However, one of the most important questions that doesn't get asked enough is "What do we want the kids to actually learn?" What is the content that we are teaching in church to our children?
After you answer these questions, it is relatively easy to pick a curriculum. But publishers know that this isn't often the starting point so curriculum is often marketed by theme and graphics rather than the content. Publishers develop trust or rely on a certain market share (such as a denomination) to set the buyer at ease about the content. But just because we trust a publisher and know that in general we usually agree theologically with content doesn't mean that we should just accept a curriculum.
Instead, figure out what your church wants to pass on about faith! This is really the most important question. What do we want our children to KNOW as a result of being a part of this church community? What do WE (as adults) think are the most important pieces of our faith?
Questions to ask parents and teachers
When I go out and meet with groups of parents and teachers, I always start with a basic list of statements about faith and/or a curriculum that I have gleaned straight from the materials themselves. I ask the parents and teachers to rate each statement as 1) most important, 2) somewhat important, or 3) not a priority. Then we look at where the agreement is in the group. Each of the statements allows for conversation around what is important in this particular setting. Here are some of the statements I use:
- Knowing the major stories of the Bible (and being able to put these stories
together in a simple timeline)
- Participating in weekly worship
- Understanding the church year and our rhythm of worship
- Teaching and Practicing Peace and Justice in the world
- Learning to pray – and doing it together
- Living out faith daily at school and home
- Knowing the life and teachings of Jesus
- Understanding the parts and meaning of the Eucharist and how to use the Book of Common Prayer
- Teaching Bible skills that help kids use and study the Bible for life
I have many more questions like this and each statement represents a different emphasis in teaching. For example, there are curriculums and programs available that really emphasize worship - such as Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. If your goal as a church is to really help children learn to worship God, and have children fully participate in the worshipping life of the church, then this would be a good choice. However, this may not be the right choice if you are more interested in teaching bible skills and helping kids understand the big story of scripture. If you are more concerned with teaching children about how to live out their faith and have a real concern for peace and justice, you might consider the Shine curriculum from the Church of the Brethren. If one of your top goals is having kids know and understand the Episcopal Church and our specific style of worship, then you might choose Weaving God's Promises which connects every week with specific Episcopal Church teachings and worship.
All of these are good choices. But the most important thing is to have some education goals and a plan to get to where you want to go. Then you won't spend the year frustrated at trying to make a curriculum fit what you really want to teach.
IMPORTANT NOTE: There is no perfect curriculum (although there are some very good ones...) so you will need to adapt to suit your specific needs.
So take some time and think about the WHAT -- the CONTENT of your teaching.
Keep watching for Parts 2 and 3 on Setting Goals.