Whether you create your own curriculum or purchase a new or perineal program, it is important to match it to your congregation’s interests, the gifts and talents of your volunteers, and your goals for VBS.
How is VBS organized?
Most programs, purchased or created, use a rotation model or learning centers. After a gathering/worship exercise, participants are divided into small groups that rotate to different activity centers. If you are doing an intergenerational program, tracks are often created for adults, adolescents, older children and younger children. If you have a traditional program for children, you may divide them by age or randomly to create multi-age groups.
Most purchased curricula provide separate materials and programming for preschool children, with games and activities that are developmentally appropriate for young learners. Typical learning centers are storytelling, crafts, art, music, games, cooking and snacks. More elaborate programs have six to eight stations, while others, like MennoMedia VBS, limit the number of activity centers to three.
A thematic program explores one central idea. Each day includes a scripture passage or Bible story to help participants understand the central theme in more depth. Intergenerational programs, which usually have less time and structure, often include a gathering, breakout groups by age or interest, and a closing worship and sending forth.
Should we create our own program?
A program’s size does not dictate the answer to this question. A self-created program can be designed to be a part of a church’s ministry or mission. For example, if there is a garden on your grounds, you may want to develop a curriculum that uses it throughout the program.
After selecting a central theme and daily focal points, identify centers that will allow participants to explore the theme and focal points. One common complaint I often hear is that too little time in centers results in everyone feeling frantic, instead of moving at a more leisurely pace. The goal of activity centers is to allow participants to respond to the Bible story or theme for the day. They are not just busy work.
Should we purchase a packaged VBS program?
There is no magic answer that is right for every church. Some argue that programs created from scratch are better fits theologically and pedagogically than those that come out of a box. But if time is an issue for volunteers, those same boxed programs can be lifesavers.
Begin by purchasing a “starter kit.” That will provide you with the basics, including a helpful Director’s Guide. Most of the other items, such as postcards, student booklets, scarves, t-shirts, and craft items are not necessary.
Any program you purchase cannot be used without a careful reading and understanding of all the parts. Many of the flashiest, most eye-appealing programs include messages of salvation that are not consistent with liturgically-based churches like the Episcopal Church. You can still use these programs by modifying them with wording that reflects an understanding of baptism as the entry into the Church.
A good place to begin your search is our publisher reviews located on pages 10 and 11. We have discovered that although themes shift, publishers’ basic theology and pedagogy remain similar over the years. We are confident that our publisher top picks will continue to provide quality programs in the future.
How important is music?
Music is one of the most memorable components of programs you either purchase or create. Many prepackaged kits come with CDs of music the children learn during the week. There will be extra expense for providing CDs to every participant, but it may be money well spent. Enthusiastic musicians can make the music come to life during the program. Some of your best musicians may be in middle school—don’t overlook this rich resource.
When VBS is over, take some time to assess the program and make recommendations for the following year. Most of all, encourage everyone involved to have some fun!
This article first appeared in Episcopal Teacher:
Spring 2018, Focus Issue – VBS, page 4