Curriculum (n): The totality of student experiences in the educational process. This important term originates from the Latin “the course of a race,” which helps us to understand what choosing curriculum is truly all about. In children’s ministry, we have the high responsibility of “setting the course” on which our children will run. Prayerfully, the chosen curriculum will be used by the Holy Spirit to enable them to “run with endurance the race set before them” (Hebrews 12:1). So, let’s break down the vital task of curriculum choice…
Lesson Seven: Choose the Curriculum
In days past, curriculum choice was fairly simple: Just go with your particular denominational publications. Most denominations had (and still have) publishing houses which offer Sunday School curriculum, Bible study materials, VBS resources, etc. Using denominational material has one very important benefit: The theology could be trusted! But now, especially in children’s ministry, we have more choices available, and many of those are not connected to a particular denomination. This makes the task of researching and choosing curriculum more challenging, requiring a good selection process:
1. Determine who’s making the decisions. If you have a Children’s Ministry Team (CMT), then you have a built-in group to help you evaluate curriculum. You may want to have a few of your teachers (with expertise) help out as well. It’s not a good idea to include all of your teachers in the process because that will potentially muddy the waters (too many cooks in the kitchen sort of thing). You definitely want people who can put curriculum choice in context of your children’s ministry theology and vision. And, I would highly recommend having your pastor(s) and elders give their approval to the team’s selection–especially vetting the theology of the curriculum.
2. Make your “wish list” before you look. There are many reasons and seasons for choosing a new curriculum. You may be disappointed with what’s already in place, or it’s just time for a change, or you might be expanding the programming. If possible, work with the CMT to establish a “wish list” of what you need in a curriculum BEFORE you begin any in-depth research. What are your priorities? What do you want the curriculum to accomplish? Making this list at the outset will help prevent just becoming enamored by marketing, packaging, or the new, big thing.
3. Don’t ignore theology. It’s tempting to think that all children’s curriculum CONTENT is the same because it all teaches the same Bible stories. But the truth is that all curriculum teaches from a particular theological foundation, which dictates how the stories of Scripture are presented. So, that’s why it’s a good to idea to first look at your denominational material and other curriculum that align with your theological perspective. Theology matters! If you choose a curriculum that does not teach your church’s theology, it’s the most difficult aspect of curriculum to modify. Do you due diligence to discover what theology undergirds each curriculum–which is a challenge in some of the newer resources which do not explain their theological perspective well.
4. Understand the pedagogy. Every curriculum has been developed with a certain pedagogy in mind–a method or practice best-suited for the teaching of children. But not all pedagogies are the same! Some curriculum is focused more on one learning style–typically auditory or visual. Some include tactile learning in their methodology. There’s curriculum that emphasizes comprehension, and there’s curriculum that focuses more on practical application. Then, there are more “scripted” styles and more “suggestive” styles. You won’t find a curriculum that “has it all,” since some methods and practices are contrary to others. You will need to determine which pedagogy (combined with right theology) best enables your teachers to teach, and children to learn.
5. Take your context into account. Every local church has a CONTEXT–a unique congregation in a distinct culture. Context has to be factored in when making curriculum choices. Are your groups small, medium, or large? Are your children divided by grade or are they grouped in a different way? Are your teachers the same through the years, or are they rotating often? Context will not ultimately determine your choice of curriculum, because most resources can be adjusted to fit various situations. Yet, you must have a curriculum that is flexible enough in order to be modified for your context.
6. A few final words of advice. Don’t underestimate what children can learn. Be careful not to be lured by too many “bells and whistles” that just become “busy work” for teacher and children. Allowing for different learning styles is fine, yet don’t minimize that impact of the oral communication of the Word (storytelling). Watch for gaps in the curriculum. Look for resources that are easy to teach without sacrificing solid Biblical content. Seek a pedagogy that encourages children to learn God’s Word, love God’s Word, and begin to live God’s Word. Strive for curriculum that is Christ-centered, gospel-driven, and faithful to teach sound doctrine.
In our next lesson, we will discuss the specific “courses” in your overall curriculum…