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Tips & Tricks

The New Kid

-Robert Choun

One of my childhood goals was to win an award for perfect Sunday school attendance. To earn it I had to attend out-of-town churches on the weekends our family traveled. One Sunday morning I walked three blocks to the nearest church and presented myself at the door. I was eventually noticed, processed and placed in a class. The teacher was preoccupied. My classmates shunned me. The main activity seemed to be waiting quietly for something to happen. Because of this experience (and others like it) I was 14 years old before I finally earned the attendance award.

Few occasions in childhood are more stressful than being the new kid. But with a little preparation and effort, you can smooth the way for an anxious newcomer.

Make Him Feel Welcome

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had advance notice of first-time visitors? “Expect Robby on the third Sunday of the fall quarter. He’s eight years old, small for his age, carries war toys in his right pocket, has a charming smile and speaks English as a second language.”

You could be waiting for Robby with a name-tag, extra supplies, an empty chair, a “safety deposit box” for his toys and a few activities that don’t require English mastery. It is unlikely you will get this helpful “heads up” but you can be ready for Robby any Sunday of the year. Always have plenty of supplies on hand and space at the table. Simple measures like these reassure a visitor he is welcome.

Early elementary children usually find it easier to blend in than younger children (worried about the whereabouts of their parents) and older children (worried about brand-name clothes). Whether or not a newcomer to your class is apprehensive, you can help by addressing concerns.

Anticipate Questions

Will I have a friend?

Direct a newcomer to a small-group activity where he can get to know a few classmates as he begins to focus on the lesson theme. Don’t require early arrivals to sit quietly and wait for everyone to arrive before class can start. Initiate conversation in the small group. Find a common interest such as team sports to spark some dialogue.

Will I be picked on?

Keep an eye on a newcomer to be sure he is not victimized be a class bully. He may choose at assert himself by using bullying tactics of his own so be observant. Model friendliness so that your learners will understand the behavior expected of them.

Will I find the restroom?

Don’t neglect your learners’ physical needs. Take the newcomer aside and explain your policy regarding restroom breaks. Show him where to find the nearest facilities. Send a friendly classmate along to show the way to and from the restroom.

Will I know what to do?

Give clear directions for each activity. Don’t expect your newcomer to be familiar with all your standards for classroom behavior. A posted list of the rules is a big help. When you have a visitor it’s important to spend extra minutes reviewing the past week’s lesson. The newcomer may not be Bible literate and a review will help him his way through the characters and places of the current lesson. A visual timeline is a great review tool.

Make Him Want to Come Back

Be sure to thank the visitor for coming. Mention a specific way he contrib­uted to the class. If possible send a note encouraging him to return.

Be observant and sensitive to the reactions of a newcomer. He may bristle like a porcupine, radiating the message, “Don’t mess with me!” He may shrink into a shell like a hermit crab. Encourage but don’t push. Be attentive but don’t smother. Be firm but patient. It’s possible that your class is this visitor’s first encounter with a church or Christian club. You only get one chance to make a good first impression!

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