“Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14, 15, English Standard Version).
By Diane Stortz
Like many grandparents, I pray frequently for my three young grandchildren. I pray for protection, good health, and good relationships. I pray for them to know and choose to follow Jesus at an early age, and to be faithful.
To that end, I pray for them to know and rely on the Word of God, the Bible—to know what it teaches, whom it reveals, and why that matters.
Statistically, Bible literacy among Americans continues to fall. Not a surprise, right? But knowledge of the Word of God among Christians—and its place in their lives—keeps falling too. For example, a 2009 Barna report1 indicated
• just half of all self-identified Christians firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles (not the facts, just the principles) that it teaches;
• fewer than 4 out of every 10 self-identified Christians firmly accept the teaching that a person can be influenced by spiritual forces, such as angels or demons; and
• an overwhelming majority of self-identified Christians (81 percent) contend that spiritual maturity is achieved by following the rules in the Bible.
In 2010, Barna studies revealed “few adults believe that their faith is meant to be the focal point of their life or to be integrated into every aspect of their existence. Further, a growing majority believe the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God’s presence or power, but not a living entity.”2
That’s the bad news.
Now for some good news!
Guiding the Next Generation
Since 2005, churches using Standard Publishing’s HeartShaper curriculum for toddlers through sixth grade have successfully guided the next generation of Christians toward becoming biblically literate, developing Bible skills, understanding the big story of the Bible—and most important, knowing God through interacting with his Word and putting it into practice.
HeartShaper is the only Sunday school curriculum that promotes biblical literacy by taking children through the Bible five times from preschool through sixth grade. And while they are discovering the Bible’s big picture, children also are learning how to glean from God’s Word for themselves, developing Bible skills they will use for the rest of their lives. Each HeartShaper age level builds on the skills taught in the previous level.
And now, in the first major upgrade in seven years, this highly successful curriculum is being updated with attractive new features.
“HeartShaper’s goal has always been focused on helping kids love God and his Word—and to live it out,” says curriculum editor Rosemary Mitchell. “New HeartShaper features mean that goal will continue, even in an increasingly digital age.”
Engaging, User Friendly, Customizable
Key changes to the HeartShaper curriculum include the following:
• Updated lessons with even more engaging activities for today’s children
• Teacher guides redesigned to be even more user friendly
• The option to download teacher guides as Microsoft Word files to modify and customize
• Activity upgrades in student pages and take-home papers
• Contemporary new art and design, including artwork by nationally recognized illustrators whose work appears in publications such as Highlights, American Girl, and Focus on the Family children’s publications
• An increased emphasis on and help for reaching and teaching children with special needs
“HeartShaper is committed to providing teachers with resources to adapt activities and lessons to fully include children with special needs in Sunday school classrooms,” says Stephanie Woeste, Standard Publishing’s vice president for marketing. “Every quarter, HeartShaper users can download a free newsletter that offers specific ways to customize lessons for children with a wide variety of special needs, from autism to Down syndrome to unique sensory disorders and more. The lessons provide specific direction for making sure all children are included in activities and lessons in a way that works best for them.”
HeartShaper also sponsors an ongoing conversation about special needs, in partnership with CM Connect and host Vangie Rodenbeck, on www.blogtalkradio.com. (For complete details, visit www.HeartShaper.com and click on Special Needs.)
Listening to Research
“Standard Publishing wants kids—and teachers—to look forward to learning from and interacting with God’s Word,” says curriculum editor Lu Ann Nickelson. “We always listen to the feedback of users who suggest upgrades or changes.”
Listening undergirded the extensive research behind the current HeartShaper upgrades.
Six focus groups of children’s ministry leaders in three different cities identified key factors driving current and future selection of Sunday school materials and rated factors that could affect curriculum selection, including the importance of electronic delivery options. Participants gave input on design and content—how well it engaged students, how convenient it was for teachers, and biblical accuracy. An educational publishing firm specializing in product development and consulting provided the HeartShaper team with evaluations of art, page design, type styles, and age appropriateness.
Standard also engaged age-level experts to review every lesson and give input regarding lesson content, visuals, and student activities during collaborative phone conferences with the HeartShaper editors.
Building a Relationship
The HeartShaper curriculum has always focused on knowing God as he reveals himself in the Bible and applying what the Bible teaches. “HeartShaper helps kids develop the ability to study God’s Word by integrating Bible skills into every lesson,” says Nickelson. “And the curriculum also guides students to ask and answer why each Bible story or lesson is important to them. We want kids to build a relationship with God.”
This two-pronged approach—helping children develop Bible skills and a relationship with God—is even stronger in the updated curriculum.
In one early elementary lesson about baby Jesus, for example, the original lesson focus was “Jesus is a special baby.” But children are often told that all babies are special, so what makes Jesus’ birth different from that of others? The revised focus statement and lesson give the answer: “God’s Son, Jesus, was born.” Yes, Jesus is special—in fact, he is God’s Son come down from Heaven to save us all!
“Something that developed through the years and is now integrated directly into the lessons is helping children understand the simple but big picture of the Bible,” says editor Margie Redford. “God prepared for salvation (the Old Testament), he sent salvation (the Gospels), and he offers salvation (Acts through Revelation). I love teaching this cohesive look at God’s Word. It’s all about God and what he has done for us.”
Building Bible Skills
From the toddler just beginning to grasp that the Bible is God’s special book to the preteen easily navigating through a Bible—printed, online, or app—children who go through the HeartShaper curriculum learn Bible skills at all age levels and build on what they learn from year to year. By the time they leave sixth grade, preteens know how to use the Bible themselves to find answers to life questions.
You can view all of the basic and optional Bible skills in the HeartShaper curriculum at www.HeartShaper.com. (Click the Training tab and then scroll down to the Developing Bible Skills link.) It’s quite an amazing list! Children will use for the rest of their lives these skills they learn in HeartShaper classes.
Linking Church and Home
Taking advantage of technology, HeartShaper connects with parents of students with customizable letters for families that teachers can modify and print at the start of each new quarter. And parents can go online to download free, weekly Family Together Time and Faith & Family pages with activities and devotions related to the week’s lesson so the learning continues at home.
Reasons to Celebrate
Churches of many backgrounds, shapes, and sizes use HeartShaper from Standard Publishing, and word on the street (and the HeartShaper website) celebrates the updated curriculum with testimonies like this one from Melanie Wharton, children’s director at Parkview Christian Church in Wooster, Ohio: “The new HeartShaper curriculum is more personalized for the student, showing them how they fit into God’s plan. The discipling aspect and building of Bible skills are strong. I see the lessons sparking meaningful discussions, and deeper thinking. The modern graphics are a plus, too!”
To involve children in the HeartShaper update, Standard sponsored an artwork contest last fall, based on the theme “Jesus Loves Me.” Children in early elementary, middle elementary, and preteen classes were invited to enter an original drawing, and younger children colored pictures that were provided. Six winners received $500 each for their Sunday school classroom, and their winning illustrations will appear on the Fall 2014 HeartShaper curriculum covers.
Before long, the children in today’s HeartShaper classes will be adults. I think that when they look back, they’ll recognize themselves and their HeartShaper experiences in Paul’s words to Timothy at the beginning of this article:
“Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed”—in God as he has revealed himself and his plan in the Bible;
“Knowing from whom you learned it”—from engaged teachers and trusted curriculum, strongly connected to the home;
“And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings”—the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation;
“Which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”—the unchanging goal of Standard Publishing’s updated HeartShaper curriculum.
1“Barna Studies the Research, Offers a Year-in-Review Perspective,” December 18, 2009, www.barna.org.
Diane Stortz, a former curriculum editor and acquisitions editor for Standard Publishing, is the author of The Sweetest Story Bible (Zondervan) and A Woman’s Guide to Reading the Bible in a Year (Bethany House). She blogs at A Bible Place, www.dianestortz.com.
The HeartShaper website is heartshaper.com.
Standard Publishing’s website is www.standardpub.com.