The "Zoo" Children's Ministry is no longer in operation. We are maintaining this portion of our web site so that those involved in children's ministry can benefit from some of the resources that we are blessed to have.
The following is the basic program structure for the "Zoo" along with helpful tips on running your own program.
What is "The Zoo"?
At "The Zoo":
· Themes provide excitement, variety, and a setting. e.g. "Swamp Days". Lesson One - "Garbage In - Garbage Out"; Lesson Two - "Overcoming Temptation"; Lesson Three - "Swamp Rescue".
· The themes change every three weeks, long enough to hold interest without becoming boring.
· For every theme, props and puppets are changed to fit with the theme.
· Props can be made simply from easily obtainable items.
· The theme should be chosen to fit the environment you have to work in.
Structure of Program
In any children's program there is a need to maintain control. Boundaries and limits MUST be set. Children need to know what is expected of them. If there is no structure, very little learning will take place. We have developed the following system of discipline to help maintain control. It is mostly based on methods we have seen used by other ministries. CONSISTENCY is important. Once the rules have been stated, it is important to follow through with them. To be most effective, use all elements of the following structure.
Methods of Helping Maintain Control
Method No. One - Teams
Divide the children into two teams. Girls on one side and boys on the other. This is the simplest and fairest method of establishing two teams. It also helps to ensure a mix of ages on each side. It is important not to use this as an opportunity to promote one gender as better than the other.
Method No. Two - Balloons
Three balloons are designated to each team. If any member of a team is being disruptive, then one of their balloons is popped. A team having had all three of their balloons popped, will then forfeit their treat at the end of the program. The other team would then receive double treats. (The other team must not have any of their balloons popped to receive double). NEVER pop the third balloon early in the program - you have no leverage after that happens. We have popped all three balloons on rare occasions. It has sent the message that we mean what we say and are willing to follow through.
Method No. Three - Three Strike Rule
This is a rule that applies to the individual child. When a child is misbehaving, a verbal warning or "strike" is given. After "three strikes" (baseball analogy), the child is "out". This means that the child is asked to leave the program. Be clear that they must leave for the remainder of that weeks session but emphasize that they are welcome to return next time. Try to be as gracious as possible - it's not an easy rule to enforce, but once you've set the rule, you must follow through.
Method No. Four - Quiet Seat Prizes
This is an incentive used to encourage the children to pay attention. We offer prizes to the children who are being quiet and behaving during the program. One or two leaders are assigned to select the winners. Four prizes are given (two to each team) to the children who have been sitting with legs crossed, arms folded, looking straight ahead and not talking to or bothering their neighbour. Be sure to award the prizes to children who genuinely deserve to win. This helps to reinforce the standard.
Other Appropriate Rules
Depending on the particular setting for your program, other rules will have to be added. For example, on "The Zoo" bus, the children are instructed not to touch or draw on the windows and also to stand clear of the bus as it is pulling up to the curb. In the case of a program held inside a building, a specific area may be out of bounds. Be consistent about the rules that are established.
Rewards are incentives - good behaviour is acknowledged with a reward. Rewards definitely help maintain control. They are certainly a good investment given the importance of the message that you have been given the opportunity to share.
Outdoor vs Indoor Program
"The Zoo" Children's Ministry was run all year round. In the summer it was operated out of a (cube van) and in the winter it was operated out of the (Zoo Bus). The program or curriculum is designed specifically to suit one of the vehicles. There are some activities that can only be done in a certain setting or are limited by space so we had adapted our lessons to suit the area we were using. If you are planning to use "The Zoo" curriculum that we offer, you may find it necessary to adjust it to meet your needs. We have found a few tricks of the trade:
Use video to do the story. Remember you are dealing with a generation that thrives on TV
Games in this setting may require a decrease in physical activity. Use word games etc. These will help the children with literacy and other skills required in school, so their purpose is two fold.
Songs with actions can be changed to actions that can be done while sitting down. The kids think that is an interesting change.
Games can take up much more space, use relays etc.
Singing can be done using songs with lots and lots of actions. Take advantage of the space.
This is an excellent opportunity to take full advantage of themes. Space for props is unlimited. What an exciting idea!
Puppets and Puppet Videos
Kids today are accustomed to fast-paced visual media. It is important to keep that in mind when planning an effective program for children. We have learned from experience that the use of puppets, puppet videos and props helps to catch and hold the attention of kids today.
Puppet Costumes and Character Design
Puppets are without a doubt, one of the most effective children's ministry tools.
Prayer Sponsor Program
PRAYER IS VITAL - it forms the backbone of any children's ministry program. It is important to pray for the specific needs of each child and their family. You need people who are committed to this task. A prayer sponsor program can be established by assigning a list of children from five or six families to willing volunteers. A volunteer who is well acquainted with the children would be best suited to establish this program and maintain it by providing regular updates to the individual prayer sponsors.
Ministry is relational - you need to get to know your kids. This helps establish a level of trust which results in credibility. Obviously this is important in sharing the Gospel. The first step in building a relationship with the kids is to learn their names. To obtain names and addresses a coloring contest can be run. Be sure winners are selected by a random draw (done in front of the kids). Do not judge their individual ability.
As a result of having personal information such as their name, address and birth date, a visitation program can be established. A good tool to use in the program is a promotional flyer. This reminds the kids/parents about the program and allows a point of contact to the home. It gives you a reason to be on their doorstep. Flyers should be interesting and fun, it's a good idea to include an activity or two. Flyers should state the time, date, and location of your program and include a clear statement of who you represent (i.e. church or organization.) Birthday cards are Very Effective in building relationships. The card conveys to the child and the parents that you are personally interested. Our experience has been that the parents really appreciate this gesture.
· add interest - help to make the program exciting
· add variety and change. Prop changes are generally done every three weeks, depending on the theme.
· can be made simply from easily obtainable items such as cardboard, paper, fabric, plastic, wood, paint, markers, etc.
· can be items you may already have. Look in children's toy boxes, your basement or the garage.
· can be borrowed from sources in the community, e.g. the Fire Dept.
· can also include items related to the theme that are designed to be used directly in the program. e.g. game props and memory verse props.