“My space.” I’m not talking about one of the early social networking sites but rather the cry of a person wanting a location that is uniquely their own. We see this in everything from preteen bedrooms to their lockers. They like to personalize, customize and make sure people know this space has a preteen owner … well, at least a preteen resident.
Why is space so important? Why can’t they just appreciate that they have space instead of wanting to decorate and paint? If you are asking those questions, take a mental look around your own home. Have you made that space your own? Why wouldn’t a preteen have the same desire for the space they spend time in on a regular basis?
We are blessed in my church to have a space that is shared, but most of that is only by other branches of our student ministry. The preteens (5th-6th graders) are one part of a three-part student ministry (the 2nd is 7th-8th grade and the 3rd is 9th-12th grade). However, as I share what we have done in our space, these are tips that you can use and customize for your own space, or even better, simply use as inspiration for something totally different that works better in your context!
Let them write on the walls!
We purchased several kits of white IdeaPaint and painted the walls. Then, we added metal mesh cups from a local office supply store and filled them with dry-erase markers and microfiber cloths. Those giant white board walls are a hit with our preteens every week. Sometimes they are covered with random words and images. Other times, we’ll write a question or draw an image before students arrive to encourage their interaction and begin helping them connect with the day’s teaching.
Let them tell stories!
We decided to blend the interaction that happens in the virtual world of social networking with the conversations that preteens have about some of their favorite stories or memories. We installed steel cables from IKEA, originally designed to hold wall coverings. We used four that are six feet wide and each is about one foot higher than the other, starting about two feet off the ground. Through a local art and education store, we purchased bulldog clips that we use to hold 4” x 6” prints on these cables. This creates our simple photo gallery. The blending and interaction comes from the wall behind the pictures. It was painted with blue IdeaPaint. Now students “tag” themselves or others in the pictures, add their own captions or comments, and some even write questions related to the photos.
Let them rearrange the furniture!
We have some very colorful rugs that sit next to this space. On top of these rugs are giant foam furniture pieces that almost resemble building blocks. (And this is how the preteens use them!) We have some ground rules. But within those, students really enjoy getting to modify the furniture set-up every week.
Let them play!
Throughout our space, we have simple tables set up with different table games for students to play before our service begins. These include classics like UNO, Perfection and Connect-4. We also have other options, like the table next to our metal storage cabinet that has a box of Magnetic Poetry tiles. Students use these to create everything from imaginative stories to heartfelt prayers. And then we have TVs with Nintendo Wii’s for the gamers. Finally, we have placed active games like foosball, ping pong and air hockey to add athletic/competitive options. Anything that involves multiple students and can be played or used in a short amount of time works well.
Let them build relationships!
What we have done is create a space that has a high fun factor. This makes it a space where students want to be. Within this space, students who enjoy drawing or writing are encouraged to do so in the midst of a community of peers … and on the walls! Instead of forcing students to talk about camp, a retreat, or our slime night, photos and peer-added comments encourage natural storytelling. Fun, simple games encourage interaction and friendly competition even before the service begins. It’s an easy way for someone new to be welcomed in while building enthusiasm and community.
Like I said before, you may not have a permanent space you can modify this way. But, using some of these same principles, ideas and resources, or related ones you develop on your own, you can create a space that is not only preteen-friendly, but one that creates an intentional environment where relationships grow and develop naturally. Kind of sounds like a fun way to describe church, doesn’t it, especially when that’s what preteens call “my space.”