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The 10th Annual VBS Review

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

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.

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 years.

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 Review.

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 each.

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 neighbors.

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 journey.

• 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 grabbers.

• 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 C20).

• 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 3x5 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 America.

• 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 clue!"

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 day!

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 Company.

• 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 Company.

• 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 18x30-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 Company.

• 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 Company.

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 remember?

• 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 kids?

• 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 church?

• 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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