8 Things I Wish I'd Known as a Sunbeam Teacher!

By: Megan Hanson



I was very young when my husband and I got married. Nineteen! I was also the youngest in my family so I wasn't too familiar with little children. Our very first Ward we were in, they called us to be Sunbeam teachers. I hadn't been in Primary since I was a Primary age child! I didn't know the difference between a 3 year old and a 5 year old! My husband wasn't much help either when it came to the children. He just liked to play with them! It was up to me to prepare and give the lessons.

I remember very clearly our experience those first few months of teaching. It was a NIGHTMARE! I feel so sorry for those sweet little children. I would prepare the lesson just like it says in the lesson manual. I thought that a 3 year old was old enough to sit in a chair with his feet on the ground and listen to me talk for 45 minutes! And this is after Sacrament Meeting and Sharing Time. We had a large class - I think around 10 children. I couldn't understand why the children wouldn't pay attention or why they were so wiggly or why they got so cranky! The final straw for me was when one particularly energetic child had had enough of my teaching and picked up her chair and threw it at me!

You guys ... I deserved it! I really did. I had no idea what I was doing. There was no training beforehand. I walked straight to the Bishop's office and told him we were done. That these children couldn't be taught and my husband and I were obviously not the ones to be teaching. Sadly, we quit going to church for a long time after that. I was humiliated and felt like I didn't have a place in my Ward.

Years later, after having a couple of my own children and really understanding the short attention spans of a 3 year old, I was called back into Sunbeams. This time I was ecstatic! There were only 5 cute little children in my class and my partner this time was another sister that I adored. I can honestly say that Sunbeam Teacher is the BEST CALLING IN THE CHURCH! I kept this calling for years and enjoyed it every week.

Let me share with you 8 things that I learned along the way:

  • Don't take it too seriously! Yes, church is serious, but these little children have already sat through 2 hours of church. Realistically, you cannot expect them to sit through any more! Don't be like younger me and think that they're going to sit in their seats, with their feet on the floor, their hands in their laps, ready to learn whatever you're going to teach them! It's just not going to happen! I heard once that children have an attention span of 1 minute for every year they are. So a 3 year old's attention span is .... 3 MINUTES! There are some weeks that you may want the kiddos to sit on the floor instead of their chairs. That's ok! Bring a big blanket and have a "picnic" lesson with the children. As the year goes on, they'll be able to sit in their chairs better and better, but let them have more freedom in the beginning of the year!
  • Change direction every 5 minutes! This means that every 5 minutes, you should have a different activity planned. For example, have them come in and sing songs for 5 minutes; then let them talk to you for 5 minutes; then give 5 minutes of the lesson; act out a scripture store for 5-8 minutes; snacks (usually longer than 5 minutes); 5 minutes of the lesson; game to reinforce the lesson for 5-8 minutes. You get the idea! If they're doing something active, it can take longer than 5 minutes, but if you're teaching, don't try to teach for longer than 5 minutes. (I've heard a lot of teachers, myself included, let the children talk for the first few minutes of class. Let them share with you what they did that week. They love the individual attention!)
  • Snack Time! If your Primary President is ok with you bringing in snacks, then I HIGHLY suggest doing so. It doesn't have to be anything expensive or elaborate. Kids love pretzels, graham crackers, fish crackers, grapes or orange slices. This is a nice little break for the children and something they look forward to. We always did snack time about half way through our class time. Then we did a drink and potty break for any of the children that needed it. When they get back in the classroom, sing an active song like "Hinges" or "Once there was a snowman" or "Popcorn Popping". This will help the kiddos want to come back in and be by their seats. After the active song, then you can sing a quiet song to help them get reverent again.
  • Repetition! Children this age really learn by repetition. They are comfortable when they know what to expect.
    • Try scheduling your class into activity blocks so the kiddos know what comes next each week (but don't get stressed out if your schedule gets off from time to time!).  
    • A prayer chart is a good tool to have. Have each of the children's names along with dates on the chart. This will help you keep track of who has said the prayer. The children love seeing this and it will cut down on arguing later in the year about who's turn it is to say the prayer!
    • You could even have a prayer doll or paper doll that you bring out every time it's prayer time. Have the children tell you what the doll is supposed to do to get ready for the prayer. Even my CTR 5 class loved my prayer doll!
    • I also liked to have a bean bag with me each week. I would toss it to a child and that meant it was that child's turn to talk. By the end of the year, my class got pretty good at only speaking when they were holding the bean bag!
  • Scripture Stories! If you have a scripture story in your lesson, don't pass over it quickly! I found that these were sometimes the most engaging part of the lesson! Get really excited every time there's a scripture story so the kiddos are excited about it. Tell them you're going to tell them an amazing story from the scriptures and if they listen really, really well then they get to do something fun after the story. Tell them the story. Now, have an activity planned to go along with the story. The best is when the kids can act it out! Bring simple props and let them each take a turn being the "main" character if they want to. If you subscribe to our Primary Membership, our Sunbeam lesson helps almost always include a scripture story activity idea. These range from acting out the story, to a craft idea, to a game idea. It's always a good idea to reinforce an idea by doing an activity to help it really stick in their minds!
  • Activity Arsenal Bag! It's very important to have a "back-up" plan in case you need to fill time with your class. There are going to be those weeks where they just won't listen to your lesson, or they only color for 2 minutes, or you just didn't plan enough activities! That's what your Activity Arsenal Bag is for! Have games and activities that you know the children will enjoy. Try to make them gospel based. But my Sunbeam's favorite was Red Light, Green Light and Mama May I. I didn't have to bring anything special to class for these games and it got them up and moving for a bit!
    • Other games they enjoy are Memory, Hokey Pokey, Hot Potato, Musical Chairs, Fishing (every Primary teacher should have a fishing pole! Buy a thick dowel from the craft store, wrap some yard on one end and hot glue, then hot glue a magnet to the other end of the glue. You can use the fishing pole many different ways. In the lesson, if it suggests having the kids take turns for something, write them on cards and put a paper clip on the card. Then let the kids "fish" for the cards. I've never met a child who doesn't like doing this!)
    • I also like to keep a few books in my bag. If you have some that go along with the lesson, then bring those. You can see which are your classes' favorite books and bring a few each week.
    • Play-Dough is also something that you could bring occasionally. Have them try to create something with their play-dough that goes along with the lesson.
  • Music! Don't be scared to sing! I have an awful singing voice, but little kids don't care at all. They love the primary songs! If you are uncomfortable singing to your class, did you know that the church has a music app? You can choose to play just the music or the music with the words! You can find it here: https://www.lds.org/pages/mobileapps?lang=eng It's the LDS Music App. If you're really musical, it would be fun to bring in little instruments for the kiddos to play when you sing songs. Simple instruments could be wood sticks, bells, triangles, and drums made out of oatmeal container. 
  • Videos! I rarely show videos in my Primary classes. But there have been a lesson here and there that I know has a great video to go along with it. I really like the videos on LDS.org that have the little children re-telling the Bible stories! Those are cute! These might be appropriate to show if you already taught them the scripture story. Show them the video. Then have each of your children try to re-tell the scripture story! Just don't show a video every week. Show them just a few times a year.

Bonus #9 Tip: And of course I wish I would have know about sites like LovePrayTeach.com! To be able to pay a very small fee each month and have all the lesson helps ready to print and activity ideas already prepared would have been fabulous! I hope you will be able to utilize our lesson packets to help your preparation time and stress!

There you go! Now you have 8  9!  wonderful things for you to use as a Primary teacher! I really wish that I had known these things at the age of 19 and taught my first Sunbeam class! What are some other things that you have found work really well for your Primary class?