a Bible story. Put sentences on the cards that describe different things that happen in the story. The child will then put the story in order from the front of the piece of board to the back.
Depict the Scripture. If you have a theme verse for the month, then a Scripture center is a good way to reinforce that passage. Post the scripture on a laminated card at the Scripture center. Each week, the kids will be challenged to depict that scripture in some way using the items available on the table. One week it could be through play dough, another week by creating a rebus, creating motions, and/or putting it to a rhythm or melody. You can also offer different art mediums to paint with (water colors, markers, colored pencils) or different utensils to paint with (toothbrushes, sponges, bingo markers).
My challenge to you is to think of ways that you can reclaim that arrival time—that first awkward 10 minutes. God has entrusted you with that hour to teach His Word to kids. Don’t give any of it away!