I liked VBS when I was a child. VBS was different than Sunday School. In Sunday School, we heard a Bible story. Sometimes the teacher would use flannelgraph figures to tell the story which made it more interesting. Then we completed a worksheet about the story. That was it. That was Sunday School.
In VBS, we got to have a snack. Sure it was just punch and cookies but since I never got punch and store bought cookies at home, I thought that was pretty cool. We also did crafts. That was different. Now, I do NOT like crafts, but I still remember the craft I did when I was four years old. We planted geranium flowers in a Styrofoam cup. My mother let me transplant the flowering plant to our garden and I tended that geranium plant for years. We finally had to pull it out when I was in college and I was sad to see it go. We also got to sing new songs, songs that related to the lessons. Some of them were really dumb sounding but they were still something new and exciting. We didn’t do that in Sunday School.
We would meet in the auditorium for song and missions time. The director would get everyone excited about our mission project, then we would go to our classes. There, we would sit in the same room with the same teacher for the bible story, worksheets, snack and craft. Sometimes the same teacher would do everything; other times, someone different or the teacher’s helper would do the craft.
My, my, how times have changed. As our children are faced with an increasingly visual, action packed, ever moving and ever changing world. VBS curriculum producers have tried to keep up with the competition of tv and video games. Today’s VBS curriculum is filled with drama, video, interactive activities, outdoor games and even purpose driven snacks. As much as I have fond memories of my early VBS days, I’m glad for the changes.
There are two major approaches to VBS. One is the traditional classroom which I’ve described above. The other is what is called the “site based” approach or a rotation approach. Instead of staying in one group, the children travel from one activity to the next. They’ll go to a storytelling room, a music center, games outside and the snack area. Each age level is on a different schedule. An adult or teen helper travel with the children and each station is staffed with yet more volunteers to lead the children in that activity.
The advantage is that kids are moving around from site to site which is great for today’s active children. Another advantage is that the rotation method uses the gifts of your volunteers much more efficiently and gives a director a chance to work in people who have never taught before. I never liked being a teacher for VBS under the traditional method because I’m so bad at crafts. With a rotation structure, I can choose to do what I’m best at – which is usually leading music or telling the Bible story in a dramatic way.
A final plus is that the site based method gives all kinds of room for creativity. Your staff can create an entire environment based on the theme. I’ve seen churches transformed into to a water park, Egyptian palace or country farm. This builds excitement and encourages even more volunteers to get involved.
What is the down side to the site based VBS? You ultimately need more volunteers. A site based structure needs planning and organization. You can’t do it last minute. I’ve seen a site based VBS thrown together at the last minutes and it’s disastrous! It also requires your core staff members for the music, craft and bible story time to be able to shift their approach up or down depending on the age group. Not everyone is suited to work with all age groups and it takes some very talented people to be able to do three preparations and change gears three times during the VBS session.
Which is best for your group of children? You have to decide, based on your facilities, the number of children you expect, and the number and talents of your volunteers. However you choose to structure your VBS, keep my guiding philosophy on Christian Education in mind. Everything you do in your needs to relate back to your purpose and your theme for the day or for the week. Tie everything you do back to your theme, whether it’s a game, a snack or a craft. You only have a few precious hours with these children. Make every moment count.