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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Sunday School

I know it's still July, but many of us are already knee-deep in planning and preparation for the fall. Such is the case with the pastor who brings questions about Sunday School today:

I am the pastor of a small single point parish. We have a decent amount of children in our Sunday School with classes for 3 yrs -Kindergarten, 1st & 2nd, 3rd & 4th, 5th & 6th, and 7th & 8th Confirmation. We have the kids who come every Sunday and attend worship most weeks, the kids who come on and off to both Sunday School and worship, and the kids whose parents I do not think I could pick out of a line up because even though the kids are here more weeks for class than not they parents never enter the building. I know that none of this is unusual but I was wondering if anyone had any ideas about reaching out in a non-threatening way to the parents who bring their kids to Sunday school but never to worship? Coming from a church family I confess I have no idea what motivates people to bring their kids to Sunday School but never attend anything themselves, I don't even know where to start to reach out to these families.

On a related note what have your done about discipline in Sunday School? We have some let's say energetic boys, some kids who are too cool for singing (we don't make the confirmation kids participate in the opening time but the 5th & 6th do), and among the confirmation kids we have quite a bit of girl drama complete with disrespectful & even openly defiant behavior to the teachers at times. I don't expect the kids to be perfect but it really is getting out of hand in some classes and preventing the teachers from teaching. We are thinking of instituting a program called 1-2-3 Magic this fall to try to set a better tone this year and I wondered if anyone had any ideas about how to introduce new expectations and possible consequences to the kids, parents, and teachers.

Thanks


Jennifer, who blogs at www.anorientationofheart.blogspot.com offers wise counsel:

On both matters, I’d suggest rallying all hands on deck—your CE committee, your teachers, parents for idea sharing. Ask them how the church can reach out to parents. Involve them in addressing this. All sorts of ideas come to mind—a beginning of the school year coffee on Sunday morning, a “meet the teachers” open house, a shepherding program matching parents who attend with parents who don’t. But first, I’d get buy-in from a lot of other leadership so that they can share their ideas and be involved in reaching out. A friendly church depends on more than the pastor’s initiative.

As for the attitude issues, the same holds true. Enlist support from others, and if you’re develop a plan or policy, make sure your governing body supports and approves it. Perhaps 5-6th graders are telling you with their behaviors that the music is too juvenile for them, If so, is there a more appropriate activity for them?

As far as respectful behavior is concerned, perhaps a covenant at the beginning of the year that outlines expectations which students, parents and teachers all sign would be helpful. But seriously—don’t head down this road without lots of backing from the appropriate leaders in the church.

And Mompriest blogging at http://seekingauthenticvoice.blogspot.com/ offers great insights as well:

I experienced this when I was newly ordained and an assistant at a large congregation. My son was in a class of some 20 kids, mostly boys, all around the age of 8 or 9. The Director of Christian Formation and the teachers had a real challenge on their hands. The solution then was to break the class apart, not by age but by dynamic and social development, giving us two classes of that 8/9/10 year old group. We doubled up on leadership in the classes using both male and female leaders and we establish a different routine for the morning which helped to contain the kids. We too had a lot of parents who just dropped off their kids for Sunday School while they went out for coffee or something. I think we tried to address this issue by having Sunday School meet at the same as a coffee hour with a casual adult formation – nothing too heavy with a plenty of time for social interaction. BUT that adult formation was only 45 minutes while the youth Sunday school was 90 minutes. So many parents then went to worship and their kids joined them in worship for the last 20 minutes or so. Not all parents came to the coffee and not all parents then went to worship, but the numbers increased.

This same process might work for the older kids too, separating into different groups the kids who are most prone to annoy one another, doubling up on the leadership with male and female leaders, and spelling out clear expectations to youth and parents. It would also be worthwhile, if you can manage it, to bring in some professionals to meet with the leaders and offer them some pointers on dealing with the defiant dynamics at play. For example maybe a school social worker would be willing to meet with the Sunday School teachers and congregational youth staff? Or maybe someone in the congregation is an adolescent psychologist and could provide some teaching techniques to the leadership.

Whatever you do it needs to have the full support of the leadership team and be clearly spelled out to the parents, who also need to be apprised of the challenges and the responses that will be given to those challenges.

And last but not least, these kids will grow up and move on and new kids will come in, the dynamic will change in a year or two if not sooner.


What experience and insights can you bring to this conversation? Use the Add a Comment function to join in the discussion.


May you live in God's amazing grace+

revhoney


5 comments:

  1. My aunt is a public school teacher so i usually turn to her for help in these kinds of situations--so, for instance, a couple of years ago I had a serious problem in confirmation, with one 8th grade boy being disruptive. He also has some kind of behavioral disorder, and while I could guess at what (or combination of whats) I don't know for sure. My aunt suggested getting those big balance balls and having disruptive kids sit on that instead of a chair--that way they'll get the physical stimulus they need and will also be distracted by the effort required to stay on the chair, and they'll be better able to focus and NOT be disruptive during class.
    It totally worked...and I'm about to do it again for that boy's sister, who enters the class this year.

    So...maybe talk to a teacher and see if they have any suggestions! :-)

    RE the parent situation--if you figure that out, will you please let me know???????? (sigh)

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  2. I have found that often having older kids who think they are too cool for Sunday School help and teach the younger ones results in some amazing changes in the kids. I get a lot of resistance for this idea because of the idea that they need to be sitting in a classroom "learning" but I have seen such amazing behavior in kids I quite frankly though of as brats...I think it does them far more good than being "disciplined" and forced to "learn something"

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  3. Some random thoughts:
    Is the curriculum one that includes active physical participation? Some don't, and that's a disaster for children who learn best by moving and those who simply need to move.

    Sometimes (not always!) kids who are creating problems respond well to the opportunity to be leaders themselves, helping younger children or designing an activity for them. It's a risk, but might be worth exploring.

    On the drop-offs...I was one of those kids for several years; at that time, my denomination didn't welcome people who were divorced, and my mom quit coming but made sure I got through 6th grade/confirmation. While I'm sure some parents simply see this as an opportunity for free babysitting, maybe some are feeling hurt or unwelcome. Might there be some oppotunity for bridging those gaps? Teachers or clergy visiting the students (and parents) at home? Greeters where they are dropped off to be a friendly face for parents as well, occasionally inviting them to come in for a cup of coffee and sweet rolls? Picking up on things kids mention--a death, a birth, a family change--and someone calling to respond with care? Just brainstorming here!

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  4. For older kids (11-12+), the Journey to Adulthood program suggests having the kids come up with a behavioral covenant that will cover such things as acceptable language, treatment of others, etc. When the kids help set up the "rules" they can be more invested in living by them.

    And can I admit I'm just a little envious of having that many kids? :)

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  5. On the issue of including parents: My husband's congregation has an extraordinarily large Sunday school. Seriously, the number of children in Sunday school almost equals their adult worship attendance! There are, obviously, a lot of parents who drop off their children for SS and then pick them up before worship.

    Something that they've done that has increased the parental involvement in worship is have the SS students sing once a month, followed by a fellowship time with cookies, coffee, and punch. When it was implemented, folks were doubtful that it would change things, but it has.

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