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Making the Most of Your Craft Time (Gail Schoonmaker)

As a Sunday School teacher, I have three goals: 1) to infect my students with an exuberant and contagious love for God, 2) to teach my students to know and love the Bible, and 3) to make church attendance irresistibly exciting. For my preschool-age students, creating weekly Bible-themed crafts helps with at least the second and third goals.

As students arrive each week, they take a seat with me and begin to color the illustrated verse card that will become a part of that week’s craft. While they do so, they take turns reciting (or repeating) the verse from the previous week. They took that verse home on its corresponding craft and set it out where it would remind them to practice reciting their verse with their parents every day.

After about ten minutes, when we think that all students have arrived, we leave the coloring table to get the wiggles out by performing an exercise routine while chanting the names of the books of the Bible. When we have repeated the Genesis-to -Revelation sequence to either the student’s satisfaction or my exhaustion, we settle onto the carpet for Bible story time. I capture the students’ attention with a question about themselves, which will lead into our story: “Have you ever gone on a long trip? Been very sick? Gotten thirsty on a hot day? Found a great hiding place?” When they have had a chance to give brief responses, I assert that they should listen closely because someone in our story had a similar experience.

Story time is my favorite part of Sunday school. The kids are eager to ask and answer questions, especially about illustrations. They enjoy helping me retell familiar narratives, and listen open-mouthed to unfamiliar ones. Will the boat sink? Will the tower reach heaven? Will Sarah or Hannah or Elizabeth finally have a baby? We spend three semesters working our way through the Old Testament, then three semesters through the New, so that when a child has spent three years in my classroom, they have been introduced to almost 100 different stories straight from the Bible. God (Father or Son) is the protagonist of every story, driving, redeeming, teaching, judging, or forgiving the action. This is why the crafts in Big Picture Bible Crafts are not titled, “The Burning Bush,” “The 10 Commandments,” or “The Fiery Horses” but rather “God Calls Moses to Deliver His People,” “God Provides the Law,” and “God Takes Elijah to Heaven.” Goal #1, God gets the glory and praise.

When the Bible story is finished (and I still have their attention), I show the kids a finished version of the corresponding craft, and how it “works.” Then we move back to the coloring table to actually make the craft. While I hand out materials and give instructions, I also ask questions to reinforce connections to the story: “Who is this lady you’re coloring? What is she holding? Whom did she meet in our story today?” On a good day, all my students can still name the main character(s) in our story by the time their parents collect them at the end of class, but I have found that this requires a fair amount of re-teaching through the questions I ask during craft time. The final step in our craft assembly is attaching the corresponding Bible verse (or simply identifying it if it is already incorporated into the craft). We repeat it together if time allows.

Because my students are so young, I do a lot of prep work on their crafts before class. My preschoolers can color and draw, paste, and fold along pre-made creases, but if I expected them to cut out their own craft pieces, we would never finish on time. So I gather materials ahead of time, photocopy early each week, and cut out all craft pieces over the course of the week. I carry photocopies and scissors in a tote bag and tackle them during downtime, sometimes sharing the task with others. I find this extra bit of prep work is well worth my time when I see how excited my students are about their crafts, and how it helps them remember the lesson. The “Make It Simple” text boxes included with each set of craft instructions in Big Picture Bible Crafts spell out the prep work that I have found necessary in order to have a successful 20-minute craft time during Sunday school. Such prep work is not necessary for older students, who can make short work of their own cutting, or for family worship, where there is time to help a few little ones on the spot.

The final segment of my Sunday school class is snack time. My students keep me humble by announcing that this is their favorite part of Sunday school, which makes me laugh. I consider it an age-appropriate essential for goal #3, enthusiasm for attending church. We move from the craft table to a snack table that my co-teacher sets while the kids worked on their craft. After a spot of hand sanitizer and a prayer of thanks, she presents a brief lesson on a missionary while the kids munch and sip. I use this time to clean up the craft table and get coats, crafts, and any personal belongings ready for parent pick-up. The kids leave happy, usually explaining their crafts and the stories behind them as they go. My prayer is that their budding love for God, His Word, and His Church will continue to grow in my students throughout their entire lives.

Gail Schoonmaker

Gail Schoonmaker (BA, Wheaton College) is an artist based in Chicago. She is the author of Big Picture Bible Crafts. She makes her home in the Hyde Park neighborhood with her husband, Keith, and their four children.

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