Evaluating Curriculum

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I’m calling a spade a spade today and confessing that searching for the “right” curriculum is hard and overwhelming and sucks. There are so many options out there and when you start digging in to the finer points of each it’s hard to keep it all straight in your mind. You have to look at price, format, actual content of the lesson and user friendliness. It doesn’t take long before you want to throw the piles of samples in the trash, yell at curriculum writers and play a game of inny-minny-miney-moe to just get the process over with already!

Who’s with me?

But here’s the deal:

A of all: Curriculum writers have the. hardest. job. ever. How are they supposed to write for all unknown churches, denominations, classroom dynamics, AND content levels for all children? Serious respect to all of you out there.

And 2. No curriculum is ever going to be perfect. Period. We have to stop looking for “perfect” and go for “best right now.” It’s not about settling. It’s about acknowledging the reality in which we currently find ourselves: class format, volunteer abilities & needs, & the willingness of volunteers & families to try something new to name just a few factors. So unless you’re completely writing your own curriculum from scratch put your perfectionism to the side and trust that God is going to do some amazing things with whatever you decide is “best right now.”

Over the years I’ve created some filters to determine what qualifies as “best right now” for my children, families & teachers. Here they are:

  1. What basic format requirements am I looking for? Decide these things first.
    • Large group/small group or Sunday School format? Am I keeping the same format or changing things up this time?
    • Does it include videos & other media? Is this a must, an added bonus, or not important?
    • Is it more lecture or discussion based?
    • What about games, crafts & hands-on activities?
    • Does it require a lot of supplies or prep from teachers?
    • 1, 2, or 3 year scope & sequence?
    • Age levels?
    • Digital copies or preprinted?
  2. Does the curriculum talk about Jesus & the Bible? I know this seems so obvious but sadly, it is not. I had one well-known publisher tell me that they intentionally leave “Jesus” out of the curriculum to be more friendly to an “unchurched audience.” Um, I’m sorry but that won’t work for me. I want lots of Jesus and lots of Bible. I want to help my kids see Jesus in every story of the Bible. I want to show them how every story connects and points to Jesus. I want my kids to encounter God in BIG ways. Anything less than that I don’t have time for and frankly, I’m not honoring God if I waste everyone’s time with a shallow curriculum.
  3. Does this curriculum allow for the Holy Spirit to work in my kids’ hearts during our time together? Children do not have a Junior Holy Spirit working in their lives. They have access to the full power of the Holy Spirit and they are capable of hearing from God & spending time with Him. I want a curriculum that recognizes what children are capable of and teaches them and expects them to be attuned to the Holy Spirit.
  4. How much tweaking will this need to fit my context? I’ve worked in churches where I didn’t have any time to adapt the curriculum, and I had to rely on my teachers to adapt for their classroom/small group. But now my main responsibility is to prepare Preschool & Elementary Curriculum so I can rewrite until my heart’s content. It is a great luxury but not a reality for most. Either way, I still don’t want to pay money to have to rewrite the majority of a curriculum that doesn’t work for us. If you (or most of your teachers) are rewriting most of the curriculum, I promise there is something better out there for you! (This doesn’t apply to those wonderfully rogue teachers who always rewrite no matter what you give them because they are just that awesome!)
  5. Is the curriculum in my price range? And will I have to tweak it so much they should be paying me to write it? Been there. Done that. They didn’t pay me.
  6. Will my kids learn various spiritual disciplines they can incorporate into their every day lives? Are they learning different ways to pray & spend time with God? Ways that cover multiple intelligences? The more we teach our kids how to do this now, the more likely they are to build a lasting relationship with God that will endure life.
  7. Does the curriculum ask good questions? Historically, we (as in Children’s Ministries) have done our best to be sure every question, every doubt, every wondering is tied up into a nice pretty black & white bow at the end of the lesson. But life is messy and full of grayness, and I don’t want to raise kids who think life is black & white. Because they will eventually realize it isn’t. I want to give them space to wrestle with hard questions & wonder aloud and not always have a right or wrong answer. We can’t get to this place when we only ask knowledge based answers.
  8. What resources does the curriculum provide for families? I want to empower families to continue the conversations we’ve had during our short time together. How does the curriculum help me help families?

If you are beginning to look for new curriculum, I would highly recommend starting with these amazing curriculums:

(I’m also a sucker for GREAT Bible timelines and these 3 nail it!)

What filters do you use for finding the “best right now?” What’s the biggest challenge for you in picking a new curriculum?

 

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