Preschool Curriculum: Why We Chose Orange’s “First Look”

This post is Part 2 of Ministry Basics: Selecting Curriculum.  

You can read Part 1 here.

As our ministry fine-tuned our vision, mission and core values this past summer, it was necessary that our curriculum reflected what we believed and what we wanted children to walk away with.

When thinking about Sprouts (our Infant and Toddler area) and The Backyard (our Early Childhood area), we realized that this is where seeds of faith are planted and nurtured.  These environments are where many children will get their first impression of church and Jesus, so the foundation we lay here is crucial.

What we use

I have been a big fan of Orange’s First Look curriculum for quite some time now.  I think it is the most creative, outside-of-the-box material for preschoolers.  When it came down to evaluating our needs, I knew First Look was the way to go.

first look logo

The selection process & why this was our choice

For years, our Infant and Toddler area used one curriculum for both service hours and our Early Childhood area used 2 different curricula (one for each service hour).  I felt that two of the three curricula was outdated and needed to be replaced immediately.  The remaining one was one that I liked and have used before, but I felt that when we thought about what we wanted young children to know, it lacked a unified focus.  We wanted (and needed) a unified focus.

When children leave our Early Childhood ministry, I want them to walk away knowing certain basic truths that they could carry with them into the elementary years.  First Look’s curriculum is build around three basic truths:

  • God made me.
  • God loves me.
  • Jesus wants to be my friend forever.

There were a few other things that we knew we wanted:

  • We wanted the foundation to be easily understood and more intentional.
  • We also wanted a digital curriculum, as curriculum costs had been almost half of our annual budget.
  • We knew that we wanted to streamline our curriculum so that parents were more likely to reinforce what was taught in class if there were not as many responses to “What did you learn at church today?”

How First Look looks at our church

Switching over to a new curriculum, let alone a digital one, was not readily received by our veteran volunteers.  But I asked them to trust me to walk through it with them and give it time; they agreed.  Because of this, we wanted to make the transition from printed material to digital material as easy as possible.  This meant:

  • Showing our volunteers how to access the materials online through Orange’s website;
  • Providing paper copies, especially to our more “seasoned” volunteers;
  • Providing the paper copies a month in advance;
  • Photocopying the activity pages for our volunteers (they email our Administrative Coordinator by Thursday at noon with what they need copied and the quantities);
  • Emailing a digital copy – just in case.

In implementing First Look, we have opted to use the curriculum in a classroom format vs large group/small group as it’s written.  In short, what this means is that each classroom is responsible for its own music and Bible story time.  (We have occasionally brought our 4-and 5-year-olds together for the Bible story on video.)

What we like

As mentioned above, I like the simple nature of the three basic truths.  Each week’s lessons reinforces one of the basic truths.  We also like that each lesson includes different activities for different learning styles:  there’s music and movement (the songs and motions are lots of fun!), games, crafts, and repetition (the Bible verse and the song stay the same for the entire month).  (The games and crafts usually include items that we already have on hand).  Each lesson is very engaging and doesn’t look the same each week.

We also like that lessons are available well in advance on the website.  This is an added bonus for those who like to look ahead and see what’s coming up.  In addition, there is an option to purchase the Bible story videos.

What we don’t like

The biggest area of concern for us so far has been altering the material for our 2’s.  Some of our volunteers feel that the lessons are way over the heads of 2-yr olds.  I have personally contacted friends who use the curriculum, First Look’s Facebook page, and our Orange Consultant to get guidance into this issue.  I learned that we are not the only ones who’ve struggled with this age group.

We have tried to simply the lessons but I’m not sure that it’s enough.  We will re-evaluate after Christmas to see if we need to switch gears for our 2’s while keeping in line with our core components.

So, there you have it.  I’d be happy to talk with you if you’re interested in learning more or have any questions.  You can email me here.  You can also learn more by visiting First Look’s website (you can click the logo above).

Tomorrow, I’ll share what we selected for our Elementary Ministry and on Friday, I’ll share what we selected for our Preteen Ministry.  I hope you’ll come back and read all about that!

Do you use First Look for your preschool ministry? What has your experience been?

If you don’t use First Look, what do you use?  How’s it working for you?

Ministry Basics: Selecting Curriculum

This post marks the first in what I hope will be dedicated to help solidify your ministry’s basic (but essential) components.  If you are relatively new to ministry, I pray that these posts will help you successfully build your ministry.  If you are a ministry veteran, I hope that these posts will serve as reminders and points to use in evaluating your ministry’s effectiveness.

Today we’ll look at selecting curriculum.

Photo Credit: www.thebestbrainpossible.com
Photo Credit: www.thebestbrainpossible.com

As a ministry leaders, there are many, many important decisions that you’ll make that will greatly impact your ministry.  Towards the top of the list is the task of selecting curriculum.

There are numerous options to choose from these days.  Video-based; denomination-based; student-led; volunteer-driven.  There are options for an assortment of ministry formats/styles: large group/small group; traditional classroom; Sunday school; mid-week; urban; children’s church; digital; printed.  The possibilities are endless.

With that said, let me make this disclaimer: I do not believe that there is a ‘perfect’ curriculum.  I believe that while there are great options, you won’t find one that meets every criteria on your list or suits your ministry perfectly without the need to edit.

So what do you do?  How do you choose from the plethora of options?

In my experience, I’ve found that I typically like to not veer to either extreme of all fun (watered down lessons) or too theologically heavy (over the children’s heads, too difficult for my volunteers to teach, close to seminary level).  I’ve tended to be somewhat in the middle – Biblically sound, Bible-based but fun and engaging.

If you are in the market for new curriculum, here are a few things I’d recommend you should keep in mind:

1. Determine your ministry’s vision, mission and core values.  Knowing this will help you stay focused on what you need/want in a curriculum and how the selected curriculum will help you think with the end in mind.

2.  Bring a team of staff, current volunteers and parents together to help you discern the best options.  Bringing the right people to the table will (1) show you value the opinions of ministry investors; (2) provide different points of view and good dialogue; and (3) get more buy-in from those on the team.

3.  Make a list of what’s important.  What are you looking for in terms of:

  • Format:  Large group/small group; traditional classroom; children’s church; multiple ages in a combined setting; etc.
  • Denomination preference, if any
  • Delivery:  Digital or printed?  This is definitely something to consider if budget is a strong factor in your decision-making.
  • Technology:  Video-format, live teaching or a combination of the two?
  • Parent take-home resources:  Printed or digital; technological elements (i.e. videos, social media integration, apps).
  • Age-specific:  Are you looking for curriculum based on a certain age group or are you looking for something comprehensive where all ages will be learning the same thing?

4. Once you narrow your options, request samples of those that make the cut.  Take advantage of no-obligation trial offers.  Try out sample lessons in your ministry, and then get feedback from volunteers, parents and children.

5.  Before making a final decision, spark good dialogue.  Contact the publisher and ask questions.  Talk with others who are currently using or have previously used the curriculum you’re interested in.  (Facebook, Twitter and Children’s Ministry discussion forums are great places to go for this.)

6.  Remember: no curriculum is perfect.  After your selection process has concluded and you’ve made a decision, know that you’ll very likely have to edit your material to suit your ministry’s facility, resources, budget, church style/culture and location.  And you may find that no available option is ideal, so you decide to write your own curriculum.

Over the course of the next few days, I’ll share what curriculum we use, why we selected it, and how it’s working for us.

Now it’s your turn to talk!  How do you choose curriculum?  What is important to you in making a curriculum choice?