I recently received some of David C. Cook’s Bible in Life Curriculum. (You could use this curriculum for Sunday School lessons, Children’s Church, mid-week club, etc). I had a chance to look over the Early Elementary, Elementary, and Middle School books. I also received a sample booklet with lessons from all ages levels. For this post, I’ll be looking at the Early Elementary materials.
I first opened the “Bible Beginnings” book which is designed as a student handbook. It has coloring pages, mazes, activities, patterns, and other materials needed for the “hands-on” section of the lesson. The pictures were beautifully colored and easy to follow. You could tell at a glance what the kids needed to do to complete the activity — a plus for both teachers and students. However, despite all these pros, I can’t help but wonder if these papers will actually make an impact. The materials we currently use for Sunday School also have beautiful illustrations and similar activities and I find them scattered all over the gym after church or left on the table at the end of class. One teacher has a file folder hanging system where she puts all her students’ papers at the end of class. The idea is that parents will pick up the papers when they pick up the students, but about every two months, I go and clean out the bulging folders and throw all those beautiful papers away. So the question remains: “Is this an effective method?” If the kids aren’t taking home the “take-home” papers and the well-designed activities aren’t making it past the classroom door, is this the route we should continue to pursue?
I’ve always like the 4 Steps Method this curriculum features:
- Step One: Bible Readiness (draw the kids in and get them focused)
- Step Two: Bible Story
- Step Three: Bible Activity Choices
- Step Four: Bible Response (life application)
I also like the idea of a Teacher devotional, but frankly I’m not always sure my teachers are reading the lessonlet alone the devotional that precedes it. Still, is this a reason to cut the devotional? Or is there a way to help teachers engage more with the material?
The Bible Readiness (step one):
These ideas seem lesson-related, creative, and engaging. A great way to get kids focused on the lesson. The sharing time is nice as well. I know our children’s church kids are always anxious to share something with the teacher or the rest of the class, and this is great way to allow them to share without (hopefully) getting lost on some tangent.
Bible Story (step two):
I love the fact the teacher turns to the passage in his/her Bible, shows the students, and then tells the story with that passage open. The only trouble is when students want to follow along (since the teacher is not actually reading from the Bible but from the lesson box in the curriculum). Usually, at the early elementary stage, they are content to simply find the passage in their Bibles without actually reading word for word with the teacher. I noticed that one of the methods of telling the story was by using flannelgraph. Now, flannelgraphs are pretty outdated. However, bringing back these “outdated” methods every once in awhilecan draw the kids in. I wouldn’t use them as often as suggested in this curriculum. For the more techie bunch, it might be nice to have a clip art CD to make powerpoint slides to use during story time, or a DVD with short clips that can be used to introduce the story.
The Bible story review questions were nice as well as the memory verse pratice. A big plus to the fact that the memory verse is the same for four weeks. Much more effective than a different verse every week. Although, I am always wondering, why can’t we pick a verse from the actual passage we are studying? I know it’s more difficult when we have a month long verse, but why can’t we pick a verse from one of the passages? Maybe this is just a little pet peeve of mine, but I never understood why we learn about (for example) Joshua trusting in God and then use a verse from Psalms to illustrate this point. Why don’t we learn a verse that says “Joshua trusted God”?
I also appreciate the fact that every week teachers are instructed to read the passage beforehand and practice telling the story to the kids. Preparation is keyto keeping kids engaged. Many curriculums state this in the introductory pages at the front, but I think it’s great to have that reminder at the start of every lesson.
Bible Activity Choices (step 3):
These activities were good. I like that there was usually an active game to play or a quieter craft to do. I must say, though, I don’t think you need both Make it/Take it and the Bible Beginnings books since they are both paper based activities — either crafts or mazes, etc. Depending on what your group likes best, I would just pick up one or the other.
Bible Response (step 4):
This section could have been a little stronger. For early elementary, I’m not sure paper worksheets/activity sheets are the best application method, and this seemed to be the method of choice for most of the Bible Response activities. Some of the activities were an immediate application (such as lesson two on prayer), but this activity seemed like a little too much for early elementary (might be perfect for elementary age though).
I saw in one of the lessons a PraisePac CD mentioned. I would love to take a listen to that and see if it would be something for our kids. Music is a great tool in our ministry — something that really helps the kids remember the lesson.
The recommended materials for Early Elementary are the Teacher’s Guide (6.99), Creative Teaching Aids (15.99), Bible Beginnings (one per student) (3.99), Make-it Take-it (crafts and take home papers)(3.99), and Stories (parents weekly paper)(3.99). I wish the Sample Brochure/Pack I received would have listed the prices, but since I couldn’t find them there, I just headed to the website and gathered up some numbers. Personally, I think all that is a bit much. Do you really need paper activities (Bible Beginnings) and a craft (Make-it Take-it) every week? And how many papers are these kids supposed to take home anyway? There are usually two in Bible Beginnings, plus the Make-it Take-it paper/craft, plus a parent paper? Talk about overwhelming! The prices are certainly reasonable, but wow, that’s a lot to keep track of for both parent and teachers.
I like the use of multi-cultural children/people throughout the book. Although Jesus is still pretty caucasian looking, it’s nice to see some variety among the other illustrations and pictures.
At first I was a little annoyed at the advertising for another product (Fizz, Foam, and Froth Science Lab) at the front of the book, but then I realized it was an activity suggestion for a lesson in this curriculum. So, on second thought, that’s a pretty clever way to introduce new products and give the teacher a chance to test it out in a real teaching setting to see how the kids respond.
I really appreciate the fact that they are “Early Bird Options” and “Extra Time Options”. These little things go a lot way when you’ve got twelve hyper 6 year olds and 10 extra minutes on your hands.
Although many of these stories are the “classics” that get told over and over and over again, there are some lesser known ones thrown in. I’m not exactly sure what the pattern to the lessons are… we jump from Genesis to Kings to Jonah back to Kings, then to Psalms and then to various passages in the New Testament. I see from the table of contents that the curriculum is theme-driven (God Loves Us, We Show our Love to God, We Love Each Other), so the passages must be picked to match the theme. For those of you who like a “follow the Bible in order” curriculum, this might be a deal-breaker.
All in all, a 3.5 of of 5. Biblical content is solid and great four step format. I really like the Bible Readiness part and most of the Bible Activity Choices. As I’m reading through this curriculum, however, I just get a feeling that this curriculum needs updated. A little extra something. We’re doing postmodern children’s ministry here, and sometimes we need a lesson that’s really going to jump off the page. This curriculum is great for your traditional, sit around the table Sunday School, but may not really connect with unchurched kids or kids new to the faith. I would like to see a little more creativity in the Bible story section — some dramas, some kinesthetic learning, more moving around and really engaging with the lesson.
The organization in this curriculum is unbeatable. Easy to follow, easy to understand, and seems to be pretty easy to teach as well. All good points. We just have to remember kids are changing. Times are changing. Having a teacher-friendly curriculum is not always what’s best for the spiritual formation of the kids. I love the content, but I’d like to see a little “interior remodeling” — keep the furniture, just add a few decorative touches, a little modernization. I hear the Bible in Life curriculum is getting a new look in the Fall, and maybe all this is addressed. I certainly would be anxious to take a look.
As for us…
If we have a really creative teacher that will step out of bounds a little and really own this curriculum, I would most certainly use it. The price is good, the content is good, and the presentation is often good. With a few tweaks here and there, and a lively personality, this curriculum could be really engaging.