Why Not Write Your Own?

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Thinking about writing your own curriculum this
year? Read this first.

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Lisa Burney didn’t think she’d be able to find a vacation Bible
school curriculum that would work for 350 kids. As minister to
children and families at Highland Baptist Church in Raleigh, North
Carolina, Burney found that her congregation had always written its
own curriculum in the past, so she decided to try it herself, too.
And why not? Burney has a master’s degree in curriculum instruction
and 10 years’ experience in children’s ministry.

“It was taking a lot of time,” she says about writing the
massive program. “We wrote it — I had a few people helping me —
but going into that first day of vacation Bible school was
nerve-racking as to whether or not it would go over.” Burney says
she never had a chance to try it out beforehand. 

What would you have done in Lisa’s shoes? If you’re like the 18
percent of churches that write their own curriculum, you probably
would’ve done exactly what Burney did. Would it have been the right
decision, though?

Not according to Children’s Ministry Magazine.

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And, yes, the magazine creators are part of a company that
publishes curriculum series for all kinds of church programs and
all ages. They have a bias. That’s why they hired me — a freelance
writer — to dig into this touchy topic.

Those same folks, though, are also passionate about ministry to
children, and that makes them ask these questions: Is writing your
own curriculum the best use of your gifts, talents, and time? Is it
the most effective way to reach today’s kids?

Take a look at the six big reasons you might not want to write
your own curriculum — from people who’ve tried it.

Publishers have checks and balances to spot gaps and
problems in curriculum.

Burney says while writing their program, she and her team worried
about potential misses.

“You wonder about the content: Did I get those principles into
their heads to make a lesson work? Is it age appropriate? Will the
teachers be able to apply it?” she muses. “Is there a good enough
balance between the children experiencing the lesson and getting
the head knowledge they need? Will they be able to interact with
each other and the instructor? In short, who’s giving the litmus
test here?”

Kimberley Rowan, director of Elementary Kids Ministry at
Cumberland Community Church in Smyrna, Georgia, points out that
issues also arise when theory isn’t tested before  put into
practice. Without field-testing, it’s difficult to know which ideas
won’t work.

“We discovered that a lot of the lessons looked great on paper and
didn’t work as well in the classroom,” Rowan says. “It took a lot
of extra work to get it all fleshed out.”

Publishers employ a variety of knowledgeable writers and childhood
experts with years — often decades — of research and experience.
They also provide curriculum that can be “tweaked,” says Katie
Peterson, children’s ministry leader at Third Reformed Church in
Pella, Iowa. And tweaking is a great option.

“We’ve sometimes found it necessary to add some of our own
materials because our church does have its unique mission in
raising up child disciples that plugs into the overall theme of our
church,” says Peterson. “Finding the right mix of curriculum is
crucial.”

Another issue is whether what you’ve written applies to your
teachers’ teaching styles. Rowan discovered this when her ministry
team members found they weren’t happy with the curriculum they were
using and decided to write their own. 

“I was writing curriculum that went along with my husband’s and my
teaching styles and didn’t think about the fact that other teachers
weren’t going to be able to adapt this to their own teaching
styles,” Rowan says. “I’m a writer and graphic designer and thought
this would be simple.” It wasn’t.

Most children’s ministers aren’t trained to write an
effective curriculum.

Just because you’ve worked with children for years, or you’re a
parent, or you’re a good writer, doesn’t mean you can write a
curriculum that’s orderly, systematic, and workable.

Jonathan Fletcher, children’s pastor at Manna Church in
Fayetteville, North Carolina, found that out when he worked with a
team to write a curriculum for his church’s Sunday school
classes.

“I can’t communicate enough that there are teams of professional
people trained to write, trained for education, trained to
understand learning styles, and who can create something linearly
laid out so that it follows a framework you’re trying to build
overall,” says Fletcher. “Otherwise you might get a week of baptism
and then a week of Daniel in the lion’s den.”

“I can read the Bible and find something that’ll be applicable for
a child,” he says, “but making it systematic, making it work from
week to week can be a problem. It was a big mistake for us.”

Think about it: Would you want every history teacher in your
schools writing their own textbooks? That’s best left to
professionals.

Even people like Burney, with education, experience, and training
in curriculum writing, say writing their church’s curriculum was a
mistake.
     

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