For many of us in North America, the beginning of the Sunday School year is looking very different than normal. Over the past few months, we have become more familiar with tools such as Zoom and other technology that have been helpful tools to unite us on some level while we are apart.
There are many benefits to online Sunday School. In particular, it is exciting to see a further reach online – children, who may have been too far away to join ‘in-person’ activities, can join from anywhere in the world. We know that God is working through these challenging times, and can use these opportunities to connect kids in ways we may have not thought possible before. However, it is helpful to also be aware of some of the unique challenges of a virtual Sunday School and work and pray to find ways to overcome them.
Real Challenges of a Virtual Sunday School
Although we are very thankful to have the technology to continue to ‘meet’ together, there are real challenges to bring to the conversation. As we identify these, we also hope to discuss creative ways that may help to overcome them!
We do not have as many natural opportunities to connect personally with each child in a virtual Sunday School. We see our Sunday School students as part of our God-given spiritual family. That special relationship is naturally reinforced when we see each other in person on a weekly basis. In-person we have various means to connect. We may greet each other before Sunday School begins with hugs or high fives. We often find time for little visits to hear what is going on in our little family member’s lives. We may give stickers and candy as little treats at the end of the lesson. In comparison, online Sunday School can feel very one dimensional.
In addition to having less opportunity to connect individually, we also must recognize that we do not have a captive audience. It is much more challenging for children in a home environment with its inevitable real-life distractions to focus on you as you speak through the screen, than in a Sunday School classroom with a real live teacher.
We have both researched and received helpful input about creative ways to work around these obstacles and have compiled a list below. It may not all be useful for your ecclesial family dynamics – what some may thrive on, others may find overwhelming. However, we hope that some of the ideas may be helpful in your circumstances.
Finding Ways to Connect and Stay Connected
Entire Sunday School
- Start the Virtual Sunday School year with a Pancake breakfast and introduction to Sunday School. Possibilities include: 1) a socially distanced pancake breakfast on picnic blankets at the hall 2) a drive-by pancake breakfast 3) a virtual pancake breakfast (each family makes their own pancakes at home before joining in). For this option, after the introduction to Sunday school, families could eat ‘together’ in breakout rooms.
- To keep the Sunday School connected as a whole, you may like to start Sunday School altogether before classes go to zoom ‘breakout rooms.’
- If the Sunday School isn’t starting together as a whole, you may consider a monthly or bi-monthly whole group Sunday School meeting.
Connecting with your Sunday School Class
- Kick-off your first class with a drive-by delivery (or meeting point pick up) of gift bags. You may like to include their Sunday School books, notebooks (Meeting Notes Journal), pens, Bible marking pens etc.
- Stay in contact with the children and their parents outside of the online class time through phone or text or socially distanced visits.
- Create a Sunday School Whatsapp group for the parents to stay in touch.
- Snail mail packages with craft material, stickers and treats.
- If you have a small enough and close enough group, drive around with snacks before Sunday school OR consider having a themed snack.
Connecting with Individuals During your Sunday School Class
- Spend a short, but focused time on each child individually as they join the class – greet them individually, ask how they are doing and what has been going on in their life.
- Have a special, personalized greeting for each child in the class (eg for young children, clap out each child’s name when they join as a greeting).
- Have ‘social’ time at the end – perhaps with an activity or game, but include time to individually check-in with each child.
- Create a routine goodbye.
Use Personalized Content to Engage and Connect
Have the children get creative in producing content to share during the online Sunday school.
- Using a rotation, have the children create a video of the Sunday School lesson (they can tell the story, put on a play, act the story out with lego, stop motion video etc).
- Have the children video record short scripted clips that get strung together into a whole video.
- Have the children send in photos re-enacting a scene of the story – each of the children can send photos from different scenes, and you can use these as you teach your Sunday School lesson.
- Create a shared google album for parents to contribute photos of their children doing crafts, assignments etc.
- You can share these photos with the children in a slideshow during the next class to help personalize the time together.
Keep Content Varied, Simple and Short for Better Engagement
- Recognizing the circumstances don’t allow for a ‘captive audience,’ assume a shorter attention span and keep your content moving.
- Provide variety in your lessons (intersperse related videos or activities… or puppet visitors for younger children) to kids engaged.
- Get kids moving – stand up, stretch, have a scavenger hunt, finger play songs (for younger children).
- Use video as a tool for engagement. Include an activity video, but pause and interact throughout. Watch an object lesson video and discuss it afterwards.
Next Thursday we hope to share Open-Ended Sunday School Games & Craft Videos – useful tools to have in your pocket that can be made to fit nearly any Sunday School lesson.
Thank you to the many that have given feedback for this post through surveys and chats! We continue to welcome feedback and ideas – see the “Contact Us” in the menu.
Thank you to Kristy R, Kate A, Michael N, Nancy B, Catherine W, Dinah P, Hannah L, Jared K, Naomi O, Dean M, Eric H, Bob P, Keleigh S.