6 Things You Need to Know About Teaching Preschoolers

thomasTeaching preschoolers is THE BEST! No, seriously. It really is! There’s something incredibly rewarding about rooting spiritual truths in the minds and hearts of young children and then watching the ways they so naturally apply them to their every day lives. If you’re gearing up to teach babies, 1s, 2s, 3s, Pre-K, or kindergartners this summer in VBS, here are 6 things you need to know about teaching preschoolers.

 

  1. If you don’t have a plan, THEY will! Preschoolers are hands-on, experiential learners. In other words, they LEARN as they DO. Every preschool (Babies–Kindergarten) leader guide is filled with ideas and activities you can use to teach preschoolers in the ways God made them to learn. Get together with the other teachers in your room before VBS, go through the leader guide, and divvy up responsibilities. This will keep any one teacher from bearing the full weight AND will help create an environment where both learning and fun can take place!

  2. Teaching begins when the first child arrives. Preschoolers need routine, boundaries, and clearly defined expectations. If they walk into a room where teachers are waiting with fun things planned for them to do the moment they walk into the room, they will be less inclined to run wild. You’ll be able to head off a lot of behavioral challenges simply by being ready to go as soon as kids are in the room.

  3. Attention spans are SHORT! A child’s attention span is roughly equal to one minute for every year of age. Be prepared for kids to tire quickly and be ready to move on to something else. The good news is that preschoolers also love repetition… so even if they move to another activity before you feel like they’re done, they’ll likely be back before too long to finish up or take another turn.  This is the reason many preschool teachers like to set up activities in “learning spots” around the room and let kids move freely from activity to activity.

  4. The teacher is “the lesson.”  As a teacher, you use a variety of tools (music, games, play, activities, even Bible stories) to teach preschoolers Bible truths. Children are ALWAYS watching and listening… even when you think they are not. They will learn more from your actions than your words. Remember that everything you do (or don’t do) and everything you say (or don’t say) is teaching something.

  5. The process is often more important than the end result. Preschoolers are still developing their motor skills and are still in the discovery phase for many things. It may be more important to them to simply enjoying the experience of cutting or coloring or painting or stacking blocks than actually “making” something. Don’t stress if a craft project ends up less than Pinterest worthy. If kids enjoyed doing it, then it was a success!

  6. YOU are their example of what God is like. As you talk with and listen to them, play alongside them, hug them, protect them, help them work through challenges, and meet their basic needs, you are demonstrating God’s love in practical, tangible ways. So pour everything you’ve got into your kids during VBS!

Six Things Everyone Needs to Know about Presenting the Gospel

20140114-075705.jpgI’ll admit up front that I’m terrified to share the Gospel with kids. In truth, I experience tremendous terror no matter the age of the person. It’s not that I haven’t been trained or haven’t had enough experience.

My terror comes first from – believe it or not – a real fear of one-on-one conversations with people I do not know extremely well. And then there is the fear the person will ask a question from left field that I can’t answer.

Of course I know I can not let fear stop me from doing what must be done. After all, VBS 2013 was about more than roller coasters. Remember, VBS 2013 was about “Facing fear, trusting God!”

So as you join me in facing my fear (and probably yours too) keep in mind these six things everyone needs to know about presenting the Gospel:

1. Evangelism is the responsibility of every member of the team – not just the pastor.

2. Evangelism is the heart and soul of VBS. Be alert for every opportunity.

3. The likelihood of a profession of faith declines rapidly after age 12.

4. Be sensitive and never pressure. Let the Holy Spirit do the work.

5. It is Jesus Christ who saves. It is Jesus Christ who is rejected.

6. Admit you do not have to have all the answers.

Join the conversation.  What would you add to this list?

Jerry Wooley, @vbsguy, has served as LifeWay’s VBS Ministry since 2006.

 

Six Tips for Increasing Training Attendance

20140114-075705.jpgA common frustration expressed by many VBS leaders is low attendance and enthusiasm for training events. As stated yesterday, no matter when or how far in advance you schedule training there is always going to be conflicts that prevent some of your team members from attending. But instead of giving up and deciding not to provide training opportunities, consider these six tips:

1. Provide Food. Besides the reality that we church people assume food is an essential part of every meeting, lack of food – especially for evening sessions – can be a deterrent to attendance. A lite dinner that just happens to be theme related can be a fun way to begin a training session. A meal is also a great benefit for the after work crowd. In addition to suggestions found in LifeWay’s VBS 2014 Snack Rotation Recipe Cards, did you know the VBS 2014 Adult Starter Kit has themed snack and meal suggestions perfect for adults attending a training event.

2. Provide Childcare. If we expect parents of young children to volunteer it is important to consider ways childcare (and meals) can be provided for training and room setup.

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3. Create Energy & Excitement. Your team members will be just as energetic and excited about VBS and training as you are. You set the pace and create the atmosphere, and it all begins with the way you promote and generate excitement for enlistment and training.

4. Make It Meaningful. Simply said, “if you are expecting me to give up another evening or Saturday morning away from home it better be worth my time.” Plan the agenda to insure the content has depth and meaning that is relevant and inspiring to even the longest tenured VBS worker.

5. Honor the Time.There is an Italian phrase that says it beautifully – “il tempo è denaro”  (time is money)! In other words, start on time, end on time, and stay true to the purpose of the session.

6. Award Prizes.  A friend in Georgia says there are three actions required to insure a good training session: “Make them laugh. Make them cry. Give them a door prize.” Prizes that can be used to decorate a VBS classroom or to wear as a themed costume are especially appreciated.

Jerry Wooley, @vbsguy, has served as LifeWay’s VBS Ministry Specialist since 2006.

Six Ways to Provide VBS Training

20140114-075705.jpgAs stated yesterday, April Is for Training! LifeWay’s VBS team is celebrating (I’m not sure celebrating is the correct word here but I can’t think of anything more appropriate) this month of training by posting daily tips and ideas for your personal training as well as to use as you train others. Actually, now that I think about it, celebrating is the appropriate word!

Enough with the preliminaries. Check out these six ways training can be provided for your VBS team:

1. State and Associational Training Events. The first and easiest way to provide training is to let someone else do it for you. In Southern Baptist life most churches are related in some fashion to both a local and state-wide association of churches. Every state association or convention provides VBS training each year as well as many local associations. Typically these events provide age-specific training using LifeWay’s VBS resources. While most state training events were conducted in February and March, most of the local association events will be held in April and May. Contact your local association of Southern Baptists to discover a training event near you.

2. Bible Content and Theme Overview. Whether you take your team to an associational training event or not, you still need to provide an opportunity for everyone in the church to understand the Bible content and theme. While this is essential training for your team, the entire congregation needs to be exposed to this information as well. By doing so you help the congregation understand why VBS is such an important evangelistic opportunity. You can find suggestions for Bible content and theme training on pages 32 and 33 of the VBS 2014 Administrative Guide for Directors.

3. Assignment-specific Planning. The majority of VBS workers do not spend time with kids on a daily or weekly basis. Even though they may not be trained teachers they willingly journey out of their comfort zone for one week each year. An assignment that seems extremely simple to you can be overwhelming to a VBS volunteer. One or two hours of training and planning not only reduces anxiety but can make a tremendous difference in the quality of your VBS. Training plans for each age group are located on pages 34 through 40 of the VBS 2014 Administrative Guide for Directors.

4. Evangelism Boot Camp. If you think being responsible for crafts creates anxiety for an inexperienced worker, ask your team how they truly feel about the prospects of sharing the Gospel. While VBS is the most evangelistic outreach conducted by many churches, it is conducted by people who are often terrified by the reality of sharing the Gospel. Evangelism training is an essential part of VBS preparation. Priority needs to be given to helping every member of the team – even the snack lady – become familiar with and comfortable using the ABC Memory Card (005557456) or ABCs of Becoming a Christian Tract (005125105). Guidance for sharing the Gospel is also found on the inside cover of each of LifeWay’s VBS leader guides.

A good resources for stepping evangelism training up a notch is LifeWay’s Leading a Child to Christ Training Pack (005125104). Leading a Child to Christ provides a step-by-step method of sharing Jesus with kids.

5.  Online Articles & Videos. No matter how far in advance you schedule your training opportunities it is typically impossible for every member of the team to attend. Scheduling conflicts happen, but that doesn’t mean training can not be provided. With online possibilities your team members can receive training at the neighborhood coffee shop or in their favorite recliners. In addition to LifeWay’s VBS and Kids Ministry 101 blogs, check out hundreds of video training sessions at LifeWay’s Ministry Grid.

6. Team Handbook. No matter how many training sessions you offer there is still room for a facts sheet or handbook that spells out the details. I’m not sure a handbook is considered training but it will go a long way towards curbing anxiety. Over the years I have seen everything from a one-page sheet covering all of the dos and dont’s to a handbook roughly the size of War and Peace. While something that extensive is most likely counterproductive, a facts sheet is essential.

 

Jerry Wooley, @vbsguy, has served as LifeWay’s VBS Ministry Specialist since 2006.

Random Tip 1414: Don’t Forget to Pray

20140114-075705.jpgThe title is a little misleading since I know you will not forget to pray – especially when that worker calls the night before to tell you she will be unable to teach after all. Talk about a fall-to-your-knees experience!

Seriously, I know you are personally giving prayer top priority, but have you thought about enlisting a prayer team?

In a former life I served at a wonderful church in Houston that had a thriving homebound ministry. We had an abundance of saints who had spent their lives working in VBS and would like nothing better than to keep doing so. However, while their hearts and minds were willing, they were unable to actively participate in church activities.

For years we had utilized the skills of several of our homebound members to assist the craft team with prep work. This was a great way to keep them connected. But to be honest it was not much more than free labor and didn’t allow individuals with physical limitations to contribute.

As a result of a church-wide study of Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God, a conversation started on ways God invites people to join Him in the work He is already doing. The conversation turned to ways homebound Believers could remain active in not only sharing their faith but actively participating in the ministry of the church. Obviously prayer was one of the first ways mentioned.

From that conversation the idea was born to create a VBS Prayer Team. The team was led by Elsie, who although not completely homebound, had limited vision and had to visit a dialysis clinic three times a week. Elsie got busy enlisting her team, telling them they would each be expected to give the same number of hours each day as any other VBS worker.  She let the team know their assignment would require marathon prayer warriors who would commit to pray during the weeks leading up to VBS, and then each day for the entire three hours of VBS.

Each afternoon the VBS Director would call Elsie with an update of the day and a list of specific prayer needs. Elsie would in turn pass the word on to each member of the team.

For me – the guy running around trying to cover all the bases – it was great comfort knowing a dedicated group of people were at that very moment praying. For the workers the VBS Prayer Team was an inspiration. For the Prayer Team their participation was not only meaningful but vital.

Jerry Wooley, @vbsguy, has served as LifeWay’s VBS Ministry Specialist since 2006.

Random Tip 1412: Make Relationships a Priority

20140114-075705.jpgA few weeks ago I shared that years ago Vacation Bible Schools were conducted for four weeks, then shortened to two, then one, and now we are beginning to hear of more churches scheduling three day schools.  In the previous post I wrote that as we shorten the number of days and hours it becomes even more important to connect everything – including snacks – to the daily Scripture and Biblical theme. As we decrease time we must increase the intentionality of everything we do from promotion to continuing the connections after VBS. This goes for being intentional about relationships as well.

One of the reasons VBS has continued to result in a high number of professions of faith is the concentrated time spent over multiple days getting to know the kids and the kids getting to know the leaders. As relationships grow so does the trust factor that allows kids to embrace the Gospel.

This is why we traditionally reserve the Gospel presentation and opportunity for response to the third or fourth sessions.  Although we may clearly present the Gospel during the first session (as we do in the Agency D3 resources) we typically wait until relationships have been established before presenting the opportunity to respond. We want to give time for the trust factor – both in the Gospel message and with the leaders presenting it – to develop.

As we decrease the days of VBS we also decrease the opportunity for relationships to grow. When you add this to a rotation process that often places kids with a different leader ever 30 minutes relationships become even more difficult. There is already some (inconclusive) evidence that Bible schools of three days or less result in fewer professions of faith then schools of five days or more.

So how do we meet this challenge? By making relationships a priority! From the moment families arrive at the registration table until they are back in their cars for the ride home we must concentrate on getting beyond the basic acknowledgement of their existence to truly establishing a relationship. Actually we must make relationships a priority far beyond the VBS experience but that is a topic for another blog.

This means the registration lady’s job is to do more then get ink on paper and fill in every blank. Her first priority is to try (as best as time allows) to get the know both the kids and their parents. The snack team has to do more than pour lemonade and pass out cookies. They must also interact with the kids and try to get to know them.

This also means your church may need to enlist more volunteers with the primary assignment of getting to know the kids and their parents. The fewer days you conduct Bible school the lower the kids to worker ratio needs to be. This may mean creating smaller classes or it may mean enlisting more adults to travel with kids to each rotation and actually interacting with them during the rotation.

If VBS is the biggest evangelistic outreach of your church year you can’t afford to sabotage the possibilities by decreasing the opportunities to build and grow relationships.

Random Tip 1411 – Create a Recycling Center

20140114-075705.jpg Now that VBS is over, (possibly in your dreams if not in reality) what do we do with all the stuff?

The first temptation and the quickest answer is, “throw it away!” The second answer is, “pile it in the resource room and someone else can take care of it.”

Instead of letting VBS leaders trash everything (curriculum, decorations, extras supplies) or pile it haphazardly in the resource room, a simple solution is to create a recycling center.  This makes clean up a breeze and takes the guess work out of what is trash and what is good stuff.

The best place is a hall or spare room near the resource room or storage area. You want to leave the resource room as free of clutter as possible plus you want space to be able to sort and group supplies before storing.  Much like you separate paper, glass, and plastic for home recycling, create four areas (piles, boxes, tables, etc.) with the following clearly marked labels: Supplies, Share, Questionable, and Trash.

If needed add a description such as the following to each label:

Supplies – Unused and reusable resources such as markers and paper.

Share – Decorations and curriculum to share with other churches.

Questionable – Anything you are not sure about.

Trash – Hopefully no definition needed here.

Make sure to include recycling instructions as part of worker training. If workers know what is expected ahead of time cleanup becomes easier for both you and them.

 

Random Tip 1410 – Connect Everything – Even Snacks – to Scripture

20140114-075705.jpgDid you know that once upon a time churches conducted VBS for four weeks? Hard to imagine isn’t it?

Even more recently the typical VBS was 10 days. While I do not personally remember attending a 10-day school I know many people who did.

A four week or 10-day school provided the luxury of time we no longer enjoy. Can you imagine what Bible truths you could teach if you had 60 hours? Or even 30?

Like far too much of life, VBS is often described as a rush. A VBS leader recently lamented, “We rush kids to worship rally so we can rush them to Bible study. Then we rush them to crafts so we can rush them home.”

Today, at best, we have 15 hours to do all the things that make VBS not only educational but fun and entertaining. (An evening Bible school typically included only 10 hours.) With this limited amount of time we have to make sure every minute counts and every activity is connected to the Biblical emphasis for the day.

I recently shared during a training session that even snack time needs to be used to reinforce the Biblical truth for the day. One leader replied that her church does not use the snacks suggested by LifeWay so they do not try to connect the snack to the Bible story. I reminder her that it is not the snack that is important but what is done with the time while the snack is being served and eaten.

As many of you know, my all-time favorite VBS snack is fruit punch and butter cookies (the kind shaped like a flower with a hole in the middle). Nothing fancy or even theme related about this snack, but the time allotted for the snack is still a perfect time for a review of the lesson, the sharing of life application points, or work on Scripture memorization.

I often hear that recreation leaders want to choose their own activities instead of using the games that connect to the theme and Biblical truth. Again, no problem as long as rec leaders connect their games to the daily theme.

Too often we enlist workers without stressing that every thing that happens during VBS – from the moment the kids arrives until they return home – must be connected to the Biblical content for the week and each day. Failing to insure that crafts, recreation, snacks and music connect to Scripture is a lost opportunity that will never be retrieved.

Back when VBS leaders needed to fill 60 hours it might have been fine to play a game or sing a song that was not relevant to the content, but not when we only have 10 to 15 hours. Help your workers see the value of every minute and the lost opportunity of not connecting everything – even snacks – to Scripture.

Random Tip 1409 – Use Grades 3 & 4 for Broadly Graded

wooley1 2013One of the most exciting characteristics of VBS is that it is a ministry that every church can make uniquely their own. LifeWay provides a wide variety of resources tailored for specific age groups from babies to adults, but we know that every church has unique needs and limitations that often requires adapting the resources to fit.

Broadly graded (either having all 1st through 6th graders in one class or having the same teacher rotate to different age groups) is a great example of a church needing to adapt the resources to fit the need.

When faced with the need to adapt LifeWay’s VBS Bible study resources, consider using the resources designed for Grades 3 & 4. Since the age-appropriate learning activities are designed for the middle group, they will be easier to adapt up or down to fit all kids in grades 1- 6.

Random Tip 1408 – Make Worship Rally a Time for Parents

wooley1 2013For most churches worship rally is the first – or sometimes the last – thing that happens in the VBS day. It is a perfect time to invite parents to participate and see their kids having fun at church.

Parents sit for entire days on hard bleachers under broiling sun, endure endless hours of music and dance recitals, and thrill at seeing their son or daughter dressed as a tomato in the school play. Why? Because they want to be supportive and involved!

Yet when it comes to VBS at times we actually discourage parents from involvement. Once the kid has been dropped off at the curb we often have little use for the parent until it is time to once again return to the curb for the trip home.

Worship Rally is a great opportunity for parents to be supportive while experiencing just a little VBS for themselves. Parents can be invited to sit and participate in music motions with their kids, or a place can be reserved just for them where they can observe without straying far from their comfort zones.

Worship Rally becomes a friendly, non-threatening, place for parents to get to know church members and leaders. It is also a great way for unchurched parents to become acquainted with each other and leaders of ministry they might be attracted to.

Encouraging parents to participate in Worship Rally also sends the message that your church is interested in the entire family and not just the kids.

If Worship Rally is at the beginning of the day, you might even plan a short debriefing time for parents once the kids rotate out to Bible study and other activities.