When our new pastor asked me to “give leadership to our elementary and pre-school Sunday school program,” it seemed to fit my passion for grounding kids in a strong relationship with the Lord that would make a difference for the rest of their lives. It wasn’t until I said yes that I learned that VBS and summer camp were involved as well as the scholarship committee for our graduating seniors. And then Pastor announced that he thought we needed a new curriculum. (Actually he thought we could write our own, but he was going to have to find a new CE director if he wanted to do that.)
Okay, so maybe the program was broken a little. But nobody’s perfect. This one was a classic! It had been around since I was a kid. Come to think of it, maybe that was reason enough to take a look at what had come out in the last ... well, more recently than mid-twentieth century.
What I found has thrilled me. RIO (from David C. Cook) is totally new, not an up-dating of something from my generation. It focuses on a relationship with God rather than Bible characters or well-known stories. The memory verse is a vital part of the lesson itself, not tacked on because...well, because kids are supposed to learn memory verses in Sunday school. There are only one or two verses per month, depending on the age of the students, so you are coming back to that same verse multiple times. By the end of the month, the students can not only recite the words and get a sticker, but they know what it means and how it applies to their lives.
There is no formula to these lessons. The audio clips, videos and activities depend on what best fits this lesson, not a predictable pattern. Places to pause and think about how this applies to your own life don't just come at the end of the lesson when we are running out of time and one of my more impatient fourth grade boys is asking, “Are we done yet?” The Big Bible Panorama puts it all in perspective. (More about that next week.)
Another thing I really like about this curriculum is that it is family oriented. Class leaders are mentors, assisting parents to disciple their children. When I showed my leaders the family prompts, one for each of the fall lessons, they got excited. “These are short and easy—not like asking people to sit down for an hour after dinner.” There’s also a family newsletter with powerful articles, and family activities that go along with the units.
Which brings me to another thing I like about RIO: the units for all three age-levels are on the same theme. Lessons are different; memory verses are different; but the theme is the same. As a child moves through different age-levels, he returns to the same God-centered themes, but each time with more depth. My fifth and sixth graders will be adding Jesus as the Word who was present from the beginning to the creation story this fall.
What I DON’T like about RIO is that it is only 1st grade to pre-teen, but I’ve been told the 1st and 2nd grade lessons can be adapted for kindergarten. We are talking about using the leader preparations for teaching the same themes to a class for parents, so the whole church could be in the same conversation about God.
Disclaimer: We have not yet started teaching this curriculum. It will be our fall adventure. This rave review is based on examining the materials, training my leaders and preparing to teach this fall. (I did NOT receive any free copies for this endorsement.)
The challenge is that RIO is all digital. We download the materials and print what we need. Some of our leaders are less computer savvy than others, but I understand this is the wave of the future. In public schools more and more of the curriculum comes as download. I decided it will be worth the effort that I will need to put in this first year to make it work. I am hoping that digital means RIO can be downloaded anywhere in the world without paying shipping, but I have not verified that possibility with the publisher. Of course, it won’t fit all cultures.
Take a look at the website. Go to the Family tab and read some of the newsletters. Notice especially the prompts we will be e-mailing each week to our families. There’s even an iPhone app for Family Currents. Maybe your church needs more than an up-date too.
Next week I'll tell you more about why I like the Big Bible Panorama.