You get it; our planet is in jeopardy, and you’ve taken action. After all, God gave us our beautiful planet . . . and the responsibility to manage and protect it. You would like to see others in your church take action, involving all age groups in ongoing green initiatives, but you find that only a few share your passion. When trying to enlist help, do not overlook the impression that could be made by your youngest members; if you need assistance developing a strategy, look no further than the cereal aisle at the grocery store.
Retailers know that if they can influence children, the children can influence parents . . . to get the desired outcome. Strolling through the cereal aisle, name-brands with kid-friendly characters like Cap ’n Crunch and Tony the Tiger live on the lower shelves. They’re intentionally placed at a height that’s impossible for kids not to see, positioning them for what researchers call “Pester Power” or the “Nag Factor” we’ve all heard, even the most crowded of supermarkets or discount stores: “Can I have this pleeeze? Pleeeeeeze?”
Are the dots connecting? When it comes to caring for God’s creation and provisions, perhaps if children embrace environmental stewardship, they will make an impression on their parents, who will influence the congregation to pay more attention to making their church a ‘greener’ place. In time, this could affect entire generations.
Let’s not try to grow a mighty oak overnight, however. You don’t need to labor over writing a curriculum, giving it a catchy name, and promoting it in the bulletin. Start with just one Sunday school activity, and consider borrowing from the “arts integration” philosophy of teaching to make your message “stick.”
“We believe that when students are taught the arts in combination with other subject matter, and when they use their skills in the arts to construct knowledge, they learn more thoroughly and deeply,” says Susan Bumgarner, a pre-K teacher at Arts Integration Elementary School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. “If you are learning, for example, about shapes, and you use them in your art, in movement, in dance, and you explain about things using dramatic skills, those repeated exposures from different points of view make a difference.”
“However, the number of impressions alone won’t do it. The activity has to be meaningful as well,” Bumgarner continues. “When children construct knowledge of something and explain it themselves through their art, they really understand it.”
They Need to be Grrrreat!
Yes, your children’s ministry already does a great job of providing meaningful, hands-on activities as part of your Sunday school curriculum. Just keep in mind that on the way home from church, you want your kids to be excited to show and tell their parents about what they’ve learned. So the activities you choose need to snap, crackle, and pop to grab the kids’ attention . . . and their parents’, too. As often as possible, go for ideas that involve further action at home, or take-home art that leads to family discussion.
Example of a “show” activity:
“Here, Mommy,” Tommy says as he hands his mother a picture of a light bulb he drew in Sunday school. “This is a picture I drew of a light.”
“That’s a wonderful picture, Tommy,” replies Mommy.
Example of a “show-and-tell” activity:
“Here, Mommy,” Tommy says as he hands his mother a paper door hanger that has a picture of a light bulb he drew in Sunday school. “This is a picture I drew of a light.”
“That’s a wonderful picture, Tommy,” replies Mommy, “but why is it on this hanger?”
“Because I put it on my door so I remember to turn it off,” Tommy explains.
More Show-and-Tell Activities:
Earth-Friendly Scavenger Hunt
Recycle this kid-favorite game as a way to get your class to be aware of litter and recycling. Help children find various items on the scavenger hunt list: plastic recycling bin, paper recycling bin, trash cans, litter to pick up, etc. If you don’t have these items at your church, print out pictures of them and place them around the room. Provide extra scavenger hunt lists the children can take home.
This fun and super-easy idea helps even toddlers to focus on nature. Wrap a wide length of masking tape around each child’s wrist, sticky side facing out. Take them outside or to a park and let them cover their “bracelet” with blades of grass, flower petals, sticks and leaves.
Take your kids to the park and explain that animals, birds, and insects see the world differently than we do. Give each child a little, inexpensive mirror and show them how to position it in different places (low in the grass, or high in the air) to see nature in a new way. Let them take their mirrors home and suggest they show their brothers and sisters or neighborhood friends how to play.
This craft helps children focus on the details of nature’s beauty. Cut a hole into the middle of a paper plate and tape a wooden paint stirrer to the edge creating the look of a magnifying glass. When children look through the frame at the bark of a tree, a pinecone in the leaves, or a cluster of rocks, they can focus on the intricacies of natural elements. Encourage them to take the “magnifier” home to investigate their own back yard.
The Match Game
Pick up several paint chips at the hardware store. Let your kids try to match the paint colors to green grass, brown bark, a blue feather, etc. This exercise is another way to get kids “in touch” with nature, plus they’ll gain an appreciation for all of nature’s many shades and hues. Suggest that they invite Mom and Dad to play the Match Game at home with them.
You can’t hit one into the compost bin every time, but hopefully the list above will give you ideas on how to instill our Christian responsibility to protect the Earth into the hearts and minds of your church’s children . . . who will, in turn, help instill it into those of their parents and your congregation.
Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee. She also works at Brentwood United Methodist Church in the church’s Caring Ministry.