A Letter Towards Sunday School with Charlotte Mason

A Letter Towards Sunday School with Charlotte Mason

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.

Dear Pastor,

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,

17 Replies to “A Letter Towards Sunday School with Charlotte Mason”

  1. These are wonderful ideas, Brittney! It makes me want to go to Sunday School. I was raised on the dreaded fill in the blank workbooks at church and never felt the least bit of wonder in class, or even much interest. Instead I get those now that I’m homeschooling! I hope your church will implement your suggestions even though they are way beyond the typical fluffy songs and coloring pages!

  2. Brittney, I think this letter is wonderful! My husband and I have been talking about how important it is to get the gospel message out to everyone. We have talked about how Sunday School has turned into a “regimen” of papers to be completed before the bell rings. VBS has also turned into an entertainment zone. I love the implementation of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy into the church.

    1. Thank you, Katie, for taking the time to comment. It is hard to break out of the school mode of thinking, especially when you are unaware of another way. I do hope this letter might be helpful to others to begin to reconsider the way we teach children about the Lord.

  3. Brittney, what an excellent letter! Please update us with the response you get from your church!!! I have felt similarly burdened for my own brothers and sisters at our local fellowship. The leader of our Sunday School ministry said “No way!” when I suggested adding an occasional picture study to our bible reading. Anyone else in your church reading CM??

    1. Hi Nicole! I am still waiting to discuss the ideas, but things look good. My pastor was out of the country on a mission trip for a couple of weeks and just got back, so I will keep you posted. My pastor allows our discussion group to meet in the church and is very supportive of homeschooling and what I have told him about Charlotte Mason. No one in church is reading CM yet, but I am hopeful there will be a few eventually. I hope that people in your church will come to be interested in Mason’s ideas soon. You are a wonderful ambassador for the philosophy!

  4. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your ideas with both your pastor and with those of us here! Although, I’d never heard of Charlotte Mason until some of my grandchildren were schooled at home, I had the privilege of teaching SS for 19 years to mostly 5th & 6th grade students.

    During my first year, I was shocked at the boring curriculum used & got permission to evaluate curriculum companies, and choose one I liked. My priority was to find a Bible based curriculum that was interesting. For the most part, I used the one chosen as a guide to be able to pace myself in order to be able to get through most of the Bible in two years. Other than that, I had freedom to add anything needed to keep the children interested (not entertained). It was exciting to be able to guide them to see how the Bible related to real life.

    Eventually, I developed my own curriculum about creation vs evolution, and even though I could have spent 10 weeks on it, I covered the subject in 5 weeks. It was very rewarding to see how the children were able to discover an awe of creation and in turn, an awe of the Creator!

    Additionally, they learned about the many scientists who are believers and have had to suffer within their professions in spite of the fact that their empirical research showed evidence of intelligence in design, etc. It was a wonderful way to begin each two year cycle.

    Another subject on which I was able to expand beyond the curriculum was about the reliability of the written scripture today. The history writing from ancient times, the process used by Hebrew scribes, the invention of the printing press and so on were fascinating to my students.

    Brittney, thank you so much for your efforts to make the Bible come alive for students! May the Lord give you many opportunities to affect Christian Education and the way it’s taught throughout the kingdom!

  5. This is fantastic and inspiring! Since last November I’ve worked on launching our Children’s Ministry to fully incorporate CM philosophy. We changed our handbook to include values that highlighted the personhood of children, the value of knowledge of God, the use of enrichment as a source of nourishing ideas and more. We created a training manual that included how to teach bible, lead narrations, hymn study, poetry, picture study, literature etc and hosted a gathering for teachers to immerse them in the methods. It will take time for the teachers to fully transition, but the fact that our pastor is distributing a beautiful painting to everyone who walks in our doors tomorrow to take home and study along with a reading guide for Holy Week that includes poetry, hymns and prayers is a testament that CM’s ideas are worthy for children and adults alike! I’ll be presenting the philosophy and changes to the congregation in the coming months as well. I’m excited to see all that the future holds and praying that the teachers truly see the fruit of this way of teaching and that the children will grow in their delight in learning about Christ! Thank you for sharing your ideas!

    1. I am grateful and blessed to have found this. Have you started this in your church already? I hope Melissa can share the training manual also she has used, it would greatly complement and be of help to any church’s ministry.

    2. Melissa, I would love some insight as to how you got started. I read you created a training manual. Can this be shared? I would love to glean from it and produce one that fits our ministry mode and volunteer perspectives. I would appreciate any insight and leading. Thanks!

  6. Can you recommend a good resource for religious art that can be ordered in an appropriate size for Sunday School art study?

  7. I love running across this article! This is exactly the direction I feel led to pursue. I was recently hired as a kids and family director, which took us from one state to another. I want to move in this direction but feel I need more planning before doing so. I need to find a way to get volunteers on board with this way of teaching. I know it will take time but willing to wait for the benefit of the children. How has this unfolded for you in your current role? I would love to know how this is being planned and developed. Seeking a little more support and guidance. Thank you!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing. My church’s children ministry has impacted my child negatively with “entertainment,” and with prizes & rewards, which lead him to much greed and jealousy. This program felt so wrong to me, but I did nothing until it impacted my child. I wrote a detailed letter to my husband about this, and he agreed with everything. He became very much against our children’s teaching method. He encouraged me to share my letter with with his mother and father (same church attendees). They also agreed with us. They became very against this teaching method. So, they shared my letter with our pastor. Sadly, my pastor disagrees with us. He has no desire to change anything. He still uses the same bribe teaching technique, along with entertainment. We ended up pulling our children out of the program. Anyways, I somewhat wish I could have written a letter more like yours! I’m sure mine sounded negative to our pastor, but that’s what the program truly did to my son. I do, however, LOVE your ideas. Maybe I can develop another program locally for other children. Thanks for sharing sooo much!

  9. Hello! I’m wondering if there’s an update on this?
    I am also burdened to apply CM’s method in our Kid’s Sunday School. Last week, I taught in our kid’s SS, I was the only teacher who read to them and asked them to tell me back what they heard.

    I talked to my pastor and I think we have a got the go signal that we can apply CM way. I just need help on how to fully implement it. Hope to hear from you! Thank you so much

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