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Whirl by Sparkhouse: Curriculum Review

“Using a curriculum like Whirl can bring worship and Sunday school together for families… Learner leaflets, which children take home, have seven different ways families can put their faith into action throughout the week.”

 

Whirl Lectionary Sunday School by Sparkhouse
If you are looking for a lectionary-based Sunday school curriculum for children prekindergarten through age 6, check out Whirl, published by Sparkhouse, a division of Augsburg Fortress of the ministry Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is a three-year curriculum that follows the Revised Common Lectionary.

The materials are designed to use technology, language, and active learning concepts that match 21st-century lifestyles. The goal is to provide thought-provoking, Bible-based learning that combines creativity, collaboration, and humor. 
The design teams work with leaders from several different denominations and perspectives. Practitioners and congregations from around the world are consulted in creating the sessions, resulting in materials that, for the most part, are culturally sensitive and inclusive.

Whirl includes lesson materials for fall, winter, and spring quarters each year for four age groups: PreK-kindergarten, grades 1-2, grades 3-4, and grades 5-6. Through the use of color and icons, Whirl also makes it easy for leaders and children to follow the seasons of the church year.

As with many lectionary-based curricula, the primary focus is on passages from the Gospels; only about 15 percent of the three-year cycle comes from the Old Testament. Children and teachers using lectionary-based resources often miss the richness of the Hebrew scripture and its role in faith and tradition.

Use of Animation in Whirl
An appealing part of the Whirl curriculum are the videos for each age group. Animated characters representing each age division encounter questions and challenges relating to their faith. The videos help children think about what they would do in similar situations, instead of telling them what they should do.

Program Structure
Every Whirl lesson follows a four-part sequence for all four age groups. The Director Guides include a large group opening for each lesson where the children sing together, hear a scripture passage, make connections to the liturgical season, discover the day’s theme, and pray. After this general opening, children are divided into the different age groupings.

Specific ideas for each age group, which use the same four-part sequence, are available in separate Leader Packs. Smaller churches with single classrooms for children of different ages can use the Director Guides, which have suggested children’s messages and worship bulletins for each week that can be reproduced for each child.

Music is available in a songbook and CD, which includes vocal and instrumental songs for each week. Music recommendations from the songbook range from spiritual messages to silly vocals to songs about serving others.

After the general gathering each week, groups start their time together by identifying where they are in the church year and watching an animated video to set up the lesson. Then they look at the story in the Bible. Whirl story Bibles for younger children and Whirl NRSV Bibles are excellent, but not necessary if other Bibles are available.

Activities for each age group are tied to the learner leaflets, although creative leaders can develop their own activities. Printed lesson materials are available for purchase or through an online subscription. Purchasing all the resources, including videos, teacher guides, student leaflets, music CD and songbook and the Director Guides, is costly.

Final Thoughts
Using a curriculum like Whirl can bring worship and Sunday school together for families, and help children explore the life of their parish. Learner leaflets, which children take home every week, have seven different ways families can put their faith into action throughout the week.

Whirl is a well-rounded, theologically sound lectionary curriculum for children. Check out the website for sample sessions and other information to see if it would work in your setting.

 

Samples Materials from Whirl
More samples are available for download through the Sparkhouse website.

Whirl PreK teacher guide

Whirl Pre-K Teacher Guide

 

Whirl preK leaflet

Whirl Pre-K Leaflet

 


Dorothy Linthicum is a program coordinator and instructor for the Center of the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2015 issue of Episcopal Teacher, published by the Center for the Ministry of Teaching.

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