Tips for Teaching Three-year-olds

1.  Threes don’t understand the flow of time.
For a three year old, the time from one Sunday to the next seems like an eternity. This age child doesn’t string together, in time order, the Bible stories told from week to week. When you say, “A long time ago, there was a man named Abraham,” the preschool mind interprets it as yesterday. To them, yesterday was a long time ago. So I suggest you tell very simple Bible stories which support a weekly age-appropriate theme. The three year old wrestles with his will versus God’s will (most often in the form of parent or teacher authority), so themes focus on God’s ways: obeying, helping, sharing, and making wise choices.

2.  Threes are self-focused and independent.
Threes are usually somewhat more compliant than twos, and many threes have a desire to please.  However, threes are still quite self-focused. They still assert their independence.  So threes may have a hard time relating with others.

3. Threes learn by doing, imitating, and repeating.
Threes often imitate the significant adults in their lives. If they see parents and caregivers pray and read their Bibles, they will usually imitate them.  If they hear words, rhymes, and songs over and over again, threes often will repeat these words, rhymes, and songs themselves. Threes also learn by touching and doing. So lots of teacher interaction is good. Teachers can model and repeat the important themes of the lessons and guide the children into experiences that enrich their understanding of God’s ways.

4.  Threes are sensitive to music:  melody and rhythm.
A preschooler’s short attention span can often be held and strengthened by songs when the child seems oblivious to spoken words. The simple melodies and rhythms repeated in childhood stay in the heart and mind for a lifetime. So key truths, themes, and verses can be presented not only in spoken words, but also in song.

5. Threes are attracted to sensory experiences and action.
Threes will gravitate toward any place where there is something going on that’s interesting, active, musical, colorful, tasty, or fun to touch or hold.  But occasionally they need someone to draw their attention to these activities. Teachers may find that when they themselves engage in the desired activity and have fun doing it, threes will be drawn in naturally.

6. Threes need supervision and help.
Threes need help and/or close supervision as they learn. A teacher-child ratio of one teacher for every five or six three year olds is very important for quality care-giving. When recruiting helpers and teachers, remember that grandparents and teenagers are often overlooked, but can be valuable members of a teaching team.

7.  Threes have a very short attention span.
While some children are more distractible than others, most threes move quickly from one interest to another. They live in the immediate present and will pursue whatever catches their attention. In order to present and guide activities and stories to young children, teachers must catch and hold their attention. Teachers must also be ready to move to a new activity when the children are ready to move on.

Happy Teaching!




PS- See my Bible Time Curriculum for Threes

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Four Ways to Teach with Intention

Ballet-Form2One of my mentors, award-winning writer Kathi Appelt, reminds me that form should serve story.  She says, “It’s easy to get lost in the exercise of form and lose intentionality.”  She encouraged me to ask:  “Is this form deliberate and appropriate for the subject?”  Intentionality means making choices deliberately, for particular reasons – which means that the writer knows there are choices in the first place.  The writer knows what those choices are and purposely selects what best serves the story he or she is trying to tell.

Form vs Intentionality – Who does it serve?
It occurred to me that this principle of being deliberate and intentional, of making form serve story, is a principle that I use all the time when I write curricula. I know there are choices, and I know what the choices are. I try to choose a method of storytelling that serves the Bible story. I also try to choose activities that serve the story and the goal of the lesson.

But activities and storytelling methods should serve the students, too.  If we are serious about communicating, we not only ask, “Is this form deliberate and appropriate for the subject?” but we also ask, “Is this form deliberate and appropriate for the students?” When we work with children, “it’s easy to get lost in the exercise of form.”  In other words, it’s easy to get locked in to a particular method or schedule. It’s easy to rely on what feels most comfortable to us and say, “This is the way it’s done. Period.” It’s easy to get “set in our ways” and avoid trying anything new, even though some new type of activity or different way of telling the story might serve the story and/or the students more effectively.

That’s why:

  1. I tell teachers that their lesson plans are simply suggestions. They know their students. They are responsible for communicating in ways that will give their particular students the greatest opportunity to become involved and grow.
  2. I give teachers lots of activity choices in each lesson plan.
  3. I ask teachers, “Do you go into the classroom to teach the material or to teach children?”
  4. I say:  Make your teaching choices by taking AIM–

In other words, be intentional and deliberate.  Let your form serve your story and your students.

Happy teaching!


Teacher Training

HummingbirdWe are hot and muggy here in Tennessee.  The only creature moving very fast is the hummingbird flitting around the red and purple blossoms of my flower garden.

If you are involved in any way with Bible study or Sunday school, right now you are probably starting your Fall program, and you’ve recruited or are in the process of recruiting teachers. If you are thinking about providing teacher training, you might consider the book Child Sensitive Teaching and the Child Sensitive Teaching Training Guide. The training guide contains the highlights of the book in the form of bullet points, charts, and handy tips.  It’s fully photocopiable for teacher training and addresses issues like “Young Children -What are they Like?,” Behavior Management,” “Story Telling,” “Time Management for Teachers,” “Parents as Teaching Partners,” and “Play – The Key to Communication,” among other topics.

CST1_150_Drop2Several Christian colleges use Child Sensitive Teaching as a text for Christian education courses. Written according to my teaching philosophy, it’s meant to be a sensitive look at how we can teach to the way children learn. I show how faith develops from birth through older adulthood (yes, it includes adults – because I want to address not only the child’s needs, but yours as well). I also discuss behavior management, storytelling, communication, and scripture memory. It’s a handy reference book to have in your library regardless of what age you teach. Useful for parents, too.

So . . . stay cool!  And I wish you all the best as you move into this new school year.

Karyn Sig



7 Reasons Children Misbehave

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne topic that seems to be of universal interest among parents and teachers is that of Behavior Management. When I was teaching a class of 4 & 5 year-olds on a regular basis, it was definitely a topic I was interested in. So, let’s look at some of the “whys” of misbehavior. As I look through this list it occurs to me that most of these needs also apply to us adults. We may not misbehave because of it, but if these needs are not being met they can reflect in our personalities. Hmmm. Something to ponder.

Misbehaving usually occurs because they are choosing inappropriate ways to get their perceived needs met. They may not even be conscious of the specific need or be able to express it. Let’s take a look at a few of the basic needs that could cause negative behavior:

1. Attention – Children of all ages need to feel valued and wanted. “I need someone to listen to me.” Try to give the child attention at times when he is not exhibiting negative behavior. The most importnat moments of class time for this child are the first five minutes after he arrives. Make sure to pay attention to him as soon as he comes in.

2. Leadership – A child needs to do something significant and have his efforts acknowledged. Give the child choices as to how she will comply with your wishes. For exmaple, “Would you like to clean off the table, or the shelf?” You could also provide her with valid leadership opportunities.

3. Security – Clearly outlined boundaries help the child feel secure and learn self-control. Communicate the rules and enforce them consistently.

4. Encouragement – Everyone needs encouragement now and then-adults and kids.  Children need to know you have confidence in their abilities. They need to experience success. Express your confidence in the child’s abilities. Give him tasks you know he can do successfully.

5. Health – If a child does not feel well, they may be Hungry tired studentcranky and act out.  They may just need some rest. If you suspect a child is getting sick, let her rest away from other children. Or, ask her parents to come get her.

6. Nutrition – OK, raise your hand if you (the adult) have ever been hungry and cranky!  You probably knows how this feels.  If a child is feeling hungry or eating “junk foods,” it may reflect in her behavior. This is why it is a good idea to have snacks available.

7. Comfort – This could go hand-in-hand with the security issue.  A child may be experiencing some problems you don’t know about.  He may be afraid, angry, confused.  Any of these issues could cause a child to act out. Maintaining a stable classroom routine will comfort such a child, as well as giving time for the child to talk to you one-on-one.

What other ways have you found to constructively meet the needs of your chlldren, or to manage behavior?


Three Reasons for Historical Context

RomanWall-200If you have followed my blog for a while, you may have noticed that I am often emphasizing the teaching of Bible stories to elementary age kids in chronological order. Likewise, I would encourage you, when possible, to include the historical context of the stories. That is exactly what I did when I prepared my Jesus Curriculum. Why would I do that?

1) Because too often, Jesus seems like a cardboard character to kids.  You might think that going back into history would make Him even more distant.  Ironically, the reverse is true.  Placing Him in the setting of ancient Palestine brings His teachings to life.  It helps us better understand what He said and did, and why.

2)  Because the Bible is telling a real story.  Real stories always have settings and supporting characters and subplots.  Without that, the story lacks depth, reality, and meaning.

3)  Because it’s fascinating.  It’s fun to find out why the Pharisees were so upset over Jesus healing on the Sabbath.  (You weren’t allowed to carry anything that weighed more than two dried figs on the Sabbath – much less a mat.)  It’s fun to wash hands like they did.

Several years ago, I spoke at Children’s Pastors Conference on teaching about Jesus in the context of His times. Afterward, someone asked if I had the historical information in a reference book for teachers.  I didn’t, but the wheels began turning.  The result is the Day by Day Devotions with Jesus in Ancient Palestine, a book of 180 kids’ devotions for the school year.

Now, the attendee actually asked for a book where teachers could find background material for preparing lessons.  So why a book of devotions?  Well. . . for teachers, I wanted to place relevant historical information alongside Bible passages for ease of finding the contextual background.  But I realized that kids could read these passages too, discovering the same fascinating information for themselves.  So I ended up writing a book of devotions for kids that doubles as a reference book for teacher preparation.

Teachers can start using Day by Day Devotions with Jesus in Ancient Palestine right away.  For kids, it will be a perfect devo to start using in the fall, as it will take them through the school year.  And when summer vacation rolls around they can continue their historical devotions with,  A Summer of Psalms. When paired with Day by Day Devotions with Jesus, the Psalms book, with fun facts about life around the time of King David, will help kids complete a full year of devotions.

Without a doubt, I can say I’ve been tremendously inspired by these fascinating historical studies, and I’m excited to be able to communicate them to kids.  I expect them to give you and your kids a depth of insight into the Bible that you’ll treasure forever.

Happy Teaching,


Take A.I.M.

TargetMy next door neighbors were having some repair work done on their porch, so I was hearing hammering and sawing.  I looked out my kitchen window to see the neighbors’ two year old grandson watching the repairman intently. Of course, he didn’t watch long before he began asking the repairman questions. Then he picked up some “tools” of his own and began his own pretend work.

Missed opportunities…
That reminded me of just how much children want to “do.” They want to be in the thick of the action, use the tools, spray the water, dig the holes, wash the car, cook the breakfast. It takes time and patience on the part of adults to let children participate in our daily tasks. And the finished product is not as clean or neat or exact as most adults want. Nor does it happen as fast as we want. So adults often brush children aside, pointing out that the child doesn’t know how, or is not strong enough, or can’t do it fast enough, or will be too messy. One mother told me that when her daughter was a preschooler, the little girl kept bugging Mom to let her cook. Mom shooed her daughter out, saying she was too young. Now her daughter is thirteen, and Mom wants help in the kitchen, but the daughter wants nothing to do with the kitchen. The investment of time spent with a preschooler on tasks he finds fascinating will pay off later.

The “I Want to do it” factor…
As I watched my neighbor’s grandson “help” the repairman, I also thought about kids in the classroom. They don’t leave their “I-want-to-do-it” at the door when they walk in. They want to work with their hands, use their five senses, think with their brains. In short, they want to be engaged – and not simply by watching a DVD the whole time. That’s easier for the teacher, of course, who doesn’t have to engage the children. The DVD does that. But there’s no relationship built that way, and it bypasses the natural inclination of children to be busy and learn by doing.

Now, I’ve created some DVD’s that are very popular with young children. So I’m not against using DVD’s. But use them as only a portion of what you do in class. If you look at my curriculum, you’ll see that it’s primarily built around being active – doing – using all five senses – thinking and talking about issues relevant to the kids’ age. As I’ve said many times before, take AIM.  Be:


That goes for whatever age you teach.  Even teens and adults like to get hands-on and engage their brains!

So . . . Happy teaching!


Talking Requires Listening

Girl-on-bars-250It almost goes without saying that we discover the unique personality traits of our children by watching and listening to them, but sometimes we forget this in the classroom – for any of a variety of reasons. Sometimes we’re just tired. Or pressed for time. Or so intent on getting our point across that we lose the connection with the kids and end up simply talking to them instead of talking with them. There’s a big difference. Talking with kids implies listening.

I often write about “the significant adult,” the person(s) who is able to “speak into” the child’s life, to affect the child’s values. A significant adult spends time with the child, plays (and works at chores) with the child, and listens when the child has something to say. I believe one of the teacher’s jobs is to guide the conversation toward the theme of the day by asking questions that engage children and get them to talk, to bat around their own ideas and thoughts about the theme.

Open-ended questions . . .
Questions in general allow you to see how well you’ve communicated your point. You can tell if kids are “getting it.” These questions tend to be closed, with answers that are yes or no, right or wrong. Closed questions = I have the answers and I want to see if you can answer correctly.  While these have their place, open-ended questions are even more important. Open-ended questions = I want to know what you think about this; I want you to think it through; tell me why God might have said this or how this theme might playear out in real life.

It’s much easier to simply ask, “Who was out in the field watching sheep when Jesus was born?” The answer tells you whether the child has understood the facts of the story. But that’s a closed question. To engage in discussion and build relationship, ponder with the child. “How would you have felt if you had seen the angels?  They said, ‘Peace on earth.’  What is peace?” Of course, depending on the age of the child, the discussion takes off from there, and you place yourself in the position of considering these open-ended questions along with the child. (To see examples of this, look at discussion sections in the activities of any age level of my curricula.)

Discovering valuable information . . .
Open-ended questions not only let kids think and express their ideas (some kids need to talk to think), but also allow you to hear who these kids are. You show goldnuggetinterest in their ideas, their feelings, their way of seeing things. Writer Tammy Cravit uses open-ended questions in interviews. She says, “You never know what valuable nuggets of information your sources will volunteer.”

It’s the same with teachers who ask open-ended questions. The teacher often ends up richer for having listened to the valuable things kids have to say. Not to mention getting to know and enjoy their unique personalities as you build togetherness, a common sense of wonder, and a valuable, significant relationship.

Happy teaching!