The Leader’s Guide to Choosing Curriculum That Actually Engages Kids

As a ministry leader, you have a lot of decisions to make when choosing a kids curriculum. But how do you find one that actually engages kids?
Engaging Kids Curriculum

For every leader choosing a curriculum for their children’s ministry, you’ve got an important decision ahead of you. There’s price, theology, media, customizability, and then the question of whether you’ll still end up pounding coffee on a Saturday night to locate and wrangle documents and media together the next day. 

 

But then there’s the most important question — will this actually engage the kids in my ministry? 

 

Will it help them develop a better faith and future because they can understand, apply, and be transformed every week of the year? 

 

Now, if you are reading this, you’ve probably already arrived to two big ideas. 

 

 

You know that when it comes to what you teach kids every week, you need a strategy. 

 

 

That’s one reason you need curriculum for your preschool ministry or children’s ministry. You know you have a limited amount of time every year to influence a kid’s faith, so you have to be intentional about WHAT you teach. If you’re not thoughtful about your yearly strategy, you could end up missing the most important things. 

 

To say it another way, you are intentional about making sure your messaging strategy is theologically sound. The choices about what you teach, and don’t teach in a year is a theological decision. Winging it every week, or piecing together a strategy can lead to an incomplete theological foundation if not evaluated through the lens of your annual messaging strategy.

 

Then, there’s the second big idea. 

 

You know that it matters not just what content you teach, but how you teach it. 

 

You could have the best scope and sequence (or as we call it, scope & cycle), but if your weekly content fails to communicate in a way a kid can understand and apply, it won’t be an effective strategy or curriculum. 

 

You understand that your message doesn’t just need to be theologically sound but also engaging. Kids can’t learn from a message they aren’t paying attention to or don’t understand.

 

To say it another way, in order for your messaging strategy to be effective, it needs to be developmentally appropriate. 

 

So, how do you choose a curriculum that is both theologically sound and developmentally appropriate

 

Well, we think it’s possible to have both. It’s the reason we create preschool ministry curriculum and kids & preteen curriculum. Curriculum can help you not just create a better strategy for your entire ministry, but bring effective messaging strategies for engaging every kid in your children’s ministry and community. 

 

Choosing A Theologically Sound Curriculum

 

Let’s talk theology for a second. We know what you teach a kid about God will impact the rest of their lives, their future families, and the future of the Church. So, we take what they believe and why they believe it very seriously.

 

But the Bible is a big book, and they won’t remember (or understand) all of it. 

 

So, it’s important to prioritize and repeat what matters most so that the truth of WHO God is and WHAT God has done for them will be cemented in their hearts long after they leave our programs. 

 

If you’re like us — you want want you kids to leave your ministry knowing everything. But, very quickly, you’ve come to realize how impossible that is — and why it’s so important to refine the message

 

So how do we decide what’s most important? Thankfully Jesus told us. 

  

Jesus said “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:34-40 NIV). 

  

Simply put, Orange’s preschool curriculum and kids ministry curriculum is centered around making what Jesus said matters most, matter most. This curriculum begins with the great commandment which can be broken down into three primary relationships. 

 

Love God

Love Others

Love Yourself

 

Ok, let’s talk about that last one for a second. We realize Jesus wasn’t saying we should be selfish or self-obsessed. But He was connecting how we love God and others to what we think about ourselves. You’ve probably seen how a person relates to God or the people around them is almost always influenced by how they see themselves. So, it’s imperative we help kids understand who God made them to be and how Jesus can transform them.

 

The truth is, a kid’s relationship with God, others, and themselves is life-changing—but only if they understand those relationships in a biblical context. So, in addition to the big three relationships, there are some core theological insights we want to make sure a kid doesn’t miss. We call these the three basic truths, and every lesson, story, and topic re-enforces one of these truths. 

 

We want preschoolers to believe: 

God made me. 

God loves me. 

Jesus wants to be my friend forever.

 

We want kids to believe: 

I need to make the wise choice (which is Wisdom), 

I can trust God no matter what (which is Faith). 

And I should treat others the way I want to be treated (which is Friendship).

 

We want to make sure kids don’t just believe the right things, but these truths begin to transform their lives and become the foundation of an everyday faith.  

 

So, as you evaluate your curriculum choices — ask how it prioritizes what’s most important

 

 

Choosing A Developmentally Appropriate Curriculum

 

You know this. 

 

Preschoolers and kids are not the same. Kids and pre-teens are not the same. 

 

There’s a reason the three basic truths we just presented look different for preschoolers than they do for kids.

 

What we teach and how we teach kids and preschoolers has to be different. At the same time, you know, keeping preschoolers and kids engaged and breaking down theological truths in a way they understand isn’t easy.

 

That’s why it’s so important to find a curriculum that isn’t just theologically sound but is also developmentally appropriate.

 

So, when it comes to developmentally appropriate curriculum, there are a few things important to remember:



There is a BIG difference between a kid and a preschooler.

 

Okay, this is obvious, but sometimes it’s easy to forget this when it comes to programming. It can be easy to expect toddlers to listen like kids and then be confused when they run around instead. At the same time, we can expect fourth or fifth-graders to engage in something that is too childish and then be surprised when they are bored. 

 

Even beyond that, it’s important to know how preschoolers and kids think and learn so they aren’t just engaged, but actually understand the content we teach. 

 

Preschoolers think like artists,  blending the imaginary with the real. They experience the world through the five senses and learn best through participation. That is why movement, music, and art are critical for learning in this phase. 

 

Elementary schoolers think like scientists and understand the world through concrete evidence and repetition. In your conversations about faith, use real-life examples and avoid abstract concepts. Incorporate activities and stories because they are motivated by fun.

 

So — how can your curriculum and what you teach leverage these insights so that each age can understand and retain the timeless truth you unpack each week? 

 

Kids change each year. 

  

As part of the Phase Research Project, Orange underscores how kids change each year.  That means two-year-olds are different than four-year-olds and 2nd graders are different than 5th graders. At each stage, there are some unique developmental opportunities that you’ve never had before, and you may never get again. And your content should reflect that. 

 

Everything should be connected to where a kid is developmentally. 

  

Finally, being developmentally sound means everything that happens in our programming—not just the teaching—is connected to where a kid is developmentally. It impacts how we . . .

 

  • play games
  • worship
  • engage and plan small group conversations
  • design the look and feel of the room
  • the music playing in the background.

 

The curriculum and strategy you choose should bring a holistic understanding of each age group, not just sprinkle in ideas. 

 

At Orange, our developmental science is in our DNA. With our understanding of Phase, everything Orange provides sets the message up to be heard loud and clear in the life of a preschooler and kid. 

 

Since the beginning, we’ve partnered not only with biblical scholars but also with teachers, counselors and psychologists, parents, and other youth workers to understand how to communicate God’s truth in a way that reaches them exactly where they are developmentally. And, in 2014 we launched the Phase Research Project to dive deeper into how adolescent brains work and how we can help them understand God’s truth. 

 

So, how does Phase show up in First Look Preschool Ministry Curriculum and 252 Kids and Preteen Curriculum? It all comes together with our teaching strategy. 

 

Choosing A Teaching Strategy (Scope & Cycle) 

 

When it comes to designing a teaching strategy for kids (and teenager)s—the cornerstone of your strategy comes down to a scope and cycle. 

 

As you evaluate, compare the plan (scope & cycle) that each curriculum presents. 

 

This goes back to the big idea of choosing what you will and won’t teach and choosing it a year (or “years” with Orange) ahead of the week you are teaching. When you plan ahead, not only does your life and workload transform, but you’ll get more strategic with how you engage the kids in your ministry. 

 

So what’s a scope and cycle? Here’s our quick description. 

 

Scope: A comprehensive plan that prioritizes what you teach.

Cycle: Your plan to recycle and reinforce what you teach so it’s effective. 

 

You may have instead heard the phrase “scope and sequence.” Some educators use the term sequence instead of cycle, but sequential learning is more effective when teaching concepts that build on each other in a linear fashion

 

For instance, when learning math, you learn to count, then you learn addition, then multiplication, pre-algebra, then quantum physics. But thinking in terms of sequential learning can be misleading when it comes to faith development. That’s because we don’t learn everything we need to know the first time. At the same time, we often discover something new in a passage of scripture we’ve heard or read a hundred times before.

 

When you think in terms of cyclical learning, you recognize core truths will have a fresh meaning with every new phase of a kid’s life. 

 

So your scope prioritizes what you will teach, and your cycle strategically reinforces those principles again and again in a variety of creative ways. The cycle in your scope and cycle is really important because you can’t make kids show up more consistently, and you can’t make more hours in the week, but you can make the time you have matter more by recycling and reinforcing the things that matter most in each phase. 

 

For First Look Preschool Ministry Curriculum and 252 Kids & Preteen Curriculum work a bit differently with their scope and cycles. First Look works on a 2-year Scope and Cycle, and 252 Kids switches things up every three years. Both help you not only know what you will be teaching next week, but also give you a heads up on what you are teaching next year so you can plan ahead. 

 

For a practical example, download Orange’s scope and cycle here

 

Choosing The Right Curriculum Structure 

 

Finnaly, we arrive to how the curriculum is structured. Will it fit your unique context? Is it thoughtfully organized, missing the essentials of what you need? 

 

Every kid’s ministry and preschool ministry looks different, but nearly all successful children’s programs have seven key segments to their weekly ministry. 

 

For some, this might seem like overkill and way too much. But when you shift how you think about curriculum from just messages and content to a complete strategy for your ministry—you’ll see why. A good curriculum and strategy can help you go beyond, create new relationships with parents, engage kids at home, and so much more. 

 

As you evaluate, determine how a curriculum can help you in each of these seven areas. 

 

The Seven Segments of a Weekly Experience

 

Prelude – setting the tone for the experience

 

One of a preschooler’s first impressions of God begins the moment they step into our ministry environments. When kids step into our environments we have the opportunity to communicate that we like them. 

 

For example, that’s why in both First Look and 252 Kids Curriculum you will find a guide called, “Create the Environment” with ideas to help you create an environment kids love stepping into. 

 

It includes: 

 

  • Background Music Ideas 
  • Set Design
  • Decoration Ideas 

 

Plus, all of this is created to with what kids like in mind so your environment looks and feels like a place kids want to be. 

 

Social – providing time for fun interaction

 

Social looks a little different for preschoolers than it does for kids and preteens. Preschoolers need to feel safe as they enter a new environment so the social activities we provide are super inviting and fun. At the same time, the social activities introduce concepts and new words to preschoolers that they will learn more about in the Bible Story so they are more likely to understand them. 

 

Social looks a little more relational for kids because, at this phase, kids care a lot about friendship. So, we provide social activities that help kids catch up with each other on the past week, and Small Group Leaders can tease big ideas for the story.

 

Transition – the art of moving smoothly from one segment to another.

 

Transitions can make or break a kid’s experience. That’s because preschoolers can get scared or confused if they don’t know what’s coming next. At the same time, if you lose a kid’s attention during a transition, it may be hard to get it back. 

 

That’s why in First Look we provide: 

 

  • Songs
  • Activities
  • Phrases for small group leaders to say

 

In 252 Kids & Preteen we provide: 

 

  • Short phrases small group leaders can say
  • Lighting and music cues

 

 

All of these help transitions go more smoothly so kids and preschoolers stay engaged. 

 

Worship – inviting people to respond to God.

 

This is another segment where First Look and 252 Kids differs, as worship is the fourth segment in First Look and the fifth segment in 252 Kids. Again this is because of the different developmental needs of each group. 

 

Preschoolers need to get the wiggles out, and worship is an opportunity for them to worship with their whole body. That’s why songs for preschoolers will include simple hand motions for each song we recommend. Plus, they will be super simple for preschoolers to understand and incite wonder for a big God who loves them. 

 

The worship segment is after story for kids, but songs are still simple and include hand motions as kids learn best through participation and think concretely. 

 

In both First Look and 252 Kids & Preteen Curriculum we provide

 

  • Developmentally appropriate song suggestions
  • Hand motions to go with the songs we suggest 

 

Story – communicating God’s truth in engaging ways.

 

Preschoolers and kids love stories and they learn best through concrete examples and visuals. That’s why for both First Look and 252 Kids a host and storyteller bring the Bible story to life with props, visuals, costumes, dynamic storytelling, and big facial expressions. 

 

However, if you have worked with preteens before you know they are starting to act too cool for anything childish. So, in Preteen curriculum, the storyteller is replaced with a communicator who sets up the tension and then shares how the Bible answers that tension.

 

We know all of that sounds like a lot, but that’s why we provide resources to help you make it happen! Plus, you can even purchase media packages that will replace live actors and communicators with an engaging video so all you have to do is press play. 

 

First Look and 252 Kids & Preteen Curriculum provides:

 

  • A clear, memorable bottom-line statement
  • Scripts for Hosts, Storytellers, and Communicators (Preteen)
  • Ideas for props, visuals, and costumes
  • Sound effects or visuals

 

 

To learn more about how Orange Curriculum empowers you to create great large group experiences, check out this resource: 

 

How Does Orange Curriculum Equip You To Produce Great Large Group Experiences for Kids? 

 

Groups – creating a safe place to connect.

 

We think that one of the best things we can do for kids in every developmental phase is giving them a consistent adult who believes in God and cares about them. For preschoolers, this helps them feel safe, and for kids, this helps them feel known and liked. Groups are where kids and preschoolers will review the memory verse, bottom line, and do fun activities that help them apply the Bible story to their lives. This is also where they will practice the four faith skills and share prayer requests. 

 

First Look and 252 Kids & Preteen Curriculum provide everything your volunteers need to create a great experience and everything you need to train your volunteers:

 

 

  • A small group guide with leader training each week
  • Phrases for leaders to say to keep kids engaged
  • A variety of activities that cater to every learning style
  • A Small Group Leader email to prep them for the week
  • An app for volunteers to make connecting even easier

 

 

To learn more about what small group leaders are and how Orange Curriculum empowers you to train small group leaders check out: 

 

 

Home – prompting action beyond the experience

 

We believe what happens at home is more important than what happens at church. That’s why First Look and 252 Kids and Preteen Curriculum provide you with resources to empower parents to continue faith conversations at home.

 

We provide: 

 

  • Parent Cues that help parents continue the faith conversations at home 
  • Social media plans to help you engage parents in your community
  • Parent emails to help you cue parents about what you talk about each week
  • Parent Cue App that provides resources for parents

 

 

To learn more about partnering with parents check out: 

 

 

To learn more about how Orange Curriculum empowers you to partner with parents.

 

Finding Support Every Step of The Way

 

No matter what curriculum you choose, you will have to contextualize it for your context if you want to engage kids. What works in one environment may not work in another. That’s why we provide you with an Orange Specialist that can help you innovate your children’s ministry strategy and implement Orange Curriculum in a way that works best for you. 

 

An Orange Specialist is a preschool or kids ministry veteran who works with children’s pastors around the country (and world) to discover best practices.  The Orange Specialist isn’t there to sell or do account management (they have a partner support team for that!) but they are there specifically to help you think through your church context and create a strategic plan for ministry this year. 

 

Best of all . . . there is no cost. The Orange Specialist is part of our curriculum.

 

So, what’s the best curriculum for engaging kids? 

 

How do you choose a curriculum that actually engages kids? 

 

We think you choose a curriculum that is both developmentally sound and theologically appropriate because what you teach matters, and how you teach it matters. 

 

We design our preschool ministry curriculum and children’s ministry curriculum to empower you with everything you need to create an engaging environment where kids and preschoolers can grow in their faith. To discover how,

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