For quite a while I have been thinking about what it would look like to bring Charlotte Mason’s philosophy into Sunday School. When my pastor called a church meeting a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a perfect time to share my ideas. The following is the email I wrote to him after a short discussion. It assumes no prior knowledge of Charlotte Mason. This is certainly not the only way to bring Charlotte Mason’s philosophy into a church setting, but this is how I see it being compatible with the culture of my church. I am posting this outline as an example for others who may also wish to bring Miss Mason’s philosophy into their own churches and to open up discussion about the possibilities within the children’s ministry.
There are two ideas that have been in my head regarding the children’s ministry: relationship and disciple. I know that there is a certain amount of keeping children busy and passing time, but I think that can be done in a way that fosters their relationships with the Lord and as a means of preparing the children to serve. I also think that it is important to look at the way we view children and our duty toward them when it comes to education, which is really all of life. Children are not vessels to be filled with facts and information, or clay to be molded to our will. God created each of them with their own set of gifts and strengths and with their own independent wills. Of course they also have their own individual weaknesses and trials. Our duty toward them is to bring out the gifts God has given them so that they might serve him to their fullest potential and to help them gain control of their will, guiding them in the right direction, so that they might choose to serve the Lord joyfully and according to His will instead of serving themselves.
I also believe that the children’s ministry is a ministry of sowing. As a sower, I want to throw out as many different kinds of seeds as I can because children are fertile ground, but you never know what is going to take. Coming off of that idea, all truth and wisdom comes from the Lord and it covers many different subjects. When God gave Solomon wisdom, he didn’t only give him discernment, he also gave him the ability to speak proverbs, sing songs, and to know nature. The first person filled with wisdom in the Bible is Bezalel, the artisan who built the temple. Isaiah tells us that even farming techniques are from the Lord. When you look at the world through this lense, there are many subjects that can be worked into Sunday school lessons.
Here are my ideas for curriculum:
Bible: K-2nd grade
They should go through the major Old Testament stories in chronological order and alternate them with the parables of Jesus. They would get the Christmas story and Resurrection story once a year as well. They are very capable of learning these stories and telling them back in language close to Bible language. Learning them in chronological order gives the children a chance to get to know some of these people in the Bible (of course skipping the things they are not ready for) and having a sense of the sequence of things. I think that is helpful in realizing that this is history, not fairy tales.
Rather than working on memory verses that are not done by the parents (something I am guilty of because we are doing our own Bible lessons), they can learn short passages from the book they are learning from or Psalms, worked on over several weeks in the class. This is totally doable. Children are capable of memorizing a great many things, though I think we have to be careful that they also understand what they memorize so that the words hidden in their hearts have meaning and will be called upon when needed.
Bible: 3rd-5th grades
The children should have a foundation in the OT from their previous classes so they can move straight into the Synoptic Gospels. Rather than a question and answer format, I utilize a technique Charlotte Mason called “narration.” Here is the gist of a lesson:
The lesson starts with a recap of last week, which can be given by the children, or a basic history lesson to set the scene, maybe a map of the region, and explanation of the major players in the passage. Then the passage is read and the children are asked to tell back the passage they heard. There are several ways this can be done in a group setting so that the same child isn’t always the only one speaking up (though I have not personally found this to be a problem; children seem to enjoy having the opportunity to tell what they know). Usually the other children will fill in the gaps or pick up where one child leaves off. Then the children will sometimes ask questions or make comments on a situation. This opens up discussion. If the children don’t have much to say, the teacher can ask an open ended question and, if necessary guide the conversation in the right direction. Sometimes that might mean helping them to come to certain conclusions and sometimes it might be to leave them with a question to ponder through the week that won’t be answered until later.
Lessons won’t be as predictable; children ask real questions and they are sometimes hard to answer, but children can understand more than we give them credit for. If a child asks a question in earnest, he will remember the answer.
So the Bible portion may take 30 minutes. That leaves at least 30 minutes before parents come. This is where my idea comes in about the other subjects that can be worked in.
After Bible Lessons
God has created the body with many different parts that serve in different ways. I expect that there are people who have talents and passions that they can share with the children. Lessons don’t have to be fully self-contained for just the one Sunday, it can be something worked on over the entire time that a teacher is working with the class. I will give some examples to share what I mean.
Nature Study. I am very passionate about nature. As a family we do a lot of nature study. We know many local birds and insects, flowers and trees. If you look at nature first from a position of wonder and study it with that wonder intact, it is easy to see how perfectly God has designed His creatures. And I think there can be no doubt that there is a design in every created thing. Learning to see nature as God created it, I think, can go a long way to combat the secular ideas in the schools on evolution in an indirect way.
Here is an example of a lesson that I taught yesterday with my nature study group:
I brought some of my tulip tree moth caterpillars, along with some of the cocoons that have already been formed and a friend had a specimen of an adult. I also brought some luna moth caterpillars, a cocoon and an adult specimen. I told the children some characteristics of moths and how to tell the difference between a moth and a butterfly. We talked about what a host plant is and some signs they can look for to find caterpillars and cocoons to collect this fall and how to breed and raise them from eggs the following spring. Because I had specimens to show, the children were able to see what I was talking about. They were excited to tell me about some of their own experiences and inspired to search for their own cocoons and caterpillars. They also drew pictures of some of the specimens in their nature journals.
I think nature study is relevant to Sunday school lessons because it teaches children to have wonder for God, it teaches them why we should be good stewards over the earth and it teaches them to be observant. An observant child is looking outside of himself to others. And most importantly, I think that if a child learns to value the lilies and the sparrows, he will know how much more precious every single person is to the Lord and should be to us. If a caterpillar becoming a moth can be seen as a miracle, how much more precious is a newborn baby?
Handicrafts. I love handicrafts as well, and I think this would be another area that is wonderful to add to Sunday school. Children are not taught anymore how to make things. I think we are created to be creative. We should do useful things with our hands. While small sewing projects or making origami might not seem like it would really make an impact, I believe it actually can. Because of the prevalence of phones and tablets, children are becoming stunted in their development as it relates to manual dexterity. They don’t know how to be of use and they don’t have the control of their fingers to be capable and learn quickly. On mission trips, people need to be able to work hard, follow directions, and control their movement. Again, if we are sowers, maybe handicraft lessons in Sunday school will send out some roots. Maybe the Lord has given a child a talent for carpentry or sewing, and it only needs an outlet.
Here are some more ideas, depending on the talents of other teachers:
Music. A teacher with knowledge of music can teach the children how to keep a beat or how to sing a round. He can talk about music in the Bible, how we worship through song, how the angels sing. Maybe even demonstrate some of the laws of music, created by God of course, and there for anyone to discover.
Language. We are to spread the word throughout the world, so we need to learn other languages. Maybe a teacher can spend some time each week teaching the children a few simple phrases in his native tongue.
Art. There are so many amazing artists who painted beautiful paintings of Bible scenes. Before the Bible was widely available in the vernacular languages, people would use the paintings to learn the stories in the Bible. We call this picture study. Children are shown a painting and asked to look carefully until they think they can reproduce it in their minds. Then they tell the teacher what they remember. After everyone has said all they can remember, the teacher shows it again, and the children see what they may have missed. Then the teacher can read the Bible passage, after which time they can revisit the painting and figure out the story from the painting. I do this in Vacation Bible School, and the children really enjoy it. A little history of the painting or the symbolism particular to the time (for example, Mary, Jesus’ mother, used to always be painted in blue) can be added in. Maybe there will be time for the children to try to reproduce the painting themselves in watercolors.
Recitation. Rather than learning a verse at a time, children should learn passages of 4-6 verses in the book they are currently studying. If said at the end or start of class each week, they will have it in their heads pretty well by the end of a month.
And if a teacher really doesn’t have any interests or hobbies, there are many inspiring stories of missionaries that can be read or great Christian literature and poems. The children can draw while they listen.
I think creating a program like this will help the children who are always in church to grow in their walk by pointing them to the Bible for answers, to grow in their knowledge and relationship to Christ, and also to know that our faith covers every part of our lives, and that we can’t know in what way God will ask us to serve in our futures. For the children visiting in the upper elementary class, cycling through the Synoptic Gospels, they will always get Jesus, and through the other activities the children will see that whatever we do, we do it unto the Lord.
Thank you for considering these ideas.
I am completely at your service, in His service,