THE SUNDAY SCHOOL ROOM, guest post by Lisa Wheeler

I’m starting a new preschool class in a new place with an old room. So, I asked my friend Lisa Wheeler to write a blog post about how to decorate the Sunday School room. Next week, I’ll show you my own before and after photos! Please enjoy Lisa’s heart and expertise as she blessed me with this guest post! – Miss Melanie    

A cabinet and a bulletin board. That’s what you get when your Sunday School space doubles as a classroom during the week.

It’s practical, right? A shared space makes sense, financially and even environmentally. After all, God’s Word is a powerful thing, and it’s His Spirit that brings it to life in a tender heart, even when the walls are filled with spelling words and U.S. Presidents.

Yet my years in such a setting had me daydreaming of what I would do to these rooms, if only I could. How could I create a space so inviting, the child yearns to enter? A place that a child perceives is different from home or school—a place with a sacred purpose? A place in which God’s peace and beauty is felt without words, filtering distractions and drawing the children into worship?

My chance finally came after a move to a new state. Not only was this room set aside for Sunday School alone, but it was a brand new room, a clean slate! Furthermore, I had a director (props to Miss Melanie) who gave me full artistic license.

What did I do? What do I recommend? What might you do with your own space? Three things come to mind: hospitality, purpose, and punting.

Oh, and Children’s Hospitals, which have all three down pat.

COME ON IN

As a Navy brat, my trips to the ER meant sitting in a white cinder-blocked room where it seemed that everyone but me was in uniform, from the nurses and doctors to my fellow patients. (Incidentally, my first visit to a “regular” grocery store instead of the commissary was jaw-dropping. Tiles on the floor. Painted walls. Displays!) For my own kids, who have experienced not only civilian but even children’s hospitals, a trip to the ER means entering something like a museum… Broad windows. Oversized mobiles hanging from the ceiling. Unified themes. Simple, bright, yet soothing palettes. “Enter, look, stay, enjoy,” these lobbies say, even in the midst of sickness.

So the bones and budget for your Sunday School room aren’t exactly comparable. Still, what truly makes these hospital lobbies so inviting can be applied. It comes down interest and simplicity.

1) Interest. Draw the child with an anchor piece. At our current hospital, these are giant aquariums. In my Sunday School room, it is a story-telling tent made out of sheets and pvc pipes. For either, the child thinks, “What’s this? Is it for me? I must see it more closely.”

2) Simplicity. Remaining details of the room should complement, not compete, with the anchor. The underwater-themed lobby does not contain paintings of the jungle.

I once had a 3D, floor-to-ceiling, craft-paper “thanksgiving tree” in my room where children pinned blessings each week on their “leaf.” I still love the concept but, given the tent, how much can kids really take in on a given day, both visually and mentally? Perhaps one day I’ll replace the tent with a storytelling tree, yet to do both is a little much. Clutter is not inviting.

This goes for color too: limit the palette to two or three.

FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION

The farther you go into the hospital, the more you see the necessary, functional pieces, from lighting to exam tables to equipment. All suit the purpose of healing. Exam tables move up and down. Bright, fluorescent lighting helps staff to view troubled areas of the body. Much of this is not attractive: an ultrasound machine just is what it is, right?

Our purpose is worship. How do our furnishings, supplies, and lighting support this?

I’ve found that bright fluorescent lighting is stimulating to children. Perhaps this is good for a long day at school, especially after lunch! Yet in the Church setting, with our shorter time, most kids do not need help waking up. They need help settling down. So the lighting in my room is soft, consisting of lamps at tables, lamps in our tent, and white Christmas lights strung across the ceiling (“Abraham’s stars”).

Here, too, consider your palette: in choosing two to three colors, know that those which sit side-by-side on the color wheel produce a more calming effect than those which are opposite on the wheel. The cooler colors are most calm of all.

In planning where to sit for the main lesson, I considered that children are fidgety. Many of them just don’t like to sit to for long. How could they sit most comfortably, then, giving them the best opportunity to focus? I decided to cover old crib mattresses, setting them against the wall with pillows, a poor man’s couch.

Some things, of course, are just like the ultrasound machine: they are what they are. When we worship through drawing or play-dough, this requires hard, durable, wipe-able chairs. I’d prefer wood, but what we can afford is… plastic. There you go.

DIY?

Perhaps most importantly, though, keep in mind that doctors do not design the lobbies of Children’s Hospitals.

You may be an exceptional teacher, but if you know that you are not that visual or artistic, punt this project to your friend who is. Let each of us exercise those gifts that we do have.

Interestingly, the first mention of the Spirit’s gifting is with regard to a craftsman. “I have called by name Bezalel… and filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs…” (Ex 31:2-4). This was for the building of the Tabernacle, a singular project to be sure. Yet from this it is clear that God considers our sensitivity to environment, that He uses scene and symbol to teach and, sometimes, when it suits His purpose, He will give his Spirit to artists… for His own glory.

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