5 Great Tips for Getting a Group of Children to Settle in for Sunday School Story Time

By Jessica Wolstenholm


Have you ever heard about “herding cats”? It’s meant to describe a situation where it’s difficult to get a group together and pay attention to the main event. Teaching kids about Jesus can seem like the ultimate example of herding cats.

As you get ready to teach Bible stories for kids in a group setting, take a look at these five tips for getting kids to settle in.

  1. Get the Wiggles Out!

Move around and use physical movements with music before a period of extra focus and physical calm. Children are active; it’s a given! They aren’t bogged down with the worries and responsibilities of adult life and they get their energy out by moving. It will work best for everyone if you don’t fight this. Here are a few ideas:

  • Open with a fun song – I Can Say Hello is a fun choice to get wiggles, laughter, and silliness with their friends out before they need to sit and focus.
  • Play a game of Start-Stop – Ask your students to line up at the back of the room. When you say start, they have to begin walking toward the front; when you say stop, they have to stop. If they move at all during stop time, they have to start over. The first student to the front is the winner.
  • Start with art – Create an art table away from the main section of your room and stock it with LEGOs or Play-Doh. When you want your students to begin settling down, ask them to go over to one of the stations and create something to show the class.Try to choose something that pertains to the lesson, for example if you are learning about Noah’s Ark ask them to create an animal. After about 5-10 minutes, ask them to show you their creation and explain it.

Any of these ideas will help center your students and remove some of the excess energy or distractions they might have as they come into your class.

  1. Make Things Comfortable

Create a comfortable place for children to sit in a circle. When creating a space for your students, think about the environment that would best facilitate them paying attention to you. This might involve a circular rug as a focal point and an easy way to keep them within a certain area. You could also have your students sit on the floor, but this might be a little uncomfortable and cause them to wiggle around. If you don’t have a rug, ask for pillow donations for your students to sit on. You want them to feel comfortable and safe as they listen.

  1. Remove the Problem of Rank and Order

Teaching kids faith through your Sunday school curriculum isn’t always about Bible stories, but involves teaching them how to treat one another in a Christ-like way. Children will often jockey for position. Try to not take the bait on creating fairness. Rather, praise those who are settling down in their places quickly, this gives positive reinforcement for following directions..

Show love to your students even when they are not acting exactly as you’d like. Many times children acting unseemly are only wanting attention. Give it to them in a positive and loving way, but don’t forget the ones who act appropriately. They need love and attention too.

  1. Go Knee-to-Knee and Make a Circle

Teaching Bible stories for kids can be a challenge when they are not attentive. One of the ways to help them be attentive and stay that way is to instruct them on how to sit. If you ask children to sit on a circular rug, they might be spread out, some lying down, some faced the wrong way, etc. To gather them in a cohesive, organized circle, have everyone to go knee-to-knee by sitting cross-legged. This gives them precise directions. They will understand the knee-to-knee part because it’s a physical directive to follow. If you have a student who uses a wheelchair, include them just like everyone else and go knees-to-heels. If you have a student who doesn’t want to follow directions, remember to praise those who follow the directions and lovingly encourage the student to do the same.

  1. Show Them You Care

Go around the circle and let everyone share a single thing. Use a specific prompt for this that doesn’t exclude anyone. Questions like “Do you want to share a favorite moment from your weekend?” are good since they are specific and not too open-ended. It’s good to set a 15 second time limit for this sort of check in. Engage them visually by having a “Share Bear” or “Share Pillow” to hold as they share. This will provide a little extra comfort for those on the shy side.

The Calm Final Minutes

If your students have been sitting anywhere for 15-30 minutes, they’ll likely have energy to expend when you finish your storytime. Be proactive and ask them to stand once you are finished. Ask them to reach for the sky, then touch their toes. Repeating this several times will help them stretch and remove some pent-up energy.

As you prepare to teach, don’t forget about the many youth ministry ideas out there that include listening to music, doing an exercise, or even watching an exciting episode such as Bibleman. Do what is best for your students to ensure they leave knowing they are loved and cared for, and like they’ve been with Jesus.