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Creating the Learning Environment

The learning environment — whether in a small classroom, a church basement corner, or a corner in the sanctuary — plays an important part in a successful Sunday school.

Psychologists have determined that color and lighting have an important effect on people; and a learning environment that is loving, cheerful, inviting, and attractive has a very positive effect on Sunday school students.

What Makes a Positive Learning Environment?

A positive learning environment:

  • Welcomes students.
  • Reflects God's grace.
  • Encourages students to want to be present.
  • Gives the feeling that something great is going on.
  • Stimulates curiosity.
  • Is attractive, cheerful, clean, and inviting.

The Teacher's Role in Creating the Learning Environment

The teacher sets the tempo in creating a positive learning environment. A smiling teacher who welcomes students and makes them feel like he or she is glad to see them is important for creating an exciting, inviting learning environment.

The teacher's loving and caring attitude, actions, feelings, and style of relating to students are important. The teacher's attitudes and actions must reflect God's grace.

God's grace is reflected in the loving and caring way the teacher:

  • Greets, visits with, and shows interest in students;
  • Assures students that they are valuable, important, and loved as God loves them;
  • Listens and shows respect for students' ideas;
  • Exhibits joy in understanding that he or she has been called to an important and wonderful task of sharing God's grace and the good news of Jesus Christ;
  • Accepts all students, their activities, and their beliefs; does not expect perfection from students;
  • Affirms, accepts, and encourages students to use their God-given gifts and talents;
  • Exhibits honesty, confidentiality, and sincerity;
  • Exhibits a sense of humor and fun;
  • Selects positive activities that not only help teach, but that encourage community, acceptance, and a feeling of love for each student;
  • Is able to forgive and show love at the same time;
  • Helps students discover positive behavior;
  • Models being a disciple of Jesus Christ by praying, worshipping, and serving.

These are some of the ways a teacher personally helps create a positive learning environment that says "I love you" and "God loves you" so that learning about God and how to be his disciples takes places.

The Classroom's Role in Creating the Learning Environment

So, your church was built long ago. Your church's budget is very limited. Your class meets in a tiny room in the church basement with one small window, a table, and a few chairs. How can you make your classroom or class space an inviting learning environment?

Turning a room or class space into a positive learning environment may involve discarding old, used furniture and toys, out-dated curriculum, and old activity papers. You may have to use a scrub pail and mop or a paint brush.

Does the entrance to your classroom or class space say "Come in. You are welcome here. We care about you.?" A simple sign or picture on or near the door helps make a room inviting and welcomes students. The sign should be colorful and simple. For example: "Welcome Second Through Sixth Graders!" or "Welcome Adult Seekers!"

The way you use space to arrange furniture is also important. Learning space does not need to have a table in the center with chairs around it. Plan for a variety of settings. Use corners, nooks, and crannies as places for reading, playing quiet games, or doing puzzles. Colorful carpet squares, small pieces of carpet, and pillows help make this often unused space attractive and inviting.

A table pushed to the side or folded when it is not needed leaves space for movement and activity.

An attractive display of books in a corner or on a card table can encourage students to read further or to do a research activity.

A conversation, storytelling, or gathering space can be created by using an area rug for sitting on the floor — or you could use a circle of chairs. A simple worship center can be the area's focal point.

A box or small table with a colored cloth can be used for the worship center. Place a Bible, flowers, cross, or picture on it. Try to use a variety of things that help convey the main idea for the week's lesson.

Sewing cutting boards that fold and colored foam core boards make portable bulletin and display boards. Foam boards and cardboard covered with colorful flannel make simple and attractive flannel boards.

Cover unattractive wall bulletin boards with colored construction paper, butcher paper, wallpaper, or fabric.

Corners of boxes can be cut to make simple table easels for pictures. Three sides of a box may be removed and the two remaining sides taped together to form paint, drawing, and display easels.

Simple cardboard or inexpensive colorful plastic boxes make excellent storage containers. The colorful "muck" buckets or large multipurpose plastic buckets now available make attractive toy boxes.

Painted shelf space and furniture that is uncluttered, orderly, and clean is attractive and conveys to students that you care about their learning environment.

Place pictures and displays at heights that are clearly visible to class members. Display student learning activities, murals, mobiles, and other art. Use seasonal and learning pictures.

Use lapboards of recycled cardboard or sanded plywood when a large table is not needed or is not available.

Creating a positive learning environment involves periodically changing displays and the worship center. Clean regularly because janitors rarely know what to pitch.

With God's spirit and a little intuition, a classroom or class space can be made into an environment that is safe, easily cleaned, and attractive. It can be a place where students feel loved and wanted and are excited about learning and growing in faith.

The Teacher Establishes the Learning Climate; The Class Setting Assists the Teacher

Remember that the teacher's attitudes and actions play the most important role in creating a positive learning climate. The physical classroom is an essential element in creating the total learning environment.

Every Sunday school teacher is called to use the gifts and talents God has given him or her to create a positive learning environment through which God's loving spirit can work.

Carol Seebach serves on the staff of Asbury United Methodist Church in Bettendorf, Iowa.

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