MennoMedia’s new Shine Sunday school curriculum for children is praiseworthy: easy to plan, easy to teach and committed to deep and simple truths that stick with me all week long.
I commute 45 minutes to church, which gives me plenty of time to plan the lesson on the way. As long as I’ve packed the snack, I can usually scavenge up the rest of the ingredients for a nourishing and enjoyable lesson at the church.
This week, I needed a backpack — but I found that on the floor of our minivan. I was supposed to have packed the backpack with a sampling of “valuables” to represent the weight of possessions in our lives, but my first- and second-grade students sure had fun helping me fill the backpack with wooden blocks of various sizes, each representing something a “rich man” might own.
“Gold, a mansion, a hot tub!”
We found our “limbo stick” in the broom closet. A needle? The sewing ladies happily showed us where those are kept.
Then we read each story right out of the new Shine On Bible. Word for word.
While I read slowly, we acted out the story with the olive wood figures in our story people box. Jesus changes shape every week. Some weeks he’s tall and dark. Other weeks he’s light and stout with a knot on his back. The kids are never a bit surprised.
My scarf of the day quickly turned into the river where Jesus was baptized, the road where Jesus and his friends walk, or the sea where Jesus pulled up in his boat made of, you guessed it, a wooden block.
My busiest students loved building Peter’s mother’s house or the ship where Jesus stands to calm the winds.
What do you wonder?
After the story, we closed our eyes and asked the curriculum’s “wondering” questions. You don’t raise your hand to answer the questions. You just think about the story and wonder.
I wondered if the man used any of his money to help others. (The Bible doesn’t tell us.) I wondered how the things we own can make it hard to follow Jesus. Imagine hearing someone tell you to sell everything you own. Jesus asked the man to give what he owned to the poor. I wondered what God wants me to do.
What deep ideas — yet so simple for our little ones to grasp when they enter through the context of the story.
First shall be last
Each lesson includes simple movement games, a perfect transition as we left the worship center to head back to the table.
While we played the limbo game weighed down by the backpack full of block possessions, my daughter asked, “What does it really mean for the first to be last? What if someone’s been waiting for a long time, and they just got to the front of the line? Will they be last again?”
For snack, we lined up for a special treat, and I surprised them by giving the child at the back her treat first.
The child who had hurried to the front was my daughter. She cried about it later in the car, not because she got her snack last but because she was worried that she might end up last in God’s kingdom. Plus, she was embarrassed.
My husband told me, “Your line illustration may have been too literal.”
We told our daughter, “Jesus is simply looking out for the ones who everyone else has forgotten or pushed to the back. In God’s kingdom, it’s not about getting in line. Remember Jesus’ open arms last week as he let the children come.”
A blessing for each
Toward the end of each class, we eat our snack, work on optional activities in the student leaflets, chat or listen to music from the Shine CD. The kids sing really loud and dance whenever “Siyuhumba” comes on.
Each lesson includes a blessing to finish with, and we read it, word for word. I have found I can’t improve on the thoughtfulness of what the authors prepared.
On the last week of the quarter, the teacher’s guide suggested I bless each child for his or her special gifts to the class. I got a bit teary as I went around the table thanking each child individually: for coming early to prepare the room, for welcoming newcomers, for running the CD player, for asking good questions, for helping me build props for the Bible stories.
Last week some of the children created signs welcoming others to our class to mirror Jesus’ welcoming the children. One girl’s sign said, “Come in! This is the best class ever.”
I echo her sentiment, and add: this is the best Sunday school curriculum ever. It’s easy to teach, and the lessons pierce the heart with their truth and depth. The children respond to the stories and activities with joy and amazing perception, showing me what it must be like to enter the kingdom of God like a child.
Esther Kratzer Koontz teaches Sunday school at First Mennonite Church in Hutchinson, Kan.