What is the best VBS?
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.
- 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?
- Is it teacher- or
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
- Does it incorporate active
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."
- Does it incorporate the principles of interactive
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
- 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
- Do Bible memory activities focus on understanding
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?
- 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.
- Content-Is it Bible-based?
Is the Bible used correctly and in context? Are the
language and stories of the Bible age-appropriate?
- Is it relevant to
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.
- Does it focus on life
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.
- Theme-Is it child-oriented and captivating for
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
- Director Materials
Are there preplanning tips? Are there teacher-training tips,
age-level insights, discipline tips, and very clear overviews of
- 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?
- Student Materials
Are they age-appropriate? Do they deal with
the appropriate level of concrete vs. abstract concepts for each
Are they mindless exercises, or do they actually require
kids to use higher-level thinking skills, which lead to life
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.
Are they up-to-date? appealing? easy to use? Are they big
enough to be seen from a distance? Do they contain follow-up
Are they creative, helpful, and relevant?
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
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?
Is it organized and easy-to-understand? Would a novice
director or teacher clearly understand the material?
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
Excerpted from Children's Ministry Magazine. Don't
miss another issue, subscribe