The 10th Annual VBS Review


Once again, you’ve got it! Here’s Children’s Ministry
10th Annual VBS Review, complete with component
ratings and a “VBS Evaluation Checklist” to help you conduct your
own evaluation.

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And this year we’re thrilled to provide you additional
blow-em-out-of-the-water ideas for the top three programs.


Our VBS reviewers are uniquely qualified to evaluate VBS-with over
37 years experience in children’s ministries and conducting VBS
programs. Take a look at their credentials.

Larry Shallenberger has worked with children for 11 years and has
been the pastor of children’s ministry at Grace Baptist Church in
Erie, Pennsylvania, for the last four years.

---------------------------------------------------- | Kids love these Sunday School resources! | ----------------------------------------------

Courtney Wilson says that VBS was the highlight of the summer for
her as a child who didn’t often attend church. Since she has been
in children’s ministries, she has directed or helped with six
vacation Bible schools. Courtney has been in children’s ministry
for about four years and is currently the director of children and
family ministries at North Hills Church in Phoenix, Arizona.

Danielle Bell from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Danielle is minister
to children at Belle Aire Baptist Church. She has been a full-time
church worker for four years. And last year she had 1,500 children
enrolled in VBS.

Lois Lindberg from Apple Valley, Minnesota, has been in children’s
ministry for 18 years and has been the children’s ministry director
at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church for the last five

The cooler weather may still give the impression of an endless
winter, but for children’s ministry teams summer is right around
the corner! You know what that means…VBS! Searching for the
perfect VBS for your children and volunteers can be a daunting
task, so to make your choice a little easier, we present to you
Children’s Ministry Magazine’s 10th Annual VBS

This year we asked four children’s ministers to review a dozen of
this summer’s new VBS curricula. They evaluated each curriculum on
18 components to best reveal the strengths and weaknesses of

We also asked former assistant editor Laurie Copley to give us
great ideas to further develop the themes and to provide
supplemental resources and activities for each kit.

According to our reviewers, the three most outstanding VBS
curricula for 2001 are Cokesbury’s Way to Go! Good Neighbor Tours;
Concordia’s Mystery Mansion; and Group Publishing’s Polar
Expedition. Read on to see why.


At Cokesbury’s Way to Go! Good Neighbor Tours, kids go on “a
guided tour through God’s greatest commandment” (Luke 10:27). Kids learn to interact with their
neighbors-helping, sharing, inviting, giving, and telling the good
news of Jesus. They learn that God loves them and that they can
love God and their neighbors. The theme takes children on a tour
throughout Israel from Emmaus to Gaza, from Jericho to Bethlehem,
meeting various Bible characters and learning how they loved their

This VBS has creative ways to teach the Bible. The music is fun
and full of variety. The director’s manual is easy to follow and
has reproducible handouts. Plus, it has great posters.

Publicity Ideas

Use these “all aboard” ideas to capture kids’ attention.

• Tour Bus-Make a tour bus out of a refrigerator box. Cut out
windows and a door, and attach a smaller box on the “front” of the
refrigerator box bus for the cab. Cut out large, round cardboard
circles and attach them to the sides of the bus for wheels. Paint
and decorate the bus. Take pictures of children inside the bus when
they register for VBS, then use the bus as a VBS decoration.

• VBS Photos-As kids register, take their photos using an
instant-print camera, and attach each photo to a school bus- or
wheel-shaped name tag. Write children’s names under their photos.
Place the tags on a bulletin board with the heading “Going on a VBS
Tour.” This will help volunteers recognize kids before they arrive
for VBS.

You can make name tags yourself, or purchase School Bus Name Tag
packs for $2.99 from Classroom Direct.

• Tour Bus Reminder-After children register for VBS, give them a
“tour bus” with your VBS dates to take home and stick on their
refrigerators or calendars as a reminder. School Bus Sparkle Name
Tags (32 tags for $2.99) are available from Classroom Direct.

Recruiting Tips

Pick up your VBS “tour guides” with these recruiting tips.

• Bus Postcards-Use bus-shaped cutouts as recruiting postcards.
Write “Join us as we take our kids on a VBS tour. We need you!”
Include your VBS dates and other pertinent information, and mail
them to potential VBS volunteers.

• Recruiting Puzzle-Cut out bus or road sign shapes from
construction paper. Decorate one side to look like a tour bus or
road sign. On the other side, write “Help us take our kids on a VBS
tour.” Cut the sign into puzzle pieces, put the pieces in an
envelope, and include a note for recipients to assemble the puzzle.
Give these to prospective volunteers.

Affirmation Ideas

Use these gifts to thank your volunteers for their help on the

• Bus Thank You Notes-Write thank you notes to volunteers on
sheets of bus-shaped notepaper. School Bus Large Notepads, $2.10
each, are available from Classroom Direct.

• Candy-Filled Bus-Make thank you gifts for your volunteers using
large school bus cutouts. Write a thank you note on one side of the
bus. Staple the edges of two bus cutouts together, leaving a small
opening at the top. Fill with peppermints or other small candies,
and staple the opening shut. Give one candy-filled bus to each
volunteer. These school bus cutouts ($3.29 for 31 sheets) are
available from Classroom Direct.

Kid Stuff Keepsakes

Give your kids these souvenirs of their VBS tour.

• Bus Toys-Give each child a plastic or metal toy bus. These are
available for $2 each from U.S. Toy Company (item MU273).
• Transportation Toys-Plastic transportaiton toys ($12.99 for 72
pieces) are available from ABC School Supply.


At Concordia’s Mystery Mansion “kids unlock God’s truth.” Kids
solve one puzzling mystery after another and learn about Jesus and
salvation, and that Christians are God’s heirs. The VBS follows an
ongoing mystery storyline that’ll have kids eager to hear more the
next day.

This VBS includes a comprehensive director’s manual with steps to
discover your mission for VBS. The theme is original and appealing;
kids love a mystery! And the curriculum offers a variety of
programming options.

Publicity Ideas

Pique your children’s curiosity with these attention

• Castle Cookies-Serve Mystery Mansion Munchies at VBS
registration. Make cutout castle cookies using refrigerated sugar
cookie dough and ready-made frosting. You can purchase Castle
Cookie Cutters for $8.95 each at Kitchen Collectables (item

• Mini Publicity-Using a computer, type out and print miniature
messages using six-point type that kids have to read with a
magnifying glass. Type sayings such as: “Join us for VBS as we
unlock God’s truth. Mystery Mansion begins on date.” You can
purchase Large Magnifiers ($3.50 per dozen) from U.S. Toy Company
(item 7860).

• Candy Treasures-Fill a treasure chest with wrapped candy treats,
and place the chest on your registration table. When registering
for VBS, have kids choose a candy treat as a reminder that more fun
treasures await them. To make a treasure chest, cover a shoe box
with foil and decorate it with rhinestones, or purchase a Treasure
Chest Box ($2.40 each) from Oriental Trading Company.

Recruiting Ideas

Try these ideas to discover willing volunteers.

• Mystery Notes-Stamp 3×5 notecards with detective- or
mystery-related items, such as keys, treasure chests, magnifying
glasses, and maps. Write “We need detectives to help kids unlock
God’s truth at VBS.” You can purchase Sherlock Holmes rubber stamps
(named Searching for Clues) for $7 each from Rubber Stamps of

• Key to VBS-Cut out simple key shapes from construction paper.
Write, “We need you to help kids unlock God’s truth. Join us for
VBS on VBS dates.” Mail keys to prospective volunteers.

• Clue Card-Send a card to each prospective volunteer. On the
outside of the card, write, “Someone amazing is missing from our
VBS. Can you guess who?” On the inside, write a big “YOU!” (Even
better: Attach a small mirror to the inside of the card!)

Affirmation Ideas

Make it no mystery that you appreciate your volunteers.

• Appreciation Locks-Give each volunteer a mini lock as a thank
you gift. You can purchase these at your local hardware store, or
Mini Metal Heart Locks ($2.40 per dozen) are available from
Oriental Trading Company.

• Flashlight Thanks- Give each volunteer a flashlight with this
note attached: “Thanks for shining the light to help our kids get a

Kid Stuff Keepsakes

Give your children memories with these mementos.

• Toy Magnifiers-Small Magnifiers ($2 per dozen) are available
from U.S. Toy Company (item 7864).

• Mini Locks-One-inch combination locks in assorted colors are
available for $10 per gross (144) from U.S. Toy Company (item 575).
(Caution: may be a choking hazard for small children.)


At Group Publishing’s Polar Expedition, “kids discover Jesus’ love
is cool!” Daily themes are: Jesus’ love is powerful, Jesus’ love is
refreshing, Jesus’ love is for you, Jesus’ love gives us life, and
Jesus’ love is for everyone. The polar theme includes snow,
penguins, polar bears, and igloos. Just right for a hot summer

This VBS is tied together with a consistent theme and strong
educational philosophy. The detailed director’s manual covers every
component of the planning process. Each Bible story is taught
creatively. And the closing program will bring in parents.

Publicity Ideas

Try these ideas to warm up children to your VBS.

• Notepad Reminders-Give each child who registers a snowflake or
winter-themed notepad. Write the VBS dates on the inside cover of
each pad as a reminder, or mail a pad to each child the week before
VBS. Laser Snowflake Notepads ($7.20 for 72 notepads) are available
from Oriental Trading Company.

• Polar Bear Raffle-Set up and decorate a registration table for
your Sunday school’s fellowship hour. Decorate with stuffed polar
bears. Have a raffle with the names of all the kids who register,
and give away the bears on the first day of VBS. Velour Snowflake
Polar Bears ($2.95 each) are available from Oriental Trading

• Doily Invitations-Write VBS invitations on doilies, and mail
them to your children. Have children bring the doilies to
registration to prove they’re “in the snow.”

• Snow Cone Sign-Up-Use an ice shaver to make snow cones to pass
out to kids as they register. Or host a recruitment party for your
VBS volunteers, and serve snow cones as treats. You can purchase an
ice shaver from CyberBrands for $14.95.

Decorating Ideas

Make your VBS a winter wonderland.

• Inside Snow-Decorate with “snow” using poly fiberfill stuffing.
Pull off pieces of the fiberfill and scatter it around your room
for a snowy effect.

• Suspended Snowflakes-Make paper snowflakes to hang from the
ceiling with string, or attach them to the walls with tape.

• Snow Shelters-Make igloos or snow forts out of paper grocery
bags. Paint bags white, stuff with newspaper, and tape them into
“ice blocks” for your polar shelter.

• Window Snowflakes-Use reusable window cling snowflakes in
assorted shapes and sizes to decorate glass or other smooth
surfaces. Snowflake Window Clings (three sheets of assorted sizes
for $4.95.) are available from Oriental Trading Company.

• Tissue Snowflakes-You can purchase 15-inch tissue snowflakes
($6.50 per dozen) to hang as decorations from Oriental Trading

• Balloon Snowmen-Make these fun balloon snowmen for decorations.
Blow up and tie off two white balloons, then tie balloons together
at the tied-off ends. Using markers, draw a smiley face with a
carrot nose on one of the balloons, and design a row of buttons
going down the front of the other balloon.

Recruiting Ideas

Bring volunteers in from the cold.

• Pinwheel Gifts-Use silver pinwheels as decorations for your
recruiting party, and then give one to each volunteer. You can
purchase Metallic Snowflake Pinwheels ($4.80 per dozen) from
Oriental Trading Company.

• Table Coverings-Cover tables at your recruiting party with
winter-themed Metallic Foil Snowflake Wrap (12 18×30-inch sheets
for $6) from Oriental Trading Company.

Affirmation Ideas

Cheer the hearts of your volunteers.

• Christmas Ornaments-Give each of your volunteers a wintertime
ornament as a thank you keepsake for their service during VBS.
Two-inch opalized-glass snowflakes ($7.80 per dozen) and crocheted
snowflakes ($4.95 per dozen) are available from Oriental Trading

• Writing Supplies-Give a writing set to your volunteers and
teachers as a thank you gift. Snowflake Pen and Pencil Sets (two
Pieces) are $3.95 per set from Oriental Trading Company.

• Candy Thank Yous-Fill small candy tins or boxes with Hershey’s
Hugs candy and attach a note saying, “Thank you for being Jesus’
hugging arms to our kids this week.” Cardboard snowflake boxes with
wire handles ($3.95 per dozen) are available from Oriental Trading

Kid Stuff Keepsakes

Warm children’s memories of VBS.

• Kid Gifts-You can purchase Snowflake Punch Balls, Metallic
Snowflake Slap Bracelets, and Snowflake Bubbles (all costing $4.80
per dozen) from Oriental Trading Company.


ABC School Supply-800-669-4222 or

Classroom Direct-877-698-1988; 800-248-9171 or

CyberBrands-800-350-3394; (310) 219-3394 or
Kitchen Collectables-888-593-2436; (402) 597-0980 or
Oriental Trading Company-800-875-8480; (402) 331-6800 or

Rubber Stamps of America-800-553-5031; (603) 352-1063

U.S. Toy Company-800-841-6478; (816) 761-5900 or


How can you be sure at the end of the week that kids will remember
and understand the Bible truths you’ve presented? These brief
evaluation pointers can help you determine for yourself which
program will most effectively accomplish these goals.

Begin by reviewing one Bible lesson from each VBS program you’re
considering. Examine the curriculum, keeping in mind the questions
for each area of examination. For each area, give a score of 1 to
10 points (1=poor; 10=excellent) for each program. Compare the
total points for each program at the end of your evaluation to
determine the best VBS for your children.

• Overall Program Effectiveness-At the end of the week, what will
kids walk away with? After two months, what will kids

• Educational Philosophy-Is it teacher- or student-focused? Does
it use active learning? interactive learning? Does it emphasize
intrinsic motivation?

• Director Materials-Are there preplanning tips? recruiting tips?
teacher-training tips and meeting plans? helpful overviews of each
class? Is there an overall supply chart? an overview schedule? a
planning timeline? a suggested organizational chart?

• Teacher Materials-Are they easy to understand? helpful?
complete? Are there age-level insights? Are there operational
activities? Is it easy, not labor-intensive? Are there discipline
helps that are age-appropriate?

• Student Materials-Do the student materials have lasting value?
Will students use the materials after VBS? Will materials end up in
the trash?

• Bible Lessons and Content-What methods are used to teach the
lesson? Are kids involved in the story or are they simply read to?
Do they connect with Bible characters, or do they fill in blanks on
a worksheet?

How are kids encouraged to apply lessons to their daily lives? Put
yourself in a child’s position. At the end of the lesson, what
would you walk away with? What would you remember most?

• Theme-Is it child-oriented? captivating for kids? well-executed
throughout? kid-friendly? Is it unique and appealing to unchurched

• Follow-Up-Are there church tie-ins? Are there helps to plug kids
into ongoing Sunday school programs? Are there tools to get
information about kids?

• Opening and Closing-Are they age-
appropriate? Are they appealing to kids? Are there ideas for a
closing event with parents?

• Music-Will the music interest today’s kids? Can the songs be
learned quickly? Are the tunes catchy or dull? Does the music
provide year-round or one-time use?

• Crafts-Will the crafts capture kids’ imaginations? Are they
different, fun, and high-quality? Do they reinforce the Bible theme
or story?

• Ease of Use-Is it organized? easy to understand? Are there tapes
or papers that can be reproduced?

• Publicity Helps-Are materials up-to-date, appealing, varied, and
easy to use? Are they durable, usable, and easy to read from a
distance? Is there a schedule for publicity? Are there innovative
ideas or suggestions for publicity?

• Snacks-Are they connected to the theme or Bible story? Are the
ingredients cost-effective for large groups of children? Are they
new and fresh? Will they be easy to make? Are they kid-built? Are
they appealing and nutritious?

• Games-Are they competitive or noncompetitive? tied to the theme?
fun? active? Do they require few or easy supplies? Do they have
well-written instructions? Are there flexible game alternatives for
indoor or outdoor play and for large or small groups?

• Adaptability-Is it adaptable to a back yard or nontraditional
setting? Can you use the material for other programs in your

• Format-Are there relational connections-kids to adults? Are
there ideas for five- or 10-day options?

• Art-Is it up-to-date? colorful? appealing? inclusive of people
with disabilities? representative of all cultures? representative
of boys and girls? Is the packaging appealing and inclusive?


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