Top Tips for The Parenting Courses
By Leah Leslie
Here at HTB, the home of Relationship Central, we run The Parenting Children Course and The Parenting Teenagers Course simultaneously three times a year, and we’d like to share with you a few things we’ve learned about running the courses:
1. An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of improvisation
Spend a few hours preparing for the course and you will save yourself so much trouble. Creating registration trackers, sign-up sheets, DVD borrowing forms, signage and name labels may seem time-consuming, but having everything to hand on the first night will mean you can spend the evening welcoming guests, facilitating the session and presenting the course.
At HTB we assign groups before the course starts so when guests arrive, they check in and we can refer to the registration sheet and point them to their table. When they arrive at the table, their name label is already printed and there’s a sign stating who the group leaders are.
We have found it helpful to fill a small box with things like blu-tack, scissors, matches or a lighter for the candles and extra pens. It’s also good to have change in cash for those paying on the night and a form for recording payments.
Speaking as someone who once forgot to print the feedback questionnaires on the final night and spent the 15 minutes before the session started trying to find a working printer, both a checklist of materials and a to-do list are your greatest allies!
2. Atmosphere is everything
Time and again, we see parents who are exhausted from work and other commitments as well as the time and effort of raising their children. We try to welcome them and make it a relaxing evening, and one of the comments we get most often is ‘it’s so nice to be taken care for a change!’
It is so easy to create a space that welcomes guests. Comfortable chairs, tablecloths, candles, flowers and lighting are all fairly simple and inexpensive, but are half the battle. Below is an example from our last course. The ‘before’ picture is one of our small meeting rooms, with the chairs and tables already in place for the evening. The ‘after’ picture is the same room. All that has been added are cushions for the chairs, table cloths, candles and flowers for the tables, and one blue light in the corner of the room for a bit of ambience.
Music and a warm welcome are the final, non-tangible elements of atmosphere. We try to have upbeat but chilled music playing as guests enter, and we delegate small group leaders to welcome them each week. In this way, we try to ensure that each guest’s experience of the course begins the instant they walk in the door.
3. Give people something to relate to
Unlike The Marriage Course and The Marriage Preparation Course, The Parenting Courses are based on small-group discussion. Because your guests may never have met before, humour is a great tool to break the ice and help them start to communicate with each other. Laughing at your anecdotes about your children or listening to some of the sofa families on the DVD allows your guests to identify with others’ experiences and begin to share their own.
But please don’t feel pressured to be a comedy routine all by yourself! The DVDs are full of comic clips from real families and amusing anecdotes about Nicky and Sila’s children, and can be used in conjunction with a live talk if that is how you are presenting the course.
Lastly, we have found it best to create small groups based on the ages of the guests’ oldest child. With children roughly the same age, parents will identify more easily with each other’s struggles and situations.
4. Feed your guests – and give them a coffee break
Food has an amazing power in a course session. Offering supper just as your guests arrive effectively draws a line over whatever else has happened that day and gives your guests a chance to relax and chat before the talk starts. If possible, hot food goes a long way toward contributing to atmosphere as well – and people are more inclined to listen on a full stomach.
However, nothing makes it more difficult to pay attention to a presentation than a post-meal soporific state. Serving tea and coffee halfway through the talk raises flagging energy for the final hour of the evening and provides a moment to regroup before paying attention to another set of new ideas. We find finger foods like brownies or flapjacks best for a sweet morsel just when it’s needed!
5. The power of prayer
As an administrator, I am sometimes guilty of being so busy with admin and set up that I forget the most important thing – God uses these courses to minister to families, whether they are experiencing the normal joys and frustrations of family life or dealing with very painful circumstances.
You may find it helpful to pray for the guests and the evening’s sessions whilst you are setting up for the course as a way to focus your efforts. Our leaders and helpers also meet just before the guests arrive to pray for the session.
We pray that you really enjoy running the course and that the Lord uses it to bless parents and families in your area!