We woke up to about 9 inches of snow on Sunday morning and all I could think was, “I’m so glad Sunday School is virtual this morning!” Had we been in person, we would NOT have had any kids. Instead, we had a lively and robust morning of virtual Sunday School.
This got me thinking about how well virtual Sunday School has been going this year. To be sure, I’d rather be in person - especially since I know there are families for whom virtual Sunday School is simply not working.
BUT even so, our virtual Sunday School ministry is going remarkably well. Here are 7 things that are working well in virtual Sunday School right now:
1. Curriculum written for the virtual world. Our biggest challenge with virtual Sunday School has been curriculum. In the fall, I chose a curriculum I thought would work well online… But then it really didn’t. Each week, I used less and less of it. By December, I decided it would be easier and faster to just write my own. Since then, I’ve been choosing a Godly Play lesson for each week and then writing an Elementary Lesson that uses the same Bible story.
2. Music. We have a fantastic high school duo who leads virtual Sunday School ministry with a TON of energy. They sing; The rest of us sing while on mute. They kick Sunday School off each week and I’m consistently amazed by the level of participation I see as I scroll through our screens.
3. Supply bags. Kids learn with their hands. So, each month, we distribute supply bags to our kids that have all the unusual supplies they’ll need for Sunday School during the following weeks. Bags are divided by week so that it’s easy for kids to grab the right bag for each week.
4. Godly Play with manipulatives. About a decade ago, an educator I very much respect told me point blank, “Godly Play is the best Sunday School curriculum out there, bar none.” I’m thrilled this is the curriculum our congregation has used for years, most recently with our youngest children. When we began planning for virtual Sunday School, I really wrestled with how to do Godly Play well virtually. Its effectiveness is so dependent on having the corresponding tactile materials. Knowing how critical manipulatives are, we decided to intentionally provide each child with their own, which we use in the same way we’d use the actual Godly Play materials. This year, our kids have used pictures, stickers, peg people, felt, and an assortment of other inexpensive materials to tell the Godly Play stories. Our Godly Play teacher then uses the same materials our kids are using to tell the story. As he teaches, he invites the kids to tell the story using their materials.
5. Interactive teaching. For years, I’ve taught experientially. I wholeheartedly believe that kids retain information far better when they’re engaging it rather than simply consuming it. Never has this been more important than in the virtual world. With our elementary Sunday School kids, I teach the story by asking kids a series of questions, tailored for the virtual world. We use polls, the chat, and the whiteboard regularly. But we also use questions that students answer using their hands by doing simple things like putting their thumb up or down to agree or disagree with a statement and then discussing it. This encourages kids to keep their videos on and stay engaged in the lesson. Sometimes we also play games and do various other activities to explore the story creatively.
6. Small groups. Zoom’s breakout room makes small groups SO EASY to do. So, every week, Sunday School includes both a large group teaching time and small groups, which typically last for about 20 minutes. These are age specific groups that typically include two adult leaders. The small group material typically includes a craft, game, and activity, all of which reinforce the day's story.
7. Increased parent participation. In our typical non-pandemic context, Sunday School has, for years, run concurrently with our worship services. As a result, parents who are not Sunday School teachers typically do not have much opportunity to engage with Sunday School. Now that Sunday School is virtual, parents are more involved in it than they traditionally have been. We’ve asked the parents of our younger (Godly Play) kids to actually be present for Sunday School in its entirety. But even with our older kids (where we do not have that expectation of parents), they're still more present for virtual Sunday School than they have been in the past. They’re in the same room as their kids; At various times, we've even intentionally invited them to join us to engage in a specific part of the lesson. Their presence – even when they’re not fully engaged – is creating opportunities for conversation that our families have not typically had.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve continually evaluated, tweaked, and even innovated virtual Sunday School. What we’ve created isn’t perfect… But it is good. For the most part, kids are excited to be there AND they’re continuing to grow in their faith.
That’s a win… Not just during a pandemic, but anytime.