As teachers of any type will vehemently attest, family support is a HUGE and critical element in the upbringing of a child. True, to a certain extent kids will do whatever they will and not all elements can be controlled; however, parents and guardians make such a difference in how children develop and what they learn. The home environment shapes and influences the school and church atmosphere for better or worse. The level of parental involvement, communication, and home reinforcement can truly make or break a student’s school and learning experience.
We readily recognize these principles when it comes to education…so why do we so often fail to include them when it comes to planning and implementing Sunday school curriculum? We sometimes take for granted that moms and dads are talking about God at home, but sometimes they need a little extra direction. In some church settings, parents might slap on a name sticker and drop kids off at their classrooms, hustling off to their own Bible studies and returning to hurriedly swoop up their progeny and head to service (assuming that morning rush at home prevented attending an early service…). Students might come out of Sunday school classrooms clutching a coloring page, memory verse, or trinket, but those often elude attention and eventually wind up splattered with juice, crumpled in a trash can, or swimming in a heap of children’s menus and attendance certificates somewhere in the abyss of a minivan floor.
So how can we encourage parents to reinforce Sunday school lessons at home and enhance what we discuss throughout the week? Options may vary somewhat, depending on the organization, set-up, and format of your program. Some churches have steady attendance with predictable participants and easily track-able students. Other congregations might have classes that fluctuate from week to week. Some programs hold an opening with parents and students together, while others drop off and dismiss with barely a word from parents. Regardless of situation, though, there are several opportunities open to everyone that can encourage and enhance at-home participation…
- Provide parents with brief weekly hand-outs that offer a word on what was discussed in the lesson and how topics can be discussed and reinforced at home.
- For younger students, provide a sticker with a unique tie to the topic and/or an invitation to “ask me what I learned in Sunday School today!” This might be particularly relevant if there is limited contact with parents.
- Give students note cards with the week’s (or month’s) memory verse, and encourage parents to practice at home throughout the week. Possibly offer a reward for remembering the verse the next week.
- Send home a preview of the next week’s lesson, along with potential questions and topics to bring up at home that might lead to extra understanding and engagement. Prepare students for the lesson and motivate them to return.
- Invite family participation by asking for materials, artifacts, and items from home. If possible and practical, allow parents to join students for some lessons or even invite kids to listen in on adult lessons!
Whatever options are appropriate and whatever methods you choose to employ, do not neglect the essential and valuable resource of family communication when planning and implementing Sunday school programs. You spend less than an hour a week with these children, while parents get hundreds (hopefully). They know your students much better than you do, and know how best to create memories at home that will allow your words to truly sink in.