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Making Curriculum Work for You Pt. 1

Have you ever sat in your living room on a Saturday night and wondered what in the world you are going to teach tomorrow or “do I have to teach THIS lesson?” I haven’t. I’m the author, right? I’ve always had this figured out. At least I wish that were true. Early on, I struggled to find the right curriculum and teaching. Because of that I wasn’t always successful in getting the response from the kids that I really wanted. Thankfully, God has helped me to learn some principles that changed my course. Now, instead of being unsure of what I will teach or embarrassed about the curriculum we’re putting forward to the kids, I look forward to Sunday, I enjoy our services, and get excited about how our kids’ lives are going to be changed. Teaching is fun and engaging for me! But, curriculum is foundational to creating a great children’s ministry experience.

We want to help you understand how to make curriculum work for your church. Curriculum is a tool for the children’s leader, not the master over your service. You can adapt, adjust, and tweak the curriculum to meet the goals you’ve set for your service. We’ve identified some different types of curriculum, as well as options for adapting that curriculum to adjust to whatever your kids or church throws at you. Curriculum isn’t just about the kids in your ministry gaining more Biblical knowledge; it’s about true life transformation. As children’s ministry leaders, our goal is to provide kids with an engaging service that captures their imaginations and teaches them God’s truth, so that the Holy Spirit can transform their hearts and minds.

Back to you sitting in your living room. Yes, that uncomfortable scene. You, your lesson, your recliner, maybe a bag of Cheetos and a Coke. You may be tempted to make a run for it, but don’t! Getting from that point to being ready for your Sunday service is not as scary as you think. In fact, the process is a great journey and on the other side of it is a wonderful blessing. You are planting seeds that will not only reach this generation, but will impact that child’s grandchildren. This is huge. So, if we’re going to impact multiple generations for Christ, then it pays to be hyper-intentional about the curriculum we choose to teach in our services.

Understanding Curriculum Types
Let’s start our journey of the recliner, yes… put down the Cheetos, and understand the kinds of curriculum we’re going to find. I’ve identified three categories that most children’s church curriculum will fall under. The first is VIDEO-DRIVEN curriculum. In this type of curriculum, media is the driving force. Most of the time, 90% of the teaching and instruction comes from the presenters on screen. The actual teaching scripts are minimal. Some curriculum in the category is almost a “set it and forget it” setup. You turn on the DVD and it plays for 20 – 30 minutes. Come back at the end and do a bit of light wrap up. KIDMO and Elevate both offer video-driven curriculum.

One of the pros to this type of curriculum is that kids are conditioned to watch TV, so they’re used to learning from technology. Also, the teaching is usually great quality and it relieves a lot of pressure on the children’s leader. You’re not responsible for doing it all. Of course, there are disadvantages, too. Kids can disconnect easily because of the lack of personal interaction. They are looking for someone to connect with them and a physical teacher is often that source of connection. That’s our key advantage over Hollywood. They have tons of money and glitz, but we can reach out and hug a kid who’s hurting. It connects us in a powerful way. It’s also harder to adapt the lesson because much of it is set in stone through the video. Lastly, this type of curriculum doesn’t give as much opportunity for volunteers to grow as teachers. One of the best ways to become a better teacher is to teach, and teach often.

The second category of curriculum is what I call TEACHER-DRIVEN. This type of curriculum focuses primarily on live teaching in the classroom. Teaching could encompass puppets, skits, lecture, or activities. Usually, there aren’t a lot of media elements included with this type of curriculum. Some examples of publishers within this category include DiscipleLand, LifeWay, Group, David C. Cook, and Gospel Light.

There are definite pros for teacher-driven lessons. Generally, they are much easier to adapt to your group. You can move items around and change the script if necessary. Also, volunteers and leaders grow in their teaching gifts as they use them week in and week out. However, the lack of media can communicate some negative ideas about your ministry, such as that you’re not on the cutting edge or even irrelevant to modern culture. Without accompanying visuals and media, the kids’ engagement may also wane quickly. The workload for you, the children’s leader, is usually a lot heavier.

The last category of curriculum is what I would call the HYBRID MODEL. It may also be known as a media-rich curriculum. The difference between this model and the other two is that while it contains a lot of media, the lesson is not driven by video. There are videos and graphics that engage the kids, but the in classroom teacher is key to the lesson.
There are a number of pros to this curriculum model. First, the teacher doesn’t have to teach or plan for the entire service. Videos will provide much needed breaks during the lesson. Volunteers still develop teaching gifts and you’re able to engage the kids personally. Choosing a high quality curriculum helps churches of all sizes maintain excellence in their productions, even if they don’t have professional artists or video editors on staff. Some of the cons are that the cost of media-rich curriculum is often higher than a teacher-driven curriculum. Also, there is still a lot of prep to ready the lesson for Sunday since significant portions of the lesson will be taught live. The technology requirements may necessitate purchasing new equipment or software.  Some great examples of hybrid curriculum are Equip KidMin, Elevate, Orange, and High Voltage.

In the next blog we’ll explore the importance of evaluating curriculum, as well as some suggestions for how to do it!

About the Writer

Dwayne Riner is the associate children’s pastor at The Ark Church and the head writer for Equip KidMin Curriculum. Dwayne attended Emmanuel College and graduated in 2000 from the School of Christian Ministries. For over twenty years he has worked with thousands of kids, creating stories and characters that inspire them to become everything God has created them to be. Dwayne has spoken at conferences in the U.S. and abroad. He has also authored a children’s book series for elementary kids.

Photo Credits: Discipleship Ministries, Dwayne Riner

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