Vacation Bible School Programs Go Online and Outside in the Summer of the Coronavirus

Siblings Carson Rodriguez, 3, left, and Madison, 2, participate in Immanuel Lutheran Church’s virtual Vacation Bible School from their home in Merrill, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Kyla Rodriguez

Kyla Rodriguez’s two children had a blast earlier this month at Immanuel Lutheran Church’s Vacation Bible School.

Every morning during the weeklong Rainforest Explorers-themed program, 3-year-old Carson and his little sister Madison, nearly 2, prayed and sang songs. They ate rainforest-themed snacks and made tissue paper rainbows and colorful toilet paper roll parrots.

And they did it all without ever leaving their home in Merrill, Wisconsin.

The virtual Vacation Bible School, or VBS, was hosted by Immanuel, their grandparents’ Missouri Synod church in Seymour, Indiana. Carson and Madison received backpacks in the mail ahead of time, stuffed with the materials they’d need for crafts and other activities. Then each day, they’d tune in to watch prerecorded videos for stories, songs and instructions.

The kids were especially excited to see their grandpa, a pastor at the church, on TV, according to Rodriguez.

“They liked the songs and the crafts and it was something fun to do, especially right now. We don’t have things like going to story time at our local library,” she said.

“So it was fun to have something to do during the day that they liked, that was just a little different from our normal days right now.”

Like so many other things, VBS programs look a little different this summer amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Siblings Madison Rodriguez, 2, left, and
Carson, 3, work on crafts in Immanuel
Lutheran Church’s virtual Vacation Bible
School from their home in Merrill, Wisconsin.
Photo courtesy of Kyla Rodriguez

A beloved summertime tradition for many churches, VBS usually looks like weeklong day camps with songs, crafts, games, Bible stories and memory verses that reinforce a theme.

Across denominations, it is one of the biggest outreach ministries of the year for many churches and draws a huge number of volunteers from congregations.

While some churches have canceled or postponed their programs due to the pandemic, many have found ways to host programs mixing online videos with hands-on activities that children can do at home with a parent’s help. Other churches, in states that have loosened stay-at-home orders, have made plans involving face masks and social distancing or smaller gatherings in volunteers’ backyards.

“Families are looking for activity and engagement for their kids,” said Jody Brolsma, an executive editor at Group Publishing who leads the development of Group’s annual Vacation Bible School curriculum.

“Those who are doing this are finding overwhelming support from families and parents saying, ‘We need something in the summer, and VBS doesn’t feel like school,’” she added. “‘It‘s not compulsory. The pressure to get it right isn’t the same, even if it’s happening in my home.’”

As plans quickly shifted this spring, many of the publishers behind popular VBS curricula, like Group, also created resources to help churches adapt their programs to the times.

LifeWay Christian Resources, part of the Southern Baptist Convention, published an e-book detailing four strategies to adapt its “Concrete and Cranes” curriculum. Those strategies range from “VBS as usual” to virtual programs, depending on how communities have been impacted by the coronavirus.

Meantime, ELCA World Hunger, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, released pre-recorded videos and modified crafts and games that changed its “On Earth As in Heaven” curriculum to “On Earth As in Heaven… At Home!

Illustrated Ministry — which creates progressive Christian coloring pages, Sunday School curricula and other resources for churches and families — released its first VBS curriculum this year.

It’s something founder Adam Walker Cleaveland said customers have been requesting for a while, noting most popular VBS curricula are produced by more conservative publishers. The digital resources it produces suddenly seemed like a good fit for an at-home program, he said.

In six weeks, Illustrated Ministry created Compassion Camp, which has had more sales than anything else the company has done, according to Cleaveland.

He said they chose the theme of compassion from “a read of the world that we live in … and just feeling like there was a desperate need for compassion to be talked about, to be lived, to be thought about, sung about.”

It seemed like a better fit than an elaborate theme based on a destination, Illustrated Ministry Director of Product Development Rebekah Lowe added, when “the setting is home and everyone has that understanding of what compassion is or can be.”

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Source: Religion News Service