HOW TO: Navigate Small Group Time with Preschoolers
by Autumn Ward
We all agree that preschoolers are learning new bits of information every day. Most of them will walk into your classroom with no problem, but that would not have been possible just two or three years ago. No, that’s when they were learning to hold their heads up, lift their feet to hold them, roll over, push up, rock, crawl, pull up and finally, taking that first step. Walking is more than taking one big step. It’s the culmination of learning a lot of much smaller steps.
The same is true with preschool Small Groups. Sitting together and talking about the Bible story, applying it to our lives, praying together, celebrating one another—that’s the big step we want to take. But first we must experience several much smaller steps.
Step 1: Train your threes to go to the same area with the same people for Small
Your new three-year-olds were in a twos class just last Sunday. Participating in a mall Group is something they have to learn how to do. Begin by simply helping them identify where to go and teaching them the names of their new Small Group Leader and friends.
- Use colors, animals, shapes, anything the children can recognize, to make it easy for your children to spot your Small Group area in the classroom. (The threes classroom where I serve at my church has four Small Groups. My group is the “orange” group so my basket, journal and pen are all orange.)
- Place a color dot on each child’s nametag with a marker so you can easily identify which leader they go with. (The names of the children in my group have their names printed in orange since we are the orange group. This really helps me know which children are mine at the beginning of the year and as new children are added to my group throughout the year. The children learn to recognize the color nametags as well.)
- Be consistent with your place in the room, time you meet, leader, friends and symbol. (My group always meets in the left corner by the door right after the Bible story. Same leader. Same children. Same color. Every Sunday.)
- Give each child a small paper cup filled with a snack to eat as they sit down in their Small Group. (We give a squirt of hand sanitizer before Small Group and hand out small paper cups of Goldfish. This really help the children go to their spots at the beginning of the year.)
- Call out each child’s name and pray together. (I am horrible with names. Saying my children’s names each Sunday helps them and me! I want us to know each other by name!)
- Pray together. Go around the circle and thank God for each child by name. Do this every Sunday. Once you feel your group has their routine down, it’s time to take another step.
Step 2: Add saying the memory verse together.
Congratulations! Your Small Sroup is meeting in the same spot, at the same time, with the same leader and same friends. Are you ready to get on your knees and start rocking a bit?
- Before you pray together, practice saying your memory verse with motions, as a group.
- End with prayer. Ask your children if anyone wants to pray before you lead the group in a prayer. Thank God for each child by name.
- Once you feel comfortable with saying the memory verse and praying, it’s time to crawl on to some application conversation.
Step 3: Use the First Look curriculum to begin talking about the Bible story and how it applies to your preschoolers’ lives.
- We’re not quite to the journals yet, but we’ve come a long way! Keep your words short and sweet as you talk about the Bible story. Listen as much, if not more, than you talk.
- Try and quickly connect the Bottom Line to their young hearts. Just one or two examples are enough. The Bottom Line will get lost in a lot of words.
- Being able to apply the Bottom Line is more important than knowing story facts. (I would rather have a child understand that it’s important to tell Jesus “Thank You” in his everyday life than to be able to retell the story of Jesus and the ten lepers.)
Step 4: Are you ready to pull up and walk? Take out your journals. It’s time to start recording those precious preschool prayers.
- You are now to the point where you can follow the First Look curriculum just as it is written. You have taught your children how to:
- Go to their Small Group spot.
- Know you and their new friends by name.
- Practice their memory verse together.
- Talk about the Bible story and how it applies to them.
- Now you’re going to add the journal.
- When it’s time to pray together, write down each child’s name in print so they can recognize the letters and their own name.
- First Look gives a suggested question to ask the children. Write down their responses beside their names. (One question might be, who can we tell the good news that Jesus is God’s Son? They would each say one person’s name.)
- When you close with prayer, say each child’s name and what they recorded in your journal in your prayer. Offer the opportunity for each child to pray. (The children have the sweetest prayers!)
I have three children. They all learned to walk at different ages. One of my daughters walked at nine months. But my son, I was still lugging that boy around when he was 13 months old! (Yes, he did finally walk. He now plays football for his high school!) The same is true with your preschool Small Groups. Some will learn to walk faster than others, but it will happen. Hang in there and know that you are doing a good work and your children, their families and your church will be better for it.