It started out the perfect Sunday morning class time. All of my 3-D visuals stood ready for little hands to help me tell the Christmas story and play out the events of the night when Jesus was born. I had one goal for this lesson: Christmas = Jesus’ birthday!
The children began to arrive with excitement dancing in their eyes.They unbuttoned coats, deposited book bags and talked all over each other trying to tell me about the latest piece of very important news in their respective worlds. After several minutes of letting them unload their thoughts so we could focus, one little voice rambled on:
“Hey…. Hey! There was this snake… on a bicycle… and it tried to bite me… and I killed it... but it camed back to life… and crawled up my arm… and I killed it again… and then it was in my house… and….”
Wow. Really? – Okay. How about we make a sheep and a manger for baby Jesus this morning?
As we gathered around the review table, the children helped hold the story board pieces from last week’s lesson. We talked about the angel appearing to Mary to tell her she would have a very special baby boy. They listened and answered questions that helped them remember about Joseph, and the long trip to Bethlehem to be counted.
All the while, my little Snake Boy held the large angel figure, walking it about the table, lost in play except to occasionally interject a silly answer that invited snickers from the others. As the review time closed, I noticed the other children began to walk their figures about the table, too, and I waited – anxious to see how they would act out the bible story on their own.
Suddenly, SnakeAngel Boy whopped Mary Girl on the head, pulled an imaginary gun and began shooting at Joseph. Mary Girl protested loudly while rubbing her scalp, and Joseph Boy immediately engaged in imaginary battle against the Angel – punctuating the air with an explosion of rapid-fire shooting sounds and chipmunk-like giggles.
So much for free-scripting the bible story. Go to Plan B.
Hey guys, how about Song Time!
This is my fall back, my tried-and-true method to re-focus my four-to-six-year old students. They love music and their quick response told me they were ready.
I cued the song and led the children in what was supposed to be some rendition of Happy-Birthday-to-Jesus. I thought I had the song down pat, but with way too many verses, and a rather boring tempo and tune, I did what any enterprising Sunday School teacher would do… I faked my way to the end!
Leave it to SnakeAngel Boy to call my bluff when he decided to bust a move on the dance floor to impress his peers and liven the joint up a bit. Normally I encourage them to wiggle and move and have a lot of fun with the music, but something told me that today I’d better pull in the reins a bit or the last thing the kids would remember is that Christmas = Jesus birthday!
So… on to my next back-up plan.
As we settled around the crafts table, I still felt confident about instilling the lesson goal. The children began assembling their mangers, folding back the dotted-line tabs and holding them in place while I taped them together. I asked more review questions, and had them repeat their favorite parts of the bible story.
They folded the dotted lines on their paper sheep and stood them beside their completed manger and the baby Jesus punch-out figure. I gave each child a piece of oatmeal colored construction paper and showed them how to tear very thin strips to crinkle up for “hay” to put in their mangers -- because that’s where he slept the night he was born.
For the first time, they were totally in the groove. Focused. On task.
I was so proud of my little SnakeAngel Boy when he tore some of his paper into tiny shapes and scattered them on the table around his empty manger stating that there was probably hay on the floor of the barn. Why, of course! -- I praised his creative insight, and he smiled. Yeah! Progress.
The kids worked on in silence, and I invited them to join me and sing “Away in a Manger.”
You know… ?? “Away-in-a-Manager-no-crib-for-a-bed…..???” The song trailed off as they each shook their head no. They had never heard it.
I sang through it as they continued on their crafts, and some of the children began to sing along. Two lines in on the second go-round, I overheard SnakeAngel Boy ask if anyone knew "Grandma Got Runned Over by a Reindeer.” And before I could stop him the class erupted in sheer delight, tipping back in their chairs, and laughing so hard their breath sent the paper sheep flying, the hay pieces toppling off the table, and every baby Jesus cut-out tumbling head over swaddled heels.
At this point, I don’t even remember how I regained control of the room… but somehow we managed to finish class on time, deposit our nicely completed manger scene crafts in brown paper bags, deal with an out-of-nowhere-just-started-dripping bloody nose, distribute take-home papers and share laughter and love… all the while emphasizing over and over again the reason we celebrate Christmas.
GOOD NEWS! Jesus is born!
What humorous experiences have you had when trying to teach young children about the real meaning of Christmas?
Photo Credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert