All of the positive learning elements teachers want to provide for young children will be very difficult if not impossible, unless some basic guidelines are followed when organizing groups of children. Just because it is possible to cram a large number of youngsters into one room does not mean it is desirable. A church that truly cares about providing loving, quality nurture for little ones will put a high priority on organizing its ministries for this age group so that effective learning experiences really can be provided.
Two sets of statistics tell the tale:
Maximum group size.
If the numbers of children exceed one or both of these limits, behavior problems will increase significantly, and learning efficiency will decrease similarly. At the same time, the skill and effort needed on the part of the teachers increases with each additional child. While some teachers may be able to handle groups larger than those indicated, effective ministry with young children requires more than merely "handling" them. Young children need loving, personal attention far more than they need a skilled performance by a master storyteller, a gifted puppeteer, or even a musically talented clown who juggles while reciting Bible verses.
When leading a ministry for young children, it is not always possible to fully control these sets of numbers.
A teacher's absence can send the teacher-to-child ratio soaring. Few leaders have the luxury of enforcing the group size standards imposed by most states on kindergartens and preschools. It is very unlikely that a teacher will block the doorway to a classroom and announce, "Sorry, we can only accept 12 children in this room. You're number 13. Try coming earlier next Sunday." Instead, we keep packing them in, and church leaders wonder why it is so difficult to get people to volunteer for this "duty."
The key issue in maintaining optimum teacher-to-child ratios is not simply having enough big bodies in the room to keep all the little bodies under control. Of far greater importance is the need for each child to have a teacher or leader who is getting to know him/her personally, building a significant relationship, and praying regularly for that child's unique, individual growth. This type of personal attention is simply not possible when teachers have large numbers of children in their care. When the teacher-to -child ratios are exceeded, most teachers feel they're doing well just to send a birthday card and an occasional absentee note.
© Gospel Publishing House, Springfield, MO. Wes Haystead, author of The 21st Century Sunday School, is also co-author, with his wife Sheryl, of How to Have a Great Sunday School, available from Gospel Publishing House.