Here are some ideas for a welcome activity:
- coloring... have crayons/markers and paper ready on the table. Here is a good place to use an extra coloring sheet that relates to the Bible story!
- playdough... a few lumps of playdough and some playdough "tools" get the kids to the table and busy. Just keep the tools to a minimum (think 1/child) or clean up becomes a big deal.
- dress up box... think simple and generic here - some long multi-colored scarfs, skirts, a fishing vest and straw hats, king and queen crowns and capes, etc.
- books... have a selection of good quality, age appropriate books on hand. Allow the children to sit and look at them, or have your assistant read aloud. We are working on a collection of Christian books for our Children's Room.
- toys... this can work really well, but think "quiet play" and plan for about 1-2/child. You don't want the kids to be running around whooping it up so that you start your lesson with hyper children and a big mess. A small bucket full of animals can keep a group of 3-5 year olds occupied until you are ready to begin the lesson. In our Room, we have a bucket of animals, a collection of multicultural people, a bin of wooden blocks and a bin of wooden puzzles and other simple games.
- puppets... small children learn with their ears, eyes, noses and especially with their HANDS! Puppets are an excellent way to make the stories real and memorable for little people. A collection of animals is great - think sheep, cow, camel, donkey, frog, bird, etc. Make people puppets that are not tied down to just one bible character (for example, make a boy, young man and an old man, rather than Samuel, Jonathan and Noah). Don't forget to include a king, queen and soldiers!
- felt board... cover a tack board with inexpensive felt. Laminate pictures (even coloring book pictures, carefully colored work well) and add some adhesive velcro to the back. Set out the pictures that connect with the day's story and allow the children to play with them on the felt board.
- musical instruments... a collection of simple, durable instruments goes a long way. Think baby food jars "shakers" with rice or bean, strings of bells, sandpaper blocks, tamborines, and "clappers".
If you have the room for more than one activity, set up a table with some books or coloring and a bucket of toys for play. You can use these same activities at the end of the lesson if you finish early and want to avoid "run around and scream" time. Parents love to pick up their children from a busy room filled with the murmer of happy children.
A small CD player with a CD of children's songs/hymns playing in the background sets a similar happy atmosphere.