Catholic Vacation Bible School Reviews

With Christmas behind us and before lent begins, this is the perfect time for your parish to start thinking about vacation bible school. Obviously the most central point of vacation bible school is to bring religion to kids, so I think it's important to choose a program that agrees with your theology. I taught vacation bible school for 2 years at a Catholic church using protestant materials (or rather, protestant materials that were called Catholic because they came with a little Catholic add-on), but the truth is there's no need for that anymore- there are many programs now available that are written by Catholics! Who could better understand Catholicism than actual Catholics? Before recommending programs to you that I knew nothing about, I wanted to see them first hand. I do love for things to be Catholic, but I still expect high quality products from all companies. In other words, if the Catholic programs were junk, I didn't want to recommend that you buy them. So, I contacted several Catholic VBS companies asking for a review copy, and was able to get programs from Cat Chat, Growing With the Saints, and K4J (Kids 4 Jesus). I was not paid anything to write this Catholic VBS review, and had no personal need to own 3 VBS programs, so this is all for you, my wonderful readers! :-)

Growing With the Saints VBS Review- Parade Around the Our Father

This Catholic VBS program arrived in a very organized (and very colorful) binder that was super easy to use and all inclusive! There was no guessing when opening this package- it was super easy to find everything and know exactly what it was for. The circus theme ran flawlessly through their program- from crafts to snack, lesson plans to decorating ideas, this package was all under the big top! The crafts included great tips for the craft leaders, full color pictures of all the completed crafts, lists of supplies (all affordable and available at any craft store), and easy to follow directions. Some of the crafts were designed to go with their circus theme, others were "Catholic Crafts". They also provided full color pictures of all the completed crafts- a major plus in my book! The snack section had 15 circus themed snack ideas, and 14 religious snack ideas! All came with recipes and directions. The music was very professionally done (I know they recently revamped their music and they did a great job!) and the songs were very peppy. Some of the songs were written just for them, and others I recognized as remakes from my local christian radio station. In the music section, they did say "Kids love motions to songs! Incorporate them in you worship time." but I will admit that it would be more convenient if they coordinated the songs with motions for us. They do include some tips for coordinating them yourself. They also have sheet music with lyrics available, and it comes with guitar chords! The music section does include a closing ceremony guide, and recommended songs for each grade level. I loved their big overview page that was included to give you a visual layout of the week. This program also includes picture books about the saints, which I thought was a really unique thing to incorporate! From decorating ideas to classroom plans, an optional field day to a "free floating" clip art CD, this package definitely includes everything you need to run a Catholic VBS at your own parish. For more information, visit Growing With the Saint's site.

K4J VBS Review- Circus of Stars, Spotlight on The Father

I really couldn't be more impressed with this program. The information in their booklets was overflowing. Not only do they tell you what to do, they really give all the information about how to do it, and they serve it to you on a platter. This program arrived broken down into booklets- one for each section of volunteers in the program. So a booklet each for the craft volunteer, the skit leader, the snack people, etc. At the beginning of each booklet, there's an introduction to the program and characters as well as an overview of the kid's week so that all the volunteers are on the same page and everyone is informed of the day's events. You can open up the craft book to the page of the day, and it tells you what to say and do with the kids (including magic tricks and other fun tid-bits!) and everything else you need to know for the whole class time. There was tons of information in their booklets including what how to work with different age groups of children, and even quotes from the catechism! (Now tell me you're going to find that in a protestant alternative- I don't think so!) The booklets included pictures of all the completed snacks and crafts, but none of them were in color. Their program also came with a very cute and professionally done CD with great kid music. They have pre-coordinated motions to their songs written out line by line, such as "stomp feet: Left! Right!". The package I reviewed was also circus themed, and well done. (I'm such a fan of themes). The theme they have coming up this Summer is "Win the World for Jesus" and it's about going out to be a missionary in the world. I really think that sounds like a great theme! You can see the overview of their upcoming program here. Their artwork is well done, and their characters (such as Spark the conscience, and Vice the bad guy) really are adorable. This program also had a lot of "extras" that you can order if you choose such as take home packages to send with each child, and saint trading cards! There was such a wealth of information for each of the volunteers in this program, I couldn't possibly find the time to comb through it all. This program will take all the guess work out of running an authentically Catholic VBS program! Visit the K4J site for more information.

Cat Chat VBS-  Marvelous Mystery, The Mass Comes Alive

This program I reviewed for them had a theme of "The Mass Comes Alive". This theme is meant to "help children understand the Catholic Mass and deepen their love for Jesus in the Eucharist". How awesomely Catholic is that?! I love how easy-to-use their director's guide is for understanding the layout of their program. They also had cute songs that my kids and I have been singing along to, and actually included a DVD showing you how to do the hand motions for the songs! My kids and I loved this! (Can you tell I'm into the hand motions for the songs?) Cat Chat also came with easy-to-handle booklets for each section of the VBS week. In the craft booklet, they had some really cute Catholic based craft ideas. While they did have pictures of all the crafts, none of them were in color. Each booklet comes with an overview of the week, so each volunteer understands the layout of the entire program. Their booklets come with tons of handy checklists of things to prepare, supplies to gather, etc. The cute snack activities that came with the program were above and beyond- lots of great ideas! This program also came with a resource CD ROM with spreadsheets, masters, and more. Cat Chat offers tons of extras such as Saint Cards, and take home parent/child activity sheets. This program was well laid out, and very cute. I love how they say "100% Catholic". I think it's so important to have an authentically Catholic program rather than just squeezing it in. Again, this program included too much information for me to even read through it all. Visit the Cat Chat site for more information.

Comparison Chart for Catholic VBS
GWTS= Growing With the Saints
K4J= Kids for Jesus
CC= Cat Chat


_GWTS_ __K4J__ __CC___
Professional Quality Music CD     yes yes yes
Choreographed Hand Motions no yes yes
Instructional DVD for Motions no no yes
Sheet Music yes yes yes
Guitar Chords yes no yes
Lyrics yes yes yes

Included Program Sections
(K4J and CC had these sections available in booklet form. GWTS
had these divided in a 3 ring binder with loose papers in folders)
These were hard to compare because they were all organized a 
little differently, but I did my best.

_GWTS_ __K4J__ __CC___
Music                       yes yes yes
Crafts yes yes yes
Snacks assigned for each day yes yes yes
Director Guide yes yes yes
Lesson Plans for different age groups**  yes yes no
Captain leader book no yes no
Games yes yes,
with pictures
with pictures
Skits and scripts yes,
devoted section
devoted section
Faith Leader Booklet no no yes

**GWTS had their lessons for their age groups broken into
these age groups: Pre-K, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6
K4J's age groups are broken up into these ages:
3-K, 1-4, and 5-8
CC didn't seem to have anything broken into age groups


_GWTS_ __K4J__ __CC___
pictures of crafts yes yes yes
full colored pictures yes no no
needed templates included yes yes yes
leader script for class no yes no
different crafts for
different age groups
yes no no

K4J really goes above and beyond with tips and classroom
instructions, station guidelines, preparing your craft station,
work job charts, etc, but their pictures were small and hard to see.


_GWTS_ __K4J__ __CC___
Optional parent
take-home papers
yes, activity
and coloring page
yes, full color
posters and activities
yes, one b&w
page per day
Optional take home  items yes,
(children's book
on saints)
circus toys
fun items
Optional VBS t-shirts yes yes yes
Concert DVD no no yes
CD Rom clip art yes yes yes
All inclusive carrying case yes no no

The checklist above doesn't include everything from the packages, I just though it would be helpful to view things side-by-side. Also, I dove into the craft section a little deeper than the other sections because crafts are my thing. :-) I certainly hope this was helpful to some of you because it took me forever to put it all together! ;-)

I want everyone to understand that I was given random copies for review, and these are not the themes of the packages the companies are carrying this year. Check out their individual sites for more information on their current packages and prices. I also know a lot of you told me your parishes write their own programs, and ya'll know I'm all about diy! But... these packages are actually very affordable for the amount of information they come with, so consider the time it takes to execute something as large as a VBS program without pre-written curriculum before you dive in! :-) There are also more Catholic Vacation Bible School programs available than the ones I mentioned here, so feel free to do some more research before committing!

In short- these programs were well written, and professionally executed. There is no need to buy protestant VBS programs when these amazing Catholic companies are providing programs like these! I don't think you will be disappointed in any of the programs mentioned above upon ordering. Keep in mind that supporting Catholic companies further funds them to improve their materials and grow the ministry. So before ordering your VBS program this year, consider the available Catholic options! Please send this link to your parish's DRE to let them know you want your kids to be a part of an authentically Catholic VBS program this year! :-)

Due to a high volume of emails, I wanted to lay this all out for you. Growing With the Saints definitely revamped their program since a lot of you tried it in the past. These reviews were very honest, and I do understand what high quality products are. I will admit that the K4J program seemed to include the most information and was very comprehensive, and the Cat Chat program was a close second. Both K4J and Cat Chat were overflowing with bells and whistles. Growing With the Saints was a lot more simple and unembellished, but it definitely included all the necessary parts to run a program and was laid out in a very easy-to-follow manner. I welcome your opinions and personal reviews in the comments section! :-)
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  1. I love this review! I was so disappointed last year when my kids attended VBS at our local parish. The director informed me that there were no Catholic VBS kits out there so they kind of made up their own. The kids were more than bored and really did not learn much about the faith. I am going to pass this info on to the parish. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on these programs.

  2. Thank you so much for doing this write-up! As a former Youth minister and an overall catholic fanatic I really appreciate it!

    I worked for a summer out in the Diocese of Fargo ND in their Young Disciples Teams program. Which was a summer volunteer program where we were rigorously trained in Catholic theology/doctrine/catechism then sent out with a very specifically layed out camp program. Seriously the kids we thought learned so much more than I thought they could!! I feel like a lot of the time we unnecessarily dumb down materials for our kids. It was amazing to see my sixth grade class every week reverently kneeling at Eucharistic Adoration. And equally amazing to see the kindergartners do the same!!

    If you're anywhere near the Fargo Diocese I really encourage you to check it out! Even if you're not... it's great, I'm sure if enough people asked they might publish their lesson plans etc... all those categories you listed, they had all organized up.

    Feel free to pass this info on... they are currently taking young adult/adult applicants (18+) for their summer program. They accept people from all 50 states and all over the world to teach for them!

  3. Great review and alot of good info!!
    Thanks so much!

  4. Our parish used the Cat.Chat VBS about the Mass last year, and we got tons of positive comments about it! I was on the planning team and we all loved their materials. Some who had been involved with VBS in the past said that the protestant materials were scripted better so that anyone could lead even if they didn't have experience with it, but many on our team were experienced and/or had plenty of charisma to do a great job! We're planning to use their program on Mary this year and are looking forward to another fun summer experience! I'm so thankful that there are good Catholic materials out there :)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I've helped a friend with VBS in the past and we were far more pleased with Cat Chat, in terms of the caliber of materials provided, than with GWTS. But it looks GWTS has done some revision to the parts we were less impressed by. Thanks for these comprehensive reviews.

  7. Thanks for this review. I am a DRE at my parish and I was just considering ordering my summer program materials. I will be honest the last couple years I have used growing with the saints. I love the program. I will check out these other ones as well. I did want to share with you the one thing I have tried to transition to in my parish. Instead of having VBS, I like to promote that I am having a Catholic Daycamp. I know that it is just terminology but I want to send the message to the parishioners why they should send their children to their own parish program rather than to compete with the other Churches in town. I of course open it to children of all faiths. Nothing warms my heart more than to see the children of other faiths sitting reverently before the Blessed Sacrament during our week long program 
    In Christ’s Peace,

  8. We've also had a chance to do the Cat Chat VBS program and it was great because all my kids (ages 6-2) were able to attend at the same time. It was setup so the older kids could be 'leaders's. Also, I'm a bit biased since I know the family that developed Cat Chat :)

  9. Your reviews are great!

    Our Catholic homeschooling group does a VBS every beginning of summer, every day early in the morning til around noon.

    We have used the Cat Chat VBS's and also the Living with the Saints one.

    We did St Patrick and the Holy Trinity last year. We did St Catherine a couple years ago. I think they do Cat Chat every other year and the Saints one the opposite year.

    It is all volunteers, volunteer parents and volunteer teens. My kiddos can't wait til they can help out with the groups and be leaders. (they all love the skits) They break down into groups of 12 and rotate around to the different stations. It all takes place on a fellow homeschooler's hobby farm. The older teens are so talented and so we've always had a band (live music is always better!) to sing the songs. The kids all can get CD's of the music for practice at home of the songs.

    *you are getting me excited, it's so much fun!

  10. Thanks for such a comprehensive review! I'm a parish DRE and we've used all 3 of these publishers over the past years. CatChat programs have always been our favorites! The only drawback was that they didn't publish a new one every year and we had to search for other catholic programs. Now that they have 3 to choose from, that's no longer an issue.
    The only things I would say about the K4J is that although it was laid out impressively for each age level, many of our volunteers agreed that it lacked a cohesive "Catholic" feel.
    GWTS, when we used it, really lacked in music (esp. after experiencing Cat.Chat).

    emedoodle mentioned the Fargo Diocese Young Discipleship team and I would agree that they are AMAZING! When visiting friends, my children were able to participate in one of their camps and they loved it. If your parish cannot find enough volunteers or if you don't have someone to take on all the planning, they are an excellent option. As far as I know, they just require a place to stay and they provide the rest of the program!
    Thanks again and good luck to all of you out there planning!

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! I passed this link onto our DRE and am praying she chooses to use one of these FULLY Catholic programs this year. I appreciate all of your thorough comparisons!

  12. Good reviews. I've had experiences using K4J and Group's VBS.

    Last summer and this summer, I am using one of those VBS kits that you wrote are Protestant with Catholic add ons. Group actually has OSV edit the VBS for Catholic. They do an excellent job of adding Catholic catechism teaching. And a Catholic Mass at the end. The focus is on a Bible story each day with catechism teaching included. It's good for transition for Catholic kids to read the Bible since people were taught not to for so many years (seeing how the Bible relates to their faith journey).

    I find Group is more inclusive since we are in a reaching out to new families phase.

    The Catholic VBSs (we used K4J for some time- at least 5 years) seem more exclusive- which might also be because Regnum Christi who makes K4J tends to be an exclusive/invite only group. I had a lot of families feel excluded with that VBS.

    I also have heard families comment K4J didn't relate to the kids faith/life. It was something they learned, but not something that settled into their hearts.

    I went from 40 kids with K4J to 90 with Group in one summer. Families told me how unorganized it went to very organized. From kids lukewarm to kids who plan their whole summer for VBS now. Group's really energizes the kids to grow in their faith after VBS is over. We'll see how it goes this year with Group.

  13. We have used K4J the last two years and have loved it!! My kids love the songs and sing them all year round and can't wait for the next VBS. It is a beautiful program.

  14. Thanks, I'll stick with Groups phenomenal program that actually uses SCRIPTURE. We get doctrine all year. But with VBS we get right into the Bible stories.

    whatever you want to say about programs created by other denominations, they certainly focus on the WORD OF GOD.

  15. I have to agree that the one thing that VBS should do is teach children about the stories in the Bible. That supercedes any denomination. For too long, Catholics have not learned enough about the Bible. I have nothing against including Catholic teaching, which would come through in any program, based on the people who are running it, but I really think a program needs to focus on the Bible.

  16. Our parish ended up dropping K4J. It's expensive, it's cluttered and complicated, and it covers SO MUCH MATERIAL -- it's like expecting kids to drink from the firehose. The songs were long, wordy and complicated (with the exception of "The Sacrament Stomp", which is awesome); the kids got very demoralized trying to follow along with the recordings. And the "bucks" (little "caught being good" awards) were extremely distracting to the kids.

  17. Great review!!!!

    Any suggestions for a VBS program in a parish that must accommodate for Catholics and Protestants? Our parish is on a military base and we share the church and will have VBS together.

  18. Last year our parish used the K4J VBS and it was awsome! TOTALLY CATHOLIC and TOTALLY FUN! The priest commented that it was the best one his parish has ever done! One great thing about it, is our middle school and high school students got to be the leaders for the younger ones. What a great way to teach them to be apostles! My kids are still singing the songs they learned which are really well done and have such a great CATHOLIC message! I LOVE how it tied in the VIRTUES that we want our children to be exemplifying. The best part about the program is that it doesn't have to stop with summer VBS. Our school uses the K4J School of Virtue program year round, which has had a tremendous impact on our families and children as the kids focus on a new virtue every month to practice. Their love and excitement for the faith has really taken a leap. Thanks K4J! You make being Catholic fun!

  19. We've used K4J for the last 6 years and love it. Crafts are easy to follow and I was impressed wiht the focus on a daily scripture quote. Each day begins with a skit performed by the older kids (grades 5-8) that focuses on a bible story or the saint of the day. Love how the whole week weaves together, building up to a mission for the kids to carry home all summer long.
    And don't miss K4J's year round club. We picked it up 4 years ago and love it. It's been an amazing influence on our parish. The program is set up as a mini-VBS to hold once a month in your parish. We have about 30 kids attending the monthly club vs. about 110 that attend our summer VBS. There is also a school virture program based on the K4J characters. So much to offer. Thank you, Lord, for all these great Catholic programs.

  20. Our Community has done the K4J VBS for a long time. It seems to get better each year. They have a 4 year cycle that repeats. There is one on the God the Father- the Circus of the Stars Spotlight on God the Father theme that Lacy reviewed, one on the Son- the Summertime Blast- Focus on Jesus in the Eucharist, and one on the Holy Spirit- Surfin' with the Holy Spirit. The Win the World for Jesus VBS for this year is on the Church and Her Missionary Mission. i agree that some of the songs are a little long for VBS songs, but they have a powerful message. The new songs for the year around K4j programs are great.

  21. Thanks for this excellent post! Did you hear about Pandamania? Look I posted about it! My excitement was deflated like a balloon when I read up on it! Sigh! :(

  22. I really don't know where you heard or read that Catholics were taught not to read the Bible for so many years. What years were those? It's never been true that Catholics have been discouraged from knowing Scripture. Now maybe you think personal study should have been encouraged more, but that is not the same as telling Catholics to not read the Bible. We, as Catholics, should be proud of Catholics writing the New Testament, the Church compiling those books, preserving them and understanding them throughout 2000 years with accuracy. Even the Protestants do not doubt their inspiration, authenticity and accuracy of translation, all due to the Catholic Church.

  23. I am certainly not a historian, but I was told once that Catholic were taught not to read the bible in the past (like, a long, long time ago). The reasoning behind this was that people were coming up with some seriously weird interpretations, and at the time, most of the people couldn't read for themselves anyway, so they could only listen to what others interpreted. It became such a problem that the church asked instead for everyone to just get their scripture reads at mass and let the priest interpret it for them. Again, I'm not a historian. We're certainly encouraged to read the bible now. :-)

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