Let’s Talk About Learning Centers




“What is this teaching method?”

“What do you mean by Learning Centers in teaching?”

“When can you come and help us install Learning Centers ? ”

“We need some help. Our Learning Center teaching has bogged down and become a play-oriented situation. Can you help us?”

In response to these and dozens of other questions, this manual has been prepared. It is our sincere aim and hope to lend assistance through this medium. It is impossible to give each local church “on the
spot” help, but perhaps we can communicate through the printed page some ideas which will give your local Sunday school staff impetus to up-grade the teaching methods in your assembly.

No one manual can possibly answer all questions that may arise when local churches begin their own improved Sunday school program. Each individual church will face different problems. The small, rural
church with a very limited budget may adapt some of the suggestions in a modified form. A large, metropolitan church will have some needs that are peculiar to it. A mission church will have still other needs.

Some pastors are challenged by a fresh approach to teaching God’s Word. Others will hesitate until the methods have been thoroughly tested in several other churches.

Some teachers, especially those who have been partially successful with other methods, will be slow to give up the tried and proven for the unknown. Other teachers who have been totally frustrated by lack of proper equipment, dingy classrooms and the blatant boredom inherent in many classroom teaching situations, will be eager to learn new methods.

“Just give us one good, workable idea,” is the cry of many Sunday school teachers, from the nursery teacher to the adult teacher.

Team teaching and Learning Centers are good ideas, although not new. Educators in the field of early childhood education have advocated for years that the classroom and the equipment either motivates
learning or stymies it. Creating an interesting, challenging environment leads to a substantial faster rate of learning.

So impressed was Congress by the evidence, that it voted $200,000,000 for a pre-kindergarten program for deprived children, and made special provisions for extension of preschool education in the $1,300,000,000 Education Act.

Many companies have been organized to sell nothing but equipment for early childhood education. Much of this equipment is to be used in Learning Centers in the classroom

A simple definition, then, is that in using Learning Center teaching, one simply lets the children learn under pleasant, circumstances, through a medium in which they are interested. They become involved in doing the lesson, not just listening. Most youngsters recognize no line between work and play. They learn through play, and learning often becomes play and fun. Paul, in I Corinthians 13:11, remarks that there is a difference in the speech, understanding, and thinking of children and men. Learning Center teaching accepts a child as he is.

This flexible, teaching plan accepts a child’s need to move, to explore, to see, hear, touch and taste, that he may learn about this big, wonderful world around him that God has made, and this warm, friendly church that teaches him that this same Jesus can be his very own best friend. No more sitting for long periods of time in chairs that are too high for short legs. Off your seat and on your feet, kids! The majority of youngsters learn best standing up, least when sitting down, a Swedish child authority told the eighth assembly of the World Organization for Early Childhood Education.

Learning Center teaching gives more people an opportunity to work for God through teaching. No longer is one teacher solely responsible for the total class. A team of devoted teachers and departmental superintendent work and plan together for all the department. The students have the privilege of drawing from the influence and personalities of more lives. If you cannot establish a rapport with Johnny, perhaps Sister Doris can.

Learning Center teaching will not solve all your problems. It can be installed too quickly. Without thorough planning and a basic, working knowledge of the theory behind this kind of teaching, one is apt to be dismayed by what seems like complete chaos, and the sheer, hard work involved in Learning Center teaching.

“Do we really need that messy painting center?”

“Do we just let the children wander around as they choose?”

“How are we going to teach the Word of God with dolls in the housekeeping center?”

“All they want to do in the block center is kick the blocks around.”

We need to know why and how we use this kind of equipment for teaching in Sunday school. In later chapters all the basic equipment needed in each department, along with reasons for including it, will be

We must study, then, to understand how children learn best. Proverbs 4:7 says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” No gimmick, principle or test can be substituted for rich experience, wisdom, sensitivity, patience and courtesy. Dr. Roaslie Wax, anthropologist, said in a lecture at the University of Miami, “One of the most pernicious aspects of modern child-raising is our tendency to seek out the gimmick, the simple device that will make everything come out all right.”

Some teachers are too busy figuring out what to do next, to stop long enough to contemplate and explore what it means to be a teacher, to live with children, to hold convictions and to live by them. Long after songs have been outgrown, stories have been forgotten, and equipment has perished, a child will remember what his teacher was!

Creative teaching is a great adventure that will thrill your heart as you realize your privilege to introduce boys and girls, men and women to a God that is alive. Routine becomes romance! Duty becomes delight! We are teaching His great Word. Our classroom is beautiful. (We built and painted most of the equipment ourselves.) Our students can hardly wait from one Sunday to another!

Deadly, dull, authoritarian teaching, which depends largely on the students having “respect for God’s house” and a docile, dutiful attitude, can easily frighten the nursery child. Our older children, as well as adults, may not believe that God is dead, but at least the teaching about Him seems more dead than alive in some classes.

These are the classes that are sometimes rudely awakened. They come alive, all right, in a shocking manner when discipline breaks down entirely and respect flies out the window, along with lesson leaflets. Nursery students and Kindergartners in such classes cry and resist staying in the class without Mommy. All the rules say she must go. The more outgoing child may tease and torment other children. Juniors throw
spit balls and sail lesson leaflet airplanes. High school pupils sleep through the entire session, or else drop out entirely. Dutiful adults who love God and their church, attend, but may become restless and critical, or sleep during the class session.

Teaching is no “snap.” It will never work for lazy, haphazard, careless and indifferent teachers. Nothing else will, either. This kind of teaching demands discipline–yes, indeed! But the discipline begins with the church and the teacher.

A stingy church will never try Learning Centers. It costs too much. Yes, it takes money to run a good school, even a good Sunday school. It has been our experience, however, that increased attendance nearly always pays most of the increased costs, if one wishes to be purely mercenary about it. Remember that the church, as well as the home, always pays and pays and pays when the children and adults are poorly taught. The “Master Teacher” magnified the teaching task by His great example.

First comes preliminary planning, which will be discussed in detail in the next chapter. The very fact that you are reading this manual shows interest and curiosity at least.

“What is it all about?”

“What will it cost?”

“Will it work with our staff and our people?”

“What will we do first?”

Adequate preliminary planning will include a study of existing facilities. Will our classrooms be adequate? Do we need to tear out some partitions? Do we need a whole new educational wing? What is a good design? Does the local architect really understand Sunday schools? Our needs; our growth potential? What about window space? Where should the restrooms be located? All these questions, and many more, must be asked and answered.

What about a staff? We will need a teacher training program, first of all, to acquaint our people with this kind of teaching.

At last the decision is made. We want to improve the teaching in our Sunday school. When can we start? It is perhaps best to start with only one room at a time, unless you are building for this specific program. Get one departmental staff trained, one large classroom equipped, and one class actually functioning well; then build on the experiences of this class, to start another. Some churches, however, have successfully revised and revamped their entire teaching program with very gratifying results.

After the initial big push, there comes routine weekly planning sessions, monthly staff meetings, individual study. Good sound Bible teaching involves lifelong activity. All of this sounds like a terrific amount of work. It is. One can almost be buried under the debris of details and duties. But, oh, the joy of alive classes, beautiful rooms, children eager to get to Sunday school early!

“It’s my turn to paint today.”

“But, Mommy, I can’t leave early. I have to stay for Extended Session. That’s when we eat.”

We have a great message. It is worthy of our best efforts to teach it. The thing to remember is that we are teaching all the time. When we come to class unprepared, we are teaching that it is not important to prepare. When we receive our students in drab, dull, unattractive classrooms, we are teaching that the house of God is unimportant, not worth sweeping and dusting, much less decorating. When we put the smallest change we have in the offering, we are teaching. So much depends upon us as teachers. The students “read” the teacher, whether they read the lesson or not.

Let us take a long, hard look at some of our methods. Are they man’s tradition? Are our children learning the lessons that we planned to teach?

Religious education cannot be measured in three regular doses to immunize children against Satan and his influences. “Learn your verses, children. Do you know John 3:16; Acts 2:38?” Even parrots will repeat
to win approval. Mynah birds can say, “Hello.” “Do your workbook, Mary” “Stay in the lines, Butch!” “Don’t color his face green, William.”

Exactly how do children learn? What attracts their attention? What stimulates their interest? What motivates a person of any age to attend Sunday school?

Get Your Pupils Involved!

Pupil involvement is the basic premise of Learning Centers. It has been scientifically proven that the child learns more easily, understands more clearly, and remembers longer the lessons learned in a dynamic situation than he does those learned in a static one.

The dynamic learning situation is one in which the total child is involved. He is using his hands to do, make, or express something related to the lesson. He is using his mouth to talk over the inherent problem of the lesson, and by sharing his ideas, compares and contrasts his concepts with those of others, thus gaining new insights of his own. His emotions are involved as he relates the lesson to his own life.

In contrast, we have the static situation where the teacher does all the work and all the talking. What is the child learning? He is learning to let someone else do his thinking. He is learning to sit quietly on a chair (maybe). He is learning to fill in the lines, and if he gets it wrong, his teacher will tell him the right answer and fill the blank for him. He may learn a few facts, but he probably won’t relate the lesson to his own life.

How can we get pupil involvement in our Sunday school classroom?

Even though your Sunday school has Learning Centers and Team Teaching, the amount of pupil involvement depends on the ability of the individual teacher at each center. In guiding the various activities, she must remember that for the child, the value of the lesson is in the doing, not in the quality of the finished work. It is her role to clarify any problem that may arise. Usually this is enough to help the
student solve the problem.

For example, suppose you are working on Mother’s Day cards, making flowers from heart shapes. Johnny is dissatisfied because he can’t get his hearts the same size. As teacher, you might say, “Johnny, this is a fine heart shape. Could you get all your hearts the same size if you had a pattern?” Johnny will probably see that the “fine” heart can be used to cut his other hearts down to size. You have accomplished three things by your statement: You have made Johnny feel good (Johnny, this is a fine heart shape), you have hinted at a solution (If you had a pattern), and you have kept Johnny involved.

Contrast this type of teaching with the teacher who says: “Johnny, you’ve got to get those hearts all the same size. Here, use this heart for a pattern. I’ll show you how.” You have accomplished three things by your statement: You have made Johnny feel inadequate, you haven’t challenged Johnny to think of his own solution, and you’ve neatly taken his work out of his hands.

Another way to involve children in the Learning Centers is to invite them to bring things for the various centers.

A child’s treasure, displayed at the Nature Center, the missionary table, or the Puzzle and Book Center has far more meaning for the contributing child than anything you, as teacher, may put there. So what if the book is dog-eared, or the bird’s nest about to fall apart? By encouraging the child to bring an object, you are inviting him to think about Sunday school during the week. When you accept his item for display, you are accepting him, and making him feel that his ideas and contributions are worthwhile.

Bulletin boards can be a tremendous teaching aid if you allow the children to plan and execute them. A bit of looking ahead over the unit or quarter can spark you into thinking of suggestions for the bulletin
board. It can be added to each Sunday. Again, you can encourage the children to think about the bulletin board during the week and make something at home to fit into the scheme or idea of the board. No
bulletin board, or room for one in your classroom? Use an old sheet. Pin the various figures and words to the sheet with safety pins. It can be folded up and put away from Sunday to Sunday and displayed on any
bare wall when finished.