As a recently retired credentialed religious educator, I've been in your shoes, and I know what it's like to try to plan content that kids want to attend. To further complicate matters, your time is very limited and your volunteers are hard enough to recruit without making them spend lots of time preparing for class.
Essentially, those factors are why and how I started writing curricula.
My first curriculum was written out of desperation and it shattered my paradigms, teaching me how important the right curricula is in the classroom. We were using two traditional, and still available, UU curricula in our middle school class and everyone absolutely hated it: the kids hated it, so they stopped attending; the teachers hated it, so they stopped volunteering; and the parents hated hearing their kids complain about coming on Sunday mornings, so they stopped participating. The message I heard over and over was how BORING classes were, and why should anyone want to be part of something that's sure to bore them?
I heard that some congregations were trying to teach classes using the book "The Gospel According to the Simpsons", but were having difficulties because the book is Christian-based. Other DREs started telling me that they'd be interested if I put together a Simpsons-based UU curriculum, and "D'Oh, God!" was born.
To say it affected attendance would be a gross understatement; attendance quadrupled that year! And my eyes were opened. Make class fun and kids want to come; once they're there, we can go about teaching them the lessons we think Unitarian Universalist kids should receive. That curriculum quickly led to "The Fifth Dimension", which uses "The Twilight Zone" episodes, and the reception for that class was even better than The Simpsons. Many more curricula followed.
Popular culture is a tried and true teaching tool for a reason: TV shows, books, games, and music capture a child or youth's attention and keep their interest. Maintained interest leads to learning opportunities that allow us to explore social action and social justice issues; examine ethical and theological questions; understand UU values; and integrate the teachings of world religions - all while having fun!
I've never written a curriculum without first talking to kids in the targeted age to get their input and to make sure that they had interest in my curriculum idea. I'm a mom, too, and my son attended RE classes with me, so I've also had firsthand concerns and ensured that my curricula met child, parent, and DRE/DFD needs. It's been my goal to ensure that all curricula is fun, easy to teach, easy to administer, and contains lessons parents want kids to learn.
I've long thought that there's no reason you can't have fun while learning! Old school Sunday School might be dead, but Imagine-RE has been helping UU congregations have 21st century Sunday School classes that help to build future Unitarian Universalists.
If you would like to talk further with me about any of my curricula, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karen Hager, Author
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