How to Select Children’s Curriculum
Before becoming a full-time pastor, I spent over a decade in education. I worked day-in and day-out to prepare understandable lessons for my students. I managed classroom conflicts. I worked alongside peers and parents. I stood up in front of people to instruct them. I walked alongside them in the ups and downs of a given school year. I pursued a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. In other words, I was preparing to be a pastor, and even to write this article.
God used that time to teach me a thing or two about how to both evaluate and implement curriculum effectively.
Here are five ways your church can fruitfully engage with the plethora of curricular options at our disposal.
1. Choose a theologically rich curriculum.
Don’t skimp on theology when it comes to your church’s curriculum for children. The ultimate goal is to help our children to know God. As Psalm 78:5–7 says:
He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God.
We want the children in our churches to “hope in God.” That comes as fathers (and mothers and others) teach them “the law and the testimony.” The content of our curriculum must be uppermost in our priorities. We must ask: how does this curriculum encourage hope in God? Does it rely on the Word of God to foster such hope?
Don’t settle for a shallow curriculum that fails to implant a growing knowledge of God as the center of its scope and sequence.
2. Choose a gospel-centered curriculum.
While “gospel-centrality” has become something of an evangelical buzzword, don’t allow its overuse to dissuade you from its importance. Curriculum must not only be evaluated for what it is teaching, but how it aims to accomplish its goal.
While character formation is important, it must not be presented in a moralistic framework. Jesus taught us that the Bible is about himself (John 5:39, Luke 24). Therefore, look for a curriculum that’s not only gospel competent, but also infused with a gospel climate. In other words, good curriculum draws the attention of children back (again and again, from every genre of Scripture) to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
3. Choose an instructionally diverse curriculum.
Not all children learn the same way. Back in my teaching days, I was encouraged to regularly remind myself, “The question is not, ‘How smart are you?’ The question is, ‘How are you smart?’” This taught me to keep an eye out for the unique talents, gifts, and abilities present in my students and seek to instruct them in a way that—while developing areas of weakness—helped them to flourish in their strengths.
In the same way, we ought to look for children’s curriculum that pays attention to these dynamics. Are all lessons presented in a one-dimensional way, only focusing on certain types of learners? Or is there an evident sensitivity to various learning styles, dispositions, and strengths?
And don’t forget that the Bible has given us an “instruction manual for youth”; it’s called the book of Proverbs. There we find Solomon utilizing lessons in observation, comparison, and metaphor to stimulate thinking and draw out application.
4. Choose a parent-engaging curriculum.
As churches, we bear the responsibility for encouraging and strengthening the bonds between parents and their children. We don’t want to undermine or usurp their role as the primary instructors of their children. Paul offers a wonderful balance in his letter to the Ephesians. He writes to both children and parents (Eph. 6:1–4), emphasizing to both parties their responsibilities to one another, all done in the context of the local church.
What do we learn from this? As pastors (and churches) our job is to come alongside both children and parents to equip both to live out their calling toward each other. We should seek curriculum that strengthens this obligation. The curriculum we choose would do well to have a “parental” component to it, whereby children and parents utilize lessons outside of the classroom. When used this way, curriculum can be a meaningful discipleship tool that reverberates beyond the Sunday School lesson.
From there, bring it up in prayer meetings. Periodically remind parents to engage their children about what they are learning.
5. Choose a habit-forming curriculum.
Repetition is a key to learning. Both our biblical and Reformed forebears knew this. Therefore, catechesis featured prominently in their educational approach. We would do well to choose a curriculum that is acquainted with these well-worn paths.
Ensure your curriculum has a category for the value of repetition, memorization, and catechesis. Curriculum must be not only engaging in the moment, but more importantly, habit-forming by inculcating songs, Scripture memory, and catechism questions so that lessons become lodged in the heart.
Ultimately, we depend on the Lord to “build the house” as we work with children (Ps. 127). But even so, may the Lord make us “wise builders” (1 Cor. 3) who seek to build with the grain of Scripture through theologically rich and gospel-centered content and with the grain of children through diverse instruction, parental engagement, and habit formation.
* * * * *
 Deepak Reju and Marty Machowski’s book Build on Jesus is a great place to start. As for specific curricula, from my observation, three that accomplish the five aforementioned marks (and I’m sure there are more) are: The Gospel Project, Truth78, and Praise Factory.