Teaching Two-Year-Olds: A Children’s Ministry Challenge

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Teaching two year old sunday school

When trying to find volunteers, I have been tempted to refer to the two-year-old age group as the black hole of children’s ministry. People who love the nursery love to cuddle with the babies and smell their sweet skin and watch them toddle about.  And people who love to work with preschoolers LOVE that they are potty trained and able to communicate and do creative and fun activities.  But teaching two-year-olds sometimes freaks people out!

But in between these two groups are the ever curious, energetic two’s.  No longer babies, but not quite ready for independence.

having a two year old is like having a blender without a lid

The challenges

Teaching two-year-olds is challenging.  And the rewards are not as easily seen right away.

Let’s hone in on some of the challenges with this age group:

Their diapers are stinkier—come on….you know its true!

Short attention spans make it difficult to do any activities together and no matter what you plan, the results are unpredictable.

Their wills are stronger—have you tried getting a two year old to do something they don’t want to do lately?

They don’t share well— And won’t hesitate to clock the kid who is trying to take their stuff.

Their tantrums (while not as frequent) are louder and some of those kids are strong enough to try to escape the classroom when they want their mama.  I have literally had to stand in front of the door and hold the door handle firmly to keep a kid in Sunday school until he calmed down after his mom dropped him off.

And can we talk about the snot for a second….Wow!  So. much. green. snot.  And they still need help blowing their nose.  That means YOU get to do it.

You really are such a servant!  There will be crowns in glory for you!

Safety is still a big factor with two year olds and even early three year olds. with some children still wanting to put everything in their mouth and some children determined to take apart and destroy anything you put in front of them.

You just always have to think about how to make fun activities safe for this age group.

But teaching two-year-olds is NOT a waste of time!

Image Source: Family Day Care

In our church it is tempting for those who serve in the two year old room rotation to treat this age group like the nursery and just let the kids play with the toys in the room rather than teaching a Bible story or engaging the kids in activities.

And while I think they need plenty of time for free play, I have come to believe that many of the things that make this age group kinda difficult in a church setting results from boredom.

They are SO curious and they are looking for ways to develop and prove their competence.

They need you to give them something to DO!

They need you to set up a routine that helps them anticipate what will happen in this space, but they also need you to provide novel activities that keep up with their growing abilities.

Their thinking is developing at a rapid rate and they are really beginning to understand the world around them. They are also beginning to develop their concept of God as something outside of themselves and the relationship they have with their parents or primary caregivers.

It is during this year of development that their little personalities really start to emerge.  Those who work with two year olds get to be on the front lines of getting to know a child’s God-given uniqueness.

Resourcing the Two-Year-Old Classroom

Because I know that they are learning at such a fast rate and absorbing everything around them, I have put a lot of effort into resourcing our two and early three year old room at our church.

A child’s second year of life is a gift to be nurtured and I wanted to make sure what we were teaching this age group in our church reflected their readiness for learning and met the needs of those who serve in this age group.

Image Source: Pinterest

What has worked with two-year-olds in our church

This post is a bit of an introduction to a series I will be writing about our AWANA Puggles lessons and our two-year-old Sunday school lessons.  Our strategy for teaching this awesome, but challenging age group includes the following

  • Simple songs– We do a mix of new songs, old school Sunday school songs, and Bible songs to familiar nursery rhyme tunes.  We keep it pretty low tech and find that the simpler the song, the more the kids participate.  Also, most of the teachers already know those old school Sunday school songs so well that it makes it easy to sing with the kids without having to think about getting a new song right. Keeping eye contact is very important with two year olds.
  • Bible board books– I have started collecting board books for as many of the Bible stories that we teach as I can. If your budget is limited, then a children’s Bible works great, but because children’s Bibles have so many stories, the ones appropriate for this age are usually only a couple of pages long and aren’t super well written.  The kids like to see the story develop as you turn the pages and show them the pictures.
  • Hands on story time using props–  Along with the board books, we add props as often as we can.  So for the Exodus story, I made a simple felt Red sea and gave the children people that they could walk across the dry land.  We usually tell the story from the board book and stop the story to let the kids interact with the props at the appropriate point in the story.  One thing I have learned is that any props you use need to be virtually indestructible…because they will try to take them apart!
  • Sensory bins and sensory activities– We make great use of our sensory table in this classroom, but even if you don’t have a sensory table, a plastic bin and some simple materials can fuel the imagination of a two year old for hours.  Playdough and other process art activities work well with this age group.
  • Materials that can be easily stored and used again and again– Taking this type of approach to teaching two year olds requires some organization. I have started grouping materials by lesson so everything is ready to go.  We store the materials in plastic bins.  I use a lot Montessori type activities so I laminate any printables so they can stand up to the two year olds and be used again.  We do some take home crafts, but most of the time we do activities that they use in class and then we pack them back up and bring them back out for another lesson.  In the beginning this meant more prep work from week to week, but now we are reaching a point where most of what we need is already in the box.   If you are more organized than me, you can probably gather a group of people who are crafty to help make the materials.


Curriculum choices for teaching two-year-olds:

We use the AWANA Puggles curriculum for our Wednesday night program and LOVE it!  The curriculum is focused on teaching respect for God by teaching about God’s creation and His love.  The lessons cover things that two year olds are already curious about and it is easy to add fun and exciting activities to supplement what the curriculum has to offer.  Even if your church doesn’t have an AWANA program, the Puggles curriculum is worth checking out.  I know many MOPS groups use it so it doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to an AWANA program.

Here are some pictures of some of the sensory bins we have used in AWANA Puggles

Teaching two year olds AWANA Puggles

You can also check out this God Made Pets post that highlights one of the Puggles lessons.

We are a church of about 350 in a small town.  Things that work for big churches in big cities don’t always work for us.  Specifically, we still have a pretty strong Sunday school program followed by one worship service.  We have pretty consistent teachers during the Sunday school time, but rotate teachers on a six week rotation during the worship service so that people don’t have to miss adult worship too frequently.  This makes being consistent with the children and having teachers who are prepared a challenge.

For Sunday school, I have tried several curriculum including First Look from Orange, Play-n-Worship from Group, and Faithweaver also from group.  In the end, I decided that what would work best for our church would be a curriculum that was geared directly for this age group and one year of lessons that could be re-used.  I have ended up developing a series of Bible box lessons that cover stories from the life of Jesus and a selection of Old Testament stories.  I am excited to write more about these Bible box lessons in the coming weeks!

Here is a look at some of the items I have included in our Bible Box Lessons

Teaching Two Year Olds Bible Box Lessons

We still have a pretty solid Sunday school program, but parents’ priorities are changing and many are only coming to worship service.  We teach the lesson during Sunday school and are working toward a system where we re-use a previous lesson during the worship service.  That way, the children who are there for both time slots don’t have to repeat the same lesson on the same day and a review lesson is built into the system.  And those who only come for worship service, still have a teaching time rather than this time just being a nursery for older kids.

I have focused my attention on resourcing those who are teaching two-year-olds, so that they don’t have to create their own materials or spend a lot of time prepping each week.   We still have a ways to go to train those who serve during the worship service to use the materials that have been created.  We rotate volunteers so there are a lot of people to train. Some of them are used to doing things a certain way, and it can be difficult to get them to try something new.

Rather than forcing anything on our two year old staff, I have collected and created the materials over a few years, introducing them slowly.  First during our Wednesday night program which was a new program for two year olds and made it easier to set new expectations.  Then, in Sunday school.  It took us awhile to find what worked well for both the teacher and the kids.  And now we are starting to invest more in the people who work with the children during the worship service.

Here’s what a typical hour in our two-year-old space looks like:

  • Welcome and Entrance activities/ free play (10-15 minutes)  We plan activities that the children can do independently with supervision.  Not something that needs a lot of direction or where they will need a lot of help from the teacher.
  • Song and Lesson time (10-15 minutes)  They sit in chairs around a table unless what we have planned requires large movement.  I have found that it is easier to corral them and capture their interest around a table.  Some weeks we quit early if their attention span is waning, but because the activities during this time require active participation and move pretty quickly they do pretty well.  If we are going to do a take home craft or process art activity, we build it into this time.
  • Bathroom break/ diaper check, hand washing, and snack time (10-15 minutes)  If you work with this age group, then you know that washing hands is not just something you do, but an experience in and of itself.
  • Free play or any of the prepared activities that were set out at the beginning (10-15 minutes)

I am excited to show you more of our lesson materials over the coming weeks.  I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to teaching two-year-olds in a church setting and that you will find the upcoming posts a great resource for your ministry.

See our Joseph Bible Box Lesson here

Your Turn:

What particular challenges do you face with teaching two-year-olds?  What solutions have you found that work well with this age group?