Teaching Sunday School Crafts

Here are my 'lessons learned' while teaching Sunday School crafts activities over the past year and a half. Here's the low-down on what to do and what NOT to do, when using a craft activity as part of a Sunday School lesson.

Selecting and preparing craft activities

  • Process not Product. Process not Product. That's my mantra.
    Especially if you yourself tend to be crafty, it's easy to get caught up in wanting to teach the children "how to make something." The craft activity is a learning activity. Early on I used to obsess, trying to find the 'perfect' activity, neglecting the rest of the lesson preparation. I may have found a great craft for the kids to do, reasonably tied to the lesson topic. Eventually, I realized that I wasn't teaching an art class. So, remember: It's not about what the children make, it's about what they learn about God.

  • This part of the lesson is where it's important to have extra help. If you don't have a regular assistant, perhaps you could ask one or more parents to help during craft time? The younger the children, the more help you'll need.

  • Learning activites work if they engage the children. Let's be realistic. Some of our children think the price of being able to do the craft activity is sitting through the lesson. If it's not engaging, we run the risk of losing these kids - mentally, if not physically. The trick is to build up an arsenal of fun, relevant, activities that are not too challenging. I hope you'll find some of those ideas on this site. Please share any you find with the rest of us!

  • Choose craft activities with the lower end of the ability range of your class in mind. Even children of the same age will be at different developmental levels. Recently I was concerned that a cut-and-paste activity that I had chosen was too simple for my class. I recall wishing that I had more time to prepare something more interesting. I was surprised during that lesson when a second-grade soccer-star needed help. As talented as she was on the field, she had a hard time controlling sissors.

  • Especially if the project is more involved, prepare in advance. I once assembled baggies with pre-sorted pre-cut parts, one baggie for each child. It definatly helped make a complicated project work in class. However, if that much advance preparation is required, you may want to ask yourself whether you're getting caught up on the product? (see the first tip.)

  • For best results, keep a standard set of craft supplies in the classroom. Our classroom has a shelf unit, about three feet wide, with about four shelves. In labeled shoebox-sized plastic storage boxes, we have 1) children's sissors, 2) markers, 3) crayons, and 4) glue sticks. We have a big stack of colored contruction paper. We have assorted paints, bottles of white school glue, staplers, tape, craft-sticks, and other assorted supplies. With a well stocked craft supply center, we can frequently do lesson craft activities without having to bring in additional supplies. A further benefit is that children are able to change the craft if they have an inspiration, as we have the supplies on hand.

Teaching the craft activity

  • Where possible, begin by showing the children a completed example, while you describe the activity.

  • Pass out the materials when the children are able to use them. In particular, do not leave tempting craft materials within easy reach when children are not supposed to touch them.

  • For more challenging activities, provide instruction one step at a time, and have the children each complete that step before you move on. For simpler activities, tell them what to do, and then let them do it.

  • If what the children are working on is not too complex, such as a drawing, continue to ask questions and discuss the lesson while they work.

  • Try to help only when your help is asked for - but be ready to jump in to prevent disaster.

  • Children, particularly younger children, may not want to create exactly the same craft you planned. If you can, allow the child to express his creativity. Here's an example of Moses receiving the 10 Commandments (template used here). This is the activity as I planned it, Moses pasted onto a contruction paper background including the mountaintop:
    Moses craft - glued down to a sheet of contruction paper
    Here is the variation from a child who had a different idea:
    Moses craft - standing like a paper doll
    Because we had some shirt-cardboard on hand, and a willing teacher, she was able to make Moses stand on his own, leaving the class a happy, enganged child.

  • To ensure that desks stay clean, consider dollar store laminated or vinyl placemats, or plastic party table covers. For pre-school age children working with salt-dough, consider putting down a drop-cloth under the tables and chairs where they are working. It will help make cleanup easier, especially if it's a disposable drop-cloth.

  • To keep your children's clothes clean, give them smocks. We keep a supply of adult men's shirts, either donated by former parents, or picked up from rummage sale leavings. They make great smocks for the children, as they typically fall past their knees. If the shirt sleeves are too long cut them off or roll them up. If they get too messy, take them home and wash them. But if it's just a little paint or glue, leave them to dry, and use them 'as is' next time.

  • Keep you eye on the clock. Remember to stop the activity and announce clean-up time, with enough time left in class to perform your regular dismissal activities.

  • Children may not finish with the activity by the end of class. Try to offer them the opportunity to finish - either staying late, letting them take materials and instructions home, or arranging to let them finish the following week. Disappointed children are the last thing you want from a lesson activity.

  • Many successful projects are group activities that you keep on display in the classroom. In many cases, however, projects are meant to be taken home. Plan to have bags, boxes or whatever you need so that the children can get their project home safely, especially it it rains.

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