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28 June 2016

Playdough, really? Syncing children and adult teaching is not done on the hop!

Playdough, really?  Syncing children and adult teaching is not done on the hop!

Tom Putt is an assistant minister in Yeovil, a kids' team leader at the Keswick Convention and a father of three – one of which is on the way.

As a parent, have you ever come home on a Sunday, kids in tow, wondering which biblical concept the blob of playdough your six-year-old presents you with is trying to convey? Without a doubt, your children's minister did put thought and effort into the children's programme. The question is, did he or she have time enough to think about how the teaching will support parents in their desire to raise their children in the Christian faith?

Over the last 18 years as a children's minister both in church and at Christian events, such as the Keswick Convention, I have seen both how time intensive it can be to find ways to sync children and youth teaching with the adult programme but also how valuable it is to children, parents and, ultimately to the Church to see families grow in their faith together.

Children and youth ministers have a unique opportunity to reach children with the gospel and, at the same time, have responsibility to give families the tools they can use to go deeper. My first interaction with kids' work was 18 years ago, when I rather reluctantly came up to Keswick to help out on the children's team to help out with the children's work. After having water poured over my head and the kids really laughing, I quickly realised that children's ministry could be great fun as well as life changing. It wasn't long before I was committed to serving at Keswick and back in my home church.

The primary responsibility of bringing up children in the faith lies with parents, but Sunday school has to form an integral part in the life of any church. So, what happens in Sunday school needs to support what goes on at home.

This doesn't always work very well, because kids programmes usually follow a specific curriculum rather than mirroring the adult teaching. While the curricula are valuable, they don't always make ongoing engagement with scripture within the family very easy. On the other hand, ensuring a strong link between adult and children's teaching requires time and effort and often works best where a full-time worker is employed.

Even without an employed worker, anything that means that the parent can engage with their children is a real bonus. For example, introducing cards for kids to take home with a summary of what goes on at Sunday school. At school parents are often unhappy that they don't know what is going on. The same is the case in Church.

At the Keswick Convention, we are very hot on this. The kids take slips of paper back to the parents after the day's programme, which outline the passage we've been teaching, the main points we've be learning, as well as some of the other aspects of the programme, such as the drama, or songs, or even some of silly games we've played. We also like to add some suggestions for activities that families could do together. An example might be suggesting the family eat fish that week as a way of striking up a conversation about how and why Jesus provided the disciples with fish.

My experience is that parents do want to talk to their child about the Bible, but don't know how. Giving them some ideas is our way of providing them with some extra tools.

It isn't any different at a Christian event. When training age group leaders for the work at the convention, we're clear about the need to provide this level of support. We are very aware that we are loaned these children for 10-20 hours a week. The rest of their year is with parents. At a summer camp like this, many kids become believers, but we mustn't become proud thinking we're the only ones who know what we're doing. We mustn't forget all the prayer, love and teaching already received and that we are mere helpers in the process before children go home again – so what we do needs to enable ongoing growth when they are back home.

There are lots of ways to do this. At Keswick we aim to match the same passage that is being taught in the adult service. This year, for example, as the adults will cover all of Revelation in their five morning Bible readings, we are aiming to do the same with all children from three years and up. Realistically, this means pulling out the main aspects of the passage for each day so parents can still talk with their children about what they've been learning.

There are some fantastic activities families can do together to help reinforce the message of the Bible and to open up conversation. One of our aims must be to help point out good ones for families to explore what might work for them. At our home, we have used things like Bake through the Bible and Play through the Bible. Our kids also love What's in the Bible? (http://whatsinthebible.com/), even I find them entertaining!

Obviously, when camping in the Lake District parents can't start baking, but out here in the Lake District, creation seems so much more tangible, so, when teaching on creation we have encouraged families to stay up late and do some stargazing or climb a hill and bring back the best photo for a competition the next day. A bit of creativity can go a long way.

How can a church or camp start the introducing the connection with parents?

  • Start by giving parents a chance. Without telling them what you are doing, you are making it difficult. You must provide information.
  • Sunday school must be more than a glorified babysitting service. Put on a type of parents evening or a breakfast in which you take 20 minutes to explain what Sunday school is about, how it supports teaching at home. It is important that parents don't abdicate their responsibility to spiritually lead their children.
  • Do simple things at first and get parents' feedback.
  • Tell parents about resources they could use at home, whether activities, songs, Bible reading materials or whatever. 

So, while playdough might be useful to some illustrations, let's make sure that we do what we can to allow parents not only to join in but to lead and families to grow in faith together.

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