At many churches, teens and tweens are invited to help with Vacation Bible School to create wonderful multi-age programs that foster a sense of ownership and connection among young people. By placing teens in leadership roles, faith formation is deepened for everyone involved.
Basic Directions for Teen Volunteers
Safety is always the first priority, both for campers and volunteers. Plan to review safety policies and procedures for leaders of all ages. Each state has its own guidelines for background checks, and each diocese has guidelines for completing the Safeguarding God’s Children program.
Here are some basic directions for teens and the adults that work with them.
Leaders are never alone with a child
If a child needs to leave the group for any reason, another child should accompany them as a buddy.
Follow the schedule
Everyone needs to stick to the schedule. If weather or another reason causes a change in activities, the director should be informed.
Helping a child use the bathroom
If children need supervision in the restroom, a helper stands in the hall doorway leading into the restroom (assuming a multi-stall restroom). They are not alone in the restroom with the child but can supervise. If more intimate assistance is needed, an adult should be called.
Call for first aid
Everyone needs to know how to contact the designated first aid responder at all times. Provide general first aid protocols, including instances where the injured person should not be moved or left alone while help is sought.
No roughhouse play
Horseplay, piggyback rides, and carrying younger children – all actions younger campers may request – are not acceptable.
If younger children become physically aggressive – climbing on teen helpers, for example – the teens need to give the child clear instructions to stop or get an adult to help redirect. Teens often need help learning to set boundaries – which is a good life skill.
Give positive directions
Directions to children should be given in the affirmative, not the negative. “Keep your feet on the sidewalk” is better than “Don’t go in the street.”
Use the phrase “I need you to…”
To modify a child’s behavior, “I need you to…” is a positive way to give direction.
Calling a child
To effectively communicate with a child, go to the child rather than yell from a distance.
The best protocols for allergies are repetitive and layered – allergies should be clearly highlighted on rosters and attendance sheets, and subtly added to name tags. Snack schedule for kitchen helpers should flag groups that have children or leaders with food allergies.
Respect the space, and clean up
We show respect for each other and our work by cleaning after snacks and organizing craft materials and other items. Teens are not expected to pick up after children, but rather to direct children to pick up after themselves.
Serve all the children
Remind teens that although they may have favorites, they are to serve all children equally by being inclusive, inviting, and welcoming to all.
Role models = Rock Stars
Remind teens that they are role models, or even Rock Stars in the eyes of younger kids. Sarcasm, teasing and certain kinds of language are not to be used.
Focus on the campers, not your friends
The focus of leaders of all ages needs to be on campers rather than interactions with one another.
Put cell phones away
Helpers need to keep their cell phones out of sight, other than to keep track of the time.
No drinks or snacks in front of campers
Only eat or drink the same snacks campers are eating when you are with them.
Rules for posting pictures
Helpers do not have permission to post images of campers on personal social media. Permission to post images to social media is only given to churches.
This article first appeared in Episcopal Teacher:
Spring 2018, Focus Issue – VBS, page 9