How to Pick a Winning Children’s Ministry Curriculum
Published: December 7, 2022
Is finding a new curriculum on your mind? Consider these factors to ensure you choose the best fit for your ministry.
It’s that time of year when thoughts of VBS and Sunday school curriculum are bouncing around in kidmins’ heads. Is what we’re using working? Is it time for something new? What else is out there? Is it time to stop writing our own?
Curriculum is clearly one of the most important choices you’ll make for your ministry. And with many options available, you’re wise to arm yourself with a well-considered idea of what your ministry needs.
We’ve highlighted some core aspects to look for in a curriculum that go beyond scope and sequence. Take a few minutes to review each of these areas, and you’ll have a solid idea of what to look for—and perhaps what to avoid—for your setting. You’ll also gain a clearer picture of the areas that mean the most to you and your ministry.
1. Bible Engagement
It almost goes without saying that Bible immersion is one of the major deciding factors when considering a curriculum. Consider these questions as you review curriculum choices.
Do lessons focus on a key verse (or verses) and reiterate not merely learning the verse verbatim but internalizing what it means on a personal level? If kids are only memorizing words, meaning and relevancy are lost. Is the Scripture basis for each lesson sound, accurate, and well-executed throughout the lesson?
How does each part of the lesson work to reinforce the Bible point? Does every activity, game, craft, and even snack tie back to the Scripture or Bible point? How effectively does the lesson as a whole reinforce biblical learning? Is Scripture present throughout the lesson, referred back to, and grappled with through discussion and sharing?
Do discussion questions give kids an engaging, inviting, age-appropriate opportunity to explore Scripture? Do discussion prompts allow for kids to walk away with a more thorough understanding of the Scripture, how it applies to their lives, and why it matters?
2. Vision Alignment
A bigger-picture consideration is how the curriculum fits into your ministry’s vision as well as the overall church’s vision.
Does the curriculum contain elements that work in harmony with your ministry and church’s vision? Are the methods and modes of teaching like an extension of your church’s philosophy? For instance, if ministry to families is a main focus of your church, how does the curriculum actively undergird that priority?
Look for the “hidden curriculum” of the curriculum—the subtle DNA that makes the curriculum different. Does the teaching approach or philosophy of the lessons support your church’s goal for teaching people about Jesus? For example, if relationship-building is a priority in your church, do the lessons have built-in relational opportunities, focused on encouraging deeper conversation between kids and adults? If service is a hallmark of your church, how does the curriculum support that?
If you’re reading through a lesson and thinking, Hmm, this is pretty good. I’d just have to rewrite this, change that, add a few things, and voila!—the lesson almost works for us, then think again. If your initial review shows you places where you’d want to dive in and begin rewriting, it’s likely not in good alignment with your church or ministry’s vision.
3. Time-Filler vs. Heart-Filler
A quick way to discover the substance of a curriculum is to ask whether it fills hearts—or time.
Are those crafty creations focused on the perfect end result—or the process and meaning behind creating them? Kids take away more from lessons when crafts are relatable to what they’re learning rather than super-cute finished products. For instance, if kids learn how God creates beauty out of mess by dabbling in finger paints rather than spending 30 minutes perfecting a Pinterest-worthy cottontail bunny, the crafts have served a far deeper purpose than creating something for the fridge.
Evaluate whether lessons have busy work or activity for the sake of activity. Fill-in-the-blank worksheets, word puzzles, and dot-to-dots may be fun and make the minutes tick by, but they don’t deepen relationships, prompt spiritual discoveries, or take advantage of the precious little time you have with kids each week.
As with crafts, are games connected to the message of the lesson? Do they help kids experience the point of what they’re learning? Or do games serve the same purpose of killing time?
Review a sample lesson from beginning to end. What’s your overall takeaway? Did you learn something? Were you interested, bored, confused, or captivated? (Kids will likely feel those same emotions—amplified.) Do you see meaty, value-added, thought-provoking activities and discussion? Or do you see a lecture-driven, teacher-centered lesson? Do you see ways to strategically deepen kids’ faith, or do you see ways to pass time?
When lessons are off or inconsistent developmentally, kids become lost and frustrated and they lose interest. A key aspect of an effective curriculum is that it’s written with a clear understanding of developmental traits.
Opportunities for great conversation and deeper learning often hinge on whether questions are age-appropriate. For instance, younger children need more concrete questions: “What do you think helped Noah obey God?” or “Explain whether Peter’s actions were right or wrong. Why do you think so?” These questions are personal, and younger children can grasp them. Preteens can grapple with more abstract questions, such as: “How might Noah’s actions have confused his neighbors?” or “When have you been in a situation similar to Peter’s? What happened?”
Activities, Crafts, Games, and Snacks
Study a few lessons with a sharp eye toward the age level they’re written for and see how well-crafted the lessons are to meet your kids’ needs. Are crafts too difficult for small fingers and undeveloped motor skills? Are activities or games too babyish for preteens? Do snacks or crafts present choking hazards for your preschoolers? When you find that age-appropriateness is spot on, you’ve found a curriculum that’s likely to be effective in other areas as well.
5. Scope and Sequence
As you consider the coming year and maybe the two or three that follow, you may have a goal for what you really want kids to understand about the Bible as they work their way through your ministry. That’s where scope and sequence comes in.
An effective, well-rounded curriculum will have a scope and sequence in place that you can refer to. You’ll be able to learn what topics, Scriptures, Bible points, and more will show up in the lessons for at least one ministry year.
A scope and sequence is a road map that lets you see where kids will be in their Christian education at the end of each year, and it also allows you to evaluate whether it’s a road you want to be on. Do the topics line up with your goals? Does the curriculum plan cover areas of the Bible you feel are critical?
6. Fully Loaded
As you know, a truly complete curriculum is more than a list of suppl ies and step-by-step instructions.
Teacher Notes and Tips
There’s a great chance many of your teachers aren’t teachers by trade. Any information that’s helpful, whether it’s about kids’ development or insider tips on how to make an object lesson more successful, strengthens the overall curriculum.
Building the habit of prayerfully approaching lessons and relationships with kids is an important tool for teachers. Look for prompts or tips throughout that encourage constant prayer in teachers.
Look for simple supply lists that don’t cover three pages, that list items that are easy to procure, and that won’t cause your team to panic.
Review the discussion questions in lessons. Look for age-appropriateness as well as questions that provoke thought and discussion. When questions require only a simple “yes or no” response from kids, discussion dies pretty quickly.
Are lessons guided more by discoveries and deep conversation than by following a time-stamped checklist of lesson to-dos? Do kids make personal discoveries about faith and God? Does the lesson provide space and time for deep conversation and discovery?
7. Passion Points
Many leaders invite a small group of teachers to help them review curriculum choices. This is a great idea for a few reasons.
When your teachers read through a curriculum and check out the scope and sequence, if you see inspiration, excitement, and growing anticipation for what the year may hold, that’s a good sign. If you see furrowed brows, hear lots of questions, and get pushback, you may be seeing red flags about a curriculum. Teacher reactions can be a great indicator of how well the curriculum may work in your setting.
This may be the most difficult area to assess, but it boils down to one question: Do you and your team like the curriculum? All other factors aside, a curriculum you don’t like will be a curriculum that’s hard to make successful, even if it’s sound. By the same token, a curriculum your team likes is easier to make successful despite minor imperfections.
Jesus’ teaching changed more lives than anyone in history. That’s why every Group Sunday school curriculum is modeled after the unique experiences Jesus created. Discover how the Group family of curriculum guides you in teaching as Jesus taught!
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