One Sunday morning I watched a preschooler lead his family to his classroom. With a flourishing hand motion and a broad smile he announced, “This is MY place.” These simple words made me take a second look at several local church kid spaces and evaluate how and why they work.
Entry and Common Areas
First impressions are critical. I’ve watched as family members transform from “car scowl” to “I’m here howl” because the preschool environment and volunteers embraced them.
My favorite church preschool entry has a beautiful, three-dimensional tree where a greeter stands to welcome each family. A “boy” straddles a large limb which shades benches; there are lady bug riding toys, kid-size golf carts and bumblebee floor games. In this large park area, parents connect with friends while children play. The space welcomes families and announces a world of wonder and adventure waiting in classrooms.
Check-In and Information
Large screens with “Now Showing” display the Bible lesson theme, memory verse and “Coming Events.” The announcements are punctuated with pictures of kids in action and remind parents this is a learning place where kids are loved and God’s Word is taught. The pictures and information often stimulate enthusiastic conversations on the ride home.
A very large freestanding “Noah” holds a bulletin board at a Charlotte, NC church. When children ask to visit Noah to discover today’s key word, parents are sure to stop and see the announcements.
Whimsical symbols will prompt kids to lead parents to computer check-in stations where they find self check-in or volunteers to help. A South Carolina church displayed large plywood cartoon style computers on the wall above each station.
Walls with décor at kids’ eye level confirm this is a place just right for kids. A little girl left the building each Sunday by petting the painted lion and assuring, “Don’t worry, I’ll be back. I always come back!” Wide, uncluttered halls and easy to identify rooms make families happy and kids excited because they can identify their own space. One clever children’s director added magnetic strips to wide lengths of colored cloth. She attached them to the lockers on either side of each doorway making their temporary high school home more inviting and easier to navigate.
Small Group Classrooms
Small group learning areas do not mean tiny spaces. Twenty to thirty square feet per child is ideal with 10-12 children per classroom. This allows plenty of space for learning centers with blocks and cars, manipulative toys, housekeeping and crafts. An ideal environment provides adequate space to play games, which reinforce Bible memory and lesson review, as well as a quiet space to “cozy up.” Add a child-size counter surface with a sink for kids to wash their hands or soiled craft supplies.
Pre-reading skills are enhanced when 3, 4 & 5-year-olds practice sorting objects. Store toys in color-coded, labeled tubs so children can find toys and tools they need and realize the success of sorting when straightening the room. A hinged, closeable shelf unit keeps toys out of sight during other learning activities.
A bathroom with kids’ height facilities between every two classrooms keeps kids close and all leaders near the learning activities.
Wall space in a classroom can be a creative and dramatic teaching canvas. A colorful wide stripe of magnetic paint provides a perfect place for kids to display self-decorated name badges announcing, “I’m here today!” Or craft projects can be mounted using colorful magnets at their eye level. I’ve even seen a roadway painted (and protected) on the wall so kids can “drive” their small vehicles along its path.
Paint an area with laundry starch. Dip kid decorated fabric butterflies, bees, flowers or large lengths of cloth in the starch and smooth them on the washable painted walls. They stay up until you peel them off and wash the wall. Keep eye catching details at kids’ eye level and they’ll call this place their own.
A large group space can provide one of the highlights of a preschooler’s day or it can be a frightening experience. Because preschoolers are somewhat insecure by nature, they require clear directions, a hand to guide and secure surroundings. The most successful large group room I’ve seen was big enough for 100 preschoolers to sit, stand, dance and sing. The floor was covered in swaths of five-foot wide bands of color that reached in consecutive arches from one side of the room to the other, forming an enormous rainbow. The color coded organization made this a great success. Each age group was assigned a rainbow color. Three-year-olds sat on the green band, the fours on the yellow and five-year-olds sat on the orange stripe.
Before the children left the small group classroom, the line leader was presented with their banner. The banner matched the color of the rainbow where kids would sit together with leaders. When the excited kids entered the imposing large group room, their focus narrowed to their color on the floor and they knew exactly what to do with little direction from leaders. No chairs cluttered the scene and keeping kids corralled was a breeze.
Kids were surrounded by an extraordinary farm scene mural featuring animals, buildings, fields and people. Animal puppets appeared from the windows and doors of the freestanding red barn. A ceiling mounted projector and drop down screen provided flashing photos of the kids while the music played the familiar welcoming theme.
Whether a preschool space is in an ideal church setting or a high school gym, it can be a child’s favorite place to come each week if preschoolers know:
- This is “MY space.”
- I feel safe.
- Things are MY size.
- I can play.
- I know what to expect.
- I have fun.
- Someone cares for me.
More important than the space are the leaders who guide the children. Their loving welcome, guiding hands and open hearts are pivotal in the learning process. A child may say, “Where do I go?” but in her heart she’s asking, “Who do I run to?” If the facilities are all about kids, the leaders have hearts like Jesus, and God’s Word is taught, you’ve created the ideal space.