A – agree with others as much as possible
You will have much better conversations with people if you find your common ground and focus first on that. Over the years that I have spent in class after class, there have been many opportunities to learn that diverting attention is my favorite way to diffuse a “situation.” Two kids may be adamant about something, whether it be Santa or their favorite flavor of ice cream, but 9 times out of 10 changing the subject to how fun it is to run fast in new shoes will squelch an argument immediately.
B – being kind never hurt anyone
I have lost count of the times that a child may come in to their class sad and mopey, until one of their friends offers them a toy to play with until check-in is completed or a friendly hug with an “I’m glad you’re here tonight.” The sad child’s demeanor almost always changes immediately. Let’s face it, we can all use a kind word from a friend from time to time.
C – curiosity breeds knowledge
Kids aren’t afraid to ask weird questions. Sometimes they will ask questions you’ve never thought about before. That’s something else, too. If you don’t know the answer, they are completely cool with you not knowing. Take it from the kids, it’s okay to not always be the expert and have the answers!
D – different points of view are fun
In a world that seems terrified of each other’s differences, we “mature” adults could learn a lot from the innocence of children. They acknowledge & notice how they think, look, or act different from one another, and they accept it. Any questions are from a place of understanding rather than judgment. This is truest of the youngest ones especially. Why must we fear that which is different? We have a Creator that formed us to each me our uniquely wonderful selves, and that is a truth that should be embraced and celebrated!
E – embarrassing moments happen to everybody
This one I wish I would have internalized better as a child, but I’m glad to have finally received the revelation as an adult. Nothing hurts my heart more than to watch a child be terrified to try something in class when I can tell that they really would love to engage but they are afraid of being imperfect. It’s honestly something I didn’t notice in others much until being a mom. Suddenly, seeing that trepidation in my babies’ eyes realigned my whole approach to handling mistakes. So, we talk about mistakes. We talk about the fact that everyone, everywhere makes them, and that everyone, everywhere has the responsibility to make things right afterwards. Embrace the feelings, let them go, and move on.
F – fair is something that matters to everyone
Every child wants an even playing field and notices any discrepancies or favoritism. And, who can blame them? It’s human nature. Keep it honest and fair. If you set a rule, abide by it for everyone.
G – genuinely caring is ultimately the only tool you need to touch others
I can’t tell you how many times I have messed up in kids’ church. Whether having the wrong props for the lesson, forgetting my game stuff, loading the wrong songs, or any number of other missteps. I used to stress about it and mentally beat myself up over every little thing that didn’t go perfectly. Until one fateful Sunday when it was a day that nothing went to plan. And the kids were so gracious and patient. And that day, it was me who learned the lesson. From them. And this is what I learned from my KOTR kids, though not one of them used words to say it: “If you really love us, we can tell. We can tell by the energy you use every week. We can tell by the way you want the lesson to be different and fun every week. We can tell by the way you pray for us. We all have bad days, and we love you just for caring about us.” And, let me tell you, Bethany, the don’t-hug-me-because-that-invades-my-bubble girl, melted. And all those little guys’ hugs healed my heart of a destructive habit that day. I still want all things perfect when possible, but there comes a times in life that done really is better than perfect. When that happens, get it done to the best level that doesn’t sacrifice your authenticity. Because your authentic self is what will be most effective. Extend yourself the grace you happily extend to others.
H – honesty really is the best policy
Have you noticed how many kids are brutally honest? It is honesty to the point of discomfort sometimes. Still, as I have spent so much time with kids over the years, I really find myself preferring that system. As adults, we can be more tactful, but one has to admire the brazen candor that children feel in expressing their opinions openly and honestly.
I – if you don’t like it, don’t eat it
We don’t have a 100% participation rule for games when I am conducting them in the classroom. I remember being the one at times who did NOT want to play. The fact is, we all have things we prefer to and not to do. There are times, like in the lesson times or worship segments, that I do ask all to actively participate. Those times are different in my opinion. My little Buddy is one that will talk to anyone; he makes friends most places he goes. I am always hearing compliments on his favorite phrase, ” Are you having a good day?” But, you would get Mr. Angry Eyebrows in full force if you tried to make him come up to the front alone for a game. He’s not an in-the-spotlight sort of guy. And, I think it unfair to force that sort of thing. So I don’t.
J – just be yourself, completely & authentically
Every teacher has a different system. Every child has a unique approach. Every group has its own dynamic. Don’t try to be what you aren’t – try instead to be the best of what you ARE.
K – keep your hands (feet, arms, words, or fill in the blank with your choice) to yourself
SO many conflicts can be avoided by not pestering each other in the classroom! More often than not, it all starts as a harmless interaction that just persists until emotions get stirred. All can be avoided by this policy.
L – love the little things
I tend to get hung up on the efficiency and grandeur (or lack) of the program. Children will connect however, with what sometimes seems the most random aspect of your plan. One Wednesday sticks out to me as an example. We were learning about baptism with the preschool class, and I had a bucket of water and little plastic people. They loved it! We spent probably 15-20 minutes baptizing little toys, and it was a last minute addition to make the concept a little easier to grasp for the young group. It wasn’t big fanfare, but it was fun and memorable.
M – messy learning sticks with you the longest
I will never forget Bret’s lesson on controlling our anger. It has been years ago at this point, but some of our kids still remember as well. Bret build “Fred” out of steel wool, and some other things to hold him together. The battery that was supposed to only spark a little must’ve had extra power in it that morning! But, those kids walked out of class knowing just how quickly anger can escalate if uncontrolled! Also, Bret had thankfully had the forethought to put Fred by the emergency exit “just in case.” This is one of those times that the day-of did NOT go like it did when rehearsed!
N – no one wants to feel left out
This can also go back to the discussion about fair. But, sometimes it’s easy to let the “squeaky wheel” get the attention, and that can unintentionally leave out the more chill, go-with-the-flow crew. We do well to create opportunities for all to be included at their comfort level.
O – only those who get on board go for the ride
While it is true that we don’t want to leave anyone out, there are times when some may want to be stubborn or uncooperative in a class. Once upon a time, I would worry if I didn’t feel like every child had fun in class. There is, however, a certain responsibility on themselves for that. So many times, it’s the outlook we bring to the table that determines our experience. If I show up ready to have fun, that’s what I expect and look for, and that’s likely what I will find.
P – people will do exactly what they want to do
So why stress it? I will teach my lessons to the best of my ability. I will try to connect to parents/grandparents/guardians as best I can, but ultimately their connection is their choice. Whether they reinforce the learning at home is up to them. I will take full responsibility for my part of the deal, and I cannot allow myself to worry about what is not mine to do.
Q – questions get answers
Don’t be afraid to speak up! It can lead to very interesting conversations. And, when we hear things from one another’s perspectives, all of us walk out with a stronger knowledge of the subject discussed.
R – roll with it
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and make fun out of it. The great thing about kids’ church is the flexibility to turn almost anything into a learning experience.
S – silly is sometimes exactly what we need
Please, please, please don’t expect kids to be what they are not! Kids’ church is for KIDS! Kids are loud, kids move, kids play, and kids are learning through every bit of it. Incorporate who they are into what you do and everyone will end up learning more and certainly having more fun. If it means coming to church in full costume, so be it! If it means weeks of cleaning up that persistent confetti, if you must, you must! Somber church is not meant for the kids’ department. (I’d prefer to not have it for myself either if the truth be told… Life more abundantly sounds to me like it should be filled with joy!)
T – time, once lost, really is lost forever
Don’t waste it! Kids’ church is NOT daycare. Don’t encourage that mentally in your staff, your church’s pastoral staff, your parents, or your kids. It is THEIR church. It is BIBLE STUDY – on their level. It is CHURCH – suited to their interests. If it you are not focused and intentional about what you do, you are wasting that precious time that cannot be returned! Have fun, but take it seriously!
U – understanding something looks different for each person, and so does the process of getting there
We do not all share the same learning style. One glimpse into my house on a weeknight could model that truth easily. The Princess and I are both the definition of book nerds. We love words, we remember text pretty easily, and we excel more in that arena. My Buddy and my husband think with an entirely different process. Sometimes it blows my mind how easily and creatively My Buddy can rearrange information to discover underlying facts or discover the mechanics of why things work the way they do. My guys just think differently than us girls in the house. Truth be told, we all have a better understanding of things because of those differences too.
V – vulnerability is the best way to connect with others
This really is part 2 of the genuine discussion. Being real, open, and honest is the best way to truly help others. Living life “safe” will keep hurt at bay perhaps, but it’s not embracing life in a way that really gives you that deep-rooted sense of place and purpose. Being vulnerable may be scary, but it opens the door to so much more joy. Children by their very nature must be more vulnerable, and the joy they find in their friendships with their peers and the teachers is one of the most refreshing aspects of working in kids’ ministry.
W – “what you see is what you get” makes for a much less complicated life
Open honesty. We have already talked about it. It’s pretty straightforward.
X – experiments, no matter how many times rehearsed, like to go awry at lesson time
Remember the messy learning? That’s one example. Another would be the time I thought I would use the illustration (with clear jars of water, some iodine for the sins, and some bleach for Jesus-I don’t remember who posted it on Pinterest, but that’s where I found it) of how Jesus washes away our sins. The only problem is, if you use too much iodine, the water doesn’t properly clear up. Boy, did THAT take some explaining!
Y – you are the only one that can be you
Find what you love and where you excel, and bring that to the table. Every day, with every opportunity. Be authentically and unapologetically you.
Z – zip your lips
I was raised to believe, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say a word.” It’s a fundamental belief that I still embrace in adulthood. If you aren’t talking towards a solution with someone who can help find one or is in power to enact one, it’s just as well to be quiet. And, if you are tempted to say something unkind about another person, I’d better not hear it in my classroom! That’s a something I will NOT tolerate. We can reminisce on funny things, we can joke with each other, but I won’t be nonchalant about unkind words about or to another person.
I am no expert on any of these things, and my opinions are exactly that. These are simply the ABC’s of life I feel I have learned from all the years that I have worked with children’s ministry. I feel like they are principles that apply well for adulthood too!