What age range is appropriate for my children's church?
It's best to divide into groups: Children's Ministry Preschool, Beginners, & Primaries/Juniors (although those, too, would probably benefit if divided, if you have a huge group). However, I must confess that we are somewhat short-handed in children's ministry workers at our church. For the first half hour of church, it is only my husband and me with ALL of the kids -- 3 year olds through sixth grade (we average about 50 kids). We have two workers who sing in the choir and then go to the back to remove the children's ministry preschool kids (3-6 year olds) from our group and do a separate Bible lesson and have a snack with them. They then bring the children back into the large group at the end of the hour for the review game.
Children's ministry preschool kids are unique, however, and have unique needs that must be met in the ministry. These children are near to the heart of Jesus; and when I think of Jesus taking a child onto His lap and inviting the "little ones" into His presence, I envision preschoolers.
The best thing to do if you are forced to deal with a large age-range group, as we are, is to try to minister to the preschoolers; and the older kids will benefit as well. By this I mean that it will be necessary to have a variety of interesting activites that are short and to the point. Everything should focus around one idea or
This should meet the needs of every child in your group, regardless of age.
It is probably needless to say that children's ministry preschool kids have a short attention span. However, I am finding that due to all of the prevalent worldly influences on kids today, the older ones don't have a much better attention span. You'll never go wrong if you have a variety of activities and visual aids, and never spend more than ten minutes or so on an activity.
The Needs of a Preschooler
* Physical -- Children's ministry preschool kids have energy, and lots of it! Their large muscles are developing, and they require a good deal of physical activity. Try action songs and ice breakers that enable them to move around and burn a few calories (it sure doesn't hurt any of us to burn some calories!).
* Mental -- Children's ministry preschool kids are very inquisitive and constantly learning. It has been said that we learn the majority of everything we will ever know by the time we are five. Don't underestimate their ability to learn and memorize. I am constantly amazed by my own children's (ages 1-7) retention of memory verses that we go over at home. Small children remember all kinds of things; so work on drilling them with Scriptures, books of the Bible, the twelve disciples, and so on. If you can teach it to music, that's even better.
* Social -- Children's ministry preschool kids are very selfish! Anyone working with this group will naturally find that "sharing" and "taking turns" are important skills to be taught (and sometimes are not quickly caught!). Be sure to praise them for their efforts. It is best not to involve these young ones in a lot of competition, but try to encourage them in their individual achievements.
* Emotional -- Children's ministry preschool kids can get their feelings hurt very easily. Try to encourage and build them up. They are also very trusting, which is good since we are ultimately trying to get them to trust in Christ for salvation. Don't shake their trust by making empty promises and being anything less than truthful.
* Spiritual -- Children can be saved; and although the Bible does not state a specific "age of accountability," the time is nigh (or has already arrived) in their lives when these little ones will achieve the knowledge of good and evil as Adam and Eve did and become accountable for their sin and its penalty. Be ever teaching them about the Way to Heaven and as many Bible truths that you can cram into their heart during the brief children's church hour. However, try to stay with the same basic theme each week to prevent confusion. More sticks with them than you might think, so make sure you are giving them quality doctrine and Bible teaching during your time of influence. Use repetition, and give them opportunity to respond to each portion of teaching.
How Do I Teach My Children's Ministry Preschool Kids?
Basically, the same way you teach the older kids -- just be more attentive to their needs, as outlined above. All of the information on this website should be of use to you, if you teach preschoolers. It is imperative to be organized and well-prepared in order to succeed in this, as well as any ministry. If you plan your time well and have a variety of interesting activities, then you should have no problem. Try to plan even more activities than you will have time to accomplish... just in case. And be flexible! That is of utmost importance with this group. Be prepared for interruptions, and use discernment about their needs. If you are only three minutes into your lesson, yet none of them seem to be listening... then you would be better off putting the lesson away and pulling out a puppet or going a different route. Let the puppet teach the lesson, or whatever you must do to get the point across. You should get the hang of it after a while!
One of the secrets to preschool success is simply letting the children get involved. Allow them to put their hands into a smaller, cheaper puppet while you use yours. Let them act out a story as you are teaching. Let them play games and sing action songs (just like the big kids). Involve all of their senses. It is completely appropriate to offer a small snack at this age (try not to give them a big sugar high though! That just makes matters worse!). Play a CD of children's Bible songs as they enter and exit the classroom area. Use a variety of visuals, and encourage them to use their imagination a lot.
When I teach my own toddlers Bible lessons at home, I find it helpful to always pretend (or at least put myself in the mindset) to be the character that you're talking about. I have lately been teaching my kids about Esther. As I tell them about prideful Haman walking away from his banquet with the King and Queen, I think and act as if I am boastfully walking into the palace court, eager to go home and brag to my family about my well-deserved honor. I imagine the disgust and comtempt that Haman felt toward Mordecai, and I try to relay those feelings to my children. I do the same thing as I think of how nervous Esther must have been as her small footsteps echoed through the palace halls on her way to the king's throne room, how heartbroken and distressed Mordecai must have felt when he heard of the pending doom of his people, and so on.
Just this afternoon as I put my kids down for a nap, I used a stuffed monkey that they have to "help" me read the scripture passage about Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. The entire passage is only eleven verses long, but there is no way my kids will sit there and listen to me read that much without a picture book. So I let the monkey "interrupt" me throughout the narration with questions and goofy input. I had the monkey misinterpret certain words and phrases that would likely confuse a 2 and 4 year old. When I read that Jesus fasted, monkey interrupted with a "Vrooooom, yeah, I bet Jesus was FAST!" I then took the opportunity to "teach" monkey what fasting was. My kids loved it and wanted me to repeat the whole thing when I was finished.
Basically, just use all the tools on this site: the object lessons, game ideas, behavior awards, discipline tips, action songs, etc. and LOTS of your own creativity to meet the needs of these special little children's ministry preschool kids. Love them and let them know it. Get involved with them, smile a lot, call them by name, use a friendly voice, be patient, and be very generous with praise and encouragement. Genuinely love and pray for them, and God will bless abundantly.