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Inclusive Option for Vacation Bible School 2024

By Nick Mundwiller

Alpha Article

As churches do their contextual and demographic research for which Vacation Bible School curriculum to offer, attention to the culture of discipleship within the church and offering a VBS which is complementary to a church’s mission and vision becomes very important.

If a core value of discipleship ends up being related to inclusiveness and the formation of a beloved community, those can be challenging topics to lead at a developmentally appropriate age. One example that has been shared with us comes from the Reconciling Ministries Network, and we talked with one of their publishers about why their organization felt it important to develop a VBS curriculum for this year:

Reconciling Ministries Network

JUST LIKE ME VBS: Welcome to the Garden; We’re so Glad You’re Here!

“So, tell me: What exactly is an inclusive vacation Bible school curriculum?”

I’ve been asked this question a lot in the past eight months. It’s also a question I’ve asked myself weekly since signing on as the managing editor for Reconciling Ministries Network’s new vacation Bible school project. It’s the question that inspired our development team and challenged our writing team. It is a question that continues to burn in our hearts, even as we’ve finished the writing process.

When we asked others what they were looking for in an inclusive VBS, we received so many answers:

  • “I want a curriculum that I don’t have to adjust or edit gendered language to match my context.”
  • “I’m tired of VBS kits that assume every ministry has a ton of money to spend.”
  • “How will it serve students with diverse learning needs?”
  • “Why are there fun lessons only for kids? We need resources for youth and adults too!”
  • “I want to see some characters who look like me for once!”
  • “I need something that tells my kids that they are human. They need to know that God loves them, even when it seems like the world doesn’t.”

Just Like Me is a new, adaptable vacation Bible school curriculum that centers on the deep and active faith lives of children while also speaking to the real-world context in which our kids live. This curriculum is designed to help kids celebrate their own identity as beloved creations of God—just as they are. During the week, children will meet Community Garden Guides and First and Second Testament Bible Characters that will help students build vital social and spiritual skills to support active faith development.

On the first day of vacation Bible school, students will meet Amani, a young girl with a lot of questions who tends to experiment and observe to find answers. Amani will introduce students to Thomas, a disciple of Jesus who also needed to see something to believe and begin to understand. During Day 1, the story of “doubting Thomas” is turned on its head as we explore the ways questions help us grow in our faith and in our knowledge of the world around us. This inquisitive nature will carry us through our weeks as we learn self-advocacy from Bartimaeus, generosity from a child who helped to feed the five thousand, community from the widow and her neighbors who collected empty jars to make a miracle, and solidarity and advocacy for another from the young, enslaved girl who spoke up so that Naaman could be healed.

The Just Like Me curriculum package includes illustrations of Garden Guides that display a variety of identities, recorded tracks of songs that support the theological lesson of each day, scripted lessons for opening and closing gatherings, suggestions for activities to incorporate science, service, or advocacy, and more! Each package also includes scripted youth and adult lessons that invite the whole church family to join the fun.

So, what is an inclusive curriculum? We think that it seeks to include, lift up, and celebrate as many identities, realities, and experiences as possible. Just Like Me was created through an intentional development and writing process that included many diverse voices. Development and writing team members from across the country used their skills and expertise to create a biblically based, theologically informed curriculum that allows children and church family members of all ages to explore vital Christian concepts of community, inclusion, and intersectional justice, while centering the agency and experience of children. It is a curriculum that brings us together in community while also honoring those things that make us unique and special.

I’m not sure I’m the best person to give you a perfect answer about what an inclusive curriculum is. I’m not sure any one person can do that. I’m sure that we’ve missed something or left out someone that we wish we could have included. What I can tell you is that I wish my childhood had included the joy, affirmation, and slight defiance I felt the very first time I was able to sing the Just Like Me theme song:

Just like me is who I wanna be
Cuz God made me who I am
No matter what people say
We’re better together, we can weather whatever
You be you and I’ll be
Just. Like. ME!

Welcome to the garden. We’re so glad you’re here!

Click here to learn more and purchase the 'Just Like Me' VBS curriculum.

Nick Mundwiller (they/them) is an organizer, educator, and advocate with more than thirteen years’ experience in community education and facilitation around social justice issues. Nick is a lifelong Methodist who currently serves as the managing editor for the Just Like Me VBS project.

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