Finding the best Sunday School Curriculum can be…shall we say…a challenge.
It’s not for a lack of options. It’s more often for lack of clarity. Amidst all the options, what should you really be looking for in your next choice of curriculum.
Well, I’ve been involved in Sunday School ministry for more than a decade and I’ve got a few different ideas on what great curriculum looks like.
I should warn you… I’m not into slamming any particular curriculum. The details below don’t give you a winner and a loser. Rather, it will give you some strategic ‘food for thought’ so you can make your next curriculum choice as fantastic as possible.
So here it goes….
One Sunday, I was teaching a group of 1st – 5th graders….about 50 kids in all.
All of them were looking up at me as I talked on and on about Moses, and the children of Israel leaving the Promised Land. If you ask me, it was the greatest retelling of this story that has ever been done.
Ok…maybe not. It was a regular Bible story that everyone in the room was very familiar with.
I told the kids about Pharaoh realizing what he had done. (He had let all his employees leave!). I told them how Pharaoh immediately rounded up his men to go after the slaves. I talked about the children of Israel being scared to death at the edge of the Red Sea. On one side was an impossible body of water, and on the other side was a furious Pharaoh and his fast approaching army.
And then we heard how God miraculously came to the rescue!
All of this information was old news… and boring.
By this time all the kids were fast asleep and or playing with their friends.
Except…it wasn’t boring, and the kids weren’t completely checked out. They were actually glued to the story. The same kids who knew the story forwards and backwards were glued to the lesson, which contained pretty much no new information.
Perhaps I am the world’s greatest teacher!!!???
So what gives? The difference between a bored classroom and the kids in front of me that Sunday was the curriculum, or more accurately the way the curriculum was written and prepared. This particular set was designed to engage Sunday School kids who were already super familiar with many of the the stories in the Bible. In other words, the basic facts of the story were not going to be enough to keep kids fascinated. The curriculum needed to provide some extra ideas and unique approaches to keep them interested, and this particular lesson script did just that.
My Moses story is a great example of how good curriculum can dramatically change a classroom environment. The right teaching tools, in the hands of a half-decent teacher can make an all-too familiar Bible stories ridiculously exciting.
Here are some key factors you should consider when choosing a Sunday School curriculum for your class or church.
Is the theology on point?
If the curriculum doesn’t have the same theological views as your church, then it’s a no go.
I believe this is probably a no-brainer for most of you, but it needs to be mentioned. If you are anything like me, in all my diligence sometimes to pay attention to details I can overlook the obvious. Theological alignment is obvious.
Make sure the curriculum’s theology lines up with your own.
Are we all in this together?
Some publishers produce materials that keeps everyone on the same lesson every week, from ‘cradle to grave’. What was taught in the ‘main service’ to the adults was also taught in the 3rd grade Sunday School classroom.
I know some churches like to have this type of “lesson synergy” so families can discuss and process the week’s teaching together. After all, if everyone in the family heard the same lesson, there is some great stuff they can all talk about together!
I’ve actually never been to a church that used this approach, but I can see the draw.
Is there a story time strategy?
In the course of a school year, do you want to ‘hit the high’ points of the Bible and teach from cover to cover?
Or would you like your ‘complete Bible tour’ to be on more of a 3-year rotation? (this is a very popular approach that I’ve seen a lot)
If you want to make sure you teach all the “major” portions of the Bible to your class within a certain timeframe there are great resources out there to do that.
Other curriculums take a different approach.
They choose to go a bit ‘deeper’ shall we say. Instead of rapidly moving from story to story they cover topics or Bible characters in a “teaching series” type approach.
For instance, you might spend 10 weeks talking about the life of Peter; and then the next 6 weeks talking about Queen Esther. These “series based” curriculums remind me of how many Pastors approach their teaching in the “main service. Pastors will set aside a certain number of weeks to teach on a particular topic, and then when that topic or sermon series is complete a whole new series, on a completely different topic begins.
Both series based, and “thru the Bible in a year” are nice approaches. It’s a style choice you need to make.
Side note: “Sample Lessons”
Any curriculum ‘worth it’s salt’ should make samples available of their materials.
(I know “worth it’s salt” is a phrase from like the 1500’s or something, but I kinda like it…call me old skool – yes, school with a “k”)
A publisher can wax eloquently about how great their teaching materials are, but until you actually see the stuff for yourself there is no way to really know for sure.
Always…always…get samples! (Think of curriculum shopping like a trip to Costco…get samples!)
What’s your style, yo?
Since there isn’t a standard way every Sunday School classroom in the world is run, the events of class time can vary from church to church. And just like churches, the way curriculums lay out classroom events can vary greatly as well.
Some curriculums use activity ‘stations’ where kids are separated into smaller groups that rotate around the room doing different activities as they move. Others are organized around the class doing everything as one big blob.
You need to determine what style classroom you have, or what style you want. Look at the sample curriculum lessons and see if the material fits the way you like your classroom to operate.
Can I tell you something, just between you and me? If you pick a curriculum that doesn’t match your classroom style you are going to despise the curriculum very quickly.
How do I know this?
Because you will spend every week trying to ‘retro-fit’ the curriculum to suit your needs. And that ain’t going to be fun for very long!
Who is Your Audience?
I haven’t seen this mentioned in many places, but I believe it should be a huge part of the curriculum evaluation process.
Who is your audience?
Are you teaching a lot of kids that were raised in church? Or are you teaching kids fairly new to the ‘famous’ stories in the Bible?
This matters greatly!!
I have taught from lesson plans that were obviously written assuming the kids didn’t know the story of Noah’s Ark. Then, about 4 sentences into the lesson the kids are hitting each other and running around in circles because they are so bored.
(Wow…I sound like a terrible teacher!)
Find lesson plans that cater to your audience. If the kids you teach are likely to know most of the Bible stories, find plans that provides lots of fun approaches and different ways of teaching the lessons. If the kids in your class are pretty new to the stories in the Bible, than find curriculum that is good at just giving the facts of the story.
Is it FUN?
First off…the very definition of fun is subjective…so let’s start there.
But my point here is simple…
Find curriculum that your kids will get a kick out of. You are shopping for KIDS here…and an important part of teaching kids is making sure there is FUN involved. Children learn when they are having fun.
Another way to say that…how many of you have ever tried to teach a kid who was bored?
So have a look at the samples from materials you might be considering to see if the stuff is fun. It better be!
Side note: What you think is fun and what kids think is fun, might be very different. Try your best to shop for what they would like.
Are you not entertained?!
I like the movie Gladiator, what can I say?
My point is…
How much of an ‘entertainment’ factor do you want built into your curriculum?
In some of the curriculum write-ups I’ve seen online many authors are most critical about certain curriculums when it comes to this particular area.
You get some reactions, like:
“This curriculum doesn’t teach the Bible, it’s all skits and jokes!”
While other are saying:
“Kids are engaged and paying attention better than ever before!”
My purpose here is not to come down on one particular side. I don’t roll like that yo.
What I would like to suggest is that you decide, for your unique situation, what you want out of a curriculum. Do you want to reach kids by showing them a good time, or would you rather just get down to brass tax?
Some material spends a lot of time engaging kids with skits and laughter and fun before any “Bible story” is ever presented. You might call it “Bible light” while others call it “Practically genius”.
Other materials almost completely ignore the entertainment factor and it’s pretty much all teaching and learning the entire class time.
God made teachers and church staff leaders prefer a variety of styles. Thank goodness…it would be a boring world if everyone was exactly the same.
Select your curriculum based on the unique style and preferences God has given you.
Keep your editing time in mind
In some of my past experiences I’ve had leaders send me the weekly lesson only after they had taken their ‘red pen’ to it. The leaders wanted to make their edits to the lesson, before me, the volunteer teacher, ever saw it.
However, if this rings true for you, consider how much time this ‘editing’ process takes. And then, find a curriculum that you are least likely to edit.
Your time is precious, and limited, so you must limit what you do with your time. By finding materials that you are pretty comfortable with from the outset you will drastically reduce your workload, and your frustration level in the weeks and months ahead!
Are there enough ideas?
Confession Time: I’m a volunteer Sunday School teacher.
One of the most frustrating things about curriculums are the ones that provide you just enough classroom ideas to get by with, soooo…
If you ever don’t like one of the ideas suggested you are ON YOUR OWN to think up something to do with the remaining class time.
And that is not fun.
Take a look at the curriculum you are considering and ask yourself…are the LOTS of ideas provided in these materials? Are there going to be more ideas than class time? (cause that is what you want)
No volunteer teacher ever quit because the curriculum they were given provided too many ideas for keeping kids engaged and interacting. But the hallways of churches are littered with former teachers who got burned out from trying to come up with ‘stuff to do’ every week during class.
Are the materials easily accessible?
What exactly are you purchasing anyway?
When you buy Sunday School curriculum you aren’t always buying the same “thing”.
Think about it like this…
When you buy a new car and drive it off the lot you aren’t pleasantly surprised to discover it has 4 wheels. You expect 4 wheels from every car you purchase. (unless you buy a car from a junkyard…which means, you are WAY better with cars than I am!)
Buying curriculum isn’t like buying a car…things vary to a much greater degree.
Sometimes you buy curriculum and you get a box in the mail with books and CDs and more. Other curriculums give you login information to access all their materials online but won’t send you a cotton-pickin’ thing in the mail.
The idea is simple. Know what you are getting into and how accessible it is. As a rule, curriculum that comes in the mail is more often than not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Meaning…when you buy a box, once the box is delivered, the transaction is over. Everything that you get with the curriculum was sent in the mail.
On the other hand, an online curriculum might provide access to a library where content is always available and updated frequently. So if you are the type that likes the latest and greatest, and a reliable place to ‘find your stuff’, this online type setup might work well for you.
On the other hand, if you want something physical you can “hold in your hands” then by all means get yourself a box!
Know the Tech Involved
Figure out what technology is involved before you make a purchase.
Don’t assume your chosen curriculum is written for a basic classroom with no TV screens or sound systems. You might end up opening your lesson to find it is written to include tons of videos and sound effects.
Just imagine yourself standing in front of the classroom saying:
“Well, today’s lesson was a movie, but we don’t have a screen, so let me see what I can remember…”
That would be bad, and VERY boring.
Find out ahead of time, before you pull out your wallet, what equipment and ‘gadgetry’ is required to use the lesson materials.
Is It Volunteer Friendly?
At the end of the day, there are most likely a group of volunteers who are going to be teaching from the curriculum you select.
So consider them at the beginning of the process. Ask yourself volunteer centric questions like:
– Is this curriculum easy to use for volunteer teachers?
– Are the lessons well organized and thought out?
– Do the activities in the curriculum actually ‘work’ in a classroom environment?
– Will my volunteers be excited to use this?
– Does this curriculum equip a regular volunteer (with limited time) to teach a great lesson?
I truly believe that finding the right curriculum for your church will have a huge impact on the energy and effectiveness of your classrooms. When teachers love the materials they use and the lessons are perfectly geared toward the kids they teach the results are amazing.
At the end of the day, God uses our efforts, as good or as bad as they may be, for His own Glory. He will take our imperfect work and use it to touch lives and bring kids to a saving knowledge of Him. Praise Him for that!!
Can you think of other considerations curriculum shoppers should take into account? Leave a comment below with your ideas.
Need curriculum? In my ultra-biased opinion, this stuff is awesome.