I had the fortunate and rare experience of coming to work in a church with a thriving Sunday school program. My job was to maintain it, and since I had absolutely no experience with running such a program, this was a good way to learn.
We use a workshop rotation model at St. Paul’s. We teach five major lessons over the course of a year. Kindergarten through fifth grade rotate through six workshops in six weeks (drama, music, art, cooking and science, movie, and liturgics). This approach is fun and exciting for our students while encouraging them to develop a deeper understanding of key stories from the Bible.
When it came time for me to plan the next set of rotations, I went straight to the sources we used for the previous two years. I was disappointed to find that we had already taught most of the rotations. These materials from a few particular publishers had worked well but were getting old and tired. Being new to the curriculum world, I was weighed down by just how much material was out there. It was hard to wade through it all.
I knew of Sparkhouse from their youth curriculum, and I was so happy to see that they offered Sunday school options for all ages, including rotation lessons. The Spark: Activate Faith rotations are plentiful and comprehensive. The Sparkhouse website is easy to read and navigate. Picking out the rotations for the upcoming year is like opening Christmas presents!
We made an easy transition to the Spark rotations. Each leader guide contains useful information about how to best organize the workshop schedule. If the rotation model is new to you, I recommend ordering any Spark leader guide and checking out the user-friendly examples they provide. Spark really encourages you to do what you can with what you’ve got. Each workshop gives options for younger children, older children, and an option for group gatherings with all ages.
I can’t emphasize enough the ease with which our volunteers understand the lessons. However, I always try to provide these adults with some kind of theological background on the scripture. Spark doesn’t provide any kind of adult reflections, and at our church the volunteers miss adult education time to teach Sunday school. The background material I provide helps them process the story for themselves on an adult level.
As with any curriculum, we need to make small changes to better serve our children. For example, the movie workshop offers three movie segments and a discussion about each. We stick to one and watch a longer segment. Similarly, the Spark Bibles they include with each lesson are good, but we have a large collection of children’s Bibles already. It seemed unnecessary to purchase a whole new set. We did need to buy an additional CD for the coloring pages/activity sheets, since they aren’t included in the curriculum.
Spark is highly structured, with lesson plans that specify exactly what to say and when to say it. Our experienced teachers don’t need this much direction, but some of the newer volunteers appreciate it. Many of the questions within the lesson also include a suggested answer. The biggest challenge for me with this curriculum is how can we provide enough structure and guidance for our volunteers and students while still allowing for creativity, exploration, and discovery.
I love Spark: Activate Faith because it is fresh, clear, and simple. Sometimes it errs in the direction of too simple in order to make things easy for volunteers. This curriculum could work in any mainline Protestant church. Spark is a strong and simple introduction to the rotation model if you are interested in trying it out. It has helped us keep our lessons fresh and interesting.
Ellen King is the Director of Christian Education for Children and Youth at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA.