We're celebrating 90 - that's 90 years of providing the very best VBS curriculum, resources, and training - by going to the archives for ideas and advice that is just as relevant today as the day it was first printed. The following article was originally published in 1998 in The Sunday School Leader.
When my banjo and I entered the VBS room, 12 enthusiastic preschoolers greeted us. They and their teachers sat in a semi-circle, listened as I described the instrument, and clapped in rhythm while I played. We sang a couple of songs they'd learned earlier that week, and each child had an opportunity to strum the banjo for himself. By the time I left, I had a dozen new five-year-old friends and the appreciation of four VBS teachers.
I served as music resource person that summer, available for as many age groups as possible during the week. I didn't teach or lead a department; I simply worked with different groups in music, according to a prearranged schedule.
Likewise, your church probably has persons you can ask to fill various roles. Consider not only music but also Bible study leaders, recreation, and crafts. You can find such people through churchwide surveys, word-of-mouth recommendations, and personal contacts. For example, you didn't know Susie's dad was a leather-work expert until you visited in their home. Why not ask him to plan and implement a project for the sixth-grade VBS department?
You'll find many advantages to using persons to fill specific roles for VBS. Rarely will you have a VBS department staffed with teachers who are experts in every field. With resource persons in a rotation setting, you can offer the children a wider range of activities and experiences. Perhaps someone in your church has traveled to the Holy Land. Invite her to tell stories of Jesus' last days on earth because she has actually walked where Jesus walked. Maybe you have church members who are artists, musicians, or actors. Get them involved, too.
Another advantage occurs if you use the church staff as resource persons. Children will gain a greater appreciation for these leaders when they interact with them in VBS. Be sure to invite your pastor, minister of music, organist, and others to spend time in your department.
One summer our minister of education brought his one-month-old son to illustrate the story of Jesus' birth. That visit made a distinct impression on the children, who talked about the baby and his father all week.
Before you enlist resource persons, however, develop a plan to deal with the details. Scheduling is essential so that both the children's and leader's time is maximized. Whether you use the rotation plan or stay in one room, keeping time commitments makes the day go better for everyone. If, for example, a leader was delayed in another class, you'll have to find an activity to fill the gap. If, on the other hand, your class isn't ready for him at the appointed time, you may disrupt his schedule for the rest of the day or cut short the children's enjoyment of that area and frustrate a leader who has prepared activities requiring a certain amount of time. This is certainly possible in younger departments, where bathroom breaks and snack times don't always run as planned.
Another issue involves the resource person's lack of familiarity with the children. Remember that you are with this VBS group all week; you quickly learn the children's names and personalities. A short-term leader doesn't have that benefit. In such situations, I always feel more comfortable when I see children wearing name tags. Of course, having the Bible study leader in the room along with the rotation or resources leader reassures both children and leaders.
Also remember that rotation does not mean an activity is limited to that one time each day. Music, for example, may be a part of recreation, worship, and Bible study. Don't compartmentalize activities so much that you miss many good teaching opportunities.
Here are some additional tips to make your use of rotation or resource persons work well.
- Never leave the resource person alone with children.
- Maintain the time schedule.
- Train all of your workers.
When you enlist rotation or resource leaders, be specific about the expectations you have for them. Don't simply ask your pianist and organist to "come in and play something for us." Let them know your teaching-learning goals so they can tailor their activities to your needs.
As teacher or director, you should also expect your resource persons to exhibit enthusiasm. A boring story-teller can easily kill the moments you've established for the department. By contrast, a smiling, enthusiastic person will do much to keep your children interested, on track, and looking forward to other good things you have to offer in VBS.
Using a variety of gifted church members will enhance your VBS whether you use a rotation schedule or keep children in one room. The lives of your children will be enriched as they interact with adults in an exciting Bible study experience.
Last summer, when I entered the five-year-old room with my banjo, they were ready. The teachers had told them what to expect, and they eagerly anticipated my visit. Thanks to everyone's preparation, my time as a resource person was a positive learning experience for the children and rewarding opportunity for me.
Written by Ruth Danner, who at the time was a free-lance writer and Sunday School teacher at Starr Road Baptist Church, Spokane, Washington.