by Gloria Lee
First of all, there is no perfect curriculum! Trust me; I have tried looking for one! In fact, I have gone down to my old seminary, parked myself on the floor for hours looking through the entire curriculum that was on display in the Christian Education Department. It was overwhelming as there were so many options. However, I was left discouraged because I did not find THE PERFECT curriculum for my ministry. And then it dawned on me-there is no perfect curriculum because nobody wrote a curriculum with MY CHURCH and MINISTRY in mind. I entertained the thought of writing my own curriculum. However, the honest truth is writing curriculum is not my forte, and I would rather use that time to focus on elevating our ministry than struggling through writing. That is when I decided to go through the process of evaluating all the curriculums that were sitting before me to find the one that was best fit for our ministry. Below are the guidelines I used to find the curriculum that best fit our ministry.
Preschoolers are little people with unique characteristics!First, I made a list of characteristics of preschoolers. I would encourage you to do the same. This is a general list of what three to five-year olds are like. This is not an exhaustive list, but it will get you started.
- Very active
- Attention span of three to ten minutes
- Learning to share
- Able to express self with growing vocabulary
- Enjoy imitating
- Enjoy repetition
- Enjoy play and exploration
- Learn through senses
- Dependent, but seeks independence
I have seen curriculum that expects preschoolers to sit for twenty minutes to listen to the Bible story. Chances are, you will have some preschoolers get up, walk around or zone out shortly after you start the Bible story. Does the curriculum use repetitive Bible story rhymes, offer sensory opportunities, use active games and offer opportunities to interact with each other? Does the curriculum cater to different characteristics we see in preschoolers?
Preschoolers learn through play that is fun!
Children need fun! “When children explore, experiment and interact through play, they learn about how the world works (The National Association for the Education of Young Children; naeyc.org).” In a Sunday school class, this means the curriculum allows the children to experience the Bible in a fun, playful way. Too often, I have seen classes in which the Bible story is serious learning time, and fun playtime comes later. This indirectly communicates to the children that the Word of God is boring and they just have to get through the Bible time to get to the fun playtime. However, when the preschoolers experience the Bible in an exciting way, they will come to believe that there is no book cooler than the Bible! “[Less lecture and more active learning in the preschool classroom] increases the likelihood that children will remember what the lesson was about (Sondra Saunders in Children’s Ministry in the 21st Century).”
“Fun” is the benchmark for the value of a child’s experience. If the preschooler had “fun” in Sunday school, he/she is more likely to want to come back next week. Just imagine your preschoolers getting excited to learn about what God has to teach them in the Bible because Bible learning is made fun! Does the curriculum include simple Bible games, use musical instruments for creative expression and use role-play of Bible characters all to support the lessons? Does the curriculum allow the preschoolers to play and have fun?
Preschoolers have their own unique learning styles.
While all preschoolers like to have fun, “fun” may look different for each child in the group. That is because kids all learn differently, and typically their learning style dictates what is “fun” to them. For example, I had a preschooler who loved music and dancing. He had a tough time sitting through a story time unless we used Bible story rhyme with motions or a song to tell the story. When music or motions were involved, he would remember pretty much everything we did. At the same time, I had another preschooler who refused to participate in songs and motions. He was content sitting and waiting for the group to finish. However, he loved reading and hearing stories. Even to my surprise, he could sit and be attentive for a long time. He also had impeccable memory. These two boys both had amazing capacity for learning, but they learned very differently. There is no one way to teach all preschoolers. Instead, the lesson should be taught in many different ways to target different learners. Personally, I have adapted Dr. Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory. When looking at curriculum, I look for different teaching methods that caters to different learners– word smart, picture smart, music smart, logic smart, body smart, nature smart, self smart and people smart learners. Does the curriculum include different activities to communicate the lesson?
Some activities may include:
- Guided conversations
- Songs or rhymes with motions
- Sculpting with clay, dough, etc.
- Building with blocks
- Crafts involving pasting, coloring, folding, drawing
Preschoolers can learn key Bible concepts!
I do not believe for a second that early childhood ministry is just childcare or babysitting! Even the littlest of them can learn and understand simple, biblical concepts. I have also seen preschool curriculum that teaches two or three points to remember as well as a full Bible scripture every week. Whew! How about meeting them where they are? Preschoolers love repetition (in fact, it is the adults that get tired of repetition). It is okay to teach one key Bible story and concept for the whole month, and cement that one biblical truth and concept in the minds of the children. Does the curriculum teach basic Bible concepts that preschoolers can understand?
Some concepts preschoolers can learn are:
- The Bible is true.
- The Bible is a special book from God.
- God is powerful.
- God knows everything.
- Jesus is God’s Son.
- Jesus is my friend.
- Jesus was born, grew up, helped people, died and came back to life.
- The Holy Spirit is a special helper.
- God will forgive me when I ask Him.
- God listens to me and answers my prayers.
Evaluate your ministry structure.
The facility and the size of your ministry may determine how the classes are divided. Furthermore, the philosophy, the mission and the vision of your church may dictate structure of the preschool ministry. Be sure to take all these things into consideration.
Some questions to explore are:
- Does the curriculum support the church denominational statement of faith? Is this an issue? Some churches may require using denominational curriculum.
- How much time does the preschool Sunday school have?
- How many preschoolers attend Sunday school? What is the ratio of children to adults?
- Does the room allow for rotating stations? Or do all the preschoolers experience the lesson altogether?
- Does the preschool curriculum need to be in line with elementary curriculum? If so, this is a process that would involve elementary ministry leaders.
Yes, choosing a curriculum for preschool ministry can feel daunting. However, it can truly boost Sunday school learning experience for your preschoolers. Every email, phone call and text I receive regarding how kids are re-enacting their Bible experiences, singing and doing motions to the songs that we have learned, and repeating the Bible point at home are clear indications that these precious souls had fun learning. In addition, the lessons made lasting impression in such a way that they are sharing them with their parents, siblings and friends.
Remember that there is no perfect curriculum. You may have to tweak some things to make it work for you. Nevertheless, you can definitely find curriculum for your preschool ministry that will be a great fit so that you can help these little precious children learn and grow in their understanding and relationship with Jesus Christ!
Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria Lee has been in Children’s Ministry for over fifteen years. She is committed to leading and equipping Children’s Ministry workers. She has led workshops at conventions including NorthWest Ministry Conference, Bay Area Sunday School Convention, Christian Ministries Training Association and Children’s Pastors Conference. She also enjoys writing on the side, and recently contributed to Trust Us, They’ll Ask published by Group Publishing. She currently resides in Southern California. You can connect with Gloria via facebook.com/gloriaslee or twitter: @gloriaslee