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the parent {cheat sheet}

the BEST ideas come from the BEST volunteers. 

a few months ago, i was meeting with one of our best volunteers, asking if she'd help develop a system for integrating new families. she said, sure. and, ALSO, she had an idea for something else she'd like to discuss. an idea she'd had for connecting church + home. OK.

the very lovely volunteer mentioned how much she loves bringing her two-year old to church, but often finds it difficult to meaningfully discuss the lesson at home {given that two-year olds aren't the chattiest bunch}, and is never really sure how to spiritually + practically encourage her young daughter during the week. after i finished HUGGING her, i said, PLEASE. share your idea. 

i was curious to hear her idea, because i thought we were experiencing some good success with our sticker system. in place of a take home sheet in the Age 2 + Age 3 classrooms, we'd been creating a simple, colorful sticker that we place on the child's shirt as they're leaving to give parents a verbal cue for discussion. i'm a BIG fan of the stickers. i mean, adorable, right?

yes, the stickers were fantastic, she said, but we could do MORE {still hugging her at this point}. she mentioned that when she's home with her daughter, she needs ideas for activities. and, if those activities could reinforce the lesson from church, WIN. 

drumroll, please. her idea: the parent cheat sheet. a simple half-page sheet that summarizes the activities the child did during church with the purpose of encouraging parents to replicate the activities at home. use the toys you've already got, there's no pressure, no timeline, just ideas when you're home and need some ideas. so much YES. 

we're just a few weeks in, experimenting in the Age 2 + Age 3 classrooms only, but so far, VERY good. we'll keep at it a bit, tweaking + improving as we go, and then, we'll roll out to the older classrooms. a different format, i'm sure, but with similar goals. oh! and, if i could get this whole thing ONLINE, even better. all for the sake of helping parents encourage faith at home.

the BEST ideas, i'm telling you, don't often come from us, the leaders. our job is to keep our eyes open--giving the BEST volunteers opportunity to contribute, share ideas, and use their skills to implement. and for me, that's the best part about being the leader. 


lent devotional {AWANA}

i'm absolutely THRILLED to be a contributor on this Easter Devotional from Awana. an eight-week collection of devotions written for parents + families with 3 versions: standard, rural, urban.

when my pal brannon contacted me with the idea he had to create various versions, i was SOLD. easter is often experienced differently due to context, and i LOVE that awana is mindful of that.  

sign up here to recieve a free email devotional each week from now until Easter. and, maybe consider choosing a version that's wildly different from your own context in order to experience a fresh perspective this season. i chose the rural edition and am LOVING it so far. 

blessings for this season of Lent. may we all grow closer to Jesus and His ways during these days. 


Stations {current favorites!}

In our new curriculum, we place a BIG emphasis on station time. I like to say -- let's create stations that will do the heavy lifting. Typically, in children's ministry, we use station time for fun and building relationships. ALL GOOD. In fact, I want those things PLUS intentional learning. 

Because of this, we no longer have stations that aren't connected to the lesson. We offer a variety of learning experiences: Building, Art, Play, Reading, Games, Sensory -- that all connect to the Bible story. The goal is for kids to enage in the story during station time so that when they move to large group + small group, it's a continued experience. They continue interacting with the story in various formats and engage in a journey as the Holy Spirit leads them. And, we give volunteers verbal cues so it's simple for them to play alongside the children while facilitating the story. LOVE!

A few of my current favorite station activities: 

Tent Reading: We created a quiet reading area for all classrooms (Age 2 and UP) with a variety of children's Bibles, soft rugs, and comfy cushions. We do our best to add a post-it note in each Bible to mark the story for that day. These canopies are the perfect, cozy addition!

Activity Mats: Just this Sunday, we added these in the Age 4/5/K and Grades 1-3 classroom as a "follow me" game for our new unit on following Jesus. Perfect for engaging the active kids and introducing the idea of following someone. LOVE!

Puppet Stage: Since we've been creating original Bible character images for each unit, I thought -- why not create stick puppets with those same images so that kids can act out the story. And, these table puppet stages are simple way to host a puppet show every Sunday. 

Fingerprint Kit: Noticing each other is an important value to us -- We want our kids to see each other and respond in care and love. For this reason, we typically have a noticing station, and recently added these fingerprint kits to the rotation encouraging kids to create art on butcher paper reflecting the friends they see in the classroom. It's fascinating to see what others look like to them!

Peg People: It's important to us that children have space to imagine the Bible story for themselves. We added these peg people and a whole bunch of thin markers so that older kids have space to read the story and design the peg people as they see the characters in the story. 

Up Next: Dry Erase Tape. I ordered this for next month's Easter unit. I'm thinking we'll place it on the table and encourage kids to create a timeline of story events. C'mon!

Share the love! What are your current favorite station activities?


on NOT gushing {over volunteers}

as a young children's ministry leader, i was taught to celebrate volunteers like there was NO TOMORROW. because, literally, if there was no tomorrow, we'd host a giant volunteer party with balloons and gift cards and great food and inflatable slides and thank you speeches that gushed with words like "i could NEVER do this without you. you are EVERYTHING." 

that's all good and fun and dramatic, AND, how i've been operating. GUSHING over volunteers every time they serve, with parking vouchers and gifts and thank you cards and super-dramatic-words like "you're a LIFESAVER."

until. last fall, we were working on our ministry budgets, and my teammate asked why there was so much dang money in my volunteer appreciation line. 

UM. FIRST OF ALL. appreciating volunteers is important. and i need money to do that well.

SECOND OF ALL. say more. i'm open to feedback {ha!}.

he did say more. which i'm so glad for -- along the lines of celebrating volunteers too much, and how sometimes that can give the wrong message, leading to a dysfunctional relationship: you serve the church and the church gives you things, and makes you feel good.  

his words made me think, challenged the assumptions i've made over the years. of course, i'll never stop appreciating volunteers. BUT, i am working hard to stop gushing. here's why: 

serving = reward + sacrifice

of course, volunteers should feel rewarded for their service. and while material rewards are fun, maybe the focus should be more about the satisfaction that comes when you purposefully use your God-given talents in a meaningful way. for example: yesterday, a volunteer who LED the sunday children's experience thanked me for the opportunity. she didn't thank me for the coffee or the parking voucher, she thanked me for giving her a chance to use her leadership gifts on a new level.

ok, then. noted.

along with reward, there has to be sacrifice. that seems to be the essence of SERVICE. giving to others. and, i'm afraid that when i gush too much, i'm trying to hide the side of sacrifice. LOOK OVER HERE! you're not as tired as you think you are. YOU HAVE DONUTS! {because, i think what i'm secretly communicating is: if i can distract you long enough from realizing the sacrifice, sweat, hard work, you won't quit on me. OUCH.}

i'm learning. i'll never be in danger of not celebrating my volunteers. BUT, a bit of focus on the sacrifice side might make the serving experience that much deeper + richer.

now, please excuse me while i send thank-you-gift-cards to all the volunteers who braved the snow + cold yesterday. baby steps, people. 


multicultural curriculum {part 2}

thank YOU for asking for updates on our multicultural, custom curriculum. it's been SO encouraging chatting with you and others on how to create activities that reflect the beauty of all children. sometimes, when i'm caught up in the sunday-sunday-sunday-sunday madness, i forget to pick up my head, look around, and be reminded that we're in this together. we're praying, encouraging, strengthening each other, always.  

so, writing curriculum is NO JOKE. of course, you know this, but STILL. there's always another lesson, another story, another song looming. let's just be honest. 

and, yet, it feels SO worth it. yesterday, i was tweaking the lessons for this sunday, and felt such a rush, such excitement and anticipation for our kids to experience the story of ruth + naomi, with images and activities, and time to process how they, boys + girls, from all sorts of backgrounds + families, might contribute to the restoration of God's kingdom. WORTH IT. 

above is our ONE page we've created to highlight + remind ourselves of the values. download if it's helpful for you. i'll be using this during our volunteer huddles this month to inspire our leaders!

we're working hard to build a culture of noticing. we want kids to see each other, and respond in friendship. each sunday, we have some type of noticing station or activity. i LOVE this. it's key to our overall vision that kids see their similarities + differences, and call out the beauty in each other. recently, i added an activity to our home papers in which kids write or draw the friends they saw at church that day. this sunday, i noticed a kid's paper which was filled with a long list of names of friends. my heart LEPT. i love that kids see each other. 

graphics, images, visuals are EVERYTHING. i'm embarrassed to say, until recently, i hadn't noticed how white most images are that are associated with children's ministry curriculum. bible characters and jesus, specifically. i asked chi chi how this happened -- because, historically speaking, the old + new testament ancestors were not white. she had a fantastic explanation about various traditions using images for power, and it was enough to make me sick. PEOPLE. i know we can't change things like this overnight, but let's be mindful, let's ask questions, let's do better for our kids. AGREED?

because of our multicultural context {mixed race, diverse families; African American, Asian, White, Latino}, i can't show all white images. i mean, none of us should really, but i especially can't. i want our kids to see themselves in the stories, to know that God's world and stories belong to all of us. and, even more, i want our kids to truly embrace Genesis 1:26-27, that we're all made in his image, to reflect HIM. and, how can i accomplish this if the visuals i display are only of one race? 

we've been creating original art along with the lessons. we have 2 fantastic volunteers, aaron + molly, who are contributing INSANE amounts of time researching and designing. i'm a curriculum writer, not a graphic designer, but for the first time, i'm seeing how important and dependent the two must be on each other. my lessons are NOTHING, if not represented visually accurate. we're focusing on: hair texture, skin tone, and clothing. 

joseph + mary + angels. of which, we made lifesize cardboard characters for classroom display. we wanted the kids to feel surrounded by the story. LOVE! 

we're in this together, of course. i'm always in need of new inspiration, and if you're trying to figure out similar things, let's share ideas + resources. we'd love if you'd join our facebook group, and contribute your ideas. much love. for the sake of all kids.