Our parish wrapped up vacation Bible school this week, and I felt compelled to write a review of the curriculum we used, in hopes that more Catholic parishes will choose the “totally Catholic” VBS next year!
In previous years, we’ve used Group’s “Easy VBS” but the reality of “Easy” is that “it ain’t so easy.” This is primarily because every activity and craft they do requires the purchase of materials from Group that are overpriced and simply unattainable for churches on limited budgets. Instead, we have had to find work-arounds, creating different crafts and activities, in order to keep VBS affordable for our parish and our families.
This year, we chose Growing with the Saints’ “Totally Catholic” VBS, “Vatican Express”. We agreed that many of our children attend Protestant vacation Bible schools throughout the summer, and that it was important to give them a week of learning that was focused on the unique, precious, and true teachings of the Catholic Church. Honestly, we thought that it might be more complicated, but we were willing to make that sacrifice in order to provide a great Catholic experience to the children of our parish.
There are other “totally Catholic” VBS’s out there, but from what we could tell, those publishers were simply taking Protestant VBS’s and adding a Catholic element or two. We considered those, but decided to go with the publisher that was truly Catholic, from the ground up.
At the end of the week, I can safely say that we will almost certainly use Growing with the Saints’ curriculum again next yeart, though I’m not the director, so the decision is not up to me! Here are a few thoughts:
The music was awesome. I got goose pimples to hear the children singing “I’m standing on the rock! The universal Church of Jesus… and I’m not gonna move”. Tears sprang to my eyes as they shouted “One! Holy! Catholic Apostolic!” How awesome to have the children learning about their Catholic faith, the one Church, founded by Jesus, through songs that they will remember for years to come. Of course, there were other Christian songs, like “Shine Like the Son” and “Jesus is a-Knockin,” which the kids enjoyed as well. The end of week music performance was arguably the best we’ve done in the five years I’ve been involved, thanks to our pianist and music leader, Dr. Mike, but also largely due to the quality of great, FUN music that the kids could really get into!
The crafts were original, affordable, and appropriate for all ages. The last night, the children made a monstrance out of plastic plates, with an image of Jesus in the center, a great opportunity to talk about Christ’s True Presence, and the Eucharistic Miracle of Bourdeaux, where Jesus appeared in the host. This craft coincided with Eucharistic Adoration for all of the children, so it was a very, very appropriate craft.
Other crafts included the keys to the kingdom and St. Jerome spoon dolls. The crafts did not require purchasing anything additional from the publisher, and used inexpensive materials, while being incredibly cute and memorable. These are crafts that I actually want to hang on to, rather than sneaking them into the trash can as I often have with other VBS crafts!
The snacks were creative and fun. They were really more of a craft in and of themselves, with children creating confections out of cookies, icing, and M & M’s. OK, so they weren’t healthy, but the kids had a blast, and got to learn more in the process! A few examples are a Popemobile made out of marshmallows, licorice, and M&M’s, and St. Peter’s Big Toe, made out of crackers, licorice, and an M&M for the big toe.
Bible stories centered around the theme of Jesus founding his Church on Peter, and Christ’s call to follow Him by loving God and eachother. I loved the stories, but do wish that the publisher had come up with more fun, interactive ways to portray the Bible stories to the children. It was good, but not great.
Areas for Improvement
Of course, there’s always room for improvement. Additional suggestions to the publisher for their next VBS would be to avoid trying to pack too much information into each day, and to create greater cohesiveness between all of the activities. We changed most of the games to match the Bible story, and found that some days the snack that they suggested would actually have worked better with the material for the following day. But all in all, every volunteer that I spoke with was extremely impressed with the curriculum and the kids had a great time. In fact, I spoke with a friend today who had heard from several people it was the best VBS we’ve done.
My son’s only complaint was that we didn’t have enough decorations (we kept it super simple because the church property is for sale and needed to be ready for showings), and my daughter’s only complaint was that it wasn’t long enough!! I’ll take those reviews!