Choosing curriculum for the Sunday School, Nursery, Youth Group, and Intergenerational activities can be a challenge. How do you ever decide? There are so many options on the market and there are pros and cons to each and every one of them. Where do you start?
While there is no one perfect curriculum for every church, making a curriculum choice is not impossible and can be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on your church’s goals and prayers for great faith formation for the children and youth of your church community.
Finding the one that’s right for your church’s needs means beginning with a good understanding of your church’s theology, and a some knowledge of how children, youth and adults best engage in learning. Knowing these things helps the teachers, parents, minister(s) and session review each curriculum option with a more critical eye.
Attached to this post you will find an article entitled How to Choose Curriculum that includes a ‘cheat sheet’ designed to assist your church in reviewing curriculum resources through a theological and educational lens, as well as assess the practical implications of each of curricula you’re evaluating. Begin by downloading a few selected curriculum samples off of the internet (more about these later). With samples of two or three appropriate curricula to evaluate, thoroughly read each of the lesson plans for each selected age group, noting what each says about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church, sin, faith, baptism etc. Use a separate evaluation sheet for each resource, note what each says about God and our relationship to God using these prompts. With your list of what each curricula says about God etc. you are then better able to answer the question, “Is this what our church believes?” for each of the resources. If the theology of the curriculum is not consistent with the theology of your church, then it is not a curriculum suitable for your church. Having established which of the resources you reviewed is theologically consistent with your church, you can now begin to look at its approach to learning.
Answering questions about the lesson’s educational stance helps you to determine if the curriculum is suitable for your congregation’s approach to faith formation. Consider the following:
- Does the session outline have a way of introducing the biblical theme that engages the participants and draws them into the theme even before the story is presented?
- Are there a broad variety of ways of presenting the biblical story, or is the biblical story simply read directly from a text? ‘Hearing’ the story through drama, pictures, story-telling, and experientially draw the participants into the story in a more memorable and personal way.
- Do the questions have right and/or wrong answers, or does the curriculum encourage the children/youth and teachers to wonder together about the possible answers, honouring each child’s contribution?
- Do the lesson activities embrace a variety of learning styles? The more learning styles embraced in a lesson the more open the lesson is to all of the participants entering into and engaging with the lesson.
- Are there options for the participants to choose from? for the teacher to choose from? If the teacher knows something just won’t work, are there other options to choose from, or will the teacher be stuck trying to come up with an alternative option on their own. With a broad variety of learning styles and ages in a classroom, being able to offer more than one activity for the participants to choose from allows each to learn in a way they learn best and enjoy.
- Do the activities invite the participants to delve deeper into the focus of the lesson, or does it feel more like filling time?
- Is there an opportunity for participants to reflect on how they might apply the lesson focus in their own life?
- Does the lesson conclude (or begin) with a short time of worship?
- Are their additional materials, biblical and educational, for the teacher to learn how best to present the lesson? Is the lesson exciting and engaging, inviting everyone in to the subject, or does the lesson feel flat or school-like?
Answering these questions point to the educational stance of the curriculum and helps you to assess whether memorable and transformative learning will take place using this curriculum.
Lastly, consider some additional questions. Will the curriculum work with the facility, and technological resources you have? If the curriculum depends on large, well-stocked classrooms and/or DVD players and screens in every classroom, and this does not describe your church, are you willing to make changes to your circumstances, or should you pass on this curriculum no matter how wonderful it appears? Will the curriculum work well with the average weekly attendance of the the children in your church? A curriculum designed for large classroom numbers, when you have only two or three in each class will be a constant frustration for everyone and demand constant adaptation. What is the cost of the curriculum when you add up the cost of leader’s guides, student resources, and additional resources (music, DVDs, magazines, curriculum specific bibles, take him papers etc.)? Is this in line with your CE budget? Does your budget need to change or do you need to consider a less costly option?
Now that you know how to review curriculum, you need to know the curriculum options available to you. There are as many curricula as cereal options at the grocery store. We can begin by narrowing down our curriculum list to those that fall within the reformed theology and educational practises of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. While the PCC does not publish its own curriculum, it does recommend a number of curriculum that fall within the theological and educational parameters of our denomination. You will find a list of recommended curricula attached to this post. The list divides your options into a number of categories, with some of the curricula appearing in more than one category. Curricula is itemized by age groupings as well as specific categories such as lectionary based, intergenerational, and broadly-graded. Each is listed alphabetically and not by preference of this writer. Links to publishing websites are also included at the end of the document.
Please, also remember that the curriculum you choose is only one piece of your church’s overall approach to faith formation with your children and youth. Finding a well-written and suitable curriculum for your church is important, but it isn’t everything. Great faith formation happens through the caring relationships your children and youth form with all of the members of your church and as they hear the stories of faith shared with them by those who love God and live their faith in every aspect of their lives.