Welcome to Words for the Heart, a blog/site dedicated to compiling useful resources and links for teaching some of the Bible’s most well-loved stories.  This site is aimed at helping everyday Christians teach their children and the children of their congregation the stories that matter to our faith – in the classroom, in worship, and at home.  Check back often as more stories are added, and feel free to list other useful resources or thoughts in the comments.  What have you done?  Why do these stories matter to you?  Hopefully, as we think together about how to pass on these rich stories of God’s work with God’s people, we will also find our hearts and minds transformed.

The title of this blog comes, loosely, from Deuteronomy 6:6-7  “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to you children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.”

Use the links above, or navigate to the About page to learn about how this site is organized, or check out the index.

Zacchaeus, Luke 19

Opening Thoughts

This is truly a story of repentance, a word whose roots mean “to turn around.”  Zaccheaus was a selfish, greedy, conniving man, who was “in bed” – as the phrase goes – with the occupying forces.  I can’t imagine the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’s command for him to come down from the sycamore tree and host him in his own home.  The children’s song is often how this story is taught, but it is even more significant for children:  no matter what God will always love you and forgive you.  This isn’t a lesson children always need today, it is a story for their tomorrows.  They need to know that as they grow they will make choices, and some will turn out to be terrible mistakes, but that doesn’t make God love them less.  And when you teach this story with love in your voice, they will also remember that the church is a place where love and forgiveness welcome them with open arms.

Read it

Useful Resources for Understanding the Story

Make and Do

  • Make a tree, such as this one with a trunk made with a handprint, and decorate with fall leaves or handprint leaves; or this one with toilet paper rolls and coffee filters; or this one with a paper bag and tissue paper leaves.
  • Make a climbing Zacchaeus.
  • Make an edible tree with marshmallows, green sprinkles, and pretzels.
  • Zacchaeus climbed a tree because he was short; it also hid him from a crowd that didn’t like him, but Jesus saw him anyway.  Make binoculars with two toilet paper tubes.
  • Make (and eat) leaf-shaped cookies.
  • Plant a tree.
  • Make leaf and/or bark rubbings from trees around church.
  • Teach the stand-by “Zacchaeus was a Wee Little Man” – you might be surprised that some of the kids don’t know it!
  • Jesus knew Zacchaeus’s name.  Have the students write out their name with bubble letters and decorate it.  Or bring in a name book and help them look up the meaning of their name, then decorate a name plaque.
  • Because Zacchaeus was a tax collector, make a review game using edible gold coins.  Perhaps look up instructions on playing dreidel.
  • Pull out a long piece of paper or a paper table cloth.  Have the students draw and/or write what they would do if Jesus came to their house for dinner.
  • Try the “Zacchaeus, Come Down” game with balloons from this blog.  The “show what you know” suggestion at the bottom is a winner, too!
  • This is a fun story to act out – all you really need is Jesus and Zacchaeus, but you can have other kids be disciples, the crowd.  Get everyone involved.  Or teach the sign language for house, tree, Jesus, etc.  Just make sure you use those signs a lot!
  • Play “Simon Says” (or Jesus says…), be sure to include lots of “turn around”s, since Zacchaeus turned around.
  • Teach children how to apologize, and then write pretend apologies for fairy tale characters, like Goldilocks:
    1. I’m sorry for…
    2. In the future, I will…
    3. Will you forgive me…
  • Have children write something they are sorry for on Flash Paper and light on fire.  The flash paper goes up in an instant (remind kids that the paper is special, and not to do it at home!).

Other Ideas

  • The storybook Wings by Christopher Myers is the story of Ikarus, from Greek myth, but the lessons in the book are perfectly paired with Zacchaeus, read about it at Storypath.
  • Zacchaeus coloring pages at Danielle’s Place.

Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Daniel 6

Opening Thoughts

The book of Daniel – which takes some weird turns we rarely read (see chapters 4, 7, and 12, for example) – takes place during the exile of the people.  Among its theme is the question – what does it mean to praise God in a foreign land?  The twists and turns of the average life often take us to places that seem like a foreign land.  How do we praise God, then?  This is an important lesson for Christians of all ages.  We may not be tricked or trapped like Daniel, but the lions still snap at us (see 1 Peter 5:8), yet the one who calls us is faithful, and will deliver and redeem us.

For young kids, the most important lesson to learn from this story may be, God is with me when I’m scared.  A great lesson can be created out of talking about Halloween or maybe talking about the movie Monster’s, Inc (since monsters are a common fear).

Read it

Useful Resources for Understanding the Story

  • Luther Seminary’s Enter the Bible article on Daniel.  Specifically on Daniel 6.  On the exile.
  • LSTC Old Testament Professor Emeritus Ralph W Klein’s resources on Daniel.
  • Wikipedia on Daniel.

Make and Do

  • Make a stand up paper lion.  Here is a template.  Here is one made from construction paper (but the directions aren’t in English).  This one is even more intricate.  Or a paper cut-out with a moveable tail.  Another variation.
  • Make a lion mask.
  • Use cupcake papers to make lions and draw a scene from the story.
  • Make an “origami” lion (using the old fortune teller…I wonder what neat things you could write on the inside?).
  • Make a paper bag puppet lion.
  • Make a handprint lion.
  • Make a courage bracelet.
  • Make a lion pony bead keychain.
  • Make a God’s eye for kids to keep in their bedroom to remind them that God is with them, even when they are afraid.  Consider a craft that can be on their backpacks to remind them that, even where they’re afraid at school, God is with them.
  • Feed a lion prayers about the things children are afraid of.
  • This is a GREAT story to act out!  Make sure you’ve read the story first to simplify some parts of the story.
  • Play Lion, Lion, Daniel (like Duck, Duck, Goose).
  • Play pin-the-tail on the lion.
  • Play Daniel-Lion-Governor (a variation on rock, paper, scissors).

Other Ideas

How to Plan a GREAT Sunday School Lesson

Thank you for agreeing – or agreeing to be “volunteered” – to teach Sunday School this fall.  No matter how you feel about it, you are doing something important.  You are passing on your faith to a new generation.  Jesus says, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).  You are doing the work of a disciple, and you are not alone in it!  This post is all about how to make a great Sunday School lesson in less than half an hour.

Step One – Pick your story, read it again, and learn one new thing about.

Get excited about your favorite story again.  These stories matter, and your enthusiasm will be contagious.  After you’ve picked your story, log on to words4theheart.wordpress.com.  There, you can read the story.  Check out the links under “Useful resources for Understanding the Story” to learn something new.

Pro Tip #1:  A good study Bible is really helpful for preparing a Sunday School lesson.  I recommend the Lutheran Study Bible, but there are other great resources out there.

Pro Tip #2:  Use a website like biblegateway.com to read lots of different translations of the same text – what do you notice?

Pro Tip #3:  Here are some good questions for helping you get even more out of the story:

  • What in the passage scare, surprises, confuses, or challenges me?
  • What stories or memories does this text stir in me?
  • Who is speaking in this passage?  to whom?  How am I like or different from these people?
  • What does this passage say to me, my church, my community, my nation, the world?
  • If I took these words seriously, what person or situation would I see differently than I do now?

Step Two – Find a translation of the story to share with the kids

There are several story Bibles available in the church office, Sparkhouse’s Spark Story Bible, Ralph Milton’s The Family Story Bible, and Desmond Tutu’s Children of God Storybook.  These are all Pr. A’s resources, so please leave the originals at church – but feel free to make ONE copy to use for preparation.  You can also read it from the Message or the New International Version (a common Bible translation) or the New Revised Standard Version, the version we use during worship.

Pro Tip #1:  Pick five important words in the story and find the American Sign Language sign for them (or make up a gesture).  Teach these to the kids – now you can use any version and have A LOT of fun telling the story.

Pro Tip #2:  Have the kids act out the story as you read it.  Be sure you have a list of the characters you’ll need ahead of time!

Step Three – Make a List of Kid-Friendly Follow-Up Questions

Aim for 6-10 questions:  3-7 review questions and 3-5 discussion questions.

Pro Tip #1:  An easy review question is, “What happened in the story?”

Pro Tip #2:  An easy discussion question is, “How did you feel when…?  Why?”

Pro Tip #3:  Turn the story review time into a game with an easy bean bag toss or other simple game.  If you get the question right, you get to throw the bean bag.  Use “life lines” (ask a friend for help) so everyone can throw.  Or hand out simple pieces of candy for right questions.

Step Four – Find a Craft to Do

Check out the links under “Make and Do” at Words for the Heart.  Its okay if you’re stretching to make the craft work.  Once the kids have heard the story, your presence is also a great gift.  If they learn nothing else, they learn that the people of the church care for them.  Check the Sunday School cabinet for supplies.  If you purchase your own, please submit a receipt in the treasurer’s drawer with your name; please keep your supply purchases below $20.

Pro Tip #1:  Think about the crafts you made as a child, it is possible these kids have never done it before!  Sometimes, um, “vintage” is good!

Pro Tip #2:  Good supplies always help.  Pr A has watercolor pencils and oil pastels you can use.  Sometimes a simple craft is made all the more exciting by using more “adult” supplies.

Step Four – Find a Game to Play

Games are also listed under “Make and Do” at Words for the Heart.  Again, games don’t have to be “spot on” to be perfect for Sunday School.  Play with the kids, remind them that God loves them, and you do, too, and you’ll have a perfect lesson.

Pro Tip #1:  Pick a plan and stick to it.  The second you introduce a game, two things will happen:  1) someone will groan and whine; 2) someone will ask to play a different (and, in their mind, better) game.  Know the rules of your game, and say matter-of-factly, this is what we’re doing.

Pro Tip #2:  Variations on Sharks and Minnows, Red Light, Green Light, and Mother May I, using characters and themes from your story are all winners!

Step Five – Pick One More Activity

Check out the links under “Other Activities.”  Crosswords, word searches, and coloring sheets are great choices.  You could also show a movie on your computer, plan another (short craft), or play a simple card game (like Go Fish).

Pro Tip #1:  It is always a good idea to have a back up activity to fill out your time.  But it is also okay to ask the kids what quiet thing they might like to do for the last five minutes.

Step Six – Write a Prayer

End the class time with a prayer.

Pro Tip #1: Here’s any easy way to write a prayer:

Dear God, [what God did in the story], [what God might do for us now], [why].  In Jesus’s name, Amen.

So a prayer for the story of the Call of Abraham might look like this:

Dear God, you walked beside Abraham and Sarah, no matter where they went.  Always walk with us, so that we know you keep us safe.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Creation, Genesis 1-2

Opening Thoughts

The first thing you may notice is that there are TWO stories of creation!  The first story is about God creating the earth, sky, sea, land, and their inhabitants in order over six days, and resting on the seventh day.  The second story is about God creating the animals and, ultimately Eve (whose name means “mother of all living), to be Adam’s helper (Adam’s name means, in the words of Richard Swanson, “mud guy”).  Most Sunday School curriculums just pick one, normally the first one, and that’s probably a good plan, especially with young learners.  If you’ve got older kids (middler schoolers, perhaps) it might be helpful to compare the two stories.  Ask gentle questions about why there might be two stories and what is in common?  The most faithful thing I draw from these two stories is that God is the loving artist behind all creation, no matter how everything is made, God made it.

Read it

Useful Resources for Understanding the Story

Make and Do

  • Fold a regular piece of paper so there are seven sections (or eight and make the first rectangle a “title”).  Draw the seven days of creation.  Or make big numbers, 1-7, and color them in with what was created each day.
  • Fold a paper in thirds.  Draw an animal so that its head is in one rectangle, its body in the next one, and its hind end in a third.  Then cut up the animals and exchange so everyone makes a new animal.  Or, make three loops of paper, one with animal heads, one with animal bodies, one with animal tails.  Thread them through another piece of paper with slits cut in it so you can make lots of different animals!  Imagine the traits of the new animals you create.  What does it eat, where does it live, what does it do?
  • Use clay to make a landscape.  Include hills, mountains, rivers, creeks, lakes, and the sea.  What lives where?  What grows where?  Why?
  • Make a bug home.
  • Plant seeds.
  • Make a peanut butter, birdseed, and pine cone bird feeder (make a few extras and pastor will deliver to shut ins!)
  • Use a paper plate, blue paint, and green tissue paper to make a picture of the earth.  Like this.
  • Make a 3D picture of the land and sea with a ziplock bag and some dish soap (glitter is a bonus!).
  • Make “hanimals.”
  • Make an ocean in a bottle.
  • Describe animals by their less familiar characteristics and have the kids guess the animal you’re describing.
  • Play 20 Questions with various animals as the subject.  Or, prepare index cards with animals on them, tape them to the kids’ backs and have them walk around asking each other questions about the animal on their back until they can guess it.
  • Make slips of paper with the names of animals, 2 different animals per round.  Hand out the slips of paper, at “go” the kids must find their mate/group by only making that animal’s sound.  Add well known animals, considering adding real stinkers for the last round, just for fun, like a platypus.
  • Play Scategories, using the days of creation as prompts (such as, something that is in the sky, something in the sea, something on the land, a plant, etc).
  • Group Juggle – use a variety of stuffed animals.  Stand in a circle.  Have each person introduce him or herself.  Say a person’s name and gently toss an animal to them.  They say, “Thank you, ___” and then say another person’s name and toss it along until everyone has had a turn and it is back at the start.  Repeat, always passing to the same person, this time, add more animals, until the whole group is juggling.  Reverse the order for a challenge.

Other Ideas