“Are the songs easy to remember and do they lift your spirit? If children are delighted with the music and spontaneously break into song in the car on the way home, you know that you have it right.”
It has always seemed a bit incongruous to watch the flakes fly in early February and know that now is the best time to choose your Vacation Bible School program. Distributors and publishers often give significant discounts now to attract these early purchases. But how do you make your choice? Here are a few insights that I have honed over the years of leading VBS programs & workshops:
1. Your VBS theme should be consistent with your church message
I am troubled by programs that offer a glitzy theme that fails to plainly deliver a faith message. While pirates or outer space can provide wonderful opportunities for decorating, your VBS committee needs to ask whether a five-year-old will grow in faith through that theme. Perhaps the best VBS program that I have ever worked with is the Marketplace series, because it put the kids right in Bible times by living as ‘tribes of Israel’, making sun-dried bricks or ‘Torah’ scrolls, and shopping in the marketplace.
Several years ago, Group Publishing purchased the Marketplace series and added glitz, with cheap little favors that I’d prefer to ignore. If you have an original Markeplace program tucked in your closet, dust it off and consider including it in your VBS rotation at least once every five years. Water, ecology and mission themes offer alternative themes that build on our faith tradition.
2. Great music is a plus
What constitutes the ideal music choices may be dictated by the volunteers who lead that part of the program, but generally you are looking for simple lyrics with solid faith messages and up-beat tunes that bring a smile to your lips and warmth to your heart. Try singing the songs while your working. Are they easy to remember and do they lift your spirit? If children are delighted with the music and spontaneously break into song in the car on the way home, you know that you have it right.
3. Pay attention to the scripture messages
If you are jumping from Jonah to Jesus to Barnabas in one week, there should be a good reason that’s clear. Many of the children that come to your Bible study may not attend church at any of time of the year. You want your program to connect the faith dots in some powerful way. Jumping hundreds of years from one scripture passage to the next, especially Bible stories, can leave your kids more confused than launched in faith. For that reason, I prefer a narrower theme such as, for example, stories of the prophets or the travels of Paul.
4. Examine the craft projects
I was trained as an art teacher, so I pay particular attention to the crafts projects. I look for clues to how the projects relate to the theme and affirm the kids self-esteem. Can the kids do the project themselves and will they be proud of it later? If your adult helpers are hovering over the kids and doing most of the work, the project is probably not age appropriate. It’s a hidden dishonesty that we easily perpetuate; that is, praising kid’s work to their parents when the kids did very little of it themselves. I will write more about that in the future.
5. Finally, cost is always a factor
This is an important issue even in the most prosperous churches. What are the real costs, not just the kit price? If you want the kids to take home music, can you burn copies legally or must you purchase a CD for each child? That can get prohibitive. How expensive are the food, crafts and science projects? Ingenuity can overcome many of the cost obstacles, especially if you have enough volunteers to create less expensive alternatives.
Paula W Hartzell is the Director of the Interfaith Resource Center in Wilmington, Delaware.
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