We’re rounding the corner to summer, the perfect time to look for a new Sunday school curriculum for your kids’ ministry. As you research and compare resources, it’s important to consider how gender is communicated in the materials so that children in our midst don’t need to “unlearn” patriarchy when they grow up. Here are five tips for choosing a Sunday school curriculum rooted in gender equality.
1. Check the scope and sequence
The scope and sequence is the list of lessons and Bible stories included in the curriculum, and the order in which they are presented. This is usually available on the publisher’s website—if it’s not, ask a sales representative to send you a copy. Look to see what stories are chosen. Are there Bible stories that feature women? (Abraham and Sarah, Esther, Ruth and Naomi, Deborah, Mary and Martha, Tabitha, Lydia, etc.) If not, consider the ramifications of kids growing up without the faithful witnesses of these Biblical women.
2. Look at the images
The images included in the marketing materials and the curriculum itself can clue you into whether the materials are egalitarian. Are there both women and men shown in leadership? Are there both boys and girls pictured? How is God depicted? (Hopefully, God isn’t pictured except for as Jesus and hopefully God is not prescribed a gender.) Look to see if the story Bible includes women and girls on the pages, next to the men, even if they aren’t mentioned directly in the Bible story. If kids don’t see both genders represented in the stories of our faith, they will grow up without a full picture of the kingdom of God.
3. Pay attention to the characters
A lot of Sunday school curricula are character driven and may even include animated videos to accompany the print resources. Do the characters in the videos show an even mix of boys and girls? Are the boys and girls breaking typical gender stereotypes? For instance, if the videos show kids playing sports are the girls just as good (or better) than the boys? Are the boys just as interested (or more) in arts and crafts as the girls? If pastors are shown, are there both male and female pastors? Are both genders of kids empowered to pursue leadership? Animated characters can help kids relate faith to their own lives, and having well-rounded characters who aren’t bound by traditional gender roles go a long way in shaping kids’ Christian identities.
4. Notice gendered language
Obtain a sample of the curriculum and look for how language is used. When referring to pastors, are only male pronouns used? Are only female pronouns used to describe Sunday school teachers or Christian education directors? This is a red flag that the publisher isn’t prioritizing gender equality in its materials. Some publishing houses will take it a step further and prohibit gendered pronouns for God. This is trickier, and not as common. But if you never see God referred to as “he” (or “she!”) you can feel confident that the curriculum is striving for an egalitarian approach to faith formation.
5. Find out who’s on staff
This one may not be as easy to figure out, but try to investigate the gender ratio of the staff members who were responsible for creating the curriculum. Take it a step further and find out who was hired externally to write and edit the curriculum. Hopefully there’s a good mix of genders represented on the development team.
Imagine a world where kids grow up knowing without a doubt that both girls and boys can have equal and shared roles in the church. This can happen with the right Sunday school resources! And who knows, it may influence the adults teaching and leading the kids through the lessons too. I hope these tips are helpful to you as you sift through the myriad of Sunday school options. If you have used a specific Sunday school curriculum that that fits these criteria, please share them with us in the comments!
Naomi Krueger is a resource developer of children’s Sunday school curriculum at sparkhouse, the ecumenical division of Augsburg Fortress Publishers in Minneapolis. Her views on this blog are her own. Banner image courtesy of Flickr user Tom Mandel.