Monday, October 26, 2015

BMW Talk Shop: What Sunday School Curriculum Do You Use?

Our Common Work

One of the most common jobs that Baptist Missionary Women do for their ministries would be teaching and managing Sunday School or children’s Bible clubs. We often have to be quite flexible about where we gather: the Sunday school classroom might be outside on mats on the ground under a tree or in a dark cramped room. Challenges also include having to translate all materials ourselves and having children of all ages in one class, from age 2 to 14!

Having spent years translating our own materials, I was curious as to what curriculum other BMW preferred. I wish I had asked long ago, but since I just spent years translating one curriculum, I have no desire now to switch to anything else! I took a poll of several BMW to find out what Sunday School curriculum materials they preferred.

Several responses came back, including recommendations for curricula I had never heard of; and I’m sure that there are many resources out there that aren’t included here. If you’re about to begin a children’s ministry on your field, maybe these tips and explanations will help you think through where best to invest your money.

Our Common Preferences

The top three choices were Betty Lukens flannel graph, A BekaBook’s Flash-A-Card series (ABB), and Child Evangelism Fellowship’s materials (CEF), in that order. But before I compare and contrast these three, let me first mention some general comments that kept popping up.

First, even if BMW voted for a certain curriculum, many did not use the lesson plans but wrote their own. Most desired a curriculum that was straightforward Bible, not adding much conjecture. Secondly, most BMW when describing why they chose ABB or CEF mentioned their preference for flashcards over the flannel graph. So if you add together the votes for those two to reflect this desire, flashcards won out over flannel graph.

Betty Lukens’ felt curriculum was praised for being colorful and durable, holding up well in humid climates, versus paper cards which can stick or mildew. BMW like its CD with activities and coloring pages, and that it comes in Spanish. Kids enjoy adding pieces to the board themselves. Negatives include what I mention above—not being purely biblical and complaints about the hassle of transporting felt pieces, losing pieces, distracting transitional times while adding pieces, being locked into one location while telling the story, and dealing with pieces in the outdoors (do you tote an easel with you to prop up the felt board? And what do you do when the wind blows off your pieces?)

Other negatives have to do with the art: characters are too white-skinned, or one woman mentioned that the figures didn’t seem to be all of one size, some being bigger than others. One point would really bother me: all the cutting! Death by cutting out pieces! If you get a used set or a gift that includes the cutting-out-of-pieces already done, that would be wonderful. (I was gifted a set with the smaller size of pieces, and while I prefer flashcards, I may use this with preschool someday, as it seemed that the stories were much shorter.)

Next with almost as many votes is A Beka’s Flash-A-Card series. This is not their newer Sunday School company but the elementary school curriculum. The art is excellent, especially Brian Jekel’s work. I love these, because they have several large, colorful, interesting pictures for each story, and you can easily transport them and move freely in your classroom or outdoors with just picture cards. Some are in Spanish. Negatives include occasional conjecture added to Scripture or incongruent applications. Another negative is the price. I do feel, however, that they are worth the price.

This was my favorite choice. I shortened or split some lessons, sometimes changing applications or cutting conjecture; but in general, I felt that the stories thoroughly covered and explained Scripture. They don't clutter the lesson books with lots of extra teacher notes and objectives. The pictures help keep the children’s interest, and a ministry in the States helped me to laminate several sets so that they would hopefully be indestructible by potentially careless future teachers. I cut costs by searching for several of them on used homeschool curriculum sale websites. (One BMW found several at a garage sale for $10 for all! Sweet deal!)

A man teaches a children's Bible club, using a CEF flashcard story.
 A lot of people appreciate Child Evangelism Fellowship’s materials, especially the Bible and missionary stories, the older materials, as the newer ones begin to lean more Pentecostal. They seem to be good for exposing kids to other cultures, missions, and are very evangelistic. They include several teacher helps on how to write lessons using symbols from the wordless book (gold circle, black heart, red cross, white heart, green leaf). They have the benefits of flashcards, and are easily stored. Some already come translated into Spanish. BMW praised them for great application.

Our Uncommon Preferences
Here are other choices that were appreciated. Some I had never heard of.

  • Calvary Curriculum
  • Regular Baptist Press (I was given several sets free, but found these not as practical or straightforward.)
  • Bible Centered Ministries--series Footsteps of Faith (four series in both the Old and New Testaments). Some are translated into French.
  • The Story of Hope by ABWE
  • New Tribes Mission Firm Foundations for children—(also in Spanish). We were also gifted this set, and I translated (and shortened) and used it. I loved how it gives a great overview of the Bible, clearly pointing to the Deliverer in the Old Testament. I did not love how it usually only had one picture per lesson. Now that I have it translated however, I can easily switch out ABB’s pictures when I want to teach these lessons.
  • Homemade--several BMW are quite clever and resourceful!
  • Bible Visuals International: I really want to talk this company up. They are non-profit and include downloads of several of their resources, and have pursued translation work for their materials in several languages. They approached me to translate into Tsonga, but I was exhausted from having just finished translating all of the ABB series, so I doubted that I would do theirs. I love that they have 5-day biographical stories as well (like the new release on George Mueller) or other missionary stories or works that would be great for a 5-day continuing story for VBS. They even have Holy War and Pilgrim’s Progress by Bunyan summarized into 5-day lessons, including a PowerPoint option for the visuals. The visuals aren’t that great in some cases, but the lessons I have seen are good. They use flashcards and plan to soon release other media as well.
A Final Tip

Don’t forget to search for curriculum already published in your specific country. Some countries have materials in their home language already, and can target their own cultures better, and you win on the shipping costs. For example, a friend mentioned a curriculum where I am in South Africa called iVangeli. The stories have South African situations and names of children, and worksheets come in three local languages. 


Lou Ann Keiser said...

Excellent collection of what was said. This should go into the resources tab--hint,hint--for missionaries. Really good to have the list of resources, pros and cons.

Jen Bauer said...

Already done, Lou Ann!

Donna said...

Thank you so much for your work and time spent in doing this research. It was an excellent collection and excellent comments on materials. I can't imagine the work involved in translating the materials into several languages! I originally used Bible Centered Ministries' material in Spanish. (The Spanish material used to be difficult to find on their website. I bought it almost 40 years ago before they had a web site.) The lessons are excellent and Bible centered. :-) I wrote worksheets for Sunday school since they didn't have any. I keep hoping to be able to finalize the worksheets and put them on the internet somewhere. BCM in English has themes for each book with tokens for those who attend and memorize verses. I made my own. I enjoy flannel-graph, but most of the teachers we train do not like flannel-graph, so we have gone with materials that have flash cards. Other than BCM, I have not found lesson books that I like to use 100%. You did mention some materials which may have added lesson plans of which I was unaware. I will have to do some research based on your research! Thank you for your time and effort.

Donna said...

P.S. BCM was started as material for release time religious classes when schools allowed such programs. There are 8 books, each the length of a school semester. I have CEF and Bible Visuals Int. materials to fill in the year.

Amy Meyers said...

Hmm, that is interesting, Donna. Please let us know if you ever do get your worksheets done somewhere on the internet, even if it's in Dropbox or Google docs, so other people can use them!