Building an Ideal Sabbath School

Designing and implementing a Sabbath School curriculum

Denise Pereyra, Ed.D., is an elementary school teacher in La Caxada, California.

Just imagine! The children in your church are early to Sabbath School every week. They don't want to leave Sabbath School because they're having such a good time.

They are also learning important lessons of the Bible in a loving and joyous way. The classrooms are filled to capacity. Children are worried that they might be late and miss something. Parents are eager to teach and assist. Real learning is taking place in an atmosphere of love, acceptance, and happiness. When you talk with these children after Sabbath School they can actually tell you what the lesson was about and why they learned it.

Impossible? Not at all.

The ideal Sabbath School program doesn't just "happen." It is not a weekly routine, with the teacher looking through the lesson quarterly on Friday evening, hurriedly imagining how the program will work out the next morning. And what will happen if the teacher calls in sick on Sabbath morning with no one available to fill in? Can ideal Sabbath Schools be run by one teacher working in isolation from the rest of the teachers, church members, and pastors in the church? No, the ideal Sabbath School requires teamwork.

It will have programs well thought through and planned for the entire quarter. Teachers and leaders of the Sabbath School classes will work with the pastoral staff so that the Sabbath School will reflect the mission and vision statements of the church. The classes will stress the grace of God consistently as an essential feature of the nurturing process of members, both adults and children.

In the ideal Sabbath School, teachers don't just show up Sabbath morning wondering where everything is or throwing together a few songs, a story, and a craft for the children. They have planned their program as one in a series of programs, tied together around a central theme. Teachers, assistants, pianists, storytellers, craft experts will ideally all come from the same congregation and community. All the divisions will teach the same lesson. All may not be studying the same Bible story, but the point or theme of the lesson will be the same. For example, of the four main ideas of the Value Genesis project, the Sabbath Schools would all be learning about grace, worship, community, or service that morning. Naturally, the concept of grace is the foundation of all aspects of the morning program, from beginners through Adult Sabbath Schools, regardless of the individual lesson planned for that day.

The way we teach

We can't stop here, however. The way we teach is as important as what we teach. Someone must train our Sabbath School teachers. In many churches parents are responsible for the Sabbath School programs and many of them need specific training in how to organize, plan, and deliver quality programs. Part of the problem of recruiting teachers and assistants is that many people are scared of getting up in front of a group of children.They feel confused, unprepared, worried, and helpless facing that collection of small bodies, not to mention the row of parents sitting behind their children. Or maybe worse, facing those children with out a. row of parents waiting to intervene with their children in case of a behavior problem. Pastors may sometimes forget how intimidating public speaking can be to those who don't do it regularly. To try to minimize those fears by saying that it's just a bunch of children is to minimize the fact that the lessons presented and the way they are presented may have a profound impact on how these children view God, the church, and its role in their lives. Acknowledging the anxieties of the Sabbath School teachers and leaders, confirming their vital role in the minis try of the church, providing appropriate training in educational theory and practice, allowing them to employ their own talents and interests, and demonstrating the appreciation of the pastoral staff and church body as a whole in concrete ways will help assure a steady body of volunteer teachers and assistants in the Sabbath School programs.

In the ideal Sabbath School program, the participants would have some understanding of learning styles, multiple intelligences, higher level thinking, and comprehension skills. They would know the basic dynamics of creativity and participation. They would have an acquaintance with the basic concepts of child development and would under stand what children are capable of at different age levels. They would have learned the essentials of classroom organization and would know what to do if a child behaves inappropriately. Nothing would be left to chance. Yet, they would be flexible enough to handle unexpected situations.

In addition to giving the children an opportunity to learn the Bible story, the ideal Sabbath School would show how the lesson relates to life right now. Rather than "spoon feeding" the lesson to the children or requiring them to memorize rote answers, teachers would interact with them in ways that provoke thoughtful, personal, and appropriate responses from the children. They would suggest ways for children to respond to the lesson in positive ways, and they would encourage the children to do something practical and helpful during the following week in response to the lesson.

Imagine the ideal

It is Sabbath morning, about 45 minutes before Sabbath School is scheduled to begin. All the teachers, helpers, pianists, and their families arrive at the church. One of the pastoral staff greets them in one of the classrooms where a light breakfast awaits. While munching on fresh fruit and muffins, parents, mothers, children, church staff, and teachers talk about the upcoming Sabbath School program and morning worship. They pray together and open their hearts to God's grace.

All is in readiness. Doors are opened early, and children enter the classrooms. They can feel the excitement and want to join in. The teachers have been practicing the teaching techniques for days and the children are expecting wonderful things. Teachers do not feel isolated as parents go to adult Sabbath Schools. Some parents want to stay with their children and participate in the activities that have been planned. In addition, the teachers know that they will have their turn at tending an adult class because a number of church members are trained to teach. The Sabbath School teachers need to receive spiritual "food" from adult classes on a regular basis so that they can return to the children's Sabbath School rooms refreshed and invigorated with new ideas.

In all the classrooms teachers are greeting their students. As the children enter they are directed to learning centers where activities are set up to stimulate their imaginations and thinking processes in preparation for the lesson. Some are quiet activities, and some involve physical movement, but all the activities are dynamic and directly related to the point of the lesson.

In the ideal Sabbath School all of the teachers are loving and caring. Children are warmly welcomed and are given positive comments and encouragement. No child is accused of being "bad" or made to feel stupid. The morning is designed so that all the children succeed in understanding the lesson in a way that is appropriate and meaningful for their age level. The grace of God flows from heaven to the teachers and to the children. Whatever else is taught and learned, a picture of the grace of God is uppermost in everyone's consciousness.

Songs have been carefully chosen. Bible stories and mission stories all re late to the lesson. Memory verses and the daily activities in the quarterly for the following week all point to the lesson. In addition, the sermon during the morning worship service can also reinforce the lessons learned in the Sabbath School.

"What's the point?" you might ask. "Isn't this redundant?"

That's exactly the point. How many times have you asked children what they have learned in Sabbath School and got ten the answer, "Nothing," or "I don't remember"? Repetition is an effective teaching tool, and should be used with out being tiresome. By repeating the lesson in many different ways (not in the same way many times), the children will remember it better. It won't be boring because the point has been made in many different ways: singing a song, re citing a poem, playing a game, drawing a picture, and sharing it with a friend, etc. And when the pastor mentions the point of the Sabbath School lessons in his or her sermon, children who might normally tune out may just perk up their ears because they recognize what they learned about earlier. Just for one day, coordinate the efforts of the teachers responsible for the Sabbath Schools that day and see what happens. The results may be amazing!

Concerted curriculum planning

The entire Sabbath School team, including the pastoral staff, division leaders, teachers, and assistants, should make sure that the curriculum plan for the morning is Christ-centered, Bible based, grace-oriented, and well balanced. Over the course of a quarter's lessons, they should pay attention to faith development, spiritual formation of the children, the fundamental beliefs of the church, and service issues such as stewardship. No one person can accomplish all of this in isolation. A Sabbath School program such as this requires ongoing discussion and learning opportunities.

These meetings have several advantages. They provide a forum in which all participants can share their expertise, feel that they are an integral part of the church's ministry, share their successes, be nurtured when they feel discouraged, and gain new ideas and approaches to use in the programs. Most of all, the team members can feel the grace of God pouring over them as they prayerfully and gratefully accept the guidance, love, and encouragement that He so freely gives.

The Sabbath School classes are the foundation of the congregation. This is where the children learn basic concepts about God that will impact their belief system all their lives. From infancy, children should learn of God's great love and grace and its implications in life and behavior. The grace of God, the idea that God is for us, can be the theme in every Sabbath School classroom, and the knowledge of God's love for us can be evident in every word and action.

The Sabbath School divisions can provide a place of spiritual learning, worship, celebration, and joy for children of all ages. Sabbath School should be a place where children feel loved, nurtured spiritually, and accepted unequivocally. When and where that happens, there is an ideal Sabbath School.

 

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Denise Pereyra, Ed.D., is an elementary school teacher in La Caxada, California.

March 2000

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