Discover these six elements that parents and kids say make for a great vacation Bible school!
We thought it would be interesting to talk to some end-users of vacation Bible school—parents and children. After all, these people are the final frontier that your VBS is trying to reach.
Eleven-year-old Chris Turpin of Richmond, Kentucky, understands what vacation Bible school is trying to achieve each summer. “You have to learn about Christ,” Chris says, “but it has to be fun too. Make it interesting.”
And how do you do that? Include the elements that the experts say are crucial to a great vacation Bible school.
1. The VBS Fun Factor
“A good vacation Bible school is one that really teaches the truth about Jesus but it is also fun,” says Joann Becker, a director of parish education in Plantation, Florida. “It teaches kids that church is a warm, welcoming place where they can learn about their Savior.”
Parents agree. “As a parent, it’s important to see your child having fun,” says Sandy Murphy of Fox Point, Wisconsin. “They need to be having fun and learning at the same time. In summer when kids are off school, fun should be the focus, not academics.”
2. Hands-On Learning
“I think what makes a good vacation Bible school is when kids are always doing something, when there’s a point each day, and when that point is emphasized in every area the kids go to,” says Brenda Berding, a director of religious education in Fishers, Indiana. “What we’re covering needs to come alive for the children. When putting a VBS together, people need to think ‘how is the child going to view this? How can the child use this in his or her life?’ ”
Emily Fairbanks, a parent in Arlington, Texas, stresses the importance of variety. She says, “Kids have different learning styles so a learning station approach works well—where there’s lots of change and opportunities to do a variety of things, like music, drama, and so on. It should be action-packed. Kids should go from thing to thing—not just sit in a room all day.”
This approach is also the most teacher-friendly, according to Lydia Ruffin, a Mobile, Alabama parent. “I think theme-based curricula are the best, especially where children move from room to room,” Lydia says. “Everybody’s so busy right now; this way teachers only need to learn one lesson and then do the same activity each night. They become familiar with it, and they can adapt it throughout the week for different age groups.”
3. Rockin’ Music
For 9-year-old Danielle Sheahan of Kingston, Ontario, music is the best part. A good VBS has to have “fast songs with a beat and a bit of rock. Kids find the slow hymns boring sometimes,” Danielle says.
Thirteen-year-old Marcus Klem of Ontario, New York, agrees with Danielle. “I like fast songs. The ones last summer were African songs.”
Eleven-year-old Tripp Morris of Tifton, Georgia, says, “I like the singing when it’s different every time you go.”
“Good music is important because it’s enriching for the soul and it breaks all kinds of barriers,” says Dan Haertl, a Christian education director in Minneapolis. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, rich or poor. Music cleanses the soul. And kids like to sing.”
Add take-home music CDs to a curriculum and you have a winner year-round, according to Vicky Bertrand, a parent in Bakersfield, California. “Kids can take the CDs home and teach their families and neighbors the songs and hand-motions,” Vicky says. “The songs become so familiar that kids can play them years later and it brings back the whole vacation Bible school.”
4. Great Crafts
Kids of all ages agree that crafts are crucial to the success of a VBS. Eleven-year-old Haley Maxon of Chamberlain, South Dakota, is emphatic that VBS should have good crafts. “One time when we learned about Jonah,” Haley remembers, “we drew boats and whales on fabric and sewed them together. It’s hanging in our church.”
When we asked 11-year-old Teagen Andrews of Sandy, Oregon, what she likes best about VBS, she said, “I like the crafts they do. Once we made a sand ball. We put sand in a clear plastic ball. Then we put in shells, a coin, and stuff. When you turned it, you could see the different things come up.”
“Children enjoy doing different crafts,” says Jackie Cookenour, the mother of a 7-year-old daughter in Charlottesville, Virginia. “They have a lot they can take home at the end. We always have children do one major group project that we then give to the church, often something that has all the children’s names on it.”
A craft doesn’t have to be an art project. Group’s VBS has added the creative Imagination Stations where kids make hands-on discoveries with exciting experiments. Kids love them!
5. Committed Staff
Curriculum issues aside, many people said that it’s the volunteers who are most important. “What makes a good vacation Bible school is good and dedicated teachers and the prayer and preparation that go into it,” says JoEllen Axthelm, from Kirksville, Missouri. “You can have a wonderful curriculum, but if you don’t have good people, it doesn’t matter.”
Nine-year-old Rochelle Claggett of Largo, Maryland, says the teachers are what makes a good VBS. Rochelle says, “We have good teachers that help you when you have a question. You can stay there real long.”
Eleven-year-old Frankie Womack from San Diego, California, gives that a big amen. “The teachers are nice and you learn a lot of stuff,” Frankie says. “I think [the success of VBS] has a lot to do with the spirit and enthusiasm of the staff,” affirms Emily Fairbanks, a parent in Arlington, Texas. “If they feel it’s a vital ministry and they’re excited about what the Lord’s going to do with it—that makes all the difference.”
6. Lasting Impact
Mary M. Burman, a director of Christian education in Laramie, Wyoming, believes that every vacation Bible school should lead kids to be doers of the Word. “The Bible stories need to have life application for kids and use very active lessons that the kids can be involved in,” Mary says.
Lydia Ruffin, whose 8-year-old son attends VBS in Mobile, Alabama, thinks evangelism should be the goal of any VBS. “The most important thing is that we present the plan of salvation,” Lydia says. “For so many people, VBS is the only way they’re touched.”
While the fun aspects of VBS are critical, Nalini Nallo, a parent in Queens Village, New York, encourages VBS directors to do more than just entertain kids. “Kids need to have fun while they’re learning,” Nalini says. “It shouldn’t be boring, but we should incorporate the Word of God in a stronger way—not just teach them that God is love or about God’s creation, but challenge them to read more, memorize more. The emphasis seems to be more toward fun and not toward the Word. Children should have a stronger sense of what the focus is. The bottom line is that they need to know the Lord. We need to pray for wisdom on how to do it.”