Editor’s note: This post is part of our VBS Review Fair here on Key Resources, where we’ll be featuring reviews of our top picks from this year’s curricula. You can download the full review packet here.
The Center for the Ministry of Teaching (CMT) Vacation Bible School Reviews for 2015 are now available for free download. Both new programs developed for 2015 and recaps of perennial resources are among the reviews. This year the themes of new programming range from Bible study to discovery camps to climbing Mt. Everest.
Be sure to check out the CMT’s Top Picks, four programs we found stood out from the rest. The criteria for our Top Picks are:
The Perennial section includes time-tested favorites, such as the two Pilgrimage programs that help children learn about the traditions that have molded their faith.
The review team this year includes CMT staff, trusted Christian educators with experience in planning and leading VBS programs in different settings and denominations, and students at Virginia Theological Seminary who recently completed a course in curriculum evaluation.
We carefully examine starter kits for each program reviewed. The reviews include the name of the publisher, a website URL, and basic content of the starter kit and its cost. We note if additional expenditures are needed to operate a program. Because music is such an important part of VBS, we listen to songs for both their content and appeal.
If you haven’t looked at VBS materials in several years, you might be surprised by some of the changes and additions. Several publishers offer online support for registration and personalized VBS webpages—churches with large programs may want to look for these features. Others have decided to create slower-paced programs that require less infrastructure and expenditures.
Many VBS developers weave sound pedagogical research in their programs with sensitivity toward children with disabilities and developmental needs of children of all ages. A few offer programming for teens and adults, but these usually require additional expenditures. Most programming, thematically and from a design standpoint, is targeted to elementary-age children. Preschool adaptations are available for most programs at no extra cost.
In looking at VBS programs throughout the country, we have not seen many that target an intergenerational audience. The ones that do exist are usually “home-grown.” If you want to reach a broader audience, consider looking at the downloadable program offered by GenOn Ministries in the 2015 program review section.
Don’t overlook tweens and teens for VBS, even if the program you select doesn’t have specific materials for this age group. These young people may be strongest part of your volunteer staff. Pair youth with adult mentors who respect the leadership skills and vision of young people to create dynamic teams who build strong relationships with children and each other.
We believe VBS can be a powerful tool for evangelism for your church. Be sure to select a program that mirrors the mission and theology of your church and community. Look beyond a catchy theme to the way scripture is used and the messages, both explicitly and implicitly, the participants will receive.
Often, VBS directors and leaders will need to adapt a program to insure it reflects their church’s teaching and beliefs. These decisions and changes should be made before volunteer staff are given materials to use.
Finally, Vacation Bible School should be fun and engaging for everyone involved. This is a time to celebrate God’s love and the goodness of creation!
Course: How to Run a Vacation Bible School on ChurchNext
Subscription: Episcopal Teacher magazine from the CMT
Website: VBS Online (prepare to be inspired to creative greatness)
Dorothy Linthicum (@dslinthicum) is an instructor at Virginia Theological Seminary and program coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching.