For about 25 minutes every Sunday, I hang out with a group of 2nd graders. It’s rewarding and fun and I look forward to it every week. But let’s not kid each other: IT’S HARD WORK. There are 12 to 15 of them, and only one me. They are rowdy. They are loud. They talk over each other. They talk over me. They make fun of each other (and sometimes me). They can be rude to each other. They can also be amazingly kind and shockingly spiritually-minded, if given an environment in which to do so. It’s my job to give them that safe, fun, and [somewhat] controlled environment.

So, in no particular order, here are some tips to Elementary Small Group Leaders to help you create the best environment:

  • Learn their names. Just do it – you can if you make it a priority. Make them hold up a sign with their name on it and take a picture with your phone if you have to. Just learn their names.
  • Use “props”. You should ALWAYS (I say ALWAYS!) have a prop. If I have a Nerf football that I’m casually tossing in the air during discussion time, and the boys know that I’m going to throw that ball at someone who will then get to answer the question, they are MUCH more likely to pay attention to me.
  • Learn what they love. Ask how they spend their free time and it will give you a pretty good idea. Some of them will only love TV. So start there. If you only talk to the kids who play football and baseball, you’ll miss out on connecting with the other half of the class who simply love TV and video games.
  • Have fun. If you’re bored, then they are bored x10. It’s okay to go “off book” once in a while and tell a funny story or talk about a hilarious YouTube video you saw this week of a farting hippo. Make it fun.
  • Create routine. My examples: 1). They have to come in the door with a smile or high five, and I (playfully) send them back out to try again if they forget. 2). They tell me if they had a great week or an awful week and the reason why. Those two things set a good tone and create a connection from the time they come in the room each week.
  • If you have to discipline (and you shouldn’t have to often) do it consistently and with love. The more fun and ordered your classroom is, the less behavior problems you’ll have. There are, however, times that you will have a child who is a major distraction and problem. It’s not fair to your class to let one child dominate your time. So make sure you’ve spoken with your children’s pastor and know the discipline policy, then follow through with consistency and love.

So there you have it! I didn’t include tips about making sure you know your lesson, or that you’ve prayed for the kids, or that you arrive on time and ready, because I assume you already know that stuff! Those are just the basics! Commit to building real relationships and taking your small group to that next level – you’ll be amazed what those kids can teach you.

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