Shine On: Middle School Math Teacher Shares Appreciation for Nourishing Lessons with No-Nonsense Prep

Guest blog by Esther Kratzer Koontz,

MennoMedia’s new Shine Sunday school curriculum for children, [published in partnership with Brethren Press] is praiseworthy: easy to plan, easy to teach and committed to deep and simple truths that stick with me all week long.

A student’s welcome sign from Esther Kratzer Koontz’s class at First Mennonite Church of Hutchinson, Kan.

I commute 45 minutes to church, which gives me plenty of time to plan the lesson on the way. As long as I’ve packed the snack, I can usually scavenge up the rest of the ingredients for a nourishing and enjoyable lesson at the church.

This week, I needed a backpack — but I found that on the floor of our minivan. I was supposed to have packed the backpack with a sampling of “valuables” to represent the weight of possessions in our lives, but my first- and second-grade students sure had fun helping me fill the backpack with wooden blocks of various sizes, each representing something a “rich man” might own.

“Gold, a mansion, a hot tub!”

We found our “limbo stick” in the broom closet. A needle? The sewing ladies happily showed us where those are kept.

Then we read each story right out of the new Shine On Bible. Word for word.


While I read slowly, we acted out the story with the olive wood figures in our story people box. Jesus changes shape every week. Some weeks he’s tall and dark. Other weeks he’s light and stout with a knot on his back. The kids are never a bit surprised.

My scarf of the day quickly turned into the river where Jesus was baptized, the road where Jesus and his friends walk, or the sea where Jesus pulled up in his boat made of, you guessed it, a wooden block.

My busiest students loved building Peter’s mother’s house or the ship where Jesus stands to calm the winds.

What do you wonder?

After the story, we closed our eyes and asked the curriculum’s “wondering” questions. You don’t raise your hand to answer the questions. You just think about the story and wonder.

I wondered if the man used any of his money to help others. (The Bible doesn’t tell us.) I wondered how the things we own can make it hard to follow Jesus. Imagine hearing someone tell you to sell everything you own. Jesus asked the man to give what he owned to the poor. I wondered what God wants me to do.

What deep ideas — yet so simple for our little ones to grasp when they enter through the context of the story.

First shall be last

Each lesson includes simple movement games, a perfect transition as we left the worship center to head back to the table.

While we played the limbo game weighed down by the backpack full of block possessions, my daughter asked, “What does it really mean for the first to be last? What if someone’s been waiting for a long time, and they just got to the front of the line? Will they be last again?”

For snack, we lined up for a special treat, and I surprised them by giving the child at the back her treat first.

The child who had hurried to the front was my daughter. She cried about it later in the car, not because she got her snack last but because she was worried that she might end up last in God’s kingdom. Plus, she was embarrassed.

My husband told me, “Your line illustration may have been too literal.”

We told our daughter, “Jesus is simply looking out for the ones who everyone else has forgotten or pushed to the back. In God’s kingdom, it’s not about getting in line. Remember Jesus’ open arms last week as he let the children come.”

A blessing for each

Toward the end of each class, we eat our snack, work on optional activities in the student leaflets, chat or listen to music from the Shine CD. The kids sing really loud and dance whenever “Siyuhumba” comes on.

Each lesson includes a blessing to finish with, and we read it, word for word. I have found I can’t improve on the thoughtfulness of what the authors prepared.

On the last week of the quarter, the teacher’s guide suggested I bless each child for his or her special gifts to the class. I got a bit teary as I went around the table thanking each child individually: for coming early to prepare the room, for welcoming newcomers, for running the CD player, for asking good questions, for helping me build props for the Bible stories.

Last week some of the children created signs welcoming others to our class to mirror Jesus’ welcoming the children. One girl’s sign said, “Come in! This is the best class ever.”

I echo her sentiment, and add: this is the best Sunday school curriculum ever. It’s easy to teach, and the lessons pierce the heart with their truth and depth. The children respond to the stories and activities with joy and amazing perception, showing me what it must be like to enter the kingdom of God like a child.

Esther Kratzer Koontz teaches Sunday school at First Mennonite Church in Hutchinson, Kan. This article appeared originally in Mennonite World Review. Used by permission.

Esther also blogs at Through Grass and Sage and wrote previously about her first Sunday using Shine On. 


She Gets It!

By Craig Anderson, MennoMedia, Kitchener, Ontario

I recently had the privilege of witnessing four Sunday School teacher training events for Shine sponsored by Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. It is inspiring to see the dedication, creativity and love demonstrated by our Sunday School teachers.


One of the trainers’ emphases–and one of the keys to the pedagogical approach behind our new curriculum, Shine, and Gather ’Round, its predecessor–is to get the children to ponder “wondering questions” about the story. I wonder how Rachel felt about that? I wonder why Peter did that? What does that say about God?

With such an approach, tough questions aren’t seen as a challenge to the authority of the teacher. On the contrary, they are signs that the children are listening deeply; they’re getting it. At a point in one training workshop, the trainer had just finished demonstrating a labyrinth laid out with rick-rack on a bed sheet. She took a stone, representing a burden, and slowly and prayerfully walked a spiral into the centre, where she set down her stone and picked up a feather, a symbol of God lightening her burden, before slowly spiraling back out. Children as young as two can participate in and benefit from this spiritual practice.


Photo credit: Thinkstock, Peng-guang Chen

When it was time for comments and questions, one participant, whom I had taken to be a Sunday School teacher (albeit a young-looking one) piped up and said that she resisted the idea of there being a long circumscribed path to God at the centre. Rather, through her relationship with Jesus she celebrates her straight and immediate access to God.


Photo credit: ThinkStock, craetive.

Wow, I thought, she gets it! She may not fully get the idea of the labyrinth as a valuable spiritual practice we can use in Sunday School to teach children to pray, but she gets Shine; she gets the idea of not artificially stifling her questions or her passion but bringing them both into the Light.


Photo credit: Thinkstock, Eliza Snow

It was only in the car on the way home that I learned she was not a Sunday School teacher at all but a very precocious 13-year-old student, who came to the training because she did not want to miss an opportunity to learn more about Christian education in her congregation. In a room otherwise full of adults, she challenged one aspect of the labyrinth prayer. Though I like the labyrinth, and have frequently seen it used to great effect, her comment affected me in a different and more important way. I was reminded that it is not just our teachers and superintendents who can inspire us but the students themselves.


Photo credit: Thinkstock, Ingrid Prats


Have you ever been inspired or instructed by a student’s question or comment?


If your church or conference using Shine? We’d love to hear more stories such as this one! Comment here or send to 

To find out more about Shine check out


Craig Anderson
Marketing and Sales Manager, Canada

Letting Our Little Lights Shine While Getting to Heaven on Roller Skates  

By Mary Ann Weber

Do you look for itsy-bitsy spiders when you pass by drain spouts? Do you notice the wheels on a bus going ’round and ’round? Whenever you pass by a water fountain, do you remember that God’s love is deep and wide? Do you know better, now, what it means to be a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N?91992981

I’ve been thinking a lot about children’s music recently because MennoMedia uses music in many of our curriculum pieces for young people. As an example, go to the Shine: Living in God’s Light Sunday school curriculum website,, and check out the free downloads offered each quarter.


We want music that is catchy, memorable, and creative. We want music that reflects that people all over the world love God, and that God loves people all over the world. We want music that acknowledges the community of faith, and music that guides children to form their own faith. We want music with substance, and we want to feature a variety of musical styles. It seems like a tall order, right?

There’s no doubt that music helps to shape us. Think about one of your favorite songs from childhood. Most likely, you still remember the lyrics and the melody. Maybe you even find yourself humming it on occasion. How did the song help to form you? What did you learn from the song?


I’m fascinated by the messages in some of the songs I learned when young and can still relate to some of them. Yes, Jesus loves me. But some songs no longer resonate with my understanding of a life of faith. No, not every moment is a happy one since Jesus set me free. And I wonder about the substance of a song that tells us we’ll roll right by the pearly gates if we try to get to heaven on roller skates.

I’m grateful for songs that continue to inspire throughout my life. For example, when I travel or watch the news, I’m glad that the whole world is in God’s hands. I’m thankful that the world is filled with people who let their little lights shine everywhere they go. And it’s a comfort to know that God’s banner over me (and the whole world) is love.


This is why children’s songs are running through my head. Let’s give children songs that encourage them to love God and follow Jesus. Let’s give them good songs that will help them grow into the people God wants them to be. Let’s give them music that will help them love themselves, their neighbors, and those across the world. Let’s raise our voices and sing!


For other music products for children, check here.


Mary Ann Weber
MennoMedia Managing editor