Thursday, June 2, 2011

Contemplating Sunday School

Having studied Charlotte Mason methods for 4 years now, I'm beginning to dream of how we can apply them to our time with children at church. There is so much twaddle in Sunday School! The retelling of Bible stories as if children can't understand them straight from the Bible. The stick and paper crafts that keep them busy but aren't of much use nor do they usually "teach" the story. The entertainment in order to stave off chaos. I don't denigrate the hard-working volunteers and children's ministers. I was once trying to figure out a philosophy of children's ministry and implement it on a volunteer basis! I read many books and magazines and got caught up in trying "cool" stuff to attract kids. I've taught Sunday School since I was a teen. Been in Sunday School since I was a baby. I'm just quite sure there is another way.... perhaps a better way. And I would like to share it with you. And ask lots of questions and maybe have some discussions and see if this leads anywhere.

One of the first things I want to share is an article from "The Parents' Review" (a CM magazine). "The PNEU Method in Sunday Schools" by Helen E. Wix, 1917.

It's long, so it will be posted over several blog posts. She said things so well, I don't feel the need to retell it to you in my own words. But I may add some discussion at times.

A paper read at a meeting of Sunday School teachers

I feel bound to begin by confessing that I know very little, indeed nothing, about teaching in Sunday School. I have never had any experience of it, so I shall probably make a number of mistakes this afternoon through sheer ignorance. But please be patient with me, and afterwards in the discussion, do not scruple to say where I have suggested impossibilities and so on.

Now one or two people have told me that the present methods of teaching in Sunday Schools do not give complete satisfaction everywhere. The little I know amounts to nothing, so I am not going to criticise or cast reflections on any method, but I understand that there is an extraordinary amount of freedom as regards what is taught in Sunday Schools and how it is taught. So I have been asked to tell you, as clearly as possible, about a method which has been in use now so many years that you might even call it old-fashioned. But its results are admittedly wonderful.

But first perhaps you should know why I, such an ignoramus in these Sunday School matters, should have been asked to explain any method to you who know so very much more than I do.

Some of you have perhaps heard of the Parents' National Educational Union, better known possibly as the P.N.E.U., or of Miss Mason, its founder, or of Ambleside students, those women trained by her to teach according to her principles. It is only as an Ambleside student of fourteen years' experience that I dare to face you. And though I have not taught large classes in Sunday Schools, I have given Scripture lessons to children of all ages up to eighteen, on four days a week regularly. And in Elementary Schools this Ambleside or P.N.E.U. method has been used with most striking success—and that by teachers not trained at Ambleside. So you see anyone can teach on this method who will take the trouble. The real difficulty lies in its simplicity. The teacher with no P.N.E.U. training finds it so extraordinarily difficult to do little enough, to leave enough to the children.

One hears from many sources nowadays, certain regular complaints about children at their lessons—from other than Sunday Schools—that for instance, the children are not enthusiastically keen about their work—the young ones are perhaps, but as they grow older their attention is more and more difficult to capture and keep, their interest less and less lively and bright. And yet, when, in all our history, did teachers work as hard as now? But many of our ancestors would blush at the results! Another complaint that I so often hear, is about the children's memories. "I make them learn it over and over again, and they don't know it at the end;" or, "I give them lovely lessons, and take no end of pains over them, and yet—well, they don't seem thrilled somehow, and next week they only remember the bits that don't matter." And so the progress cannot be rapid, and yet the time is all too short.

This last paragraph especially reminds me so much of teaching today; and this was written almost a hundred years ago! More to come....


Grace'n'Chaos said...

I have to agree, there is much twaddle in Sunday Schools. Besides our required CCD time we always choose not to enroll because honestly my kids are getting a much better, richer religious/spiritual experience at home by the living books and actual scripture we use. Looking forward to reading more...

phillipsgirl said...

Remembering back to my Sunday School days, some of our best lessons were read straight from the Bible and then discussed (this would be in jr. High and high school). I learned a lot that way and have good memories of the experience.