Think of it as telling a story around a campfire. The reason this has been so effective over the centuries is that people are naturally drawn to the warmth and light of the fire in the dark. The glow of the flames creates a magical atmosphere that primes the pump for our imaginations and makes us putty in the hands of the storyteller standing at the fire's edge.
You see the same principle at work on professional stages used for plays or concerts. A movie theater isn't that much different.
So the question is, given whatever space you have to work with, how can you create a "campfire" experience that captivates a kid's attention and sets your storyteller up to win?
If you're starting with a big, empty room, this is easy. Just create a storytelling area in a corner or against one wall and gather kids around it on the floor. Here are a few things to consider to make your space as intentional as possible:
1. Make sure the wall behind your storyteller is either totally blank or purposeful. The last thing you want is clutter or competing visuals to distract their attention. There are all kinds of ways to spice this up (cool signs or graphics to establish your theme, series-based decor, screens, etc) but for now let's think simple. Keep the wall clean.
2. Make sure your storyteller has a clear "stage" area even if you don't actually have a stage. Clear out toys, furniture, etc. so that your communicator has room to move and tell the story. The last thing you want is to have them tripping over stuff or kids while they're trying to mesmerize the audience.
3. Decide on the best seating option for you kids. Use chairs or benches with caution. They can become their own distraction. If you put kids on the floor, though, make sure you have a way to define their space with area rugs or even theatrical gaff tape. Kids need a boundary to know where to sit. Also make sure kids know that you expect them to sit up and engage and not lay down or roll around on the floor.
4. Add bells and whistles as needed, as you can afford and with caution. By bells and whistles I mean a sound system, a stage, professional lighting and themed decor. All of these are great and in some cases desperately needed so the storyteller can be seen and heard, but in smaller environments they can get in the way if not done well. Bells and whistles are no substitute for solid, simple storytelling by a skilled communicator.
So what if you're not starting with an empty room? What if you're locked into (or prefer) traditional classrooms? You can still clear some furniture and create an effective "campfire" area on one side or in a corner of the room. Consider something like this:
If you don't have room for this in your classrooms, could you find one room and turn it into your story room or large group programming space? Could you bring kids in either in shifts or altogether for one phenomenal story (and possibly even worship time) then send them back to their individual rooms to unpack the lesson?
For those of you using a large group / small group model like this already, ask yourself how you can enhance and focus your teaching space. For those in a traditional classroom, ask what you can do to shake things up to create a storytelling experience that rocks.
Whatever your situation, just ask yourself, "How can I create a focused, intentional space that makes it easy for my storytellers to bring the Bible to life for kids?" You may not be able to do it all overnight, but what is one simple step you can take today?