A brief history (and the continuing legacy) of this innovative and influential publisher’s true-to-the-Bible children’s ministry resources
By Margie Redford
“I grew up on Standard Publishing.” Thousands of adults today could make this claim—including me! My home church, First Christian Church in Columbiana, Ohio, was a strong advocate for teaching biblical truths and sound doctrine. The leaders turned to The Standard Publishing Company for both their children’s Sunday school and Vacation Bible School materials.
Thanks to my mother’s careful saving of important documents, I still have numerous certificates of promotion printed by Standard Publishing. They form a spiritual timeline of my years growing up in the church and a Christian home.
So what drove this small publishing house to become such a leader in children’s ministry materials? What variety of teaching materials were produced to grow children in God’s Word? And how does the children’s ministry of Standard Publishing continue today?
An Early Leader in Sunday School Curriculum
The Sunday school movement began a rapid upward surge in the early 1870s. This movement contributed greatly to the growth of the church and local congregations. The Standard Publishing Company, incorporated in 1872, was established to serve churches that were determined to follow the Bible as the Word of God. New Sunday school publications were developed to meet the needs of every age group from cradle roll to adult. The first Uniform Lessons for Sunday School were published in 1873, including Girlhood Days and Boy Life. In 1876, Sunday School Standard became the first of Standard’s take-home papers for children. In 1879, The Little Child, a take-home paper for Beginner children, was announced. Buds of Hope followed in 1885 and correlated to the Uniform Sunday School Lessons. This paper later became The Little Beginner, then Four and Five, and now Heart Tugs.
The development of other age-level materials for both teachers and students was similar.
With the turn of the century came more innovation. First published in 1907, Training for Service was by far the most widely used teacher training text of its time and is still available today. Herbert Moninger, editor of this excellent survey of the Bible, promoted it abroad. At one time it was claimed that in Japan, 100,000 people were studying Training for Service.
A year later, Standard pioneered full-color printing. Recognizing the impact of art in Christian education, Standard commissioned oil paintings of all major events of the Bible. A collection of nearly 800 pieces visualized Bible scenes for learning.
In the earliest Sunday school curriculum, great emphasis was placed on the primary-age child. Men of great insight saw the need to develop curriculum for upper elementary children, and in January 1909, the first year in each of the three elementary courses was completed: Beginner, Primary, and Junior. The purpose of the graded lessons was to meet the spiritual needs of students in each stage of their spiritual development.
Welcome to VBS!
No one knows for sure just when the first Vacation Bible School was held, or who held it. But in 1923, Standard Publishing produced the first printed materials specifically designed for use in Vacation Bible School. The first course was a 5-week program that provided material for three age levels—Kindergarten, Primary, and Junior. Over the next nine decades, 10-day and then 5-day courses became popular, and Standard provided VBS materials for toddlers through adults.
Phyllis J. Sanders, who worked at Standard Publishing for 38 years, became known as the face and voice of Standard’s VBS programs. As director of the department, Sanders worked tirelessly with a dedicated team of editors to develop themes and Bible lessons that would impact churches, children, families, and communities. Standard’s VBS materials were sold in the United States and Canada, and missionaries used the materials in other parts of the world.
The array of VBS materials included teacher guides, student books, visuals, music, and crafts. Mission packets accompanied many VBS programs. Puppets and drama scripts engaged children of all ages. Theme-related snacks, games, and service projects were suggested. Scene setters, promotional items, and gifts abounded. Directors and teachers were trained through printed guides and workshops. Follow-up programs helped kids and families continue to grow in God’s ways beyond the time spent at VBS.
Through the years, Standard’s VBS programs reached more than 40 million children. Deonna Lierman, who worked side by side with Sanders for more than 30 years, summed up Standard’s VBS success: “Phyllis and the VBS team just wanted to put the best materials into the hands of people who had a heart for Jesus—and He did the rest.”
Children’s Bibles, Books, and More!
With both Sunday school and Vacation Bible school curricula established, Standard turned its attention to the development of another growing need in Christian education—Bibles and Bible story books for young readers. The Standard Bible Story Readers, by Lillie A. Faris, were introduced in 1925. Churches, schools, and families purchased more than a million copies of the series. In 1962, these graded readers were updated with new art and a new name—Basic Bible Readers. Graded reading books continued when the popular Happy Day Books line was introduced.
The plethora of children’s books published by Standard over the years is astounding. Some of the books have been hardback for little hands, such as Baby’s First Bible. Others were paperback, including cutout, coloring, dot-to-dot, and puzzle books.
From 1991 to 2006, Diane Stortz served as editor and then director of the New Products department. Under her leadership, the Happy Day Books series took on a new look and approach, affordable for both Sunday school classrooms and home use. A number of other titles taught captivating Bible stories and important faith concepts. In 1998, The Young Reader’s Bible was released, featuring Scripture references, maps of Bible lands, colorful illustrations, and a glossary of terms and unfamiliar Bible words.
Reflecting on the array of ministry products printed, Stortz says, “Many of the products we developed are still available and have new life because other publishers recognized their value and purchased the rights to them. Tyndale House has done a beautiful job with the sticker line and the Happy Day Books line, and B&H Kids has brought The Young Reader’s Bible, My Good Night Bible, and a number of other children’s books back into the marketplace for new generations of kids and families.”
Tools and Training
Throughout its history Standard has been a leader in equipping teachers with both the tools and training needed for teaching God’s Word effectively. Teachers looked to Standard for certificates, postcards, bookmarks, and attendance charts—tools that made Sunday school fun for kids and easy for connecting with families. Packs of gummed seals in time were replaced by self-adhesive stickers—and there were plenty of them to use for attendance, crafts, and recognition!
Looking for another way to help teachers visualize scenes from the Bible, Standard Publishing developed flannelgraph Bible stories. Suede-backed figures were easy to punch out and adhere to a flannel board. Known as Pict-O-Graph, Standard’s packets included instruction manuals with sketches of sample scenes to use in telling the Bible stories.
To meet the needs of Christian education beyond the Sunday school hour, Standard created materials for children’s worship, kids’ clubs, midweek Bible study programs, and family together times. When reproducible curriculum became popular, Standard provided those resources too, making it easy for teachers to use and cost-effective for churches to purchase. The back-cover copy on one of the reproducible graded Route 52 books reiterates Standard’s core values for children’s ministry: “There’s nothing more important to teach our children than how to build a relationship with God, and there’s no better way to do that than to teach kids the Bible.”
Training teachers and leaders continued to be a priority for the company. Beginning in the 1960s, Key to Christian Education was published quarterly. The journal contained training articles for all age levels, from toddlers through adult. In the 1990s a video series, Design for Teaching, was introduced. The training kits included 15-minute VHS videos and reproducible assignment worksheets.
By the mid-1970s, Standard was focusing on another important area of children’s ministry—the inclusion of children with special needs. Standard partnered with Jim Pierson, who served as a consultant to churches in the area of special education. Dr. Pierson’s tips for including students with disabilities were printed in VBS and Sunday school curriculum and several books.
Shaping Hearts with God’s Word Continues
Released in July 2005, HeartShaperChildren’s Curriculum continues Standard’s legacy of providing true-to-the-Bible materials for teaching God’s Word to children. Lessons for toddlers through preteens integrate age-appropriate Bible skills to help children grow in handling God’s Word. The curriculum also includes activity adaptations for teaching children with different needs and abilities. Additional training and family resources are offered at HeartShaper.com.
In 2015, Standard Publishing’s Sunday school curriculum (for both children and adults) and several other church resources were purchased by David C Cook Publishing. Standard’s children’s curriculum continues to be published and sold today.
Jim Lloyd, library director at Cincinnati Christian University, knows a lot about the Christian education materials produced by Standard Publishing. He has been collecting and archiving the company’s products for 35 years!
“I think the real strength of Standard came in the breadth of its coverage,” Lloyd said. “I have never ceased to be amazed at what I discover about how prolific and how impactful Standard Publishing has been in its efforts to provide materials for churches. Its efforts to simply teach God’s Word ministered not only to the needs of Christian churches and churches of Christ, but also to churches outside of the Restoration Movement.
“The people at Standard were ingenious in their efforts to provide everything possible for children to learn God’s Word. This is seen, for instance, in the way Standard provided mothers and fathers with materials that helped them to be directly involved in home education for their children from nursery age on up.
“Alexander Campbell expressed his concern that parents would ignore their responsibilities for teaching their children by allowing the church to take over that role,” Lloyd continued. “Standard made sure that both the church and parents had material in hand that would help their children’s spiritual growth. Only God knows the number of individuals and the number of families that have grown in grace and knowledge of the Lord because of Standard Publishing.”
So did you grow up on Standard Publishing? I’m grateful and blessed because I did!
Margie Redford has been a children’s curriculum editor for Standard Publishing (now part of the David C Cook family) since September 1991. A graduate of Kentucky Christian University, Margie married Doug Redford in 1976. The couple have served together in various located ministries since that time—Doug preaching and teaching and Margie working in the areas of children’s and music ministries. Doug and Margie live in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have three children and five grandchildren.
_ _ _
A Leader in Children’s Ministry
Significant and Fun Facts from Standard Publishing
Rapid growth in the Sunday school movement.
Standard Publishing incorporated.
Uniform Lessons for Sunday School published by Standard, including Girlhood Days and Boy Life.
Sunday School Standard, the first take-home paper for children, published.
The Little Child, a take-home paper for Beginner children, announced. Buds of Hope followed in 1885 and correlated to the Uniform Sunday School Lessons.
The first edition of Training for Service, written by Herbert Moninger, published. Later editions were edited by C. J. Sharp, Orrin Root, Eleanor Daniel, and Jim Eichenberger.
Standard pioneered full-color printing; a collection of Bible oil paintings was commissioned. The collection was added to through the years and ultimately included 92 oil paintings by renowned American artist Cleveland L. Woodward (1900–85). Born in Glendale, Ohio, Woodward was a lecturer on biblical art and instructor in oil painting.
The first year of Sunday school lessons in each of the three elementary courses completed: Beginner, Primary, and Junior.
The first set of religious outline pictures for children to color are printed.
Absentee and invitation postcards printed in full color to boost Sunday school attendance.
Bible Picture Story Cards introduced. The pocket-size, take-home cards summarized the Bible story heard in class, along with its Bible art.
Standard Publishing produced the first printed materials specifically designed for use in Vacation Bible School.
The Standard Bible Story Readers, by Lillie A. Faris, introduced.
A Daily Bible Readings Plan for Junior age and above started.
The first slogan stickers printed: “Make 1937 a Sunday-school Year.”
Standard pioneered in the production of filmstrips. A special offer included a Viewlex Projector with two filmstrips each quarter for $10 down and $10 per month for one year.
Bible Storytime Records introduced. The 45 rpm picture disc records featured full-color labels with titles such as “When Jesus Was Born,” “The Wise-men,” “Poky Caterpillar,” and “Little Brown Seed.”
Standard hosted the first National Christian Education Convention.
Late 1950s–early 1960s
Development of flannelgraph figures. One of Standard Publishing’s pressmen renovated an old press so it would run glue instead of ink. After the adhesive was applied to the back side of a printed sheet, the sheet passed through a section containing rayon fiber. The fiber adhered to the glue. Standard Publishing patented this process, and flannelgraph was born!
Key to Christian Education journal began quarterly publication. The journal contained training articles for all age levels, written by dedicated editors such as Wilma L. Shaffer, Dana Eynon, Norma Thurman, Judy Trotter, Orrin Root, and James I. Fehl.
Frances Hook illustrated a series of pictures of Jesus for Standard Publishing. The images were used for Sunday school take-home papers, Vacation Bible School materials, and children’s books.
Julie and Jeff 2s & 3s Sunday school curriculum debuted. It featured learning centers with guided conversation prompts for teachers, activity pages, a colorful take-home paper, and a set of wipe-clean storybooks correlated to the syllabus.
Year of the Sunday School, a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Sunday school movement, spearheaded by Standard Publishing. The water tower on Standard’s property was painted to look like a birthday cake, and an anniversary packet of materials was offered to Sunday schools. (The water tower was toppled in 1985 as it was no longer needed.)
Introduction of new group-graded Sunday school curriculum, which included audio tapes.
The Young Reader’s Bible introduced.
HeartShaper Children’s Curriculum released. The classroom-based curriculum integrates Bible skill at all age levels.