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
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
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),
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
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
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
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
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
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
What it'll cost: Starter kit, $32.99
What number to call: 800-446-7735, (416) 499-4615 (Canada).
ESCAPING THE QUICKSAND
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
A GUIDING COMPASS
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
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.