Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Eyes Wide Open Renamed and Moved

I've decided to rename and move Eyes Wide Open. The new name is Leading Kids Today and can be found at leadingkidstoday.com.

I hope you'll bookmark the new site or subscribe via an RSS feed or e-mail (the e-mail option will be added soon to the new site.)

May God empower you and bless you lead kids to Him!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Three Ways to Engage Energetic Kids

Diana has been asked to lead a small group of kids at her church. She’s excited about this prospect and works hard to prepare for her first lesson. She loves kids and has always wanted to get involved in children’s ministry.

Within minutes after she arrives, Diana notices that one of the boys in her group is more energetic than the rest and has a hard time staying focused. He’s similar to the little boy in this video:

If she lines the kids up, he quickly moves out of line. If she has the kids sit in a circle, in no time, he’s wiggling around on the floor . If she has the kids recite their verse together, he’s very loud and not in sync with the rest of the group. When she gives the kids a chance to color, he breaks the crayons in half instead of coloring.

An hour later, Diana leaves church exhausted and wonders if anyone got anything out of her well thought-out lesson. She isn’t quite sure what to do, but she knows she’s got to come up with a plan before next Sunday.

Learning to manage kids who have trouble focusing in small group environments is extremely important. The percentage of kids in our culture who have trouble focusing is large enough that nearly every small group is bound to have at least one child who brings an abundance of energy to the group.

Since experience is the best teacher, I’ve asked several seasoned children’s leaders for suggestions on how to help energetic kids stay focused during small group time. I’ll share three of them this week and more next week.

1. Embrace opportunities to work with kids w
ho challenge you.

Leslie, one of the small group leaders at our church and the mother of a special needs child, wrote,
“I just remember thinking to myself, quite often, that my son’s teachers just wanted him out of there because he's different. I was a little sensitive but I know that's the way the human mind works, to weed out the difficulties so things will be easier. So try to keep away the mindset that it would be so much easier to run this group if so and so weren't here.

We need to be reminded that the Bible says that God will give us challenges, not as a test, but as a character builder for our lives. It's not always easy to handle these kids, but it's obviously God's will that they be with us for the short time that we are entrusted with them.”
Children’s ministry leaders need to embrace opportunities to work with kids who are a bit more challenging because those kids need to experience the love of God in tangible ways. Additionally, as we accept opportunities to lead all types of children, our leadership skill set will improve and our character will be built. What seems difficult today may not seem difficult in six months if we accept opportunities to grow.

2. Stay focused on the positive.

Kids who struggle to focus are aware of the fact that they challenge adults and, because of this, they often feel unwanted. They need to sense from you that they are loved and accepted.

If you frequently say things like “Stop that” or “Don’t do that,” they’ll sense that you'd prefer they weren't in your group.

Instead of focusing on their negative actions, you can redirect their behavior in a way that shows them you really care about them and are glad they're in your group. For example, if a child is breaking crayons, instead of saying, “Billy, don’t do that,” you could say, “Billy, can you please hand me a crayon so I can write draw the verse for everyone?” This takes the focus off the behavior you want to curb, redirects the child’s attention to the lesson and sends the message to the child that he has something valuable to contribute to the group.

3. Adapt activities to include additional movement.

It’s possible that the kids who are struggling to stay focused in your group have a disorder, like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD is caused by a lack of chemical stimulation to the brain so children with ADHD compensate by creating other stimulation, like constantly moving or making noises.

By adapting your activities to include more movement, you will reduce the need for these children to create stimulation on their own. For example, instead of just having kids verbally recite a verse, you could have the kids get in a single-file line and march around the room shouting out a word of the verse with each step. Getting them involved both verbally and physically will help them stay focused and also increase the likelihood that they will remember what you are trying to teach them.

5th Grade boys spelling out LOVE

This is a perfect example of getting kids physically involved in the lesson. Instead of just having kids talk about love, the leaders had them spell out the virtue with their bodies first. It was a fun, physical way to introduce a topic in small group.

As you prepare lessons, look for ways to add movement into each activity.

Thank you Leslie, Dawn, Linda, Louise, Rowley and Cindy for sharing your ideas and Steve and Vicki for sharing your LOVE pic! What about you? What are some ways you help energetic kids stay engaged during group time?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Knockin' on Heaven’s Door

Wow! A new year of ministry has just begun! What an exciting and busy time for all of us who are involved in helping kids find and follow Jesus. I always approach the new year with a high level of anticipation because I know new kids will come to church, which means more kids will get to learn how awesome God is. With each passing year, I also love to watch kids grow in their understanding of who God is and how they can know Him better and love Him more.

For those of us who are responsible for preparing lessons, Bible stories, worship sets, craft activities, games or other activities for kids, it’s tempting to think the success of our ministry is solely dependent on our ability to prepare and execute well. Being prepared IS vital, but it’s not the most important way to ensure success.

If you are desperate for God to use you to influence kids this year, the first step toward being effective is to pray.

Why should I pray?
We should bathe our ministry in prayer because “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16 (NLT).

Make sure to keep your priorities in the right order.
  • Prep without prayer is pointless.
  • Prayer without prep is laziness.
  • Prep bathed in prayer is powerful.
When should I pray?
If you want God to work powerfully through you this year, pray regularly for your ministry. Connecting this prayer time with something else you already do is one way to ensure consistency. You might want to choose one of these activities and commit to praying for your ministry then.

Pray while you are:
  • brushing your teeth
  • shaving
  • taking a shower
  • waiting at stop lights
  • driving to or from school or work
  • doing the dishes
  • folding laundry
  • exercising
What should I pray for?
If, after 30 seconds, you’ve exhausted all your prayer topics and you aren’t quite sure what to say next, take a look at my previous post on prayer. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but it’s a great start.

Jesus encourages us to be persistent in our prayer, so go ahead. Knock on heaven’s door. And then, knock some more. And some more. And more.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Why subscribe to Eyes Wide Open?

The best way to make sure you don’t miss any articles posted on Eyes Wide Open is to have each post sent directly to your e-mail as soon as it is added to the blog. You can do this easily by typing your e-mail address in the box to the right and then clicking “Subscribe.”

Once you do that, new posts will automatically be sent to your e-mail address so you don’t need to make a special “trip” to Eyes Wide Open.

If you’d like to comment on a blog entry (I encourage you to so more people can be involved in the discussion), just click on the title of the article in the e-mail message and it will take you to the blog site. Scroll down and click the “comments” link.

Thanks so much for reading Eyes Wide Open. I pray that these tips are an encouragement to you and provide you with some practical tips for making your small group the best ever!

Remember, your labor is not in vain!


Sunday, August 31, 2008

“I baked you a delicious cookie.”

I strongly believe that positive life change happens in loving relationships. Therefore, if we want kids’ lives to be changed as a result of attending church, we need to create environments in which they can be in loving relationships. This is why small groups with consistent kids and leaders are so important. When kids develop relationships other kids and adults at church and feel loved and accepted, they are able to open their hearts and minds to what God wants to teach them.

An important question for small group leaders to ask is “How do I know the kids in my group feel loved?” If you can identify those signs, you’ll know you’re on the right track towards being a catalyst for change in the lives of kids. If, on the other hand, you realize your kids don’t exhibit behaviors like those listed here, it may be time to beef up your love factor.

My top 10 list for ways to know kids feel loved:

10. They smile when they see you.
9. They relax when you are near.
8. They run toward you to give you a big hug.
7. They look you in the eye when you’re talking to them.
6. They jockey for position just to sit next to you.
5. They do what you ask them to do.
4. They come back to church when you send them an “I’ve miss you” postcard.
3. They chit-chat with you as they are waiting for their parents to pick them up.
2. They draw pictures for you.

And the #1 way you know kids feel loved is...

1. They bake you a delicious cookie!

What about you? How do you know kids in your small group feel loved? Just click the comments link below and tell us what you think.

(photo by roboppy)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

One Simple Way to Quickly Improve Your Small Group

Have you ever led one of those small groups that you felt was a total waste of time? Every once in a while I have one of those days. It seems like no matter what I do or how hard I try, the kids have a hard time focusing.

If you have ever felt like that, this tip is for you. Perhaps the solution to your problem is simpler than you think. It could be that all you need to do is remove distractions from your small group area so kids are able to focus better.

Several weeks ago I introduced the concept of honor by giving each 2nd grader in my group an inflated balloon early in the small group time. I had the kids draw the face of someone they wanted to honor on the balloon. Then, I had them all toss their balloons in the air and try to keep them off the ground. This was designed to illustrate how honoring someone is like “lifting them up.”

After the kids had batted their balloons for about fifteen seconds, their energy increased. With each bat, they jumped up a bit more. I could tell that in about five more seconds, mayhem was going to break loose if I didn’t collect the balloons. If that happened, I’d never be able to recapture the kids attention.

My mind quickly shifted into problem-solving mode. I grabbed the black trash bag in which I had originally stored the inflated balloons. I quickly held it up and caught the first balloon I saw. Then, I captured a second and a third. Once I assured the kids that they could have their balloons back after our group was over, they were eager to bat the balloons toward the bag. I encouraged them to toss their balloons up and see if I could catch them. I made my capturing of the balloons a fun activity for them.

Once I had all the balloons stored securely in the bag, I was able to transition to the next activity without any distractions. Capturing the balloons was the most important thing I did that morning. Had I allowed the kids to keep their newly-created toys during the group, they wouldn’t have paid attention to the rest of the lesson.

There are certain distractions that have a way of showing up repeatedly during small groups. Here are a few and how to remove them.

Supplies (The #1 culprit)
  • Wait until kids need supplies (including Bibles) before you distribute them.
  • Collect supplies as soon as the kids are done with them.
Kids’ personal items
  • Kindly ask for them. Assure the children you’ll return their belongings after small group time.
  • If you make it a practice to collect personal items at the beginning of small group time, kids will become used to that and may even stop bringing them.
Noise or movement in the hall
  • Close the door.
  • Have the kids sit with their back to the door.
Noise or movement in the rest of the room
  • Position yourself with your back to the wall (instead of to the center of the room.) This way kids won’t be visually distracted by other things that may be happening in the center of the room.
  • Don't allow yourself to get distracted. If you do, the kids certainly will.
You may not be able to eliminate every distraction, but if you take these precautions, you can eliminate the majority of distractions very easily and increase the likelihood that the kids in your group will leave with a better understanding of the point you were trying to communicate to them.

Have a great group this week!

(photo by Andre Maceira)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Say My Name, Say My Name

In my last post, I wrote about the value of having kids sit in a tight circle to increase involvement and focus. Another extremely helpful tactic for keeping kids engaged during small group time is to call each child by name several times during your time with them.

For example, a couple weeks ago, we did an activity that illustrated honor. I called on two kids by name and asked them to sit in the middle of the circle. While they were sitting there, we all said our memory verse together. “Love one another deeply. Honor others more than yourselves” Romans 12:10. Then, after we had all said the verse, I offered each child in the center of the circle a small treat by saying something like, “Rebekah, thank you for sitting in our seat of honor. You may have a cookie.” Each child felt honored and each child sat patiently while we honored his or her peers.

Two weeks ago, I invited each child to take an object from the center of the circle. I called on them individually by name so they each took a turn getting their object. A few children wanted to rush ahead of their turn, but it was very easy to say, “It’s Sarah’s turn now. I’ll call on you when it’s your turn.” They responded very well to this.

Since I’ve been making a concerted effort to call on every child by name several times during our small group, I’ve noticed a few changes in the kids.
  1. Kids stay focused, eagerly waiting for their name to be called.
  2. Kids are more patient because they know they will each get a chance to participate.
  3. Kids are more respectful of each other because they see that everyone has equal value in the group.
  4. The quieter kids have started participating more, offering their ideas at other times as well.
There’s power in a name. I encourage you to tap into that power by calling all your kids by name during small group time. Have a great small group this week!