Editor's Note:

This discussion about "VBS in the Year of the Coronavirus" was kicked off by Nancy Eubanks (seen below). We are expanding it to include other ideas about Summer VBS.

Keep in mind that at the time of posting, "how long" quarantine is or was going to last, and "how many" would be permitted to gather in one place may have still been unsettled questions in the STATE and community where each person lives. 

Feel free to offer your thoughts, questions, and requests for help, and to return here with your plans. 



Nancy writes:

During an online staff meeting a couple of weeks ago (in early March), one of my colleagues asked if I had thought about canceling VBS.  I burst into tears.  At that point, it had not yet entered my mind and the thought was painful, but I am realizing that it is something I'm going to have to "wrestle" with soon. Of course, I realize that there are MUCH more important situations and painful losses that loved ones are enduring at this time.

You are a group of respected Christian educators, and I would love to hear your thoughts on going forward (or not) with VBS this summer. 

Thank you for your reflections on the subject! 

Last edited by Neil MacQueen
Original Post

What a heartbreaking question, Nancy, but what an important one as well.

I think part of the answer will be "when" is your VBS scheduled?  

If it's scheduled mid or late summer, you may be in the clear with some safe-practices in place. If mine were scheduled for JUNE or early July, then I'd either be making alternate plans or scheduling it later.  

Another part of the answer will be your parents.

I think this pandemic is going to make a lot of people think differently about gatherings, especially those scheduled close to the lifting of quarantine when feelings will still be fresh. No matter what you do, you'll likely need to organize and interact differently.

Lastly, perhaps this is the year to do something different than the "traditional" big gathering VBS.  

What would a HOME VBS look like?  Maybe families all doing the same thing on their own at the same time. Perhaps a music and face-to-face online time to kick off whatever families will be doing that evening. (I realize this wouldn't work if your VBS attracts a lot of un-churched kids.)

In a church where I served many years ago, we had a large field and woods behind the church. We did a lot of children and youth ministry there, including camping.  I always wanted to create a VBS of "stations in the woods" for small groups to rotate through before meeting back at the campfire. ("Stations" are a kind of intentional social distancing.)  In later years, I thought of making it a treasure hunt walk through town, stopping at various places where we had placed "caches."  (I got that idea from geo-caching hobbyists who used clues and their cellphones to locate hidden objects across town.)  Any subject works, kids/youth just love to travel. Could be a VBS family idea.

Are there any VBS' out there focusing on "Jesus Cares for Sick People"?   

Maybe we should write one!     Could include "how to care for others," "how to be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy."

Looking forward to hearing other people's thoughts.


Nancy, this is such a difficult question! And my heart is breaking for you and so many others who are trying to figure out "what next?"  Please know that I and others are praying for you!

Neil made some very good points about early summer and late summer. I know the governor of Louisiana said today that it will be a while before things are back to "normal."  I imagine that means that group size may be restricted for a while. I also saw something today saying that younger people (including children) and those who have been tested and found to have Covid-19 antibodies  may be allowed to gather first. 

I have also heard talk of summer school to make up for lost school days in March, April, and May. So that would conflict with summer vbs, too.

I think it is a bit early to make a final decision (unless you are talking about the first week in June, and then I would move it to a later, tentative date), but I think it is time for us to start thinking about innovative and creative solutions. Maybe smaller groups (neighborhood home vbs clusters?) or something outdoors as Neil suggested. Saturday events in case there is school on weekdays? Or what about something during Christmas break -- that quiet time between Christmas and New Years? (some people will be traveling to visit family then, but chances are, whenever you hold vbs or its substitute, it will be different)

Something else to think about: once we are "released" from the stay at home orders, will everyone be rushing around to postponed weddings and funerals and family vacations all in the one month (or whatever) before school begins again, and not be available for a traditional vbs summer week?

 

Here is a good article from Building Faith about things to consider as you look at your summer schedule: Canceling Summer Programs.    In addition to VBS, cancellations or postponements will include mission trips, youth trips, summer camp, and Summer Sunday School.

Important things to consider are the guidelines in your state and community --here in Louisiana they are now talking about keeping things shut down until the end of May!  

Also think about the size of your group and the size of your space. Many states and locales may still have to practice "social distancing" even when they meet.

Some spaces may be too tight for social distancing and some types of meeting activities will need to change.

 

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Ideas for VBS in the Summer of COVID-19

At the time of this posting, we still don't know when churches will be gathering again, or how many people will be allowed to gather at one time. This will vary state by state, and church by church. What should be true, however, is that people will be looking forward to getting back together, so it's a special opportunity to remind people of what we often take for granted about the church -- its fellowship, and the grace of being the gathered people of God.

I don't think we need to reinvent the wheel. Christian education has a lot of special event experience that can be translated into filling the need for a VBS and the loss of so many weeks of Sunday School. My thoughts are drawn toward some of the "outdoor" events I've been part of because outdoor gatherings may be perceived as safer than indoor in 2020. 

Here are two ideas based on some summer successes I've had:

1) Outdoor Evening Campfire

I've done this in two churches. The first was a small church where we set up a fire ring at the church and invited families to join us for a hot-dog roast, songs, lesson time, and fellowship. We held three of these over the summer --splitting them up by grade group. This was especially well-received by the older adults/families. (See my PPE idea below for having everyone wear a decorated mask). The second church where we did this was held at a member's farmstead and was billed as a "one night VBS" for families. Pastor even had a 5 minute interactive message about "tending the family fire."  Both were very well-received. In one locale we had to get a campfire permit, which the local firehouse was happy to grant (in another church we had to contact the city fire marshall).

2) "Meet Us at the Park"

Invite small groups to join you at the park two or three times in a row for a time of food, games, song (with elements of worship), and creative intergenerational "low contact" learning. Repeat and improve for subsequent groups. Participants could create a protective facemask to wear at these events with messages and to function like a "nametag."   

I've been in two churches where we did "Meet Us At the Park." At one, we invited "kids and their friends." At the second church where we did this, we billed it as an ice cream social. No reason the ice cream couldn't be the wrapped kind. We also had "live music" of a contemporary variety at the one Park meeting.  At another park meeting we included some kids Bible songs and invited some adults to come forward and learn/do the hand motions. Big smiles all around.



I like it when Bible topics cross paths with big things going on in the lives of our kids. In particular, the Personal Protective Equipment we have become so used to seeing on the news (and wearing), has caught my teacher's eye. With that in mind, here are some COVID inspired topic brainstorms:

"God's PPE"

Taking Your Spiritual Temperature

BTW:  reusable "forehead temperature strips" are under a buck a piece on Amazon. I wonder what a craft-made strip for "spiritual temperature" would look like

Spiritual Health Check-up (as well as physical/mental health)

"Social Nearing"  -- welcoming and caring for those in need, looking for those on the fringes around you. The woman who touches the fringes of Jesus' garment. 

How Germs Spread, How Sin Spreads, How the Gospel Spreads, How you can be "infectious" (in a positive sense)

There are some interesting "spread of germs" demonstrations on the school science websites. Here's one (of many) science experiments reinforcing the importance of washing hands. https://youtu.be/djxmuDz8c3s.   Here's another "germ distribution" experiment in a classroom of kids using a product called "Glo Germ." https://youtu.be/I5-dI74zxPg (UV flashlights are inexpensive.)

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Another summer topic idea, especially if face-to-face gatherings are not wise and programming is still in homes:

Letters of Love. 
scripture used would be Paul’s letters. Ideas in the Paul's letters forum could be adapted for at-home use.  And maybe add some geography with mapping Paul’s journeys/looking at Acts. And children could be encouraged to mail letters to each other. 

Many Rotation lessons at this site can be easily adapted for at-home use, not just cooking and art.  Video lessons can be used for many stories as there are many videos available online for free.  Some games can be adapted for small groups of family members at home and others would work on Zoom or other gathering platforms (even things like Pictionary). Families can produce dramas as cell phone videos at home and share them (retell Bible stories using toys and legos and objects in the house, or rewrite lyrics to a familiar song and sing).  And computer software is now available for online purchase and download. 

so there are lots of opportunities to create interesting lessons for use by families at home or by small groups of families gathering at a neighbor’s house. The big questions/problems that I see (and the answers will vary by location and also by congregation:

  • when will we know what summer social distancing will look like/how much time will we have to plan?
  • will parents be willing to add one more job/task to their lists to do vbs at home, no matter how user friendly you make it?

ConcordiaSupply.com has one of the best guides I've seen about Planning for VBS in the Summer of COVID.

https://www.concordiasupply.co...lanning-covid-19.pdf

Quick Takeaways

  1. August this year may be a good time for VBS. Unlike previous years, kids and parents will be worn out and looking for things that feel like a return to something "normal."

  2. Give the uncertainties, we need a plan and a backup plan both in terms of dates and style/format.

  3. Think "small" groups because traditional large group gatherings may still be unwise and not permitted.

  4. Reduce the number of days and hours scheduled for VBS. Plan on something more manageable.
Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Personal Opinion, Ideas for a Different VBS, and an Offer to Help

I have spent some time looking over the various VBS offerings this year with an eye toward how they are ADAPTING their curriculum to this summer's COVID group restrictions that will be in place in many states this summer. Some publishers are trying harder than others.

What concerns me MOST is that many of this year's VBS curriculums come across as DETACHED and TONE DEAF when you consider what's been going on this spring and will continue this summer. Our kids and families have experienced and EARTHQUAKE in their routines, safety, connection to the church, finances, and relationships. 

  • Kids have parents who are out of work.
  • Many families have been or will be facing financial struggles, unemployment.
  • Kids have been out of school for months.
  • Kids have been away from their friends.
  • Kids have been out of church, and many have been out-of-touch with their church.
  • Kids have not been playing their team sports, or going to the park, movies, stores, ...and many won't be going on vacation this summer.
  • And there is still the issue of "getting sick" which is and will continue to be scary for many children (adults too!).

Very few of the pre-fab VBS' I've seen have content that addresses these immediate needs or materials that can easily adapt to VBS-at-a-Distance or at-home.

It's not the publisher's fault. But simply giving away or putting the SAME detached material online is not what we need right now. Frankly, I would have been impressed if Augsburg, UMPH, and GROUP had set aside their curriculums and come up with something ELSE for the summer we are actually facing. 

Thoughts on what I'd do instead of the same-old:

I'd set aside the curriculum we planned or may have already purchased and focus my kids and families on serving others, reaching out, finding ways to connect, and in doing so -- find reassurance.*  I wouldn't bury my families with curriculum, just simple guides and invitations. 

A few brainstorms about "what"

I'd create a series of simple evening service projects that can be done at home, or in small backyard groups. 

For example,  Fill a grocery bag from your own pantry and bring it to a special "socially distant" meal and bag collection at church with a lesson about how we can respond to the needs of others.

Kids/families could decorate some clay pots, then plant with flowers, add a comforting Is 43:2 message, and give to healthcare or other essential worker in their neighborhood or church. The supplies and names would be available at the church for pickup.

I'd think about recreating a fun summer favorite as an "ice cream social-ly distant" event that was designed to be "quite oddly distant" in a fun-poking kindof way to relieve stress. Would include a message. (I've also always wanted to ask an assembled group to all "live stream" or Facetime at the same time to their friends and other church members who weren't there.)

This would be a great year to focus on helping a mission that the church already supports. Raising awareness, earning some funds, creating some signs at home and bringing into church (where they were live-streamed on Sunday). 

I'm sure you could come up with more. 

*Re: Finding assurance. Is 43:2 has some great metaphors about what we're going through ("we" including our kids):

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned

The line "I will be with you" reminds me of Psalm 23's "I fear no evil" and  Jesus in Mt 28:20 "I will be with you always."

If you are planning "something different" for your VBS and would like help brainstorming it or writing it up, don't hesitate to ask for help right here. I for one would be honored to help. 

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Thank you all for your loving support and terrific brainstorming ideas.

Since my original post we have made the necessary decision to cancel VBS for this year. 

I have read with great interest your ideas concerning VBS options, especially those that involve families gathering while socially distancing. Specifically what really piqued my interest and energized my thoughts were the outdoor ideas.  It made me think that those preassembled aluminum pans filled with charcoal, supplied for each family unit, would make a great "campfire" for s'more-making.  That could be combined with a program of some sort (like the ones mentioned above) and live music - all done outside with distancing, of course.  The "entrance fee" could be some canned/nonperishable goods for a food pantry.  Still percolating on the full program but, again, your ideas have fueled my thoughts. I am thinking of an event each week, once our Diocese allows us to gather on church property.

Neil, I absolutely agree with your VBS concerns listed above.  I think it's terrific that folks are creatively thinking of how to do online programs, but it puts a lot of responsibility/time on parents who have dealt, and will continue to deal, with stress of all sorts.  I know the parents of my children are exhausted from being their children's teacher during the past few months.  Many have been totally frustrated and completely overwhelmed, so to add more for them to do does not feel helpful.

Once again, you guys are the best.   Keep those brainstorming ideas coming!  While I often find this time incredibly frustrating, I am also exhilarated by the opportunity for even more creativity within our faith communities!

NSE

I am seeing lots of conversation about socially distant vbs-type activities at homes, and churches delivering "kits" of supplies to families to reduce stress on parents. 

Also in those discussions, I am seeing reminders that some families are still very cautious about what comes into their homes.   Here are some useful suggestions I gleaned from the "I Love Kidmin" Facebook group:

  • Our families have loved anything we have delivered and have seemed unconcerned about sickness. That said, I also have them sign-up so that if a family is concerned and doesn't want it, they can not sign up. I also tell them what measures I put in place to keep them safe while packing their goody bag (washed my hands thoroughly, wore a mask, made them three days ahead of time and didn't touch them after so facilitate virus death, etc).
  • My drop-off bags are cheap dollar store items that can be discarded if a family is truly uncomfortable with it.
  • Even if most of your families don't care a ton about the contagion through things you have given them, the assurance that you are aware that people might care builds trust.
  • We always add a little sign that says everything in the bucket/ drop off was purchased, prepared and dropped off while wearing a mask and gloves. And also make sure that if they see you drop off, that you are wearing gloves and a mask.
  • The outside of the bag would have "germs". Send an email to that effect and let them decide how they want to open it.
  • I email the families letting them know that there is nothing that will go bad in their package and they can let it sit for a few days on their end to make sure all germs are gone.

 

Lastly, perhaps this is the year to do something different than the "traditional" big gathering VBS.  

What would a HOME VBS look like?  Maybe families all doing the same thing on their own at the same time. Perhaps a music and face-to-face online time to kick off whatever families will be doing that evening. (I realize this wouldn't work if your VBS attracts a lot of un-churched kids.)

In thinking about home VBS as Neil suggested  I am thinking of doing a July and August traveling VBS that would meet in backyards of our families.  From talking with parents recently it seems that they are not afraid of their kids being around their close friends and neighbors and would probably feel safe. Parents could sign up for a date that would work for them and invite 8-10 children.  Then the parent could have a few hours of freedom (while remaining at home) and a team of leaders and youth would take over with games, craft, songs, lesson fun, and a snack!  Parents could choose 9-11:30 am OR 1:30-3:00 pm.  This would help us include children who might not attend our church and our children and make things a little better for a short time for a parent who might need a break.    

I would recruit a couple of groups of traveling VBSers to help with this.  I think a team of 4 could do this!  However, I might find a couple of youth who would babysit for children too young to be involved to make sure the parent gets a total break for a couple of hours. The teams could be decided by the makeup of the group.  All leaders and helpers would be checked for temperature , etc. before embarking for the day.

Previously used VBS lessons would be a great resource for this.  Anything lesson set from Rotation would also work so easily. 

I will update when more details are discussed after I meet with my team

 

Last edited by Donna Grabert

What if we used this summer to "reach" rather than "teach" our kids?

Let's be honest, even the best VBS' are gravitational black holes -- sucking all the energy, time, and volunteers toward themselves. Even - the - best!  

blackholeVBS

What if instead of creating yet another summer program of "teaching" (during a summer that will be anything but "yet another") -- what if we simply used the time, energy, and volunteers to reach out, to pastor, to check-in, to get-to-know our kids and families better, to meet them where THEY are, instead of where we wish they were. ...To safely share a slice of their life and interests rather than fit into ours.

In this year of tremendous disruption, and distancing, and missing each other, maybe the best Vacation Bible School this year isn't a "School" at all.

Our Teacher Training Team recently released a new printable PDF listing 13 ways to connect and care with our kids beyond the classroom.

Lots of ideas there!

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

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