Hidden Curriculum

by Robert Keeley


When we use the term “curriculum,” we tend to think about the “stuff” that we teach – the nuts and bolts, the content, of our coursework.


Teaching the Bible to children is a complex proposition.

- How does one start?

- Do we give them all Jesus stories for the first few years?

- Do we start with creation and then hit some of the popular stories like Noah or David and Goliath?

- If we have these kids for only five mornings for VBS, for example, what do we want them to come away with?

- What if we have them for 24 weeks a year every year from four years old to 12th grade?


There is certainly more than one good answer to these questions. Lots of published and unpublished curriculum have been constructed as concrete responses to these questions. It is worth noting that one size does not fit all churches. There are contextual issues at play here as well.


But there is also more than one type of curriculum. There is the stuff we actively teach, the “formal” curriculum. but there is also the “hidden” curriculum. That consists of the things we teach along the way. The way we have the seating arranged, the way we present the lesson, the way we interact with the students – all these things are part of the hidden curriculum and we often teach as much or even more of the hidden curriculum than we do of the formal curriculum.


A friend of mine was helping his son with some vocabulary for a high school assignment and his son resisted the help. He pointed out that he really didn’t have to learn the vocabulary the way his father wanted him to. He merely had to learn it enough to connect a word from column A to a definition in column B. His son had learned what it was that his teacher really wanted. His son learned about his teacher’s expectations far more quickly than he learned his vocabulary.


I thought about this recently when I saw a discussion online about a recent published curriculum that had students practicing sounds that sounded like a language from an African nation. Having written some curriculum in the past I could see where the writers of this were coming from. They wanted something that the students could do that would be active and allow them to experience something about the lesson they were learning. These are all good things in lesson preparation.


But, in this case, the hidden curriculum was perhaps speaking even louder than the words, reinforcing the stereotypes that children can easily develop about people who come from places quite different from where they live. This is only one example, of course and it is easy to point fingers at a particular publisher or a particular lesson.


The bigger lesson here, though, is that we ALL have a hidden curriculum. There are all sorts of things that we teach beyond our formal curriculum and those are the lessons that tend to stick with us. If you sat through your Church curriculum every week, what lessons would you be learning?



Contributed by Robert J. Keeley , Professor of Education at Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI). He and his wife, Laura, direct children ministries at their church. His books include Helping Our Children Grow in Faith (2008), Celebrating the Milestones of Faith (with Laura Keeley (2009), Shaped by God (2010), and Dear Parent: A Guide for Family Faith Formation (2019).

©2019 by Children's Spirituality Summit.