During the first fifteen minutes of the 11:00 worship service, we had a child dedication this morning. Five children from two different families were dedicated, including one baby and four older children. The godparents each brought their own children. Thus after the child dedication was over, and the children left for Sunday school, I expected to see perhaps a dozen children come out of the Main Hall — the children associated with the child dedication, plus another 3 or 4 of our regulars. At the end of the first hymn, I opened one of the sliding glass doors at the back of the church, and as the children kept coming I realized that we were going to have more like 20 children.
Melissa, the lead teacher today, was waiting in the classroom for us. She, to was surprised as the children streamed in. I rounded up a few stray children; Melissa quickly rearranged the rooms so we could all sit down in a big circle. “Let’s take attendance first,” she said, and looked at me. “Dan, do you mind taking attendance?” I didn’t mind at all. Melissa asked each child to say their name and age; we had 18 children, ranging in age from 5 to 12 years old. Of our regulars, Dorit, Zach, and Heather were present (Heather’s sister, Sara, who is 12, is now staying with her parents to hear the sermon). Dorit brought her friend Vi. Rawley and Carl, who usually attend the 9:30 session, had been with us before. The rest of the children were either one-time visitors, or usually came at 9:30.
After I took attendance, Melissa asked me to do our regular check-in (and in an aside to me, said that she had to run and make some more photocopies that she would need later). I said we’d go around the circle, and everyone would have a chance to tell about one good thing and one bad thing that happened to them in the past week, or they could pass. Usually when we have new children, they choose to pass. However, this Sunday, most of the children chose to say something — this felt like a real accomplishment! Melissa was so welcoming, and I think our regular children have become quite good at accepting and welcoming newcomers and visitors. The children were mostly quite attentive to each other — except for Dorit, which is most unusual, but Dorit was distracted by the novelty of having her friend Vi, and the two of them could hardly keep from talking to each other.
Melissa began telling the story of Queen Esther. I had to run off to gather some more supplies. When i came back, Melissa was in the middle of the story. Now whenever I’ve heard this story before, the storyteller has always had us hiss when Haman’s name comes up, so when Melissa said “Haman,” I almost started to hiss — but caught myself when no one else did. So at a break in the story, I mentioned this point, and Melissa said that was a good idea. She began the story again: “So the king turned to Haman…” — and she paused while we all hissed.
Melissa told the story very well, and the children listened attentively. (By “attentively,” I mean that there was the usual squirming on the carpet squares, but no side conversations, and no wandering eyes or heads.) At the end of the story, Melissa asked the children what they thought of the story. Rawley said she thought there might be a lesson to the story, and Melissa asked her what she thought that lesson might be. After Rawley gave her idea, Kayla, who was at the 11:00 Sunday school for the first time, spoke passionately but not very articulately, saying we should stick up for our ideals. A couple of other children also said what they thought the story meant. Melissa and I said the story could mean all these things, and Melissa had a couple of other ideas of what the story could mean.
Ellie (who usually comes at 9:30) asked if the story were true, which prompted another general discussion. Carl and Zach and some of the older children said it wasn’t a true story. Kayla said decisively that it was a myth. Carol (a one-time visitor) took a couple of minutes to tell us about a myth she knew. The discussion grew a little chaotic, but I think most of the children understood that while the story wasn’t factual history the way we know it today, it contained truths (it was a story with a “lesson” in it).
Rather than pursue this discussion further, we brought the children over to the tables where we had set up crayons and coloring pages that outlined the story of Esther (these were coloring pages where you could draw in faces and clothing of the main characters). Had there been only four or six children, as usual, Melissa was going to have the children color in the pages, and then use them to retell the story in their own words. I ran off to get more snacks to eat while coloring, and then went to get more chairs (I was sure I had set up 18 chairs, but there were only 16), and then parents were waiting outside the doors of the classroom. We invited some of them in, and Melissa led a brief closing wrap-up: “What story did we hear today?” Esther! Esther and the king! “Who was the bad guy?” Haman! [Hissssss!] “What did we get out of the story?” And the children repeated some of the things they had said during the discussion.
Slowly, the children and their parents drifted out of the classroom, leaving Melissa and me to put away the crayons and paper, and talk over how the class went. “More children than we expected!” “Wasn’t it great to have that many?”
(a) Melissa, Susie, and I — the three regular teachers for this class — had agreed that we would keep the focus on stories; as happened today, the center of each class has been a story. We originally made that decision for pedagogical reasons. I don’t know how Melissa felt, but today I was glad we had made that decision for pragmatic reasons: unlike some activities, stories can accommodate large or small numbers of children. in fact, stories sometimes are better when there are lots of children present, especially if you’re as good a storyteller as Melissa happens to be.
Queries for the reader
(1) What would you do if twice as many children as you had expected showed up for your Sunday school class? Would you be able to find enough extra carpet squares, chairs, craft materials for all those extra children? Would you have enough space in your room for them? Does your lesson plan allow for any number of children, or would you at least be able to readjust your lesson plan on the fly?