What are your tips for a well-organized VBS?

I have worked at many Vacation Bible Schools since I was a teenager and chaos can often reign.

You have 100 to 200 kids who are usually only there for one week, which makes it hard to get everyone into patterns. And it is usually run by volunteers who only meet once or twice beforehand to prepare.

But I think a strong administrative structure and some good memos can make the difference between a well-organized VBS and one where you feel like you’re wrangling cats.

This is my first year teaching at our new church, and I have been impressed with their set up. I wanted to share a few ideas that I’ve seen work through the years. And I am hoping that you guys can offer up tips that have worked well at your VBS.

That first morning arrival is often a mess. The kids are all trying to get checked in and find their leaders.

A couple of thoughts on this:

1. Instead of a central check in that gets backed up, I really like the teachers making phone calls the week before. We told the parent our class color, class name, symbol and what snack they needed to bring. So when they showed up the first morning they headed straight into the hall and looked for their color and the sign with their mascot on it. Each teacher checked in her own kids. So no back up and they were ready to start the morning session in their group.

2.  Color-coded T-shirts for teachers and kids help the entire day. The shirts help visually organize in the big session and if you find a kid wandering you know where he belongs by his shirt. Plain colored T-shirts can be found at Hobby Lobby and Michael’s for $3 to $4. Only down side is you have to wash each night.

3.  Name tags given to class teacher ahead of time – we have been given all the kids name tags ahead of time. I was advised to use curling ribbon instead of yarn (it tangles less) and was told to place them on hangers. (You know the kind that work on spaghetti strap dresses.)

4.  We were given a countdown list of what to do two weeks before and one week before.

5.  We were given a list of snacks that each kid will contribute to the group, such as boxes of Chex cereal or pretzels (to make Chex mix to share). They are supposed to bring in their snack contributions on the first day and then the kitchen team will have it all ready to distribute each day.

6.  Don’t deal with lunch. We are running for about 3 hours so they are giving the kids a snack and not dealing with lunch, which helps reduce the stuff you are keeping up with. They didn’t advise them to bring towels but that always seemed like a good thing.

7.  We had a three-day window to come in and decorate our classrooms and get the supplies we needed set up.

What things seemed to work well at your VBS – whether you taught or were just dropping off? What helped contain the chaos?

35 comments Add your comment

50 years ago...

June 5th, 2012
12:31 pm

…when I attended VBS we just showed up and everything ran smoothly – uh, you mean my mom and her other friends /workers actually made plans like outlined above and then things were seamless to me? Whoda thunk?

A

June 5th, 2012
1:01 pm

Don’t attend church and don’t do VBS, but regular summer day camps seem to run fairly smoothly for the most part. For this week’s camp, we got a call over the weekend from the woman in charge of my child’s group, including information about group color, what to bring, etc. This was in addition to emailed forms/documents and notifications as well as snail mailed ones. So they covered all the bases and everything went well at check-in yesterday.

Jessica

June 5th, 2012
1:03 pm

My church is having VBS in the evening. More kids are able to attend then, and more parents are able to volunteer.

Techmom

June 5th, 2012
1:07 pm

Most of the churches near us do VBS at night. It’s hard to find enough volunteers who don’t work to run one. Ours runs from 6-8pm 4 nights. I guess for the parents who aren’t helping, it’s enough time to run to the grocery store or grab a bite to eat before returning to pick the kids up. Personally I think it’s chaos and try to avoid our church during VBS. Since youth meets on Wednesday nights we typically schedule a “field trip” that night to avoid having both groups in church.

Ag N'ostic

June 5th, 2012
1:11 pm

I would never send my kids to VBS.

[...] What are your tips for a well-organized VBS?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)And I am hoping that you guys can offer up tips that have worked well at your VBS. That first morning arrival is often a mess. The kids are all trying to get checked in and find their leaders. 1. Instead of a central check in that gets backed up, …and more » [...]

motherjanegoose

June 5th, 2012
1:37 pm

TWG…YES, ORGANIZATION IS THE KEY. Many teachers are quite experienced in this arena but some are too pooped to help out as soon as school gets out.

I went to VBS in Chicago over 40 years ago. It was a huge project with our church and we had hundreds of kids. Not many Moms worked, in our area, and they ran it. The church sent a bus out to pick up kids in neighborhoods. I am sure you could never do that now. They also had a Friday night outreach for children ages 8-12, during the school year. There were crafts games, snacks, singing and a Bible story. The kids only had to pay for the crafts…about $1-$3: pottery, leather tooling, cooper wiring projects, knitting, ceramics, macrame, tin tooling, and others I have forgotten. At least a hundred kids showed up as their parents could then go out to dinner. It was very organized and very successful.

My husband and I worked VBS in our church in Texas, 25 years ago. We looked forward to it each year. It was a night venue. I took charge of the outdoor games. We only had about 4 rotations of twenty or so kids, as our church was much smaller. Lasted a couple of hours.

I have worked VBS a total of two times living in metro Atlanta. I am type A and do not do well with,
“just wing it …no big deal!” It is very frustrating to me to roll with the punches and I do not like surprises. Thus, I do not work VBS. I no longer volunteer. I deal with hundreds of children all week long and like a game plan. I have also met children all over the country, who respond well to my interactive sessions. I cannot fly by the seat of my pants as it makes me crazy when I have 20 wiggly children in tow. Hats off to those who can!

I have donated shows to schools in the metro area, during the school year. I have a standing donation for Gwinnett County Public School Kindergartens: your very first school show is FREE. Many schools have taken me up on it!

FCM

June 5th, 2012
1:48 pm

VBS is almost always 9 – 12 on a summer weekday at our church. Thus my children don’t attend. They started planning back in January for this year. No idea how they pull it off. Even when I saw all the work my put into back when I went (or taught in college) I found it all to be little more than organized chaos. Fun to be sure, but still chaotic.

One story our church loves to tell is how we got a beautiful mosic cross. It was back in the 60s and one of the ladies was asked if she would teach the teens (I think they were like 13 – 15 or something). She said, well what would I teach them, could we do a craft? To which the director replied “I don’t care what you do with them as long as you keep them quiet.” So she had her husband make these square boxes up. She taught them the Creation Story (Gen 1 & 2). Then they each got to make a mosiac based on what they liked about the story. It got to where they would not be done with the project at the end of VBS. The kids got their parents to let them stay late, packed a lunch and worked on it in the parking lot. Well the lady took all the finished projects home and thought what are we going to do with these now. She laid them on the floor of her living room and started moving them around. She realized they really did tell a story of the cross if she, she made 4-5 more boxes to work the story actually. The husband came home and she told him he was making a frame to make them all a cross.

The lady and her husband are now with Jesus. Many of those teens are now parents/grandparents. In fact, very few still attend regular services, the winds of life having blown them to other areas of the world.

However, every person who comes into the Narthex ponders that amazing cross. All the children look at it with awe.

So, however you handle VBS, just make sure you keep them quiet ;)

usually lurking

June 5th, 2012
2:07 pm

@FCM like your story, thanks for sharing.

Ag N'ostic

June 5th, 2012
2:12 pm

Is there ANYTHING MotherJaneGoose HASN’T done, that we have to hear about in 6 paragraphs…

motherjanegoose

June 5th, 2012
2:14 pm

@FCM…nice story! The truth is, you never know what kind of impact you will have on a child and my hat is off to EVERY PERSON who has the knack for teaching VBS. I simply do not. God Bless them!

motherjanegoose

June 5th, 2012
2:19 pm

@ AG…

I am not sure how you can hear my posts on this blog…I am not very good with a computer and I can only read them here. I guess I am missing something. I WOULD like to be able to hear many of them as the voice inflections/accents are typically interesting to me.

That and my last post ( I submitted while at the same time as your question) are each ONE PARAGRAPH….did you hear the emphasis…haha!

FCM

June 5th, 2012
2:24 pm

I’m glad you enjoy it….I tried to find a photo of the cross on the church website. Incase anyone wanted to see it. The 2nd photo on this page has it, but it is not a good shot of it. You see the colors but not the details.

http://sandyspringscc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=95&Itemid=29

Jess

June 5th, 2012
4:05 pm

Bible school on vacation? Sounds horrible. How about an actual vacation that is fun?

Denise

June 5th, 2012
4:14 pm

I loved VBS growing up. That was a week my parents sent us to our grandmother’s and we got to spend time with our cousins. We were Catholic and this was at the United Methodist church but it was great. We didn’t do anything special like what FCM describes (beautiful story!) but it was fun to be at the church singing and learning. I don’t think anything was as organized as what Theresa is talking about but if we had that many kids that would have been great. It was a small country church.

Good luck Theresa.

HSM

June 5th, 2012
4:36 pm

Ag N’ostic didn’t get a rise on the first comment, so that’s why MJG got a jab. If you don’t wish to contribute something useful to this particular conversation, come back on a day when the topic does concern you.
MJG-you are the voice of reason and I always like to read what you write.

  

June 5th, 2012
5:22 pm

I would never send my kids to VBS.

You meant those hypothetical kids of yours?

Wow, what a real way to contribute there, chief.

irisheyes

June 5th, 2012
5:54 pm

Our church has decided that instead of doing one big VBS, they spread it out to neighborhoods with Backyard Bible Clubs. The church provides the teachers, craft helpers, and game helpers as well as all the materials. All the hosts need to do is provide a place and snacks. Not only is it not as hectic, we get alot more kids to come.

HB

June 5th, 2012
7:39 pm

Leading a class always seemed to be the easy part of our VBS. All you really had to do was keep track of the schedule, maybe teach a short lesson from the curriculum, and herd the kids around. No decorating, no supplies, very little planning. The other stations required a lot more work. Craft helpers were set up in one room and each class came to them — all supples in one place and only one room to clean up. Music time was set up in the sanctuary, rec time outside or in the big fellowship hall depending on weather (youth group usually ran those games for the younger kids), and snacks were either in a designated room or delivered to the classroom (usually only for toddlers) by snack staff. Then everybody back to the sanctuary for another lesson and songs, often led by the senior and associate pastors. It was all very efficient.

motherjanegoose

June 5th, 2012
8:29 pm

@HSM…thanks!
@irisheyes…my son went to Arizona, with the church youth group, when he was in HS. They did a similar week long VBS in a neighborhood, with no churches nearby. He had a great time! They stayed in a hotel and the kids had to pay for their own room, meals and airfare. Quite an experience for him. He was 14 or 15.

motherjanegoose

June 5th, 2012
8:29 pm

Duh…he must have been 15 if he was in HS.

DB

June 5th, 2012
10:14 pm

I worked VBS for four or five years, until our summer vacations started conflicting due to a yearly conference. I never had to organize one, but I always admired the organizational skills of those that did. I remember that what we DID hate were the “VBS Moms”, looking for cheap child care — they seemed to have every single VBS in the area on their calendar, and went from one church to the other. One bragged about having 7 of them scheduled for a summer, “and saving so much on daycare costs!” One of them SWORE that their 3 year old was potty trained — he wasn’t, and the first time he pooped his Pull-Ups (oops, there’s a clue), we called the mom and told him to come pick him up. She literally said that it wasn’t “convenient”, and I had to tell her that it wasn’t convenient for 100 kids and 22 adults to have to smell him for the next three hours, and that we’d go to her emergency number. “Oh, don’t call my MIL — she’d give me hell!” Well — duh. The stupid woman sauntered in over an hour later, and I just gave her her money back and told her that we couldn’t take him for the rest of the week because he wasn’t potty-trained. She had the nerve to argue with me . . . and that was my last VBS!

homeschooler

June 5th, 2012
10:43 pm

My kids attend VBS at Due West United Methodist Church in West Cobb. Along with at least 400 other kids. OMG (no pun intended) the way that church can pull off VBS is nothing short of a miracle. It is the most organized process I have ever seen. Sorry, I can’t give pointers on how they do it. It’s the only time of the year I have a week without my kids so I don’t stick around to see how they do it.

VBS is a big business now, too. We end up buying t-shirts, CD’s hats etc.. all with the VBS theme of the year. The kids still listen to all the CDs from the past 5 yrs. We love our VBS music.

The number of volunteers makes a big difference.Last year my daughter attended a Baptist Church VBS that met at night. She went one day and came home complaining that the kids would not behave and the “teachers” wouldn’t make them. It was kind of culture shock for her. She is used to the West Cobb “stay at home mom” kind of church with more volunteers than kids and this was a South Cobb “kids have been in day care all day and moms are all working and are too tired or busy to volunteer” kind of setting. She refused to go back. It was not the VBS she was used to. From her description, it was total chaos.

April

June 5th, 2012
11:02 pm

I am joining this one late, but I have a question:

How many churches charge for VBS? Mine never has, but I have heard of some that do. I live out in the smal town, distant suburbs of Atlanta. I just wondered which is more common where others are.

DB

June 5th, 2012
11:43 pm

@April: In North Atlanta, most of the churches I know around here seem to charge between $25 and $50 per child, depending on early registration, member or non-member, etc. (One church caps theirs at $50 per family.)

motherjanegoose

June 6th, 2012
7:39 am

@DB…I read somewhere, last year, that Moms who sent their children to VBS all summer were complaining about the fact that the themes were so similar and their kids were tired of it by the end of the summer…REALLY?

Since I have never met a paid VBS teacher, I think NO ONE should complain about anything they do. That includes the fact that it could be unorganized. No skill level or long term training is required of the saints who volunteer to teach VBS and that is simply what happens. I simply cannot work in an atmosphere with no organization which is why I don’t. Putting some people in a classroom for VBS would be like putting me on the trading floor of the stock market. YIKES!

@homeschooler…big business? Wow…that is new to me…I have not been to VBS in a long while but I have not heard anyone say this…I have no experience here. I do know neighbors who work VBS and fellow church members. Are you a member of Due West? I pass by there all the time on my way to programs.

Charging? We have never been members of a church that charges….unless you want the t-shirt. Considering some folks use it for child care, it may not be a bad idea. We have been members of 3 large churches in Gwinnett County 500-5000.

homeschooler

June 6th, 2012
9:02 am

@MJG..We are not members but a close friend of mine is and we do a lot there (Upwards sports, VBS etc..) We actually live about 30 minutes from there so have never committed to being members.
I’ve never heard of charging for VBS but can see that maybe they should charge a small fee. When I first took my son there when he was 6 I kept telling my husband. “They keep him and entertain him FOR FREE!! He said “DUH..it’s VBS of course it’s free”. Then when I would see all the churches advertising their VBS I thought about the fact that people could just tote their kids around the county dropping them off each week at a different church. I can’t imagine doing that (I wouldn’t trust just any church with my kids) but I wondered if some people did. Now I know. I always feel guilty that I don’t volunteer so I make sure to donate to the church and missions that VBS collects for.

The themes are similar because, like I said, VBS is big business. There are companies who sell the themes. Music, activities, play scripts, ideas for snacks etc.. The churches purchase these packages from these companies. You can even get on the company’s web site weeks before VBS so the kids can learn the songs. Crazy huh? Another thing I didn’t know before I was introduced to the new age VBS.

motherjanegoose

June 6th, 2012
9:49 am

@homeschooler, I misunderstood your comment about big business. I thought you meant it was big business for the churches themselves and that is why I was confused. Yes, there are vendors out there that produce the materials needed for VBS, just like there are vendors out there who produce the cookies, juice, sports equipment, toilet paper/paper towels, craft supplies etc. needed for the week. Seems creative to me for someone to be able to fill that niche. I also think some churches sell their materials to smaller churches, after they use it for a week, at a discount. This helps smaller churches who are on a tight budget. Kind of like getting clothes at a consignment sale?

At 52, I have learned that NOTHING is free. SOMEONE is paying for it…maybe not me.

Voice of Reason

June 6th, 2012
11:15 am

One Summer when I was a kid I went to Vacation Bible School.

I asked many questions and the basic gist of the answers I got back was simply, “magic.” Which ultimately lead to me asking them more questions.

They eventually got to the part where they discussed Adam and Eve and how they were the first humans and together they had two sons, which begged me to ask, “so basically, humanity endured because of incest?”

They asked me not to come back.

Denise

June 6th, 2012
11:41 am

@Voice of Reason – I have always wondered about how we got from 2 people to our current world population. I stopped thinking about it because it kind of grossed me out thinking about what you asked. *shudder* I’m not surprised that they asked you not to return. We Christians can be hypocrites and close-minded sometimes….but works in progress (I hope).

catlady

June 6th, 2012
2:57 pm

For a well-organized VBS, put a teacher in charge. Seriously.

Went to a big she-bang at the Gwinnett performing arts place a few weeks ago. Granddaughter’s ballet recital. It was chaos–horribly,horribly poorly planned. Teacher-daughter looked at me and we both said, “A teacher should be in charge of this!” in unison.

I haven’t helped with a lot of VBS because of what MJG mentioned–I get enough of kids during the school year. My children have been a part of Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist ones. I am thankful for those who contribute this way.

Around here, they are always at night–that’s weird to me. Lots of times kids just show up–no preregistering, so planning ahead unless you have a church that will turn them away is hard.

I have helped with the VBS for the Latino children in town. The first year there were over 100, and it got bigger after that! One problem was parents, especially Guatemalans, sending toddlers who were not ready to be away from mama. Usually an older sibling was along also to help, which was good since none of us helpers could speak Kanjobal. It was great to see the enthusiasm of all at these VBSs. I think this is important work, and commend those who undertake it!

[...] JuneLongview News-JournalBulletin Board – June 6, 2012SurfKY NewsOrange County Review -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -Dothan Eagleall 33 news articles » This entry was posted in Destinations, [...]

Kat

June 6th, 2012
10:19 pm

The smaller VBS events always seem well organized and the large ones…I steer away from those. The only suggestion that I have is to have people that you trust to show up and do their (albeit volunteer) “jobs” every day. The problems arise when people don’t come in.

misawa

June 7th, 2012
10:07 am

Three years ago, I convinced my wife – who had worked VBS in previous years when available – to take the job as VBS coordinator. What followed was probably the smoothest VBS week ever. My wife was very hesitant at first, but after some nudging, I convinced her that her background (business degree + project management certification) as well as having worked VBS’s in the past would make her ideal. She ended up recruiting her best friend to co-coordinate with her and the rest was pretty easy. By the second year they were doing it, they had volunteers – who had left in previous years because of the disorganization – asking where they could plug in and help out.

We moved earlier this year and just a month ago the pastor of our old church sent us a note – and asked if it were possible for my wife to come down and help out again.

Tam

June 12th, 2012
7:56 am

Here some tips:

Have older person at the door the check in the kids every day and check out DON”T have a central check in
Have stations: music,art, worship, etc
Have each curriculum day in a large ziploc bag or box ready to go with supplies