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In Defense of Doo-dads and Clucking Chickens
(and other teaching methods Jesus wouldn’t recognize)

an article from Neil MacQueen, M. Doo-Div

Kids these days spend too much time…
Kids these days don’t need….
If only we they would…
If we got rid of…

In a recent discussion with some very creative Christian educators, a few laments were shared about all the “doo-dads” in Vacation Bible School curriculum: Jesus pencils, snapping frogs, Jesus "rocks," rubber verse bracelets. My family often calls these things “the crippy crap.”





Growing up, I loved the crippy-crap, and my own kids did too. Heaven forbid I didn't have a quarter for the Clucking Chicken machine at the grocery story that dispensed 10¢ treasures in a plastic egg. (The promise of a quarter did,however, get their attention about required store behavior.)

Recently, the former staff person at a very nice church told me that they had decided to get rid of “all the toys” in their Sunday School. No more videos, toys, computers,” games, etc.


Aghast, I visited their church website (speaking of doo-dads) and it shows photos of kids gluing a craft project, colorful wall murals, and the news that they are using a very colorful and creative curriculum. Confusingly, it also shows children in chairs watching a teacher who is standing next to a video screen and large (fake) donkey (actual photo below). Makes me wonder what their definition of "toy" is.




Interestingly, the opulent sanctuary seen on their website is full of "doo-dads," including an enormous and quite beautiful pipe organ behind a brightly robed choir. I’m also sure their pews are padded and the place is air-conditioned (more things "30 A.D Jesus" would not recognize).


Oddly, their website also quotes Proverbs 2: “…making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding….”


Which begs the question:


(It's not with folding chairs with un-illustrated Bibles, I can tell you that.)


Question: At what point does the brain not need "objects" to help stimulate attention, learning and retention?  


Answer: When your brain stops working and you die.



I get that there is a debate among some parents and “ain’t it awful-ers” about “kids these days using too much media, and _______.”    But what strikes me as HYPOCRITICAL about their baby-with-the-bathwater attitude about media in education, is that I seriously doubt they are doing little to turn down the flow of Playstations, iPads, cellphones, and Netflix at home.


Over-reaction isn't restricted to the gluten-free. It has a long history in the Church.  Paul spends an inordinate amount of time in his letters arguing with the "Judaizers" --those who insisted Christians follow the old ways. His advice should be ours: “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything."  From which we get, "all things in moderation." (Would that our worship services and sermons heeded that call to variety!)  


300 years after Paul, St Augustine was fighting the same forces of orthodoxy when he wrote,"To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation."   


So what are the proper means to the desired end?  

The Cluckin Chicken Model of Sunday School (also known as "Workshop Rotation") was created to answer that question. After decades of Sunday Schools full of bored children who didn't return as adults, and the subsequent slow decline in Sunday School attendance, Rotation simply asked, "what attracts the attention of kids and helps them engage and remember things?"  Based on decades of creative teaching experiments, we knew what worked:  every type of creative engagement with media, --which some mistakenly refer to as "entertainment," or "toys."  In other words, art, drama, music, gaming, software, video, cooking, movement, creative writing, experiments, storytelling, "object" lessons, etc. Or what educators know as "learning styles" or "intelligences."  




Jesus actually had a lot to say about our teaching, -but it was mostly about the blind leading the blind and the hypocrisy of people who are supposed to be role models. Whereas, he was exuberant about what passed for amazing teaching techniques in his day...examining the birds and lillies of the field, holding up coins, casting nets, cooking fish, making the lame walk (hey, by what authority are you doing that Jesus?). And of the few things he said directly about kids, perhaps the most profound was his exhortation not to suffer (hinder) the children.


Not that any of this argument is new to me, or to many of you.


I used to be on staff in a church that underpaid their staff, said they couldn’t afford to give promised raises, and cut the CE budget by 10% the same year they went out and raised $1 million for the sanctuary,


When I started my Sunday Software ministry, I had people tell me that churches would never be able to afford computers, and learning with software was “white-suburban-elitist.”


When we started, a curriculum publisher in my own denomination blew a gasket in front of me and a room full of educators about how we were hurting them by not buying their curriculum. {Insert your own story here, ...or one of Jesus’ stories about “officials and their official religion," ... or the story of the nay-sayers at Pentecost who didn’t think Peter should be talking in the language of foreigners.}


Is using a screen to learn the "new gluten"?

Is there a difference between viewing & discussing a video clip about King David with a teacher, and kids being glued to their cellphone screens at dinner? Is there a difference between playing Mortal Kombat, and learning the story of Creation with software? 
Lord, I hope so!


All things in moderation.


The real problem and how can we address it...


(1) There has always been the bone-headed math in the Church and in education that
serious > fun, and fun learning.  


(2) Parents and leaders are seeking easy answers to complex issues, --most of which have nothing to do with Sunday School.


But Sunday School is an easy target. So they ban the use of videos, games, software, and other attractive teaching methods from one hour a week on Sunday, because their child would rather Facebook than read a book. 



Here are some things we can say to the Naysayers of Nazareth and Jerusalem...


Firsteducate them about all the ways God has wired our brains to learn. On this subject, particularly as it relates to children, we can't let the Judaizers and "Guardians of Orthodoxy" win.

Second, ask them to confess that some of the old methods that played to packed Sunday Schools in the 1960's, didn't produce a harvest of church-attending adults, let alone attending adults who remember their Bible lessons.


Third, if need be, challenge their reasoning and hypocrisy by saying,


  • If you want our classroom DVR, bring us your living room DVR. 
  • If you want our Bible software, take down your snazzy church website.
  • If you want our games, give us your kids' soccer cleats. 
  • If you want our budget money and to give up our doo-dads, then don’t ask us to do VBS for your kids. Teach them yourselves and that will really save money.
  • If you want a return to folding chairs, paste and paper-Bibles, give us your pew pads, organ pipes, stained-glass, and the projector from the sanctuary.
  • If you think Christian education is important, then either do it at home, or quit signing your kids up for competition cheer, travel soccer, and Sunday morning baseball.


Sometimes we simply need to stand up and remind people how God has built us, and what it’s like to be a kid, and how we learn.

And if all else fails, quote the Bible... 

"I am pouring out my Spirit so that your sons and daughters will have a future. So that your young will see visions, and your old will dream dreams." (Paraphrasing the prophet Joel, and Peter at Pentecost)


~Neil MacQueen, Dreamer, Doo-Dad, and Cluckin Chicken


Your thoughts and dissent are welcome!




Speaking of Multiple Intelligence and Doo-dads... here’s a bit of Workshop Rotation DNA:

The first time I ever heard the term "multiple intelligences" (M.I.) was in Marlene LeFever’s 1995 book, Learning Styles, published by David C. Cook.  It came out five years after we had invented the Rotation Model. As I read it, I was thinking, "M.I. is the data that supports what good teachers have always known!" (Still a great read and available from Amazon.)   


In her book's acknowledgements, Marlene thanked Bernice McCarthy, author of the public school "4-mat" curriculum, and disciple of Howard Gardner, the Harvard professor who's research into multiple-intelligences" is now accepted across the education world. See our article here at about multiple intelligences and Gardner's research.  Much to my surprise, both Marlene and Bernice lived within 30 minutes of our church.

Also down the road at David C. Cook was a Christian educator by the name of Scottie May, and she was also into M.I. (Scottie is now the Professor of Christian Transformationat Wheaton College.)  Now here's the kicker: Scottie is the mother of Phil Vischer who developed Veggie Tales, and then the wonderful What’s in the Bible? series of DVDs.


Literally... I thank God Phil didn’t grow up in a church that banned media.

We invited Marlene, Scottie and Bernice to teach our congregation about how kids learn.

If the folks in your Nazareth aren't listening to you, bring in some outside help. 




**Metaphor Time about the young seeing visions and the old being able to dream:

In a Danish study, those who became blind after birth reported dreaming in visuals, whereas, none of those who were blind from birth dreamed in visuals. Rather, they dreamed in their other senses (taste, smell, touch, sound). 


Of those who became blind after they were born, the longer they had lived without seeing, the less they saw in their dreams.




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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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Well said. Excellent points!

I confess I am one of those people who complained about doodads, mostly because many are useless little dust collectors.
Thank you for reminding me of the joy a child has in receiving a funny little animal that goes along with the day's theme! Definitely an important learning connection and story reminder if done right.

Thanks for sharing!

Thanks Amy!

Lots left unsaid, but hopefully at least a discussion starter.


re: Doodads as dust collectors.

We have dust collectors around my house, and can tell you the story behind every one of them. There's a touch-fiddlewith component to doodads that help focus the mind and create/retrieve memories. Its why we give toys to babies....because their mind will immediately focus on it, and focusing is a precursor to learning.  For the same reason, I learn better when I can see or touch it.  You'd think "toys" in an ADHD world would seem like a great idea.


If it's true that a picture truly is worth a thousand words, then teaching through pictures (seeing, creating, dramatizing) is a great way to PUT a thousand words in the mind.  


Come of think of it.... Music is a kind of doo-dad as well. My daughters still remember the music that the mechanical car played next to the cluckin chicken and it brings back a lot of fond feelings.

Guess who likes the idea of Doodads/music/media/art/drama/food/games as "earworms."

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Interesting research about how we pay attention 

In summary: Boring and hands-off = attention deficit


"In his recent book, Spark, John Ratey, M.D., shows that physical activity increases levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the way ADHD medications do. Both chemicals play a key role in sharpening focus and increasing attention.


Sydney Zentall, Ph.D., of Purdue University, studied the factors that help ADHD children succeed in the classroom. In ADHD and Education, she notes that attention “deficit” increases with the length, familiarity, and repetitiveness of a task.In other words, you tune out when tasks get boring.


According to Zentall, an activity that uses a sense other than that required for the primary task can enhance performance in children with ADHDDoing two things at once, she found, focuses the brain on the primary task."



Educators care about the research because student attention is essential to learning and remembering.


Helping all our students pay attention is one of the reasons why Rotation Sunday Schools are organized into active workshops, -to engage our volunteer students. Unlike public schools, we don't have the luxury of leveraging their attention by giving out grades and scores. Focus is also why we rotate each week, but stay on the same story for four to five weeks at a time. 


In the same way that Alzheimer's research has expanded our understanding of memory formation, and advanced brain imaging has illuminated our understanding of our multiple-intelligences,  ADHD research is expanding our understanding of how the brain pays attention, -and is thus, giving us clues about better teaching techniques.


For some, attention deficit is clinical and challenging, and I wouldn't pretend to address their needs here. But research into that problem continues to confirm the wisdom of interactive, hands-on teaching techniques, which include the use of "doo-dads" and different types of media.


  • When students see it, hear it, hold it, touch it, smell it, taste it, move it, and be moved by it, they are tapping into their attention tools. 
  • When you put them in folding chairs and tell them to sit still and listen while you talk, you are working against the way God has wired them.



Perhaps we need to turn "doo-dad" into a verb, as in, that lesson point needs "doo-dadded."

Last edited by Wormy the Helpful Worm

Thanks for sharing!


one thing I discovered when we were homeschooling is that directing my daughter's fidgeting helped her to focus.

For example, she was allowed to chew gum.

I have also seen suggestions of letting children tap their pencils (rubber eraser end) on the desk to help them focus.


Those ideas can be extended into lesson planning -- such as

  • a red-hot candy while talking about Isaiah and his unclean lips being touched by a hot coal (Isaiah 6 - birth of Jesus)
  • rhythm and tapping to accompany a story about building the tabernacle or temple
  • beat boxing and writing a simple wrap to retell a story
  • doodling key items/thoughts/objects from a story to help remember and retell a story


Lots to think about!

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