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How to Teach Vacation Bible School
Tips and Ideas for a Great Week
Have you been asked to teach Vacation Bible School? Maybe you are in charge of at your church. Don't panic. As an educator, Sunday School teacher, Bible Study curriculum writer, and 20 year VBS veteran, I'm here to help. If you need to choose a curriculum for your church, see my blue sidebar.
Whether you are scared because you've never done this before, or feel like you need a refresher because you've done this so often, these tips for how to teach should help make your week go smoother.
Time Well Spent!
Most people make a decision to become a Christian while they are young. So your week with these kids may be the most important evangelism event in your church this year. So start by being motivated that teaching VBS is very important. Moreover, a Barna Study in 2009 found that fewer churches are offering programs. Why? Pastors say they can't get volunteers. No one has time. You probably don't either, but you volunteered anyway. Thanks! The smiles of your class will make it all worthwhile.
Easy Decorating Ideas
Keep Focus on Bible
Does your church seem to have a decorating contest? Sometimes, I've felt people spent so much time decorating their room that they were too exhausted to spend time preparing the Bible Lessons. A fun atmosphere does draw in the kids, but you don't have to spend a lot of time and money. Here are 5 simple ideas:
- Use 2-3 colors of blown-up balloons hanging down on yarn from the ceiling (this year I did green and blue).
- Scatter colored beach towels on the floor for kids to sit on, or hand on walls or ceilings.
- Hang up Bible pictures from the stories you will tell.
- Use streamers on doors or across the room, like you would for a birthday party.
- Cover the tables with colorful paper, or colorful plastic or vinyl tablecloths (I've used the same ones for the last 4 years!)
Keep the Focus on Jesus
One warning: Don't get too caught up in the theme. In an attempt to catch the attention of media-saturated kids, many Vacation Bible Schools use exciting themes like Space Exploration, the Amazon Rainforest, The Wild West, Trip to New York, or Under the Sea. While all these themes can be exciting and fun, they are also distracting. Some kids who are unfamiliar with the Bible might even think that Jesus lived in the Amazon! So have fun with the theme, but don't let it overwhelm the Bible Story.
Bible Story Teaching
As an 80-year-old pastor once told me, only two things will last eternally: God's Word and People. If you spend your time preparing your Bible stories, loving the kids, and praying for your class, you will have Vacation Bible School week which has an effect on eternity. Here are ways to make the Bible Story interesting:
- Motions: Have the students do motions as you tell the story--like walking along with hands, wiping a brow when hot, throwing out a fishing line etc.
- Key Words: Tell students to respond to a keyword by saying or doing some motion. You can have them point up when they hear "Jesus," or say "He believed in Jesus" when they hear the name "Paul," or point thumbs down when something bad happens in the story, etc.
- Character Acting: Come dressed as a character in the story and tell the Bible lesson as that person.
- Drama: Dress the students up and have them act out the story.
- Show and Tell: Use puppets, a flannel graph, dolls or other objects to help you act out the story.
- Puppet Re-telling: You can even use a puppet to do a follow-up closing by having the puppet and teacher talk about the story and how the lessons in the story can apply to a child's life.
- Kids Read the Bible: Read the story right from the Bible and have the kids read along. Have the whole class read with you on some verses, or assign some students verses to read. I've used this method in 2nd-4th grade the past few years and liked the way it helps kids to know they can read the Bible themselves.
- Whole Class Acting: Have the whole class act out a story. For example, use a sheet for a boat when acting out the story of Jesus walking on the water.
Act Out a Bible Scene
VBS Game Ideas
If your VBS has a recreation time for kids to let off steam, that's great. Not every game has to relate a Bible point. However, if you have classroom time for a game, try to use it to reinforce the lesson.
Instead of elaborate games which are complicated to explain, keep games and activities simple and familiar. If you want to make up a game, try to make a version of something your kids already know how to play. For example, try these:
- Unscramble the Bible Verse (put words on index cards, time girls, and boys teams!).
- Hangman using Bible Verses or Words from the Bible Story.
- Put the Books of the Bible in Order (use empty CD cases, cereal boxes or index cards).
- Find hidden Resurrection eggs (with symbols inside like dice, thorn, money, cloth for remembering the story of the death and Resurrection of Jesus).
- Pop the balloon for a Bible question (or answer).
- Bible Baseball--teams answer questions to make bases and runs.
- Answer the questions posted on the walls like: What is your favorite Bible Story? What are some names for God? When did God answer your prayer? (this was a favorite activity this year with my 4th-grade class--I had to come up with more question posters mid-week!).
Memory Verse Games
Even if kids forget the rest of the week, they will remember the Bible Verses which are "the power of God unto salvation for those of us who believe" (Romans 1: 16), so spend some time helping the children memorize each day. Here are some easy ways to do Bible memory:
- Disappearing Verse: Write the verse on a chalkboard. Say it a couple of time aloud together. Then have students erase 1-2 words at a time. Challenge the class to say the verse. Continue until all the words are erased and the class generally can all say the verse!
- Unscramble Challenge: Have verse written on index cards, 1-2 words per card. Divide the class into small groups or do boys vs. girls. Using a cell phone timer, see how long it takes each group to unscramble the verse and say it aloud.
- Verse Wave: Taking the index cards of the verse, have everyone stand in a circle and take one card. Doing a "wave" have students put their card in the air and read it in order. Then have students pass the cards around. They have to unscramble back into the right order and "wave read" the verse again.
- Back and Forth: In pairs, the students say the verse, each child reading one word at a time until they are done. See if they can do it faster and faster.
- Sing the Verse: Pick a familiar tune like "ABC song,"Mary had a Little Lamb" or "Row, Row your Boat" (or use a more contemporary song you like!) and put the memory verse into that song. I do this every year and find it makes the verses stick in my memory too!
- Reward Their Efforts!: During craft or snack time, I give students a chance to tell me the verse one on one for a small reward like candy, a bookmark or a sticker. Another reward I've done in the past is to allow them to earn coins for the missions offering by saying their verses (which is especially helpful if you have kids who don't have money to put in the offering).
Easy, Inexpensive VBS Craft Ideas
What makes a craft meaningful is the effort and thought the child puts into the craft, not how expensive it is. In fact, the best Vacation Bible School crafts I've ever come up with were made of recycled or found objects. Many times, your church family can collect things for your program to help cut expenses. There are many craft ideas online. Here are some of the favorite ones I've invented:
- Bible Story Journal: Have students draw a picture of the Bible Story each day and either write or paste a copy of the story and verse (depending on the age of the child). This is my favorite craft because it is a meaningful record of what the child learned that week. Put a class or individual picture on the front of the journal and you will have a keepsake that will be treasured.
- God is My Rock: Use rocks and have kids write or put a sticker verse on the bottom and decorate top with paint or markers. Can also symbolize stone rolled away and put "He is alive" on the bottom. We still have these in our garden!
- Fiber stick cross: Take sticks and hot glue them into cross shape (or use wire). Kids wind different kinds of fiber, yarn or fabric strips around them. they can include paper tags with verses or beads. These look very elegant on a wall.
- I Spy Jesus Bottle: Have church send in empty water bottles. Kids drop in them things that remind them of Jesus and his death and resurrection (thorn, coin, dice, white cloth, purple cloth for robe, nail, stone for tomb etc.) Fill the jar up with rice, sand or other filler. Print out a list of what is in the bottle and what it means to put on top. This is a good evangelism tool.
- 10 Commandment Plaque: Print out the 10 commandments on cardstock. Have dads in church cut up some boards (maybe donated leftovers)? Kids paint their board, glue on commandments and then put ModPodge or glue on top to make it shiny.
- God Loves Me: Make a collage picture of themselves using scrap paper, yarn, buttons and other leftover craft materials. Mounted on black paper and framed these are very precious pictures.
- Picture Clipboard: Buy inexpensive clipboards or make ones with cardboard and laundry clips. Have kids use Mod Podge and scrapbook paper to decorate the boards and then put a picture of the class in the middle and a Scripture. You could also have the kids sign their names with Sharpies on the boards.
- Faith Word Paintings: Use inexpensive canvas or cardboard. Have kids use stickers to spell out a word like Faith, Hope, Love, Jesus Saves, Obey, I love God or some other phrase from the week. Put the stickers on the canvas. Paint all over the canvas in rainbow colors or their favorite colors (avoid giving them too many colors, brown and black). When the canvas is dry, remove the stickers and you will have a very professional looking painting.
- "Walk with Jesus" Flip Flops: Take inexpensive flip flops and ribbon or strips of fabric cut 1" by 6." Tie 6 strips to each side of a flip flop for decoration (24 strips for a pair of flip flops). On the sole of the flip flop, have the kids write things they can do to "walk with Jesus" like help a friend, share the good news, help mom and dad. You can also have them write a Bible Verse.
- Salvation Bracelet or Necklace: Have children use beads of different colors to make a bracelet or necklace that helps them remember what it means to be a Christian. There are different versions of this project, but here is one way to talk about the colors:
- Green=God made the world and God made you and me
- Black=my sin and yours separate us from God
- Red=Jesus blood when he died on the cross
- White=I am cleansed by his blood and made whole and new
- Purple=Jesus is God and King and reigns forever
- Yellow=Heaven is full of light and those who believe in Jesus will live there with him eternally after we die.
11. Wordless Book: Use the same colors above to make a book with just colored paper. You can make a big book tell the story and then have children make smaller books to take home. Have children tell the story of salvation to each other using the book.
You have great ideas for what to do, but how should you put them together? How can you keep a balance between getting the kids excited and keeping the kids under control? Here are some tips:
- Plan your schedule carefully so that the kids aren't having to sit still and listen too long.
- Mix it up! Plan so that the kids move from sitting to an activity quickly. About 15- 20 minutes for each activity is generally enough. Mix up games, crafts, snack, recreation, music and Bible story, and let the kids move from place to place or at least stand and wiggle around before doing another activity.
- Use music! If you have a guitar, play it. If you don't, get out a video or a CD. Use music to get the kids involved in a song to break up activities. Kids love to sing, dance and praise God. There are many wonderful children's C.D.s like The Seeds Family Worship and the Go Fish Guys.
Show God's Love to Each Child
We do teach more by our lives than by our words. 20 years from now, the kids you teach this week may not remember which Bible stories they learned in your class, but chances are they will remember how much you loved them. Here are some ways to show you care:
- Touch: Give kids a high five, a pat on the back, or a hug.
- Smile: Even though you may get exhausted towards the end of the week, a smile shows kids that you love them and are happy to be there.
- Be Personal: Tell the students stories about yourself and your family. Tell them how you became a Christian as well as what God is teaching you right now. Of course, you want to be age appropriate in what you share, but if you are working on something, like losing your temper or remembering to read your Bible regularly, then it is ok to let kids know that. They don't need perfect examples, they need real life followers of Jesus who are repentant sinners before a loving God.
- Words: Tell them you appreciate them coming each day. Ask students questions to find out what they like do. I always try to learn one special fact about each student so that I can talk to them about it.
- Names: It isn't easy to remember names, but I try to do so. If you have students wear nametags then you can call them by name, even if you don't remember!
- Follow-up: After the week is over, kids who don't go to church will often ask their parents if they can come to Sunday School or other events. Every year, our church has families which get involved because of their kid's participation in your program. So make sure you follow up with a card, a call or a visit to kids, especially ones who become Christians or don't attend church.
M.A.P.S. for Kids Free Mission Minded V.B.S. Curriculum. If you want your kids to learn about missions in V.B.S. as a way of learning about how God works in the world, you might want to try this free downloadable curriculum prepared by Harvest Ministry which is an evangelistic missions group.
Bible Bootcamp: Strapped for cash? Bible Boot-camp is a free downloadable V.B.S. curriculum which uses the idea of "Armor of God" for their main point. Although I have not used this program myself, I've looked it over and been impressed with the quality and ideas. This program is located on a website devoted to providing free resources for teachers. Check out their other ideas for help too.
Free Bible School Another group which has posted 5 different complete Vacation Bible School programs with more in the works. I really liked their crafts and activities. This would require someone in the church to organize and print things out for teachers, but many of the supplies for crafts seem easy to get. Here are the themes:
- Following the Footsteps
- Running the Race
- God's Sheep
- Soldiers of God
- Fishing For Christ
Excellent VBS Programs to Purchase
If you have a big church, or a budget to buy curriculum, you might want to try one of the types below. I have taught Vacation Bible School for over 20 years using different types of curriculum. From my experience, here are some excellent choices:
Go Fish: These parents of preschoolers and kid's band have great Bible teaching songs and videos. They now have 5 terrific V.B.S. programs:
- Backstage With the Bible
- Kickin' it Old School
We've used all of them at my church, which has over 1000 kids in our program each year. I like the way the Go Fish Guys include songs and videos to help teach the Bible story and memory verses. If you are looking for a fully packaged program, this is one of the best. I think this program does a great job of making the Bible the center of the week.
Group: This popular company has new themes each year for VBS. They have a pre-packaged curriculum and many products to purchase. If your church has more money than time, you might want to buy the experience and training from this company or Lifeway. I have not used Group products myself, but my kids have participated in VBS programs that used Group and I've taught many years of Sunday School using their curriculum. Personally, I don't always like their game centered format, but they do offer lots of easily scripted lessons for inexperienced teachers and plenty of activities to follow.
LifeWay: Another of the strongest publishers is LifeWay, which is associated with the Southern Baptists. Like Group, Lifeway offers a full curriculum, training, supplies, crafts, and lots of other ideas. I've taught Lifeway for many years and did find their themes to sometimes overwhelm the Bible Stories. However, the information provided is solid Bible teaching and I like the way they do give something for the Bible teacher to use as a devotion. If your church can afford to buy a curriculum, you won't go wrong with LifeWay.
Prayer Guide for Leaders
Every Vacation Bible School seeks to draw kids closer to knowing the God of the Universe who created, loved and redeemed them. No matter how much I prepare my Bible lessons, I know that the best lessons I've ever taught have been when God's words came out of my mouth unplanned. Only through prayer can your heart be ready for what God wants to teach you this week, and what he wants to use you for to teach others. Here are 8 things you can pray:
- Children's hearts will be opened and willing to listen.
- God will speak into the hearts and minds of kids who don't know him.
- Parents will be willing to go through the trouble to bring their children each day.
- Workers will see God in the events and planning of V.B.S.
- Bible Lessons will be clear and children will understand them.
- Children will memorize Scripture easily and be able to keep it in their hearts for life.
- God will bring the children who need to come.
- Workers will be encouraged in their faith.
Let God be in Control
Sometimes our best plans don't work out as we imagined. The craft is too difficult. The kids didn't seem to listen to the story. No one liked the snack. Don't let little disasters get you down. Vacation Bible School is God's tool to show himself to the children and families in your church and community. He is in control of all the circumstances and he knows how to turn all circumstances for good. So get ready to see what God has in mind for you and your church!