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Behind the scenes: An interview with creators of new curriculum for young children

   
 
   

Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Publishing Network joint release
June 11, 2010
- John Longhurst

WATERLOO, Ont. and SCOTTDALE, Pa. - This summer Mennonite Publishing Network (MPN) is releasing Wee Wonder, a new curriculum for two-year-olds. John Longhurst, MPN's Director of Marketing & Sales, interviewed Wee Wonder's creators, Chrissie Walls and Lori Steiner Jans, about the unique ways that children in this age group learn about God.

Walls creates Sunday school curriculum and coordinates the Sunday school program at the Rochester, NY Area Mennonite Fellowship. Steiner Jans is a teacher at a Christian preschool in Dayton, OH. She attends the Happy Corner Church of the Brethren and Dayton Mennonite Fellowship.

Why is it important for the church to offer curriculum like Wee Wonder for two-year-olds?

Chrissie: Two-year-olds are at a unique point in their development. They are curious about everything in their world, and want to explore each thing that catches their eye. While there are commonalities between them and older preschoolers, much of their communication is still nonverbal. They need a curriculum like Wee Wonder that isn't focused on spoken language.

Lori: Because of their developmental stage, they learn more by doing, and from the environment they are in, rather than by hearing.

Are two year-olds ready to learn about God?

Chrissie: Yes-twos are absorbing so much! They are ready and eager to learn new things. Their hearts are open and receptive. This is a wonderful time to provide them with experiences in a loving faith community, to tell them about God's love, the Bible, and the church (perhaps for the first time). Their "spiritual vocabulary" can grow along with all the other words they are learning at this age.

Lori: Many children have a spiritual awareness at a young age. A Sunday school experience that is appropriate for their age level and learning style can provide them with a spiritual community, and help them to learn more about God.

What kinds of things can they learn about God at that age?

Chrissie: They can learn about God's love revealed in creation, in the life of Jesus, throughout the Biblical stories, and in our relationships with other people.

Lori: They can also develop an attitude of wonder and awe about God as they learn about how God loves them, and about how God wants to have a relationship with them.

What's the best way to teach them about God?

Chrissie: Wee Wonder uses songs, finger plays, games and sensory experiences to expand children's understanding of God and the church. As they explore God's world in this way, building relationships with trusted adults and new friends, they can grow in their understanding of God and Jesus.

Lori: Since two-year-olds understand by doing and experiencing, they need lots of activity-they will learn more through play than by the words that are said to them. Through this they learn that God loves them.

What is the role of the wider faith community in developing spirituality in children?

Chrissie: The broader faith community can communicate God's love by creating a safe, respectful, and loving atmosphere for children. Love for God is expressed in love for others. Children need to experience love so that they too can share love with others.

Lori: The wider faith community can provide unconditional love, safety and build relationships with the children. From these concrete experiences, they learn more about God, and can begin to name the spiritual experiences they are already experiencing.

Why are you excited about Wee Wonder?

Chrissie: I'm excited about Wee Wonder because it hones in on the unique characteristics of this age group. Each decision we made-whether about music, Bible stories, or play experiences-was guided by this developmental understanding of twos.

Lori: I like Wee Wonder because it builds on the strengths of twos. Those who work with twos can create a play environment where they can be surrounded in love and God's word while they learn about God through all their senses.

Wee Wonder is available as a boxed set for $159.99 USD/$183.99 CAD; items are also available individually. Go to mpn.net/weewonder for more information.

Faith & Life Resources is the congregational resources imprint of Mennonite Publishing Network, the publishing ministry of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.

Sidebar: New curriculum helps young children learn about God

Can two year-olds learn about God?

Yes, says Linda Martin, who has worked in the field of early childhood education for 38 years.

"It's a known fact that very young children know things no one has told them," says Martin, who served as a consultant for Wee Wonder: Sharing God's Love With Twos, a new resource from Faith & Life Resources, the congregational resources imprint of Mennonite Publishing Network (MPN).

"Toddlers can hear the words 'God loves you' and understand the meaning of it by the way in which it is said and displayed to them," she says.

Helping two and three-year-olds learn about God's love is the goal of Wee Wonder, says Eleanor Snyder, who directs Faith & Life Resources, the congregational resources imprint of MPN.

"The premise for Wee Wonder is to provide an environment of wonder and awe that will nurture that relationship, and help them draw closer to God," she says. 

Through play, Bible stories, prayers, songs and other activities, very young children are encouraged to explore God's world, Snyder adds, noting that churches can use the curriculum to "nurture young children in a loving relationship with God."

At the same time, Wee Wonder aims to "foster a sense of belonging to a faith community," she says.

"Two-year-olds are just beginning to expand their world beyond home and family. The experience in a Wee Wonder setting helps them know that they are part of a larger world where God's love can be found."

But Wee Wonder isn't just for church, she notes. "It can also be used in Christian day cares, or anyplace where people want to communicate about God with small children."

Snyder hopes that Wee Wonder can "help young children explore God's wonderful and awesome world within a safe environment of a Christian community. How we teach the Biblical story to our very young children has a strong impact on their future spiritual growth and formation."

For Martin, who attends the Salford, Pa. Mennonite Church, the new curriculum is exciting because "it is user-friendly and very age appropriate . . . in order for the children to grow up to create a better world for the future, it is vital for them to start learning about God's love for themselves and others at an early age, at the very beginning of their church experience."

Wee Wonder is available as a boxed set for $159.99 USD/$183.99 CAD; items are also available individually. Go to mpn.net/weewonder for more information.

Faith & Life Resources is the congregational resources imprint of Mennonite Publishing Network, the publishing ministry of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.