Need help figuring out which vacation Bible school (VBS) will have the most impact in your community and children’s lives? Use the following 20 filters Children’s Ministry Magazine has used for years in VBS reviews.
1. Educational Philosophy Are there clear, concrete, measurable objectives? If your curriculum stats as an objective for preschoolers that they would know the full joy of believing in God, how does a teacher measure that? Or if one states that young elementary children would share deeply about their faith, is that realistic?
2. Is it teacher- or student-focused? What percentage of control does the teacher have? What are teachers doing? Are they telling, explaining, and saying for the most part? Or are they asking, directing, and observing? The teacher needs to function as one who is involved in the discovery process of learning, rather than the sole dispenser of knowledge.
3. Does it incorporate R.E.A.L. learning? This does not mean that children are simply busy. What it does mean is that children are integrally involved in the discovery and learning process. At its best, active learning evokes emotion in the children and helps them connect the learning experience to a real-life situation. Active learning must always be focused through open-ended debriefing questions that help kids “get the point.
4. Does it incorporate the principles of interactive learning? What a misused educational term this has been in the last few years. We’ve seen curriculum that claims to be interactive, but is nothing more than children’s pencils interacting with meaningless fill-in-the-blank handouts. Interactive learning means that children do not learn in isolation. Rather, they learn best as they interact with others. Each group member contributes to the learning process?
5. Does it foster intrinsic or extrinsic motivation? Reward programs are out; the joy of learning is in. If a curriculum relies on external reward programs to motivate children to be involved in learning, there’s something wrong. The activities should be so compelling and exciting in and of themselves that children passionately engage in the learning process?
6. Do Bible memory activities focus on understanding and relevance? Or is the goal of the program to simply cram Bible verses into children so they can parrot them back at the end of the program-without real understanding?
7. Is it flexible enough to encompass all types of kids? We look for suggested adaptations for physically and emotionally challenged children, ethnically diverse children, and unchurched kids.
8. Content: Is it Bible-based? Is the Bible used correctly and in context? Are the language and stories of the Bible age-appropriate?
9. Is it relevant to children? Does it meet the “so-what” factor that would give kids a desire to learn about God’s Word? The content needs to delve into the heart issues that are important to children.
10. Does it focus on life application? A VBS curriculum should not assume that kids will apply biblical principles. There must be open-ended questions that lead children to put their faith into action.
11. Theme: Is it child-oriented and captivating for kids? Is the theme well-executed throughout? One curriculum’s theme centered around Jesus, but the Bible stories focused on everything but Jesus. The theme needs to be emphasized and re-emphasized in every component of the VBS program. Are there added tips to transform an environment and better communicate the theme?
12. Director Materials Are there preplanning tips? Are there teacher-training tips, age-level insights, discipline tips, and very clear overviews of each class?
13. Teacher Materials Are they easy to understand? helpful? complete? Are there age-level insights to give teachers information about what they can expect from the age they’re teaching? Are there positive discipline techniques that would help a novice teacher?
14. Student Materials Are they age-appropriate? Do they deal with the appropriate level of concrete vs. abstract concepts for each age group?Are they mindless exercises, or do they actually require kids to use higher-level thinking skills, which lead to life application?Are they appealing? Would kids want to read these, or are they the same old tired art styles and drab colors?Are student materials multisensory? The top-rated VBS programs use hands-on activities such as kids making mud bricks, crafting jewelry, and sampling candy.
15. Publicity Helps Are they up-to-date? appealing? easy to use? Are they big enough to be seen from a distance? Do they contain follow-up materials?
16. Teacher Aids Are they creative, helpful, and relevant?
17. Art Is it up-to-date? colorful? and appealing? In some VBS kits, art is not an issue because the kit is simply a guidebook for the leader to set up the learning experience. In other kits, art is a crucial element.
18. Crafts Are they new and creative? Are they relevant? Do they relate to the theme or lesson in an integral way? Or are they just time-fillers that have no meaning? Are they neither supply- nor preparation-intensive? Are they “keeper” crafts?
19. Reader Friendliness Is it organized and easy-to-understand? Would a novice director or teacher clearly understand the material?
20. Music Is it theme-related? relevant? easy to learn? catchy? Does it reinforce the content of the VBS program? Does it make sense? Does it have childlike hand motions and involvement devices that’ll make learning and retention easier? Does it penetrate the heart? Will kids remember the music long after the program is over?