Fruitful Dreaming: Ideas for Planning Devotions (Part I)

The school desks are stacked, the bells silent, the hallways empty, and the schoolhouse doors locked. It is a great feeling. Now for several months, I will let my alarm clock rest unused, I’ll regularly don well-worn dresses and flip-flops, and gaily head out to the garden to dig my hands in the soil. The pleasure is nearly palatable.

Summers are such rich times. They invite us to refresh, renew, rejuvenate – and to dream. Imagining what could be is a very restorative form of recreation for it offers hope and anticipation, valuable ingredients for any teacher. In the midst of what we usually think of as restful summer days, we must not forget to include slots of time for intentional brainstorming about the coming year. I find it easier to brainstorm about the year ahead a few weeks before the calendar actually forces me into action because when it is still far enough away, I feel less hampered by time constraints, and as such, can much more easily think spontaneously outside the box. Creative ideas generally flow more freely when there is sufficient space and time between the thought and an urgently looming deadline. In addition, I like having time to investigate never-before-thought-of ideas, as well as to sort through the jumbled array of half-baked thoughts, categorizing some as simply ridiculous and others as innovative and invigorating. Summers are rich times for fruitful dreaming.

One of the things that always begs to be planned before the beginning days of school is the regular slot for devotions. While this class has usually been one of my favorites, experience reminds me that without a plan in mind, it ends up sapping my energy rather than energizing me. Without at least a clear, big-picture idea of where I am heading, I am forced to deal with last minute floundering (which I find very draining) and will most likely also deal with many flops (which I also find very draining)! Planning ahead is the better way to go.

Some things I like to think about in preparing for the devotions slot include:

  1. What is the Bible Memory Plan for the year?
    • I plan out the basic layout for the year, plan how many verses per week and print out the Scriptures to be memorized so each student can have a hard copy. For younger students, a single sheet is significantly easier to work with than using their personal Bible. It also gives them the freedom to mark or color code certain verbs, nouns, prepositional phrases, or whatever you direct them to highlight. If you are artistic, you might even leave a space on the sheet where you ask them to sketch how they visualize a particular verse.
      • Note that Scripture is not the only valid memory work requirement. The final six weeks of this past year, we memorized two hymns (“Children of the Heavenly Father” and “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”) alongside memorizing the books of the Old Testament.
      • Think about details such as:
        • Will you as the teacher also memorize the Scriptures you require of the students?
        • How much time will you spend practicing the memory work together as a class? How much will they be on their own? Will you set certain times each day for students to work on it alone? The younger the student, the more structure is needed.
        • How will you practice as a class? Here your own giftings will come into play. If you enjoy specific gestures or maybe using sign language as a learning aide, you may want to include that. Will you have them copy the verse as a means of memorizing it? What about drawing it? Paraphrasing really helps clarify the meaning, but for younger ones this is hard work. Maybe you want each student to have a Bible Memory Book where they copy the week’s verses and/or illustrate them. Then at the end of the year, they have the year’s complete collection.
        • Who will they recite to? To you? It takes a long time if you have 16 students to listen to individually. To parents and have them send a note? My students always have the option of reciting to their parents or a (much) older sibling and then bringing a note. If they forget the note, they simply recite it again at school. To their peers? Plan this one carefully. Who will you trust? How will you instruct them to do it? Or will they have to write it out? In last year’s final six weeks, I required the 4th graders to write out the hymns we were memorizing and decided that was a winner. One student who was regularly overly confident about being ready and tended to slide the words together making it hard to hear each word suddenly began recognizing the over-confidence himself, “I need to practice some more first!” Spelling and punctuation is not counted for this.
        • How will you grade the recitation? At our school, grades 1-2 recite as a class, but grade 3 is required to recite individually for a recorded grade. For 3rd and 4th, however, I only give the more general marks of E for excellent, S+ for Very Good, S for Satisfactory, etc and take into account each child’s level of class participation, personal responsibility in preparation, and of course the recitation itself. So, if a child asks me for a hard copy so they can study at home, I take note of that!
        • Will you give any incentive or reward for reciting well?
        • Is Friday the day of the week you will have them recite? May students recite before that?
        • How will you help them understand what they are memorizing? Always make a point of discussing the meaning of the Scriptures. Talk about words they don’t understand, give personal examples of what the verses mean to you, demonstrate praying God’s Word back to Him by using the verses in your class prayer time.
  1. What hymns or songs will students learn this year? If you love singing, you will likely embellish this one more.
    • Maybe you want to focus on a new hymn each month or one every two weeks and not do a lot of singing outside of that. You could spend quite a bit of time talking about the meaning of the words, connecting the concepts with known Scriptures, noting the rhyming patterns, or telling the history behind the hymn.
    • Maybe you want to focus on hymn histories. You could choose the hymns and then find out the history, or first choose hymn stories you especially enjoy and have that dictate the hymns you learn. An example of this are the beautiful stories behind “It is Well with my Soul” and “Now Thank We All our God.”
    • Maybe you want to focus on one composer for a quarter and learn a number of his or her hymns.
    • You could choose one songbook and regularly sing out of that.
    • Maybe you want to learn Scripture verses set to music. This can work as a combination of Bible Memory and singing time.
  1. What will be the primary teaching focus of devotional time? There could be a different focus each quarter or one year long study focus. To get you started, here are a few ideas:
    • A study of the book of Proverbs. A friend introduced me to “Hidden Treasures: Searching for Wisdom” by Pam Forster. It is full of great ideas and illustrations and is readily available to buy online. I have used this some and really enjoyed it.
    • A study of the names of God. I don’t have a recommended book for this since I simply used the letters of the alphabet and English names like Bread of Life and Shepherd rather than delving into the Hebrew names. To add interest as a visual aid, I then posted pictures illustrating the names beside the words on the wall.
    • A study on the creation. This has been a really fun study for one quarter. The Creation—A Picture for Little Eyes is a document written for this that you might enjoy if you teach grades 1-4.

    • A study of missionaries. This could include pictures of missionaries beside a world map with strings to their country. Hero Tales Vol 1-4 by Dave and Neta Jackson is a set worth considering for elementary level if you wish to introduce students to a wide variety of missionaries through the years. I have incorporated this book a number of times.
    • Hymn histories. Here are hymn history research papers you might find helpful:
    • Hymn Histories

    • An overview of the New or Old Testament. Walk Through the Bible curriculum has good material for this. The main thing I have used from here is the “OT39 Old Testament” flashcards when we learn the books for the Old Testament and the “NT27 New Testament” flashcards the years we learn the New Testament books. Each card includes a memorable picture that gives an overview of the book’s key concepts.
    • Bible stories. With this, you need to think about the many choices available and decide what you will use. More on this later with two recommendations given.
    • Character Sketch books. (More on this in the next post.)

Coming up with a plan for devotions doesn’t mean you are married to it. Allow yourself plenty of flex, but do have a big picture plan both in your mind—and on paper—before the first day of school.

Sometimes it helps to hear what someone else is doing. In the next post, I will give you a big-picture glimpse into what I did this past year. The purpose of this peek is to offer you a starting point for your own brainstorming. Rarely does it work well simply to adopt someone else’s plan without carefully running it through your own grid and tweaking it to fit your interests and giftings. When we take another’s idea as a starting point and make it our own, it often ends up looking more like as an overhaul than a mere tweaking. That kind of serious renovation tends to work the best because it then fits God’s image in you rather than seeking to mirror another’s image of God.

Next post: Ideas for daily plans and suggested materials for school devotions

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