While accessible and simple to understand, many elements in the Rio curriculum assume the inquisitive intelligence of children.

Rio is a family-friendly digital curriculum from David C Cook. The stated goal of this curriculum is to strengthen children’s relationships with God and others. It does that by focusing on the ministry leader’s relationship with the child, the child’s relationship with other children, the child’s relationship with their parent, and the parent’s relationship with the ministry leader. The whole of this relational ecosystem happens within a canopy of relationship with God.

While available for early elementary, elementary, and preteens, this spotlight will focus on Rio’s early elementary curriculum.

(By the way, if you are looking at this review because you’re trying to choose your next Sunday school curriculum, you might want to check out my complete guide to making that decision.)

What makes Rio great

Heart Prep

Imagine that you’re on the schedule to teach this week, so Monday evening you decide to dig into the curriculum and check out the lesson. The first element you find is the “Heart Prep” section. This brilliant devotional opening to every lesson prepares the leader’s heart with a thoughtful devotional, meditative Scripture, and a prayer.

It’s easy to think of Sunday school prep as a box that needs to be checked off in your weekly to-do list. “Heart Prep” is so valuable because it not only provides a quick personal retreat, it helps the leader pause and meditate on the eternal significance of God’s Word and the joy and responsibility of helping kids experience the kingdom of God where they are.

Leader Tips

Sprinkled throughout the curriculum are “Leader Tips.” These short little callouts alert you to potential opportunities and challenges that might come up as you’re facilitating the lesson. One lesson required children to draw a picture of a family member, and the “Leader Tip” provided a helpful suggestion for those kids who were too conscientious in their portrait. Another tip reminded leaders to be mindful of kids’ allergies when handing out snacks—very helpful.

Scripture memorization

If you’re looking for a curriculum that still focuses on Scripture memorization, Rio’s a great resource. Each week features a verse to memorize, and—even for early elementary—they’re meaty, thoughtful verses like:

  • “Wisdom and power belong to God. Advice and understanding also belong to him.” —Job 12:13
  • “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we should also love one another.”—1 John 4:11
  • “The Lord is good. His faithful love continues forever. It will last for all time to come.”—Psalm 100:5

Each quarter the kids focus on only a couple of verses, which allows them to really marinate in the passage being memorized. What’s nice is how the verses are built upon. In one unit the kids learn “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), and in the next unit, while talking about Jesus’ childhood, the kids are reminded that they know the first verse of the Torah, and they recite Genesis 1:1 together.

It’s nice to see a curriculum so intent on getting Scripture into the heart of children, while continuing to reinforce it.

Speaking intelligently to children

As a father of two, I was often wearied by curriculum that spoke down to my children. My kids often dreaded Sunday schools we attended, but that’s mostly because they weren’t learning anything and were often bored. I think they would have been excited to attend a Sunday school that used Rio.

While accessible and simple to understand, many elements in the Rio curriculum assume the inquisitive intelligence of children. In a lesson about Jesus as a child, there’s a brilliant breakout section that focuses on the afikomen hunt portion of Jewish Passover celebrations. The kids learn about the hunt for hidden pieces of bread at the end of a Passover meal. When Jewish children find this hidden bread (afikomen), they return it for candy. It’s a way to keep the kids alert and awake through a sometimes long Passover dinner. This is a just a brilliant way to connect kids to Jesus own experience as a Jewish child.

In a lesson on Jesus and the centurion from Luke 7, children wrestle with what it means to have faith in someone and how authority works. These are pretty heady concepts that are handled in a sensitive and understandable way for kids.

And I loved seeing this Leader Tip among the questions: “Don’t be afraid of silence during these moments of reflection and response. If none of your children choose to respond out loud, that’s fine. Trust that the Spirit is still speaking to them in quiet ways.”


What you need to know

Rio Early Elementary is best for:

Age range: Early elementary (with shared quarterly themes across age levels)
Denomination: Any
Bible translation: NIRV
Publisher: David C Cook

Cost: starting at $134.99

Format and media:

Class format: Classroom
Material format: Disciplr, DVD, downloadable
Includes video? Yes


Scope and sequence duration: 2 years
Follows ISSL? No
Mid-Week/Supplemental? No

Want more? Browse and sample Rio curriculum on Disciplr.

Jayson D. Bradley

Author Jayson D. Bradley

Jayson D. Bradley is a writer and pastor in Bellingham, WA. He’s a regular contributor to Relevant Magazine, and his blog has been voted one of the 25 Christian blogs you should be reading.

More posts by Jayson D. Bradley

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