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VBS Programs

The top three kits are listed in alphabetical order by company-not in any ranking system. Here's what we liked and didn't like about each one. (See "Escaping the Quicksand" for definitions of educational terms.)

awesome adventures: God's amazing deeds
Augsburg Fortress Publishers
What it is: A traditional five-day VBS event.
What you'll cover: Children learn five stories of people in the Bible who were challenged to trust God and were amazed by God's power and love.
What you'll get: Directors guide; beginners course (age two); student leaflets and books for each grade; leaders guide, activity books, and cassettes for each grade; adult study book; songbook and lyrics songbook; family activity folder; promotional and organizational items; and sample craft kits for each age level.
Thumbs up: Good blend of Old and New Testament stories. Ideas for creative expression capture all of children's senses. Teacher materials are clear, helpful, and organized. Director materials include good options, safety concerns, and tips for youth helpers.
Thumbs down: Needs more life application connection and debriefing to help children learn from lessons. Craft packs are confusing and unconnected to lessons.
What it'll cost: Starter kit, $31.95
What number to call: 800-328-4648, 800-265-8922 (Ontario), 800-265-6397 (Canada).

antioch A.D. 49
B.J. Goetz Publishing Company
What it is: An experiential you-are-there approach for children to learn about Paul's role in early Christianity.
What you'll cover: For five days, children will live in city citizen groups (cities visited by Paul) and experience daily "Bible times" life in a typical Gentile city during the time of the Apostle Paul.
What you'll get: A manual with clear, detailed instructions, and photos. It includes good overviews and job descriptions of leaders' roles, organizational aids, historical notes, and safety tips.
Thumbs up: Lots of Bible-time activities that involve all of children's senses. Uses extensive active and interactive learning. Good for any church size and mixed-age groups.
Thumbs down: Storytelling needs to be more creative and detailed. Curriculum needs more life application. Lots of work, coordination, and volunteers required to pull off the event.
What it'll cost: $87.50 (plus building materials).
What number to call: 800-345-2923.

sontown Family Celebration
(Gospel Light)
What it is: A five-day VBS lesson plan with many ideas to help you expand to 10 days.
What you'll cover: Family stories in the Bible help children celebrate their families, teach them skills for family living, and invite children to become members of God's family.
What you'll get: Directors pack, leader books and student newspapers for each age level, craft book, and music cassette.
Thumbs up: Directors information includes comprehensive plans for activity centers, mission projects, and intergenerational events. Each lesson in the teachers book includes a schedule, a teacher devotional, and activity center formats. Theme relates to kids' lives. Creative ideas for snacks, crafts, and drama fit the theme.
Thumbs down: Kids are busy, but there's little active or interactive learning. Life application could be stronger. Stories are too long for younger children, with very few creative storytelling tips. NIV Bible translation used is at the seventh-grade level.
What it'll cost: Starter kit, $32.99
What number to call: 800-446-7735, (416) 499-4615 (Canada).

To keep you from getting mired in a quicksand of confusion, here's how we define good teaching methods.

*Active learning-Children learn by being involved in activities that evoke emotions and deeper learning. They're not just busy. Active learning involves everyone and is focused through reflection, interpretation, and application questions. The distinctions are subtle but have a powerful impact on students. In a busy-but not active-lesson, kids memorize a Bible verse about Jesus being the light and put together the word puzzle pieces for the Bible verse. In an active learning lesson, kids go to a dark room, the teacher lights a candle, and then children discuss what it means to find Jesus' light.

*Interactive learning-Interactive learning occurs when children work together, in pairs or small groups, to accomplish shared goals. They teach and learn from each other. For example, teams play a game at first with no rules and then later with rules. Then teams work together to discover why they need rules such as the Ten Commandments.

*Intrinsic motivation-Classroom activities should be so enjoyable and captivating that external rewards are unnecessary for motivation. Stickers, candy, and coupons as rewards devalue the subject matter and decrease kids' desire to learn. Thumbs down on reward systems.

You want to evaluate VBS curricula for your church, but you're not sure where to start. Here's how we evaluate VBS.

1. Look at every kit we can get our hands on.
2. Meet as a team; there's strength in numbers.
3. Establish and discuss our criteria.
4. Review kits individually. But as a team, we bounce perspectives off each other.
5. Look at action words to see if a classroom is teacher- or student-focused. Ask: What are teachers doing? Are they telling, explaining, and saying? Or are they asking, directing, and observing?
6. Look beyond all the glitz and eye-catching art. Ask: What will kids really experience and learn in the lessons?
7. Once the top VBS curricula are selected, cross-pollinate. Each team member chooses a different age in the same curriculum. The team then looks at the same day and walks through what kids will experience and learn. We do this for each top choice.
8. As a team, discuss the pros and cons of our top choices.
9. Choose the best.

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