I often hear questions regarding lesson preparation for children's groups: “Where do I start? How do I choose what to do? How do I make the lesson meaningful to my group?” Following are some ideas and steps that can be used in preparing lessons that have been very helpful to me.
Develop a Routine
Set aside a specific day and time to work on your lesson each week. I like working several days in advance so I have time to think about teaching methods and techniques that fit my group. That also gives me time to gather the needed supplies and props and make last-minute changes if I have a great idea the day before that really needs to be included. You need to choose the best time for you. Try to make the time uninterrupted, when you are not preoccupied with other issues. If you have a co-leader, set a time when you can communicate together to share ideas and finalize plans. By setting a routine, preparation will become a habit. It will be much harder to forget or to procrastinate. You will grow to look forward to the time you spend in preparation.
Create a Pattern
On your specific day decide what you are going to do first, second, and third. Follow the same steps in the same order each week. For example, I always pray first. Then I read through the parts of the printed lesson as they are written. Next, I go back to the lesson aim or main point and make sure I have that phrase or statement well in mind. After completing this as an introduction to the lesson, I go back and concentrate on planning for the individual pieces—the Bible story, worship time, life application, memory verse, and other activities. Following the same pattern every time you prepare makes it easier to get started and to keep your thoughts organized. An added benefit is that it makes the time you are spending much more efficient. No more asking, “So what do I do next?”
Make Wise Choices
Most study units are written with more activities or learning sections than you can possibly get done in a normal time period. That is done intentionally so you have the option to choose the activities that are most appropriate for your group. Decide what needs to be included in each lesson, and plan those activities first. I usually start with the Bible story, then worship time including prayer and memory verse, life application, a getting-started activity, and then estimate what time is left for other activities. The order of when these are done in the lesson can vary, but I like to make sure I have these well planned before I add additional arts and crafts or games. When you make your choices, keep in mind the amount of space you have, the supplies on hand, the personalities of your children, and the amount of time you want to spend on each activity.
Writing notes is really helpful. Your notes may include a word you don’t want to forget to explain, where to go next in the lesson, a teaching method you want to use, a special prop that is needed, or a key phrase you want to repeat. I find that if I mark something or write it down, I am less likely to forget to use or do it. It also works great when I lose my place in the lesson because I can check the notes first to get back on track rather than reading through a paragraph. Another way I use notes is to write down the time in the hour that I want to be at that place in the lesson. It helps to keep me on track and not run out of time before I have gotten through all the pieces that need to be done. It seems that the life application is usually toward the end of the lesson. Since it is very important, I want to make sure I have time to do that right. A third way to use your notes is to go back after class and mark what activity worked well, one that you would like to do again, what activity was okay, and what activity you definitely won’t use again!
Stay Focused on the Children
When I teach in a group regularly, I like to have a photograph of the children or at least a list of names with my materials. When I pray for the lesson, when I read through the lesson, and when I focus on the main point, the children are looking at me! That picture or list of names becomes a tool to use to make sure that I am planning with “my” kids in mind. Many times I will say and sometimes rewrite the main point of the lesson so I can include the names of each child in my group. For example, “Shane, Jessica, Audrey, etc., will learn to trust God when they are afraid.” With the children looking at me, planning the Bible story becomes much more personal, and the focus becomes telling the story so that Shane, Jessica, and Audrey can relate and understand. Making life-application points is easier when you think about each individual child. Choosing the methods and techniques you use is also easier—do you really want Shane to try to follow those directions? Do you want that paintbrush in Jessica’s hand? Is that game practical for the whole class to participate in together?
Keep that group picture or list in front of you and go through your lesson plans and notes again. Weigh each activity against the lesson aim or main point. Ask yourself if this activity will help Shane, Jessica, and Audrey learn to trust God when they are afraid. Then pray that God will bless your efforts that your children’s hearts will hear what God is teaching them.
By developing a routine and a pattern of preparation, getting started each week won’t be hard. Writing notes will help you stay on track each week and help in the following weeks by remembering what did work and what didn’t work. Staying focused on the children in your group and checking yourself will guarantee that your lesson is meaningful and will help you to choose the best activities to include. When you prepare well, the presentation is fun. And always remember, what you do is priceless!