04 July 2012

Teaching kids about God - timed challenges

Teaching kids about God photo by Cathy.  Thanks Cathy!!

Another thing I do to keep Scripture classes at school (30 minute lessons) and Sunday school classes (40 to 60 minutes) humming along is to use timed challenges throughout each lesson.  I have a chart where I record everyone's best times and it is highly competitive.

Here's THE WHAT...and then I will explain the HOW and the WHY.

The Shape Sorter

Pull out this old toy from the toddler toy box.  Time how long it takes to put the shapes in - surprisingly hard when you are under pressure.  But for those with a cool head and the right strategy, it is possible to do it in 14 seconds!

Apple Stacking

Bring a bag of apples - you won't need any more than eight apples from my experience - and see how many you can stack in a set amount of time.  I did this last term and gave the kids 27 seconds (because there are 27 books in the New Testament...and they all know that fact now) so that it wouldn't drag out for too long.  Record - five.

Cup Stacking

You need ten plastic cups.  The idea is to time how long it takes to stack them up - four at the bottom, then three, then two, then one - then put your hands on your head and then unstack them back into a pile of cups and yell "FINISHED!"  It's pretty quick so the yelling at the end helps for time keeping.  And kids think it is fun to yell in class.  If you google CUP STACKING you will see some pretty amazing examples of this challenge.  Mine is a very simplified version but they love it. 

The Buzzer

A friend found this one for me.  You have to ease the hand piece around the wire without letting the circle of the hand piece touch the wire.  Some of these gadgets buzz or beep if the circle makes contact with the wire.  This particular one laughs at you hysterically.   Time how long it takes to get from end to the other - and you are disqualified if it laughs at you.  Most don't get a time.  The laughing seems to diffuse the frustration and disappointment.

Block Jigsaw

This doesn't work in a classroom because it is too small to be seen from the back.  All classroom competitions need to be visible by all or else they fail monumentally.  Take it from me.  I know.  But this is great to use with a smaller group.  They get to find and assemble the animal (with or without a guide picture, depending on how tricky you want to make it) and you time how long it takes.  I have two sets of these so sometimes I bring out both sets and run this challenge as a race rather than individually timing them - with evenly matched children and only with robust kids who can cope with the fact that one will win and one will lose.


1.  I run one of these challenges in Scripture classes every week across a whole term - with a new challenge each term.  Every child who wants to participate is timed.  This takes a few weeks and their time is recorded on a chart.  When everyone has had a go I choose some to have  a second go to beat the class or their own personal record.  Sometimes I choose children at random to have a go, sometimes a child who needs a boost and sometimes I choose someone as a reward for good class participation.  At least one child will have a go of the current challenge at every lesson, week in and week out. 

2.  In Sunday School I run a challenge for a month at a time.  Every week the kids can have a go to beat their own score or break the group's record.  I run a monthly challenge two or three times a year - injecting one when things are getting a bit flat and need some pepping up.

3.  Rather than running a challenge over a long period of time, these can be used as a one off - the one who gets the best time gets a prize.  Or run along the lines of "a minute to win it" - if they do the challenge in a minute...or whatever time you set...they win the prize.  Or run it as a "minute to win it" across the whole term if you have a good supply of prizes - that probably works better with younger children.

4.  Respect the child who doesn't want to have a go.  For a quiet few, they won't want to be exposed at the front of the group like this.  And that is OK.


These challenges have absolutely nothing to do with teaching kids about God.  But here are ten quick reasons why I use them.

1.  They are quick - they don't rob too much time from a lesson.
2.  They inject some fun into the lesson. 
3.  Because they are fun it helps in building good relationships.
4.  And it sets a good dynamic in the room
5.  So the kids look forward to your lesson with them.
6.  And that means you are well underway to winning the battle with discipline.
7.  Which means more time to teach.
8.  And more opportunity to be kind, to show love and to demonstrate warmth.
9.  If done ever single week then it becomes a constant.  It's a bit like when you hear the dulcet tones of the West Wing theme music (or insert your own favourite TV series) at the beginning of each episode and it excites and prepares your mind for what is coming next.  Think Pavlov's dog.
10.  That then helps the kids to transition quickly into your lesson - which means less wasted time.  It is five or ten minutes time well spent - which means twenty or more good teaching minutes in a thirty minute class.

Please know that not every lesson works perfectly for me.  Far from it.  My last lesson today would testify to that.  But I have had a much better strike rate, particularly with school Scripture, since I started doing this.


Deb said...

This is GOLD, Meredith! I shall be ripping you off asap.

Deb said...

Oh, and nice work-in of the West Wing reference.

Meredith said...

I am SO happy that this was helpful for someone. Thanking God for that and praying for good lessons for you.

And yes, West Wing. My kids hear the music that comes even before the theme song - the ten seconds of music for the company that produced it - and they say, "Ah Mummy, the sound of West Wing." Not that they've watched it.

We own them all in this house but our sets are currently having a tropical holiday in Kiribati.

Karen said...

I must have missed this last week but I love it too :)
The class I do when I am working with the kids at church is the 18month to 3 year olds, but I will be passing this info on to my husband who works with the bigger kids. Thanks for sharing!

Meredith said...

Thanks Karen. We have been running a Holiday Bible Club this week and I have collected two more ideas already...and we are only two days into the five day programme. Looking forward to writing a follow up post to this one.

Kath said...

I like your sunday school tips Meredith. I'm building up a list of them, and particularly love that you do things I would never have thought of. Thanks. And thanks to Jean for tweeting it.

Meredith said...

Thanks for visiting Kath and for your comments. Glad they are helpful. It is so good to have an ever growing repetoire of tricks that are quick, simple, take no time to set up and create lots of fun. Good times.

Rachael said...

Thanks Meredith, this is the one I was after!!