Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Storytelling Tips

By Brenda Mills

Everyone loves a story. Children move to the edge of their chairs when they hear, “Let’s have a story.” Use this method of teaching to reach young hearts with Christ’s love. It’s your responsibility to become the best storyteller you can.

Note that we said storyteller. Reading stories to children is an art in itself to be discussed later. First we’ll concentrate on the techniques of telling the story.

Prepare your introduction carefully. Begin your story smoothly. If you fumble through your first few statements, you’ll become frustrated and may lose your train of thought. If you stammer to a stop and have to start over you’ll want to leave the room and never return! Never memorize a story word for word. But if it makes you feel more comfortable, memorize the first few lines for a snappy opening.

An introduction with interest-catching appeal will capture your listeners from the first word. “Mac had been Peter’s dog for as long as Peter could remember, and they were real pals.” Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun than ‘Peter had a dog named Mac?” Use your imagination and knowledge of the group to make your introduction sparkle.

Progress naturally from the introduction, building to the climax or most exciting or interesting portion of the story. Then finish the story with a brief conclusion. Don’t attempt to delay the conclusion, for once the climax of the story has been reached, listeners’ interest drops. A story is a unique teaching tool. Most contain a moral or teach a lesson. Let the story do it! Don’t attempt to tack on your own “sermonette” on the end of the story. Weave the moral into the plot in such a way that your hearers can’t miss it as you tell your story. When you’ve finished telling the story, stop!

Being yourself is important. Thorough preparation and practice will lead to naturalness in storytelling. You’ll probably feel most comfortable if you sit in a circle or semi-circle with your listeners. It suggests intimacy with the group and conversation at their level. If you must stand, due to a large group, stand naturally and relaxed. Never hide behind a podium.

Use gestures such as the shrug of the shoulders, a raised hand, a finger over the lips to indicate quietness. But don’t force or overuse them. And by all means, use facial expression. Raise your eyebrow, smile, frown, show enthusiasm. Try to portray the feelings of the story characters.

Some storytellers show pictures while telling their stories. This is fine, but don’t show 27 pictures during a four-minute story! Have several attractive illustrations to use at the appropriate times. Display them so all can see, then put them aside.
Place your hands quietly in your lap when you aren’t holding a picture or gesturing. Avoid the “gymnastics” of too many hand motions. They only draw attention to yourself. Beware of distracting habits, such as playing with a string of beads or a button on a jacket. Remember, you are the means to help your listeners SEE the story in their minds. The less they see of you, the better! Thorough practice, perhaps in front of a mirror, will help you know where and when to use gestures effectively. If well used, they can add life to the story. If overused, they can distract and spoil the story.

Your voice tells the story. Use your natural voice. By all means avoid a whiny, monotonous, or honeyed tone. Practice to develop variety in inflection. Let your voice reflect wonder, strength, sadness, etc. Imitate noises and sounds indicated in the story, such as “Buzzzz — was the sound Kate kept hearing outside her bedroom window.” Practice these sounds beforehand so they resemble the natural sounds. Pause to impress or to increase suspense. Work on projecting your voice. Record your own voice — it may surprise you!

Use dialog or direct discourse frequently to bring your characters to life. Make them speak to your hearers , rather than always telling your hearers what the characters say. “Hi, Mom!” is much more realistic than, “Jerry greeted his mother when she entered the room.” Change the voice to indicate the different characters. Use action verbs and colorful adjectives to tell your story. Never use words your listeners may not know.

If you suddenly discover that you’ve left out an important point, don’t try to correct it by saying … “Oh, I forgot to say…” Continue on, and if it is an integral part, weave it in. But don’t interrupt your story to apologize for your goof!

When you’re telling a Bible story, hold your Bible so all can see it. This especially impresses little children with the fact that your story is from God’s Word.

“Let’s have a story.” Do your students’ eyes brighten at the sound of those words? Use these helps to make story-time an exciting high point in your class.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Free Christmas Coloring Pages

Here are some coloring pages we’ve created for the Christmas season. There are two separate coloring pages in this file. Each coloring page has a memory verse. There is a coloring page in the file for the New International Version and a separate page for the King James Version. If you use a different Bible version than the ones given, feel free to cut off or white out the verse and replace it with the version you prefer. 

You can make as many copies of these coloring pages as you need for your children's program (or your friends and family). Click on either image to download the Christmas coloring pages. Visit our Sunday school downloads store for more coloring pages, crafts, and puzzle downloads—many as low as $1.99 each! 

If you're looking for even more Christmas program and outreach ideas, take a look at the Church Family Christmas Celebration outreach program with a candlelight service,  crafts, puppet skits, a Christmas pageant, fellowship ideas, and lots of reproducibles on CD-ROM.

Visit our Classroom Decorations store for some fun Christmas and new year's decorations to liven up your classrooms. Here are just a few samples of the large variety of bulletin board sets and trims available. Many are on sale for 30%-50% off.

May God bless you as you teach children (and their families) about the Christmas season and God's Son, Jesus, the best gift of all!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Decorating for Christmas

In some churches, decorating the church building with pine boughs and wreaths is an annual tradition called the “hanging of the greens.” Decorating your classroom for the season doesn’t have to be an expensive or elaborate proposition. Here are a few money-saving ways to involve parents, friends, and your little ones in sprucing up your classroom for Christmas:
  •   Spice up a small tree with the wonderful smell of cinnamon sticks. For each ornament, tie three or four cinnamon sticks together with ribbon. Glue a cluster of three cranberries to the sticks for a festive touch.
  •   Cut doves, angels, stars, manger scenes, and other items from old Christmas cards. Punch a hole in the top of each card, add a ribbon hanger, and hang from the tree.
  •  Tie colorful ribbons onto your Christmas tree. See how many bows, large and small, you can create.
 •   Let each child glue three craft sticks together to form a snowflake shape. Spread glue on the sticks and sprinkle with glitter. Add a sticker in the middle of the snowflake (one sticker on each side). Use these Jesus Dazzle Stickers or others you have on  hand. Tie a yarn hanger to each ornament.
 •   Decorate plain glass ball ornaments with glitter glue. Let each child use a paintbrush to create a personalized and unique family treasure. Make sure each person initials and dates the ornaments he or she creates.
  •  String beads and jingle bells onto chenille wire or ribbon. Twist lengths of wire together to form long garlands or twist the ends of one wire together to form a “bracelet” to hang with ribbon from the ceiling.
  •  Cut colorful paper into 8-inch strips and link the strips to form a paper chain. Make several, and hang the paper chains in your windows and doorway.
  •  Have older children make paper chains to take home. Let them print a Scripture verse on each chain link before gluing them together. Encourage them to read one verse to their families each day between now and Christmas. Choose verses that tell the Christmas story from Luke or Matthew.
  •  Fold white paper into a small triangle. Then cut a variety of shapes from the triangle. Unfold it to form a snowflake. Sprinkle it with silver or gold glitter glue, if you wish. Tie a string or piece of thread to the snowflake so it can hang from your ceiling or in a window.
  •  Collect pinecones (and fir cones). Spread glue on the cone and let the children add glitter. Wrap a wire around each cone, nearest its large end. Bring the wire up at the back of the cone and twist it into a loop for hanging. Tie a colorful ribbon into a bow around the wire at the base of the cone.
  •  Place a plastic or wooden creche (nativity scene) under the tree to help the children focus on the real meaning of Christmas—Jesus! Make sure your nativity figures are not breakable. As the children play with the figures, talk about the Christmas story and how Jesus was born and died for our sins (the wrong things we say and do). Explain that Jesus came alive again and now lives in heaven with God. Let the children retell the Christmas story as they play.

Monday, December 6, 2010

7 Steps to a Successful VBS

1. Pray
This is a big job, so meet with your Christian Education Director, Children’s Pastor, or Sunday School Superintendent. Begin with prayer, asking the Lord to direct you and give you wisdom as you plan for your vacation Bible school. You may want to organize a prayer team who will continue to pray for your program before, during, and after your VBS dates.

2. Plan
Once you have a budget, order several VBS starter kits to determine which one(s) will work best with your church and community. Return the kits you won’t need or keep an extra kit to use as an outreach program over spring break—or any time you need a special program. Your kids will enjoy the fun VBS crafts and gifts anytime. Visit Shop VBS to see a VBS Comparison Chart and print out a VBS Planning Guide and Timeline for organizing your VBS preparation.

3. Recruit
Ask the Lord to direct you to the people whom He wants to teach your precious children. Ask Him to prepare the hearts of these people to be receptive to becoming VBS leaders or helpers. Then make a list of qualified people who might be interested, and make an appointment to visit them in their homes. Explain the VBS program and the responsibilities of a VBS leader or helper. Ask him or her to pray about the decision, and if desired, leave a specific job description with him or her. To ensure your children the very best experiences in your VBS program, look for leaders and teachers with the following qualifications:
ü     Are dedicated Christians who seek to live for Christ daily, who study God’s Word, and who know the plan of salvation
ü     Are tuned in to kids, and able to build upon their natural interests
ü     Enjoy sharing in the children’s joy of discovery
ü     Are warm, outgoing, and have a genuine love and sensitivity for children
ü     Appreciate and seek to follow God’s command to teach children
ü     Have a basic understanding of children in terms of their physical, mental, and emotional development, and their spiritual needs
ü     Are reliable and disciplined to prepare for each meeting
ü     Are suitable role models for children

4. Prepare
Before you begin signing up children for VBS, print registration cards onto heavy stock. You can download free VBS Registration Cards. Design your own for VBS or use these. Give the cards to parents when they register their children. Have parents fill out a registration card for each child attending your program. The card should contain emergency information and a place to list allergies and other medical conditions of your students. For any child with allergies, create a special, brightly colored name badge with the allergies listed so all leaders and helpers are aware of the allergies and don’t inadvertently give the child something that might cause an allergic reaction.

5. Be Creative!
Creativity may not be your strong suit, but no doubt your church is full of creative talent just waiting to be put to good use. Someone who can paint backdrops, another person who can concoct inexpensive yet healthy snack options, a seamstress who can design skit costumes or theme decorations, a crafty mom who can modify the suggested VBS crafts into easy-to-prepare keepsakes made from household supplies—all of these people can play a role in kicking your VBS program up a notch. The key is to tap into their talents without giving them overwhelming responsibilities.

6. Pray (Continually!)
Each day during your VBS program, have volunteers arrive 15-20 minutes early for announcements and a time of prayer. You may want to provide coffee and juice each morning, with donuts or bagels and fruit the first day. Or provide dinner in the evening and invite your VBS families to come (have your volunteers arrive 15-20 minutes before dinner). Use your VBS theme for a brief devotion, then make announcements, share prayer requests and praises, and conclude with a time of prayer (for each other, for the children, and for God’s wisdom and discernment). Each day, let volunteers share stories of how God is working during VBS. Then take time to thank Him for the ways He is using each person to spread His Word and change lives.

7. Consider Including Preschoolers in Your VBS
VBS is a great way to introduce young families to your church. Consider including 2- to 5-year-olds in your VBS program. You may want to run a separate preschool program for your little ones. The hours can be the same as for your elementary program, but younger children can have their own learning centers, games, and age-appropriate crafts. The preschoolers can join the other children for your VBS opening and then go their own preschool rooms for the rest of the morning. If your VBS begins with everyone together for an opening song time, be prepared to have one or two helpers take younger children to your preschool classroom for free play if the large group setting becomes overwhelming. Read other blog articles for more ideas on including preschoolers in your VBS (See the article, "How to Have a Preschool-Friendly VBS"). Visit Shop VBS to take a look at Jesus in Nazareth for Preschoolers and the Preschool Summer All-in-One Kit, VBS curriculum written especially for your two- to five-year-olds.

And Finally…Evaluate!
Before your VBS ends, have thank-you notes and evaluation forms ready for your helpers. Gather feedback about what worked and what didn’t so you can make changes for next year. Make notes so if you are not involved, you can pass them on to your successor. Thank God for the ways He worked to change lives during VBS. Be sure to let your volunteers know how much they were appreciated. While they’re still excited about the great things that happened during VBS, ask if they would be willing to consider being a part of the team next year. (Just to get an idea, not for a firm commitment.) Then follow up around March or April (or just as soon as you set the next date) to have them start praying about volunteering for your next VBS program.

Visit Shop VBS for a PDF of this article to share with your coworkers (7 Steps to a Successful VBS).