04 March 2011

Lessons Learned Teaching Bible Stories in a Creche

One of the tasks I've recently taken on in the creche where I work is to teach weekly Bible stories to the children. I've never tried to teach Bible stories to a single child before, let alone 45 children at a time, so I've learned a lot of valuable lessons during my first few weeks of teaching Bible stories.

I try to have a typical lesson follow a general outline. The first thing I try to do is a very short review of the story we did the previous week. Then I tell the story for the current week. As I'm telling the story, I try to gauge how well the children are following along by asking questions periodically throughout the storytelling. Finally, I have the children do two pieces of handwork/craft. The first piece is usually part of a longer term project. The second piece usually relates to the story of the week. I started with the creation story and have been working my way somewhat chronologically through the Bible. The most recent story was the giving of the Ten Commandments.

Hopefully, by now, the general idea of what I've been doing is clear and I can move on to the lessons I've learned while teaching Bible stories to children in the creche.

Lesson 1: It is ok to not read a story word for word. When I first started reading stories to the children at the creche, I stuck to the printed story word-for-word and wondered why the children did not seem quite as engaged as when Sandra would read a story to them. After observing Sandra more, I realized that she often would paraphrase the stories and would adapt the stories to fit the situation as much as possible. So, I decided to follow Sandra's good example and have tried to become much freer with my storytelling and less constrained to the printed word. I've noticed a considerable improvement in the children's engagement with my stories and consider this lesson well learned.

Lesson 2: Make sure the moral of the story is clear. This may seem like an obvious thing, but when I first started telling stories to the children, I did not bother to emphasize the morals of the stories. The children liked my stories, but they did not seem to retain the stories much past the day of telling. One week, I unintentionally slipped in a quick moral recap at the end of the story. The next week, I was shocked at how much better the children seemed to recall the story. I was forced to conclude that making the moral of the story clear enabled the children to retain the story for a much longer time. Since that week, I've been making the moral clear. So far, it seems to be working to help with retention of the stories.

Lesson 3: Keep it brief. I suppose this lesson is a combination of common sense and experience. Common sense would seem to dictate that the shorter and more to the point a story is, the more the children will enjoy the story. Common sense has been backed up by my experiences. I've noticed that the children seem to have an attention span of about 10 minutes. Any longer than that and they have to be really engaged in order to pay attention. This means that the window for the entirety of my lesson (excluding handwork) is about 5-10 minutes. When choosing the stories for each week, I have to weigh the main points and decide what parts of the story, if any, should be skipped in order to maintain brevity. I am still experimenting with my target time, but I also try to get a feel for how the children are reacting to my story and adjust accordingly.

Lesson 4: Planning is key. Before beginning my Bible story lessons for the creche, I never really appreciated all of the planning that goes into each lesson. I have had various amounts of preparation for my lessons so far, and my best lessons have been the ones I have prepared for the most. This may seem like a simple thing, but it still took me a while to learn. I missed one day of planning for my most recent lesson due to illness. Let's just say that lesson was probably the least successful of my lessons so far. Maybe with time I'll need less preparation for lessons, but at this stage, preparation is probably the biggest single factor determining the success of a lesson for me.

Lesson 5: Find ways to involve the children in the lesson. As much as children may enjoy being read to, I've discovered that finding ways to actually involve the children makes the lesson both more enjoyable and more memorable. The first time I involved the children directly in the lesson (other than to ask questions) was during my lesson on the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites to escape Egypt. I filled a bowl with water and had some of the children try to separate the water into two parts using their hands. Of course the children were unable to accomplish this feat; this served to emphasis the miracle of God's creation of the path through the Red Sea for the Israelites. I noticed the children were much more engaged with the story since they had something tangible to relate it to. Since this lesson, I have had much more success when I have incorporated direct involvement of the children into the lesson.

I have learned many other lessons while teaching Bible stories at the creche. Mostly the lessons have come about through trial and error and learning to go with the flow. The lessons I have learned in the creche have also helped me in life. I look forward to learning more as the year continues.